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19 Years by marauder5

Format: Novel
Chapters: 76
Word Count: 285,184
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Romance, Young Adult
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Arthur, Bill, Molly, Percy, Fleur, George, Ginny
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Arthur/Molly, Bill/Fleur, Ron/Hermione, Other Pairing

First Published: 12/30/2012
Last Chapter: 09/06/2017
Last Updated: 09/06/2017

Summary:
Beautiful new banner by katharos





* DOBBY AWARD WINNER 2017 *
HPFF Special Recognition
Best Canon
Best Minor Character


What happened during the nineteen years we never got to see, between the Battle of Hogwarts and the epilogue? Follow along the story of how our golden trio recovers from the war and rebuild the lives they fought so hard to be able to choose.


Chapter 1: Year 1: The First Day
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Dawn was coming. The first rays of morning light from the sun that was just rising at the horizon of the Black Lake could be spotted, and the sky above the Forbidden Forest had taken a a slightly pink colour. Everything was still on the grounds around Hogwarts. Given how early in the morning it was, that was not unusual, but it seemed to be a particularly quiet morning. No sound could be heard, not even from the Forbidden Forest. Hagrid's cabin, located in its outskirts, appeared to be empty. There were no signs of the light that would normally flicker from inside his windows.

If you would turn towards the Hogwarts castle instead, the word 'still' would not be the first one to enter your mind. The castle bore evidence of the horrible battle that had taken place there, and had ended just hours ago. The stone walls and towers that were so stately and grand in memory were half-ruined, damaged and full of holes in reality. The stairway leading up to the great entrance had almost been shot to pieces.

The inside of the castle was even worse. Apart from pieces of metal the floors were covered in what looked like a rockslide, dust, blood and shattered glass. The canvasses of many of the pantings that had hung on those walls for ages had been torn, and not a single one of the painted figures seemed to have stayed in their frames. Hence, it was as silent in the corridors as on the grounds outside.

The only thing breaking the silence was the muffled sound of voices, coming from the other side of the big door leading into the Great Hall. It was in there that the people had gathered.

Just inside the door was Madam Pomfrey, crouching beside a young woman whose face was so injured it was impossible to tell who she was. Two other girls were sitting next to her, holding her hands while tears streamed down their dirty, wounded cheeks. An old, white-haired woman was standing a few yards away with both her hands on her grandson's shoulders. The young man - Neville Longbottom - looked exhausted, but anyone could see the joy in his face as he listened to his grandmother's encouraging, proud words. He held one hand tightly around the arm of a blonde girl with a slightly muddled look on her face. A man with the same hair colour was just making his way through the crowd of people while calling her name: "Luna! My Luna, where are you?"

By the end of what had once been the Gryffindor table stood the Weasley family. Molly Weasley was bending over the lifeless body of her son Fred, still unable to make a sound. Her husband, Arthur, was kneeling next to Fred's head, with one hand on his son's cold forehead and the other on his wife's back. They were both crying silently.

George was holding his twin's hand while looking up at the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall. Usually, it would be as pink as the sky outside, but that morning, it was pitch black. Charlie was holding both his arms around his little sister Ginny, who was sobbing with her face pressed against his chest. Percy held one arm around Ron's shoulder and the other was gripping his arm, and Bill and Fleur sought comfort in each other's embrace. All of their faces reflecred the same thing: grief. Grief over a lost family member, a lost son and a lost brother.

Harry and Hermione, trying not to intrude on this intimate family moment, stood a few yards away with Professor McGonnagall and Kingsley. Both McGonnagall and Hermione were crying, and Harry's eyes too were full of tears. Of course, he could not help but feel a twinge of guilt when he looked at the Weasley family and their painfully grieving faces. If only he could have done more. If only he could have stopped Voldemort earlier, incapacitate that one Death Eather whose explosion had killed Fred... Then, Harry thought, Ginny wouldn't have felt this pain. When she lifted her face from Charlie's chest, Harry felt as if someone had shot him in the stomach. He would have done anything to take away the pain that was reflected in her eyes; the pain, that was also in the shrunken, devastated position of the woman who was the closest thing he had ever had to a mother; and in the pale face of her husband, who had welcomed Harry into his family with open arms and always made him feel as though he belonged there.

Harry forced himself to look away, did not let his eyes pause on his best friend but still couldn't block out the thoughts: Ron, who had been his first friend in the world and been by his side ever since, had lost his brother, and somehow Harry couldn't help but feel it was his fault. But instead of looking at Ron and feeling all of it, which he knew would be too much to bear, he let his eyes sweep around the Great Hall and they found Andromeda Tonks, who was just walking through the doors. She was holding a blue-haired baby in her arms, and Harry felt another twinge of guilt at the sight of him. Tonks and Lupin, the child's parents, were both dead. The little boy was in the same position that Harry had been many years earlier: having lost both his parents at the hands of Lord Voldemort before he had even had the chance to get to know them. Harry wouldn't wish it on anyone, and he felt a wave of compassion when he saw the baby reaching for Andromeda's grey, lank locks with his tiny hand. Like Luna Lovegood's father had done just minutes ago, she instantly began looking for her daughter's face in the crowd, mumbling something to her grandson as her head turned from one side to another. Again, Harry looked away. He didn't think he would be able to watch when she learned that her daughter was not in the Great Hall, for some of the professors had started to bring the bodies into a nearby classroom, and Nymphadora Tonks had been placed in the front of Flitwick's old desk, side by side with her husband, together even in death.

"Harry?"

Harry lifted his head at hearing his name. The boy standing in front of him was none other than Dennis Creevey, Colin's younger brother. The memory of Colin's tall, lanky body and empty stare made Harry shudder. Hermione, who managed to get herself together before him, quickly stepped forwards gave Dennis a hug.

"I'm so sorry about your brother," she told him, and Dennis nodded and turned to Harry. His lips were shaking as he opened them to speak.

"You were always his hero," he said, and even his voice was trembling. "I... I can see why. Th- thank you."

Harry teared up. He didn't feel as though he deserved any grattitude and didn't know how to respond. But Dennis kept looking at him, waiting for an answer. His eyes were red-rimmed and swollen from crying - that seemed to be the look of most people's eyes at the time.

"You... you want to thank me?" Harry finally said.

Dennis' eyes had begun to fill with tears again, and Hermione stepped forward to grab his arm, as if she was expecting him to fall. "I... er... I have to write to our parents," Dennis whispered. "I have to tell them about... about what happened..." 

Harry could feel the tears well up in his own eyes as he reached out his arms and pulled the younger boy into a hug. "I wish I could have done more for Colin," he said. "I'm so sorry..."

"You ended it," Dennis said. "Colin always said you would."

They let go of each other, and he pushed the corners of his mouth up into some kind of encouraging smile before he turned and walked away, tears still streaming down his hollow cheeks. As he left Harry's now blurry visual field, Professor McGonnagall stepped into it.

"Is there anything you want to say?" she asked. "To everyone in here."

Harry hesitated for a moment before he nodded. He followed her up to the elevated section of the hall where the teachers' table usually stood. McGonnagall stopped on the spot where Dumbledore had stood in every single one of Harry's school years to welcome the students back. The memory felt blindingly bright, especially compared to the dark, enchanted sky that was the ceiling of the Great Hall.

Professor McGonnagall pointed her wand to her throat, which raised the volume of her voice to the point where it reached ever corner of the hall when she opened her mouth and said:

"I'm afraid I don't quite know what to say in a time like this." Her words made Mrs Weasley lift her head up for the first time in hours. "Many of us remember the end of the last war... But so many of you would have been too young to... I look around and I see that you're still too young. And I see that Hogwarts has taken its turns, but the dormitories are open for anyone who wishes to stay tonight. We will build this school up again, and any help we can get in reconstruction will be warmly welcome. With that said, I would like to leave the word to Harry Potter."

What little murmur might still have been heard when Professor McGonnagall spoke stopped abruptly when Harry stepped forward, took a deep breath and started speaking.

"I...Um - I would like to thank everyone here," he said. "And especially those who lost their lives. I don't want to make any of them more important than the others, but... Remus Lupin was the best teacher I ever had." He stopped and looked over at Professor McGonnagall. She waved her hand dismissivley and he continued: "He was also one of my parents' best friends. His wife, Tonks... she died too." His searched for a blue-haired little baby in the crowd but couldn't see it. Perhaps they were in the other classroom, kneeling down next to Lupin and Tonks. "She was a hero," Harry continued, "they both were. And that's what we will tell their son Teddy when he's old enough to understand it.

Fred Weasley... a good friend, a brother, a son... a troublemaker." Harrys made a paus and looked at Professor McGonnagall, who smiled. As did Fred's entire family, apart from Molly. She had got up on her feet and was now watching Harry, her lower lip shaking as she reached for Mr Weasley's hand. 

"Their... we'll never forget the sacrifices they made," Harry said. "None of this will ever be forgotten. And, er... we will rebuild Hogwarts again."

He didn't know what to say next. He had never been a great speaker, so much unlike the man who usually stood where Harry stood. Dumbledore had possessed both the gift of speaking and an incredible wisdom that Harry could only dream of.

"We will rebuild it," Harry finished off, "together."

 

 

Gryffindor's common room was almost completely intact. "It's not like the Death Eaters had the password, is it?" had the Fat Lady said when swinging open to let the Weasley family, Harry and Hermione in. After the house-elves, who had returned in the morning, had provided them all with food, most of the people had accepted Professor McGonnagall's offer to stay at the castle. Hence, the common room was crowded. Harry had just managed to escape a group of thankful parents who wanted to shake his hand and congratulate him, and he was now making his way towards Ginny. She was sitting on one of the armrests of the chair that Mr Weasley sat in, listening inattentivley to what her father was saying. Mr Weasley stopped talking when Harry approached them and Ginny looked up.

"Harry." Her voice didn't sound quite the way it used to.

"Excuse me, Mr Weasley," Harry said. "But do you think I could borrow Ginny for a moment?"

With her father's permission Ginny stood up and followed Harry. He hesitated before grabbing her arm and pulling her up the stairs to the boys' dormitory to get away from all the people downstairs. He thought he heard Charlie say: "Dad, did you really just give Harry permission to bring Ginny to his dormitory?", but ignored it. As soon as he had entered the room he had used to live in with Ron and their other roommates, he stopped and turned around.

Ginny had stopped in the doorway. She stood there in silence, just watching him.

"Ginny," he said and took a step in her direction.

She reached out and grabbed both his hands. "I thought you were dead," she mumbled while a wrinkle formed on her forehead, "and I could only think of all the things I wanted to tell you." She stopped and looked into his eyes - it seemed she would never get used to how intensely green they really were. "And now I just... I don't know what to say. I mean, what can we say about any of this? It's all too much." She paused and took a deep breath. "I love you."

"I love you too," Harry said.

The words had barely left his mouth before she kissed him. He wrapped both his arms around her, pulling her as close as he could, and it was in that moment that it finally hit him. The war was over. Voldemort was dead. And now he could have the future with Ginny that he had been able to imagine before, since he had never been able to see past his destiny of having to defeat Voldemort. He had never counted on surviving. But here he was, alive - very much so. He could feel the life in every cell of his body as Ginny kissed him, stronger than ever before.

 

 

Hermione was sitting in the common room, crawled up next to one of the windows that overlooked the lake. She was completely overwhelmed with feelings and had felt the need to just be alone for a while. Besides, Harry - the only one she felt like talking to right now - had disappeared with Ginny, and she couldn't help but feel alone. Ron had barely looked at her since learning the news about Fred, and she couldn't blame him. Merlin knew he had other things to worry about, and he had every right to. She didn't want to intrude on his family, whom she felt deserved to be alone with their grief. She mourned Fred's death as well, but she wasn't the one who had lost her brother, that was Ron and all of his siblings. Mr and Mrs Weasley were the ones who had lost their son.

Another thing that burdened Hermione was the thought of her own parents. All she knew was that they were somewhere in Australia, not even knowing that they had a daughter. They didn't even know their own names. She had managed to deal with this thought throughout the entire year that had just passed, but now that it was all over, she wanted nothing more than to lie in her mother's arms the way she had always done as a little girl. She longed to feel her father's soft hand stroaking her hair and hear him mumble that everything was going to be alright. 

It was now, when it was all over, that it hit her all at once. The panic at Bill and Fleur's wedding, when it all started, the infiltration of the Ministry of Magic, the break-in at Gringotts and that horrible torture at Malfoy Manor. She shivered at the memory of Bellatrix Lestrange's scornful laughter as she watched Hermione writhe in agony. No, she thought to herself, don't even go there.

"Hermione, are you okay?"

She turned her eyes away from the blue sky and realized that Neville was standing next to her. He looked very concerned, and Hermione was suddenly filled with warmth.

"I was just thinking about everything that has happened this year," she said. "I guess it's just hitting me now."

Neville nodded, while making a gesture with his hand to the empty seat next to her. "Do you mind if I sit down?"

"Of course not!" 

Hermione smiled, and Neville sat down next to her. He pulled his knees up to his chin and looked out at the lake, which was now bathing in sunlight.

"Can you believe that he's really gone?" he asked. "You-Know-Who."

"Barely," Hermione said. "But even with him gone, he still has some followers out there, right? I mean, they probably didn't capture them all. They probably don't even know all of them!" She couldn't help but shiver. At least she was dead, she thought to herself, thanks to Mrs Weasley. Hermione tried not to imagine Bellatrix's derisive laughter again.

"Probably not," Neville agreed. 

Hermione looked over at his grandmother, who had fallen asleep in one of the scarlet red chairs nearby. "You did amazing, Neville. Not that I'm surprised, but if it hadn't been for you..."

She didn't have to finish the sentence for Neville's face to light up. He looked so happy that Hermione couldn't stop from grinning widely herself. It was nice to see pure joy in someone's eyes after seeing nothing but fear and grief for much too long.

 

 

As Ron entered the Great Hall that evening to have dinner he stopped, like many others around him, and looked at his surroundings with surprise. He was once again standing in a beautifully decorated hall, with four long tables full of food. The enchanted sky was now dark blue, and every visible sign of the battle was gone. The house-elves must have worked really hard all day, he thought, because a real feast had been laid out at the tables. Ron hadn't eaten a thing all day and it wasn't until he saw all the food that he realized just how hungry he was. Spotting Bill, Fleur, Seamus Finnigan and Percy at the Gryffindor table, he hurried over to sit with them. They made room for him, and he dived into the plates of delicious food without hesitating.

"Eet is nice to see that 'as not changed," Fleur said when she saw his appetite, making the others laugh.

Ron swallowed the chicken he had pressed into his mouth by taking a sip of pumpkin juice and rolled his eyes at his sister-in-law. Percy placed a hand on his little brother's shoulder.

"I have to agree with her," he said.

Ron chose not to comment on it and Percy let his eyes wander around the Great Hall. He stiffened when he saw a familiar face in the crowd. "Audrey?"

The woman - a skinny, brown-haired beauty dressed in what could have been a tent - turned her face to him. "Percy?" She smiled and walked over to him.

It wasn't until she had sat down next to him that Percy noticed the gaping wound on her lower arm. He reached over and grabbed it.

"Oh, God," he said, his voice streaked with worry.

"It's not that bad," Audrey assured him. "Madam Pomfrey told me that since it was caused by black magic, her potion won't work. It will heal in time. Who are these people? More Weasleys, I imagine."

"Oh, how rude of me!" Percy said. "My eldest brother, Bill, and his wife Fleur. My youngest brother, Ron. And Seamus, a friend of his. Everyone, meet Audrey. She's a colleague from the Ministry."

"I hope you're not the same as Perce was," Ron said as he shook her hand, completely ignoring Percy, who cleared his throat again and again. "I mean, brainwashed by Fudge and all that."

Much to Percy's relief, Audrey laughed. She then dove into an intense coversation with Ron and Fleur, and Percy leaned back and watched her in profile. She was even more beautiful now, with her hair in a loose braid and clothes that were too big for her, than at work where she would look both neater and more well-groomed. They had become good friends over the last month, and he really enjoyed her company.

"And then Percy told Umbridge to shut up?" said Ron doubtfully.

"It's true!" Audrey said. "He was very brave, went on and on about how every Muggle-born he had ever met was to prefer over her..."

"... the old toad," Percy filled in. "She really looks like one, don't you think?"

"You said that?" Ron still sounded doubtful and Percy laughed.

"I swear," he said.

Ron shook his head, as if he still couldn't believe it. "That's incredible," he said. "I guess you are a Weasley after all!"

 

 

"Reparo." With a wave of her wand Ginny made the pieces of shattered glass, which covered the classroom in which they used to have transfiguration class, fly up, put themselves together and rebuild the first window. She admired her work for a few seconds before moving on to the rest of them. She was alone - most of the others had gone to the Astronomy tower after dinner, since it had completely fallen apart and would need the most profound restoring. After being surrounded by her family, Harry and Hermione constantly for the last twenty four hours, she appreciated a moment to herself. The only sound that could be heard was the clinking of the glass as the pieces searched for their match. It was like a puzzle, she thought while following their quick, impregnable movements with her eyes. Outside the windows, it was darkening again. Ginny coudln't help but wish it wouldn't. She was more exhausted than she had been in her life, but the idea of lying down in the dark and trying to sleep terrified her. She didn't look forward to giving her thoughts that much time and space to spin around in her head, not this soon.

"Gin?" She looked up and realized that George was standing in the doorway to the classroom. "Would you mind if I join you?"

"Not at all!"

Ginny was surprised, but it was true. Just a few minutes earlier she had enjoyed her alone time, but George hadn't talked much at all that day, and she was happy to see him reaching out to her.

"Do you know what my first thought was?" George asked while casting spells around him that scrubbed the blood of the desks. "When I saw him?" He froze and looked at Ginny, who shook her head. "The first thing I thought of was the shop. The shop!" He shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he had just said.

Ginny put her wand in the inside pocket of her robes and walked over to her brother. She stopped in front of him, grabbed his shoulders and looked him in the eye.

"It doesn't mean anything," she told him. "It doesn't mean that you love him any less. It doesn't change the fact that you were closer to him than anyone else. And it wouldn't change how much he loves you back."

George watched her for a couple of seconds without reacting, letting her words sink in. Then he burst into tears. Ginny was pretty sure it was the first time she had cried since Fred's death, and she hugged him tightly. For some reason she had always been closer to the twins out of all her brothers. It was probably because she had appreciated their humor and pranks more than anyone, and they had spared her from their worst tricks and sprees - Ron and Percy had always had to suffer the most. Ginny remembered being around five years old and convincing Fred and George to let her fly on a broomstick for the first time. Mr Weasley had almost passed out when he had seen her broken nose, and Mrs Weasley had sent the boys to their room without dinner. But the twins had always been there for Ginny, no matter the consequences - not that they ever cared about the implications of breaking rules, but still.

"I don't... I can't imagine it," George whispered now, and they both sank to the floor, their backs against the cold stone wall. "Having to live without him."

Ginny closed her eyes, tears burning behind her eyelids as she grabbed her brother's hand and squeezed it tightly. "Me neither," she said. "I have absolutely no idea."





Author's Note: It would make me really happy if you reviewed this chapter! English is not my first language, but if there are any language errors, be sure to let me know!


Chapter 2: Year 1: The Final Journey
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"Is everyone touching the hat?" Mr Weasley called over his children's heads while checking his pocket watch. "Fifteen seconds, everybody, are you touching it?"

The entire Weasley family, Harry and Hermione were huddled together around the worn out, ruby-coloured hat Portkey that would take them back to the Burrow. A week had passed since the final battle, and they had decided it was time to leave Hogwarts and return home. From where they were standing the castle looked like it normally did thanks to all the help from volunteers in repairing it. Professor McGonnagall had started talking about reopening the school already in the fall, and there seemed to be no reason why it shouldn't all be ready by September. Hermione had been ecstatic, already starting to plan the trio's return to school, but Harry and Ron had ruined those plans by telling her about Kingsley's offer. A little bird had whispered in his ear saying that they both wanted to become aurors, and he was willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that they hadn't finished school, "considering this year and your... accomplishments," as he had put it.

"Five seconds!" called Mr Weasley. "Ginny, get your hand in there! Molly... everyone..."

He was interrupted by a pull. A few seconds later the group landed on the big field by the Burrow, with various degrees of suppleness. Some of them - Mr and Mrs Weasley, Bill, Charlie and Percy - landed gracefully on their feet while others - Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and George - fell to the ground head first. Fleur managed to pull of something in between. She had previously admitted to never having travelled with a Portkey before, but she was also born with a natural and graceful agility that rarely failed her.

Ron stood up and brushed the dirt off his jeans before straightening up to look at his crooked, seemingly unstable house. It was clear that the protection spells that had been cast over the house to make it one of the safe houses for the Order of the Phoenix had worked, because even though the house's condition hardly could be described as nice and whole, it looked the same as it always had. The floors were stacked on each other and probably wouldn't have stayed up if it weren't for Mr Weasley's spellwork. The tiles on the roof lay helter-skelter and the door squeaked as loudly as ever when Charlie, who had reached it first, opened it. Ron took a deep breath as he started walking towards it. After everything he had been through over the last year, he was finally home.

He followed the rest of his family inside. Ginny and Hermione quickly ran off to Ginny's room, much to Ron's dismay. He and Hermione had barely exchanged one word since the battle - since their kiss - and he wanted nothing more than to break the silence. But he was secretly hoping she would be the one to do it. She had always been better with feelings and... well, talking. 

"Bill, Fleur, I hope you're staying for dinner?" said Mrs Weasley, who had already made a bunch of cookware fly out of the cabinets with a flick of her wand. 

"We would love to," Fleur answered. "Eez there anything I can do to 'elp?"

As the words left her mouth, George stumbled in through the front door as well, his eyes hollow and his face as blank as it had been every time Ron had seen him the last couple of weeks. His mother reached out to touch him, but George simply walked past her and over to the stairs. A few moment later, the sound of a bedroom door closing could be heard in the now silent kitchen.

Ron shot Harry a look. His friend had stopped just inside the door and didn't seem to know where he should go.

"Let's head up to my room," Ron said quietly. "Before Mum puts us to work."

Harry nodded and the two of them hurried up the stairs to Ron's room. On his way, Ron paused outside the twins' old bedroom. The door was open, but George wasn't there. He must have gone someplace else, Ron thought. Perhaps the thought of being in his old bedroom without Fred had been too much for him.

Once they had made it all the way up to the top floor, Ron threw himself on his bed and looked up at the ceiling. The wooden planks were skew, and here and there one had been placed across the others - it was Mr Weasley's way of fixing holes in the ceiling.

"Did you ever think we'd get this far?" Ron asked Harry, who had taken a similar position, only on his own bed.

"No, I didn't," Harry answered after giving it some thought. "I mean, I tried to picture it. But when I thought of my future I saw nothing but Voldemort."

 

 
It seemed funerals became part of everyday life in the weeks that followed. Harry, Ron and Hermione joined their schoolmates in Gryffindor in the back of a church in Brighton at Lavender Brown's funeral, listening as Parvarti Patil sniffed loudly into Seamus Finnegan's shoulder, and Hermione squeezing Harry's hand as Lavender's little sister stood up at the front to sing her goodbye. At Tonks and Lupin's funeral, Harry sat in the very front row with Andromeda Tonks, holding baby Teddy while the older woman stared at the two white coffins, tears streaming down her sunken cheeks. Colin Creevey's parents hugged Harry tigthly at his funeral, and Mrs Creevey handed him a whole bunch of moving photographs of his own face.

"I don't know what to do with them," she whispered. "I can't throw them away... He always talked about you, you know. I think he might have liked for you to have them."

On the morning of the day that Fred would be buried, the sun woke Ginny up. It looked like it would be a beautiful day, she thought as she followed Hermione down the stairs, feeling strangely vacuous, as though she wasn't really there. They were heading for the kitchen to have breakfast before they would all gather at the spot under one of the big trees in their garden where Fred would get his final rest.

The kitchen was almost empty, except for Charlie and Percy who were having their morning coffee in silence. The kitchen counter, which normally would have been covered by a spectacular breakfast buffet by this time, was significantly empty. For once Mrs Weasley hadn't got up before everyone else to cook for them.

"Good morning," Percy greeted the girls. "You'll have to make your own breakfast today."

Hermione took a bread loaf out of the pantry and started slicing it while Ginny got out butter, cheese and ham and placed it on the counter. No one said a word. When Harry and Ron entered the kitchen a few minutes later the girls had joined Percy and Charlie at the table. They forced their sandwiches down. Harry sat down next to Ginny without grabbing anything to eat - none of them had much of an appetite that day.

Simply moving around their home had become painful - sitting at the breakfast table, knowing that though the chairs would be filled, one person would always be missing; accidentally glancing towards the Quidditch pitch, where Fred and George had practiced their beating skills every summer since they had started Hogwarts; or walking past their bedroom, which had stayed empty since they had returned to the Burrow. George had taken Bill's old bedroom, and no one else seemed eager to sleep where Fred would never sleep again.

About an hour after Ginny had woken up, the guests had started arriving. Kingsley, dressed in black instead of his usual midnight blue, was going to lead the ceremony and was now standing in the garden, talking quietly to Hestia Jones. Professor McGonagall had arrived as well, and she was walking across the courtyard with Lee Jordan, Fred and George's best friend from Hogwarts, both of their heads turned to the ground and their voices low. A bang let them know that more guests had apparated to the Burrow, and Bill and Fleur showed up just a few minutes later. On Percy's order, the Weasley children, followed by Harry and Hermione, stepped outside. Ginny didn't want to walk around and say hello to all the guests, hearing over and over how sorry people were for her loss, but she knew she had to. Therefore she followed Ron around, trying her best to avoid meeting their well-meaning, sympathizing eyes.

When a few more guests had arrived, among them Fred's age-long crush Angelina Johnson, Hagrid and Andromeda Tonks with little Teddy on her arm, the group of people headed down to the spot under the tree. Ginny followed them when she felt someone pull her back.

"Your parents," Hermione said. "They're not here yet."

But the words had barely left her mouth before the front door of the house opened and they came outside. Mr Weasley held one arm around his wife's shoulders, and she held her head down as they walked slowly towards the grave. She didn't look up until they had reached the group of guests waiting. Ginny had never seen a similar expression on her mother's face. It was a reflection of the emotional storm that probably raged inside her - an endless grief, anger and pain - and at the same time, she seemed to be trying to hold it all back. She looked as though she had reached her limit, and one more thing, no matter how small, would break her into a million pieces.

"Let us gather around the coffin," Kingsley said.

Ginny turned around, feeling a lump grow in her throat as she looked at Fred's coffin. It was made of light wood, and it levitated a few feet off the ground in the shadows underneath the big, old tree. A wreath of white roses had been placed on top of it, and the sight filled Ginny's eyes with tears. She couldn't get it into her head that Fred - her Fred - was lying in the coffin.

Someone said: "Where's George?"

Mrs Weasley uttered a loud noise and looked around. "I thought George came here with you!" she said accusingly to Bill, who was standing next to her. He shook his head, turned around and looked towards the house.

"I'll get him," Ginny said.

"If it's all right with you, I'll go."

Ginny stopped. Angelina Johnson gave her a look that could only be described as condoning, and Ginny shrugged and nodded. Angelina headed off towards the house, trotting with her long, black hair fluttering like a tail behind her.

The group of people who stayed behind next to what would soon become Fred's grave started chatting to each other. Ginny watched as Fleur began admiring little Teddy, whose hair colour suddenly switched to flaming red. Fleur tickled him and he cooed as his hair changed again, this time to a bright yellow shade.

"Hi there."

Ginny, who hadn't noticed Harry sneaking up next to her, jumped and reflexively took a step backwards. When she saw who it was she shook herself. "Hi."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," Harry said, while reaching out his hand to wipe a strand of hair from her face. "I just wanted to..."

He fell silent. Ginny understood what he was trying to tell her. He wanted to know how she was holding up or say something comforting, but nothing he could say would ever be enough. He reached out his hand and grabbed hers instead. She could feel the warmth spread from his fingers onto hers and throughout her body, and she looked at him gratefully. Somehow he always knew exactly what she needed.

Hermione stood by herself a few yards away. She still hadn't done anything about her parents and their situation, because she had thought it more appropriate to wait until after Fred's funeral. After all, he had been a good friend of hers, and just the thought of him being gone forever pained her. But despite the fact that she was standing by his grave waiting for him to be buried, she couldn't push away the thought of her parents. She had decided it would be best to just go there, find them and cast the counter spell to restore their memories - of themselves, and of her.

"Here they come," said Hagrid in his deep voice.

Hermione looked up. George and Angelina were heading towards the crowd of people. She held onto his arm, and his posture was similar to the one of his mother. It was the posture of someone who was about to succumb to the pain of losing a loved one. Hermione still found it strange to see George without his constant companion, partner in crime and very best friend. And now she would never see them together again.

George and Angelina joined the others. As George made his way through the crowd, several of Fred's loved ones reached out their hands to touch his shoulder. Every time it happened George stopped, looked at the person whose hand had touched him and nodded, as if to thank them for at least trying to comfort him. Even though none of them really could.

"Fred Weasley," Kingsley began, making everyone turn their attention to him. "He was one of the bravest young men I ever met. Without hesitation he took on the task of helping the Order move Harry Potter to a safe house last summer. Fred risked his life that night, being disguised as Harry, without hesitating for one second. Not many nineteen-year-olds would have done it." He made a pause. "Over these last couple of years - these dark years - I have got to know Fred because his parents, and later on himself, joined the Order of the Phoenix. And believe you me when I tell you Fred was one of the reasons we didn't all go mad. You see, Fred knew, as did his brother George, the importance of humour. Days would pass without any of us laughing when the twins weren't there. But their jokes and pranks, even in the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix and despite their mother's rage, reminded us that there was still something out there other than Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

Fred died in the battle against evil, and the Wizarding world will never forget it. He was a good man, an imaginative boy and un unforgettable, admirable human being."

Sobs could be heard from every direction. Mrs Weasley was forced to lean on her husband, and Angelina and George had put their arms around each other, tears streaming down both their cheeks.

"The time has come," Kingsley said, "to lower Fred into the ground."

He lifted his wand, and with a flick he made the coffin move towards the big, rectangular hole that had ben dug by the roots of the tree.

"Wait!"

George's cry made everyone freeze and turn their heads towards him. Kingsley moved the coffin away from the hole.

"I would just like to say something," George said. "To... to him." After a nod of approval from Kingsley, he continued: "I got to see you as an old man once. We drank ageing potion because we thought it would allow us to enter the Triwizard Tournament, despite being underage. Your stupid idea, of course." Some of the crying faces around him smiled at the comment. "I never thought that would be the only time."

Mrs Weasley cried loudly and Mr Weasley hid his face in his hands. It was the first time Hermione had seen him lose his composure. He had managed to stay upright, although very sad, when it came to his son's death. But his shoulders were now shaking as he cried silently into his hands.

"We planned to win over the hearts of the entire world with our joke shop," George continued, and even he smiled. "And if not their hearts, then at least their humour, right? So, since that was our dream, I will try to do that. I just hope you will be there for support when I need inspiration, or when I don't know what to do. Please, be there. I love you, little brother. I'll see you on the other side."

 

 

Ron was standing on the top floor of the Burrow, outside Ginny's bedroom. It had been two days since Fred's funeral, and he had still not spoken to Hermione. At first he had thought she was only trying to be respectful, giving him space to mourn his brother, but now he was wondering if it could be something else. He had been thinking about it for a few hours and was now convinced she was consciously avoiding him. He could think of two reasons why she would do that: either she was, like him, scared of what was happening between them because they had been friends for so long. Or she regretted ever kissing him, because she was still secretly in love with Viktor Krum. Ron wasn't sure which alternative was more likely, but he was leaning towards the latter.

Just a few minutes earlier he had been sitting down in the living room with Ginny and Harry to discuss the problem. Now, after their encouraging words, he was standing outside the room she was in, ready to confront her. Well, confront might not be the right word, but he was going to talk to her and find out how she really felt. If he would ever find the courage to knock on the door, that was.

After another few minutes of mentally reasoning with himself, he raised his hand and knocked on the door twice. Then he turned the handle and pushed the door open.

"Hermione," he said. "I just had to..."

He stopped. The room was empty.

Ron hurried down the stairs while wondering where she might have gone. He didn't want to ask Harry and Ginny - they had practically begged him to leave them alone, and their alone time was something he would rather not witness. Instead he walked out into the kitchen, where George and Angelina were in the middle of a game of Wizarding Chess. Ron resisted the urge to stop and tell his brother that his queen was at risk if the didn't move it. Instead he hurried out through the kitchen door. Mrs Weasley was sitting in one of the garden chairs, talking to Percy's friend Audrey, whom they had met at Hogwarts.

"Oh, Ronald!" Mrs Weasley said. "Come and say hello to Audrey."

"We've met," Audrey said with a smile. "How are you doing, Ron? Percy tells me you've been offered a spot in the Auror training program!"

"Yes, Harry and I will begin our training around the same time that school starts," Ron said. "Because despite Mum's disappointment I won't be going back to school."

"There is no such thing as too much education," Mrs Weasley said. "Surely you agree with me, Audrey?"

"Oh, come on, Mum," Ron said. "Don't scare her off by making her pick sides. I was actually coming out here to see if you had seen Hermione? I need to talk to her."

He ignored the smile that his mother tried to hide and waited patiently for a response.

"Not since breakfast," Mrs Weasley said. "What did you want to talk to her about?"

Ron ignored the inscrutable look on her face, shrugged and decided to search the area around the Burrow. She had to be there somewhere.

"We're having dinner in an hour!" Mrs Weasley called after him. "And don't you dare be late, because it's Charlie's last dinner with us before he goes back to Romania!"

Ron nodded, left the garden and started walking along the winding dirt road that lead up to the Burrow. He stopped by a grove, trying to remember if he had ever showed the hidden lake to Hermione. He had no memory of doing so, but on the other hand Hermione had spent a lot of time with Ginny over the summers, and Ron had no idea what they had been up to. He left the road and made his way through the densely grown forest. He hadn't been there for years; he'd used to go all the time when he was younger with his siblings. After about a minute he reached an opening in the forest. He stepped out into the sunlight and looked around. The little lake was as dazzlingly beautiful as he remembered, completely still and glittering in the sunlight. But Hermione wasn't there.

 

 

Back at the house, Ginny was lying in the couch, her head resting on Harry's lap. He was holding one arm around her waist and the other was playing with her fiery red hair. They were alone in the house. Mr Weasley and Percy were still at work, George and Angelina had left to go to the apartment above the shop and the rest of the family was outside enjoying the beautiful day.

"I never dared to dream of this," Harry said. "That we would get to this... I thought..."

"I know," Ginny said. "Me too. I'm glad we were wrong, though."

Harry watched her face. Her eyes were closed and there was a hint of a smile on her lips. He never seemed to get used to her beauty - every time he looked at her it hit him again how extraordinarily beautiful she was. He hoped he never would get used to it, because he never wanted those feelings that filled him up when he looked at her to ever go away.

The sound of scratching against the window woke both Harry and Ginny from their thoughts. Ginny sat up and Harry looked around, trying to locate where the sound was coming from. When he realized that an owl was waiting outside the living room window he stood up and went over there to let it in. The bird's yellow eyes met Harry's and he felt a sting of sadness. Hedwig, his beloved owl who had sacrificed her life for him in an encounter with Death Eaters a year earlier, had had that same eye colour. It was as if this owl knew it, because she flew over to sit on Harry's arm once Ginny had tied off the letter off its leg. Harry carefully stroke its dapple-grey feathers.

"Oh, God," Ginny said and sat down on the couch.

Harry turned around. His sudden movement frightened the owl, which flapped its wings and flew out the open window. But Harry barely noticed - he was too busy staring at Ginny and the shocked look on her face.

"What is it?"

"It's Hermione," Ginny said. She held out the small, crumpled piece of parchment and Harry took it from her hand.

Ginny. I'm sorry for not telling you before I left, but I was afraid someone might try to stop me. I have gone to Australia to find my parents. Please tell your mother and Harry.

Hermione

 

 




Author's Note:

I know, a cliffhanger... who doesn't love those? ;)
I hope that you liked this chapter. Please leave a review and let me know what you thought! Good or bad, I really want to know! For those of you who reviewed my first chapter, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it! You make me so happy.



Chapter 3: Year 1: Hermione's Parents
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“She’s done what?”

Ron, who had been sitting calmly at the kitchen table just moments ago, browsing through the Daily Prophet without paying much attention to what the articles actually said, was now standing up, panting heavily as his eyes moved between the piece of parchment in his sister's hand and the look of concern on her face. While Ginny looked worried, Ron looked like he was about to explode; It was as if the bright red colour of his hair had spread to his ears and down onto his neck.

“Ron, I know that it might come as a shock, but it is Hermione we’re talking about,” Ginny said. “She’s not going to do anything crazy. She just went to Australia to find her parents.”

“She’s not going to do anything crazy? Ginny, do you realize that this is the same person who suggested we’d ride on the back of a dragon to escape from Gringotts, the bank that we had just broken into?” When netiher Ginny nor Harry, who was standing half a step behing her, responded, Ron reached out his hand with a determined look on his face. “Let me see the letter.”

Ginny gave it to him and waited in silence as he read it.

“Please tell…,” mumbled Ron while his face expression went from angry to blank. He cleared his throat and said, in a louder voice: “Please tell your mum and Harry.”

He put the piece of parchment on the kitchen table and stared out into the open air as his mind went into high gear. Why hadn’t she written: “Tell your mum, Harry and Ron?” Why not Ron? Did she really think he wouldn’t care where she was, that he wouldn’t be (at least) as worried as everyone else?

“I’m sure she didn’t…,” Harry started saying, but he didn’t seem to know how to continue. 

“You’ve barely spoken to each other these last couple of weeks,” Ginny said. “And it might have taken you four years to realize, but she is a girl. She’s probably just being overdramatic and-” 

“Are you coming?” Ron interrupted. When he saw the confused looks on their faces he sighed and added: “To Australia. Are you coming with me?”

“Ron, I don’t know how good you are at geography”, Harry said, “but Australia is not some tiny island. How are you planning to find her?” 

“And has it even crossed your mind that she might want to do this alone?” Ginny asked. “If not, she would have just asked us to come, right?” 

“The question is,” Ron said irritably, “if it has crossed your minds that there are still plenty of Death Eaters out there who are still on the loose and just waiting to get their hands on the Muggle-born girl who helped Harry Potter defeat their master?” 

He stepped forwards so quickly that, for a fraction of a second, Harry thoguht he was going to attack them, and would have knocked over chair he had sat on in the proccess, had it not been for his sister’s alertness. But instead of attacking anyone, Ron pulled out his wand and began summoning various objects from every corner of the house. After saying the spell (“Accio”) followed by the name of the particular object, it took only a few seconds before it came flying towards him, so he could catch it with his outstretched, left hand. It didn’t take long before a pile of objects covered the kitchen table – the Deluminator that he had inherited from Professor Dumbledore, two packs of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder from the twins’ shop, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, a dusty Sneakoscope and – much to Harry and Ginny’s surprise – a bunch of Hermione’s well-thumbed books.

Ron lowered his wand; he was apparently satisfied with the things he had collected.

“The invisibility cloak?” Harry suggested.

“I wasn’t sure you’d let me borrow it!” Ron said. "Accio invsibility cloak!"

"The cloak can't be summoned," Harry said. Then, noticing the colour of Ron's neck deepening to a darker shade of red, he quickly added: "Why don't I run upstairs and get it?"

He returned only minutes later, the silvery-coloured cloak perfectly folded in his arms. He attempted a half-hearted smile before placing it on the table with the rest of the things.

“So how do we get there?” Ginny asked.

Ron looked surprised. “I thought you weren’t coming?”

“She’s my best friend,” Ginny said. “Of course I’m coming.” 

“Mine too,” Harry said. “Your dad told me about this place in Diagon Alley where they’ll set up Port Keys for you. That’s got to be the easiest way to get to Australia, don’t you think?”

 

 

The glass door that led into the dental office closed with a boom, shutting out all the noise from the street outside – car engines, horns, human voices and the vague sound of waves crashing against the hard concrete pier. The tinkling sound of a doorbell made the young man sitting at the reception desk look up while smiling welcomingly. Hermione took a deep breath and smiled back at him.

“Welcome,” the man said while putting a cap on the pen he had just been writing with. “Do you have an appointment?”

“Well… no,” Hermione said. “I’m looking for some people… they’re dentists, so I just wanted to know if they work here. I've been to a few places already... their names are Wendell and Monica Wilkins.”

“Wilkins? Sorry,” the man said. “Do they work here in Sydney?” 

“Actually,” Hermione mumbled, “all I know is that they work somewhere in Australia.”

The man gave a whistle. “That’s a bit trickier,” he said. “I’ve got a computer back here. If you want to use the Internet.”

Hermione nodded gratefully, but she was worried. Sure, her parents had had a computer back home, but it had been years since she had even touched it. As she walked around the desk and got a better look at the machine, her concerns grew stronger. This one looked nothing like the one her parents had, and she considered the option of making an excuse and run out of there as fast as she could. But, she reasoned with herself, this could be her best shot of finding her parents. And it wasn’t like she would reveal the existence of magic by admitting that she didn’t know how to use a computer.

“I’m sorry,” she said as the man stood up to let her have the chair, “but would you mind doing it for me? I haven’t used a computer in such a long time. My parents… they don’t even want to hear the word technology…” 

The man held up his hands to silence her. “I understand,” he said and winked at her. “No worries.”

Hermione was just about to turn around when she spotted a sudden movement in the corner of her eye. She instinctively reached her hand into her cardigan to pull out her wand, but her fingers barely had time to feel the smooth wood between them before the man had called out: “Expelliarmus!” and she felt it slip out of her grip. She span around and saw the receptionist catching her wand with is left hand. The other one, holding a wand of his own, was pointing directly at her.

“So… Granger.” He said her name with contempt, almost spitting it out. “Where is Potter? He didn’t let you go alone, did he? I mean, being the hero he is…”

He laughed scornfully, and Hermione looked at him without flinching. How would she ever be able to get herself out of this? He was armed, she wasn’t, and she had come alone. She watched the man’s sneering face and realised that she had seen him before. She just couldn’t remember when or where.

“You see, we counted on him to come with you,” the man said. “What a disappointment. But on the other hand… if I kill you now, I’ll bet you a thousand galleons he will come after me for revenge. And maybe then we can have our revenge.”

"How.. how did you find me?"

"You weren't being very discrete, sweetheart," he said sugarly, grabbing her chin with a smirk on his face. "As it turns out, it pays off to have friends in the Department of Magical Transportation... it wasn't much trouble at all. So what do we do with you now?"

As he let go of her, Hermione took a few steps back, breathing heavily as she stared at the man. She tried to get her mind to focus on the logical thing - that was, how in the world she was going to get out of there - but it wouldn't obey. No, the only thing she could think about was Ron’s face. She had never told him how she felt inside every time she looked at it. She had never told him that she loved him. They hadn’t said more than a few words to each other in weeks. They had had days, weeks, years together, and not once had Hermione looked into Ron’s eyes and said the words: “I love you”. She wasn't able to control it when the words escaped her lips, and she cast an aghast glance at the man next to her. Thankfully, her whisper had not reached past her own ears, and it continued to echo only inside her own head: "I love you, Ron."

“Of course, the world would only benefit from having one less Mudblood in it…”

The man suddenly stopped talking as something outside the window caught his eyes. A few seconds later he had rushed over to Hermione, grabbed her hair and pulled her backwards. She could feel the tip of his wand touching her throat as she struggled not to fall over.

“Jugson, get out here!”

A tall, skinny man dressed in black robes came through a door that led into one of the patient rooms. Hermione glanced over at him and realized that he was one of the Death Eaters who had chased them in the Department of Mysteries during their fifth school year.

“Ah, a delicious prey, Selwyn,” he said. “But she's not alone, is she?”

“Look out the window,” answered the first one – Selwyn. 

Both Hermione and Jugson turned their heads and looked at the street outside. Hermione’s heart stopped for a moment. Ron, with his Deluminator in hand, stood across the street, calling out for someone over his shoulder. Just a few seconds later Ginny and Harry caught up with him, and all three of them turned towards the dental clinic. Hermione guessed that the sun was shining too brightly for them to able to see through the window, because none of them had any sort of reaction. Instead, they hurried over to the pedestrian crossing and waited for the cars to stop and let them cross the street. Hermione couldn’t help but notice the fact that Ron was carrying her purple, beaded handbag, and she felt her eyes flood with tears at the sight. If only there was something she could do to warn them, to get them to turn around and run away before something happened to them.

The very same second that Ron raised his hand to push the door open, Harry and Ginny seemed to realise what was going on inside. They both pulled out their wands, and a few moments later Ron did the same thing while stumbling in to the office.

“Let go of her!” he yelled while pointing his wand at Selwyn. “Get your filthy hands off-”

“Not so fast,” Selwyn interrupted him. “We are glad you decided to join us, Weasley. Now that you're here, I have a proposal… Potter, you come with us. And we’ll let her live.”

Harry met Hermione’s eyes, and she shook her head, almost imperceptibly. If she knew him right he was planning on handing himself over; that was just who he was. Noble, but stupid, as Ron would have put it.

“Let go of her first,” Harry said.

“Put your wands down first,” Selwyn retorted with a smile on his face.

Both Harry and Ron lowered their wands, and Hermione felt her stomach drop. But then she saw the slightly panicked, but determined, look on Ginny’s face, and stared at her until she met her eyes. Ginny moved her head just half an inch in towards Ron, and Hermione turned her eyes to him. She noticed the colourful label from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes sticking out of his pocket. He was looking at her, and Hermione tried to speak to him through her eyes. Your pocket. Ginny is ready. But before she could even ask herself whether or not he had understood her, Harry and Ginny set the plan in motion. Harry grabbed the Instant Darkness Powder while Ginny yelled: “Expelliarmus!” The wand that had rested against Hermione’s throat was torn out of its master’s grip and she heard the thud of it hitting the wooden floor a few seconds later, but she didn’t see it because darkness had taken over her entire visual field. She felt someone grab her arm, and the grip on her hair loosened. The next thing she knew someone had pulled her out into the blinding sunlight outside the clinic. As soon as her eyes had adjusted to the strong light she looked around. Ron was still holding a firm grip on her arm, and next to them, Harry was pulling Ginny to her feet.

“Let’s go!” Ron said. “The Burrow?” He raised his wand to disapparate.

“Wait!” exclaimed Hermione as the realization that had just taken over her mind caused a sense of panic to grow inside her. “My parents! I told that… Selwyn, I told him their false names! They’re going to go after them! I can’t just go back, Ron, not without…” 

Ron lowered his wand and nodded.

 “Harry, no!”

Ginny’s voice made both Hermione and Ron turn their attention to their friends. The door of the dental office was just closing behind Harry, and Ginny was heading after him.

 “What’s he…?”

Ron looked confused, but Hermione could guess what Harry was thinking. If he could capture the Death Eaters now, before they could look up Mr and Mrs Wilkins or tell their names to their companions, her parents would be safe. Hermione fretted over the fact that it had never hit her that the man at the reception desk could be a Death Eater. But the thought of them knowing about where her parents were had never even crossed her mind. Perhaps they hadn't known until just now, when she had told them, she thought as she followed Ron, who rushed after his sister into the compact darkness. Perhaps they had only known that she was going to Australia alone, and had considered it the perfect opportunity to get their hands on her.

Once inside the dental office again, Hermione could hear the mumbling of incantations, but she couldn’t see the flashes of light that should have followed, and she had no idea at what direction the spells were shot, and so she remained frozen in her position just inside the doors for a few moments, trying to gather her thoughts.

Stupefy,” Harry mumbled from somewhere to the left, and then: “Pertrificus totalus.” The second time his voice was coming from the right, and Hermione couldn’t help but smile. He was smart – he didn’t want the Death Eaters to be able to follow his voice and thereby aim their spells right. Ginny was busy doing the same thing. She sent one of her infamous hexes after the other into the darkness. Hermione was just about to follow their example when she heard a sound, just a few yards in front of her. Someone was moving, slowly and very quietly, straight towards her. Was it Ron? Since he hadn’t uttered a sound since they came back in, she had no idea where he could be. She wanted to ask, but if it was Jugson or Selwyn she would reveal the fact that she was standing right in front of them and make herself a much too easy target. Hermione’s heart pounded loudly in her chest, and she took a deep, silent breath. If it were Ron, a stunning spell wouldn’t harm him. She raised her wand, suddenly aware of the other person’s breathing – his inhales were shaky, as if he was nervous, and his exhalation was noticeably slow, so that no one would hear. Hermione wouldn’t have heard it either if she hadn’t been standing so close to him.

I’ll take the chance, she thought, and without further ado she said: “Stupefy!”

There was a thud as her victim fell to the floor. “Ron, are you okay?” Hermione asked while moving a few steps to the left.

“Yes,” she heard Ron reply.

His voice seemed to come from below, which confused Hermione. Maybe she just hadn’t heard it right. A few seconds later a scream was heard – from one of the Death Eaters, Hermione assumed, because the deep male voice belonged to neither Harry nor Ron – followed by a muffled sound, Ron’s grunting and then: “Stupefy!” Hermione desperately wanted to see what was happening, but even though the darkness had begun to disperse she could barely distinguish the light that appeared at the tip of her wand when she mumbled: “Lumos.”

“Did we get them both?” Ron asked. “I’ve got one here. I think it’s Jugson.”

“Yeah, I got one too,” Hermione said.

“Let’s pull them outside,” Ginny suggested. “Just to make sure.”

 “I left his body,” Hermione said while trying to remember exactly where. She started walking and almost tripped over the man’s legs. “Here! Harry, will you give me a hand?”

She grabbed the man’s legs and they fumbled their way to the door. They pulled who turned out to be Selwyn out on the street and placed him on the sidewalk. Ginny and Ron followed, dragging a stunned Jugson into the light. A very old woman, whose white hair hung in a braid down her hunched back, stopped when she saw them. She stared at the unconscious men and eyed the adolescents with suspicion.

“Oh, dear Lord!” she said. “What happened to them?”

“Nothing,” Ron said as his ears turned red. “They’ll be fine.”

“Are they alive?” The woman bent down to check on the men, which was pretty impressing given her age. Hermione hurried over to her.

 “I think you should just keep walking,” she said. In the corner of her eye she noticed that Ginny had pulled out the cloak of invisibility and was prepared to cover the bodies with it. As discretely as she could, Hermione grabbed her wand, pointed it to the old woman and said: “Obliviate.”

As the word left her lips, she felt her eyes fill with tears and everything around her went blurry. She couldn’t use the spell without instantly travelling back in time to the moment when she had erased the memory of her own existence from her parents’ minds. Missing them felt like having a freezingly cold claw rip her chest open. She wanted to go back to being little, crawl up into her mother’s arms and forget everything else... and she would, as soon as she had found them.

 

 

Ron was sitting on the ground, leaned against the storefront of the dental clinic. Harry was away trying to contact Kingsley Shacklebolt and Ginny stood on the sidewalk, ready to get in the way of anyone who was about to step on the Death Eaters, who were still hidden under the invisibility cloack. Ron knew this, but his attention was not on his best mate or his sister. He focused completely on Hermione, who was pacing back and forth in front of him, looking like she could burst into tears any second.

He got up on his feet. Just a little while ago he had thought he was going to lose her, and it had made him realise that he would do anything for her. Right now, he wanted nothing more than to comfort her. He was pretty sure that the only thing that would make her feel better was finding her parents. After a moment of hesitation he walked up to her and put his arms around her. She started sobbing, pressed her face against his shoulder and hugged him tightly. 

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” he whispered.

 She looked up at him, tears streaming slowly down her cheeks, and smiled.

 “Ron?” she said. “I love you.”

It was nothing like how he had imagined it. He had pictured nicer surroundings than a sidewalk in a pretty shabby part of Sydney. He sure hadn’t pictured her crying. And he hadn’t been able to imagine the feeling inside him as the words left her lips. It was as if every feeling he had felt up until that moment had only scratched the surface of his heart, never coming close to reaching its core. This time he felt with every inch of his body, all the way into its centre and out in every corner, every nook. There are two kinds of strong feelings. There is the kind that takes you by storm all at once, causing you to almost lose your footing. But that was not what Ron felt for Hermione. No, it was the kind of feeling that creeps up on you without you really noticing, and its tiny, thin threads make their way into the very core of your heart, where they tangle up and create such a mess that you just know they will never untangle. Not that you would want them to. Ron didn’t want them to – he gladly allowed the feeling to grip him and fill him up completely.

“I love you too, Hermione. Let’s go find your parents, shall we?”


 



Back at the Burrow, Mrs Weasley had spotted a few dark clouds on the sky and forced her three eldest sons to clear the table out in the backyard, which they had laid beautifully for the upcoming feast of the night, and set the kitchen table instead. She was currently standing in the kitchen, paying only a small part of her attention to the stove, which she was heating up using her wand. The rest of it was turned to the family clock, the one whose golden hands revealed the whereabouts of each member of the Weasley family. A while ago, both Ginny and Ron’s hands had pointed at mortal peril, but Ginny’s had turned to travelling. Ron’s hand didn’t seem to be able to make up its mind and constantly switched between travelling and lost. The scratching sound of its movement made it impossible for Mrs Weasley to turn her eyes away from the clock. That was until a clicking sound made her aware of the fact that Ginny’s hand had moved again, and was now pointing at home, causing Mrs Weasley to turn around and stare at the front door.

Only a few moments later the door opened, and Harry and Ginny stepped inside. Before either of them had time to say anything Mrs Weasley had pulled them into her arms, hugging them so tightly it was a wonder they could still breathe.

“We’re fine, Mum,” Ginny said while wriggling out of her mother’s embrace. “So are Ron and Hermione. They’re still looking for Mr and Mrs Granger.”

Charlie and Percy, who had waited at the kitchen table since they had finished setting it, stood up and walked over to greet their little sister and her boyfriend. 

“What happened?” asked Percy. “We saw your hands at the clock…”

“Death Eaters,” Harry explained. “Jugson and Selwyn. Kingsley took them to Azkaban.”

Mrs Weasley looked shocked, and Charlie put his arm around her shoulders.

“They’re all fine,” he reminded her. “Don’t worry.”

“But Hermione and Ron are still…” 

“A few Aurors from the Australian Ministry came with them, just in case,” Ginny said. “Apparently, they've been keeping an eye on Hermione's parents just to make sure no one came after them. They should be back any second. I told Hermione to invite her parents over for dinner.”

She smiled at her mum, who didn’t seem convinced. But no more convincing had to be done, because Ron’s hand at the clock had moved via travelling to home, and a few seconds later the front door opened again. Ron came in first. He looked surprised when he saw his whole family standing right inside the door – George, Bill, Fleur, Angelina Johnson and Mr Weasley had just joined the others in the kitchen. Ron stepped inside and Hermione’s smiling face replaced his in the doorway. A woman with brown, bushy hair and a man with an inquisitive facial expression were glancing over her shoulder, trying to get a look of the people inside. They both seemed to feel out of place, and they met the Weasleys’ eyes nervously. Hermione had to reach out, grab their arms and pull them inside. She then turned around and faced the Weasley family, once again with a wide smile on her face.

“Everyone, meet my mum and dad!”

 




Author's Note: I'm sorry that it took so long to put up this next chapter, but I had to wait for my one-shot, Narcissa's Choice, to be validated before I could submit this one.

I would really appreciate it if you'd take the time to leave a review. I really want to know what you think, and you'd make me very happy!


Chapter 4: Year 1: Back to Hogwarts
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The sound of voices woke Harry up. He was lying on his stomach in his bed in Ron’s room, trying his best to keep his eyes closed. His entire body was protesting against waking up this early, wanting nothing more than to go back to sleep, but he could already see light flooding into the room through his eyelids and the voices, coming from downstairs – most likely the kitchen – were too loud to ignore. He rolled over and opened his eyes. The bright orange curtains hadn’t been pulled together all the way the night before and were now allowing a wide streak of light to pass through the window and into the room, straight towards Harry’s bed. Much to his surprise, Harry realized Ron wasn’t in the room. It must have been the first time in the history of the world that he got up before Harry. 

After pulling on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, Harry headed downstairs. He stopped in the doorway of the kitchen, astonished to see Professor McGonnagall sitting at the kitchen table, having breakfast with Ron, Ginny and Mrs Weasley.

“Oh, Harry, you’re up,” Mrs Weasley said when she saw him. “Why don’t you come join us? Minerva has come with news.” 

“Hello, Harry,” Professor McGonnagall said. It felt strange to hear her call him by his first name, but she had done so since the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry assumed it was because she was no longer his professor. “How are you? I‘ve heard of the incident at the dental clinic.”

“I’m fantastic, actually,” Harry said. “And yes, that was an unfortunate incident, but on the other hand we managed to catch another two of the Death Eaters that managed to escape that night.”

“Which brings us to the reason of my visit,” Professor McGonnagall said. “Ronald has informed me of Kingsley Shacklebolt’s offer. He is willing to let you become aurors without getting your N.E.W.T.S, correct?” When Harry nodded affirmatively she continued: “Even though I think you would only benefit from completing your education, you have both proved to be both worthy and qualified to accept such an offer.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said, and Ron grunted in agreement, since his mouth was full of food.

“And Molly, there is no need to worry about that,” Professor McGonnagall said when she saw the disapprobative look on Mrs Weasley’s face. “Students rarely reach the level that these boys have even in their seventh year, and they are going to be just fine. But Miss Weasley, I assume you would be more interested in what I’ve told you?”

“What have you told her?” Harry asked while reaching for the juice jug.

“Hogwarts will open again in September,” Professor McGonagall answered with the hint of a proud smile on her face. “And they… I’ve been named headmistress.”

“Wow, congratulations!” Harry felt a bit awkward. He didn’t know if he should pat her shoulder or maybe shake her hand, but he settled for just an encouraging smile.

“Of course Ginny is interested!” Mrs Weasley said. “It would be nice to see at least one of my children graduating.” She ignored Ron’s muttering: “What about Bill, Charlie and Percy?” and turned her attention to McGonnagall.

 “Splendid,” said the new headmistress of Hogwarts. “Gryffindor’s quidditch team will need a skilled captain to get the team together.” She winked at Ginny, who gaped.

“Captain?”

That was when it hit Harry. On the first of September, Ginny would go back to school. He wouldn’t see her until Christmas. He watched her face, which still had an expression of pride and surprise over what Professor McGonnagall had just told her. Ginny then met Harry’s eyes and smiled, and he felt as if a wave of warmth washed over him. It seemed like he would never get over how beautiful she was.

“Well, I shouldn’t take advantage of your hospitability any longer, then,” the professor said as she stood up.

“We’re just happy to have you here,” Mrs Weasley told her.

“I have to admit I was hoping to find Miss Granger here,” Professor McGonnagall said while pushing the kitchen chair in. “I assume she’s moved back to her parents house, then? The Daily Prophet said she managed to restore their memories.” 

“That’s right,” said Ron. “I can promise you one thing, though – she’s going to be thrilled to hear that Hogwarts will open again. She really doesn’t understand why Harry and I won’t go back too.”

“I should head over there straight away,” McGonnagall said and smiled. “Thank you again for breakfast, Molly.”

“So, are you going to visit all your students this way?” Harry asked. “Because I hate to break it to you, professor, but I don’t think you’ll be finished before September.”

Professor McGonnagall smiled and shook her head. “Just a selected few,” she said, opened the front door and left. Just a few seconds later they heard the subdued bang of her apparating away. 

 

 

Ron, Harry and Ginny had spent the last couple of hours doing their best to stay out of the kitchen. It was the last day of August, and Mrs Weasley was busy cooking an amazing feast, since it was Ginny’s last night home. The next morning she would go back to Hogwarts for her final year. Bill and Fleur had arrived early, and as soon as they entered the front door they were put to work – which was exactly the thing that the three teenagers hiding up in Ron’s room were trying to avoid. George, who had moved back to the flat above the shop in London, had probably predicted what would happen if he’d show his face in the kitchen before dinner was ready, because he hadn’t shown up yet. Mrs Weasley had started casting a glance at the clock every now and then, worrying that he might miss dinner completely. She knew that he was struggling, and the thought of him being alone in that empty apartment almost broke her heart.

She expected Mr Weasley, Percy and Audrey to get back from their work at the Ministry at seven o’clock sharp, and she planned to have everything ready by then. Much to Mrs Weasley’s content, Percy and Audrey had announced that they were now more than just friends, which automatically made Audrey a regular dinner guest on the same level as any of the Weasley children. 

“Hermione’s family is coming,” said Ginny, who was sitting in Ron’s bed with her face pressed against the window.

The words barely had time to leave her mouth before Ron had jumped to his feet and practically thrown himself out through the door and down the stairs to meet Hermione. Ginny laughed.

“You’d think that it’s been two years since he saw her, rather than two days,” she said.

Harry, who had been lying on his back in his bed, got up on his feet as well, walked over to her and sat down next to her.

“I can understand that,” he said, reached out his arms and pulled her close to him. “Every moment that you’re not with me feels like an eternity.”

Ginny grinned. “Wow, did you steal that line from Ron’s book on how to charm witches? Because it sucked!”

Harry laughed and started tickling her until she begged for mercy. “I meant it, you know,” he then told her.”

“I wish you would come with me to Hogwarts,” Ginny said, leaning her head against his chest. “We could go to classes together, as we would be in the same year… play quidditch together – if you’d make the team, that is,” she teased him and grinned when his eyes narrowed. “We’d have every day to be together.”

Harry smiled and kissed her cheek. “You’re making me doubt my decision, Ginny.”

“Great,” she answered. “I mean, sure, you already told McGonnagall you weren’t coming back this year… but you are Harry Potter. She just can’t turn you down.” Ginny turned around so that they were facing each other. “And it would give us the chance to do this a lot more…" 

She leaned in and kissed him while wrapping both her arms around his neck. Harry could feel his pulse increase while he pressed himself towards her. He tried to memorize every detail of what he was feeling in that moment – her soft hair between his fingers, her lips against his and the warmth of her body, streaming over to his.

“He…”

Hermione, who had just reached Ron’s bedroom, interrupted herself when she realized what was going on in there.

“Potter!” Ron hade caught up with Hermione, and the sound of his voice made Ginny and Harry jump and let go of each other. “I’ve been very accepting when it comes to the two of you, but this?” Ron’s frowning face reddened to the point where it matched the colour of his hair as he made a gesture towards them. “Snogging my little sister in my bed?”

“Oh, Ron!”

Ginny rolled her eyes and shook her head. Then, ignoring the angry look on her brother’s face, she walked past him and gave Hermione a hug.

“Hello. How are you feeling about tomorrow?”

“I’m a little torn,” Hermione answered. “I’m glad you’ll be with me. And I’m excited to meet everyone again – those that will actually come back, that is…” She glanced over at Ron, and Ginny’s eyes automatically turned to Harry.

“I know,” she said.

“Mum says we should come down,” Ron said. “George is finally here, and the others are on their way. And you two obviously can’t handle being left alone up here. Come on.”

He shot a long look at Harry before grabbing Ginny’s arm and starting to drag her down the stairs. Harry and Hermione exchanged a look and laughed before they followed them.

The kitchen was now crowded with people. George was standing just inside the door, showing off some article from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes to Mr and Mrs Granger, who seemed both fascinated and delighted judged by their exclamations and avid questions. Fleur was sitting on one of the kitchen chairs, her arms crossed over her stomach, with an uncomfortable look on her face, as if she really just wanted to get up and leave. Bill and Mrs Weasley were busy moving all the food from the stove to the long table, using their wands. At the very same moment that Ron, Ginny, Harry and Hermione entered the kitchen, the front door opened and Mr Weasley, Percy and Audrey stepped inside. All three of them were smiling widely.

“Wow, it smells amazing in here!” said Audrey as she hung her purse on the coat hanger inside the door.

“Terrific. Everyone’s here,” said Mrs Weasley. “Let’s dig right in then, shall we?”

Everyone sat down at the table and began loading their plates with colossal piles of Mrs Weasley’s delicious food. “It’s just like being back at Hogwarts,” said Percy contently as he filled his cup – which appeared to have been silver coloured once – with pumpkin juice. After all the plates were filled, Mr Weasley rose to his feet to make a toast.

“First of all, to my beautiful wife, for cooking such a lovely dinner for us,” he said and gave Mrs Weasley a tender smile. “Secondly, to Ginny and Hermione, who are leaving for Hogwarts in the morning. And to… to the fact that the war is over! So perhaps to you then, Harry?”

George grinned and raised his cup. “To mum, Ginny, Hermione and Harry!”

The others joined in, and a ringing sound filled the room as they bumped their glasses together. At the other end of the table, Mrs Weasley gasped loudly and put her cup down so quickly that its content nearly spilled over the edge. She put her hand over her daughter-in-law’s and said in shock:

“Fleur, you’re not eating! What’s wrong?" 

“Oh,” said Fleur. “Eet is a magnifique dinner, I just…”

The scratching of Bill’s chair against the floor as he stood up interrupted her. He smiled at her and let his gaze wander between the confused faces that stared back at him.

“There is something else,” he said, “that we should toast for tonight. We weren’t going to tell yet, because it’s so early… but I just wanted to do this before you leave for school. Fleur is pregnant. We’re having a baby!”

 

 

The buzz of voices, the sound of the little wheels of suitcases against asphalt and trains passing by filled the air around King’s Cross Station. There were people everywhere – the people flow that occurred every year on the first day of September had always baffled the Muggles working there. Harry was pushing a trolley carrying Ginny’s bags in forwards, zig-zagging though the crowd on his way towards platform 9 and 10. Ginnys was walking closely behind him. Her father’s arm rested around her shoulder. He was trying to comfort her, as she had just said goodbye to the rest of the family – except for Mrs Weasley, Ron and Hermione – and her eyes were red and swollen from crying.

Hermione and Ron had stopped between platform 9 and 10, just next to the brick wall that lead into platform 9 ¾. Realizing that the others had caught up with them, they took each other’s hands and started running straight towards the wall. In the next moment, they had disappeared. Harry followed them, and Ginny and her parents came closely behind. It was an amazing feeling, running through that wall and getting onto the platform. The first thing that met them on the other side was the magnificent, red steam train that would soon head off the first place that Harry had ever called his home. The brick wall was a passage between the Muggle and Wizarding world, and the people, who had tried their best to be discrete as they passed through the Muggle part of the station, hoping to blend in, had started to relax and let their guards down. Many of them wore traditional wizard clothing – robes and mantles in different colours and hats that would have attract a lot of attention on the other side of the wall. The hoots of owls, the flapping of wings and loud voices filled the atmosphere. Even the smell was different on this side – it was a mixture of fresh parchment, train fumes, a sweet candy aroma and something else, something undetectable. Perhaps it was the smell of magic.

A voice called: “That’s Harry Potter!” It was followed by a few more voices, and then, suddenly, everyone on the platform fell silent. The Weasleys, Harry and Hermione stopped, and it was then that Harry realized that Mr Weasley had stuck his hand in his pocket, ready to pull out his wand. Harry knew what he must have been thinking – if a dental clinic in Sydney hadn’t been safe, could this place really be? They still had no clue how the Death Eaters had found out about Hermione’s parents. Was it possible that someone had found out that Harry was coming to the platform that day? Would they really take the risk of attacking him in front of all those people? Just in case, Harry moved his hand closer to the inside pocket of his jacket, in which he kept his wand, and looked around. Most people had stopped moving and were turned towards him, staring shamelessly at him and the small group of people he had come with.

“Harry!”

A happy voice broke the silence, and when Harry turned his head to locate it he realized that Neville Longbottom was squeezing himself through the crowd of people, heading towards him. When he reached them he gave Harry a friendly hug before turning to Ginny, Hermione and Ron to do the same thing.

“I had no idea you were all coming back this year!” he said cheerfully.

“Oh, sorry, Neville,” Ron said. “Harry and I are just here to see the girls off.”

“Oh, okay.” Neville looked disappointed, but then he smiled at Ginny and Hermione. “Have you seen Luna? She’s coming back too, isn’t she?”

“I thought you would know, if anyone,” Harry said with a quizzical smile on his face, but Neville shrugged and shook his head.

“She hasn’t been answering my letters,” he said. Harry couldn’t help but wonder if he realized that everyone on the entire platform listened to every word they said.

“So, you’re repeating your seventh year, Neville?” asked Hermione 

“They barely taught us anything last year, to be honest," Neville answered. “And my grandmother says I shouldn’t appreciate the value of good education, even if it means I have to go to school for eight years.” 

Since the minute hand had moved closer to the twelve of the large clock on the wall, people began talking again. Harry felt something pull his sleeve, and he jumped before he realized it was just a little girl standing next to him. She didn’t look a day over six, and she was staring at him, her eyes widened as she smiled shyly. Harry smiled back at her, not knowing what else to do. 

“You’re my hero!” the girl said and proceeded to wrap her arms around Harry’s legs.

“Ella!” A woman rushed over to them, and she bent down to pry the girl off of Harry. “Ella, don’t ever run away from mummy like that again, do you hear me? I’m so…” She interrupted herself when she straightened up and realized exactly whose legs her daughter had clung onto, “… sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Harry said.

After Ella had glanced beseechingly at him for a while, Harry agreed to take a photo with the two of them. Then, he turned towards the people he was actually there for. Mrs Weasley was close to crushing Ginny’s rib in one of her infamous, tight embraces, and Hermione reached her arms out towards Harry. 

“It’s going to be so strange to be there without you,” she said.

“It’s school,” Harry smiled, and hugged her. “If I know you right you won’t be suffering.”

Hermione laughed. “Perhaps not,” she said, “but I’ll still miss you. Promise me you’ll write. And make Ron write a few letters too. It’s fine by me if you have to threaten him.”

“I’m sure I won’t have to,” Harry said. “He’s madly in love with you, remember?”

He smiled as his gaze wandered over to Ginny involuntarily. She had managed to free herself from her mother’s arms. Harry opened his mouth to say something, but Hermione beat him to it. 

“I know. I’ll look after her.”

She smiled at him once more before turning to Ron. A few seconds later, Harry was attacked by Ginny who threw her arms around him and pressed her lips against his. Harry could hear Mr Weasley clear his throat and someone wolf-whistling before he had tuned out the world and was alone with Ginny. He could feel a wave of sadness coming towards him, ready to wash over him, but he pushed it away. He wouldn’t allow himself to feel it until the train had left. The sound of the steam whistle broke into their bubble and they ended the kiss without letting go of each other.

“Be safe,” Harry said.

“I’m the one who should tell you that,” Ginny said. “You’re the one who’s always in some sort of trouble. I know you have a habit of getting yourself into life-threatening situations, but how about you try to avoid that this year?”

Harry smiled. “I’ll try.”

The steam whistle blew again. “Ginny,” Hermione said. “We have to go.”

“I know.” Ginny pressed her cheek against Harry’s one last time. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

They reluctantly let go of each other. Ginny and Hermione got on the train. It didn’t take long before they had taken place in a compartment with Neville and Luna. All four of them looked out the window and waved, and those standing at the platform waved back at them. Harry’s eyes were fixed on Ginny’s face, as if he was worried he might forget what she looked like. Then the clock struck eleven, and the train started moving. A few moments later it had left King’s Cross Station, Harry and Ron behind.

 





A/N: I'm not really sure how I feel about this chapter. I think it just had to be there to get the story moving, but I can assure you that things are about to get more interesting.

If you'd take the time to leave a review and let me know what you thought, you would make my day! Thank you so much to those who have left reviews so far, it makes me so incredibly happy :)


Chapter 5: Year 1: September
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“Firs' years, this way!”

Hermione spotted Hagrid’s enormous figure towering over the students’ heads. He was standing by a train wagon a few yards further back than the one from which Hermione and Ginny had just stepped out. A giant lamp dangled from one of his massive hands, already attracting a group of newcomers who seemed to be more afraid of the dark than a man of Hagrid’s size. Hermione wanted to go over and say hello, but Ginny dragged her towards the carriages that would take the older students to the school grounds.

“Can you see them?”

Ginny nodded towards the carriages that waited for them by the end of the platform, and Hermione stretched her neck to be able to see over the top of the other students’ heads. She swallowed and nodded. For the first time, she could see the large, monsterlike creatures that had always pulled the carriages, but only could be seen by those who had witnessed death. This year she was one of them. Judging by the cries and shocked, frightened facial expressions of the other students, she wasn’t the only one who saw the thestrals for the first time. They were horrifying, but it was the realization of how many students had witnessed death last year that upset Hermione the most. She smiled encouragingly at a second year boy who gazed yearningly at Hagrid and the first years, who were busy climbing into the little boats that would take them across the lake. His lower lip trembled as he followed his friends over to one of the carriages, climbed into it and let out a shriek as it started moving. Hermione felt bad for him. Not because he had to ride with the thestral, because she knew it wouldn’t harm him, but because he seemed much too young to have seen someone die.

Luna Lovegood walked over to one of winged horse creatures and started stroking its muzzle. She then turned around and smiled dreamingly at the others. “Aren’t you coming?”

Neville, Ginny and Hermione followed her into the carriage and the thestrals set off towards the school. As they got closer to the castle, the students could see the flickering lights through all the windows, the high towers and pinnacles that would always look like something from a fairytale to Hermione, the plains stretching out into the darkness, and the mountains, dark and tall against the deep blue night sky. The Black Lake created another source of light, since each boat held, apart from a couple of nervous first years, a large lantern in its stern. The view was both magical and beautiful, especially compared to how it had looked the last time they were there. After a few days most of the destruction had been removed and fixed, but the castle was now completely restored to its former glory. It was a nostalgic feeling – it was like travelling back in time, being twelve years old and believing that the carriages pulled themselves, and then lifting your head to see the castle from that direction for the first time.

 

 

“Boys, it’s almost time!”

Mr Weasley was standing by the fireplace in the Burrow, holding the ceramic pot with floo powder in his hands. Ron and Harry, who were busy swallowing the last bites of their early breakfast, nodded and stood up. Harry began clearing the table, but Mrs Weasley immediately protested.

“I’ll take care of that, dear. The two of you better head off.”

Harrys shrugged, left the plates on the wooden table and walked over to Mr Weasley.

“Ron, why don’t you go first?” Mr Weasley said, holding out the pot towards his youngest son. “And then you, Harry. Wait for me there.”

Ron took a grain of the powder, threw it into the flames, which flared up and took a fiercely green colour. He crouched, stepped into the fireplace and said: “The Ministry of Magic!” whereupon the flames grew higher and devoured him. As soon as he had disappeared and the flames had retaken their normal colour, Harry followed his best mate.

The great entrance hall, whose sidewalls were covered by fireplaces, was as crowded as ever. Although most of the people who worked at the Ministry would have arrived a bit earlier, there were people everywhere. A constant flow of visitors walked through the large door across from the fireplace from which Harry just stepped out. He placed his feet on the polished stone floor, and in the corner of his eye he could see the many fires shift colour from red to green and back again. Ron was standing a few yards away, shaking hands with a very old, white-haired wizard.

“A true honour, sir!” the man was just saying, smiling reverently. “You must know how grateful I am for what you’ve done for the Wizarding World. If you’d only…” His glance wandered over to Harry, and he interrupted himself in the middle of the sentence, staring blindly at him. “Is it really…?”

“The one and only,” Ron answered with a grin.

The man took a few faltering steps towards Harry, bowed and reached out his hand.

“Mr Potter,” he said, “to get to meet you in real life… you’re a hero, you are! Yes, you’ve always been known as the boy who lived, but you’re so much more now, aren’t you? You’re the boy who defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!”

“I think it’s okay to say his name now, Nigel,” said Mr Weasley, who had arrived in the hall too, and was watching the scene that took place there with an amused look on his face.

“Arthur!” said the old man. “I have just had the honour of meeting Harry Potter and your son. Merlin, you must be proud… your son saved the entire world!”

“I sure am,” Mr Weasley said and winked at Ron. “Look, Nigel, we’d love to stay and chat, but we’ve got to get going. The boys are attending today’s trials and I’ve got work to do as well.”

“The trials, of course,” Nigel said and nodded. “I read in the Daily Prophet that they would start today. Make sure they get what they deserve, Mr Potter, Mr Weasley.”

He smiled ingeniously and trotted away, heading towards one of the counters next to the large door. Mr Weasley led Harry and Ron to the elevators. They travelled down to the dungeons where a thin, pale witch let them into the oval-shaped room where the trials would be held. Harry knew the room well – he had seen it in Dumbledore’s memories of the trials after the first war, and his diciplinary hearing after having performed underage magic had taken place there. Kingsley nodded at them from his seat among the jury members, and a tubby, hollow-eyed witch came to greet them.

“Mr Weasley, Mr Potter,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. My name is Theresa Thent, and I’m Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Do you understand your duties today?”

“We’re just witnesses, right?” Ron said. “So we’ll just answer your questions.”

“That’s about it,” Miss Thent said. “I’ll show you to your seats.”

A few moments later, Harry and Ron sat down in the front row, on the left side of the jury, wearing their plum-coloured robes, and Miss Thent, who had taken place at the rostrum. Next to them was Aberforth Dumbledore, who whisperingly told them how Wizengamot had begged on their knees for him to take his late brother’s role as Chief Warlock.

“I’ll tell you this much,” he said with an inscrutable smile. “They sure don’t care about that whole goat-story anymore. And I can still keep the Hog’s Head, so I decided to accept. How can I turn down the chance to help send Death Eaters to Azkaban, eh?”

Suddenly, everyone in the room fell silent and began staring at the large wooden door on the opposite wall. The only thing that could be heard was the sound of echoing steps coming from the other side of it. Harry almost fell off his chair when the door was burst open with a loud noise. Two men, whom he had never seen before, ushered the accused man to the chair that was placed in the middle of the room. During the trials after the first war he would have been chained to it, but this time he just sat down – no cage was lowered down to prevent his escape. The only precaution taken was the two guards, who took a few steps back and pointed their wands at the man, who reached up a shaky hand to brush his blond hair from his face as he sat down.

“Lucius Malfoy,” Miss Thent said, not letting a second go to waste. “You stand before Wizengamot as a result of your joining Lord Voldemort’s Death Eaters during these last couple of years. You are accused of torture of Muggles and Muggle-borns, and for using the Imperius curse on employees of the Ministry.”

Lucius Malfoy lifted his head. For a few moments, he met Miss Thent’s eyes. He then turned to stare at the boy who had killed his master. Harry didn’t look away. He couldn’t help but notice the desperation in Malfoy’s face – he was a beaten, defeated man who looked like he had nothing left to lose.

“How do you plead, guilty or not guilty?”

“He… he forced… the Dark Lord can be very… persuasive.”

“And yet,” Miss Thent replied, “he tried to persuade a whole bunch of us sitting in here, but you’re the only one with the Dark Mark on your wrist.”

“I beg you to have mercy,” Lucius said, making a movement that made the guards stiffen and aim their wands at him. “My family… he would have killed them!”

“There were help to get for those who wanted to get out,” Aberforth Dumbledore said. “My own brother offered that help to Severus Snape, and he took it.”

“Severus doesn’t have a son!” said Lucius. “Or a wife!”

“Didn’t Severus Snape murder your brother?” asked one of the witches in the jury.

“That was staged,” Harry explained. “Snape really was on our side.”

“You have to understand, I have a child! I wanted to protect him!”

Miss Thent couldn’t stop herself from snorting. “Then tell me this, Mr Malfoy: do you think you succeeded in protecting him? Allowing your own son to become a Death Eater? Perhaps you missed him this morning, but I think he was in the cell next to yours in Azkaban!”

“I had no choice!”

“There is always a choice.” Harry was startled when Ron stood up next to him and started speaking. “My parents had to make that same choice. The difference between them and you is that they are good, loving, moral people and you’re nothing but a coward!”

“The difference between them and me is that their son died!”

Lucius spat out the words, and Ron, blinded by fury, pulled out his wand and aimed it at him.

“Mr Weasley!” Miss Thent looked upset. “Put that away and sit back down!”

 

 

“… so the whole thing ended with Lucius returning to Azkaban, and Draco and his mother was cleared of all charges,” Harry summed it up later that night, while sitting in front of the burning fire in the living room with Ron, Mr and Mrs Weasley, and Bill.

“How come they were released?” Bill asked. “I wouldn’t exactly have mourned over seeing them get locked up as well.”

“It feels weird to defend him after spending so many years hating him,” Ron said. “But Draco… I think he was just influenced by his dad. I don’t think he wanted any of it, to be honest.”

“Besides, both Draco and his mother lied for me,” Harry pointed out. “When we were at Malfoy Manor and Hermione had hexed me so they wouldn’t recognize me. I could tell that he did. But he lied to his father, telling him he couldn’t be sure it was me. And in the Forbidden Forest, when Voldemort thought he had killed me, Mrs Malfoy lied to him and said I was dead. She probably saved my life that night.”

“Well, are you attending the trials tomorrow too?” Mrs Weasley asked. “Because if you are I will have to mend that rip in your robes, Ron, it’s not appropriate to go dressed like that…”

“No, Mum,” Ron said. “We start our training tomorrow, remember? We don’t have to dress up for that!”

He smiled eagerly at Harry. They had both looked forward to tomorrow for months, and didn’t quite know what to expect. Kingsley had told them it would probably be like being back in school, but they were excited nonetheless.

“By the way, have you heard from Ginny and Hermione?” Mr Weasley asked.

“Yes,” Harry said. “They’re fine. School is tough… and I think it’s tonight that Ginny will hold Quidditch try-outs.”

“Hermione’s studying,” was the only thing Ron had to say, which made both Harry and Bill snort with laughter.

The large floor clock, which stood next to the lounge site in which they were sitting, began striking. Bill turned his head to look at it and rose to his feet.

“I have to head homewards,” he said. “Fleur is waiting for me.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to bring some pudding home?” Mrs Weasley asked for what must have been the seventh time that night. “She does eat for two now!”

“Oh, she’s eating, alright,” Bill said with emphasis while raising his eyebrows. “In fact, that’s all she does. When she’s not vomiting, that is. But no thank you, Mum, she’s probably got dinner ready by now anyway.”

And that being said, he raised his wand and disapparated.

 

 

Ginny was standing on the ground, looking up at the players dressed in red circling around on their broomstick above her head. It was drizzling, and because her head was bent backwards, the small raindrops hit her face. She glanced over at Andrew Kirke and Jack Sloper, the beaters who had replaced Fred and George when Umbridge had kicked them off the team during Ginny’s fourth year. The two boys were busy passing one of the Bludgers to each other. Ginny felt a sting of sadness inside when she thought of Fred – he was the one who had taught her to play Quidditch once. The memory made her vision blurry as her eyes filled with tears. She shook her head – this wasn’t the time for grief – while one of the players dressed in red landed on the grass next to her.

“So, what do you think of… are you okay?”

It was Demelza Robins, who had been on the team with Ginny two years earlier, before Snape became headmaster and abolished the Quidditch tournament.

“Yes, I’m fine,” Ginny said, clearing her throat. “What do you think of the beaters? Kirke and Sloper or Kirke and Jimmy Peakes?”

“So you’re sure about Andrew Kirke, then?” Demelza said with an enigmatic smile. “Good. I won’t mind being teammates with him…”

A dreamy expression took over her face, and Ginny laughed. Choosing not to comment the longing glances Demelza shot at Andrew, who had started aiming the Bludger at his rivals instead, she said:

“That blond keeper is pretty good, right?”

“Yes,” Demelza admitted. “But don’t you know who she is?”

Ginny squinted, trying to see the girl’s face clearly. It was definitely familiar, but only because they had been in the same house for the last couple of years. They had never talked to each other. Ginny was pretty sure the girl was in the same year as Dennis Creevey though, which would make this her fifth school year.

“That’s Caroline McLaggen!” Demelza whispered and rolled her eyes.

I took a few seconds for Ginny to react with a dejected sigh.

“And she’s related to Cormac, I presume?”

“His little sister,” Demelza confirmed while crossing her arms over her chest.

Ginny turned her eyes to the players again and just caught Caroline make un unbelievable save and smoothly avoid the Bludger that Jack Sloper accidentally shot at her, all in one movement. She was good. But Ginny couldn’t stand her brother, and for all she knew, Caroline could be just as bad. Just the memory of Cormac accusing Ginny of cheating during Ron’s try-outs two years earlier made her blood boil. Not to mention the game in which he had had to stand in for Ron and ended up beating Harry unconscious with a Bludger – which we wasn’t supposed to touch to start with – and making Gryffindor lose the game. If there was anyone Ginny didn’t want on her team, it was another McLaggen.

“Well, I don’t envy you,” Demelza said, straddling her broomstick to join the others in the air again. “Having to pick out the team, I mean… I’m glad I don’t have to do it!”

She nodded, as if to stress her point, and then left Ginny alone on the ground. Ginny watched her as she joined the other chasers, who were passing the Quaffle around behind the goal posts.

“Is it too late to try out for the team?”

The voice made Ginny jump. She span around and found herself eye to eye with Dean Thomas, her ex-boyfriend. She had managed to avoid him over the last couple of weeks, ever since she saw him pass the compartment she had shared with Hermione, Neville and Luna on the Hogwarts Express. “Of course he’s back,” Hermione had said. “He couldn’t finish school last year. He was on the run because his mum is a Muggle.”

Dean was clearing his throat, waiting awkwardly for Ginny’s response. She felt her cheeks burn. The situation was extremely uncomfortable – she didn’t know how to talk to him anymore.

Dean looked as abashed as she felt. “How’s… how’s Harry doing?”

“Oh,” Ginny said. “He’s doing great. He’s actually starting auror training tomorrow. Him and Ron both.”

“Okay.” Dean nodded and then continued: “So… am I too late or what?”

“Oh no, not… not at all,” Ginny said. “Please tell me you’re trying out for the position as seeker? We’ve only got two third years, and they’re hopeless!”

“Yes,” Dean said. “I mean, I like being a chaser too, but we’ve already got three of those, right?”

“Right,” Ginny said. “Brilliant. Why don’t you… get started? And while you’re up there, will you tell Jack Sloper to give his bat away? I don’t want him killing my entire team before the season has even started.”

 





 A/N: Thank you so much to those of you who have reviewed this story so far! I'd really appreciate it if you'd let me know what you thought about this chapter. I will update again soon :)


Chapter 6: Year 1: Hogsmeade
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It was a cold day in that time of year between seasons – some would call it late autumn, others early winter. Whichever one it was, both Harry and Ron shivered on their lunchbreak stroll around Westminster in London. Harry had wrapped his home-knitted scarf in Gryffindor’s colours tightly around his neck while making a mental note to thank Mrs Weasley for it once again – it really did come in handy on days like that one.

Fortunately, it was warmer inside the little office in the Auror Department of the Ministry of Magic, where Harry and Ron were seated across from each other, brewing an invisibility potion each. Heat was spreading not only from the embers underneath the two cauldrons that were placed on the desk, but also from the fire cracking in the corner of the room. Harry and Ron could hardly make out each other's faces through the smoke rising up from both cauldrons in front of them – Ron’s was pale yellow, in accordance with the book’s descriptions, but Harry’s had a stronger shade. Then again, potion making had never been his strong suit. He wondered if Snape was smacking his lips at him, wherever he may be.

Auror Training was a lot like school, only more interesting, and it focused on the things they actually wanted to learn. Harry thanked God they didn’t have to study History of Magic or Divination – he was also relieved that none of their teachers were anything like Professor Binns, the incredibly boring history teacher at Hogwarts, or their Divination professor, Trelawney. Harry missed a lot about Hogwarts – especially one person who went there – but those two professors never played any part in his longing to go back.

Harry and Ron were in a special training program, both because they hadn’t finished school and because the Auror Department had suffered great losses during the war and needed its new additions to be fit for fight as soon as possible. Their mentor, Michael Seyrod, was one of the few Aurors that were left, and both Harry and Ron had instantly taken a liking to him. He was a muscular man of average height, and although he probably hadn’t turned thirty-five yet, the bushy, tawny beard that covered his cheeks and his receding hairline made him look much older.

The door to the office suddenly burst open, and Seyrod appeared. He entered the room to inspect his apprentice’s potions, completely ignoring the fact that his sudden appearance had startled Ron, who had almost dropped one if his crystal phials. Somehow, though, he managed to catch it before it hit the floor and broke into a million pieces, and he shot a look at Seyrod while hissing:

“For Merlin’s sake! Trying to give me a heart attack, are you, Seyrod?”

Seyrod grinned and took a look at Ron’s work. “That looks really good. Well done,” he said approvingly, before turning to Harry with an amused look on his face. “You can’t be good at everything, Harry. I think you added the wolfsbane too soon, and I assume you chopped the Valerian nuts instead of crushing them with a mortar?”

Harry sighed, nodded and closed his potions book. He wasn’t too upset over having failed in making the potion. If he’d ever need to be invisible, he’d use his father’s invisibility cloak, not brew a potion. He honestly didn’t see why anyone would need a potion for it – those who didn’t have a cloak could just cast a Disillusionment Charm on themselves, right?

“Cheer up, mate,” Ron said, looking incredibly smug as he patted Harry’s shoulder. “I’m no easy opponent.”

Harry laughed and shook his head, and Seyrod rolled his eyes at them.

“Well, if you two are finished turning your training into a competition, I’ve got something to say that mightl make you want to kiss the ground I walk on," he said. “See, a little bird whispered in my ear that the Hogwarts students are going to Hogsmeade this afternoon, and I can think of two people you’d love to run into there.”

It was like being a kid on Christmas morning. Harry could see a wide smile, like a reflection of his own, grow on Ron’s face. Ginny. He hadn’t thought he would see her until it actually was Christmas. Even though it was only a few months away, it had felt like forever, and now he wouldn’t have to wait that long. He would get to see her today – see her, touch her, talk to her, hug her and kiss her. Every time the Weasley family’s owl landed on the windowsill at the Burrow with two letters tied to its leg – one from Hermione and one from Ginny – Harry missed her more. Most days he wanted to quit Auror Training and go back to Hogwarts, just so he could be with her.

Seyrod couldn’t stop himself from laughing when he saw the excited looks on their faces, and he looked around at the mess on the desks with a sigh. “Why don’t you go right now?” he said generously. “I’ll clean this up. But you have to remember how nice I’m being, okay?”

“We’ll repay you somehow,” said Ron, who had already jumped to his feet and grabbed his bag. “You know we love you for it, Seyrod!”

He winked at his teacher before leaving the room. Harry followed close behind. Ron stopped in the hallway outside the office and raised his wand.

“Wait!” Harry said. “It’s probably better if I do it. You don’t want to get splinched again, do you?”

 

 

The bell above the door that lead into Three Broomsticks gave out a tinkling sound as Ginny pushed it open and stepped into the inn, happy to escape the winds, which were even colder there than down in London. She could feel her cheeks heat as the warmth from inside hit her, and looking over her shoulder she could see that her friends' faces had taken a rosy colour. Luna smiled at her and began unwrapping her scarf, and Ginny turned around again to look at the place.

It had changed. Last year, when Snape and the Carrows had controlled Hogwarts, they hadn’t been allowed to visit Hogsmeade at all, so there was no telling when or why Madame Rosmerta had redecorated the place. It seemed to have expanded, but given the fact that it looked the same from the outside, Ginny assumed it had been done with magic. Its old chairs and tables had been replaced with new ones, with cushions that looked as soft as a cloud on every seat and beautifully embroidered tablecloths on each table. The curtains hanging in the windows had changed colour from a deep purple shade to white, and the large chandelier hanging from the ceiling was new.

Madame Rosmerta walked past just them as they stepped inside, carrying a golden tray. The ringing of the bell made her turn her head towards them, and she smiled widely.

“Oh, it’s so lovely to see you again!” she said. “I think there are a few tables available in the back.”

“Thank you,” Ginny said. “It’s nice to see you too. The place looks great.”

“Well, you know, most of it was destroyed that night," Madame Rosmerta said as she began stacking empty glasses onto her tray. “They didn’t just keep to Hogwarts, the Death Eaters.”

A little while later, Ginny, Hermione and Luna had found a table in the back, and they were sipping on three glasses of hot butterbeer while looking out the frosty window. Those who passed by on the street outside – mostly Hogwarts students – had put on their warmest coats and scarfs, and it was difficult not to notice how few of the scarfs that were green and silver. The number of Slytherin students was lower than ever, and it was always sparse at their table in the Great Hall. Many of those whose parents were Death Eaters, or at least had sympathised with Voldemort, had chosen not to come back to Hogwarts; Durmstang had never had so many British students before.

“Ginny, Luna, Hermione!”

Neville’s voice made the girls lift their heads just as he stopped by their table, holding a cup of hot chocolate in his hand. Next to him was Dean Thomas, whose curly hair glistened as though they were covered in frost. He looked a tad uncomfortable, but Neville didn’t seem to notice.

“Can we sit with you?” he asked.

A little while later all five of them had crammed in around the small table. Dean had rushed to the seat next to Ginny’s, which worried her a little. Since they played quidditch together now, they had begun talking again, and she was very relieved to find that they could be good friends despite of everything – although she hadn’t been able to bring herself to tell Harry in any of her letters. Dean placed one of his arms on the seatback of her chair, and she sighed noiselessly. She really hoped he didn't have more than friendship on his mind; that would certainly complicate things. She and Dean were not just part of the same circle of friends, they also spent most evenings together on the Quidditch pitch with the Gryffindor team. She couldn’t afford to lose him as a seeker – he was the only one who had actually caught the Snitch during try-outs, even though they had kept going for nearly two hours.

Hermione, Luna and Neville were in the middle of an intense discussion regarding a Charms essay that Professor Flitwick made them write, and Ginny could see in the corner of her eye how Dean turned his chair so that he faced her.

“Ginny,” he said in a low voice. She turned her head towards him. He was leaning towards her, and he was a bit too close for her to feel entirely comfortable. “I’ve never had the chance to say it,” he continued, “but I’m so glad you’re okay. I thought about you a lot last year when I was on the run.”

“Dean,” Ginny started to say, but he raised his hand to silent her.

“When I got to the Shell Cottage, and Bill assured me you were all right…,” he said, taking a deep breath. “You have no idea how relieved I was.”

He placed his hand over hers. In the next moment, everyone in Three Broomsticks fell silent, except for Madame Rosmerta, who squeaked: “Mr Potter! Mr Weasley!”

Ginny instinctively pulled her hand away, as if she had burned it, and turned around. Half of her heart filled with bliss when she saw Harry and Ron standing right inside the door. The other half saw only Harry’s face. His jaw was clenched and his forehead wrinkled. His gaze wavered between her and Dean, and when it stopped for a moment on Dean’s arm resting on her seatback, Dean quickly removed it and pushed his chair a few inches away from hers.

Hermione got up on her feet. She rushed through the room, zig-zagging between the tables and chairs. When she reached Ron, he wrapped his arms around her, lifted her off the ground and spun her around. Then he put her back down and kissed her passionately, which gave rise to cheering, applause and wolf whistling all around the inn.

Ginny followed Hermione’s example and rose to her feet. She hurried over to Harry, who only stared blankly at her. When she tried to hug him, he didn’t hug her back – he just stood there, his arms hanging straight down, numb in her embrace. She let go of him, pushed the door open and dragged him outside.

“I don’t know what that looked like,” she said and shivered, not knowing if it was from the winds, or from his cold treatment. “I didn’t want to tell you in a letter…”

“I didn’t know Dean was back this year,” was Harry’s only answer. He tore his arm from her grip and started walking away. Ginny hurried after him.

“Harry! Harry Potter!” Her angry voice, which was almost identic to her mother’s, made him stop.

He turned towards her, and much to her surprise Ginny realized that his eyes were full of tears.

“I get it,” he said. “You didn’t know how to tell me…”

“No, I didn’t,” Ginny agreed. “I didn’t want to do it in a letter, so I thought I’d wait until we met face to face to avoid any misunderstandings…”

Harry nodded and turned away while wiping his cheeks with the back of his hand. “You don’t have to say it.”

Ginny sighed in relief and walked over to hug him again, properly this time. But he backed away.

“Stop it,” he said. “You’re only making it harder.”

“Making what harder?” Ginny didn’t know what he was talking about. “I missed you… what did you think I wanted to tell you face to face?”

“That you’re leaving me for Dean.”

“Leaving you? Haven’t I made it clear that there’s no one but you in my world?” Ginny grabbed Harry’s arm, forcing him to meet her eyes. “What I wanted to tell you face to face was that Dean is the seeker on the team, and that we’re friends again.”

Ginny was annoyed, but it didn’t stop Harry from asking:

“So do you always hold hand with your friends? Or sit that close?”

“God, Harry, what’s wrong with you? So he might have shown a little interest today, but you know that I love you! I don’t even see anyone else, and I never will.” She shot him a dark look. “Why are you ruining this? I’ve missed you so much, and now that you’re finally here… don’t be like this.”

And finally, Harry’s face softened. He took a step towards her, wrapped his arms around her and held her close. Ginny hugged him back, closing her eyes and breathing in the scent of him. Then, he bent down his head and kissed her, like he’d never kissed her before, as if he had completely forgotten that they were standing in the middle of the street in Hogsmeade with quite a few spectators around.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I just haven’t seen you in so long, and the first thing I saw was him… I’m sorry. I know you wouldn’t do that, and neither would he. I love you. It’s so good to see you again. I guess I just… I’m just really scared of losing you.”

Ginny leaned her head against his chest. “Don’t be,” she said, “because you never will.”

Back inside Three Broomsticks, Ron had sat down at his friends’ table, resting one arm around Hermione’s shoulders while casting the occasional cold glance at Dean, who sat across from him, unknowingly discussing McGonnagall’s decision to not let Luna comment the upcoming quidditch game between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.

“It’s scandalous!” he said and flung out his arms. “You’re brilliant, Luna, everyone knows it!”

He turned his head towards Ron and raised his eyebrows when he saw the crotchety look on his face. Ron snorted – perhaps Dean thought he was an idiot, but he really wasn’t. He hadn’t missed Dean’s flirting with Ginny, and Ron had two reasons to be upset. Dean had hit on his little sister and his best mate’s girlfriend! If that wasn’t crossing the line, Ron didn’t know what was.

“What’s up, Ron?” Dean finally asked.

“I want you to stay away from Ginny,” Ron told him. “I don’t know if you remember, but she’s with Harry. Your friend Harry.”

“That didn’t stop him from falling in love with her when she was with me,” Dean said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You should probably move on,” said Luna. “Love tends to be a volatile thing, especially at our age, but not for Harry and Ginny. You know, nargles can steal away the feelings we have for each other, but they can’t seem to do it in this case.”

Dean stared at her, and he looked like he was debating whether he should laugh or just ignore what she’d said. Eventually he smiled and said:

“You’re right, Luna. Perhaps you could ask those nargles to steal away my feelings instead?”

This started a long and convoluted discussion on nargles’ free will and how no witch or wizard had ever managed to tame them – “Of course no one can tame them, they don’t exist!” Ron said – and Hermione tuned out.

“I wonder where Harry and Ginny went,” she said.

“I'm sure they willl be here soon,” Ron answered, grabbing her hand under the table. “I really missed you.”

“I missed you too,” Hermione said and leaned her head against his shoulder. “Don’t get me wrong, I love being back at Hogwarts, but it’s not the same without you.”

“I know what you mean,” Ron said. “I wish you could be with me at the Ministry every day.”

“I might be, next year,” said Hermione, a smile growing on her face. “Professor McGonnagall talked to a few people at the Ministry, because she’s aware of my… passion for the rights of house-elves. Guess what they said? They’re saving me a spot in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures!” She looked so proud that Ron couldn’t help but laugh.

“That’s amazing,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone who’d be better suited for a job like that. Well, maybe Hagrid… but then again, he’d only bring the creatures home with him, so he might not be that good after all!”

The bell by the door, followed by abrupt silence, announced that a certain person had come back into the inn. Sure enough, Ron thought as he lifted his head, Harry and Ginny had just walked in through the door. He smiled when he realized that Ginny was walking close to Harry, holding her arm around his waist with a glowing smile on her face.

“I guess we need to make some more room over here,” said Madame Rosmerta while Harry and Ginny slowly made their way through the room. It seemed like every person in there wanted to shake Harry’s hand, pat him on the back or ask him to sign the coasters with Three Broomstick’s emblem on them.

When they reached the table, Madame Rosmerta had already conjured a larger one and an extra two chairs. As Harry and Ginny sat down, she placed two glasses of butterbeer in front of them. Dean stood up and reached out his hand towards Harry.

“Sorry, mate,” he said. “I won’t try anything like that again.”

“Good,” Harry said and smiled obliquely. “It would be sad if I would have to be mad at you. I like you too much.”

Dean laughed before turning to Ginny. “I guess I should apologise to you too.”

“There’s no need,” she said. “You can make it up to me by catching the Snitch on Saturday before McLaggen has made herself an enemy to the entire team, forcing someone – like me – to send a Bludger at her.”

Caroline McLaggen had turned out to be even more intolerable than her older brother. Had it not been for the fact that she’d only let in three goals during the last two games, Ginny would have gladly kicked her off the team long ago.

“McLaggen?” said Harry in surprise.

McLaggen?” Ron echoed. “He’s older than us, what’s he doing here? Hermione?”

“This is his little sister,” Neville explained.

“But she’s about as pleasant as Cormac,” Dean added. “She can drive half the team mad before Madame Hooch has even thrown the Quaffle in the air.”

“And is she a Keeper?” Harry asked. “Like Cormac?”

“Yes,” Ginny answered. “And unfortunately a very good one. So I can’t have her replaced.”

“Look,” said Luna, who had been quiet for the last couple of minutes. “It’s snowing.”

Indeed, large snowflakes were whirling to the ground outside the window, glistening in the light of the street lamps before finally landing soundlessly on the cobblestone street. It was getting darker, and most student had started moving back towards the castle for dinner. Regretfully, Hermione turned her eyes from the window and towards the large clock behind the bar, feeling her heart sink as she realised the time.

When the group reached the entrance gates to Hogwarts, Dean, Neville and Luna quickly said their goodbyes and moved along to give the couples a bit of privacy. Ron gave Ginny a quick hug before he wrapped Hermione in his arms and kissed her one last time.

“I’ll write,” he promised.

Hermione smiled. "I almost believe you."

Harry hesitated for a moment before he pulled Ginny into a close embrace. He kissed her softly and ran his hand through her hair, which was full of little white crystals. “I’ll see you at Christmas.”

And the snowflakes that were still whirling from the sky, a few of them landing ever so gently in Ginny's red hair, the biting cold that turned their exhalations into white smoke and the thin, white layer of snow that creeked under their feet as they walked, made it feel like it wasn’t such a long time away.

 






A/N: If you've got time, please leave a review and let me know what you thought of this chapter. I actually just rewrote it, because I didn't like the first draft. Any comments will be weolcomed! :)

Also, I don't really think Harry's the jealous type, but I figured the distance takes its toll even on him! I would love to hear what you think.


Chapter 7: Year 1: Christmas at the Burrow
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It had been a cold December, and a thick layer of light, glistening snow was covering Ottery St. Catchpole, lighting up the early winter morning and disrupting the sleep of late risers in the small town. Large snowflakes were falling from the skies and landing gently on the tree branches, making them sway slightly as they got dressed in its white winter coat. All over town, houses had been decorated with glittering strings of lights that twinkled in different colours, wreaths adorned every front door and reindeers made of grapevine wobbled under the weight of the snow.

In the outskirts of town, inside the large, unsteady house that had always fascinated the people of Ottery St. Catchpole, Ron had just woken up. He didn’t know what had awoken him – it couldn’t have been Harry, who was lying on the stomach over in his bed, sleeping quietly. Even when he listened carefully, Ron could not hear a sound coming from downstairs, which had to mean that even his mother was still asleep. And that meant that it was early. So, assuming that no sound had awoken him, Ron’s only guess was that it was a habit, imprinted in his body since childhood, to always wake up early on Christmas Eve. But despite it being so early, and despite the fact that Ron was about as much of a morning person as Hermione was a slob, he sat up, stuck his feet in his slippers and tiptoed out of the room. He crept down the stairs, carefully refraining from setting his foot down on the steps that he knew would creak. It wasn't until he had reached the last step that he heard the sound coming from the living room. For a brief moment he thought it was Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, coughing up a hairball. Then he remembered that Hermione had followed his orders and left that monster at her parents’ house, so there had to be another explanation.

As he entered the living room, Ron realised that the sound did not come from a cat – no, it was the stifled sobs of a human being. George was sitting on the couch crying, squeezing something in one of his hands. Ron considered turning around and sneaking back upstairs, because he wasn’t the best person to handle any sort of emotional situation. Perhaps he could send Hermione down... But before Ron had the chance to do anything, George turned his head and jumped when he realized that someone had entered the room. His eyes widened, and he quickly wiped his cheeks before putting something in the chest pocket of his striped pyjama shirt.

George had arrived at the Burrow the day before to claim Bill’s old room before anyone else. He still refused to spend a single night alone in the room that he had shared with Fred, and he had known that the others would not arrive until Christmas Eve. Therefore, he had got there a day early to be able to choose where to sleep without having to explain himself to his brothers. Of course, Ron hadn’t figured out why George had done this, but Hermione had explained it to him the previous night, before kissing his cheek and heading up to Ginny’s room to go to bed.

“Ron!” said George. When he heard how thin and shaky his voice sounded, he cleared his throat and continued: “What are… how long have you been standing there?”

Without answering, Ron walked around the coffee table and sat down next to his brother.

“What was that?” he asked. “That thing that you hid in your pocket?”

George hesitated before reaching into his pocket again. He pulled something out and handed it to Ron. It was a photo of the twins, dressed up, with identical smiles, and Angelina Johnson standing in between them, wearing a wonderful, dark purple gown. Instead of wearing her hair in her usual sporty ponytail, her long, black curls danced around her shoulders as she laughed and flung an arm around Fred's neck; she was absolutely stunning. The photo was taken at the Yule Ball – Ron recognised the decorations in the background - during his fourth and their sixth year at Hogwarts. He was grabbed, instantly, by a strong feeling of sadness, and he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Fred’s smiling face. This was their first Christmas without him.

“I think he planned on marrying her,” George said, staring at his hands. “They never really dated once we left school, but I think he would have married her after the war. Did you know she used to visit the shop in London? Fred would show her our latest inventions and products, and if she wasn’t deeply impressed by them, he’d work some more on them to make them even cooler.”

Ron smiled. Fred had never been very self-conscious about his inventions, but perhaps George was right. Perhaps Angelina had been more special to him than he had let on.

George’s loud sob startled Ron, who lifted his head. He placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “George…,” he mumbled while trying to hold back his own tears.

“We kissed,” George said. Ron was just about to ask: “You and Fred?” when he added: “Angelina and I. I’ve betrayed him. That’s what he’d say if he were here now. ‘There are three billion girls in the world, George, three billion, and you kiss her!' She's just been so good to me, you know? I know losing him was just as horrible for all of you, but she really gets it, somehow... She's been over nearly every day since I moved back to London. Even on the days I can't get out of bed, she just sits in the bedroom with me and talks. So when we were exchanging Christmas presents the other day, it just sort of happened. Fred would kill me if he knew. He would hate me."

He hid his face in his hands. Ron took a deep breath.

“No,” he said. “He would never hate you, George. He would have said: ‘Well, what can you do? She couldn’t have me, so it’s only natural that she would go for my identical twin – the only person in the world who is as attractive as me!'”

To his surprise, George stared at him for a few moments before bursting out laughing. Ron was so astounded that he joined in, and they must have laughed for several minutes, until their stomachs ached and they had to gasp for air.

“Boys?”

Both brothers looked up to see that Mrs Weasley had entered the living room, still in her dressing gown, with her hands on her hips as she stared at them in confusion. The sight of the incredulous look on her face only made Ron and George laugh even louder.

 

 

That afternoon, after several hours of hard work, the Burrow looked like a Christmas paradise. Stockings hung from the mantelpiece, on which several newly polished frames sat, holding photos of smiling people with fiery red hair. The cracking of the fire created a homey atmosphere, especially combined with the sound of the bells that hung from each doorframe and tinkled in the gust whenever someone passed through. The largest Christmas tree that they had managed to squeeze in through the front door had been placed in the corner of the living room, and garlands, wax candles and little golden broomsticks and cauldrons dangled from its branches. Miniature elves danced around the fruit bowl on the kitchen table, and the sound of Celestina Warbeck’s Magical Christmas reached into every corner of the house. Mrs Weasley, who was standing by the stove wearing a festive apron in red and green colours, hummed cheerfully to the melodies while stirring the bowls and pots that covered the entire kitchen counter. Every now and then she would bend down to check on the turkey, which gave off an appetizing, mouth-watering odour and made everyone's stomach count the hours until dinner.

Ginny was just rushing past her mother and out through the front door to greet Bill and Fleur, whom she had spotted through the window on their way across the front yard. Bill could not conceal his surprise when his sister ran straight past him to Fleur, reached out her arms and hugged her tightly. Ginny had never been supportive of his choice of spouse, even though she seemed to have warmed up to her a little more since the war had ended.

“Ginny!” Bill said when Fleur grimaced in her tight embrace. “Be careful! You’re aware of the fact that she’s pregnant, right?”

“Yes,” Ginny said with a goofy smile on her face. “I was just hoping… I mean… Have you felt her kick yet?”

“Her?” Bill said before Fleur could answer.

“Oh come on,” Ginny told him. “There has to be more than one female Weasley!”

Bill shook his head and Fleur laughed. “'He’s 'oping for a mini-Bill,” she said, smiling up at her husband. Then she turned to Ginny. “I promise to tell you if the baby starts kicking, okay?” She caressed her belly, which bulged out under her soft, champagne-coloured dress.

The three of them stepped inside and were greeted by Mrs Weasley, who was as excited as Ginny, though a bit more careful, when she pulled Fleur into her arms. Ginny continued into the living room, where Mr Weasley was just lighting the Christmas tree candles with a flick of his wand, creating an enchanting ambience. Hermione, Percy and Audrey were sitting at the coffee table chatting to each other while Ron and George appeared to be chasing Harry around, completely ignoring Mr Weasley’s calling:

“Don’t come running to me for mercy if your mother catches you breaking any of the decorations!”

“Have you heard from Charlie, Dad?” Ginny asked.

“Yes,” Mr Weasley called over his shoulder while leaping forward to catch a vase that was on the verge of tipping over – a result of Ron’s inability to control his arms while running. “A few of the other Dragonologists are staying in Romania over Christmas too, so he won’t be alone.”

Bill, Fleur and Mrs Weasley joined the others in the living room, which made Ron and George give up their chase. Harry took a breather and sat down on a chair while smiling at Ginny. She walked over to him, wrapped her arms around his neck and sat down on his lap.

“Do you want all your brothers to chase me?” Harry asked, making her grin.

“Look, Mrs Tonks and Teddy are here!” Percy announced, and everyone turned their heads to look out the window.

The old woman carried the baby on one arm, and the other held an impressing amount of beautifully wrapped gifts. The two of them were going to join the Weasleys for dinner before heading off to a few relatives in Scotland, where they would be spending Christmas Day.

 

 

A few hours later found Harry sitting at the table, watching as Bill, on Fleur’s order – “You can use ze practice, 'oney, even if you do 'ave many siblings!” – fed Teddy. It was a very messy and very sticky task, and every now and then he had to pause, pull out his wand and wash himself and Teddy clean of baby food. Harry could not help but feel guilty as he watched the little boy sitting across from him. Surely this was not what Lupin had had in mind when he had asked Harry to be godfather, and Harry felt like he had let his father’s best friend down. Teddy was almost a year old, and Harry was a complete stranger to him. He turned to Andromeda, who was sitting on his right.

“I should have seen him more,” he said and looked at the baby, who was now trying to bury both his hands in the bowl of baby food. “I’ll make sure to do that from now on.”

“Don’t feel like you have to," Andromeda answered. “We understand that you’re busy. But you’re always welcome, of course.”

“I want to,” Harry insisted. “Lupin… I mean Remus… He didn’t make me his godfather so that I’d see him on holidays and funer…” He interrupted himself and glanced over at Mrs Weasley, but she was too busy staring at her eldest son and his attempts to stop Teddy from covering himself in food to be able to hear him. “… on holidays and special occasions”, Harry continued. “I mean, he’s in the same position that I was, having lost both his parents. He could use a godfather."

Andromeda’s eyes filled with tears, and Harry fretted inwardly. How could he have forgotten that Mrs Weasley wasn’t the only one who had lost a child that day?

“He’ll appreciate having you to talk to in the future,” Andromeda agreed.

“I… er… I got him a present,” Harry said. “It’s under the tree. I didn’t know if he’d be able to open it, but I wrapped it anyway.”

“Why don’t you open it with him?” Andromeda suggested. “Once Bill is finished with him, that is.”

A little while – and a bath – later, Teddy was sitting on Harry’s lap in the couch. At first, Harry had protested when Andromeda had placed the baby in his arms, because he didn’t want to hurt him, but his protests had been silenced and he was now in the middle of unwrapping his own gift.

“Oh, Harry, is that…?” Hermione looked like she was about to cry when she saw the little stuffed animal that Teddy was now squeezing in his arms – it was a wolf cub. Andromeda placed a hand over her heart and sighed, as if it was the sweetest thing she had ever seen, and Ginny beamed at Harry.

“It should have had a pig snout, too”, George mused. “A little something from your mum, Teddy.” When Andromeda shot him a dark look, he flung out his arms and said: “What? I didn’t mean her real nose!”

Harry laughed, which made Teddy lift his head and look up at him. Then he leaned his head against his chest, yawned and hugged the cob tightly. While his little eyelids grew heavier, his hair colour, which had been turquoise the last half hour, darkened until it was as black as Harry’s.

“I think it means he likes you,” Mr Weasley said with a smile.

“He’s falling asleep in your arms!” Audrey said delightfully. “Isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever seen, Percy?”

Percy smiled, nodded and put his arm around her shoulder. Meanwhile, Andromeda checked her pocket watch, smiled and sat down next to Ron.

“I suppose we could stay a little longer.”

 

 

Something was touching Ginny’s cheek. And then her lips. Her neck. She giggled and opened her eyes hesitantly. Harry was kneeling down beside her bed, crouching over her while his lips made their way back to her mouth. She wrapped her arms around his neck and closed her eyes while she listened to her own heart, which seemed to be beating faster and harder in her chest every time he touched her. What a wonderful way to wake up, she thought as she opened her eyes again.

“Merry Christmas,” said Harry softly as a wide smile grew on his face.

“Merry Christmas,” Ginny said. She glanced over at Hermione’s bed, but it was empty. “I don’t think you’re supposed to be alone up here with me.”

“Well, I could go,” Harry said, but Ginny grabbed his arm.

“Don’t,” she told him and kissed him again.

“I wanted to give you your present,” Harry said. He pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to her.

Ginny fought the urge to tear the wrapping paper to pieces, just to get to see its content sooner. Instead she unwrapped it carefully. It was a small, navy-blue velvet box. She opened it, gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. It was the most beautiful bracelet she had ever seen – two thin, gold chains intertwined with each other, full of sparkling, red crystals. She met Harry’s eyes. He smiled at her.

“Do you want to put it on?”

 

 

“It’s such a shame that you have to go back to London, Hermione,” Mrs Weasley was saying while filling Ron’s plate with another portion of waffles down in the kitchen. “We really love having you here.”

“I love being here,” Hermione said. She rolled her eyes at Ron, who had already started to gobble down the food. “But it is Christmas. My parents would miss me.”

“You should bring them here next year,” Mrs Weasley said. “And I should probably go and wake the others up. Christmas Day is not a good day to sleep in!”

And with those words, she left the kitchen and gave Ron and Hermione a final moment of privacy before she would go back to her parents’ house.

Ron swallowed the last bite of his waffle, washed it down with a sip of water and grabbed Hermione’s hands. She ignored the fact that his fingers were greasy and just smiled at him.

“I didn’t know what to get you,” he said. “I mean, I wanted it to be something special…” He hesitated before he pulled out his wand and said: “Accio Hermione’s gift.” An oblong present, wrapped in crumpled, brown paper came soaring through the room. Ron caught it and handed it to Hermione.

She almost dropped it. “Wow, it’s heavy!”

“Watch it!” Ron said accusingly. “Don’t break it!”

Hermione smiled and began unwrapping her gift very carefully, which was a bit silly considering the wrapping paper was already torn at the edges. She was a bit nervous when she unfolded the paper.

“Wow…”

It was a mirror, round with a silver frame that had a squiggly, intricate pattern – it was breath-taking.

“It’s goblin-made,” Ron explained.

Hermione held up the mirror to see her own reflection, but surprisingly, her own face did not stare back at her. Instead, she saw what appeared to be the underside of a bed. She turned her head to Ron.

“Is this what I think it is?”

“Seyrod taught me how to make one,” Ron said. “It took some effort, but it works okay. I thought you could bring yours to Hogwarts, and I’ll keep mine… and even though we won't actually be together, we’ll get to see each other and just talk every once in a while.”

Hermione put the mirror on the table – a little too hastily, Ron thought, but it didn’t break – leaned in and kissed him.

 







A/N: I know, this was basically just a fluffy family chapter, with very little action. But if it's action you are looking for I think you will enjoy the next couple of chapters. ;)

As always, thank you so much for reading and for leaving me reviews! I appreciate it so much, and it would make me really happy if you could give me some feedback on this chapter too :)


Chapter 8: Year 1: The Brothers
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The distant sound of excited voices, cheers and singing, coming from the students who had gathered at the stands by the Quidditch pitch, made its way through the door that lead into the dressing room and sent adrenaline rushing through Ginny’s veins. She was just putting on her leather gloves, after which she would get her teammates together for a final pep talk, and then they would step out onto the Quidditch pitch, beat Slytherin with more than forty points and win the cup. Of course, Ginny thought, that was if Caroline McLaggen would ever finish braiding her hair – she was currently redoing it for the seventh time.

“McLaggen,” Demelza Robins sighed while adjusting her robe. “You’ll be wearing a helmet anyway, no one is going to see your hair!”

McLaggen turned around with a sugary smile on her face. “Everyone in here knows that you’re completely oblivious when it comes to looks, Robins, but…”

“That’s enough!” Ginny interrupted.

She grabbed McLaggen’s helmet, which lay on the floor under one of the benches and pressed it onto the girl’s head.

“What are you doing?”

The sight of McLaggen’s shocked facial expression made both Dean Thomas and Andrew Kirke howl with laughter, but before anyone had the chance to say anything else there was a knock on the door. A few seconds later it opened, and Madame Hooch peeked into the room.

“Miss Weasley? You have five minutes.” Her eyes swept over the laughing boys and McLaggen, who appeared to have become speechless. “Is everything okay in here?”

Ginny gave her the thumbs up and waited for her to close the door again. Then, she gathered her teammates around her and began speaking.

“Okay,” she said. “We know that Slytherin’s team isn’t what it used to be, but that’s exactly what gives them the upper hand. We know that they’re weak, and so we'll be too relaxed – we think that the game is already won.”

“Well, unless you lot are as crappy as you were against Hufflepuff, the game is already won,” McLaggen muttered, shooting a sly look at Ritchie Coote, who had changed positions from Beater to Chaser and still had problems with his position game.

“Shut it, McLaggen!” Jimmy Peakes said while swinging his bat in a way that made Ginny think he was going to hit the keeper right in the face. McLaggen seemed to think the same thing, because her eyes widened as she took a quick step back.

“We are a team,” growled Ginny, who was beginning to lose her temper. She didn’t like to play when she was in a bad mood, and normally the noise of the crowd would be enough to get her smiling, but her teammates – at least one of them – was really getting on her nerves. “I don’t want to hear any internal squabbling, do you hear me? One more gibe from you, McLaggen, and you’re out!”

“It’s not like you have any alternatives,” McLaggen snorted.

“Do you now what?” Ginny said. “I’d rather play Keeper myself than let you go on like…”

She interrupted herself when the door to the dressing room opened again. But it wasn’t Madame Hooch’s head that turned up in the doorway this time; it was a woman in her early thirties, who smiled apologetically when she realized that she had interrupted something. Her teeth were sharp white in contrast to her dark skin, and when she stepped into the room Ginny could see that she was both tall and athletic. She also realized that this was one of her childhood heroes - the same woman who had decorated her bedroom wall since she was a little girl, dressed in gold and dark green Quidditch robes. It was Gwenog Jones, beater and captain of the Holyhead Harpies.

“I’m sorry for interrupting,” she said as her gaze wandered between Ginny, whose cheeks were still flushed with anger, McLaggen’s messy hair and the other players, who were clenching their teeth and glaring at the Keeper. “My name is Gwenog Jones. I’m here to watch the game.”

“I think we all know who you are,” Andrew said, smiling dazzlingly as he reached out his hand. “Andrew Kirke. I have to say that the hit you pulled off during your last game against Puddlemere United was… inspiring. I’m a Beater myself, you see.” He held up his bat, as if to prove it, and smiled again.

Gwenog shook everyone’s hands. When she reached Ginny, she took a step forwards and mumbled:

“So you’re captain, eh? I could not help but overhear your conversation before, and I must say that you are handling it well. Don’t let anyone walk over you.” She winked at her before raising her voice, so that everyone would hear. “Good luck out there. I played for Ravenclaw when I went to Hogwarts, but I’ve always enjoyed watching Slytherin get clobbered.”

 

 

“Harry, Ron!” Many miles south of the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch, Kingsley was just throwing the door to Mad-Eye’s old office open and startling both Harry and Ron, who had spent the last couple of hours reading yet another chapter of An Auror’s Guide to Theoretical Duelling Techniques (“Who came up with this? Umbridge?” Ron had muttered when Seyrod had handed them the books that morning.) Now, they lifted their heads from their books, surprised to see the Minister of Magic, whom they had barely exchanged one word with since had had assumed office, standing in their doorway, breathing heavily as though he had been running. He was dressed in his usual midnight blue robes with embroidery of golden thread, and he seemed very stressed. “Come with me,” he ordered, and the two young men gladly left their work and hurried after him. He almost ran towards the head office of the department while he continued speaking.

“We have received a new tip about the whereabouts of the Lestrange brothers,” he told them. “As you know, they’ve been spotted here and there lately – at first they seemed to linger around London, but then they headed farther north. It wasn't until the tip we got today, however, that we realised that they appear to be moving towards Hogwarts.”

Ron met Harry’s eyes and saw that his face was a transcription of his own. They were thinking about the same thing: Hermione and Ginny.

“Well, we have to get there now!” Ron said as he felt the panic grow inside of him. "Before they do!"

He tried to reason with himself. It wasn’t like Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange could just wander onto the school grounds! After all, they were two of the most wanted Death Eaters who had not yet been caught, and McGonnagall knew it. She would never let… but, another voice in his head reminded him, Sirius Black had managed to break in to the school unnoticed when Professor Dumbledore had been headmaster…

“We are understaffed,” Kingsley said. “The Auror Department suffered the most during the war, both under the reign of Pius Thicknesse and during battles. We lost many of our best men and women. You knew a few of them – Tonks, Alastor… Anyway, we could use your services this afternoon. You are not fully trained Aurors yet, and if you feel even the hint of a doubt, if you don’t feel ready…”

“We’ll do it,” Harry interrupted him, and Ron mumbled affirmatively.

In that same moment, they reached one of the large head offices of the Auror Department. Kingsley held the door open for them, and the two boys stepped inside. A large, oblong table surrounded by high chairs took up most of the room. The walls were bare and there were no windows. As he stepped over the threshold, Ron got the feeling of walking through something damp and cold, and he shivered. John Dawlish, who was sitting at the table next to Michael Seyrod, smiled at Ron’s reaction.

“My work,” he announced proudly.

“It’s a security check,” Seyrod explained. “You can’t enter this room in disguise or without permission.”

“It’s just like Gringotts,” Ron said, recalling the sight of Hermione, who had been disguised as Bellatrix Lestrange, transforming back into her normal self when they reached the underground of the bank.

"Boys," said Seyrod, standing up with what almost looked like fatherly concern on his face. "Are you absolutely sure you want to do this? Of course, I have every reason to believe you will handle it better than most of us, but no one would blame you if you stayed behind."

"We're sure," said Harry and Ron, almost in unison.

“Okay then,” Kingsley nodded. “We don’t have much time for planning. If the Lestrange brothers really are heading for Hogwarts, we have to get there before them. Here is what we’ll do: Dawlish and I will try to catch up with them. Seyrod, you bring the boys and head straight to Hogwarts to guard the entrances. And inform Minerva, of course.”

“You are…?” Seyrod looked hesitant. “Kingsley, you’re not an Auror anymore, you’re the Minister for Magic! Are you sure…?”

“And had we had more than two fully trained Aurors available I would have stayed behind,” Kingsley said. “I realise that this is not included in my duties anymore. I wouldn’t have let the boys come either, if I’d had a choice. Go on now, Michael, there is no time to discuss this.”

“So which entrance do you reckon they’ll take?” Ron asked while scurrying after Harry and Seyrod through the corridors of the department towards the fireplace that was connected with the one in Professor McGonnagall’s office. “The Shrieking Shack?”

“That one has been blocked,” Seyrod said.

“Honeydukes?” Harry suggested.

Seyrod shook his head and stopped in front of the fireplace that would take them to the school. “Every known entrance has been blocked,” he explained. “You go first, Ron.”

Three “Hogwarts!” and flames turning green later, the three of them were standing on the rug by the fireplace in the headmistress’ circular office, brushing ashes off of their robes. Ron looked around the room. The last time he had been there Snape’s portrait had hung on the wall behind the large, antique desk. It had now been moved to join the other old headmasters and headmistresses and make room for Professor McGonnagall.

“Minerva is not here,” said Seyrod, who had already started moving towards the exit.

“What else did you expect when you chose to come during the last Quidditch game of the year?” said a familiar voice, and everyone turned to face Albus Dumbledore’s portrait. The old man, whose long, white beard and pale blue eyes seemed to glow in comparison to the dark colour of the wall behind the painting, smiled at the guests. “One may say it’s just a game, but it’s always been more than that to Minerva.”

“Gryffindor versus Slytherin,” Phineas Black added afield his frame. “Our team might not be what it once was, considering how few of our students returned to school this year…”

“… but you never get tired of hoping to see Gryffindor defeated.” Snape met Harry’s eyes for a few seconds before he bent down his head. Harry couldn’t help but wonder if it was shame he had seen in his old teacher’s black eyes – shame over knowing that he now knew the deepest of his secrets.

Seyrod had stopped just inside the door, and a wrinkle formed on his forehead as he cogitated. Ron flung out his arm, suddenly infuriated.

“So what are we still doing here?” he asked. “We have to get to the Quidditch pitch!”

“No,” Seyrod said. “We have to stop them before they get in. We have to figure out how they’ll try to get in, and make it impossible – before they get to an unprotected crowd full of innocent children. Kingsley’s order, Ron.”

“And what if they’re here already?” Ron yelled. “My girlfriend is in that crowd, and she’s probably not too focused on the fact that two Death Eaters who wish to see her dead are heading straight towards her. And my sister… my sister is flying on one of those broomsticks, and I’m not sure if you remember this, but she’s the daughter of the woman who killed Bellatrix Lestrange! They’ll go for her first!”

Harry watched Ron’s enraged face as realization washed over him. Could that be why the Lestranges were heading to Hogwarts in the first place? For Ginny? To avenge their wife and sister-in-law?

“And Miss Weasley will definitely not be focusing on any Death Eaters,” Phineas Black mumbled while scratching his chin, which was covered by grey beard, “because her eyes are set on the trophy cup… But perhaps we’ll stand a chance if what they are saying is true. If any of those Death Eaters can knock that little weasel off her broom… she scores as often as the other players blink, that girl.”

Harry and Ron made a simultaneous movement towards the door, ready to rush down to the Quidditch pitch when Seyrod took a step to the side to block the doorway.

“You’re still in training,” he said. “I’m your superior, and you’re going to do what I tell you to do. We’re out on a mission, and this is not the right time to get personal. Our job is to protect as many people as…”

Ron interrupted him by pushing him vigorously to the side. Before he had got back up on his feet, the boys had rushed out of the room, down the spiral staircase and off towards the Quidditch pitch.

“That never would have happened to me,” Phineas Black continued gibbering, “but then again, us authority figures were more respected in those times..."

Ron felt a twinge of guilt and hoped Seyrod was not too offended; he really did respect him, more than most teachers he had ever had. But he could not help but feel he was wrong, for if all the students were down at the Quidditch pitch, it seemed the perfect oppurtunity to hurt as many of them as possible... and if there was anything they could do to try and stop it, he would not let anything stand in his way.
 

 


Out by the Quidditch pitch, Hermione stood up and cheered when Luna – who had finally convinced Professor McGonnagall to let her comment the games – mumbled “Oh, well done, Ginny,” into the microphone. For once, she had paid enough attention to the to notice the fact that Ginny had just given her team the lead by wrong-footing Slytherin’s keeper and easily sending the Quaffle through the middle goal post. Hermione turned her eyes to the scoreboard. 30-20.

“Ouch, that was brutal!” exclaimed Neville, who was sitting next to her, making her turn her attention to the players again.

Demelza Robins’ hands covered her nose, and one of the Slytherin beaters lowered his bat with a smug smile on his face.

“Did you see that, Hermione?” Neville asked. “Did you see, Madame Hooch? She wasn’t even holding the Quaffle!” he added in a louder voice.

Hermione gasped when Demelza lowered her hands and disclosed her bloody face. “Oh, someone has to help her with that,” she said anxiously. “Neville, you’re allowed to substitute a player, right?”

“And you’ve gone to these games with me for seven years,” he answered, shaking his head. “No, substitution is not allowed, even if the player is too injured to finish the game. There have been exceptions, though. There was a game between England and Wales in 1987 that lasted four days. The players would have fallen off their brooms if they hadn’t been substituted.”

“But this is just a scratch,” said Nigel Wolpert, who was standing on Neville’s other side. “All she needs is a short break to wash the blood off – look, Ginny is asking for a time-out.”

He pointed his finger, and Hermione turned her head. Sure enough, the Gryffindor players were already forming a circle around Ginny and Demelza on the grass below the goal posts. Andrew helped wash Demelza’s face with his wand, and Luna proclaimed:

“Oh, look everyone. Maybe something will finally happen between Demelza and her secret crush. Wait a minute… which one of the players is still up in the air?”

She pointed up to the sky, and everyone turned their heads back to look. Two dark-clothed figures were still circling around high above the stands, but they were not dressed in Slytherin green and silver nor in Gryffindor red and gold. Hermione’s eyes narrowed. Who were they?

“Why is he pulling out his wand?” Neville asked.

He sounded as uncomprehending as Hermione felt. One of the men above them held out his wand. He waved it, and in the next second the deep red sheets that hung from Gryffindor’s bleachers had caught fire.

It took only a few short moments for panic to erupt amongst the Gryffindor students. Hermione fell helplessly when someone pushed her from behind, and she reached out her hands, hoping to be able to break the fall. She squeezed her eyes shut when she saw the ground come closer; it felt like falling in slow motion. At first, she didn’t even feel the pain – she just heard the sound of her body hitting one of the wooden steps and Neville’s cry from somewhere above her: “Hermione!”

 

 

Ginny and the rest of the Gryffindor team had turned their heads back to search the sky once Ritchie Coote had made them aware of the figures circling around above them. In the corner of her eye, Ginny could see flames spread at breakneck speed across the Gryffindor stands, and she pulled out her wand.

“What are you doing, Weasley?” McLaggen asked.

Before Ginny had the chance to turn around and spit out an answer, she could see the two men turn their brooms around and head straight towards them. She stopped in the middle of her movement and raised her wand, ready to defend herself against an attack.

“Did I hear the name Weasley?” one of the men said.

Expelliarmus!”

Ginny’s wand slipped from her grasp and she could see it fly through the air along with the others’. It seemed like every other person around the Quidditch Pitch was too focused on the fire to even know that something else was going on there. The fire was already covering the entire Gryffindor stands and half of Hufflepuff’s, and it wouldn’t be long before it had reached the other two as well. Students were running towards the opening between the Slytherin stands and the dressing rooms – which wouldn’t be an opening much longer, Ginny realized, because the fire was forming a high wall around the quidditch field, and that was the only way out.

“She does have the looks of a Weasley, doesn’t she, brother?”

The voice made Ginny jump. She had turned her attention away from the two men long enough for them to be able to land a few yards away from the team. Demelza took a step forwards and stopped on Ginny’s left side, and Dean walked over to her right. Ginny lifted her head and looked at the men. They were in her parents’ age, and their hair and beards were black. She had seen them several times in the Daily Prophet and during the Battle of Hogwarts the year before. It was Bellatrix Lestrange’s husband and brother-in-law. Ginny gulped.

“We heard what your mum did, sweetheart,”  said Bellatrix’s husband – Ginny couldn’t remember if he was the one called Rodolphus or Rabastan. He smiled, showing of a row of crooked, yellow teeth, and Ginny shivered.

Ear-piercing screams could be heard from the other end of the pitch, but Ginny didn’t dare tear her eyes away from the Lestrange brothers. Her heart was beating fast, and she clenched her hands tightly to stop them from shaking and revealing how scared she was. Bellatrix’s husband took a step towards her, which made Dean grab her arm and step in between them.

“Will you look at that, Rodolphus?” laughed the other brother. “Her friend is trying to be a hero – isn’t it just adorable? I would suggest stepping aside, boy. We’re not here for you.”

“You’ll have to kill me first,” said Dean flatly. His voice was firm.

Ginny could not bring herself to move, let alone talk. If she had been able to utter a single word she would have protested, but she couldn’t seem to do it.

“Oh, that’s tempting,” Bellatrix’s husband said. “But I don't think you’re not dying today. You are going to live to tell Mama Weasley how her daughter screamed and writhed in torment… to tell Harry Potter how the life faded from his little girlfriend’s eyes…”

The two brothers raised their wands in an almost simultaneous movement. Rabastan waved his wand, and Dean was thrown to the side. At the same time, Rodolphus pointed his wand at Ginny and yelled: “Crucio!” In the next second, Ginny was lying on the ground, writhing, as a burning pain, stronger and more violent than anything she had ever felt before, took over each one of her senses until it was the only thing that seemed real anymore.

 




A/N: Reviews are always very welcome! To those of you who have reviewed this story so far: thank you again. You really make my day, and your tips are very helpful.

I'm sorry for the delay in updating this story. I've been on holiday, and I hope you'll forgive me! I had a bit of a writer's block before writing this chapter and I'm not sure how I feel about the result. If you'd let me know what you think, I would appreciate it very much.


Chapter 9: Year 1: Light
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She looked so little, lying on the ground by her teammates’ feet, with the two dark-haired men crouching over her; just the sight made him forget the parching pain in his leg where the flames had licked away his skin to reveal the flesh beneath. Up until that moment, he could have sworn that he had felt the skin peel away, enlarging the gaping wound that he had not yet dared to take a look at. But in the very same second that he laid eyes on her it disappeared, so quickly that he was not even sure if it had ever been real.

Because he was taller than the others, he saw her first. He didn’t – he couldn’t – stop to explain anything to them. Instead, he began running towards her while pulling out his wand. His mind was blank – it was as if everything around him stopped exisitng. The fire, the chaos, and the panic – all of it was gone. Every sound was gone and every movement stopped. His arm was heavy when he raised it, aimed his wand and opened his mouth to break the sudden silence that made a strong feeling of discomfort crawl under his skin.

Expelliarmus! Stupefy! Pertrificus Totalus!

The spells flew past the group of people, and their only effect was that one of the men turned around; it was Rabastan Lestrange. His lips curled into a smile.

“Well, if it isn’t another one of the Weasley children,” he said contentedly and raised his wand. “Avada Kedavra!

“RON!”

Harry, who had caught up with his best friend, threw himself forwards to push him aside. Seyrod did the same thing, and even though Ron clenched his eyes shut, he could still see the flash of green light, burning through his eyelids. He held his breath, braced himself… And then Ginny screamed again. He opened his eyes. Rabastan Lestrange had raised his wand again, and he was just about to open his mouth when Harry shouted: “Expelliarmus!” and the wand flew out of his grip. Ron stunned him, forcing Rodolphus to stop torturing Ginny and turn around to defend himself. Ginny’s last cry still rang through the air when Harry flicked his wand and Rodolphus too fell to the ground, unable to move a muscle.

Harry practically flew over to Ginny and knelt down beside her. Her lower lip was trembling when she looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. The next thing she new, Ron was there too. He grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly.

“Are you okay?”

Ginny nodded cautiously. Ron lifted his head and looked over at the spot where the Gryffindor stands used to be; now, there was nothing there but giant, savage flames. His gaze fixed at the students who were trapped within the high walls of fire, and he jumped to his feet.

“I have to go find Hermione,” he said.

“Harry, Ron.” Demelza Robins had walked over to Seyrod, who still hadn’t got back up since throwing himself forward to save Ron. “I think that this man is dead.”

Ron felt as if a pair of cold hands gripped his heart, but he shook his head vigorously and pushed them away. Seyrod had been his mentor, his friend, and if he had died for him… but he couldn’t think about it, not now. Hermione first, he thought. He did not even stop to check if Demelza had been right. Instead, he hurried over to the group of students who had clustered inside the burning walls, before anyone could confirm something that he did not need to hear just yet. Not until I’ve found Hermione and made sure that she’s safe, he told himself.

As the fire spread inwards, the students moved closer and closer towards the middle of the Quidditch pitch. Ron’s eyes swept over their faces as he searched for his girlfriend's bushy hair in the crowd. At the same time, he squeezed himself through the group of people, whose faces were either wet with tears or rigid with fear and shock. Suddenly, a familiar figure caught his eyes.

“Neville! Have you seen Hermione?”

Neville turned around. “Ron? What are you doing here?”

“The Lestrange brothers are here!” A few of the students around them gasped when they heard this, and Ron, who could almost feel the panic amongst them rise to the next level, quickly added: “But don’t worry, we’ve captured them!”

“Well, about Hermione…,” Neville said with an expression of guilt on his face. “I lost her in the crowd. We were sitting together, but then she was pushed and she fell… When I had finally made my way to the spot where she’d landed, she wasn’t there anymore.”

Ron couldn’t stop his eyes from turning to the wall of fire.

“Neville, were there… were there people who didn’t make it all the way through when the walls closed?”

Neville stared at his own feet, and Ron could feel his heart sink – he didn’t need any further confirmation. An image of Hermione’s charred body etched itself to his retina, and he closed his eyes. It can’t be true, don’t let it be true…

“Most people did make it through, though,” Neville said. “I’m sure she’s on the other side right now…”

“Ron!”

It took a few lovely seconds for Ron to recognize the voice, but they passed by in an instant. Before he had even lifted his head, his mind had realized that the voice didn’t belong to Hermione, and his heart had sunk again.

Demelza Robins was heading straight towards them. “We have to do something,” she said. “The fire is spreading inwards over there.” She nodded towards the place where Harry, Ginny and the rest of the Gryffindor team were still standing. “If we can’t put the fire out, it’s going to… we’re all going to…”

“What about Seyrod?” Ron asked. He knew that if anyone would know what to do…

Demelza lowered her eyes and shook her head. Then she said:

Aguamenti doesn’t work, so we’re guessing that it’s Fiendfyre.”

“How do we stop that?” Ron cried out. “Is there even a counter-spell?”

“Yes,” Neville nodded. “I saw Kingsley do it once. During the battle last year, after Crabbe had set the Room of Requirement on fire. I don’t remember the incantation, though…”

“Even if you did, I doubt that any of us would be able to perform the spell correctly,” Demelza said. “How long do you reckon we’ve got left before the fire will devour us? Harry said there were a few more Aurors coming, but he didn’t know when they’d be here.”

Ron looked around helplessly. "Where are all the professors? McGonagall could do something, I know she could. Or Flitwick..."

“We've got brooms!” said Neville suddenly. “We could just fly over the fire…”

Ron turned his head up and looked at the top of the wall. The flames threw themselves in every direction, and here and there long chains of fire broke loose from the wall and shot up into the air like burning spears, just to sink back down to its normal level in the next second. But before Ron could point the danger out to Neville, Demelza did.

“I don’t think that’s safe. We’ll probably end up getting hit by one of those things.”

 

 

Just some hundred feet away, Ginny was looking up at the smoky sky, feeling very dizzy. Despite lying still on the ground, she had the feeling that everything around her was spinning, and her hands fumbled in the grass, searching for something – anything – to hold onto. Harry had placed one hand under her neck, and the other one grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly. It was nice to feel his presence, she thought as tears streamed down her face. This had been nothing like being tortured by the Carrows the year before – this was a million times worse. Here and there, she could still feel stings of pain under her skin, and she couldn’t shake off the horrible feeling that had pervaded her throughout the entire torture.

“Perhaps we should move her a bit closer to the middle.” Dean's voice came from somewhere above her; she didn’t find the energy to turn her head and look at him.

“Gin?” This time it was Harry’s voice. “The fire is getting closer. We’re going to have to move you, okay?”

Ginny wanted to ask why no one had put the fire out, but instead she sat up. Harry tried to hold her down, but she pushed his hands away.

“It’s fine,” she said. “I can walk myself. Just… hold onto me, okay?”

Harry gave in and she could feel him stand up next to her. Then he grabbed both her arms and pulled her to her feet. She stumbled groggily and put one arm around Harry’s neck for support.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Ginny nodded, and they started walking towards the central circle of the Quidditch pitch. “What are we going to do about the fire?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “We think it’s Fiendfyre, and I don’t know how to put it out. I’m hoping that the teachers are on the other side of that wall right now working on that.”

“It looks like they figured it out!” Ritchie Coote said and raised one of his hands to point. “Look, there’s smoke over there, right? That’s got to mean that the fire is going out.”

He was right. Over by what had once been Ravenclaw’s spectator tower, the flames had begun to drop height and a cloud of thick, black smoke was rising towards the sky.

“It was about time,” muttered Caroline McLaggen snidely. Luckily for her, Ginny was still too shaky to steal Jimmy Peakes’ bat and throw herself at her. Andrew, however, snorted and mumbled, loudly enough for everyone to hear:

“Oh, if only they could have waited until the fire reached McLaggen…”

 

 

Ron was the first one to leap through the opening in the wall of fire. He ignored the gasps of the younger students when he threw himself forwards, and the call coming from behind: “Not yet, Ron, it’s too narrow!” He could feel the fire singe his already burnt skin. And then he had made it through; then he was on the other side. He fell to the ground, unable to stand on his leg for another second.

“Mr Weasley!” When Ron lifted his head, he realized that Professor Slughorn was leaning over him with a concerned look on his face. “That probably wasn’t your brightest idea… you should have waited for the opening to grow bigger… Didn’t you quit school two years ago, by the way?”

“Oh, Horace!” Professor McGonnagall rushed over to them. “Didn’t you hear what Kings… what the Minister just told us? They came here to stop the Lestrange brothers!”

Professor Slughorn looked confused, but then he nodded. “Right, right”, he mumbled as he bent down to check on Ron’s leg.

“Professor McGonnagall,” Ron extorted. “Hermione?”

“Oh, Miss Granger is over there,” Slughorn said. “I’ll go and get her for you, just hold on for a minute…”

Ron let his head fall back onto the grass while laughing with relief. She was alive. She was fine. She was…

Ron!” He looked up to find Hermione kneeling down beside him, wrapping her arms around his neck and beginning to sob noisily. “Oh Ron, when… they said… you were… in there… I…”

“We were probably thinking the same thing,” Ron said.

She nodded and straightened up. The bare skin on his leg caught her eyes as she did so, and she gasped for air while her hands flew to her mouth.

“Ron, your leg! You have to ask Madame Pomfrey to take a look at that; she’s around here somewhere… Some Burning Bush should do the trick…”

Ron reached out his arms and pulled her close to him once again. She gently placed her head on his chest, and he shut his eyes. He remembered having a feeling, just after the war had ended, of finally being able to relax. They were safe now; they could live their lives like normal teenagers, without worrying about dark forces or evil wizards. But almost a year had passed since the final Battle of Hogwarts, and he had not fully relaxed yet. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to. Maybe that was a side effect of growing up in the midst of a war – maybe he would never learn to live in peace. At least, he thought to himself, it wouldn’t be long before Ginny and Hermione graduated from Hogwarts. And then they would belong to the same world again. Because truth to be told, living in peace was a lot harder when he didn’t know where they were, what they were doing or if they were safe. But that was about to change, Ron thought as he stroke Hermione’s back. It wouldn’t be long before they’d be together again.

 

 

The weeks that followed what the Daily Prophet had named one of the worst terrorist attacks in recent years were chaos, both at Hogwarts and the Ministry. Eight students had been caught in the fire and died; one additional died from her injuries two days later. All classes were cancelled, and transport was arranged for everyone who wished to go to the funerals. Harry and Ron had attended all of them, and had spent days watching mothers and fathers cry as not quite full-length caskets were lowered into grounds all over Britain.

It seemd strange, after all of that, to go to a birthday party, but exactly two weeks later, that was exactly what Harry and Ron were doing. They arrived at the house just after lunchtime, when the birthday boy would be up from his midday nap; they had been there once before – it had been a stop on the way the night that the Order of the Phoenix had moved Harry from the Dursley’s house to the Burrow, when his friends had drunk Polyjuice Potion to assume the form of him, in order to confuse Voldemort and the Death Eaters – but this was to first time Harry saw it in daylight. Plus, he thought to himself, he wouldn’t have seen much of the house anyway, given the fact that he and Hagrid practically crashed the flying motorcycle into the house that night. So even though he wasn’t looking at Tonks’ parents’ house for the first time, it felt like he was.

It was a neat little house, painted white with blue trim, and the wide front door was blue. Harry followed Mrs Weasley through the creaking gate that lead into the garden. Ron, Mr Weasley and George followed closely behind.

Harry had trouble setting his feelings straight; this was a happy day, his godson's first birthday - a time for celebration. Yet, he couldn't shake off the heaviness that had laid on his shoulder since the day at Hogwarts when Seyrod and all those children had died. Strangely, life never stopped, even when something so terrible happened - it always went on, sometimes a little to quickly for Harry's taste. He had wanted to pause, and breathe, and mourn his mentor, but once all the funerals were over, everyone had expected him to just move on.

But how could he do that, after seeing Seyrod's mother in the front row of the church, her hands trembling as she wiped the tears from her cheeks? How could he do that, after being pulled aside by the older Mr Seyrod afterwards, and being forced to tell him, once again, how his son had given his life? How could he let go of the image of Ron's eyes - Ron, for whom Seyrod had sacrificed himself - when he saw their mentor's wife, the widow, one of her hands placed over her chest, and the other resting on her bulging abdomen?

And even though Seyrod was dead, and would never hold his unborn baby, and those students would never finish school and travel the world and do whatever it was they had wanted to do, the world hadn't stopped spinning, and here they were now, expected to be happy, to forget, to let go.

Mrs Weasley interrupted Harry's thoughts when she knocked on the door. A few moments later later it opened, and Andromeda Tonks smiled widely at the sight of her guests. “Come on in, come on in,” she said, clapping her hands together in delight.

“Where is our little birthday boy?” Mrs Weasley asked and held up the gift box she was carrying.

“Mr Lupin’s got him, in the living room,” Andromeda said while stepping aside to let them in. “Remus’ father. They are so fond of each other, those two!”

“Are Bill and Fleur here yet? You have to see how big she is now, Andromeda!”

The group of people moved towards the living room. Teddy was sitting on the floor, surrounded by piles of blocks, and an old, grey-haired man was sitting across from him. Every time either of them touched a block, it changed colour, and Teddy’s hair colour seemed to change along with it.

With some effort, the old man stood up and turned to the new arrivals. “Ah, Harry,” was the first thing he said. “You look so much like your father.”

Harry smiled and reached out his hand. “It's so nice to meet you,” he said. “Let me guess? I look like my dad, expect for the eyes, which are copies of my mother’s?”

“Sadly, I never got to meet Lily,” Mr Lupin said as they shook hands. “But Remus spoke of her a lot. Sometimes I think he got along better with her than he did with James and Sirius. She was a lovely girl, from what I’ve heard.”

Harry nodded. “I’m so sorry about your son,” he said. “He was a great man. I really admired him.”

Mr Lupin’s eyes filled with tears and he nodded gratefully. “Well,” he then said, “if it isn’t Molly and Arthur Weasley? How long has it been?”

“Too long,” Mr Weasley replied. "It's good to see you, Lyall."

While everyone shook hands and introduced themselves, Harry bent down to wish his godson happy birthday. He had visited a few times since Christmas, but he was still surprised when Teddy’s face lit up – he actually recognized him.

“Ajjy!” he gargled with a beaming smile on his face. He picked up a blue block and held it out.

Harry took the block from the little boy’s hand and watched as it turned to yellow before his eyes. He smiled and ruffled Teddy’s now yellow hair. “Hi, buddy,” he said. “Happy birthday.”

A while later, the guests had huddled together at the dinner table. Andromeda conjured a stately, colourful cake with a single candle burning on its top, and everyone clapped their hands. Teddy, who refused to let go of his Aviatomobile – the flying toy car – that George had given him from his shop, made a humming sound and didn’t seem to notice what was going on around him at all. Harry nudged his shoulder, making him aware of the cake.

“Do you see that? That’s your cake! You have to blow out the candle, Teddy, and make a wish!”

“Eet looks delicious,” puffed Fleur, who had finally managed to sit down.

Harry was quite impressed by this, considering the fact that her belly was enormous. He couldn’t help but wonder if she could still but her own socks on, or if Bill had to do that for her every morning.

“As if I’m not fat enough,” Fleur muttered a few minutes later, when Bill cut a huge piece of cake and put it on her plate.

“As if you won’t eat that whole thing,” Bill retorted and chuckled.

“William!” said Mrs Weasley reproachfully, but Fleur simply laughed dismissively.

“Wow, she’s really changed, hasn’t she?” Ron whispered to Harry. “It doesn’t even look like she’s brushed her hair this morning!”

“If you notice something like that, you’ve changed too!” Harry exclaimed.

Ron shrugged and passed the cake dish on to Mr Lupin. Harry ducked when the flying little car came swooping towards his head, and George laughed loudly when it crashed into Mr Weasley’s plate, showering both Harry and Andromeda in whipped cream.

“George, didn’t I tell you that he was too young for a toy like that?” fretted Mrs Weasley as she leaned forward to clean up the mess.

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Molly, that’s what children do,” said Andromeda lightly. “You’ll get to experience it again very soon. And look how happy he is… I think that’s his favourite present, George!”

Harry had cleaned the whipped cream off the car, and he was now driving it across the table towards Teddy, making the little boy roar with laughter. Mrs Weasley’s face softened and she mumbled:

“Well isn’t that just the sweetest thing ever?”

As Harry watched the child's laughing face, the two tiny feeth sticking out of his gums, and the brown eyes - the last heritage of Lupin and Tonks - he felt truly happy. And he found comfort in the thought that a day would come when Mrs Seyrod would look at the last heritage of her husband and feel exactly the same thing. 

 

 

A hoot, the flapping of wings and the murmur of voices brought Ginny’s attention the fact that the morning mail was arriving. She looked up at the flock of owls that was flying through the Great Hall, dropping a flurry of packages, newspapers and letters down to the students, who were in the middle of eating breakfast at the tables below. Ginny’s eyes swept over the flock of owls in search of Errol, the old family owl, hoping to get a letter from Harry. He had seemed so depressed in his last letter, and she desperately wanted to hear from again. Disappointed, she realised Errol was not there, though. She was so busy searching for him that she didn’t notice that another owl, a large, brown mottled one, was aiming for her, and she almost fell off her seat when a thick envelope landed next to her glass of pumpkin juice and nearly knocking it over. Quickly, she reached out and grabbed it. It was dark green, and when she took a closer look at the seal she realized that it was the logo of the Holyhead Harpies. She tore it open with a sudden eagerness and curiosity.

Miss Ginny Weasley,

Despite the unfortunate circumstances at the game that I came to see at Hogwarts, it was clear to me that you are a very talented Chaser – and a good teammate, judged by how well you handled your role as captain of the team. (I hope you are doing okay after that horrible, tragic day, or at least, as close to okay as one could expect.)

I don’t know if you read the Sport’s Section of the Daily Prophet. If you do, you might be aware of the fact that my good friend and fellow teammate Wilda Griffiths has decided to leave our team to join Puddlemere United. Disaster! This brings me to the reason that I’m writing this letter: I need a new Chaser. If you’re interested in becoming a professional Quidditch player, send me an owl and I’ll provide you with the details of the try-outs.

Hoping to hear from you soon,
Gwenog Jones
Beater/Captain of the Holyhead Harpies


 




A/N: So it worked out! For everyone except for Seyrod, sadly, and those poor students.

After writing these last couple of chapters, I've come to the conclusion that writing action scenes definitely isn't my strong suit. I've struggled quite a lot with it, and I hope that you think that the result is okay. I'm more comfortable with what lies ahead in this story, and I hope that you'll find things improving from here!

I would really appreciate it if you'd leave a review after reading, just to let me know what you thought of this chapter. Any tips would be very welcome! :)


Chapter 10: Year 1: May 2nd, 1999
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Though it was hard to put a finger on it, there was something special in the air around Hogwarts on the second of May. The air tasted differently somehow, and the warmth of the sun felt different as it rose from behind the Forbidden Forest. Perhaps it was a feeling inside everyone that was different, or perhaps the animals and the trees and each blade of grass knew too that it was a special day.

The gates that led into the school grounds stood wide open and were guarded by Hagrid and Professor Flitwick, who greeted the guests with enthusiasm as they passed through on their way from Hogsmeade to the castle.

Inside the Great Hall, the tables had been removed. Rows and rows of chairs had taken their place, and a sea of flowers covered the elevated section of the hall where the teachers’ table would usually stand. A bunch of people – students, those who had fought in the Battle, residents of Hogsmeade and workers from the Ministry - were already filling the rows of seats. Madame Hooch, Professor Slughorn and Professor Sprout were busy conducting the arriving guests to their seats, accompanied by Peeves, who was whizzing around above their heads, singing at the top of his lungs.

Hermione, Ginny and Neville, who were just a week away from their graduation entered the Greath Hall and were instantly greeted by Professor Sprout smiled kindly at them, looking unusually clean and dressed up (Ginny could not remember ever seeing the Herbology professor without dirt in her face before).

“The three of you will be sitting in the front, of course,” said Sprout, making a gesture towards the empty chairs in the front row. They followed her instructions and went to sit down.

“It feels like a lifetime ago,” Neville said as his eyes roamed about the hall. “And at the same time, it might as well have been yesterday.”

Ginny, who was sitting next to him, stared at the flowerbed in front of them. “I can’t believe it’s been a  whole year,” she said. “It’s been a year since… since Fred. I miss him so much.”

Hermione placed an arm around her shoulders and leaned her head against hers.

“I’m sure he’s with us today,” she said. “Maybe even more so than usual.”

 

 

Back at the entrance gates, Harry barely had time to set foot on the Hogwarts grounds before a pair of massive arms embraced him, almost lifting him off the ground in the process. He grunted in pain, and then sighed in relief as Hagrid sat him back down – he could breathe again. Hagrid smiled at him, his black eyes brimming with tears.

“Look at yeh!” he cried. “Yeh’re all grown up, Harry!”

Harry chuckled. “You just saw me, Hagrid. A month ago, when the Lestranges were here, remember?”

“Of course I do,” Hagrid said. “But I didn’t get to talk to yeh much. I hear they're gettin' life sentence, those bastards.”

“Yes, and they bloody well deserve it,” said Ron.

“Of course they do,” Hagrid agreed. “It’s been so strange, not havin' yeh boys around this year! Seeing Hermione walk 'round the hallways without the two of yeh… An' now that both she an' Ginny will graduate, yeh’ll never show yer faces here again, I imagine?”

“Of course we will,” Ron said. “Your our friend too, Hagrid.”

“Why don’t we decide to come visit you more often next year?” said Harry, who was feeling a bit guilty over neglecting his friend, even though he hadn’t done it on purpose.

Hagrid’s face lit up. He gave them the thumbs up before turning around to help Flitwick welcome the other guests.

Harry and Ron trotted towards the castle in an attempt to catch up with Ron’s parents, who had already reached the great entrance. They had almost succeeded when a fair-haired witch in her fifties, wearing a pair of silvery spectacles, blocked their way as she cracked a dazzling smile at them and reached out her hand.

“Betty Braithwaite, Witch Weekly,” she said, her voice dripping with obsequiousness. “Got time for a couple of questions?”

Harry and Ron exchanged a look. From their experience of Witch Weekly – which they both would claim was strictly delimited to accidental glances at Mrs Weasley’s copies of the magazine when she had left them open somewhere around the house and the headlines had caught their eyes – Betty Braithwaite’s readers would not be interested in questions that only concerned the Battle of Hogwarts or things related to it. They would both prefer not to answer questions like: “What famous witch would you rather date?”, “Do you respond to fan mail?” or “Describe to our readers the easiest way to win your heart!”

Betty Braithwaite waited patiently for their response, still with the same wide smile on her face. “It will only take you a few short minutes,” she coaxed. When neither one of them answered her, she pulled out a piece of parchment and a quill from her purse and adjusted her spectacles. “Brilliant! Mr Potter, let’s begin with you. Would you say that your love life has improved in any way since you became the man who defeated You-Know-Who?”

“Uhm,” Harry mumbled and glanced at Ron, who looked like he was trying to choke back laughter. “That’s a matter of definition, I suppose…”

“Rumour has it you’re dating a certain Miss Weasley,” Betty continued as she raised her eyebrows. “Do you have any comments about that?”

“No, no comments,” Harry said and blushed. He could think of a billion things he would rather do than showcasing details of his love life to of a group of gossipy, middle-aged women – sorry, Mrs Weasley, he thought – and he certainly didn’t want to force Ginny into the spotlight.

“Mr Weasley, any comments? Are you okay with the fact that you’re best friend is going out with your younger sister?”

Ron shook his head, grabbed Harry’s arm and dragged him away towards the castle. “Has it caused problems for your friendship?” Betty called after them.

Harry sighed. “Why did you shake your head? She’ll think you answered no to her question about whether or not you’re okay with me going out with Ginny!”

Ron socked his own forehead, as if he had just realized that he had made a big mistake. “No, but I didn’t! I meant that I didn’t have any comments!” he said as his ears went as red as a stop sign. “Bloody hell, I can picture the headlines tomorrow: Read all about Potter and Weasley’s feud: Leave my sister alone, you arse!”

Harry laughed. “Well, yes, if that woman is anything like Rita Skeeter…”

They reached the entrance to the school. Mr Filch grunted at them as he held the door open. As they walked through the hallways towards the Great Hall, they could hear the portraits on the walls whisper to each other: “It’s them, look, it’s them!” or “Harry Potter and Ron Weasley! Oh, if only my sister had lived to see this…” to which another one replied: “If only I had lived to see this! I would have loved to be able to shake their hands, wouldn’t you?”

Madame Hooch was the one who welcomed them into the Great Hall. She smiled from ear to ear when she saw them. “Mr Potter, Mr Weasley! It’s good to see you,” she said. “Wonderful news about your sister and the Harpies, isn't it?" Then, perhaps as she remembered that her task of the day was not to discuss Quidditch, she cleared her thorat and added, before Ron got the chance to reply: "Your parents, Mr Weasley, and your friends are waiting for you in the front row.”

“Good to see you too, Madame Hooch,” Harry said before hurrying after Ron along the narrow aisle that ran between the rows of chairs.

When they reached the front row, Hermione threw herself around Ron’s neck. Harry smiled and shook Neville’s hand before he turned to Ginny.

“Look,” he said. “There are reporters here asking me about my love life, so I completely understand it if you want to be discrete…”

He was interrupted when Ginny wrapped her arms around him and kissed him. When they let go of each other, he placed his hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes and said: “All right?” Ever since the Lestranges’ visit at Hogwarts and her torture, he had worried constantly about her, despite the fact that she had insisted on being perfectly fine in all of her letters to him.

“I’ve told you not to worry about me. I am just glad you seem to be a bit happier now,” Ginny said and smiled. Her eyes swept past him and over to the large door that lead into the Great Hall. “What is he doing here?”

Harry turned around. The two people who had just entered the hall were two of the last ones he would have ever expected to show up – Narcissa and Draco Malfoy. After all, they had both fought for the other side in the Battle a year ago, even if they had most likely done it because of Lucius’ influence over them, or perhaps because of fear. But what truly surprised Harry was the fact that he wasn’t upset about them showing up – he didn’t want to see them get thrown out, nor did he want to go over there and yell at them. He was still grateful for the help they have given him the previous year – Narcissa had actually saved his life exactly one year ago. Harry wouldn’t stretch it as far as saying that he was happy to see them, but he could at least accept their presence.

“I wonder if the Dark Mark on his wrist has faded away,” said Ginny tartly.

“I think that everything will change for them,” Harry said, shrugging. “Now that Lucius is in Azkaban. It’s a chance to start over for them.”

“Yes, definitely,” Ginny said sarcastically. “I’m sure Malfoy will marry a Muggle, and we can have them over for dinner every week, and our children will probably be best friends with his!”

“Our children?”

Harry smiled when his comment made Ginny blush. Sure, they were thousands of miles away from making plans like that, but he had to admit to himself that he had thought about it once or twice. It was nice to hear that she pictured their future the same way that he did – that they would always be together, get married and eventually start a family.

“I didn’t mean…” Ginny mumbled, staring at her own feet as if she was afraid to meet his eyes.

“It’s fine,” Harry said with a smile. “Did I mention that I love you, by the way?”

A little while later, the hall was filled with people. The murmur reminded Ginny of the atmosphere in there the first day of the school year during the feast, when you finally get to meet your friends again, and no one will shut up about their summers and the upcoming school year. Ginny felt a twinge of sadness inside when she realized that she would never experience that again – in just a few weeks, she would get her grades, and be thrown out into the real world, outside the comfort and safety that was Hogwarts. It was a scary thought.

Her thoughts changed direction as she turned her eyes back to the stage in the front to see the prefects in the middle of placing nine large photographs on its front. Ginny felt a little sick when she saw the moving face blinking down at all the people in the Great Hall. They were the students who had died in the fire at the Qudditch pitch just a few weeks earlier; how terrifying it was, she thought, that though there had been peace for an entire year, innocent people were still dying.

The Weird Sisters had taken the stage, which made the buzz die out and everyone turn their attention to the front of the hall. For once, the band members weren’t dressed in their regular, extravagant costumes – instead, they all wore simple, white robes, and Kirley Duke, Ginny’s favourite in the band, was sitting by a grand piano instead of holding his usual, flashy electric guitar. Ginny could hear her mother whisper: “It’s starting! Why are Bill and Fleur not here yet?” just as Kirley placed his hands on the keys and started playing.

It was a slow, glittery piece of music. According to Neville’s whisper, it had been composed for this special occasion. “It’s called Fallen Brother”, he announced before staring in shock at Ron and Ginny, as if he had just realized what had happened to their brother a year ago. Ginny turned her attention to the stage as the singer opened his mouth and began. Her heart ached from missing Fred.

I sing for you, my brother, to honour your name
You died to make a better world, you did not die in vain
But without you in it, brother, the world is not the same


Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand tightly as she felt Ron, who was sitting on her other side, lean his head against her shoulder. She closed her eyes. It was as if the song had been written just for them. She glanced over at George, who was sitting between Charlie and Mrs Weasley. Tears were streaming slowly down his face as he listened to the song.

The last chord faded out, and the entire audience stood up to clap their hands. Ginny dried her cheeks while joining the cheering. She could feel Harry pat her shoulder one last time before he followed Professor McGonnagall and Kingsley up on the stage to give his speech.

 

 

“My friends,” Kingsley said in his deep, authoritarian voice. “Let us remember this day as a day of freedom, a day of peace. A day when evil lost. But let us also remember that evil cannot be isolated to one person, one generation or one era. It is something that we will have to fight against forever more in order to maintain the peace that our friends, our fallen brothers and sisters, helped us create last year.”

When every speech had been held, medals had been awarded, tears had been shed and songs had been sung, everyone stood up to leave the Great Hall. Most of them would stay in the castle to attend the feast that would be held that same night. Hermione saw that Draco and his mother were among the first to sneak out when the doors opened, and she didn’t expect to see them again that night. They had spent the entire ceremony looking incredibly uncomfortable and awkward, as if they didn’t feel like they belonged there at all. And Hermione couldn’t blame them, considering the looks that people had shot at them as they passed by on the way to their seats.

“Wow, look at that!”

A few people had stopped in the middle of the aisle, and they were now pointing towards the entrance. When Hermione turned her head, she realized that a silver lion was jumping graciously through the air, heading towards the front where she, Harry, Neville, and the Weasley family were still waiting for the aisle to clear so that they would be able to get out. It was a Patronus, but she didn’t know to whom it belonged. Her initial thought was that it might be Fleur’s, because its flexible movements and smooth jumps reminded her of Fleur’s gracious way of moving. But when the lion stopped at the front row, it wasn’t Fleur’s voice that spoke to them, but Bill’s:

“Hi, everyone. Fleur and I are sorry that we missed the ceremony. We’re at St. Mungo’s, and Fleur has gone into labour. Come as soon as you can.”

Mrs Weasley gave out a delighted cry, clapped her hands together and started jumping up and down. Then she turned to her husband and threw her arms around his neck.

“We’re going to be grandparents, Arthur, can you believe it?”

Mr Weasley laughed and shook his head as he hugged her back. Ginny followed her mother’s lead and jumped with joy as she grabbed Ron’s arm. “And we’re going to have a little niece! Or a nephew…,” she added with a wide grin on her face – Hermione could only remember two times when her friend had ever looked so happy before. The first one was when Harry had kissed her for the first time, and the second one was when she had received her letter from Holyhead Harpies. “I’m going to be an auntie!”

The others laughed at Ginny’s enthusiasm and started moving towards the door, as there was finally enough room in the aisle for them to pass. “We’re going to St. Mungo’s!” Mrs Weasley called out to anyone who wanted to hear. “My son is having a baby!” Hermione,  unsure if Bill's invitation had included her, walked slowly without attempting to catch up with the others, but Mr Weasley waved her doubts away when he turned around and realised what she was going.

“You do realise you’re a part of our family now, don’t you?” he said and winked at her. “That goes for you too,” he told Harry, Audrey and Angelina, who had lingered behind, just like Hermione.

When Hagrid was informed of the good news, he set up two carriages to take them to Hogsmeade. From there, they apparated to St. Mungo’s and stepped into the entrance hall. A healer – a bearded, bony man – greeted them and showed them into the waiting room at the maternity ward. “I will let Mr Weasley know that his family is here,” he said, bowed quickly and left the room. Everyone sat down in the baby blue couches, and Charlie started browsing through a copy of the Daily Prophet that lay on one of the side tables.

“Charlie, how can you even think about reading when your brother is becoming a father in this very instant?” asked Mrs Weasley, who was so exited that her eyes literally glowed and her cheeks were mottled red.

“Well, Mum,” Charlie said. “You’d think that you if anyone should know this, considering you’ve gone through it quite a few times, but this could take up to ten hours.”

“Are you serious?” Ron exclaimed in shock. “Then why did we rush here? We could have eaten something…”

“It can take hours,” Hermione said. “But it can be also be really quick. My parents barely made it to the hospital when I was born.”

Ron was just about to open his mouth to respond when the bearded healer returned, this time with Bill in tow. His face lit up when he saw his family gathered in the waiting room.

“How are you doing in there?” Mrs Weasley asked impatiently when he didn’t say anything.

“A mini-Bill?” George teased him.

“No,” Bill said. His voice cracked with emotion as he continued: “Fleur just gave birth to a little girl. To a Victoire.”

This caused quite the stir in the waiting room. Mrs Weasley burst into tears – “They’re tears of joy, Arthur!” she sobbed when her husband tried to comfort her – Ginny jumped forwards and threw her arms around her brother’s waist, and even Ron seemed to be moved. Everyone took turns in congratulating Bill, and then they followed him through a long corridor and into Fleur’s room. The new mother looked exhausted, but happy, and as beautiful as ever despite the fact that her blonde hair was dripping with sweat, and dark rings flanked her eyes. The child that was lying in her arms was so incredibly small, with only a few strays of fair hair on the top of her head, and a glow beneath her skin that could only be a result of her Veela genes.

“How did you pick her name?” Audrey asked.

“Victoire is French for victory,” Fleur explained and bent her head down to kiss her daughter’s forehead. “Because she was born on ze anniversary of our victory.”

“Charlie,” Bill said, placing a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “We wanted to ask you… we were hoping that you would want to be her godfather. Fleur’s sister is godmother, and I would be…”

Charlie responded by hugging him tightly. When they let go of each other, he wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand and said: “Of course I want to! I’d be honoured.”

“But that doesn’t give you the right to hold her first!” Mrs Weasley said and reached out her hands. “Fleur, may I?”

Her daughter-in-law smiled, straightened up and placed the baby in her arms. Mrs Weasley immediately began cooing and talking in a baby-voice while rocking her granddaughter gently back and forth.

“She’s so perfect,” said Percy in astonishment and reached out his finger to touch his niece’s little hand.

“Yes, and with that mother,” George told Bill, “she’s going to be a beauty. Which, of course, means that you’re going to have to fight hard to keep the boys away from this one, big brother!”

Harry and Ron laughed, and even though Bill joined them, he did look a bit worried. Hermione glanced at the baby again and smiled. George was probably right, she thought. Bill had got a tough job ahead.  

 

 





A/N: First of all, about the Weird Sisters song: I completely made that up, and I realize that it's a bit lame, but it was the best I could do! Other than that, I hope that you liked this chapter. In the next one, Year 2 will begin. Only 18 more years to go, then ;)

Anyway, it makes me so happy when you take the time to leave a review after reading. I would really appreciate it if you would do it, because I want to know what you think. And thank you for reading my story!


Chapter 11: Year 2: The Future
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It had been one of those rainy summer days when the clouds seemed heavier than usual, hanging closer to the ground of Ottery St. Catchpole than ever. The thunder stopped sometime in the afternoon, but even as darkness fell over the town, it was still pouring from the skies.

As Harry entered Ron's bedroom on the top floor, the sound of raindrops against the tiles of the Burrow and the wind rattling the window filled his ears. In his mind, they sounded more like massive explosions than little drops of water hitting glass and roofing tiles. Sighing heavily, he threw himself onto his bed and shut his eyes, completely exhausted after what felt like one of the longest days of his life.

The day had begun early – much too early – when Mr Weasley had woken everyone up by causing an explosion out in the garage. He had snuck out, while his wife was still sleeping, to work on Sirius’ old motorcycle, and something had obviously gone very wrong. Just a few seconds later, he had stumbled into the kitchen in the exact same moment that Harry, Ron and Mrs Weasley, who were all both dazed, tired, and slightly confused, reached the bottom of the stairs. Mr Weasley’s left eyebrow had been singed, his face was covered in dust and silver smoke was rising from the sleeve of his dressing gown.

Harry could have gone back to sleep after that, but even if he had tried, Mrs Weasley’s yelling would have kept him up. Therefore, he had sunk down into the couch next to Ron and Ginny to wait for the sun to rise outside the window, so that the three of them could head off to the Ministry of Magic to attend the last day of Rodolphus Lestrange’s trial.

When it was finally time for breakfast, Mrs Weasley was still so upset that she burned both the fried eggs and the bacon. “Fix the motorcycle!” she had muttered while making the ruined food disappear with a flick of her wand. “I would like to know why on earth anyone would want to fix such a death trap!” She had ended up cooking plain oatmeal, which tasted so viscous and insipid no one would have belived it to be cooked by Mrs Weasley, had they not watched it themselves. Of course, no one dared utter a word of complaint, but quitely forced the breakfast down before leaving for the Ministry. By all appearances, Rodolphus would be going the same direction as his brother, who had been shipped off to Azkaban for life just a few weeks earlier. Once the trial was over, Ginny took a Portkey to Holyhead for the Quidditch try-outs.

“The timing couldn’t have been worse,” she haid said when Harry walked her out to wish her good luck. “My head is too full of other things… will you help me figure out what to do with my life instead of playing Quidditch tonight, when I’ve made a complete fool of myself at try-outs and messed up all my chances of making the team?”

But Harry had assured her that she would be fine. He was convinced that she would make the team, and that this was as perfect a day as any to start her career as a professional Quidditch player.

Then, Harry and Ron had been called up to Dawlish’s office, where they had been handed two giant stacks of paper each to deal with. Since Seyrod’s death, the Auror Department was even more understaffed than before, and Harry and Ron’s training had been put on hold, simply because there was no one available to teach them. Instead, they had been assigned to do paperwork. “You have to get this done today, boys,” Dawlish had said with a condoning look on his face. Since Harry and Ron had spent half of the day with the Wizengamot, they had had to stay at work until past seven. When they finally came home, Mrs Weasley scolded them for missing dinner, Ginny was upset because she had missed her last two shots during try-outs, and in the middle of this was Mr Weasley, holding baby Victoire in his arms. He was hushing and rocking her, but according to Ginny she had been crying incessantly for the last hour.

Now, Harry was lying in his bed with a pounding headache, and he could barely found enough energy in him to pull off his socks and put away his glasses before curling up under the duvet to finally go to sleep. He was going to turn nineteen in a couple of weeks, and he was beginning to feel like it might be time to move out of the Burrow and find his own place. The thought alone made him feel a little guilty, but he had loved living with the Weasley family more than they probably knew, and he was interminably grateful that they had opened their home to him as if he had been their own son. He just felt like it was time to grow up and try living on his own.

 

 

The next morning was yet another grey, hazy one. The last couple of weeks, it had rained so much that Mr Weasley had started to worry that the gnomes in their garden would actually drown – “Brilliant! That would save us some work!” said Ron heartlessly – but it seemed like the sky was finally out of water. Ginny was sitting in the backyard of the Burrow with a copy of the Daily Prophet lay open on her lap. She had reached the sports section and her thoughts had instantly drifted off, away from the rather dull article about the current overflow of referees in the British-Irish Quidditch League – which she was now sure that she would never be part of. Just the word Quidditch had been enough to direct her thoughts back to the try-outs and the fact that she had blown her chance. She had felt pretty confident until those last two shots, during which her nerves had caught up with her and turned her normal cannon-shots into loose passes. The Holyhead Harpies backup keeper had had no problem saving them, robbing Ginny of the chance of living out one of her childhood dreams.

Ginny had never really thought much about what she wanted to do after Hogwarts until she had received that letter from Gwenog Jones. But for the first time in her life, she had been able to imagine her future – a future full of Quaffles flying through the air, cheering crowds and late, protracted trainings. It was a future that, up until lately, had been nothing but a distant dream, and suddenly it had been within her reach. She just hadn’t been able to control her own nerves long enough to be able to just lean forwards and grab it.

So what would she do instead? It was so easy for Harry and Ron – they had always known what they wanted to do, and thanks to Kingsley they had got a golden opportunity to fulfil it and actually become Aurors. She couldn’t think of a job better suited for George than running a joke shop – although, she thought with a sting in her heart, it would have been even more perfect if he had been able to do it together with Fred. Bill had always had a burning passion for bank business and a special talent for both Charms and Defence Against the Dark Arts – it was like he had been made to be a Curse Breaker. He seemed to look forward to going to work every morning, even if he had been a bit more reluctant to do so since Victoire had been born. Then there was Charlie, who had always dreamed of working with dragons. Ginny had not been born at the time, but her parents enjoyed telling stories of how Charlie had gone from running around in the garden, pretending to spit fire on his brothers, to painting scarily lifelike dragons on his walls, to excelling in Care of Magical Creatures. After that, all he had had to do was pack his bags and move to Romania to live out his dream. And lastly, there was Percy, who no longer worked for the Minister for Magic, but had been promoted to a higher position within the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. He absolutely loved it, and why wouldn’t he? After all, he had always been strangely fond of laws and rules.

So it seemed everyone had found their place. Everyone but Ginny. She sighed and straightened her back while rubbing her eyes. All this thinking, combined with the sultry midsummer heat, had made her drowsy.

“Ginny!” a voice called. “Ginevra, where are you?”

Ginny frowned at the sound of her full name, folded the newspaper and rose to her feet. Her mother was just sticking her head out the kitchen window.

“There you are,” she said with an unreadable smile on her lips. “There’s someone here to see you.”

Ginny shrugged and walked in through the back door, which led directly into the kitchen. She almost tripped over her own feet when she realized exactly who was there to see her. It was none other than Darren Weinhold, coach of the Holyhead Harpies, and Gwenog Jones. It was surreal to see them there, in the Weasley kitchen, surrounded by their timeworn furniture and overcrowded shelves and counters.

“Miss Weasley,” said Darren Weinhold, nodding politely at her. He was a tall, handsome man in his thirties who had played Quidditch for Appleby Arrows for almost ten years, until a misfortunate Bludger had hit him in the elbow and crushed his bones. Although he could still move his arm he had had to give up his career as a Quidditch player – a Keeper needs two good arms.

“Ginny!” said Gwenog and smiled. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Yes… well… nice to see you too!” Ginny said. For the life of her, she could not figure out why they had come. The logical thing would be to just send a letter. Dear Miss Weasley, we regret to inform you that we cannot offer you the spot as a Chaser in Holyhead Harpies… There had been more than ten other girls at the try-outs, and it seemed like a waste of time to pay each one of them a visit, just to turn them down.

“During the little time you had, you made a good impression on me at the match at Hogwarts,” Gwenog said. “Of course, your opponents will be better in the British-Irish Quidditch League, but… I assume that Gryffindor won the Quidditch Cup?”

Ginny was confused. Was this the “you are good, but not good enough” kind of praise, or was it the real kind? She nodded in response to Gwenog’s question. “We had a rematch a few weeks later. 390-40.”

“Can I get you anything to eat?” asked Mrs Weasley, who been standing silently just listening to the conversation up until that moment. “Or something to drink? You must be thirsty, having travelled all the way from Wales!”

Weinhold smiled. “Thanks to Apparition, it doesn’t make much difference whether we travel from Wales or from the house next door,” he said. “But perhaps a little snack, while we discuss Miss Weasley’s future with the team?”

Ginny flinched. Her future with… did she have a future with the team?

“What do you…?”

Gwenog Jones met Ginny’s eyes and nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Perhaps we should have started with that. We’re because we would like you to be the new Chaser of the Holyhead Harpies.”

Ginny couldn’t stop the loud shout of joy for slipping out of her mouth as threw herself forward to hug her old childhood hero. Gwenog was stiff in her embrace, and Ginny blushed as she let go of her and turned to Weinhold, who smiled widely at her cheerful reaction.

“I guess that you accept our offer, then?”

Ginny smiled goofily and nodded. Her lips almost hurt from stretching so widely, but she couldn’t stop smiling. She could see her future again. She was walking out onto a Quidditch pitch, looking up at the enormous bleachers high above her, where she spotted her entire redheaded family, squeezed together and cheering loudly. She saw her own poster hanging on the wall of some little girl’s bedroom, like she had once covered hers with photos of Gwenog...

Ginny turned her head to her mother. Mrs Weasley was crying, but she was beaming with pride as she pulled Ginny into her tight embrace. Ginny couldn’t wait to tell Harry, but he was still at work. And she would have to write to Charlie – he was the biggest Quidditch nerd of the family, and he would probably be the happiest when he heard it. Him and George, Ginny thought, because it was the twins who had taught her to fly. She smiled and wondered if Fred was watching her in that moment. She hoped that he was.

 

 

Gwyn Stayner didn’t look like she belonged behind the desk in a Head Office of a department in the Ministry of Magic. But if one would have to guess which department it was, it would probably be the one for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Her hair was fair with elements of grey and pulled into an untidy ponytail. Her robe was so torn that it looked like rags, and Hermione couldn’t help but stare at her ulcerated face and neck as she wondered if she had perhaps overdressed for the occasion. Her new robe and neat hairdo seemed so out of place compared to the woman sitting across from her.

“I can see that you’ve noticed my appearance,” Gwyn Stayner said, making Hermione blush and turn her eyes away. “Don’t worry – I don’t always look like this. We had a small incident with a cursed phoenix that came at me. You should have seen my face before – it was a lot worse. I’m telling you, those beaks are sharper than you’d think…”

“Why would anyone do that?” Hermione asked in shock. “To an innocent animal?”

“Well, that’s what we have to work with,” Gwyn Stayner answered. “Some people give vent to their cruelty by becoming Death Eaters. Some curse their animals, while others… just the other week, we discovered a werewolf – a friend of Fenrir Greyback's – who bit people on purpose to create a pack of wolves. The worst part is he went after little children. He kidnapped them, locked them in his basement and made them fight each other during full moon, to sort out the weak links.” When she saw the tears in Hermione’s eyes, she raised her eyebrow and said: “Can you handle that, Miss Granger? Because those are the kind of things we are dealing with here.”

Hermione swallowed. “That… that’s what I want to fight against,” she said. “That is why I w-want to work here. When people take advantage of innocent children like that… it doesn’t have to be children. It could be something else, like… like house-elves. People have no right to treat them like slaves!”

Gwyn Stayner smiled. “Yes, I’ve heard about your passion for the rights of house-elves,” she said. “You actually inspired my assistant’s latest opinion piece for the Daily Prophet. Freedom and clothes for our fellow elves! Have you read it? I think it was last month…”

“Your assistant wrote that?” Hermione straightened her back. “I would consider it an honour if I could meet him and discuss a constitution of Universal Rights of House-elves, like he mentioned in his article!”

“I suppose you could meet him on Monday,” replied the older witch. “On your first day.”

Hermione tried, but failed, to hold back her smile. “Are you saying that I got the job?”

“Yes. I like your commitment, and I’m sure that you will be a refreshing addition to our department. I have no doubt that you will work hard and diligently, considering your dedication to school. You see, I’ve talked to Minerva – she’s a good friend of mine. She had nothing but praise for you, young lady.” She winked at Hermione and checked her pocket watch. “Be here at eight thirty on Monday.”

That being said, Gwyn Stayner stood up. The door behind Hermione was flung open, and she got up on her feet, thanked her new boss and hurried out.

 

 

Ginny’s bedroom door was slammed shut with a bang that almost made Ron trip over his own feet on his way up the stairs. He grabbed the handrail in the last second and managed to regain his balance, and a few seconds later, Harry’s scraggy figure appeared on the landing above him, just outside Ginny’s room. Ron’s eyes narrowed.

“Oi, Harry!” he called. “What did you do to her this time?”

Harry started walking down the stairs. When he reached Ron, he sank down and sat on one of the steps with his chin resting in his hands, all without saying a single word.

“Well?” Ron said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Is Ginny mad at you?”

“She’s mad, alright,” Harry answered. “Completely mental! She slammed the door in my face. Had it not been for my Seeker reflexes, I would have been picking pieces of shattered glass out of my eyes right now,” he said grumpily while pointing at his glasses, which slid down to the tip of his nose just then, as if to help him stress his point.

“I thought we talked about this,” Ron said. “I stay out of your relationship as long as you don’t do anything stupid. So what did you do?”

Harry sighed and rolled his eyes. “She told me she had good news. You’ve heard about the Holyhead Harpies, right?” When Ron furrowed his eyebrows, Harry continued: “She made the team.”

“What? Nobody ever bothers to tell me anything!” Ron muttered. “I’m only her brother, you’d think that she’d want me to know…”

Harry ignored him and continued: “So I told her that I had good news too. I wanted her to be the first to know… that I’ve bought a flat. In London.”

Ron could feel his chin drop to the floor. A flat? He was moving out? He couldn’t recall Harry ever mentioning anything about buying a flat. Why had he not mentioned it?

“And I really thought she would be happy for me,” Harry said, “but she just threatened to hex me unless I got out of her sight.” He shook his head and sighed again. “Girls, Ron. Will we ever fully understand them?”

“She’s probably a bit shocked,” Ron said. “I mean, you’ve never told us you were thinking about moving out. And now you’ve bought a flat out of the blue? What do you reckon Mum will say about it?”

“It’s not that I’m not eternally grateful that you’ve let me stay here,” Harry said. “Or that I haven’t loved every second of it. I just feel like it’s time to grow up and take the next step. I’m turning nineteen, we’re getting paid now… it seemed like the right move.”

Ron nodded. To be fair, he and Hermione had started talking about getting a flat together in London as well. Preferably somewhere near the Ministry, as she worked there too now – which she had burst into the Auror department to announce in the middle of Dawlish’s presentation of the group of suspected Death Eaters that had run off to South America.

“Any advice on how to tell your mother?” Harry asked hopefully.

“Oh, it won’t matter what you do, mate,” Ron said and patted Harry’s shoulder. “She will lose it, start to cry and try to bribe you into staying by always cooking your favourite food, washing all your clothes, cleaning the room for you... Then she’ll move on to threats. I’ve seen it happen three times before.”

Ron could see Harry’s shoulders slump and suddenly felt guilty. He knew what his friend must be thinking – he dreaded the day when he would have to tell her that he was going to move out.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Ginny will come around. Don’t do it in front of me, but perhaps you could… you know, point out the advantages of not living under the constant surveillance of Mum. I can’t even put my arm around Hermione’s shoulder without her showing up. She’s mental, that’s what she is.” He fell silent. Then he realised that his mother had probably heard him – as he had just said, nothing escaped her – and he quickly added: “But she’s also wonderful. Kind, loving, and an amazing cook.”

Harry looked confused. But only a few second later, he heard Mrs Weasley calling from somewhere downstairs: “Nice save, Ronald!” and the two young men exchanged a look and burst into laughter. 

 





A/N: I can't believe how many people have read this story! It's amazing. Thank you so much!!! I would also like to thank you so much for your reviews. I can't tell you how much I appreciate them, or how happy it makes me when you give me response. I would really like to know what you think of this chapter too :)


Chapter 12: Year 2: The Birthday Dinner
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“Hajjy!”
A small, green-haired boy stumbled forwards on his still unsteady, small feet and threw his arms around Harry’s legs, laughing happily as he buried his face into his godfather’s knees. A pair of white teeth, not much bigger than two grains of rice, peeked out from his guns, and he clapped his hands together in excitement as he bent his head back to look up, his hair sticking out of his head like a crown of little leaves. Harry chuckled and bent down to lift the boy up.

“Hi, buddy,” he said warmly. “Wow, you are getting heavy! When are you going to stop growing so fast?”

They were in the backyard of the Burrow, where Mr Weasley, Harry, Ron and Ginny had spent most of their afternoon setting up a long table and gathering chairs from every room of the house, so that all of the guests would have a place to sit. Mrs Weasley had placed a giant tablecloth, sown by her aunt Muriel, on the table to cover up the scratches in the wood, and Ginny had decorated it with Peruvian lilies, whose burning yellow and pink colours stole the attention away from Muriel’s uneven stitches and garish embroidery.

“I’m sorry Mum made us use this tablecloth for your birthday,” she had whispered to Harry with an impish twinkle in her eye while carefully placing the flowers in a strange formation to cover her great-aunt’s poor handiwork. “At least she didn’t invite Muriel – be thankful for that.”

There had been a cheerful, good-humoured ambience in the air around the Burrow all day. It had begun early in the morning, when Mrs Weasley had tiptoed down the stairs to wrap the last of Harry’s birthday presents, and it had continued as the whole family gathered in Ron and Harry’s bedroom to wake the birthday boy with song. Even the inevitable cleaning that followed breakfast had been frivolously done, and despite the fact that Ron had been clumsy enough to break three glasses when laying the table, not even Mrs Weasley had been able to stay upset for very long.

They were going to have dinner in the garden. All the guests that had wanted to come to celebrate Harry’s birthday wouldn’t have fit into the kitchen, and fortunately, the weather allowed them to sit outside. Teddy and Andromeda were the first ones to arrive, making Mrs Weasley leave the kitchen – for the first time since that morning – to welcome them.

“It’s always nice to see you, Andy,” she said, watching Harry and Teddy as her lips grew into a smile. “And it’s wonderful to see how much Teddy looks up to him already!”

“Indeed it is,” Andromeda replied. “Remus made a good choice when he asked Harry to be his godfather.”

“Where is my favourite nineteen-year-old? Sorry Ron, that’s not you I’m talking about!”

George’s voice made everyone turn around to see him and Angelina making their way across the lawn, hand in hand, George carrying a large, carelessly wrapped gift under one arm.

“Happy birthday!” said Angelina and let go of George’s hand before stepping forwards to give Harry a hug. “And hello to you, little man!” she added as she ruffled Teddy’s green hair and smiled kindly.

When Teddy spotted George – his favourite playmate next to Harry – he began wriggling in Harry’s arms, eager to be put down. As soon as his little feet touched the grass, he staggered over to George while his hair colour changed from green to Weasley red. Hagrid, Professor Slughorn and McGonagall stepped out of the fireplace in the living room just as Hermione and her parents rounded the corner of the house, having parked their Silver Audi over by the garage.

A little while later found that all the guests had arrived and Mrs Weasley had laid out a feast on the rickety garden furniture. Seamus Finnigan just barely managed to jump out of the way and avoid getting crushed under Hagrid and his chair, which fell apart in the same second that the half-giant sat down on it.

“Blimey, Hagrid!” said Seamus reproachfully. “Make sure no one is standing behind you before you throw yourself backwards, will you?”

The noise had woken up Victoire, who had been sleeping in Fleur’s arms since they had arrived together with Bill a few minutes earlier. Now, she started crying loudly, and Harry’s leaned back in his chair and let his gaze sweep between his near and dear ones. They seemed to have a habit of always bringing noisy chaos with them, but soar ears was a small price to pay for getting to have them all in his life. He had grown up without a family, but had now realised that after everything he had been through, he finally had one. And the noise wasn’t that bad, especially not when he thought about the fact that after tonight, he would head off to his new, quiet, peaceful flat to spend his first night there. It had been one of Mr and Mrs Weasley’s gifts for him – they had surprised him by helping him move his things and set the place up. “But it doesn’t mean that I’m okay with you moving out!” had Mrs Weasley said with tearful eyes that same morning. “And I’m counting on you to come back here as often as you possibly can, do you hear me?” Harry had nodded and promised that he would. She really didn’t need to worry about not seeing him – he loved spending time with the Weasleys at the Burrow.

“I would like to propose a toast!” said Professor Slughorn before anyone got a chance to take as much of a bite of the food, drawing the attention from Hagrid, who was just pulling out his pink umbrella to fix the broken chair. “To one of the bravest young boys I have ever met. I am sure that you get it from your mother, Harry. Perhaps we should toast for her too, now that I think about it. You wouldn’t be sitting here with us if it weren’t for her. You wouldn’t have turned nineteen…” He cleared his throat and raised his glass of wine. “To Harry! And to Lily!”

“How did Professor Slughorn know your mother?” asked Audrey as she put her glass back down on the table.

“He was her teacher,” Harry explained. “Apparently, she was one of his favourites.”

Sitting across from them, Professor Slughorn had turned to Ginny to discuss her Quidditch career. “You see, Gwenog is an old friend of mine,” he explained proudly. “She gets me free tickets to any match I want to go to – she’s quite lovely, don’t you think? I knew that she would become something big already back when she was my student. And you joining the team gives me one more reason to come to the matches!” He winked at Ginny, who laughed and shrugged.

“Well, I’ve only been on the team for a couple of weeks,” she said. “But I hope I’ll get to play soon.”

“I suppose you live in Wales now, then?” asked Slughorn interestedly.

“No, I still live at home,” Ginny answered. “Most of the other players live in Holyhead, but they’ve connected our fireplace with theirs to allow me to stay at home, and then I just use Floo powder to get there.”

Professor Slughorn chuckled. “That’s exactly what Gwenog said when she first started!” he remembered. “She said she would never leave her family back in Portree. It only took her a couple of months to gather her belongings and buy a little cottage in Holyhead, though. I suppose one certain young man makes you want to stay too, eh? We’ll see about that! Gwenog has not changed one bit since I knew her – she won’t let anything stand in your way, if that something is Harry Potter himself!” He laughed again, his round stomach thrusting against the table and making his knife and fork, which lay across his plate, chink loudly.

A cold, strange sensation darted through Harry, who had listened to their entire conversation. What if Professor Slughorn was right? He had talked to Ginny about their living arrangements and they had both agreed that they weren’t ready to live together. Instead, they had agreed that Ginny would stay at the Burrow while Harry moved into his flat – once the shock had worn off, Ginny had really warmed up to the idea of him leaving the Weasley home. All along, Harry had thought that there was also a silent agreement between the two of them, saying that Ginny would move in with him in a year or two, when they both were ready for it. But what if she had other plans for her future? What if the idea of having to plan her life around someone else would damage her chances of a successful Quidditch career? Harry knew that Ginny loved him, of course, but would she still do that if she began feeling like he was holding her back from her dream?

“Harry,” said George suddenly, poking him in the side. “Don’t look so grumpy! It’s your birthday, remember?”

Harry woke up from his thoughts and forced himself to smile. George nodded, gave him the thumbs up and continued shovelling food down his throat as if it he hadn’t seen food in weeks.

Harry did manage to forget his brief worry for Ginny’s future as the evening progressed. After finishing dinner, he spent some time chasing after Teddy, who was chasing Mr and Mrs Weasley’s chickens around the courtyard and who laughed happily every time one of them clucked. Hardly anyone noticed the clouds creeping in above their heads, blaming the darkening on the late hour until the first drops of rain fell upon them. By then, they had finished the two giant cakes that Mrs Weasley had whisked together the night before, and most of the guests had headed either homewards or into the house. Hermione, however, defied the rain and stayed outside to help Mrs Weasley clear the table. There were more than a few raindrops falling from the sky now, and holding her hands above her head to shield herself from the sudden shower, Hermione smiled at the sight of her father and Mr Weasley on the other side of the courtyard. Mr Weasley was holding the door to the garage open for Mr Granger, and the two of them hurried inside to escape the rain. Hermione hurried over to the long table, still smiling though she was getting completely soaked. If she knew Mr Weasley right, he had been dying to show her dad his collection of Muggle items since they had arrived about four hours earlier.

“Oh, Hermione!” said Mrs Weasley, who was just folding the tablecloth using her wand. “Leave it, I’ll take care of this! You go back inside before you get too wet!”

During the years that Hermione had known Ron’s mother, she had learned it was best not to protest against her orders, so she just nodded and did as she was told. As she stepped into the kitchen, the sound of voices coming from the living room steered her way in there. She stopped in the doorway and just watched the scene that was taking place in the room – Bill and Fleur were sitting on the couch, holding each other’s hands and talking quietly to each other. Every now and then they burst into laughter, and sometimes Fleur stopped in the middle of a movement just to gaze lovingly at her husband. Hermione couldn’t help but smile. They really were a lovely couple, and anyone who had had doubts about Fleur’s intentions in the beginning of their relationship had definitely been proved wrong. She was a loving wife – it was easy to see that she only had eyes for Bill – and a wonderful mother.

But Bill and Fleur did not manage to keep Hermione’s attention for very long. Her eyes soon turned to Ron, who was sitting in one of the chairs next to them. He was holding Victoire in his arms, and the sight of it actually made Hermione tear up. Even if Ron could be both clumsy and insensitive at times, he had really surprised her in that area. There was something so gentle and soft, so tender, in his touch when he held the baby. The little girl had swept not only her parents off of their feet, but the rest of the family too – including Ron. Hermione would have never guessed it, but her boyfriend was brilliant with children – at least with his baby niece. At the moment, he was rocking her gently while humming softly to her. His eyes were fixed on her perfect little face, and the corners of his mouth were pulled up into a faint smile.

Suddenly, Hermione was grabbed by a strong, unexpected desire. She wanted to have a baby, and she wanted to have one with Ron. She wanted to see him sit just like that, singing to their daughter. She wanted to see his face light up with the same radiant, devoted love that Bill and Fleur’s faces did every time they laid eyes on their child. She longed to sit down next to Ron and tell him that she was pregnant, to see him place a hand on her swollen belly with the same wistful expression that she had seen on Bill’s face at Christmas. She wanted to hear Mrs Weasley’s reaction. She imagined telling her own parents – after all, she was their only child, and her children would be their only grandchildren. They would be so happy… And she longed to hold a baby in her arms that was half of her and half of Ron. To share that experience with him, to feel that deep love for another human being that people said you couldn’t even imagine before it’s there…

“Hermione? What are you doing over there? Come and sit down!” said Ron suddenly while grinning widely at her. “Vic and I are trying to remember the lullabies that Mum sang to me when I was little, aren’t we, Vicky?”

Hermione could feel her cheeks heat up. What would he say if he had known what she was thinking? He probably would have dropped the baby right there and run for his life, as quickly as he ever could. And no one would have been able to blame him. They hadn’t even turned twenty yet, and they had only been together for a year. And yet, there she was, dreaming about children!

“Ron,” said Fleur accusingly. “Vicky?”

“I agree,” Ron admitted. “Vicky is not great – I think that I prefer Vic. But honestly, Fleur, if you didn’t like nicknames, you shouldn’t have named your daughter Victoire. And then there’s the fact that she’s a Weasley. Nicknames are what we do. George is the only one out of the seven of us who goes by his real name.”

“That’s just because all of your names are so weird!” Bill said. “I mean, William and George are the only normal ones… Ronald.”

“My parents chose a rather unusual name, too,” Hermione said as she sat down in the chair across from Ron’s. “And there’s not even a good nickname for Hermione.”

“How about Hermy?” Ron laughed. “That’s what Hagrid’s brother Grawp, called her.”

Bill joined in the laughter and Hermione smiled. The Ron she knew was back – his tantalizing smile, the twinkle in his eyes that he had in common with all of his siblings… The little girl in his arms would probably have it in her eyes too when she grew older, and Ron and Hermione’s child would… She interrupted the thought. Stop thinking about it, she told herself. How could she even be sure that she would end up with Ron? Even though she couldn’t picture life without him, and even though she couldn’t imagine ever loving anyone else, they were so young. Who could really know how things would end?

Fleur yawned and placed a hand on Bill’s thigh. “Maybe we should get going,” she said. “Eet is bedtime for Victoire – and for me.”

He nodded and they both rose to their feet. Ron placed the baby in Fleur’s arms, and Bill grinned when his daughter began whimpering.

“Looks like she’s found her favourite uncle,” he said. “Congratulations, Ron. I mean, you did have a lot of competition!”

“Unlike Ginny in her struggle to become the favourite aunt,” Ron said. “She’s constantly telling me that she’s the favourite aunt, and I have to remind her that she is her only one, so it doesn’t really say anything!”

“She ‘as my sister too,” Fleur pointed out. “Gabrielle."”

“Yes,” Ron admitted, “but she lives all the way off in France!”

“What about Hermione, then?” Bill said. “She’s practically her aunt too. She certainly will be when the two of you get married.”

Ron coughed loudly. He glanced over at Hermione, but then quickly turned his eyes away when she met them. “Good Godric, Bill,” he said. “We’ve barely been together for a year. That’s way off in the future! It’s too soon to even consider it!”

Hermione lowered her eyes. Ron was right. But how was she supposed to interpret the fact that she could see the two of them having children while just the idea of having a future together seemed terrifying to Ron, who still, by the way, hadn’t met her eyes? Did it mean that he didn’t love her the way that she loved him? Didn’t he want to spend the rest of his life with her? The thought felt like a sting in her chest.

“Don’t be sad, Hermione,” Bill teased her when he saw the serious look on her face. “You’ll see me again soon, considering how much Mum loves these family gatherings!”

Hermione forced herself to laugh with him as he pulled her in for a quick hug. She said goodbye to Fleur and Victoire, and then she was alone in the living room with Ron.

“It’s going to be strange,” he said, “to live here without Harry. It feels like we haven’t lived apart since before we started at Hogwarts.”

“Yes,” Hermione said without knowing what else to tell him. Normally, she would have had a lot more to say, of course, but all she could think of was the lump in her throat and the fact that she wanted to get out of there while she was still able to hold her tears back. “I’m going to go find my Mum and Dad,” she said quickly. “I have to be at work early tomorrow. Goodnight!”

Ron looked surprised, but she didn’t stick around long enough to give him time to ask any questions. Instead, she rushed into the kitchen, where Mrs Weasley and Ginny were busy cleaning the dishes.

“Hi,” she said. Her voice was so thin and shaky that she couldn’t even pretend to be happy when Ginny turned around and shot her a concerned look. “Do you know where my parents are?”

Mrs Weasley smiled. “Your mother went out to the garage to find your father, dear,” she said softly. “You should probably go and save them – otherwise, Arthur will keep them occupied for hours!”

Ginny was still staring at Hermione. “I’ll come with you,” she said. “If that’s okay with you, Mum?”

“Go on. I’ll get Ron to help me with the rest of this.”

The two girls stepped outside into the rain. Hermione was just about to rush over the garage to avoid getting soaked when Ginny stopped her by placing a hand on her arm.

“Aren’t you going to tell me what’s going on?” she asked.

“It’s nothing,” Hermione said. But the tears that she had tried to hold back for the last couple of minutes said otherwise as they began streaming down her face, mixing with the cold raindrops that fell from the skies. “It’s just that Bill made a comment about Ron’s and my future, and Ron seemed horrified. I mean, it’s not like I’m expecting him to propose to me tomorrow, I just… I can picture it and be happy about it, but he…”

“And now you think that he doesn’t love you?” Ginny asked.

Hermione shrugged and wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand.

“Believe me,” Ginny said. “I have known Ron all my life and even though he doesn’t exactly wear his heart on his sleeve, he is obviously mad about you. And the fact that the future scares him… he’s just being such a bloke! Don’t read too much into it.”

Hermione smiled – it was a genuine smile this time. “What would I do without you, Ginny? I’m so lucky to have you to stop me from having my nervous breakdowns. By the way, we haven’t talked about in a long time now… how is everything going with Harry?”

Ginny blushed. “Well, I was thinking… I don’t know about you and Ron, but Harry and I never… you know… took our relationship to the next level.” She whispered the last words and cast a glance over her shoulder, as if she was scared to catch a spy – or more likely, her mum – listening to everything she said. “But now that he has his own flat, I thought I would pay him a nightly visit.” Her cheeks were redder than ever when she smiled shyly and met her friend’s eyes.

“That’s the problem with living under your mother’s roof,” Hermione said. “She’s watching your every move like a hawk. And it’s not just her, either! It almost happened for Ron and me once, until we heard that someone was coming up the stairs. I think we beat the world record time in getting dressed – I had just buttoned my blouse when Percy walked through the door.”

Ginny laughed. “Well, he has never had a sense of timing,” she said and shook her head. “And just imagine what it’s like for me… I’ve got a whole bunch of brothers who all want to interrupt me and Harry before things go too far!”

A squeaking sound announced that the garage door just opened, and both Ginny and Hermione lifted their heads. Mr Weasley stepped into the pouring rain, closely followed by Mr and Mrs Granger. The latter waved at the girls and called:

“Hermione! Are you ready to go?”

Hermione nodded and turned to Ginny. “Good luck tonight, then”, she said and winked before running off to catch up with her parents.
 



 





A/N: Hello, my wonderful readers! Once again, I would just like to thank all of you so much for reading this story. Everytime I see that a new person has added it to his or her favorite stories, and everytime someone leaves me a new review, it literally makes my day! So thank you so much, and please let me know what you thought about this chapter :)


Chapter 13: Year 2: Harry Potter's Girlfriend
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The sound of Ginny’s clenched fist hitting the front door to Harry’s flat echoed in the staircase and bounced against the walls, adding to the already spooky atmosphere that was a result of the ceiling lights not working and the only light source being the tip of Ginny’s wand. She lowered her hand, and became strangely aware of the quiet; in that moment, she could every single one of its beats as her heart rate increased while she waited for Harry to open the door.

 

She had had to wait until everyone in her family had fallen asleep before she had been able to sneak downstairs—skipping over the steps that squeaked—and out of the house. Once she had closed the door behind her, she could Apparate without waking anyone. A few seconds later she had found herself standing in the street outside Harry’s building. She was still making an effort to be quiet as she made her way up to the fourth floor, so not to wake his neighbours. Although, she thought, Harry—and if not him, then Hermione—probably would have cast some spells to prevent it. All the other tenants in the building were Muggles, after all. “It seemed like the smartest thing,” Harry had said. “It makes me harder to find.”

Ginny took a step back and nearly fell down the stairs when the door suddenly opened and Harry stuck out his head, squinting in the bright light of her wand as she struggled to regain her balance. He was dressed in a white t-shirt and boxer shorts, and his hair was even more untidy than usual. Ginny blushed when she realised that he had probably fallen asleep already, and that she must have woken him.

“Ginny?” he said hoarsely, reaching out to grab her arm and keep her steady. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”

Ginny didn’t answer him. Instead, she squeezed past him, into his hallway, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Harry did not hesitate to wrap his arms around her waist and give the door a push; it closed with a muffled thud. When they let go of each other to catch their breaths, Ginny smiled at him and said:

“I thought we should take advantage of this newfound privacy. Without my family constantly watching over us…”

Harry brushed a strand of her red hair out of her face and smiled back at her. “Not that I’m complaining, but will they not wonder where you are?” he asked. “I’d like to stay on good terms with them, you know.”

“They’re won’t even know I’m gone,” Ginny assured him.

His stubble was rough against her fingertips when she stroked his cheek. She continued moving them down his neck, following the outline of his collarbone until her hand landed on his chest. With a faint smile on her face, she then dropped her hands to her side and started moving further into the flat, through the kitchen and towards the bedroom. When she had been there a few weeks earlier, there had been no furniture. Now, there was a table and four chairs by the kitchen window, and a soft rug covering the dark wooden floor. Ginny continued into the bedroom where a wide, king-size bed was just waiting for them. She walked over to the window, which was crack open, letting in the lukewarm air and the noise of a car passing by on the street below. Two wooden frames had been placed on the windowsill. One of them held a photograph from Harry’s parents’ wedding, with both Lily, James and Sirius grinning and waving at the camera. On the other was baby Teddy, just a few days old in Remus’ arms. Ginny hesitated before turning them slightly, so that they were facing the wall instead of the bed behind her.

She turned around and realised that Harry had stopped before entering the bedroom, and was now leaning against the doorframe, just watching her. “What do you think?” he asked. “Do you like it?”

“It’s perfect,” Ginny answered, reaching our her hands towards him. “Why are you standing over there? Come here…”

Harry hesitated. “So when you said ‘take advantage of the privacy’, did you…?”

He fell silent as Ginny began unbuttoning her blouse. Whatever worry she had felt before was gone. She had dreaded the thought of taking her clothes off in front of Harry, but now that the moment was there, it just felt right. She kept her eyes fixed on his face. His mouth was half open, as if he couldn’t quite believe what was happening, and his gaze flickered between her face and her now half-naked upper body.

“Ginny, are you sure about this?”

She took a few steps forwards, eliminating the space between them. “I’ve been waiting for this for years,” she whispered as she leaned in and kissed him, and in the next moment he had grabbed her by the waist and pulled her towards the bed. She shivered as she felt his lips on her jawline, and then on her neck. She had thought her heartbeat was loud before, when she had been standing out in the staircase, but it had multiplied by a hundred. It was nothing existed but the sound of her heart, the way Harry’s eyes were a warmer shade than she had ever seen them, and her skin burning in a strangely pleasant way wherever his fingertips touched it.





Ron was sitting by himself at the kitchen table at the Burrow, shovelling down his fried eggs on toast as quickly as he could. He had been reluctant to get out of bed that morning, and thus, he only had a few minutes before he would have to head off to work.

It felt strange to have breakfast without Harry. Ginny hadn’t got out of bed yet, and Ron was alone in the kitchen with his mother, since Mr Weasley had left early to attend a meeting with his department at the Ministry.

Having emptied his glass of juice, Ron rose to his feet. Mrs Weasley took a pause from her work at the stove and turned around.

“Will you wake your sister when you’re up there?” she asked. “She’ll miss training if she sleeps any longer.”

Ron nodded and began making his way up the stairs, three steps at the time—which was only possible thanks to his long legs. He stopped before he reached his own room on the top floor and knocked on the door to Ginny’s bedroom, which was just below his.

“Gin? Are you decent?”

When he didn’t get a response, he turned the knob and pushed the door open. He stepped inside and looked around. The bed was empty, and had it not been for the fact that it was perfectly made, he would have just assumed that she was in the bathroom. Furrowing his eyebrows, Ron headed out the door again, closed it behind him and called out to his mother:

“Ginny’s not here! Her bed is made!”

“She’s probably in Holyhead already, then!” answered Mrs Weasley. “She must have left early.”

Ron shrugged; she was probably right. He hurried down the stairs and into the bathroom. There, he quickly brushed his teeth—a little too hastily for him to feel entirely clean and fresh, but it was all he had time for—and decided to skip shaving. He was sure that Dawlish would rather see him get to work in time than see his cheeks smooth. When he passed through the kitchen he stopped to let his mother kiss one of those rough cheeks before grabbing a pinch of Floo powder and throwing it into the fireplace, watching as the orange flames turned green before he stepped into them.

It wasn’t until he found himself trotting through the atrium at the Ministry of Magic, heading for the lift to take him down to the Auror Office, and spotted the back of Harry’s head in the crowd of arriving ministry officials, that the thought hit Ron. Could it really be a coincidence that Ginny was gone the morning after Harry had moved into his own flat? Ron tried to push the thought away, because he didn’t want to imagine it, but it had already grabbed hold of his brain. He sped to the lifts. He was going to have to have a talk with a certain Harry Potter, because if he was under the impression that it was okay for him to spend the night with Ron Weasley’s baby sister, someone would have to set him straight. Ginny was only… 18. She was 18. The realisation made Ron stop for a moment, causing a middle-aged wizard, who had been reading an issue of the Daily Prophet while walking, to bump into him. “Oh, excuse me, sir,” he mumbled without lifting his eyes from the paper. Then he hurried on. After casting a glance on his watch, Ron followed his example while his mind went into high gear. He had always thought of Ginny as being the little one, but she was only a year younger than him. Five or six years ago, that one year had seemed like a lifetime, but the age difference had become smaller and smaller over time, without him even noticing. So maybe it was perfectly normal that Ginny had snuck out to be with Harry. Maybe it was normal that the two of them… Ron cleared his throat. He had never been happier to see that a meeting was just about to start inside one of the head offices of the Auror Department—he definitely needed something else to occupy his mind. He walked in through the door, shivered as he passed through the security check, and sat down at the table between Harry and Andrew Saxby, another Gryffindor student who had begun his training that year together with Seamus Finnegan and Neville Longbottom, among others.

“We have received a tip,” Dawlish began as he waved his wand and made the door close itself, loudly enough for both Neville and Andrew Saxby to jump in their seats. “Apparently, a group of the remaining Death Eaters are mobilizing in Northern Russia, and they are planning to begin recruiting again, to build up their forces and continue Voldemort’s dream of cleansing the world of Muggles and Muggle-borns.”

Ron was surprised. Perhaps he hadn’t been aware of it, but he allowed himself to relax again, like before the war. He had grown used to the idea of a brighter future, a future free of Death Eaters, battles and blood purity. Maybe he had just been naïve, but since the capture of the Lestranges, he had really thought that it had been over. Once the surprise had worn off, he could feel a familiar, icy fear spread inside his chest and stomach. Cleansing the world of Muggles and Muggle-borns. For Ron, it only meant one thing. They wanted to hurt Hermione, and he could never allow them to. He had thought that he had lost her that day at the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch, and he never wanted to feel like that again.

“So, the idea is that a few of us head up there to investigate,” Dawlish continued. “You all know that we are still understaffed, and for those of you who aren’t done with your training, just say the word if you would rather sit this one out. I would like to bring Hestia, Justin and Andrew with me.”

Harry flung out his arms, as if he couldn’t understand what had just happened. “Dawlish, both Ron and I are more experienced than Justin and Andrew! If those people turn out to be actual Death Eaters, it’s very risky—“

“—and even more so for you,” Dawlish filled in. “I’m sorry if you don’t like it, Harry, but when Gawain is not here, I’m in charge, and this is my call.”

After a few more minutes of discussions and going over strategies, the group headed off. The rest of the Aurors and trainees started moving towards their offices or classrooms, but Harry and Ron lingered behind.

“If they’re so worried about my safety, maybe they shouldn’t have let me become an Auror to start with,” Harry muttered. “What did they expect? That I would spend the rest of my life doing paper work? They have no problem putting Justin or Andrew’s life on the line, but they’re so worried about mine!” He shook his head vigorously.

“Just wait until you run this place,” said Ron with a grin. “Then you can boss us around all you want for revenge.”

Harry smiled volatilely, and then he became serious. “Are you going to tell Hermione about this?” he asked.

“I have to,” Ron said. “She deserves to know. Man, I wish we could have gone with them to Russia… I mean, if these people… if they are going to… she will be-“

“I know,” Harry interrupted. “It was my first thought, too.”





It was a few days later, and Ginny was lying in Harry’s bed, her head resting on his naked chest, and his arms wrapped around her in a tight embrace. The sun was peeking in through his bedroom window, and Harry watched it cast a pattern of shadows on the opposite wall and sighed to himself. He would have no problem at all lying just like that forever.

“We could turn this into a habit,” he suggested. “You could sneak out every night and come over.”

“Well,” Ginny said, “as tempting as that sounds, I thought we agreed that we weren’t ready to live together. And staying here every night sounds a lot like living together.”

“Maybe,” Harry said and shrugged. “You know, I didn’t have any problem sleeping alone before. But now that I know what this is like… falling asleep with you in my arms… waking up and only having to turn around to see your face…”

“You’ll have plenty of time to do that,” Ginny said. “When we spend the rest of our lives together.”

Harry could feel a rush of happiness run through his body when she said it. If someone had suggested it a couple of years earlier, he probably would have laughed and said that no one could know at nineteen if they would always want to be together. But he knew better now. He belonged with Ginny; it was obvious in every possible way. What she made him feel was not some fickle teenage crush, like the one he had shared with Cho Chang for a short period of time. This was something deeper, stronger, something that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. All he knew was that he would always want to be wherever Ginny was, and that he would try his best to make her happy for as long as she would have him.

“By the way, you’ll be on your own for a couple of nights anyway,” Ginny said. “I don’t think I’ve told you this, but you know how we’re playing against Tutshill Tornados in three days? Gwenog is really unhappy with our performances lately, so we’re going to Tutshill already in the morning to stay there until Thursday. It will be sort of like a boot camp, I guess.”

“What?” Harry pulled her closer and kissed her neck. “You’re going to be gone for a whole three days? And nights?”

Ginny giggled and jokingly tried to push him away. “Stop being so clingy,” she teased him. “You’re a big boy, I’m sure you can handle it.”

“Maybe so,” Harry mumbled, his lips still touching the soft skin of her neck. “But I’ll be cold, and bored, and lonely…”

Ginny arrived in Holyhead the next morning, with her bag packed, just in time. Gwenog Jones and Darren Weinhold had just gathered the team around an old, rotten wooden plank that was lying on the ground. Hearing her come, the entire team turned their heads towards her, and her closest friends on the team, Heather Perrington and Gaylene Turkowski, both stepped to the side to let her into the circle.

“Couldn’t tear yourself away from the boyfriend now, could you?” Heather asked and raised her left eyebrow.

Ginny laughed and shook her head. Then they turned their attention back to Weinhold, who was staring at the golden pocket watch that he always wore around his neck.

“The Portkey leaves in ten seconds,” he said, “so make room for everyone, and reach out your hands…”

Tutshill was a small Wizarding community, only about half the size of Holyhead. The Portkey took Ginny and the rest of the Quidditch team to a winding gravel road about a mile outside of the village, where there was not a single house in sight. The only thing Ginny saw as she got up on her feet after her rather ungainly landing was endless rows of tall trees that seemed to have been planted in a straight pattern. They created a wall around the road, and despite the fact that their leaves had begun to fall off, their crowns were still too compact for the sun to be able to shine through. Ginny, who had thought that it was still warm enough outside to wear a cardigan instead of a jacket, regretted her decision as she shivered in the early autumn winds.

“So, there is an inn down this road, in the neighbouring village,” Weinhold said as he picked up his bag. “A pair of Muggles own it, though, so we have to be discrete. Miss Turkowski, I would recommend putting that thing away.”

Gaylene, who had just pulled out a Headless Hat from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes from her purse, made a displeased face, but did as she was told. Ginny and Heather laughed at her grumpy countenance and hurried to catch up with the others, who had already started walking.

Once everyone had settled into their rooms at the small inn and listened to Gaylene’s complaining over the fact that she had to share a room with Gwenog, the team headed off to the Quidditch pitch in Tutshill. “This early in the morning?” Gaylene continued her complaints, but Weinhold simply sighed and explained that the Tornados had their training in the afternoons, and Gwenog added that they hadn’t come there for vacation anyway.

“I watched the match between the Tornados and Puddlemere Untied last night.” the team’s captain said while holding up the door that led into the arena. “I looked around for a bit – the dressing room is through the second door on your right!”

Ginny, who had taken the lead, opened the second door on her right and stepped into the small dressing room. A shriek was heard and she stopped in the doorway when she realised what was going on in there. A man, completely naked save for the towel that was wrapped around his hips span around when he heard the door open. Much to Ginny’s surprise, she realized that it was none other than Oliver Wood, who had used to be the captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. He held up his hands to cover himself while furrowing his eyebrows.

“Ginny Weasley?”

Ginny blushed. She couldn’t help but notice that he was extremely fit—his muscles were wiry and his shoulders broad—and she quickly turned her eyes to his face instead.

“Hello, Oliver,” she said in a high-pitch voice. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you play for Puddlemere, don’t you? Not Tutshill.”

“You’re right,” Oliver mumbled while grabbing a shirt and pulling it over his head to the sound of disappointed sighs from quite a few of Ginny’s teammates. “I hit my head pretty badly during the match yesterday,” he explained, “so I had to stay the night.”

Ginny struggled not to burst into laughter; there was something highly amusing about the sight of him, dressed in nothing but a shirt and a towel, small talking as if it was completely normal. In the next moment, Gwenog caught up with her team, and she stepped in front of Oliver and placed her hands on her hips.

“Wood,” she said, narrowing her eyes as he struggled to pull on his pants without revealing what was underneath his towel. “You are aware that we’ve booked the field this morning, right?”

Oliver held up his hands. “I know, I know,” he said. “I’m on my way!”

On his way past Ginny, he reached out on arm and gave her a quick hug. “Say hi to Harry from me, okay? And to your brothers. I hear that George and Angelina got together, is that true?”

“It is,” Ginny confirmed. “Take care, Oliver.”

As soon as the door closed behind him, Ginny’s teammates pounced on her.

How do you know the most attractive man in the British-Irish Quidditch league?” asked Adriana Katzenberger, Holyhead’s seeker.

“I know! Is it not enough that you’re dating the Harry Potter?” said Heather enviously.

“Oliver was Gryffindor’s keeper when my brothers played at Hogwarts,” Ginny answered, shrugged and put her bag down next to her feet. “He was captain of the team when Harry started.”

“Just imagine being Harry Potter’s girlfriend,” said Adriana dreamingly. “I would do anything to…” She interrupted herself and smiled at Ginny, who looked a bit depreciative. “Not that I would literally do anything, of course,” she added quickly, “I know that he’s with you!”

“It must be hard,” Gwenog said as she pulled off her t-shirt. “Being Harry Potter’s girlfriend. I mean, considering the fact that every witch in the country would take the first chance they would get to steal him away from you.”

For a second, Ginny was worried. She hadn’t really thought about it, but what they were saying was true. Every time a new issue of Witch Weekly arrived to her mother, it was Harry who smiled at her from the front page. Just the other week, there had been an article about her too, with the headline: How long Miss Weasley be able to keep our hero interested? She took a deep breath and tried to collect her thoughts; she knew that she didn’t really have anything to worry about. Harry loved her. So what if she wasn’t the only girl in the world who wanted to be with him? So what if those other girls were more beautiful, or more successful, nicer or friendlier? None of it mattered, because Harry would never…
 

 



A/N: As always, I just want to thank all of you so much for reading, for leaving such wonderful reviews and for favouriting this story! You have no idea how happy you make me :)

Please let me know what you thought about this! Any thoughts on Harry and Ginny's relationship? On Ron's reaction? For those of you who want to see more Ron/Hermione, don't worry, it will come! 


Chapter 14: Year 2: Breaking News
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There was a wrinkle on the front of Ron’s shirt; he had just noticed it and was working frantically to smooth it out. He was not sure if he was actually making it worse or if his eyes were playing tricks on him, but it only seemed to grow deeper as he rubbed the fabric between his fingers, and since he was standing in the middle of a Muggle neighbourhood in London, his wand couldn’t help. Sighing, he gave it up, stepped closer to the front door of the white wooden house in front of him and knocked on it.

Butterflies—not spiders—were fluttering in his stomach, and his palms were sweaty. He could literally feel his heart rate increase as he wiped his hands on his trousers and waited for the door to open.

He knew that he was exaggerating his nervousness—he had met Hermione’s parents before, and he was fairly sure that they liked him. But this was not just any night. He and Hermione had news to share with Mr and Mrs Granger, and he was worried that they wouldn’t be happy about it.

Much to Ron’s relief, it was Hermione who opened the door. The sight of her smiling face and her bushy hair calmed him down a bit, although his heart rate increased again when she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a quick kiss.

“You’re on time!” she said in surprise.

Ron shrugged. “Well, I didn’t want to upset your parents more than… Oh, hello, Mr Granger! How are you doing?”

“Just fine, Ron,” answered Hermione’s father, who had just stepped into the hallway. He stroked his bearded chin and smiled. “How are you? You’re just in time for dinner!”

They shook hands, and then the three of them headed into the small kitchen. Mrs Granger was just placing a casserole on the table, and she lit up when she saw that Ron had arrived. She removed the oven mitts from her hands, untied her chequered apron and hurried around the table to hug him.

“It smells amazing,” Ron said, hearing his stomach growl. He and Harry had had another long day at the Ministry with their paperwork, and it had been hours since they had eaten anything.
“I can’t take credit for that,” smiled Mrs Granger. “Michael is the chef in our family.”

They sat down at the table, which did not seem to have been made for more than three people, and Ron ended up sitting squeezed up against the wall with Hermione’s chair preventing any sort of movement from his side. Despite of what he told Mrs Granger when she shot him a concerned look and offered to switch seats with him, he was very uncomfortable.

“So,” Mr Granger said as he filled his glass with water. “Hermione tells us you have some good news to share. I just hope that really means good news, and not…”

He fell silent, and Ron’s ears reddened.

“It really is good news.” he answered and placed an arm on the seatback of his girlfriend’s chair. “We, er… we found a flat! We’re moving in together!”

“It’s pretty big and open,” Hermione said quickly, “and close to work for the both of us. It’s not that far from where Harry lives, either, so we… it really is perfect!”

Her parents were quiet. For a moment, Ron was convinced that Mrs Granger would start to cry, but then she collected herself and said:

“Oh, sweetheart…”

“Well, you have talked about moving in with Ron before,” Mr Granger said and cleared his throat, “but I’ll admit that it’s still hard to hear it… our little girl, all grown up!”

Mrs Granger began sobbing. She reached out her hands and placed them on top of her daughter’s. “But we are so happy for you.” She winked at Ron and smiled faintly. “And we’re so happy that Hermione has got you, sweetheart. You are such a wonderful young man, and we couldn’t really ask for anyone better.”

Ron sighed in relief as he smiled back at her. Mr Granger’s gazed were fixed on the fridge behind Hermione, and when Ron turned his head, he realized that he was staring at a photograph that was stuck onto it with some sort of plastic button. Ron didn’t pay the button much attention; instead, he turned his eyes to the photo. A younger Mr Granger was carrying a very young Hermione on his shoulders. She held onto his hair, which seemed to hurt judged by the pained expression on her father’s face. Ron smiled. Perhaps it was normal that Mr and Mrs Granger were feeling a bit nostalgic, but they were also happy. It seemed like he had worried for nothing. And now, he would get to live with Hermione, to start a new chapter of his life. He couldn’t wait.





Ginny was completely exhausted after a tough Quidditch training in Holyhead. Due to the rain and hard wind, Gwenog had decided that it wasn’t safe to fly. Instead, they had dedicated hours to fitness training and finished it off with a long run. As a result, every muscle in Ginny’s body was aching, and she longed to replenish her energy reserves with some of her mother’s fine cooking. After that, she planned on taking a long bath, and head straight to bed.

As she stepped out onto the living room floor, she could hear the sound of voices coming from the kitchen. It sounded like George and Percy were in the middle of another one of their half-serious, half-joking arguments. Normally, Ginny would have been happy to see them, but at the moment, she wasn’t sure if she enough energy to put up with either one of them.

“Did you two hear anything? Was that Ginny getting home?”

The voice belonged to neither Percy nor George – it seemed like Bill was there too. Moments later, his head appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, his flamingly red hair pulled into a ponytail, and the fang that Mrs Weasley hated so intensely dangling from his ear. The light fell onto his face and made his scar stand out more than usual – had it not been for the familiarity in his voice or the kindness in his eyes, he probably would have looked frightening.

At the sight of his sister’s slouch figure, he grinned. “Well, don’t you look sprightly,” he said sarcastically.

Ginny sighed and walked into the kitchen. “I think this is the most tired I’ve ever been in my life,” she said. However, no degree of fatigue would have kept her from jumping up and down and grinning widely when she realized that Bill had brought her niece—little Victoire was sleeping in Percy’s arms. Her tiny fingers twitched every now and then, and her nostrils fluttered as she breathed. She was so small, and yet Ginny could have sworn that she had been a few inches shorter the last time she had seen her.

“Come on, sit down,” George said, scotching over on the kitchen bench to make room for her. “We were just discussing Bill’s lack of confidence. You see, every time Fleur asks him to watch Vicky by himself, he brings her here, as if he doesn’t think he can handle her on his own.”

“George, you know that Fleur hates it when you call her Vicky,” Bill said. Instead of joining his siblings at the table, he leaned against the kitchen counter and picked up the copy of the Daily Prophet that had been folded up next to a heavy cookbook with the title Prewett’s family recipes—a heirloom from Mrs Weasley’s grandmother.

“Oh trust me, I am well aware of that!” George said with a grin. “Why do you think I refuse to call her anything else?”

“I just wish she’d wake up, so that I could hold her,” Ginny said, casting a longing glance at the baby. She looked so adorable in her floral print romper, and with her few, silvery blonde tufts pointing in every direction.

“Gin, have you seen this?” said Bill suddenly. His voice was sharp, which made Ginny look up immediately—it never sounded like that unless he was very serious.

George grinned. “It’s not another long, boring piece about Oliver Wood’s head injury, is it?” he said. “Sure, he’s missed the last three games, but it’s not that interesting, and yet, it’s all they ever write about anymore! I guess it’s good news for you, though, Ginny. You’ll be playing against Puddlemere United next week, won’t you? Their backup keeper is not nearly as good as Oliver.”

“It’s not that,” Bill said.

He took a few steps forwards and threw the newspaper onto the table. It landed upside down from where Ginny sat, but she could still see the photo of herself and Harry, taken at the anniversary of the battle, and the headline: ALL ABOUT HARRY POTTER’S SECRET LOVE AFFAIR! An icing sensation ran through Ginny’s body as she turned the newspaper around and began reading.

Cheating death – twice! – despite being only nineteen years old does not seem to be enough to satisfy Harry Potter. According to the Daily Prophet’s reliable source, he is also cheating on his girlfriend Ginny Weasley, 18, Chaser of the Holyhead Harpies and sister of Potter’s companion, Ronald Weasley. A dark-haired beauty has been spotted sneaking out of Potter’s flat on several occasions, but it is not until now that she steps into the light. Ruby Percell, 21, confirms their love affair in an interview with our reporter.

“Yes, we are a couple,” she admits. “Of course, we have tried to be discrete to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, but truth is that not even Harry Potter is perfect. He was feeling a bit guilty when it started, but I guess he just couldn’t resist me.”

And could anyone really blame him? Miss Percell’s beauty is striking from the moment that she walks into the pub where we have decided to meet up, and she puts poor Miss Weasley in the shade without even making an effort. Our reporters tried, but failed, to get a comment from the heartbreaker himself when he passed by outside his workplace, as he simply turned away and hurried into the Ministry, refusing to answer any of our questions. However, his eyes and facial expression said enough: he had never counted on his affair to become a public one. We at the Daily Prophet are sorry, Mr Potter, but not even the saviour of the Wizarding World can get away with something like this!

Ginny put the newspaper down and tore her eyes away from the photo of Ruby, the crushingly beautiful Ruby. Her vision was getting blurry. When George realized that she was about to start crying, he leaned forwards and grabbed the Prophet to find out what was going on. While he and Percy began reading, Ginny burst into tears. Could it be true? Could he really do something so awful to her? She felt Bill bend down beside her, and in the next second he had wrapped his arms around her.

“Hey,” he said. “It’s probably not even true. The Daily Prophet isn’t exactly known for their relentless credibility, right? Plus, you heard what George said—the most interesting story they’ve had in weeks is about Wood not being able to play Quidditch anymore!”

Percy, who had finished reading before George, nodded in agreement. “He’s right, Ginny, there is no need to cry,” he said. “They are only looking to create headlines. You don’t really think that Harry would be unfaithful, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Ginny sobbed. “All I know is,” she continued while recalling the conversation she had had with her teammates a few weeks back, “that there are millions of girls out there who want more than anything to steal him away from me. And you saw what they wrote,” she sniffled. “She puts me in the shade without even making an effort. So why wouldn’t he rather be with her?”

George put his hand over hers and put a long, slim arm around her shoulders. “Oh, Gin,” he sighed. “You obviously don’t realize the effect you have on him. He’s completely enchanted by you, and why wouldn’t he be? You’re brilliant! And then there’s the fact that he’s seen you hex people. Only an outright fool would cheat on you after seeing that.”

Victoire began whining in Percy’s arms. Ginny lifted her head and fixed her tearful gaze on her. “You’re lucky, Vic,” she mumbled while drying her cheeks with the sleeve of her Quidditch robes. “You’re still happily unaware of the torture of being in love. Take it from someone who’s been there—blokes suck! Even the ones that seem to be absolutely perfect!”

And with those words, Ginny rose to her feet, let out one final sob and ran up the stairs to throw herself onto her bed, squeeze her eyes shut and dream of going back to being little.





Some hours away from the dramatic scenes at the Burrow, Harry was rushing through the hallways of the Ministry of Magic. He was just about to step into the office that he shared with Ron when someone grabbed his arm, pulled him into an empty conference room and closed the door. He was just about to pull out his wand when he realised exactly who it was.

“Blimey, Seamus, what are you doing? You scared the life out of me!”

“Obviously not, since you’re still alive,” said Seamus in a rather dry voice, which surprised Harry. His friend had been as cheerful as even when they had run into each other in the arrival hall that same morning. “So have you seen it?” Seamus asked.

“Seen what?”

Harry had no idea what he was talking about. His first instinct was to look at his mate’s hair—just the other week, Mrs Weasley had been upset with her husband because he had failed to notice her new haircut. But Seamus’ hair wasn’t five inches shorter than usual or curlier than ever, like Mrs Weasley’s had been, and Harry shook his head at his own absurdity.

The Daily Prophet!” Seamus said. “Come on Harry, tell me it’s not true!”

“I didn’t read the Prophet this morning,” Harry said, “so I couldn’t tell you anything about it…”

Seamus practically shoved the newspaper in Harry’s face. After convincing him to lower it a bit, Harry began reading the front-page article. For every word he read, his heart sank a little bit lower into his chest. As if he would ever cheat on Ginny! He stared at the photo of his alleged mistress and shook his head. The press had been nothing but kind to him since juciy gossip now that the fuss had started dying down.

“Of course it’s not true!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never even seen this girl before and I… Seamus, you don’t think Ginny has read this, do you?”

“Even if she hasn’t seen it herself, someone will have mentioned it to her,” Seamus said. “I just wanted to warn you before Ron finds out and decides to go and kill you.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, glancing at the watch on his arm that had once belonged to Ginny’s uncle. “I have to go find her, though. She should be back from Holyhead by now.”

Without even bothering to ask for Dawlish’s permission, he sprinted to the arrival hall. There, he stepped into the closest fireplace, called out: “The Burrow!” and found himself standing in the Weasleys’ living room. He could hear people talking in the kitchen, and without paying any attention to the fact that he mired the wooden floor with ashes, he hurried over there. Bill, Victoire and Percy were sitting at the table, and the two men looked up at the sound of footsteps and heavy breathing.

“Harry,” said Bill quickly. “Is it true?”

Harry shook his head. “No, I would never… is she here?”

“She’s upstairs, with George,” Percy said. “But I would recommend staying down here for a while, just to let her calm down for a bit. She’s quite upset.”

“But that’s why I have to see her!” Harry insisted. “To tell her that she has no reason to be! I’ve never even met that girl, and even if I had, it wouldn’t make any difference! I only want Ginny.”

Bill smiled while placing his daughter in a small basket that stood on the table in front of him. She immediately began waving her arms, searching for something to grab. Percy’s hands were the closest things, and he willingly held them out towards her.

“That’s nice to hear, Harry,” Bill said. “But I would still give her a moment. Take it from someone who has a lot of experience with Ginny’s temper. When we grew up, George and… George and Fred were always the ones to calm her down, when she was angry with any of us. Only then was it safe for us to go up and talk to her.”

“Not that she was ever angry with you,” Percy said. “You were always perfect in her eyes. Bill, Ginny’s hero…”

Bill laughed, as if it had been a joke, but Harry, who had seen his eyes light up at Percy’s words, added:

“I always got that impression too. Of course, she probably looked up to all six of you, but you were special. Maybe it’s because you’re the eldest.”

“She’s special to me too, because she’s the youngest,” Bill nodded. “And even if you are telling us the truth right now Harry, you should know that I would anything for her—“

“That goes for all of us,” Percy interrupted. “We don’t want to see her get her heart broken. Not that I think you would hurt her, but you know. It doesn’t hurt to stress that fact.”

“And if I do, you will all come after me,” Harry finished the sentence. “Yes, Ron has made that very clear to me, thank you very much.”

He failed to disguise his annoyance completely, but neither one of Ginny’s brothers seemed to notice.

“I can imagine,” Bill said, raising one of his eyebrows. “We just want to emphasize it. The opportunities are likely to present themselves… you know, to be with other girls. And if you should ever, in a weak moment, have any second thoughts, just remember this conversation.”

Harry was just about to spit out a snide response when the sound of steps in the stairway shut his mouth and made him jump to his feet. Before he had time to do anything else, George walked into the kitchen.

“Harry, mate!” he said. “I hope that the Prophet is lying; I don’t want to pretend to hate you for the rest of time, just for the sake of my sister…”

“It’s not true,” said Harry shortly. “How’s Ginny?”

“Well, you won’t be able to go up there completely without risk,” George said. “But I’d give it a go. It seems like the two of you really need to talk to each other.”

Harry caught himself dragging his feet as he slowly made his way up the many stairs that led up to Ginny’s bedroom. He felt like he was carrying a heavy weight in the pit of his stomach, and he could swear his heart was beating loudly enough for everyone down in the kitchen to hear it. Not that he really had anything to be nervous about. All he had to do was walk in there, explain that the newspapers were lying, and that she would never have to worry about him wanting anyone else but her. But there was a tiny voice in his head that didn’t hesitate to blurt out what he was afraid to even think: what if she doesn’t believe you? He was not sure if he would be able to handle losing her. Sure, they were both very young, but he knew that he wanted to marry Ginny one day. She was the girl he wanted to wake up next to every morning for the rest of his life, and the one he wanted to fall asleep next to every night. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and he admired everything about her: her exuberant personality, her confidence and her independence. The day they would have their own children, he thought, he would want them to have that same strength, that strong will and courage that Ginny had. She never let anyone tell her what to do—she didn’t allow it. And it was all of those things that made her so amazing. All of those things combined with the way she made him feel. She could make him tremble and make him feel completely relaxed at the same time. She turned his world around, but she was also his source of stability, his safe ground. He, who had spent big parts of his life feeling lonely and abandoned, shared such a strong connection with Ginny that he was absolutely terrified to open up her door and face her, even when he had done nothing wrong. He was scared to look her in the eyes. What if something had changed in the way she looked at him?

He forced his mouth to form the words; he compelled his hand to knock on the door. “Ginny? It’s me.”

The door was flung open. Ginny’s eyes were red and full of tears, and her lower lip was shaking. She looked years younger than she really was, like a little girl, and a wave of guilt washed over Harry.

“Please, tell me it’s not true,” Ginny whispered as tears flooded her dark, brown eyes.

Harry stepped closer to her and wrapped his arms around her. “Of course it’s not,” he mumbled, and she hugged him tightly, her cheek pressed against his shoulder. “I would never do anything like that, I thought you knew that. I thought you knew that I loved you.”

 
 







A/N: As always, I want to thank all of you for reading, reviewing and favouriting my story! It warms my heart every time you do it, and it encourages me to keep writing. I wish I could give you all a hug and thank you, but I guess that an Author's Note is the best thing I have to offer.

I would love to hear what you have to say about this chapter. Personally, I think that Ginny overreacted a bit, but I blame it on the fact that she was completely exhausted - people tend to get a little oversensitive when they're tired. Let me know what you think! :)


Chapter 15: Year 2: New Beginnings
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Hermione was surrounded by chaos, in the shape of moving boxes, plastic bags and pieces of furniture that had been screwed apart, which lay scattered all over the floor where she was sitting. Her back was sore from carrying heavy objects up and down the stairs all day; Ron had wanted to use Wingardium Leviosa, but Hermione had not found it wise. (“Need I remind you that our neighbours are Muggles, Ronald?” she had said with a sigh.) Besides, as if being physically tired wasn’t enough, she had had the longest day at work so far since she had started. The day had begun with a visit at Hogwarts, during which she had met with Professor McGonagall to discuss the working conditions of the Hogwarts house-elves, strolled around the castle and wished that she could turn back time and be a student again, at least for a couple of days, and talked to some of her younger friends. Dennis Creevey had been thrilled to see her, and even those who didn’t know her had stood in line to talk to her. Finally, after being kept in Gryffindor’s common room for so long that she worried what her boss would say, she had managed to escape, only to run into Hagrid and find it impossible to turn down his offer to come with him to his hut for a cup of tea.

Thankfully, Gwyn Stayner, her boss, had not been upset when she had finally returned to the Ministry around lunchtime. However, Hermione had worked harder than ever to make up for lost time, and she had been ready to head straight to bed once she arrived at her parents’ house that evening. Any other day, that was exactly what she would have done. But this was not just any day—this was the day that she and Ron would get the keys to their new flat. Hence, as soon as she got home, they began moving her stuff. And here they were now, in the middle of their new, chaotic living room, ready to begin their life together.

“Honey, have you seen another one of these anywhere?” Mr Granger, who was in the middle of assembling the first one of the five bookshelves she had insisted on squeezing into the small living room, held up a long, thin screw to show her. “We seem to be missing one…”

“Sorry, Dad,” Hermione answered. “You know, I would have done all this with magic to save you the trouble, but I don’t know any spells for it…”

“And if she doesn’t know it, it doesn’t exist,” said Ron, who was just entering the room, carrying the last one of her moving boxes in his arms. He winked at her, and Mr Granger laughed.

“Well, you sure know how to charm my daughter, don’t you?” he said. “Complimenting her intelligence, that is the way to go…”

Ron laughed as well, before continuing into the bedroom. Hermione followed him with her eyes until he disappeared, and then she sighed happily. Though she would normally feel stressed just looking the mess around her and knowing how much more they would have to do before they could go to bed, she could not have been happier in that moment. What would her sixteen-year-old self, who had been drowning in unrequited love for the boy whose adorable girlfriend seemed to be attached at his hip at all times, say if she had known where they would be only three years later—together, in love, getting a flat together? She shook her head. She could not have even dreamed it. She could never have dreamed that the sullen, redheaded boy she had met on the Hogwarts Express eight years would earlier end up being the love of her life; she had not said it out loud yet, but she was quite sure that was what he was.

“There you are, you little bastard!” said Mr Granger triumphantly, picking up a screw from the floor before turning to the bookshelf again. “There you go, Hermione,” he added a few minutes later, “it’s finished!”

Hermione got up on her feet. “It looks great, Dad.”

Mr Granger cast a glance on his watch. “Well, it’s getting quite late,” he said. “Would it be alright if I came back tomorrow to sort out the rest of them? Your mum probably has dinner prepared by now… will you be joining us?”

In that same moment, Ron came back into the room. Hermione walked over to him and placed an arm around his waist. “I think we’ll stay here,” she said. “But you and Mum are coming to the housewarming on Saturday, right?”

“Yes, of course we are!” Tears gleamed in Mr Granger’s eyes when he stepped closer to them and hugged his daughter. “You’d think that I would be used to it by now, you being away. After all, you’ve spent most of your time since you were eleven at Hogwarts. But I guess I got used to having you around again this year… I’ll really miss you.”

“And I will miss you,” Hermione said. “But I won’t be so far away this time. We’ll see a lot more of each other than we did when I was at Hogwarts.”

Her father let go of her and nodded. Then he reached out his arms towards Ron and pulled him into a fatherly embrace. “Take good care of her, son,” he mumbled. “She’s the best thing we’ve got.”





While Mr Granger got into his silver Audi to drive home, Harry was on his way home too, but from work. For safety reasons, the Ministry had not wanted him to connect his fireplace to the Floo Network, and thus, he Apparated between the Ministry and a park a few blocks away from his flat. He was just leaving that park (after only just managing to avoid being seen by two Muggle boys who would have caught him appearing out of thin air if they had only turned their heads a few inches to the right) to walk the short way home, with his hands in his pockets to shield them from the cold. It was late; had it not been for the streetlamps and the flickering light that spread from some windows and onto the sidewalk, it would have been completely dark. Harry shivered in his coat and increased his pace, watching as his exhale turned silvery in the light of the streetlamp just outside his building. Winter seemed to be arriving early.

“Harry?”

A woman’s voice made him turn his head. Instinctively, he groped for his wand, just to be on the safe side. Only a week earlier, Ron had been attacked in the middle of the street and was forced to duel and arrest a previously unknown follower of Voldemort, before modifying the memory of three Muggles who had happened to walk by.

As the woman stepped into the light of the nearest streetlamp, Harry realized that she wasn’t threat—at least not the kind he had expected. It was her, the girl who could have made him lose Ginny because of the false rumours she had started with the help of the Daily Prophet.

Ruby Percell was even more stunning in person. Her dark, shimmering hair was thick and wavy, her eyes big and her cheekbones sharp. Her lips were painted red and curled into an infectious smile, showing off a row of straight, white teeth. The smile had no effect Harry, though—he was groping for his wand again, planning to put one of his girlfriend’s infamous hexes to use. But before he had even pulled it out of his pocket, Ruby Percell leaped forward and threw her arms around his neck, enclosing him in a cloud of sweet perfume.

“Oh, Harry!” she said. “I’m so glad to finally run into you! I’ve wanted to for so long—I’ve been waiting here, outside your flat, every night, hoping to get at least a glimpse of you…”

Harry furrowed his eyebrows and wriggled out of her embrace. “I would suggest that you stop doing that right now!” he said firmly. “Do you know what that stunt you pulled in the Prophet could have cost me? I have a girlfriend, and I love her. I had to go out of my way to convince everyone, including her, that I had never met you!”

“That Weasley girl?” said Ruby with a flirtatious smile. “You’ll thank me once you’re rid of her. You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“Please, just leave me alone,” Harry said as he fought to control his rage. Deciding that he’d better get away from there before he would do anything stupid, he turned away from Ruby and began marching homewards. Part of him wanted to pull out his wand and make her regret ever messing with him, but the other half of him knew that what he really wanted was just for her to disappear out of his life and stop bothering him. As pushed open the heavy wooden door to the building he lived in, she called after him:

“So they all doubted you right away, huh? Perhaps your friends aren’t as loyal as you would like to think.”





Ginny was one of the first people to arrive in Holyhead for an early training the following morning—only Gwenog Jones had beaten her to it, which was no surprise anyway. The sun had only begun its climb to the top of the sky, the air was so cold that Ginny’s exhalations transformed into silver steam, and frost gleamed in the grass beneath her feet. The trees on the other side of the Quidditch pitch were bare; their leaves had fled and left them in that state only a few days after the cold had hit Wales. The temperature had dropped over night in the middle of October, and it had remained as cold ever since.

Gwenog had not waited for the rest of the team to show up. Instead, she had released one of the Bludgers and was busy aiming it at different targets. At the sound of Ginny’s steps on the frozen ground, she lowered her bat and turned around. She waved and swung her bat once again, watching as the Bludger set off towards the far-end bleachers while Ginny walked over to her.

“Are you always here this early?” she asked. “It’s another half an hour until training starts, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Gwenog replied and lifted her bat again to keep the Bludger from hitting them. “I’m a morning person. I’d rather be here early to practice than walk around at home and wait for that half hour to pass.”

Ginny nodded while bending down to tie her shoe. “I’m the same way,” she said. “Although, I really would have liked to stay in bed today,” she admitted while threading her shoelace through the little hole in her boot.

“Yeah, I get that,” Gwenog said. “I reckon you’ve had some trouble sleeping lately, eh? Since this whole thing with Potter?”

“No, not really,” Ginny answered with a shrug. “He explained that. The girl was making it all up. I guess she’s some deranged fan-“

“He explained the photo of the two of them together?” Gwenog asked. “The one on the front page of today’s Prophet?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I would like to hear that explanation.”

“Of… of the two of them? No,” Ginny said. “No, he’s never met her. He said…”

Her mouth went dry. Why would he have lied about that? If he really had nothing to hide… if it was just a rumour, why would he lie about it?

“Well, he has definitely met her,” Gwenog said. “It was a photo of them, standing on a street somewhere. I reckon he must know her too, since they were hugging each other.”

Ginny, suddenly feeling dizzy, took a quick step backwards and fell, so that she landed on her butt. She remained there, sitting on the cold, hard ground, and stared out into the open air in front of her. So he had lied. It was as if someone had stuck a knife straight into her heart and twisted it around, just to make it hurt worse. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to hold back her tears. The last time, after the first article had been published, she hadn’t really believed it was true. On some level, she had known that Harry would rush over to the Burrow and promise that it was only a stupid rumour. But that wouldn’t happen this time. She loved him, but she had obviously fooled herself when she had thought that he shared those feelings. He wanted Ruby, the sparkling, interesting beauty who turned heads wherever she went, not Ginny Weasley, the dull everyday girl who rarely earned herself even a first glance from those who passed her by.

“Look, Weasley, I’m really sorry,” Gwenog said. “I thought you had seen it, or I wouldn’t have… do you want to skip training today? You could leave now, before the others show up and start asking questions…”

Suddenly, Ginny was filled with a furious, strong determination, and quickly rose to her feet and blinked away her tears while shaking her head. “No. I won’t let him take away this dream too.”

Gwenog smiled and patted her shoulder awkwardly. “That’s the spirit!” she said briskly. “Want to hit a Bludger while we’re waiting for the others? You can pretend it’s Potter’s head, if it makes you feel better.”

She reached out the bat, and Ginny forced herself to smile when she took it from her hands. The Bludger came flying back at them – it seemed to aim at Gwenog this time – and Ginny swung the bat. It hit the enchanted ball with a bang and sent it back into the chilly morning air. Ginny couldn’t remember the last time anything had felt so good.

“If you ask me, you’re better off,” said Gwenog approvingly as Ginny handed the bat back to her. “You don’t want a boyfriend to distract you from Quidditch at this point. You’re too good for that, Weasley. If you’re this good now, I can’t wait to see where you will be in a couple of years. Granted, if you don’t let other things—or people—get in the way.”





Ron threw the Daily Prophet onto Harry’s desk, making his best friend jump and nearly spill his ink all over the report he was working on. “For the love of Godric, Ron, I-“

Seeing the enraged look on Ron’s face, Harry interrupted himself. He slowly turned his eyes from his friend’s flushed, freckled cheeks to the newspaper in front of him. He sighed deeply. Someone had taken a photo of him and Ruby the night before, from just the right angle—or just the wrong one, to be more precise. It looked like they were hugging each other, which had not been the case at all. She had done all the hugging, he had been stiff in her embrace for a few seconds and then he had pushed her away. Of course, that part wasn’t included in the scene in the photograph; it began when she appeared in front of him and ended while her arms were still wrapped around his neck.

“I think you’ve got some explaining to do,” Ron hissed, clenching his teeth together.

“She showed up last night,” Harry said calmly. “When I was on my way home.”

“And you were obviously happy to see her!” Ron said, making a gesture towards the photo.

“You can’t even see my face!” Harry protested. “And you can’t see happens next, which was me pushing her away and telling her to stay out of my life, to stop spreading lies in the newspaper and to stop trying to sabotage my relationship!”

“Do you know what?” Ron said. “For someone who has done nothing wrong, you’ve had a lot of explaining to do lately.”

Harry’s blood had slowly begun to boil in his veins; Ruby’s words from the night before were ringing through his ears as he pushed his chair back and got up on his feet. “Why do you people always take the first chance you get to mistrust me? I have never given any you any reason to!”

Ron grabbed the newspaper and held it up in between them, like a shield – or a wall. “You don’t think that this a reason to mistrust you?”

“Of course it’s not, she’s bloody mental—“

“Save it, Harry.” Ron shook his head, took a few steps backwards and turned around to storm out of their office.

“Where are you going?” Harry called after him. “This is your office too, remember? We’ve got paperwork to do!”

“You’re just going to have to manage without me,” Ron said without turning around. “I’m going to help the trainees with their duelling class. I can’t even be in the same room as you right now.”

He slammed the door closed, and then he was gone. Again, whispered a voice inside Harry’s head. He has left you again.

 

The minute hand on the clock above Ron’s empty desk might as well have stopped. Time moved slower than ever all afternoon, and Harry couldn’t concentrate on his report. All he wanted was to get to Ginny to explain what was going on—again. But last time, when he had left without telling anyone before his shift was over, Dawlish had not been happy with him, and Harry didn’t want to upset him again. So instead, he sat on the edge of his chair and waited impatiently for the clock to strike five.

He could practically feel the situation worsen in his absence. Every second that passed was another second that Ginny’s mind could use to twist the whole thing around, enlarge it, exaggerate it. She was most likely brooding over it, and Harry was scared of what she would come up with since she didn’t know the whole truth.

Ron had stayed clear of the office all afternoon. Harry had looked for him during lunch because he wanted to talk to him, but he hadn’t found him. Throughout the day, he had gone from worrying about their friendship to being angry with him. Why should Ron get away with being so incredibly insular? He actually believed the Daily Prophet—bloody Daily Prophet—over Harry! Not to mention the billions of times he had questioned his intentions with Ginny already. Harry was fed up wtih it. He had been nothing but a perfectly good boyfriend, and all he got in return was this.

“Harry?” Seamus appeared in the doorway. “Dawlish says we can leave for the day. Since we’ve worked overtime so much this week.”

Harry practically flew off his chair, grabbed his coat and hurried towards the arrival hall. Seamus trotted to keep up with him. “So, what’s up with you and Ron?” he panted. “He’s been edgy all day—fires up every time someone mentions your name.”

“Didn’t you read the Prophet today?” asked Harry shortly.

“Yes,” Seamus answered. “But you said it wasn’t true, didn’t you? You said you love Ginny. I made the mistake of believing a newspaper over you once, and I was wrong. I’m not going to make that mistake again.”

Harry stopped and turned to his friend. “Thanks, Seamus. It’s nice to hear that not everyone thinks so badly of me.”

“Ron will come around,” Seamus assured him. “He’s just very biased, because he’s her brother. Are you going to Ginny’s now?”

“Yes," Harry said and began walking again. “I have to fix this, once again. Merlin, I wish those people would just leave me alone!”

“Good luck, mate,” Seamus said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Ginny’s a clever girl—she knows that this girl is just looking for attention, and that the Daily Prophet are just looking for gossip. Don’t worry about it.”

He winked at him and disappeared into the closest fireplace to head home. Harry moved on to the next one, stepped into it and made his way to the Burrow.

Ginny was sitting in the couch in the living room with her arms wrapped around her knees and her chin resting on top of them. She wasn’t crying. At the sound of him coming, she lifted her head slowly and said,

“I thought you would show up eventually.”

“I can only repeat what I told you last week,” Harry said. “It’s not true, I love you and I don’t know what she’s after. But she’s lying, you have to believe me!”

Ginny curled her lips, but the smile never reached her eyes. They were blank when they met his and she said: “You told me that you had never met her. And then these photos appear in the newspaper. So how I am supposed to believe you?”

Harry walked over and sat down next to her while reaching out his hand. He wished that she would turn her head and look at him again, but she did neither that nor did she take his hand. He sighed.

“When I said I had never met her, it was true,” he said. “She showed up outside my house last night, and I told her to get lost… Gin. You know that you can trust me.”

He reached out and touched her cheek. He expected her to give in then, to lean in towards him and let it all go, but she remained motionless next to him, her eyes fixed on the fireplace on the other side of the coffee table.

“I don’t know what to believe,” she said. “How do I trust you? How do I know that you’re telling the truth?”

Her words burned, worse than a poisonous plant from Herbology class at Hogwarts. Bill and Percy had doubted him. Ron didn’t believe a word he said. But he had thought that it would at least be different with Ginny. He had thought that their bond was on a different level, that they understood each other completely. But she didn’t believe him either. She doubted him, just like everyone else, when he had given her no reason to.

“That’s just the thing with trust, Ginny,” he said. “You don’t know if someone is telling the truth, but you know them, who they are, and so you believe them anyway. It hurts me that you think, even for a second, that I would do something like that to you. I thought you would understand, if anyone. But I guess I was wrong.”

Now she turned her head. She met his eyes. Finally.

But it was too late.

Harry rose to his feet.

“I just don’t need this right now,” Ginny said. “I need to focus on Quidditch, I don’t want anything else taking up my energy…”

“So don’t let it! You know you’re being ridiculous!”

She blinked, and returned to staring into the fire. “I wish I did,” she said.

“All right then,” said Harry impatiently. “Do you know what I don’t need? I don’t need to be with someone who thinks as little of me as you do.” He could feel the adrenaline kick in. He could hear that tiny voice inside his head, which was telling him to stop talking, to leave before he said something he would regret. He ignored it. “I thought you were special, but you’re just like everyone else.” He strode towards the fireplace again, stepped into it and turned around. His eyes fixed on her face one last time. “You’re such a disappointment, Gin.”

He spat out her nickname, the one that he had been the first to call her once, as if it was a curse. In the next moment, green flames flared up where he had stood, and then he was gone.


 






A/N: So... I hope that you're not too angry with me for doing that to Harry and Ginny. And I hope that you understand Harry's actions - I can't say I know what it's like, but it must be quite frustrating to always be questioned, don't you think?

If you have any comment at all about this chapter and the story so far, please leave a review and let me know! I also want to thank everyone who reads, reviews and adds this story to their favourites - I really can't explain how much it means to me!


Chapter 16: Year 2: Without you
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For a brief moment, Ginny drifted in the intangible world between dreams and waking state; that world in which you’re aware that you’re dreaming, but you’re still a few seconds away from waking up. Then, without warning, reality washed over her, and no matter how hard she tried to go back to sleep, her mind refused to. She wanted to dream of something light and easy, anything that could keep the devastating, pitch black truth from hitting her. But in the same moment that she had realized that she was awake, Harry’s name had appeared in her mind. She could try to deny it, but reality, no matter how overwhelming it might be, was still there: whatever had gone on between her and Harry for the last couple of years was over now. The way he had looked at her, the roughness in his voice… All of it had been real.

She was convinced that her tear ducts were empty and dry by now, because she had spent some of the longest hours of her life crying herself to sleep the night before. She had wriggled around in bed, but it had seemed no position was comfortable, and nothing could keep her mind off of what had just happened. Now, she yawned as the first positive thought that day crossed her mind: at least there was no training today. At least she wouldn’t have to go to Holyhead and act her normal cheerful self in front of her teammates, like she had been forced to the day before.

However, the brief sense of relief lasted only a few seconds as she soon remembered something else: there might not be any Quidditch training today, but there was something else, something equally dreadful: a family dinner. Even though only a few days had passed since Ron had moved out, their mother insisted that she needed to see him back at the Burrow, and so, she was bringing the family together. Ginny sighed at the mere thought of facing them – didn’t they see enough of each other already? Was it really necessary to have them come over every weekend? Just the thought of having to explain to her mum why Harry wouldn’t show up made Ginny want to crawl back into her bed, hide under her covers and die.

But there was another part of her, one that didn’t grieve; part of her hated Harry to such an extent that it just wouldn’t settle for staying in bed and crying all day. It hated him, the photo of his beautiful secret mistress and the disappointment in his voice the night before. It hated the way he had turned things around to make it sound like it was her fault, when it was Harry who had… she hated him for the way he had made her feel, and for the terrible state in which she had woken up.

That second part of her wanted to get up, get dressed, and be happier than ever. It wanted to move on, to focus on Quidditch, to meet other guys and wipe the memory of Harry from her mind and every feeling she had ever had for him from her heart. It wanted a new, wonderful life to rub in his face; it wanted to win, and it wanted to see Harry as the loser.

A couple of hours later, having taken a long shower and washed away any visible signs of the night before, Ginny pulled on a pair of jeans, and a blue sweater that she knew was a lovely contrast to her red hair. She skipped down the stairs, forcing her steps to be light against the floor, and greeted her mother, who stood by the stove with her sleeves rolled up and at least ten different bowls and pots around her, with a wide smile.

“Hello, Mum!”

“Hello, sweetheart,” Mrs Weasley answered. “Will you go and tell your father to get dressed? He’s out in the garage, as usual…”

A while later, the first guests arrived; they were Percy and Audrey, of course – those two would never dream of showing up late. Ginny welcomed them and made sure to keep the wide smile on her face as she admired Audrey’s new earrings.

“They were a gift from your brother,” Audrey said, casting a tender look at Percy. Ginny pretended to throw up and Percy raised one eyebrow at her, but before he had the chance to comment on it, George and Angelina showed up and stole everyone’s attention away.

“Bill said to tell you that they can’t make it, Mum,” George said as he brushed a couple of snowflakes out of his hair. “Vicky is ill.” When a worried expression distorted Mrs Weasley’s face, he added: “Gee, Mum, it’s not like she’s dying. She’s got a cold, that’s all!”

Mr Weasley came down after his change of clothing just as Ron and Hermione arrived. Ginny and her brothers dived into a discussion on her upcoming match against Ron’s favourite team, the Chudley Cannons.

“I’ll bet you five galleons you’ll lose!” Ron said in a triumphant voice, as if his prediction had already come true.

“I’ll take that bet,” George replied. “We might as well make it fifty galleons! I mean, have the Cannons even won one match this season? It’s just ridiculous that they’re still your favourites!”

“You’re right,” Ginny agreed with him. “Can I share the money with you when we win?”

“No gambling for money, kids,” said Mrs Weasley strictly. “Let’s talk about something else. Does anyone know why Harry is running late? It’s not like him.”

“Oh,” said Ginny, and her mouth suddenly went dry. “I wouldn’t count on him showing up at all. He, er… it would be a bit awkward, because I- I think we broke up last night.”

What?”

“You…” Hermione’s hands flew up to cover her open mouth.

“Oh dear, what are you saying?” Mrs Weasley exclaimed.

“I’m going to kill him,” Ron muttered under his breath. “I knew it was true, he’s such a bloody…”

Only one person reacted in a way that actually made Ginny feel better. Her father walked over to her, pulled her into his embrace and, like he had always done when she was younger, kissed her forehead and brushed the hair away from her face. “How are you feeling, little star?” he asked.

Ginny took a deep breath. Hearing the words he had said to her so many times throughout her childhood, she felt like she was going to break down for the first time since that morning. She bit her lip, closed her eyes and pressed her face against her father’s chest to avoid her family’s scrutinizing eyes.

Somewhere behind her, Percy cleared his throat. “Is this, er… is it because of what they said in the Daily Prophet?”

Ginny lifted her head. “Among other things,” she said quietly. “Like the fact that I apparently am ‘just like everyone else’. And what was it? Oh, that’s right – ‘a huge disappointment’.”

“Just wait until I get my hands on the-“ Ron began, but he was cut off by Mrs Weasley’s sharp voice:

“Ronald Weasley!”

Ginny looked around at her family members. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to bear seeing the sympathy on Hermione and Audrey’s faces, the confused wrinkle on George’s forehead or her mother on the verge of tears for another second. Therefore, she let go of her dad, walked over to the table and took away one plate, fork, knife and glass – the ones that Harry would have used if…

If he had really loved her. If he hadn’t cheated on her.

“Can we just eat?” she pleaded. “Please, I really don’t want to talk about it.”

And without a word of protest, everyone began moving. A few minutes later they were all sitting at the table, chatting to each other and laughing, as if nothing had happened.

 

 
Later that night, Hermione and Ron lay in their bed, in silence, just staring up at the white ceiling. Hermione could still not get it into her head. She had been as sure that Harry and Ginny were made for each other as she was sure that she and Ron were. She couldn’t believe that Harry would cheat on Ginny – in fact, she didn’t believe it. There must be thousands of girls, she thought, who would want to split Harry and Ginny up and have him for themselves. The fact that they seemed to have succeeded made her want to cry. She had spotted the tears in the corners of Mrs Weasley’s eyes after Ginny’s announcement, and Hermione knew what she must have thought: this would change everything. Harry had become part of the family, and that wouldn’t work anymore. He wouldn’t be able to attend the weekly family dinners. Another thought crept into Hermione’s mind – Christmas was just a couple of weeks away. If Harry and Ginny hadn’t made up by then, he wouldn’t be able to celebrate Christmas with them. But the worst part of everything that had happened that day was Ron’s reaction to it all. He seemed to have completely forgotten that Harry was his best friend; he had spent all afternoon spitting out nasty comments and taunts. Hermione glanced at him where he lay next to her, his eyes determinedly fixed on the ceiling. Why couldn’t he realize that Harry loved Ginny, that there was no guy in the world who was better for her?

“I don’t believe the rumour,” Hermione said. “I don’t think he did it.”

Ron snorted, turned his head and met her eyes. “Of course you don’t,” he said. “I am aware of the fact that Harry can do nothing wrong in your eyes. But these things don’t just happen – the photo, the lie about him never having met her…”

“I believe his explanation.”

“Yeah, because he’s your friend!” Ron snubbed.

My friend? Last time I checked, Ronald, he was your friend too!” said Hermione, who was starting to get worked up. “You have been best friends for nine years, and you’re going to throw it away over some stupid rumour? If you weren’t so insanely narrow-minded, you would see that he’s been telling the truth all along! He makes no mistakes for years, and as soon as one little thing appears, you're going to throw him to the wolves without hesitating?”

“Little thing? This isn’t just a little thing, Hermione!” Ron had raised his voice, and he was now pushing himself up on his elbows. “This is about him cheating! And the reason that I never really liked the fact that my best friend was dating my sister was because if it would ever come down to this, having to choose between the two of them, it will always be Ginny. Every time! And didn’t you hear the things he called her? ‘A huge disappointment’? No one has the right to talk to her like that!”

Hermione sat up, folded the covers and rose to her feet. As she walked over to the wardrobe to put on a pair of jeans and a sweater, she said: “I’m going to Harry’s. I assume that you won’t come with me?”

“Right now? Hermione, it’s 1 a.m.!” Ron said. When she ignored him and walked over to the bedroom door, he muttered: “I can’t believe that you’re choosing him over me again.”

Hermione span around, and her eyes narrowed as they fixed on his face. She could have sworn that they had gone from brown to pitch black, and that the blood was boiling in her veins.

“Just shut your bloody mouth, Ronald!” she yelled. “This is not about you, and you know it! This is about the fact that Harry is my friend, and that everyone seems to have forgotten that he’s probably hurting too! And it’s about the fact that I’m not going to judge him based on something that I’ve read in the same newspaper that also called him a liar and Dumbledore mad when they said that Voldemort had returned after our forth year at Hogwarts!”

She slammed the door as she left, tramped her way out into the hallway and shut the front door with such power that it echoed through the staircase. Then she ran the few quarters that separated Harry’s flat from theirs, both because it was freezing, and she had left her coat upstairs in her haste, and because she wanted to put as much distance as possible between herself and Ron.

When she reached Harry’s place, she banged on the door for what must have been several minutes, before he finally opened. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw her. “Hermione?”

He looked terrible. His hair was even messier than usual, and he was dressed in a shabby t-shirt and boxers. His cheeks were covered in stubble, his glasses sat askew and his eyes were red. Hermione didn’t know if the latter was a result of crying or drinking alcohol. Perhaps it was a combination, she thought when she glanced over his shoulder and spotted the bottle of Firewhiskey that stood on his coffee table. An almost overwhelming sense of compassion grabbed her, and she stepped forward and threw her arms around his neck, completely ignoring the fact that he smelled of sweat and whiskey and mumbled:

“Oh Harry, I’m so sorry…”

His face was expressionless when they let go of each other. “So, let me guess – the entire family hates me, right? Ron refused to talk to me yesterday.”

He stumbled towards the couch, sank into it and hid his face in his hands.

“Harry, how much have you had to drink?” asked Hermione worriedly as her eyes swept between the bottle, the glass and his shrunken figure. “As for the family… they will come around. Ginny too. I know you didn’t cheat on her. And Mrs Weasley was sad, rather than angry, because she doesn’t want to see the two of you fight…”

Harry lifted his head. A single tear fell over the edge under his eye that his eyelashes created; it made its way down his cheek and fell off his chin as if in slow motion. Then he cleared his throat, wiped his face with the back of his hand and adjusted his glasses.

“It’s just… it’s just that I had a family,” he mumbled. “For the first time in my life. And Ginny…”

“Harry,” Hermione said, straightening her back as she leaned towards him. “You still have a family. This is just a silly thing – it will pass. They’ll realize that you’re telling the truth and… and it will be okay.”

 

 
Last Christmas, Ginny had woken up to Harry’s kisses. As the sounds of steps in the stairs pulled her from her dreams, that was the first thought that crossed her mind. She stroked her fingertips across her neck, her cheeks, the places where his lips had once brushed against her skin. Weeks had passed since their fight, and they still hadn’t talked to each other – it had been a few of the worst weeks of her life. It seemed like every corner of the Burrow held a special memory of him - even the sight of the laundry basket could make her heart ache, because it reminded her of how she had taught him how to fold laundry with magic a few nights before he had moved out. She couldn’t resist looking into Ron’s room every time she passed it; his bed was still there. She wondered how long it would be before someone would remove it.

And now, Christmas had come. Ginny could still recall the Christmas she had spent in this house when Harry had been out hunting Horcruxes with Ron and Hermione. That whole year had been an awful mixture of worries, pain, and missing him, but Christmas had been worse than the other days. She had got used to having him there for the holidays, but that time, she hadn’t even known if he was still alive.

She knew that he was alive now, but she also knew something else, something that hurt even more than the worry she had felt back then. She knew that he didn’t love her. She knew that he had went to someone else, and she couldn’t help but wonder if he was spending Christmas with her, the breath-taking beauty who “put poor Miss Weasley in the shade without even making an effort.”

The steps in the stairs had got closer. There was a knock on the door, and a few seconds later, it opened.

“Wait, what is this? Is my favourite little sister still sleeping, even though I told her I’d come before breakfast?”

Ginny flew out of her bed and threw herself into her brother’s arms. “Charlie! I’ve missed you so much!”

And as he pressed her against his chest, she couldn’t hold it in any longer; she burst into tears and cried so violently that her entire body was shaking, but not a sound escaped her lips.

Charlie patted her back. “Hey, sis… he’s not worth it.”

Ginny lifted her head and met his eyes. “This is Harry we’re talking about,” she said in a shaky voice. “Of course he’s worth it.”

“I know that we all thought that you would end up together,” Charlie answered. “But a guy who cheats on you – even if it is Harry Potter – doesn’t deserve you. It’s as simple as that.”
 

 

Harry was sitting on the floor, his arms wrapped around his legs and his back leaned against the wall. If he’d lean forwards, only a few inches, the branches of the Christmas tree would hit his face. His gaze was fixed on Teddy, who was standing in front of him, ripping dark red wrapping paper in a million pieces in his efforts to unwrap his gift. For the sake of his godson, Harry had tried to keep his mood up all night. However, even if Teddy was his normal, happy self, Harry was sure that the others could sense his misery. How could he not be miserable, when he seemed to have lost everything that mattered to him? His girlfriend, his best mate, the closest thing he had had to a family… The only ones who were left were the three people in the room with him – Andromeda, Remus’ father Mr Lupin, and Teddy. And Hermione, he reminded himself. She had been over a few times to keep him company the last couple of weeks, but it upset Ron, and Harry could tell that it took its toll on her.

This was why he envied Ron and Hermione and all of the Weasleys from the bottom of his heart, why bitterness poisoned his mind at the mere thought of them: they had a real family. No matter what happened between Ron and Hermione, they would both always have their families to rely on, their parents’ arms to fall back into. They would never end up alone, like Harry. More than ever, he wanted to go back to the Forbidden Forest, find the resurrection stone and surround himself with the people who would love him no matter what; it seemed like everyone who had fallen under that category had seen their last days on earth.

It was too quiet for it to feel like Christmas; Harry recalled the many Christmases he had spent at the Burrow with the Weasleys that had always been full of noise: the clinging of cookware bumping into each other in the ever so busy area around the stove and on the kitchen counter, loud voices, each one trying to drown out the other, Celestina Warbeck’s never-ending collection of seasonal music, and laughter. Here, in the quietness of Andromeda’s home, Harry tried but failed to feel at home. The only sounds that could be heard in the little living room were the cracking of the fire, Teddy’s occasional babbling and Andromeda’s and Mr Lupin’s subdued humming from over at the dinner table:

“It’s the most magical season of all…”

A shout of joy from Teddy woke Harry from his thoughts: the little boy, whose hair was as green as the fir needles that lay scattered on the floor below the Christmas tree, had finally finished unwrapping his gift from Harry. He began swinging the little toy broomstick around, forcing Harry to leap forwards and catch one of the ornaments before it fell off its branch and broke into a million pieces. However, Harry still couldn’t help but smile at the excited look on his godson’s face – he had remembered what his godfather had given him when he was around Teddy’s age, and had thought it appropriate to do the same thing. You’re all I have now, Harry thought as he grabbed Teddy around the waist to keep him from falling backwards. And I’m going to be the best godfather the world has seen. I’ll never let you end up in a situation like the one I’m in – without a family. You’ll always have me.

He closed his eyes as Teddy climbed up onto his lap. I’ll always be here, with you, he thought. Ginny’s face appeared in his mind. But I’ll be without you, he sighed and imagined her wonderful laugh spreading through the beautifully decorated, lovely-smelling rooms of the Burrow.

 

 
“Ginny? Can I have a word?”

Hermione stuck her head into the living room, where Ginny, George and Mr Weasley had gathered around the table to admire the new Quidditch gloves that Charlie had given her.

“Of course!” said Ginny and jumped to her feet.

She followed Hermione through the kitchen, where Angelina, Percy and Hermione’s parents were helping Mrs Weasley lay the table, Charlie was sitting on the floor, playing with his goddaughter and niece, and Bill and Fleur were cutting the turkey. Hermione didn’t stop until they reached Ginny’s bedroom on the top floor.

“Okay,” she said as she sat down on her friend’s bed. “We have to talk about Harry. He’s a wreck, Ginny. The only reason that he’s not begging on his knees right now for you to forgive him is because he doesn’t deserve to be doubted to start with. I know that he didn’t cheat on you. That’s why he’s so angry! Should he really have to lose you, Ron and all your family over this, when it’s not even true? You just have to realize that because… because what you and Harry have is rare. Once you’ve found something like that, you’d be foolish to just throw it away.”

Ginny sat down next to her. “But it’s not just about this rumour,” she said. “You should have seen the way he looked at me… I really don’t think he wants to be with such a disappointment like myself.”

Her last words came out snappishly, in true Ginny-spirit – she would never accept being treated unfairly. Normally, Hermione admired her for it, but now, she protested:

“Can you really blame him? Someone is always questioning him, and it’s even worse when it’s you, and Ron, and your family! He never gets any credit from your brothers. Of course, he shouldn’t have taken it all out on you, but haven’t you punished him enough? Don’t you miss him too?”

Ginny lowered her head. “Yes, I do.”

“So, just give him a chance, then,” Hermione insisted. “There’s no point in continuing this fight, when what you both really want is to make up and be together. Just go to his place, talk to him, let him explain himself…”

Ginny nodded. “Okay,” she said and got up on her feet. “I will.”

Hermione reached out a hand and stopped her. “He’s not home today," she said with a smile. “He’s spending Christmas with Teddy and Andromeda. He’ll be home again by Boxing Day. Besides, your mum would kill you if you missed dinner after all the hard work she has put into it…”
 
 




A/N: Thank you again for being such wonderful readers and for brightening my days by taking the time to leave a review and letting me know what you think. If you do have time, please do that - it doesn't have to be very long, but it would make me very happy.

So, Harry and Ginny might not have officially broken up in the last chapter, but Ginny saw it that way because she thought he didn't want her anymore. Now they're basically just being very stubborn and feeling very sorry for themselves. Thank God for Hermione, right?




DISCLAIMER: The song that Andromeda and Mr Lupin were singing is based on "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year", written by Edward Pola and George Wyle, and originally performed by Andy Williams.


Chapter 17: Year 2: Unannounced visitors
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Whenever one of his Muggle neighbours passed by the door that led into Harry Potter’s home, they usually thought about the boy’s lack of a doorbell, and wondered how he managed without one. Most of them came to the conclusion that he rarely had any visitors, and so he didn’t need one – after all, they had never heard a sound coming from his flat, despite the thin walls of the house. He probably didn’t get out much, either; only a handful of the other residents had ever run into the young man in the staircase or outside the building. He had become somewhat of a mystery to them, and he was the most common object of their gossip. Of course, most of his neighbours didn’t read too much into the fact that he was a private young man, but Mrs Stack, the old widow from the third floor, enjoyed telling her friends from sewing circle about the time she had spotted him through the window, carrying a dead body over his shoulder (of course, given her terrible eyesight and the fact that Harry lived on the eighth floor, it might as well have been a pile of clothes), and little Billy Shine regularly bragged to his friends from school about living in the same house as an actual werewolf.

Had Harry known about his neighbours’ conspiracy theories, he might have put up another doorbell next to the magical one that was already there, but invisible to the eyes of Muggles. However, his head was too full of other things to spare even one thought for Mrs Stack, Billy Shine or something as trivial as a doorbell – which was a bit ironic, considering the fact that within the span of sixteen hours, that certain doorbell would ring three times, and it would change the life he knew.

It was Boxing Day, and the unusually warm December winds had wiped the snow off of the streets of London along with whatever Christmas spirit had inhabited Harry’s heart while he had still been at Andromeda’s. Returning home was as dreadful as he had imagined – if he had thought that the quietness at the Tonks’ had been bad, it was nothing compared to the compact silence in his own flat, when neither Ginny nor Ron was there to disturb it.

He had only been home for a few hours, however, when the clinging sound of the doorbell disturbed that silence instead. He got up on his feet and walked into the hallway to open the door, expecting to see Hermione’s face. But much to his surprise, it was someone else – a red-haired woman with an infamous temper, whose eyes were full of tears as she smiled faintly at him.

Harry could not disguise his shock. “Mrs Weasley! What are…? I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“That’s my fault, I suppose,” answered Molly Weasley as she stepped into his flat without waiting for an invitation. “I feel horrible that it took me this long to come. I would have done it sooner, Harry, but we… I can’t help but feel like I’m betraying Ginny by seeing you.”

Harry wasn’t sure how to respond. Finally, when the terrible silence started to creep back into the flat, he cleared his throat and forced himself to speak.

“I didn’t think you’d come at all,” he said, “because I thought all of you believed the Daily Prophet.”

“The children may have jumped to conclusions, dear, but Arthur and I are not as easily convinced,” Mrs Weasley replied. “And even if it were true, I’d still worry about you. How was your Christmas? Hermione tells me you spent it with Teddy and Andy.”

“It was… different, from what I’m used to.”

“I… well… I wanted to give you this,” Mrs Weasley said.

She held out a package. The shape of it, the brown wrapping paper… Harry knew exactly what it was. Except for the year that they had been out hunting Horcruxes, he had received one every Christmas since he had started at Hogwarts. Every year since he had become friends with Ron…

“I made one for you, out of habit,” Mrs Weasley mumbled as he unwrapped the gift, “and I thought it would be a waste to just throw it away…”

Harry pulled on the sweater without answering. It was green, the exact same colour as his eyes, and the large ‘H’ on its front was written in golden thread. Little snitches circled around the letter, and Harry’s eyes filled with tears as he took a step forward to give Mrs Weasley a hug. There was nothing he could say to express his gratitude, but she probably picked up on it anyway – it was one of her many talents as a mother, the gift of always knowing what other people truly felt.

“I wanted to invite you, I really did,” said Mrs Weasley, still with her arms wrapped around him and her hand softly stroking his back, “but you know… until you and Ginny make up…”

“It doesn’t seem like we will,” answered Harry and let go of her. “I’ve told her the truth, but if she doesn’t believe me, there is nothing else I can do about it.”

He could hear the childish stubbornness in his own voice, but he chose to ignore it. Tears were gleaming in Mrs Weasley’s bright brown eyes as she took at step back from him and nodded.

“I’m sorry that I won’t be able to see you as much,” she said in a shaky voice. “I just hope you know that… you can always come to me. Whatever happens. No matter what might be going on between you and Ginny, you can write to me, or stop by when she’s in Holyhead.”

Harry met her eyes and fought to hold back his tears. “Thanks, Mrs Weasley,” he mumbled. “Thank you so much for everything.”

 

 

The second time the doorbell rang was later in the afternoon, when the sun had begun to set and silence had, once again, taken over Harry’s flat. Time seemed to stand still, and he couldn’t help but feel bitter over the fact that the Auror Office was going to be closed all weekend. The Head Auror, Gawain Robards, had returned to England about a week before Christmas, having spent a year and a half hunting Death Eaters all over the world since the defeat of Voldemort. His first decision when he came back into the department had been to give everyone time off to spend Christmas with their families, completely unaware of the nightmare the that holidays would be for Harry.

Harry was thankful to be disturbed again and rushed over to open the door. Seamus Finnigan and Neville Longbottom was standing on the other side of it, both of them grinning from ear to ear at the sight of him.

“Harry, ol’ mate!” Seamus said. “We just couldn’t stand being away from you all Christmas, so well… here we are!”

“Come on in, then”, Harry grinned. “It’s always nice to, er… have some company.”

The smile faded from his face, and Neville placed a heavy hand on his shoulder as he stepped over the threshold.

“Hermione told us what happened,” he said seriously. “We thought we’d stop by and try to cheer you up a bit. And, well… truth to be told, I could use some cheering up myself. You know how Luna and I finally started going out?” He waited for Harry to nod before he continued: “Well, that’s over now. She left with her dad to explore nature life in the rainforests…”’

“For how long?” Harry asked, but Neville only shrugged.

“Either way,” Seamus continued, “we shouldn’t just sit around and be depressed about it. There’s a brand new Wizarding bar just a few quarters away from here. Do you want to check it out?”

“Actually, that sounds absolutely perfect,” Harry said.

After washing up and getting dressed for a night out, the three friends put on their winter coats and headed out into the night. Even for three young men who were used to magical means of transportation as swift as lightning, the walk didn’t feel very long. The bar was situated on the corner of an old, grand multi-storey house. The light from the windows looked warm and welcoming, and when the door opened, a cloud of wonderful scents hit them – freshly baked pies, roasted pumpkin seeds and butterbeer. They barely had time to look around before a young wizard approached them; a towel hung over one of his arms, and he instantly showed them to a table in the corner of the bar.

“Can we offer you anything to drink?”

“I’ll have a butterbeer, please,” Neville said, and Harry was just about to say: “Me too!” when Seamus snorted and shook his head.

“Oh, come on, Longbottom! Weren’t you two going to drown your sorrows?” he said. “We’ll have three glasses of Firewhiskey, please.”

About a minute later, when the wizard returned to their table with their drinks, the redness on their cheeks had begun to fade, and most people in the bar had become aware of the fact that Harry Potter himself was sitting among them. Harry had only swallowed his first sip of Firewhiskey when two girls walked up to their table. They looked like they were about the same age as Harry and his friends, possibly a couple of years older, and they were both very beautiful. One of them had long, dark hair that seemed to shine in the dim lighting, and the other one had thick, blonde curls that framed her mischievous, smiling face in the most perfect way.

“Hello,” said the dark-haired one and smiled at Harry while twisting a lock of her hair around her fingers. “I read in Witch Weekly that you’re back on the market.” She winked at him, and Harry cleared his throat.

“Not quite,” he said. “Officially, yes, but no… I’m not looking for anything right now.”

“Oh, but neither am I,” answered the girl. “At least not anything else than a night of fun. What do you think?”

“I’m flattered,” Harry said. “But no thanks. I’m still… she… I just can’t.”

“Whatever you say,” the girl shrugged. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

 

 

Nearly sixteen hours after her mother, Ginny rang Harry’s magical doorbell. She had trouble breathing – normally, her pulse would bolt when she was nervous, but now it felt like her heart had almost stopped entirely. She had decided to listen to Hermione – she was there to listen to Harry’s explanation. She had even decided to apologize to him for doubting him. Admitting that she was wrong didn’t seem that difficult when she thought of the reward: they would be together again. She wouldn’t have to miss him for another second.

There was a clicking sound as the door unlocked. Then it opened; Harry’s eyes widened in shock when he peeked out at her. “Ginny?”

He looked as scrubby as Hermione had described him – his eyelids hang heavily over his green irises, his hair would have horrified Ginny’s mother, and his skin was pale and almost see-through. Ginny swallowed before taking a deep breath.

“Hi,” she said. “Can I come in?”

Harry leaned against the doorframe. “Now is not a very good time,” he mumbled.

So he’s still angry, Ginny thought. He’s still hurt and he doesn’t want to talk to me. Had he shown up at her doorsteps a few weeks earlier, she probably would have reacted the same way. And yet, she had imagined something entirely different on her way there – she had thought that he would drop everything, lift her up in his arms and spin her around, like something from the world of fairy tales. But even though his reaction was nothing like that, she wasn’t going to give up on it just yet.

“You have to give me a chance,” she said, and she squeezed herself past him and stopped in the hallway. He closed the door slowly and she walked over and grabbed his hands. “I can tell that you’re in the same state as I am… only I didn’t pour alcohol down my throat last night.”

Harry lowered his eyes and opened his mouth to reply, but she continued before he had the chance:

“And it seems so silly that we should both walk around and be miserable… if you told the truth all along, and nothing happened between you and that girl.”

“It didn’t,” Harry said, “but Ginny, can we please meet in a little while? I could come to the Burrow in an hour, or we could meet at the Leaky Cauldron…”

Ginny paid his words no attention. “And in that case, I’m sorry for not trusting you. If you’ll tell me again that nothing happened between you, I’ll believe you. You said it yourself; you’ve never given me any reason not to trust you. And I love you.”

Harry took a deep breath. “I love you too Gin, I really do…”

“… but?”

“But nothing,” Harry said. “It’s just that I’m not feeling well. I want to talk about this, I want to make up, but I can’t right now… Just let me… I’ll take a shower, and then I’ll come by the Burrow, okay?”

Ginny was just about to nod and turn around when she saw her. She was standing in the doorway that led into the kitchen, wearing her long, dark hair in a loose braid. She was dressed in nothing but a bright blue, worn-out jeans shirt. Harry’s bright blue, worn-out jeans shirt. After the war, Ginny cried with her face pressed against it countless of times. Harry had worn it to Fred and George’s birthday in April. And her it was now, on a tall, slim, beautiful girl, in Harry’s flat at 9 a.m.

He had asked Ginny to come back later. To leave before she would discover that he had lied to her all along; that she hadn’t doubted him for nothing. There was a girl there with him.

And Ginny, she had thought that he had broken her heart once. But he had only scratched its surface; perhaps he had ripped it up in some places. This time it was different, because now it was clear to her that it wasn’t some silly fight, that it wouldn’t pass, that they couldn’t leave it behind. Now, her heart fell apart, it broke into pieces, because she knew that the rest of her life would be without him.

Harry turned his head. Realizing that he had been busted, his grip around her hands tightened. “Ginny, please,” he said desperately, “I really love you, I do…” She tried to wriggle out of his grip, but he clung onto her. “Please, don’t do this. Don’t go. This isn’t… I love you.”

But Ginny pulled her hands out of his and walked out the door. She could have sworn that she heard him burst into tears before she slammed it and ran down the stairs, but it didn’t change anything. He could have told her a million times that he loved her, but it didn’t make it true. Ginny knew what it was to love someone, because there was nothing on the face of the earth that could have put her in that situation. There was nothing that could have made Harry have to see her standing in some other guy’s flat, dressed in nothing but his worn-out jeans shirt. That was the difference between them; she loved him, and he didn’t love her back.

 

 

As the weeks passed by, Harry put all his attention to work. He had spent the first couple of days after Boxing Day questioning Seamus and Neville about their night at the bar, because for the life of him, he couldn’t remember how that girl had ended up in his bed. Their three hazy memories combined came to the conclusion that they simply had been drunk out of their minds. Harry, however, had a hard time accepting that he would bring another girl home in any state at all. But since no one could figure out another explanation, he had no choice but to believe it.

Meanwhile, Ginny fully dedicated herself to Quidditch – she practised her shots every day at home in the orchard, she stayed for hours after trainings just to improve her flying, and she even invited Gwenog Jones to dinner to get her advice. Finally, after weeks of hard work, the coach called her into his office after another late training in the beginning of February.

Darren Weinhold was sitting at his desk when she stepped in through the door. Much to her surprise, he wasn’t alone – Oliver Wood stood leaned against the wall across from him, and he smiled widely at Ginny as she wrinkled her eyebrows at the sight of his broad, muscular figure.

“Hi there,” he said cheerfully. “How are you?”

“Fine, I suppose,” she answered. “And you? I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Weinhold said. “Do you know why I’ve called you here?” When Ginny shook her head, he continued: “You’ve impressed me lately, Miss Weasley. You’ve played better than ever, and I’m the first one to notice. I want to see you play against Caerphilly Catapults next Saturday.”

Ginny let out a shriek and began jumping up and down. Since Oliver was the one standing the closest to her, she threw her arms around him and laughed. “Thank you so, so much! I won’t make you regret it, I promise!”

"It wasn't my call, you know," Oliver grinned.

Weinhold smiled. “I have no trouble believing what you're saying, Miss Weasley.”

“But that doesn’t explain why you’re here,” Ginny said and let go of Oliver, who was still smiling at her overjoyed reaction to the coach’s news.

“You know how I had to leave Puddlemere United, right?” Oliver asked. “Well, I wasn’t unemployed for very long – I am now working for Quality Quidditch Supplies – we’re one of Holyhead Harpies’ sponsors.”

“Right…” Ginny mumbled – she still couldn’t see any connection.

“And now that you’re going to be playing in the league, that broomstick of yours won’t do,” said Weinhold. “Mr Wood is here to help you find a new one.”

“We’re working with a new manufacturer,” Oliver explained. “They’ve got a different approach towards broomsticks, and we actually think it’s the future of the business – instead of making one that’s just really fast, they develop different ones for different players – for example, a Keeper doesn’t need a very fast one – just one with good precision and balance. You, as a Chaser, should definitely look into the x10 Chase model…”

Ginny and Oliver left the office together an hour later, having decided that he would stop by again next week with a few sample broomsticks to help her make her decision. Ginny had spent the last ten minutes thanking Weinhold, over and over, for believing in her, until he finally shoved them out of his office and kindly asked Oliver to get her out of his sight. Oliver had laughingly accepted the challenge, and he was now dragging her by the arm across the Quidditch pitch and towards the fireplace from which she would make her way back to the Burrow.

“I watched your training today,” he said. “You really deserve this. I always thought that defence was your team’s weakness, but it’s one of your strengths. They’re lucky to have you.”

Ginny smiled proudly. “Thank you! That makes me so happy!” Studying the ambiguous look on his face, she added: “Is it hard for you? To watch us play, knowing that you can’t do that anymore?”

“It’s not as bad as I thought,” Oliver answered. “I mean, sure, I’m still young, and had it not been for the head injury I might have still had a couple of years in me. But this way, I can still be part of the whole Quidditch world, right? I’m sure I’ll miss it sometimes, but it is what it is.”

Ginny smiled. “How very mature of you. I would have been so bitter…”

They had reached their goal, and they both stopped in front of the fireplace. “Ladies first,” Oliver said, making a gesture towards the bowl with Floo powder.

“I’ll see you next week, then,” Ginny said.

“Yeah. Say hello to Harry for me.”

Ginny cleared her throat. “Didn’t you hear? We broke up.”

“Really? So the Daily Prophet…? I thought it was just a rumour,” Oliver mumbled.

“It turned out to be more than that,” Ginny answered. Oliver looked uncomfortable, so in order to save him the awkwardness, she grabbed a pinch of powder and threw it into the fire. As it turned green, she turned her head towards him and said: “I’ll see you soon, then!” and then she stepped into the flames.

 




A/N: As I'm writing this, 75 people have added this story to their favourites, and I have received 147 reviews of helpful advice and wonderful compliments. I just want to thank each one of you so much, as well as those who have contributed to the fact that the story has nearly twenty thousand reads. It blows my mind! I don't know how to express my grattitude, but I guess I'll just say thank you for the millionth time and hope that you know how much it means to me.

I know that the main focus has been on Harry and Ginny lately, and I'm sorry about that, but the drama has been between the two of them, while Ron and Hermione are quite happy together in their new flat. However, something big will happen for some other people than Harry and GInny in the next chapter, and I'm so exited to share it with you!

Oh, and I realise that this author's note is too long already, but if you have any comments at all about this chapter, please let me know! It would mean the world to me! :)


Chapter 18: Year 2: Surprises
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George Weasley was many things – if someone asked, he would gladly represent a list of adjectives, including charming, handsome and outright hilarious – but nervous would rarely make it on to that list. He had been blessed – or, as his mother would have said, cursed – with a great deal of confidence that helped him deal with most situations and conduct himself with an assurance that few people could pull off; Fred had been one of those few.

But despite all of this, George was currently standing outside Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley, more nervous than he had ever been in the almost twenty-two years during which he had lived. His knees were shaking uncontrollably, his palms were moist with sweat, and his heart was beating louder than ever in his scrawny chest. His eyes flickered between the watch on his wrist and his surroundings. Had time stopped? The small restaurant across the street from the shop was crowded, despite the fact that most places in Diagon Alley, including his own, had closed for the day. Winter had slowly begun to move out of the way to give spring some space and the sun, which had been shining brightly all day, had begun to set. Of course, George barely even noticed; his head was too crammed with other things.

Suddenly, a pair of soft hands took over his visual field and hid the image of an old couple who were just exiting the restaurant, dressed in coats that seemed suitable for the middle of the spring rather than the very beginning of it, judged by the man’s shivering and the fact that his wife stepped closer to him, as if to try to get a share of his body heat.

The owner of the hands that stopped George from seeing all this smiled and said:

“Guess who?”

George smiled too and reached up his hands to pull hers away from his face. As if he wouldn’t recognize that voice anywhere.

“You’re late,” he commented as his eyes turned to his watch for what must have been the twentieth time in the last fifteen minutes. “You should have been here four minutes and… seventeen seconds ago!”

Angelina chuckled. “Says the man who wouldn’t be on time if his life the depended on it,” she retorted with a grin, and George turned around to face her.

“Well, luckily for you, I’m not just charming, handsome and hilarious – I’m also patient.”

Angelina rolled her eyes, leaned in and kissed him. “Lucky me,” she said. “It’s every girl’s dream to find a man like that, isn’t it?”

“Every girl who knows what’s best for her,” George answered and nodded. He smiled as he reached out his arm, bowed and said: “Shall we, my fairest lady?”

As Angelina grabbed his arm, George opened the door to the shop. He had closed for the day almost two hours earlier, but he had stayed to set everything up for their date. Following Angelina inside, he looked around and smiled contently at the result of his work. Small, enchanted flames soared in the air a few inches below the ceiling, and they cast a soft, flickering glow over their surroundings. Angelina was just about to round a corner and walk further into the shop when George took a leap forwards and grabbed her arm. Now, it was his turn to cover her eyes with his hands.

“You’re not allowed to see it just yet,” he told her.

She placed her hands on his arms and started moving forwards, carefully setting her foot down each time, as if she was worried that he’d lead her off a cliff. Actually, she didn’t worry for nothing; she tried to push his hands away when he purposely led her into a shelf, but he simply laughed and said: “Okay, okay, I won’t do it again!” Then, finally, they reached their destination: an open area in the back of the shop, between the shelf that held Pygmy Puffs and the one with trick wands. George lowered his hands, allowing his girlfriend to get a look at the settings of the special night he had planned for them.

The shop had transformed. Tonight, it was not the dream place for pranksters and mischievous children, or the nightmare for tired parents with swindling moneybags. No, tonight it was the dream place for a different kind of people – for a young couple in love, for a young man who wanted to show a young woman just how much she meant to him.

A blanket in the softest material laid spread across the floor. Two lit candles stood in its centre, burning brightly, and pots and pans holding all of Angelina’s favourite dishes surrounded them: roasted chicken, pumpkin pie, kidney pie (of course, her fascination for that certain course would always be beyond George’s understanding), roast beef and mashed potatoes. Naturally, George hadn’t cooked all this himself – he hadn’t wanted to ruin the night before it had even started – but he had kept his mother company while she had done it, which was equivalent to him. Now, his eyes were fixed on Angelina’s face to see her reaction; he couldn’t remember her ever smiling so widely or so happily, and he certainly couldn’t remember having seen anyone, besides Ron, getting so excited over a little food.

“It smells absolutely amazing!” Angelina said, turning around to throw her arms around him. “What’s the occasion?”

“There is no occasion,” George answered as he wrapped his own arms around her slim waist. “You did follow my instructions to come hungry, right?”

She must have, because a little while later, only about half of the huge feast remained, and the two of them were lying on the blanket, moaning with their hands on their own stomachs.

“I’ve never been so full in my life!” Angelina wailed.

George’s blue eyes twinkled as he leaned forwards and started tickling her. She howled with laughter as she struggled to escape his embrace.

“Please, George, I’m going to be sick!” she begged, and much to her surprise, he let go of her. She raised a suspicious eyebrow at him. “Well, I never thought that day would come…”

“Well, I want you to be in a good mood,” George said, “for when I give you this.”

He had hidden a small, oblong gift under one of the shelves, and now he pulled it out and handed it to Angelina.

“What is this?” she asked. “I thought you said we weren’t celebrating anything.”

“We’re not. Just open it.”

George’s heart fluttered when she unwrapped the gift and exposed the dark red carton. The squiggly, golden words that shone on its top caught Angelina’s eyes and turned the curiosity in her facial expression into confusion.

“A trick wand?” she asked. “Did you develop them? Is this a new kind?”

“You could say that.”

“And I’m your guinea-pig?”

“This one is special, I promise,” George said. “It won’t turn into something as silly as a rubber chicken.”

“And it won’t hit me in the head either?” Angelina asked.

When he shook his head, she lifted off the top of the box and grabbed the wand. As soon as her finger touched it, it vanished with a barely audible sound. She uncurled her fingers, slowly, to get a look at the small object in her hand. She gasped, and George made a movement next to her.

It was a ring. It glittered in the light of the floating flames, its diamonds attracting so much light that it could have been source of it itself. Angelina’s eyes darted from the stunning piece of jewellery in her hand, the band of love that rested on her palm, to the smiling face of the man who wanted, more than anything, for her to agree to wear it on her finger for the rest of her life.

“Angelina.” George, who was now kneeling in front of her, cleared his throat; his mouth was so dry that speaking was close to painful, but he forced himself to continue. “I know that this is quite a bold move, and I know that we’re young and you might think that I’m completely mental for doing this. But you have done so much for me, and for my life. After Fred died… I never thought I’d feel happiness again. I never thought I’d love living again. But you’ve changed all that, and if you let me, I want to spend the rest of our lives paying you back for it. I love you so much. Will you… will you at least consider marrying me?”

Angelina sobbed as she leaned forwards and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Of course I will marry you. I love you too.”

George kissed her softly. Then, he took the ring from her hand and slid it onto her finger. The largest diamond on its front glistened blindingly, and neither one of them said a word. In that quiet, blissful moment, George could have sworn he heard Fred’s whisper whiz through the shop: “Mischief managed, brother!"

 

 

“So, I’ll pick him up around noon tomorrow,” Andromeda said as she backed out through Harry’s door, waved to Teddy one last time and closed it. Harry locked the door and turned around to face his godson, who was sitting on the floor behind him.

“Are you excited to spend the night here with me?” he asked. “While Grandma visits her friend in Scotland?”

Teddy smiled and reached his arms up to indicate that he wanted to be picked up. Harry did as he wanted and as Teddy’s little hands gripped the collar of his shirt, he walked into the living room.

“So what do you want to do, little man?” he asked. “Play with your blocks? We could build a tower…”

But when he bent over to put the child back on the floor, he began whining, and his grip on his godfather's collar tightened. Harry sighed and sat down on the couch with the little boy on his lap.

“I don’t know what do with you,” he confessed. “You’re not old enough to read any stories, and Andromeda didn't pack your flying car…”

Suddenly, he had an idea. Thankful that he always kept his wand in his pocket, he pulled it out and summoned the object he wanted to use. It kept them occupied for hours – the moving photos in the album that Hagrid had once given him fascinated Teddy, and Harry lingered on the page with photos of Lupin and Tonks, which he had added himself after their deaths.

“Do you know who that is, Teddy?” he said, pointing at the pink-haired woman who was grinning and waving at the camera. “That’s your mummy. She’s in heaven right now, but she loves you very much.

And that man, who’s standing behind her – that’s your daddy. He was such a good man, and I miss him very much. He loves you too, and I’m sure they're watching over us right now. Alongside my mummy and daddy, because they’re in heaven too.”

Teddy’s small hand landed on the photo of Tonks and Lupin, and Harry smiled at the sight of his little index finger, chasing the never-ending movements of the woman who had given him life, the movements that would live forever in a photograph, but didn’t get to be around long enough to live in Teddy’s mind or memory.

“I bet they’re having a good time up there,” Harry continued. “You know, your dad and mine were best friends, and now they’re together again.”

“Like we,” Teddy mumbled as he yawned and leaned his head against his godfather’s chest. “Best friends.”

Harry smiled. “Yes, best friends. Just like you and me.”

 

 

“Do you really need any more books?” Ron was standing with his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes fixed on Hermione, who was carrying a heavy pile of books in her arms as she made her way between the shelves at Flourish & Blotts. “We can’t fit another bookshelf into the flat, I hope you’re aware of that!”

“You can never have too many books,” Hermione answered and shot him the kind of amused look that a parent would shoot his or her children when they asked about something they were too young to understand. “You know, I’m going to have a library in my house one day, with thousands and thousands of books…”

Ron sneaked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I think you mean our house,” he said. “And I’ll only agree to that if you let me build a Quidditch pitch in the backyard.”

“We’ll see about that!”

Ron chuckled to himself, and while Hermione returned to scanning the shelves for books she wanted, he turned his head to the door to see whom it was who had just stepped through it and into the bookshop. He stiffened when he saw the familiar face, the silvery blonde hair and the sharp, pointed chin. Draco Malfoy granted the salesclerk a short nod before letting his eyes sweep across the room. When he spotted Ron, he froze in the middle of his movement, as if he didn’t know what to do.

“Ron, look at this one, it’s… what’s going on?” Hermione followed Ron’s eyes. “Oh… we should probably go and say hello, don’t you think?”

“What? No!” Ron protested and tore his eyes away from Malfoy. “He was a Death Eater, have you completely forgotten that?”

“No, I haven’t,” Hermione answered. “But I also haven’t forgotten the fact that he and his mum helped us out that year…”

She put down the book she had just picked up, and then she walked over to Malfoy without any further discussion. Ron hurried after her.

“Hello,” Hermione said. “How… er… how are you doing?”

Malfoy looked as though he didn’t know whether he should laugh, rebuff her, or shake the hand she had stretched out towards him. Finally, he opened his mouth and said: “Why do you even care?”

“Because you helped us,” she answered. “When the snatchers caught us and brought us to your house. You acted as if you didn’t recognize Harry… you were very brave.”

Malfoy snorted. “Didn’t it ever occur to you that I might not have recognized him? Do you really think I would pick your side over…over…?”

“Your mum helped him too,” Hermione continued. “I just wanted to say thank you. It must be a difficult transition for the two of you, with your father in Azkaban and-“

“Spare me your pity, Granger,” Malfoy cut her off. “I don’t need it, and neither does my mother.”

He spun around on the spot and, seemingly forgetting why he had come at all, stormed out of the shop and out of Ron and Hermione’s sight. Hermione turned to her boyfriend and shrugged, and Ron sighed.

“It’s really nice that you want to see the good in people, but I don’t think Malfoy will ever change,” he said.

“It’s just a defence mechanism,” Hermione insisted as she started walking towards the checkout while balancing an impressive pile of books in her arms. “He doesn’t want to us to see him vulnerable… it’s completely natural.”

“Well, in that case,” answered Ron sarcastically, “we’ll just let him act however he wants. The next time he supports a dark wizard or calls you that word - the next time, I’ll just think to myself ‘It’s just a defence mechanism, it’s perfectly natural!’”

Hermione rolled her eyes and placed the books on the counter. “Hello,” she said and smiled at the salesclerk. “I’d like to buy these, please.” Then she turned to Ron. “You’re as clueless as ever,” she told him. “I guess I better get used to it, because you will never change, either!"

 

 

“I just can’t believe that my little girl is moving out!” Mrs Weasley let out a sob and pulled Ginny into her embrace once again. “My youngest… my baby…”

“Mum, I haven’t been a baby for a long time,” Ginny said as she wriggled out of her mother’s arms.

“Didn’t you say that you weren’t going to move to Holyhead?” asked George, who was sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying one of his mother’s famous sandwiches (in his Hogwarts years, he had dreaded having to eat them on the Hogwarts express, while all his friends enjoyed the wonderful snacks and sweets that the trolley had to offer, but every since he had moved out, he had missed them terribly).

“Yes, I did say that,” Ginny answered, “but it was Harry who made me want to stay here. And now…” She fell silent, and she turned around when her father entered the kitchen, carrying her timeworn leather trunk, which she had barely used since graduating from Hogwarts. “Well, I guess it’s time, then…” She hugged her parents one last time, waved at George and stepped into the fireplace to head off to her new home.

The small cottage she was renting was absolutely perfect for her. The interior was mostly made up of dark wood, and the walls were made of stone – it actually reminded her a bit of Hagrid’s cabin, only hers were a little bigger and a little better. The living room and kitchen were blended together into one – it was small, but cosy, and it wasn’t like she needed a whole castle to herself. She was used to living in small, overcrowded spaces, and she wouldn’t have felt at home all alone in an enormous mansion. No, this was much better. The cottage had two floors; the bedroom and the bathroom were up the stairs. Mrs Weasley had sown all the curtains and the covers for the bed, and the garish colouring was just enough to make Ginny feel at home, without taking away the feeling of having something new, something of her own.

As soon as she arrived, Ginny sank down into the brown leather couch in the living room and yawned, instantly regretting the fact that she had declined Mrs Weasley’s offer to have dinner at the Burrow. She had wanted to get away as soon as possible, but now, she wasn’t exactly thrilled over the idea of having to cook.

There was a knock on the door, and she dragged herself over there to open it. Seeing whom her visitor was, she raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Hi!”

Oliver Wood smiled at her. He was dressed in a grey, knitted sweater, which – she couldn’t help but notice it – gave his eyes a depth that she had never seen before. He was carrying a pot with steaming contents.

"Hi," he said. "Don't worry, I’m actually not here for business – your broomstick won’t be ready until the day after tomorrow. But Darren mentioned to me that you were moving here today, and I thought I’d bring you some food. You can always save it for tomorrow if you’ve already had dinner…”

“Actually, I was just thinking about how hungry I am,” said Ginny with a grateful smile as she accepted the pot. When Oliver turned around to leave again, she added: “Aren’t you going to stay and eat this with me?”

Oliver smiled casually and shrugged. “I guess I could. I haven’t had time to have dinner myself, so…”

They walked into the small kitchen. Oliver took out spoons and placed the pot on the table while Ginny poured butterbeer in two glasses. Then they sat down and dug in, both with hungry eagerness and growling stomachs.

“I didn’t know you could cook!” Ginny said. “This is absolutely delicious!”

“It’s probably just a lucky strike, then,” answered Oliver modestly. “My mother gave me a few lessons before I moved out, but I’m not that good.”

“This soup says otherwise,” said Ginny with a smile.

“So, how does it feel?” Oliver asked. “It must be a bit strange to leave your parents' house, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is,” Ginny admitted. “But honestly, I’ve been looking forward to it. Wherever I’ve been, there has always been so many people. Both at home, because I have six brothers, and at Hogwarts, because the girls in my dormitory were quite… loud. A little privacy sounds very appealing right now.”

Oliver laughed. “Well, I admire you for coping with it this long,” he said. “I mean, living with Fred and George… they drove me mad daily when we played Quidditch together… and Percy… we were in the same year at Hogwarts, as you may recall.”

“Yes, Percy isn’t the easiest person to deal with, either,” Ginny grinned.

When they had finished their food, Oliver insisted on helping with the dishes. “I’ll wash, and you can dry them,” he told her and reached out the glass he had just cleaned. Their hands touched when Ginny accepted it, and she just had time to feel how warm his skin was before he pulled away, smiled and picked up the next glass from the sink.

“I don’t know if I should say this,” he mumbled, “but you grew up to be so beautiful. I couldn’t believe it when we ran into each other in Tutshill… little Ginny!”

He shook his head, and Ginny blushed. She didn’t know if she should thank him, give him a compliment in return – after all, she had plenty of nice things to say about the way he looked as well – or resort to humour.

Naturally, she chose the latter. She was a Weasley, after all.

Little Ginny?”

In the next moment, Oliver found himself drenched in dishwater. He snorted, dropped the scrubbing brush and began splashing water at her in revenge. Ginny shrieked when it hit her face, and she burst into laughter when he, only a few seconds later, took a leap towards her and began tickling her. She literally roared with laughter as she struggled to push his hands away. Then, suddenly, he froze. It was not until then that Ginny became aware of how close he was – his face was just a few inches away, and she could distinguish every bristle on his chin, each one of his eyelashes, and the trace of laughter that lingered in his features. Warmth spread inside her. Then, without thinking, she stretched her neck and kissed him.

Oliver wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the ground. He placed her on the kitchen counter and continued to kiss her. Ginny could feel his arms stroke her back, his stubble was rough against her own soft cheek, and his lips were so soft and so warm. He let out a muffled moan as his hands found their way under her sweater. She closed her eyes and allowed him to unhook her bra.

“Where is the bedroom?” he mumbled, his lips pressed against her neck.

“Up the stairs,” she whispered, and the next thing she knew, he had picked her up, and he carried her there, and she didn’t think; she just closed her eyes again and let it happen.

 






A/N: So, is anyone else excited for George and Angelina? It might be a bit sudden, but then I thought, 'hey, who would make that impulsive move if not George?' What do you think about seeing Malfoy again?

Also, I know that you want to see Harry and Ginny together, but be patient! :) Don't hate on Oliver, and please don't be too angry with Harry or Ginny, because there might turn out to be more to the whole situation than everyone thinks... And thank you so much for reading, for supporting this story, for reviewing and sharing your thoughts! I appreciate it so much, and I'd love to hear what you thought of this chapter as well.


Chapter 19: Year 2: St. Mungo's
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It’s funny, really, how little a good morning says about how the rest of the day will turn out. A sky free of clouds is not a promise that the storm will keep away, nor is a peaceful moment any sort of preview of the moments that will follow. All in all, Ron and Hermione had had a fairly good start of their day. Ron had been in a great mood for weeks, mostly because of the fact that Hermione’s visits to Harry had been a lot less frequent since the incident after his night out with Neville and Seamus. Hermione no longer tried so hard to convince Ron about Harry’s innocence, which meant that their intense fighting had been played down to their normal bickering.

Ron’s good mood wasn’t the only positive thing about the day: spring had finally arrived in its full glory and decorated England, once again, with newly budded flowers and leaves, sunshine, and blue skies. During lunch hours, Ron and Hermione strolled down Diagon Alley, had ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s, and simply enjoyed each other’s company. When they returned to the Ministry, they still had a couple of minutes left before their shifts would start again, and so they each made a cup of tea before Hermione returned to her office, and Ron headed down to the Auror Office to assist in Dawlish’s duelling class.

Hermione had just taken the first sip of her tea when there was a knock on the door. It opened shortly after, and her colleague, Armand Sylver, stepped over the threshold.

“Hermione,” he said. “Gwyn sent me – the files you needed are waiting for you in her office.”

Hermione immediately set her cup down and jumped to her feet. “Brilliant!” she said.

Since they were heading in the same direction – Armand’s office was situated in the same area as Gwyn Stayner’s – they began walking through the corridors, side by side.

“Just out of curiosity,” Armand said. “Why do you need to see the files of all Hogwarts students with magical parents?”

Hermione smiled. “I know it sounds a bit strange, but it’s nothing like that. We’re creating a directory of all families with house-elves, and I had to start somewhere.”

The two colleagues stopped outside their boss’ office. The door was suddenly flung open, startling both of them, and the Head of the department stuck her head out and smiled at their shocked reactions. “Miss Granger!” she said. “I’m glad you’re here – these have been taking up all the space on my desk…”

She waved her wand, and two giant boxes, stuffed with parchment rolls, soared out of her office. Hermione thanked her, waved goodbye to Armand and headed back through the corridor with her wand raised to point the files in the right direction.

She smiled to herself while closing the door behind her – there were few things in the world she enjoyed more than diving into a new project, planning, structuring, and then finally, getting the work done. She sat down in her chair, reached for the teacup that waited on the desk and took another sip of it. She had time to notice the fact that the temperature was just perfect now – it had been a tad too hot before – and then, without warning, her throat closed, refusing to allow in the air she tried to draw into her lungs. Seconds later, the room around her disappeared, everything went black, and when the back of her head hit the stone floor, she had already lost consciousness.

 

 

“Ron!”

Mr Weasley’s sharp voice interrupted Ron, who was just giving advice to one of the new trainees, whose opponent kept disarming him every time he even opened his mouth. Seeing the concerned look on his father’s face in the doorway, Ron excused himself and hurried over to the door.

“What’s going on? Is everything okay?”

“Will you step outside with me for a moment?” Mr Weasley asked. As soon as he had closed the door behind them, he continued: “Don’t panic now, Ron, but it’s about Hermione. She’s in St. Mungo’s; she’s been poisoned.”

For a few seconds, Ron was paralyzed. He struggled, but was unable to move a single muscle; his father’s face faded from his view along with their surroundings, and the only thing that existed anymore was a voice inside of his head, screaming. No, this is not happening. I am not losing her. Didn’t we agree that I would never have to feel like this again? That I’d never have to worry about this again?

Mr Weasley’s hand landing on Ron’s shoulder brought him back to reality. “Mum is already on her way over there,” he said. “We’ll go too, okay?”

Ron nodded rigidly, and although later he wouldn’t remember how they got from the Ministry to St. Mungo’s, they made their way to the closest fireplace. A grey-haired wizard met them in the arrival hall of the hospital, and somewhere in the mist that surrounded Ron, his mother’s voice called for them:

“Oh, Arthur! Ron! Have you heard anything yet?”

And then they were walking again; the wizard was saying something, but his words were solely for Mr and Mrs Weasley’s ears, as Ron’s were insusceptible. There seemed to be people everywhere around them; Ron only caught glimpses of their faces as they rushed passed him – or was it the other way around? Was he the one rushing? One face was old and wrinkled, another one covered in deep, black wounds; a third one stood out among the others – the face of a small child, staring up at him, her brown eyes so painfully similar to Hermione’s. Will I ever see them again? Will they look at me like that again?

“Ron. Ron!” his mother called. Someone was shaking him.

He blinked. They had reached Hermione's room now – she was lying in a bed in the middle of it, her eyes closed and her skin so incredibly pale that for a minute, he was sure that she was dead. Only the sight of her chest, expanding and contracting with her every breath, reassured him that she wasn’t.

The grey-haired wizard spoke again. “Some of our finest healers are already brewing an antidote,” he said. “It’s such a rare poison, though – most of them have never come across it before. They’ve only managed to slow down the proliferation, but they will need to eliminate it completely.”

“Are they optimistic?” Mrs Weasley asked.

“She should have woken up by now,” was the wizard’s only response.

While they had been talking, Ron had walked over to Hermione and knelt down beside her. He enclosed her hand in his and leaned in over her to place a kiss on her forehead.

“We’re here,” he mumbled. “Me, mum and dad. And you are… you are going to be fine. I know that you are.”

His eyes were fixed on his girlfriend’s face. She was so still, so peaceful. Nothing about her appearance indicated that a deadly poison had planted itself in her blood or that it was infecting a new cell of her body for every second that passed. Suddenly, her eyelids fluttered; he waited for her to open her eyes, but it never happened. He wondered if she was dreaming, or if it had been an outlet for her pain.

“Who did it?” Mr Weasley asked. “Do you know who it was?”

“No,” answered the other man. “We think that someone added something into her teacup, but that’s all we know.”

“I’ll figured it out,” Ron whispered to Hermione, for only her to hear. “I promise you, they won’t get away with it.”

 

 

Ginny had made herself comfortable in Oliver Wood’s couch. Her feet were resting on the coffee table (of course, she planned to take them down before he came out of the bathroom and saw her – she was no savage!), the Daily Prophet lay open on her lap, and the incredibly soft pillows that Oliver’s grandfather had sown constituted her headrest. She was currently waiting for Oliver to get out of the shower, after which he would take her out to lunch for their “first official date,” as he had put it. At first, Ginny had been reluctant to commence anything with him, but then she had decided that if nothing else, it would at least take her mind off of Harry. And besides, she enjoyed Oliver’s company too much to be able to turn him down. Since breaking up with Harry, she had been more self-conscious and insecure than ever, and she had been convinced that she would develop some grim trust issues, but it wasn’t like that with Oliver. He made her feel completely relaxed, and he even managed to make her stop comparing herself to other girls and just accept the fact that he thought she was beautiful.

The sound of the bathroom door opening made her turn her head, and just a few seconds later, Oliver entered the living room, dressed in a pair of jeans and a blue shirt, water still dripping from his hair and onto his broad shoulders. He smiled obliquely at her before turning his eyes to the window.

“Didn’t you hear that poor owl?”

Ginny followed his eyes, and she gasped at the sight of the dapple-grey owl that sat on the window sill, faintly bumping its beak against the glass to try to get her attention.

“Errol!” she said, jumping to her feet. “That’s our family owl!”

She felt her stomach drop at this realisation. Errol was so old that her parents had stopped using him to send their letters – not only because he rarely succeeded in delivering them, but also because they wanted to spare him the trouble (as Ron so delicately had put it, they were “waiting for him to kick the bucket, so they can buy a new, decent owl instead”). Therefore, Ginny knew that whatever message they had to her must be something urgent, or they would never have sent the poor bird on such a long journey.

When Oliver opened the window, Ginny took a leap forward to take the parchment roll that was tied to Errol’s leg. She tore off the string that held it together and unfolded the little note.

Ginny,

Hermione has been poisoned. Meet us at St. Mungo’s.

Mum

“Oh, dear Merlin!” Ginny exclaimed.

Quickly deciding not to waste a second on explaining what was going on, she threw the note to Oliver and rushed out into the hallway to put on her shoes. Her fingers were shaking so much that she couldn’t tie her shoelaces, and she didn’t notice that Oliver had followed her until he bent down, gently pushed her hands away and did it for her.

“We’ll have lunch another time,” Ginny rambled. “And it would be great if Errol could stay here for a couple of days – he’ll probably die if we try to send him back to the Burrow so soon, and I-“

“Ginny.” Oliver straightened up and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Calm down. I’ll go with you– you shouldn’t Apparate in this state, anyway.”

Shooting him a grateful look, Ginny grabbed the arm he stretched out towards her. A few very uncomfortable seconds later, they were standing outside St. Mungo’s. They hurried inside and were ushered to Hermione’s room, where Ron and their parents were waiting.

Ginny rushed over to Hermione’s bed. Tears burned in the corner of her eyes as she turned to her dad. “How is she doing?”

She bit her lip. Hermione might have had her moments of being annoying, strenuous and even a pain, but she was also Ginny’s best friend. Gaylene and Heather from the Quidditch team might be more undemanding and easier to be around, but Hermione was the one that Ginny had always turned to. They had gone through so much together, Hermione had been her source of advice when it came to Harry throughout the years and…

Harry. Ginny cast a glance over her shoulder and felt a twinge of guilt at the sight of Oliver, who was still standing in the doorway with a concerned look on his face.

“They still don’t know,” Mrs Weasley said. “We just have to wait.”

Mr Weasley, who had followed Ginny’s eyes to the door opening, was the first one to notice that his daughter hadn’t come alone. “Oliver Wood? Is that really you?”

Oliver stepped into the room and reached out his hand. “Mr Weasley. It’s been a long time.”

“It really has! May I ask, though, what you are doing here?”

Oliver’s eyes darted over to Ginny, who hoped that staring intensely back at him would make her message come across: Don’t tell them, not here, not like this. Oliver had only opened his mouth to respond when the door opened behind him, and the blood froze to ice in Ginny’s veins.

Harry met her eyes for a few seconds that passed much too quickly; then, they swept across the room between her parents, Ron and Hermione. A small wrinkle formed on his scarred forehead at the sight of Oliver, and he cleared his throat: his discomfort was nearly tangible.

Mrs Weasley was the first one to break the silence. “Harry!” she said, stepping closer to him to pull him into a hug. “Are you eating properly? You’re so thin!”

“I’m fine, Mrs Weasley,” Harry mumbled. “How’s Hermione?”

Mrs Weasley let go of him, but one of her hands remained on his shoulder. “We’re waiting,” she said. “The healers are working on an antidote, but what we really want is for her to wake up.”

As Harry turned his eyes to Oliver, Ginny stiffened. She may not have wanted her family to know about her and Oliver, but she definitely wasn’t ready for Harry to find out about them.

“Oliver,” Harry said. “I must say, I didn’t expect to see you here.”

He reached out his hand, and Oliver smiled as he shook it.

“Well, you might have heard that I work for Quality Quidditch Supplies now? We’re actually involved with the Holyhead Harpies, and I was watching their training when Ginny received Mrs Weasley’s letter. I thought that someone should come with her, for support.”

“How nice of you,” said Mrs Weasley warmly, and Harry nodded and turned away.

Ginny felt as if an electric current ran through her body when he met her eyes again, and her cheeks heated. Oliver was nice – he was kind, thoughtful, and he had never cheated on her. So why was it that out of the two men standing in front of her, it was the one who had lied to her, who had broken her heart and chosen another girl over her, who had the strongest effect on her? Why was it his chest that she wanted to lean her head against, his arms that she wanted to be held by? Somehow, she was convinced that if he’d only tell her to, she would be able to relax and believe that things would work out, even with Hermione’s life in danger and the hovering feeling of helplessness that weighed them all down. It shouldn’t be like that, and yet, she couldn’t deny that it was the truth.

 

 

Darkness had begun to fall over town; the tree branches that had been swaying outside the window all afternoon were now hidden in the evening gloom, forcing Harry to focus on something else than the flowing movements of the light green leaves that were just inches away from brushing against the window.

Hermione’s condition had not changed. Angelina, George and Bill had all stopped by to see her, but they had left again. Mr Weasley had had to go back to work, but Mrs Weasley, Ginny and Oliver were still there. And Ron, of course – he hadn’t left Hermione’s side, not even to get something to eat. Harry wasn’t sure what Oliver was still doing there – after all, Ginny had all the support she needed now, in the shape of her mum and her brother.

No one had said anything in a long time. Ron still refused to acknowledge Harry’s presence, and not even Mrs Weasley managed to overcome the tension in the room in order to hold a normal conversation. At least Bill hadn’t been able to stay very long – the dark look he had shot Harry had actually scared him, and he had been very relieved to hear that Fleur and Victoire had needed the eldest of the Weasley siblings to come home only about twenty minutes after he had arrived at St. Mungo's. The encounter with George had definitely been more pleasant – he had even winked at Harry before hurrying back to his shop in Diagon Alley, and Angelina had showed off her engagement ring and even given him a hug, despite the dark look it earned her from Ron.

Suddenly, a mumble broke the silence; Harry quickly got up on his feet, and Ron leaned forwards to look at Hermione’s face. She blinked a few times before opening her eyes. “Ron?”

“Hermione!” Ron’s voice cracked. “How are you doing?”

“I don’t know what… Harry?”

“Hi,” Harry said and walked over to the other side of her bed without meeting Ron’s eyes. “You’re in St. Mungo’s. You’ve been poisoned.”

What? I just remember-“

“What do you remember?” said Ron eagerly. “Do you know who did it?”

Hermione shook her head. “No. I just remember coming back into my office. Everything else is blank.”

“Did you see anything suspicious in there?” Harry asked. “Had anyone been in there? Did you have any visitors this morning?”

Hermione shook her head again, but Ron gave a start with an almost triumphant look on his face. “Malfoy!” he said.

For the first time, Harry looked directly at him. What was he talking about?

“Hermione,” Ron continued, “it can’t be a coincidence that someone poisons you only a few weeks after we bumped into Malfoy in Diagon Alley!”

“Stop it, Ron,” Hermione said. “It couldn’t have been him – it’s not like I had anything to eat or drink around him, is it? And like you said, it was weeks ago! Surely this was something that happened today?”

“Yes,” Mrs Weasley said. “It was something in your tea. And you might not be Draco Malfoy’s biggest fan, Ronald, but you have to admit that he has shown a new side of himself since the war ended.”

“That’s just more of a reason not to trust him!” said Ron, who was beginning to get worked up. “That’s what he wants us to think – that he has changed! But no matter how many rules he follows now, he still has the Dark Mark on his wrist!”

“I’m with Ron,” Harry said. “I don’t trust Malfoy, and I think that we should have someone from the office look into it.”

Ron met his eyes. It was hard to interpret the look on his face, but Harry could still guess what he was thinking. Thanks, man. It doesn’t change anything, though. You still broke my sister’s heart.

“We should,” Ron said. “Mum, someone should tell the healers that Hermione’s awake.”

Harry took a few steps back and sank back into his chair. Would Ron ever forgive him? And if the answer was no, what would that really mean for Harry? He wouldn’t be able to maintain a proper friendship with Hermione, either. And that meant that one single, stupid mistake would cost him his girlfriend, his family, and his two best friends in the world. A single, stupid mistake that never would have happened in the first place, had it not been for that article in the Daily Prophet.

Harry glanced over at Mrs Weasley. Over the years, she had taken the role of the mother he had never had. She would have become his mother for real the day that he and Ginny would have got married. His gaze wandered on towards Ginny. Her eyes were fixed on the floor a few yards in front of her, her fingers were tapping impatiently against one of the chair legs, and her fiery red hair hang below her shoulders. Harry couldn’t remember her ever looking more beautiful, and he could feel his eyes fill with tears at the mere sight of her. How was he supposed to ever stop loving her? How was he supposed to find someone else who could compare to her? Despite Neville’s daily suggestions on ways to win her back, it seemed hopeless, as though he had really lost her. As though she would never forgive what he had done. Just the thought of it made him shiver, and he forced himself to tear his eyes away from her.

What was it about him that always had him ending up alone? Every time he came close to having a family, they slipped away from him. His parents. Sirius. Lupin. Ron and Hermione, Ginny, and the Weasleys. Maybe the scar on his forehead wasn’t the only sign of a curse he carried with him. Maybe he was doomed to be alone.

 




A/N: Every time I respond to a review you leave me, I worry that I haven't expressed my grattitude well enough, and that you don't see how much I really apprecaite it. The same goes for these Author's Notes that I attempt to write after each chapter. Well, in case I have failed before, I just want to tell you once again that I am so thankful, and that you make me so happy just by reading this story, and even happier by taking the time to letting me know what you think of it.

Well, Harry certainly isn't in a happy place right now. What do you think about Ginny? Does anyone agree with Ron that Malfoy must be the one who poisoned Hermione? Let me know! :)


Chapter 20: Year 2: May 2nd, 2000
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Bill Weasley rarely woke up as early as he did on the second anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. As he lifted his head from his pillow, the sun was peering at him over the horizon outside his bedroom window, only lighting up the morning just enough for him to be able to distinguish the peaceful facial features of his wife, who slept calmly next to him.

After getting up on his feet, Bill held his breath as he tiptoed out of the room, carefully so he wouldn’t wake Fleur. He continued across the hall and stopped in the doorway that led into the nursery; a thin ray of sunlight was creeping up the wall towards the cot in which his daughter was sleeping. A mobile was hanging above it – white seashells and water lilies dangled from its frame and cast a pattern of shadows across Victoire’s tiny body. Bill’s eyes filled with tears – he couldn’t believe that she was turning one already, so soon.

One year. Every parent in the history of the world had probably said it, but it wasn’t until now that Bill understood what it meant: time moved too fast. If only there had been a way to slow things down, to be able to live a little longer in each moment with his child. He couldn’t believe that an entire year had passed since the day of her birth. He could still remember all of it, so vividly that it seemed like it had just happened: Fleur, sitting on their bed, dressed in her finest gown and with her hair neatly done for the celebration at Hogwarts, breathing through a contraction before shooting him a terrified look; himself, trying to remain calm as he hastily packed their bags.

“I suppose there’s no chance you can try to hold it in until after the celebration, eh?” he had tried to joke.

Fleur, however, had not seen the humour in the situation. “I am glad you are ‘aving fun, William,” she had hissed. “Per’aps you should go to ze celebration, zen, if eet is more important zan ze birth of your child!”

Bill remembered the helplessness he had felt while pacing back and forth in Fleur’s room at St. Mungo’s maternity ward, and how not even the pain he had felt when he allowed his wife to crush every bone in his hand could keep his attention for very long. And then, after those dreadful hours of Fleur’s screaming and crying, his own sweating and nearly fainting, the healer had held up the baby, pink and smudgy and absolutely perfect, and said:

“Congratulations, Mr and Mrs Weasley. You are now parents to a little girl.”

Up until that moment, Bill had thought that he had wanted a boy. But as soon as he laid eyes on his girl, he realized how wrong he had been; he had never wanted a Mini-Bill. This was what he had wished for all along – this little girl. Victoire.

There had been nights when he wanted to cast a Muffliato Charm on the door to the nursery and just sleep; long nights when he had wondered why the human population hadn’t died out, why people still bothered to have children. But truth was that most nights, he gladly went up to check on Victoire whenever she started crying. Sometimes, Fleur protested and said that he should leave it to her – after all, it was him who would have to get up early and get to work the next morning – but he really didn’t mind. It broke his heart to hear her cry, and he didn’t want to miss out on one moment of her amazingly strong fingers closing around his thumb, her bright blue eyes looking up at him, or her lips curling into a smile, revealing her two front teeth, that had just found their way out of her gums.

One-year-old Victoire had woken up; her crying woke her father from his thoughts, he hurried over to the cot to pick her up, and then he held her to his chest as he mumbled:

“Hush, baby. Daddy is here.”

Victoire immediately fell silent. Snuggling up against his neck, she closed her eyes again, and Bill bent down his head to place a kiss on her forehead.

“Happy birthday, little angel.”

He carried her into the bedroom. Fleur had just woken up; her drowsy eyes immediately perked up at the sight of them, and she smiled widely while moving to the side to make room for them in the bed next to her.

“Who is zis big girl? Is eet really Maman’s little one-year-old?”

 

 

Many miles north of Bill and Fleur’s cottage, Harry was walking across the grounds of Hogwarts. It was still early in the morning; the first tones of birdsong arose from the Forbidden Forest, and he could picture breakfast being served at that very moment inside the castle. But despite his grumbling stomach, Harry was not heading there just yet – instead, he was walking towards Hagrid’s hut to pay his old friend a visit before participating in the celebration of the anniversary.

This year, the ceremony at Hogwarts would be of a smaller scale. All classes had been cancelled, and Harry had been invited to speak only to the students and professors. Having come to the conclusion that his only alternative had been staying at home all day, Harry had accepted the offer. The Ministry and all Wizarding business were closed, as the second of May had become a national holiday, celebrated to honour the memory of the fallen as well as to rejoice in the victory over Voldemort’s reign.

Harry hadn’t even knocked on the door when Hagrid opened it, a broad smile spreading across his bearded face. “Harry! Always good to see yeh, me friend!”

Harry smiled as he was pulled into Hagrid’s firm embrace. “You too. How’s Grawp doing?”

“Just fine,” answered Hagrid while stepping to the side to let him in. “He’s really settled into the Forbidden Forest by now. He’s bin askin’ for yeh, and Hermione, ev’ry now an’ then…” He grinned, and then he continued in a more serious manner: “But wha’ I’m really wond’rin’ is how yeh’re doin’. I’ve heard ‘bout yeh an’ Ginny, of course. I’m sorry.”

Harry lowered his eyes. “Thanks.”

“Perhaps Ron can put in a good word for yeh?” Hagrid said while putting on some tea. “Convince her to take yeh back?”

“I doubt it,” Harry said as he climbed onto one of the high chairs that stood around the table. “He hates me more than she does.”

Hagrid looked shocked. “I don’ believe that! But yeh’re such good friends, Harry, it’ll pass before yeh know it. By the way, have yeh figured out who did tha’ horrible thing to Hermione?”

“No, we’re still working on that,” Harry said. “At first, we thought it was Malfoy, but he turned out to have an alibi. And you won’t believe the irony of it all – we had him come to the Ministry for an interrogation, and when he left, he had got himself a job! I would have laughed about it if it weren’t for the fact that I still don’t trust him. Maybe it wasn’t him who planted the poison in her cup, maybe he had someone do it for him…”

A knock on the door stopped Hagrid from answering. Instead, he got up on his feet and went over to open it. “Creevey! I didn’t think it’d be long before yeh’d hear that Harry’s here.”

He stepped to the side, and Dennis Creevey, who by all appearances must have gone through a major growth spurt since Harry had last seen him, smiled as he stepped into the little hut.

“Wow, Dennis, look at you!” Harry said. “You got tall!”

Dennis nodded and grinned. “Who would’ve thought, right?”

“So how are you doing?” Harry asked. “How’s Hogwarts?”

“Well, Gryffindor has no chance of winning the Quidditch Cup this year, I can tell you that much,” Dennis said while accepting the teacup that Hagrid handed him. “Ever since Ginny graduated, we’ve… Oh, I’m sorry, Harry, I forgot-“

“Don’t worry about it,” answered Harry shortly.

Making an effort to steer the conversation away from Ginny, Dennis smiled and said: “Well, everyone is really excited to meet you. Romilda Vane has been talking about it non-stop for weeks!”

Harry tried to smile at this, but he wasn’t sure how sincere it looked. Hence, instead of practising his acting skills any further, he changed the subject again.

“I’d love to stay and chat, Dennis,” he said. “But Professor McGonnagall said something about wanting to talk to me before the ceremony, so I should probably go and find her.”

“An’ yeh should be in the Great Hall with yer schoolmates,” Hagrid told Dennis. “Oh, wait, so should I!” he remembered and hurried over to the stove to put away the teapot. “To the castle! Let’s go!”

A while later, Harry found himself standing by the teachers’ table in the Great Hall, next to Professor McGonnagall, looking out at the students of Hogwarts. His gaze lingered on the Gryffindor table – he couldn’t believe that he would never sit there and have breakfast again, or that he’d never watch the Sorting Hat split the first years between the four houses again. How many hours had he not spent at that table, impatiently tapping his fingers against its wooden surface while waiting for Ron to finish his food? How many times hadn’t he nearly spilled his drink after Hermione smashed a heavy book onto the table and almost gave him a heart attack? It was there that he and Ginny had sat, holding hands under that table in order to avoid the accusing looks that Ron would have shot at them if they had done it openly.

All of that was over. He had finished school – well, he hadn’t completely finished it, but he was done with it. If only there had been a way to go back and do it again. Compared to what his life looked like at the moment, it seemed like a fairy tale, despite Lord Voldemort, basilisks, fugitives that supposedly were set out to kill him, life-threatening tournaments and Dolores Umbridge (not that she would ever get the pleasure of torturing students again – after the war, she had been banned from working within the Ministry and any job that involved children). Harry gladly would have gone through it again, if it had meant that he’d get to have one more meal at that table next to Ron, Hermione and Ginny.

 

 

“… happy birthday to you!

The entire group of red-haired, smiling people bawled as loudly as they could, making Victoire, who was sitting on Ginny’s lap, stare at them, her big, blue eyes widened in shock. A miniature party hat had been charmed to stay on top of her blonde curls, and she looked absolutely adorable. Ron, however, couldn’t help but laugh at the baffled expression on her face.

“I know, Vic,” he told her. “But you might as well get used to it. You’ll never get any sweet singing from this family!”

“Blow out the candle!” Mrs Weasley called from the other end of the table.

Ginny leaned herself and her niece forwards, towards the giant chocolate cake, upon which one single, pink candle was burning. “One… two… three!” Victoire – or, to be honest, Ginny – blew out the candle to the sound of applause, which made the little girl widen her eyes once again before smiling and clapping her own hands together.

“It’s just incredible that she’s a year old already, isn’t it?” Mr Weasley asked as he began cutting the cake. “Time flies.”

“It really does,” Mrs Weasley said, glancing over at Bill, who was sitting next to her. She put her arm around his shoulders and smiled. “Just wait,” she told him. “Before you know it, it will be time to bring her to Kings Cross Station and send her off to Hogwarts.”

“No, don’t say zat, Molly!” exclaimed Fleur, who looked like she was going to burst into tears. Mrs Weasley leaned forwards to place her hand over Fleur’s.

“Well, it feels like yesterday that we were celebrating Ginny’s first birthday,” she said with her eyes fixed on her daughter, who had begun the messy mission of feeding cake to the birthday girl. Somehow, Victoire already had half her face covered in chocolate, and Mrs Weasley smiled and shook her head before turning to Fleur again. “And now she’s moved out. Our baby!”

She sighed and placed a hand on her chest, making Bill grin and put his arm around her.

“We’ve got a new baby in the family now, Mum,” he told her.

George, who was sitting across from Ginny, laughed loudly and ducked when Victoire dug her hands into her cake and began splashing it in every direction. “Oh, Vicky,” he said. “Just wait until you’re old enough – then we’re going to cause trouble that will turn your parents’ hair grey, you and me.”

“Vicky?” Fleur’s eyes narrowed, and George grinned.

“You’re only making it funnier, Fleur!”

“Ginny,” Angelina said while handing her soon-to-be sister-in-law a napkin. “I had something I wanted to ask you… and I think that this is a good time to change the subject, before George and Fleur start a family feud.” She grinned at her fiancé, who rolled her eyes at her, and then she smiled at Ginny. “Would you like to be one of my bridesmaids?”

Ginny smiled back at her and nodded enthusiastically. “I would love to! Thanks, Angelina.”

“Speaking of the wedding,” Mrs Weasley said. “Have you found a dress yet, Angelina? Because if you haven’t, you should know that we’ve got one in the family…”

“… and it’s the most atrocious thing that the human eye has ever seen,” George said. “And that is including the time Ron was vomiting slugs and the boils on Marietta Edgecombe’s face after she betrayed Dumbledore’s Army. That was a fantastic spell, by the way, Hermione. In case I never told you that.”

Angelina laughed. “I’m sure he’s exaggerating, Mrs Weasley,” she said. “But I’ve actually already got a dress. My aunt is a seamstress.”

“Perhaps it’s for the best,” Mrs Weasley shrugged. “It was quite old-fashioned already back when Arthur and I got married.”

“So maybe we should agree that no one has to wear it ever again?” asked Ginny hastily.

“But Gin, you are my only daughter, after all…,” said Mrs Weasley.

“Yes, don’t be so heartless, Gin,” George agreed. “You’re her only daughter. And doesn’t that dress deserve to be worn instead of just lying up in the attic, with no one to keep it company except for the ghoul? Of course, it’s fine for now, so we don’t have to ruin my wedding with it, but when the time comes for you…” He laughed at the irritated look on his sister’s face before turning to Fleur. “Or maybe Vicky can wear it when she gets married?”

“Watch it, George,” Fleur said. “Victoire is not ze only one ‘ere who knows ‘ow to throw cake!”

The sun shone like a diamond in the top of the clear blue sky above their heads a few hours later, as the whole family formed a procession and walked through the garden, heading towards the spot under the large tree where Fred was buried. The branches stretched over the spot like strong arms, protecting the physical remains of the man whose presence in their lives had granted them so much joy, but whose absence had left holes in their hearts that would never truly heal.

Bill knelt down beside Victoire and pointed at the tombstone. “Do you know who’s lying here, Vic? Your uncle Fred. Can you say Fred?”

Victoire seemed to pay him no attention; she wasn’t even looking. Instead, she bent down to touch one of the small, yellow flowers that grew in the high grass, appearing like a hundred little suns scattered across the lawn. Bill shrugged and straightened up – she was still too young to understand any of it. But just as Mrs Weasley let out a loud sob, Victoire crawled over to her grandmother, grabbed the hem of her skirt and pulled herself up to her feet.

“Fed,” she said. “Fed.”

George burst into tears, and Mrs Weasley bent down to pick up her granddaughter. “That’s right, dear,” she said, her voice thick and shaky. “Fred.”

“Fed,” Victoire repeated, pointing at the tombstone. “Myfed.”

Hermione’s eyes filled with tears. It was so incredibly cruel, how Fred had been taken from his family. Sometimes when she looked at George, she noticed that he seemed to be staring out into nothing, as if his mind was somewhere else completely, as if he was disappearing into a memory. She couldn’t even try to imagine what it felt like for him. Squeezing Ron’s hand, Hermione turned her head to look at Ginny, who was standing on her other side. She was crying silently, and Hermione pulled Ron with her as she took a step sideways and placed an arm around her friend's shoulders.

“Perhaps we should say something?” George suggested when they had stood there in silence for a while.

“Fed!” answered Victoire, the corners of her mouth lifting into a wide smile.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” George said. “Okay, I’ll go first. Fred. Freddie. We miss you. Sometimes I forget, and make a pause in the joke I’m telling, still expecting you to fill in. I always thought our jokes were funnier when we told them together… and sometimes, when I look in the mirror… You know, it’s not because I think it makes me look manly that I didn’t shave today. It’s just that I always see you in my reflection, and it hurts too much. Oh, and by the way, in case you're not keeping up with what's going on down here on earth, I’m getting married soon! I had to pick Ron, but I think that you know he’s just my backup best man.” He winked at his younger brother and took a deep breath before continuing: “I love you. I miss you. And I hope you’ll be there for the wedding anyway. Perhaps you could give me a sign, or just whisper something, to let me know that you’re there?”

Bill took over after George fell silent. “Fred,” he said, his voice deep and steady despite the fact that his hands were trembling and his eyes were glossy. “I really wish you could have met my daughter. Ron says he’s the winner, and George claims it’s him, but I think you’re her favourite uncle. After all, yours is the only name she knows how to say already! But I really wish she could have met you. I really wish I could meet you again, at least just once, so that I’d get to talk to you, hug you or maybe just sit with you for a while. But I hope that wherever you are is nice, and that you’ll meet us there when our time has come.”

“My son,” Mr Weasley said, kneeling down in front of the tombstone and touching the soft, green grass that now covered every inch of what had been an open wound into the ground nearly two years earlier. “I’m sure we’ll meet again one day, but until then, I hope that you’re still here with us. We’re always going to miss you, in every moment of every day. We love you. Sleep tight, son.”

 

 




A/N: So, with the risk of sounding like a broken record, I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the love you are giving this story, for your helpful comments and for reading the story at all. I really can't explain how much it means to me.

And yes, that was year 2. I've decided to end each year (except for year 19) with May 2nd. As for this chapter, I hope that you liked at, and any comments at all that you might have about it is both very welcome and will be very appreciated. :)

Also, I hope to be able to keep the updates quite frequent now that I'm done with school. Since you are such lovely, wonderful readers, I really want to express my appreciation somehow, and since frequent updates are something that I appreciate as a reader, I'll try to give you at least that. (I really hope I'll be able to live up to it too, haha!) Once again, thank you for stopping by, and please leave a review if you've got a minute to spare.


Chapter 21: Year 3: A family gathering
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Molly Weasley’s arms were busy stirring the content of one of the large pots that cluttered up her stove; her mind, however, was busy elsewhere, far from the kitchen in which she had been standing for the past half hour, absently watching her children. They had gathered around the table and were now hungrily awaiting the lunch she was preparing. Of course, not all of her children were there. Not Fred – the thought caused a sting in her heart – and not Ginny, who had decided to stay in Holyhead to rest before her big match the following day. Another one of Molly’s children was missing as well, and he had been for the last couple of months during those family gatherings: Harry was not there.

She may not have given birth to him or raised him, but in terms of the love she felt for the young man, Harry Potter was without doubt her son. Lacking a mother of his own, he had become attached to her already in the beginning of their acquaintance, and her maternal instincts had turned out to stretch farther than her ties of blood. When they had been away hunting Horcruxes, Molly had worried about Harry the same way she had worried about Ron, and nothing could have made her happier than seeing him and Ginny together, happily in love. She hadn’t been able to stop herself from thinking it: it will be perfect when the two of them get married – then, he’ll be our son for real. So her sadness at finding out about their breakup had not only been for Ginny’s sake, but for his as well and, although she was too ashamed to admit it out loud, for her own – she was absolutely devastated over not being able to see him, over having to exclude him from their family gatherings. Two years ago, she has lost one of her sons. Now, she was on the verge of losing another one.

Mrs Weasley had never even considered the possibility of Ginny and Harry breaking up before. In a way, the dynamic between the young couple had reminded her of the beginning of hers and Arthur’s relationship, and so she had thought it self-evident that they would stick together. And then, without warning, Harry had been forced out of Ginny’s life – of all of their lives. It wasn’t until Mrs Weasley had seen him again at St. Mungo’s a few weeks earlier that the realization had truly hit her: he had lost everything. The thoughts that had followed had stirred up another wave of guilt inside Mrs Weasley, but for a brief second, she had been furious with Ginny – with her own daughter – for not forgiving him. For keeping him from them, even if that had never been her intention. Mrs Weasley knew that she wasn’t supposed to feel that way, and so she had tried her best to stay away from her black-haired son, to not think about the pain he was going through, in order to maintain her loyalty to Ginny.

But she quickly learned that not thinking about it was not an option; it was always there, in the back of her mind, another type of guilt: the guilt of abandoning Harry. The guilt of not being there the way she had promised herself, the way she had promised Lily Potter that she would when visiting her grave in Godric’s Hollow. It had been only a few months after Fred’s death, and she had knelt down beside the Potters’ grave, closed her eyes and whispered into the summer wind:

“Hello, Lily. We’ve never met, but I think you may be aware of the fact that I know your son. And now I suppose you’ve met mine. I hope he’s not causing too much trouble up there.” Here, Mrs Weasley had made a pause to supress her tears – she would allow herself to cry later, once she had said all that she needed to say. “Harry is so brave, so strong. He’s done so well, and I’m sure that you’re immensely proud of him. In a way, he and Fred are alike now: Harry’s family was taken from him, and Fred was taken from his family. So maybe we can ma- make a deal,” she sobbed – the will of her tears turned out to be stronger than her own determination. “If I take care of Harry, can you promise me that you’ll take care of our Freddie?”

Two years had passed since she had made that promise, but she hadn’t forgotten it. And she couldn’t let herself give up on it.

“Boys,” she said, making five heads covered in red hair turn towards her. “I’m going to invite Harry over for lunch.”

Charlie, who had returned to England for the forthcoming wedding between George and Angelina, began laughing. “You can’t be serious, Mum!”

“Yes, Charles, I am.” Mrs Weasley placed her hands on her hips and let her stern gaze wander between her sons. “Harry has practically been part of this family for ten years, and regardless of what happened between him and Ginny, we shouldn’t just shut him out. Bill, Ron and George… you met him at St. Mungo’s; you could tell how miserable he was, couldn’t you? And he’s like my own son. I would have never shut any of you out.”

“Yeah, but he’s not your son!” Ron said. “You’re not his mother. Do you know whose mother you are, though? Ginny’s – remember her?”

“Yeah, Mum,” Bill agreed. “I don’t know how you can even suggest it. In the future, if anyone ever does something like that to Victoire… he’d never set his foot in my house again, I would make sure of it!”

“I’m not asking for your permission,” said Mrs Weasley determinedly. “I am inviting him, and you’re not even going to think about being rude to him, do you hear me?”

“Go on, then,” Ron said. “Invite him. But don’t expect me to be nice to him. Perhaps I can stretch it to not talking to him at all.”

Mrs Weasley shot her boys another stern look before spinning around on the spot and walking over to the fireplace. Then, she knelt down and stuck her head into the flames. Green light blinded her, and then, as her vision slowly came back, the furniture of Harry’s living room materialized in front of her. “Harry!” she called. “Harry, are you home?”

The sound of steps answered her question. In the next moment, a pair of gymnastic shoes appeared before her eyes, and then, as he sank to his knees, Harry’s face replaced them.

“Mrs Weasley!” he said worriedly. “Is everything alright?”

“Everything is fine, dear,” Mrs Weasley answered. “I just wanted to invite you to lunch.”

Harry looked hesitant. “Lunch? Do you mean… at the Burrow?”

“Don’t worry, Ginny won’t be there,” Mrs Weasley said. “And I’ve told the boys that they have to behave. It’s just… I miss you, Harry, and I can’t stand thinking about you sitting here in your flat on your own, when you could be there, with your family.”

For a brief second, the hint of a smile lit up Harry’s face; then, as if it had been only imagination, it was gone again.

“Mrs Weasley,” he said. “Even if I do think of you as my family, and even if I miss you too, I don’t think it’s such a good idea for me to just show up like that. I mean, Ron, Bill… they all hate me.”

“Nonsense,” answered Mrs Weasley. “Now, you might as well agree to come, because I won’t take no for an answer.”

Finally, Harry smiled. Shrugging, he said: “I guess I have no choice but to come, then, do I?”

A few minutes later, having passed through endless of fireplaces all across Great Britain, a familiar one appeared in front of him, and he stepped out into the Weasleys’ living room. Half of him wanted to turn back, but the other half knew that he would never have been able to turn Mrs Weasley’s invitation down – not after everything she had done for him. Besides, even though sharing a meal with a whole bunch of Ginny’s angry brothers didn’t sound very appealing, maybe it would give him the chance to talk to Ron.

Harry couldn’t remember the Burrow ever being so quiet. It was such an unfamiliar atmosphere that didn’t suit the old, crooked house that had once been its home; this way, quiet and unwelcoming, it didn’t seem like it was the same place.

Out of all the people who were sitting at the table, staring at him, only three were smiling: George, Mrs Weasley and – much to Harry’s surprise – Percy. George stood up, walked over to Harry and shook his hand.

“How are you doing, mate?” he asked.

Harry shrugged. No matter what his reply would be, it probably wouldn’t sound too good – neither admitting that he was feeling terrible nor pretending that he was fine, which might give them the impression that he had stopped caring about Ginny, seemed like a good alternative. So he ignored the question and said:

“How about you, George? Are you still engaged?”

“Yeah.” George grinned. “Why? Did you think I would have fled already?”

“No, not you, but maybe Angelina,” said Harry, grinning back at the tall, red-haired young man. From the corner of his eye, he noticed that Charlie was smiling too – it wasn’t much, but it reinstalled a sense of hope somewhere inside him.

The sound of steps made Harry aware of the fact that another two people were entering the kitchen – Hermione and Mr Weasley. The latter stopped next to Harry and George and placed a hand on the younger boy’s shoulder.

“It’s nice to see you again, Harry,” he said.

Hermione gave Harry a hug and smiled brilliantly at him. “You’re here?”

“Obviously,” Harry answered, smiling back at her. “How are you doing?”

“I’m fine,” she said. “Completely recovered. Ron says that the investigation is standing still at the moment, right?”

“Yes, we still have no idea who did it,” Harry said with a nod. “Don’t worry, though. We’ll figure it out somehow.”

The sound of more steps – and, of course, the number of plates on the table – indicated that not everyone had shown up yet. Sure enough, only a few moments after Hermione and Mr Weasley a few more faces turned up in the door way. Angelina walked directly over to Harry to hug him, and Fleur stopped next to them, holding little Victoire in her arms.

Mon Dieu,” she said. “Eet ‘as been so long.”

“It really has,” Harry agreed. “I can’t believe how big Victoire is!” He reached out his hand towards the little girl, who instantly wrapped her fingers around his. Then she stretched her arms towards him. “Do you remember me?” he asked. “Harry.”

“I zink she wants to go to you, ‘Arry.”

Victoire happily climbed from her mother’s arms to Harry’s, her large, blue eyes fixed on his face. Harry smiled when she wrapped her small, soft arms around his neck, and when Fleur walked over to the table to sit down next to her husband he bent his head down, so close that his lips were almost touching her blonde curls as he whispered:

“I’m sorry I missed your birthday.”

As if to respond, Victoire reached up a chubby hand and placed it on his cheek. Harry was surprised to find how he moved he was by this – his vision went blurry as tears filled his eyes, and he stroked the baby’s back with his free hand. She was so little, too little to understand what went on around her; even if she would have looked around the room, she wouldn’t have noticed her father’s stiff posture, her Uncle Ron’s dark eyes or the fact that the distance between Harry and her family was much farther than the one between them and herself. She didn’t know any of it, and so she accepted him whole-heartedly; it was as if she forgave him for everything.

As they sat down at the table, the Burrow became silent once again. Angelina, Hermione and Mr and Mrs Weasley attempted to keep the conversations going, but with a few reluctant participants – mostly Ron and Bill – they quickly died out shortly after they had begun. Sighing, Mr Weasley turned to Harry, who had just been thinking about how he wished he hadn’t come, and said:

“So what have you been up to lately? Since last time we talked?”

“Oh, you know,” Harry mumbled. “I’ve been working. Spending time with Teddy.”

“… bringing random girls to his flat,” Ron continued, his voice full of spite. Then, he choked on the food he was chewing on as Hermione elbowed him in the ribs.

An old frustration began rising up inside Harry; he struggled not to let it burst out. Why did Ron refuse to try to understand him? Harry really didn’t know what he was doing there at all – why had he agreed to have lunch with a group of people who not only strongly disliked him, but who had put him in this situation to start with? Yes, he thought angrily, it was their entire fault – if they hadn’t doubted him and mistrusted him, he wouldn’t have been so frustrated that December night, and he wouldn’t have got so drunk, and he wouldn’t have…

He swallowed and lifted his eyes. “No, Ron,” he said calmly. “I haven’t seen any girls since then.”

“Oh really? Did the sensation wear off?” Ron continued. “Perhaps the Chosen Boy who Lived isn’t so interesting anymore? Especially not since the Daily Prophet revealed your true colours.”

Harry stood up so hastily that his chair fell over, but he paid it no attention. “Sod off!” he yelled, a little louder than he had intended. “You don’t know anything, Ron! You have no idea what I’m going through…”

Now, Bill intervened. “What you’re going through? What about what Ginny’s going through? That’s right – Ginny – do you remember her? You know, the girl whose heart you broke, whom you lied to and cheated on? Does it ring a bell?”

“No, it actually doesn’t,” Harry replied. “Because I didn’t lie to her, and I didn’t cheat on her. The only person who lied was that Ruby girl. And yes, I made the mistake of going out with my friends in an attempt to drown my sorrows with alcohol. When I woke up the next morning, there was a girl there with me. But for the life of me, I cannot remember what happened or how she ended up there. And believe me, nothing pains me more than knowing that I didn’t just hurt myself, but Ginny too.”

“Harry,” Mrs Weasley said. “Please, sit back down. You have barely touched your food.”

“I don’t think your sons would like that,” Harry said, his eyes meeting her tear-filled, brown ones. “Thank you for trying, though. And thank you for being like a mother to me all these years. I understand that it has to stop now, since your family won’t accept me. But thanks.”

Mrs Weasley’s lower lip was trembling – for a moment, Harry thought that she was going to have one of her infamous outburst and scold her eldest and her youngest son. But before anything happened, Mr Weasley pushed back his chair and rose to his feet.

“Boys,” he said. His voice was calm, but Harry knew it well enough to pick up on the seriousness behind it. “I’m not going to accept you treating Harry this way. I believe what he’s saying, and he doesn’t deserve such rudeness.”

“Yeah, I agree, Dad,” Charlie said. “So he hurt our sister, and we’re supposed to hate anyone who hurts our family. But honestly, hasn’t he been punished enough? He already lost Ginny.”

He and Harry exchanged a look, and Charlie nodded. Then, Harry smiled faintly at Mr and Mrs Weasley before turning around to leave. Before he had reached the fireplace in the living room, however, someone came after him.

“Harry, wait!”

Furrowing his eyebrows, Harry turned around. He must have heard it wrong – surely, it couldn't be him? But if his ears had tricked him, then so did his eyes. Percy was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, his cheeks red and his glasses slightly askew.

“Whatever happened that night,” he said, “I just want you to know that I… regardless of what Ron says, or Bill… it’s okay.”

“It’s okay?” Harry repeated.

“Well, you know… it’s not okay, but I understand that it was a mistake,” Percy said, “and therefore, I forgive you.”

Harry blinked. “But… why?”

Percy cast a glance over his shoulder before turning his head back towards Harry. “Because I have to believe in forgiveness,” he said. “Had it not existed, then I wouldn’t have been here with my family – I would have been having lunch alone somewhere, forever paying for the mistakes I made.”

He reached out his hand, and Harry shook it.

“Thanks, Percy.”

A few more faces turned up behind Percy – Hermione, who smiled encouragingly at Harry, Mr and Mrs Weasley, George and Angelina.

“I’m so sorry about this,” Mrs Weasley sniffled.

Harry forced himself to smile. “It’s not your fault, Mrs Weasley. And I’m fine. Really.”

“Don’t worry,” George told him. “Not all of us came in here to cry. I had something I wanted to ask you. I know that it’s kind of last minute, but I need another groomsman for the wedding. What do you say?”

“Is that really such a good idea?” Mrs Weasley asked. “Ginny is one of the bridesmaids, remember?”

“Bah,” George answered, waving his hand dismissively. “We’ll pair her up with someone else in the bridal train. Besides, it’s my wedding, not hers. She’ll just have to manage.”

“In that case,” Harry said, “I’d be honoured.”

Perhaps he was mad for agreeing to do it, but despite whatever protests his brain might have had, one thought drowned out all the rest: this was his chance to talk to Ginny again. Had he not just convinced parts of her family that he had been telling the truth? Then there was still hope. He could picture it happening – she would be sitting alone at one of the tables, and he would simply walk up to her, reach out his hand and ask her to dance. His warm fingers would close around her ever so cold ones, and while she would probably be a bit reluctant at first, after a while she would finally lift her head and he would get to look into those wonderful, deep eyes again – if only he’d get to do that, then the rest would work itself out.

 

 

Oliver Wood, being too busy eyeing the Irish-British Quidditch League table, wasn’t aware of the fact that his official girlfriend of exactly one week was staring at him. Her eyes were examining every inch of his face, from his almost unnaturally long eyelashes and sharp jaw lines to the newly shaved, soft skin on his chin. He was breathing slowly, and more loudly than he probably was aware of. Ginny smiled.

“Hey, Oliver?”

He turned his eyes away from the Sports Section of the Daily Prophet. “Yes?”

“Will you be my date to George’s wedding?”

“Do you really think that will end well?” Oliver said and laughed. “Have you even told your family about us yet? I know that Percy knows, because he lectured me about age difference in relationships when I ran into him in Diagon Alley the other day...”

“Well, did you remind him of the fact that I’m almost nineteen?” Ginny wanted to know.

“Yes,” Oliver said. “And of the fact that I’m actually a good guy.”

Ginny laughed. “Well, my Mum knows too,” she said. “Remember when you let Errol rest at your place for a couple of nights? I had to tell her where he was, so I decided to just tell her all about us. As for the others, they will have to find out eventually, right? And I don’t see what the problem would be – they all like you.”

“Okay, if you’re sure, then I’ll be your date,” Oliver said before leaning forwards to kiss her. When they broke apart, he grinned. “I can’t promise you that I’ll be able to keep my hands off of you, though,” he said. “I’ve seen the bridesmaids dress in your room, and I just know that you’re going to look irresistible.”

“You have to try,” Ginny answered, raising her eyebrow. “If you promise to be a good boy, I might let you see me not wearing it when we get back.”

“I think I’d like that even more,” said Oliver forcefully as he wrapped his arms around her. “Honestly, I don’t know what Angelina was thinking when she asked you to be bridesmaid.”

Ginny quickly wriggled out of his embrace and threw a pillow in his direction, but he reached out his hands and caught it before it hit his face.

“I only meant that it’s crazy, because you’ll put her in the shadow when you’re standing up there!” he added quickly. “And don’t forget – I was a Keeper. I might not be able to fly anymore, but I’ve still got my reflexes, Gin.”

Ginny’s heart fluttered at the mention of her nickname, said so many times by a different voice, in a different tone, with another depth that she couldn’t quite explain – after all, it was only a nickname. And yet, it did what most things seemed to do those days – it awoke the thoughts of Harry, it made his face appear before her eyes, and it set her imagination off to a place miles and miles away from Oliver.

 




A/N: Year 3, here we go! I'm exited for this - each year feels like a new start, in a way. What did you think of Mrs Weasley's actions/thoughts/feelings in this chapter? I really just felt that it was time she tried to do something. Even if Bill and Ron are still being total jerks to Harry, things are looking a bit better, aren't they?

For those of you who are tired of seeing Harry and Ginny apart, I think you will enjoy what year 3 has to offer. Next time, there will be a wedding... does anyone have any theories about what will happen?

Also, I reallly can't believe this, but my story was chosen as July Featured Story in the Hufflepuff Common Room on the forums! That just blows my mind. I am beyond grateful and flattered. I'm also beyond grateful to all of you wonderful readers, both for reading my story and for letting me know what you think of it. I can't really explain how much I appreciate it!


Oh, and by the way: "Mon Dieu" is French for "My God" :)


Chapter 22: Year 3: George and Angelina's wedding
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Harry appeared out of thin air on the gravel road that led from Ottery St. Catchpole to the Burrow – the muffled pop that followed his apparition still rang in the warm summer air when he stumbled forwards and struggled to regain his balance. The last month had been hot, and so the grass on the fields that flanked the road was not entirely green, as it had been the last time he had been there. Instead, a shade somewhere between yellow and brown took up each corner of Harry’s visual field as he turned in the right direction and began walking.

He heard it before he saw it – further down the road, a group of trees had been strategically planted to keep wandering villagers from seeing too much of the Burrow, and so he could not yet see the crooked house that filled his heart with such a mixture of feeling nowadays – it was such a strong reminder of happiness, it awoke such yearning inside of him while simultaneously adding to the bitterness that had grown in him ever since the day he had sat in the living room of that house, trying to convince Ginny that his love for her was in fact real.

The sounds of voices and laughter, like an intensified version of the sounds in his happy memories of the place, floated together into a blur that stretched past the formation of trees. Music was playing, glasses tinkling and hands clapping – Harry cast a glance on his watch, but no, he wasn’t late. The wedding hadn’t started yet, but perhaps the early guests hadn’t been patient enough hold off the celebration.

The road curved, and the Burrow appeared before his eyes, like a shabbier, much more slanting version of castle. In the same moment that he set foot on the courtyard, the door was flung open and an old friend stuck her head out, smiling widely at the sight of him.

“Harry!” she said. “I thought you’d never come!”

It was Alicia Spinnet, his old teammate from the days when he had played for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. She was wearing a pink dress in some soft, light material (knowing Angelina, Harry was sure that it was Mrs Weasley who had picked it out), and she looked absolutely stunning.

“Alicia!” Harry said. “Wow, I don’t think that I’ve seen you since…”

“… since the first anniversary,” Alicia completed his sentence. “And now we’re going to walk down the aisle together – we’ve been paired up in the bridal train.”

She grinned and Harry laughed. Then he said:

“Well, it’s nice to know that there will be at least one friendly face up there.”

They stepped inside, into a living room that was busier than ever. There were people everywhere, running up and down the stairs, in and out of the kitchen, carrying things, waving their wands at things, cleaning things – Mr Weasley was nervously casting glances over his shoulder while swabbing the window, as if he was scared that his wife would realize that he had missed a spot while cleaning it the day before. His wife, however, was too busy crawling on the floor, trying to find a lost earring, to pay him any attention. A dark-skinned woman with long, black hair divided into a hundred little braids on her head, who could only be Angelina’s mother, was pointing her wand at a veil to make it soar, a few inches above the ground, up the stairs without getting soiled. Harry smiled at Percy, who was talking to someone on the other side of the room, and turned to Alicia again.

“Things are a bit chaotic, aren’t they?”

Alicia laughed. “Yes. I went upstairs to check on Angie a few minutes ago – she’s about to break down, because she’s so stressed. Look – at least Ginny is finally here.”

She nodded at the window, and while his heart took a small leap inside his chest, Harry turned his head to look through it. There she was – walking across the courtyard, wearing a dress identical to the one that Alicia had on. The wind was playing in her long, red hair, and Harry simply couldn’t tear his eyes away from her.

Someone said: “Ginny’s here!” and in the next moment, Mrs Weasley had abandoned her search and rushed over to the door to open it. “Finally!” she said as her daughter stepped inside, “we thought you had forgotten.”

Ginny smiled and shook her head. While she turned to the side to say hello to Katie Bell and Lee Jordan, Mrs Weasley spotted her husband, who was still working on the stain on the window, his ears red and drops of sweat rimming his hairline like a string of tiny little pearls. Her eyes narrowed, but after casting a glance on her watch, she seemed to decide that she had no time to yell at him, and so she rushed into the other room instead.

Meanwhile, Ginny laughed at something Lee had just said, and then her eyes swept across the room and accidentally paused on Harry’s face. Her smiled died out; for a few seconds, they were just staring at each other. Then, she nodded shortly and turned her back on him.

“So, you don’t talk at all anymore?” asked Alicia, who had apparently seen their barely perceptible greeting. “I mean, Angelina has told me about your breakup, but…”

“I think she hates me,” Harry answered, clenching his jaws together. Suddenly, he couldn’t remember why he had agreed to come at all. If he had thought that not seeing Ginny was bad, it was nothing compared to this: to seeing her, but not being able to talk to her. Nothing could be as bad as standing so close to her and yet not being in the same world.

“You’d think she would have let it go by now,” Alicia muttered under her breath, and a wrinkle took form on Harry’s forehead. Hadn’t she always liked Ginny?

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“You know, now that she’s moved on,” Alicia said. “Now that she’s with Oliver.”

Harry could have sworn that his heart stopped, that the blood froze in his veins and that every organ in his body shut down; if only for a short moment, he died right there on the spot. “Oliver? Oliver Wood?” he cawed.

As the realization sank in, his body began to spring back to life – his hands started shaking, and he had to lean against the bureau behind him to make sure he wouldn’t fall. He closed his eyes. Don’t even think it, because it can’t be true.

Alicia’s hands were all the confirmation he needed, though, as he watched them fly up to her mouth; neither her gasp nor the words that followed were really necessary, because he had understood already.

“Oh, Harry! I thought you knew!”

She placed a hand on his shoulder, but he barely felt it. He was too busy falling apart.

Now that she’s moved on.

Ginny had moved on. She was with someone else now. Suddenly, Harry was gripped by a strong urge to push the bureau over, to throw the vase that stood on it to the floor and watch it break into tiny pieces; he wanted to run out, find Oliver and rip him apart, and at the same time, he wanted to just go home.

The image of Ginny and Oliver at St. Mungo’s appeared before Harry’s eyes – they were sitting an appropriate amount of inches apart and Oliver was tapping his fingers against his knee. Ginny’s eyes were fixed on them, as if the inconsistent pattern of soft thuds was the most fascinating thing she had ever seen. Another image replaced the first one: this one wasn’t real, but simply a product of Harry’s imagination. And yet, it was the worst one he could have seen: Oliver’s hands around Ginny’s waist, her head against his chest, their lips…

“I can’t stay,” Harry whispered. “I can’t do it.”

"Harry!" Suddenly, Alicia had gone from sympathizing to annoyed. "Get yourself together, and don't even think about ruining this day for George and Angelina. You knew that Ginny would be here, and if it's too much, you shouldn't have agreed to come in the first place. But it's too late to back out now!"

Harry knew that she was right. He hadn't been invited for Ginny's sake, and he shouldn't have come for her sake either; he was there for his friends, for George and Angelina, and they counted on him. Excusing himself, he scurried over to the bathroom, passing Ginny and the others with his gaze determinedly fixed on the floor. Once inside, he straightened up and took in his own reflection in the small, cracked mirror that hung above the washbasin. Get yourself together, he inwardly told the black-haired boy, whose face was, just like the mirror, full of little cracks; it was as if this reflection showed his true self - his broken self. It's too late to back out now.
 

 

It was about to begin. However, beginning was made difficult by a group of gnomes, who had seized the opportunity to form a choir. They were now standing on the middle of the lawn, bawling their hearts out, much to the dismay of the band, who constantly had to start over in their attempts to begin playing. The singing – if that was the right word, Ginny thought, since the high-pitched voices were painful, more than anything else, to listen to – could be heard all the way into the house, where the bridal train was waiting to join George at the altar.

Peeking out the window, Ginny could see her mother yelling at her father for not clearing the garden of gnomes before the wedding (of course, the yelling would probably have been a lot more intense if she had known that he often sneaked food into his pockets at dinner and fed it to them when he got the chance, which was one of the main reasons why the gnomes refused to leave the Burrow). George, however, was only laughing and clapping his hands each time the little creatures began a new song.

Finally, after getting half of the guests involved in chasing the gnomes away, Mr and Mrs Weasley sat down, and the music could begin. Ron reached out his arm towards Ginny with a smile on his face and said:

"Ready, sis?"

She grabbed his arm, and then they walked out the door. The sun was perfect, Ginny thought as they made their way to the aisle and the awaiting guests - not too warm, but just enough to keep her bare legs from freezing. She smiled at George as they reached the end of the aisle, and he smiled nervously back at her before saying something to the little wizard who had been the officiant for Bill's wedding and Dumbledore’s funeral, and who had offered his services for today as well. The little man blushed and chuckled, and Ginny rolled her eyes before letting them wander towards the crowd of people. Neville Longbottom winked at her, and Professor McGonnagall bent her head down with a faint smile on her lips. Charlie gave them the thumbs up as they reached the front row, and Mrs Weasley let out a sob. Once again, Ginny rolled her eyes - the wedding had barely started, but of course her mother was already crying! As they reached the altar, Ron and Ginny let go of each other. Ron went to stand on George's right side, while Ginny stopped on the little wizard's left. She caught Oliver's eyes just as Lee Jordan and Katie Bell began walking down the aisle. His smile was warm, and he looked absolutely impeccable in his newly bought dress robes.

Ginny's heart did not take a leap, however, until Harry and Alicia appeared at the other end of the aisle. Harry's clumsy way of grabbing Alicia's arm stirred up a fluttering in her abdominal area, and as they began walking, Ginny explored his face, each familiar feature, with hunger - she took in the shape of the scar on his forehead, his nose, his lips, the greenness of his eyes... Eyes that refused to meet hers. Eyes that carefully avoided as much as glancing at the spot where she stood, that were directed to the left instead, to a certain broad-shouldered, brown-haired young man named Oliver.

It was as if an electric shock ran through Ginny's body from the moment she knew that Harry knew. Someone had told him, and now, he couldn't help but stare at his old Quidditch Captain, as if just the sight of him would be some sort of explanation. Ginny wanted to leave her place at the altar, take Harry's arm in Alicia's place, and whisper to him that it wasn't true. "He's not my boyfriend," she wanted to tell him. "They're lying."

Because truth was, Ginny hadn't wanted him to know. She realized how stupid it was, since it had been her choice to bring Oliver as her date, but now that the moment was there, she regretted it. If Harry knew, then it was real. That was the line, the mark that said that there would be a new name next to hers in all sentences now: When will Ginny and Oliver get here? Did you invite Ginny and Oliver? Guess who I ran into this morning - Ginny and Oliver!

The soft melody of the harp faded into the traditional wedding march, and Ginny tore her eyes away from Harry, who had taken his place next to Lee, and turned her head to look at the bride. Angelina was stunning, wearing a white dress that appeared to be shimmer in the sunlight. Her hair was pulled into a fantastic hairdo that brought out all of her best features, and she was clinging to her father's arm as they walked together towards the altar, where George and the others were waiting. Ginny glanced to her left to look at George, and she was filled with warmth when she saw the look on his face. It was radiating love and happiness; he appeared to find it impossible to take his eyes off of his bride. Ginny couldn't remember seeing him so genuinely happy since Fred's death, and it was such a comfort to see that it hadn't gone away for good.

Never in her life would Ginny have guessed that George would be the next Weasley sibling to get married after Bill; in fact, up until recently she would have been prepared to bet a fair amount of Galleons that he would be the last. But in that moment, it was clear to her why he was the first - Angelina brought out that happiness in him again. Making a mental note to thank her new sister-in-law for pulling George back to his feet, Ginny smiled as Mr Johnson placed his daughter's hand in George's and the guests took their seats.

"Friends and family," said the little wizard as the bridal couple turned towards him. "We have gathered to witness the uniting of this young couple, the confirmation of a lifelong bond of love between George Gideon Weasley and Angelina Ruth Johnson..."

 

 

After the ceremony, the guests had gathered in the giant party tent behind the house (a recycling of sorts from Bill and Fleur's wedding three years earlier). The music was loud and the dance floor was full of a bunch of already tipsy guests, most of which were red-haired, of course. Hermione, who was sitting at a table next to Charlie and Hagrid, kept herself entertained by watching them dance, since her companions' conversation about dragons failed to do it. She laughed at the sight of Mr Weasley, who was swinging around with little Victoire in his arms. His granddaughter giggled delightedly as he jumped around, completely out of sync with the music, of course. A few yards away from them were the newlyweds, doing some sort of ridiculous dance routine, much to the joy of those around. They were such a great couple, Hermione thought just as someone grabbed her hand and nearly gave her a heart attack.

"May I have this dance?" Harry asked, and then he pulled her to her feet without waiting for a response. They made their way to the dance floor and joined the others.

"So," Harry said after a couple of minutes in silence. "You could have given me a heads up. About Ginny and Wood."

"I didn't hear about it until this morning!" Hermione said. "She has been very secretive and… Oh, Harry, I'm so sorry! You must feel terrible!"

"Yes," Harry said, glancing at his former girlfriend, who was in the middle of wrapping her arms around Oliver's neck as the music slowed down. "But it's not like she would take me back anyway, right? Is she... is she happy with him?"

"I really don't know," said Hermione truthfully as she tried to interpret her friend's facial expression. "Like I said, she hasn't been talking about him at all. I might be wrong, but I think that's a sign that things aren't too serious. At least she's not crazy about him to the point where she can't talk about anything else, right?"

"I don't know," Harry mumbled. His green eyes glistened in the light of the floating lanterns that were scattered all across the dance floor. "I hope that he makes her happy."

The song ended, and since he spotted Ron heading in their direction, Harry decided to give up on dancing and walked over to Neville, who sat at one of the table, entertaining Teddy by pointing his wand at the centrepieces and making them dance around on the tablecloth.

"Harry!" exclaimed the little boy happily at the sight of his godfather. "Look! They dancing!"

He clapped his hands when two little twigs jumped out of the bouquets and began doing pirouettes and Harry smiled as he sat down next to him.

"I heard about Ginny and Oliver Wood," Neville said while continuing to wave his wand. "If it makes you feel any better, you're not alone in your misery. I wrote to Luna, you know, to see if she was coming to the wedding. Her father is here, as you may have noticed." He nodded towards Xenophilius Lovegood, who was spinning around on the dance floor with one of Angelina's tall, dark-skinned aunts. "But apparently, she decided to extend her trip. She met a whole group of people like... like her, and they're convinced that they're going to find the Crumple-Horned Snorkack...."

"I'm sorry, Neville," Harry said. "But she'll be back eventually, won't she?"

Out on the dance floor, the guests had stopped dancing and were now clapping their hands and wolf whistling as George and Angelina kissed each other. Teddy began giggling and pulling at Harry's sleeve.

"Kissing!" he said. "Kiss, kiss, kiss!"

Then, the child turned his attention towards something behind Harry, smiled and said: "Ginny!"

Harry spun around. Indeed, Ginny was standing a few yards away from them, smiling and waving at Teddy. Then, as he reached his arms towards her, she hesitated for a moment before walking over to them to pick him up.

"Hi, Teddy," she said softly. "I've missed you."

Harry watched as she tickled the little boy and ruffled his currently brown hair. They still hadn't said a word to each other, and he wished that he could think of a way to break the silence.

"Kiss!" said Teddy suddenly. Ginny laughed, bent down her head and kissed his cheek. "No, no!" Teddy giggled and turned his face away. "Harry kiss!"

Ginny cast a quick glance at Harry. "Do you want Harry to kiss you?"

"No! Ginny Harry kissing!"

"I don't think so, Teddy," Ginny answered, and her cheeks instantly turned dark red.

"Why-y?" Teddy whimpered, thumping his fists against Ginny's shoulder.

“Teddy, we don't punch each other," Harry admonished, making Ginny meet his eyes again. He forced the corners of his mouth up into some kind of strained smile before continuing: "Punching is mean. And Ginny and I don't kiss anymore, Teddy."

"Why-y? Why?"

Harry wished he had known the answer to that question. Sure, he knew why they had broken up, but he couldn't explain it to Teddy, because if it had been up to him, they would have still been together.

 

 
Ron, having quickly decided that dancing wasn't worth the trouble (even if it was with Hermione) had left the dance floor to get a second round of food. His mother, Percy, Audrey and George kept him company at the table. Mrs Weasley's cheeks were redder than usual, and Ron suspected that she had had a few too many glasses of cherry wine.

"And soon," she said, her voice slightly higher than it normally was, "I think that the two of you should settle the matter and get married!" She winked at Percy and Audrey and then she continued: "You know, Audrey, if Percy is anything like his father he might need a few... hints... to be pushed in the right direction, so to speak, if you ever want to see him get down on one knee!"

George and Ron laughed at their brother's vermilion face, but George quickly became serious again when their mother turned to him instead.

"And you," she said, placing her hands over his. "Now you're married! And even if we do have little Vicky now, I miss the sound of little feet against the floor..."

"By Merlin's pants, mother!" George said in shock. "Slow down! We've only been married for a couple of hours!"

Ron burst into laughter, and before it came back to bite him - unless he fled, he was convinced that Mrs Weasley would begin attacking his and Hermione's relationship - he rose to his feet and hurried on his way. He spotted Hermione standing across the room, talking to one of Mrs Weasley's ancient aunts, and he decided to take one for the team and ask her to dance, after all, in order to save her from the terrifying old woman.

"Thanks," Hermione whispered to him a few moments later, when they were standing on the dance floor, their cheeks pressed against each other and his arms around her waist.

"Anything for you," Ron mumbled into her hair and grinned. She snorted, and Ron became serious as he continued: "Did I mention how lovely you look tonight?"

"Yes," Hermione smiled. "Only about seven times before we had even left the flat. You don't look too bad either, you know."

"And did I mention that I love you seven times as well?" Ron asked

Hermione reached up and kissed him softly. "I love you too, Ron Weasley. Even if you drive me mad sometimes, I really do love you."
 

 

"Italy, here we come!"

George smiled triumphantly as he grabbed his suitcase with one hand and Angelina's hand with the other. Then, he pulled her towards the Portkey - an old book that looked like it was one read away from falling to pieces - that would take them on their honeymoon. All of their friends and family stood a few yards away, waving one last time before the bridal couple bent down, put a finger each on the book and disappeared.

All around Ginny, the guests began saying goodbye to each other. She smiled as Hagrid patted her shoulder, and Katie Bell and Lee Jordan stopped in front of her and Oliver.

"It was so nice to see you again," Katie said. "Now, I should go and put this one to bed. We're having dinner at my parents' house in the morning, and they already think he's a slob. We don't need to confirm it by showing up looking like two wrecks!"

"They only think I'm a slob because she went out with Mr Perfect Healer before me!" Lee protested. "You know, Ginny, George and I have been discussing opening Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes in Hogsmeade, and he wants me to run it. But Mr Bell,” he said while rolling his eyes, “would rather see his daughter with someone a bit more… serious.” He grinned as he shook his head, as if to emphasize the absurdity of it, and Ginny laughed.

“So you won’t be able to save her life if she’s ever in danger,” said Oliver with a shrug. “At least she’ll die smiling, right?”

He didn’t know. Ginny’s smile left her face so quickly that it might have never been there at all, and she wanted to back away from him, away from that arm that rested on her shoulder and felt so heavy, all of a sudden. But it’s not his fault, she tried to tell herself. He didn’t know, because he hadn’t been there to hear Percy’s description of how it had happened; he hadn’t seen the tears streaming down Percy's face so vigorously that he had had trouble forming any words at all, and he hadn’t heard their mother’s wailing or seen the pain in their father’s eyes in the moment that they had all learned how Fred had been taken from them. With a smile on his face, just like how we always knew him, Percy had said.

Ginny’s eyes sought after Harry and found him, standing next to Angelina’s brother Jonathan and discussing something with him. As Ginny watched, the two young men were approached by Mr and Mrs Johnson, who shook Harry’s hand before hugging their son goodbye. Harry knew. Harry would never have said it.

Oliver touched her arm and recaptured her attention. “Are you ready to go?” he asked her.

It was as if the words spoke themselves when she opened her mouth: “I’m sorry. I know that we were supposed to go back to my place, but… I just really want to spend a little more time with my family, and I think they’re all staying here tonight…”

“That’s fine,” Oliver said. “You don’t have to explain yourself. We’ll just meet up at the match on Sunday, okay? Or you can stop by my place tomorrow, if you feel like it. I’ll be home.”

Ginny nodded, allowed him to kiss her on the cheek, and then she watched as he raised his wand and disapparated.

 




A/N: So, there was a lot of Harry moping around in this chapter, I know, but finding out that your ex has moved on is just terrible. Although, as I think you can tell, Ginny might not has moved on as much as he thinks...

Thank you again for reading, for reviewing and for adding this story to your favourites. It means so much to me, and I'll be thrilled to hear what you thought of this chapter as well. Also, if anyone is interested in reading more about the gnome choir, check out my submission story for the House Cup 2013 on my Author's Page. It's the weirdest thing I have ever written... ;)


Chapter 23: Year 3: Revelations and breakthroughs
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The vast amount of space left in the lift as it began moving upwards was an indication of the fact that it was a quiet morning at the Ministry of Magic. Aside from Hermione and Ron, there was only one other person in there: a very old wizard with grey hair, who leaned against the wall and looked like he had actually fallen asleep there, standing up and with his briefcase in hand. Ron had been trying to supress his laughter at the situation during the entire ride, and Hermione was relieved when the lift stopped at his floor so that he could get out and go share the story with his friends from the Auror Office. As she smiled and waved at her boyfriend, she thought sadly of the one young man who wouldn't get to laugh with the others at this – Harry, of course.

After climbing another four floors, Hermione stepped out of the lift as well, leaving the sleeping man to travel up and down the Ministry, as she had no time to check whether he was actually awake or not before the door closed behind her.

"Hermione!" Armand Sylver, her colleague from the department, was just coming out of the lift next to theirs, and now, he greeted her with a smile.

"Good morning, Armand," Hermione replied.

"So have you heard yet?" The blond, slightly overweight man raised one unnaturally thin eyebrow (Ron was sure that he picked them) and a shrewd expression took over his face. When she shook her head, he continued: "Gwyn hired a new assistant, finally! You'll never guess who it is, though!"

Hermione laughed at his enthusiasm while they walked through the corridor that led to both of their offices. "Tell me," she asked. "I have absolutely no idea, so you're right - I can't guess."

"Draco Malfoy!" Armand looked content when he saw the shock in her face. "I know! Who would have thought that a former Death Eater would care about magical creatures?"

"He doesn't," Hermione said quickly. "Armand, during our third year at Hogwarts, he nearly got an innocent Hippogriff executed. It attacked him, but only because he showed it no respect! He just refused to listen to anything that Hagrid said... And don't even get me started on their house-elf! You should have seen the way the Malfoys treated Dobby before Harry tricked them into freeing him..."

Armand furrowed his thin eyebrows. "Hum," he mumbled. "In that case, how about we pay Gwyn a visit in her office and ask her to explain why in the world she would hire him?"

Hermione nodded, and they turned around to walk back to their boss' office – the first door in the long corridor. They reached it, Hermione knocked on it, and then it flew open so quickly that it nearly hit her in the face. Instinctively, she took a step back and walked into Armand, who laughed and reached out his arms to keep her from falling. "Smooth," he whispered, his eyes glittering with amusement.

Inside the office, Gwyn Stayner lowered her wand, brushed a stray of fair hair from her face and nodded at her visitors. "Hermione. Armand."

"Is it true?" Hermione asked as she sank into one of the visitors' chairs that stood across from Gwyn at the desk. "Is Draco Malfoy going to work here?"

"Before you continue, Miss Granger, I just have to point out the fact that Draco, unlike his father, was never convicted by the Wizengamot," Gwyn said. "As a result, I can't refuse to hire him because of his history - employers have the right to refuse Death Eaters a job, but since he walked free... I think you can see the conflict."

"But it's not just that," Hermione insisted. "He hates animals and magical creatures of all kinds! With all due respect, I think that you're making a mistake. I am the last person to protest against giving people a second chance, but in this case... of course, I have the magical creatures' best interest at heart, and they deserve better than Draco Malfoy!"

"How touching, Granger."

Hermione spun around. She hadn't heard the sound of the door opening, but it must have, because there he was, standing leaned against its frame: Draco Malfoy. She didn't know what she wanted to do first: laugh, cry or sink through the earth, so instead, she just stared at him, her mind (for what must have been one of the first times in her life) completely blank.

"Mr Malfoy!" Gwyn said. "Just in time. I think that you already know Miss Granger, and this is Armand Sylver."

Malfoy reached out his hand towards Armand, who shook it while laughing nervously. "A pleasure to meet you."

Malfoy smiled and rolled his eyes - Hermione couldn't blame him, as it was obvious that Armand didn't find it even remotely pleasant. To be honest, he looked quite scared, and judged by his sinking chest, he appeared to let out a sigh of relief as Malfoy turned away from him.

"I am actually glad that you're here, Miss Granger," Gwyn continued. "I would have shown Mr Malfoy around the department myself and inform him of our different projects, but I just received a tip about a centaur conflict in Northern Ireland, so Amos and I have to go up there and see what we can do. I trust that you'll show him around in my place and make him feel welcome."

And before Hermione had the chance to protest against this, she had rushed out the door.

"Amos? Is that...?" Draco began.

"Cedric's father? Yes." Hermione met his eyes and sighed. "Look, I don't know why you're here, but if you've got some ulterior motive..."

"I don't." Malfoy looked dead serious.

Again, Hermione sighed. "Okay," she said. "Come with me then, and I'll introduce you to the others..."


 



Neville's voice echoed inside Harry's brain as he balanced Hermione's teacup on his desk. That's Meriona. We never learned of it in Herbology class, but it was in this old book that Professor Sprout lent me. It nails itself onto the inside of your throat and expands for each breath you suck in, thus choking the victim within minutes. It's a miracle that she's alive at all.

So who would have both known about the plant and had access to it – it wasn't exactly the type that most people had in their garden – while also wishing Hermione such harm?

A knock on the door woke Harry from his thoughts and he looked up just as Gawain Robards, the Head Auror, stepped into his office. Since he had been away chasing Death Eaters and only just returned to England, Harry hadn't spent that much time with him yet, but his first impression was positive. Gawain was an impressive, very tall wizard whose deep eyes and curious way of expressing himself reminded Harry a bit of Dumbledore. Perhaps that was why he had taken a liking to him so soon.

"Harry," Gawain said, his smile forming a pattern of lines across his face. "I see you're still busy with that cup." His gaze flickered to the stack of papers lying next to it on the desk and his smile grew wider. "Don't worry. You won't be stuck inside the office for much longer now. John has certainly been a spectacular substitute in many ways, while I have been gone, but he hasn't quite realized the difference people like yourself and Mr Weasley could make out in the field."

Harry lit up. The long months of paperwork and endless of hours sitting in his office with no company but the bare walls had nearly driven him mad, and they had planted seeds in him of the same bitter attitude towards work that he had towards his personal life. However, if things were about to change, if he would soon be able to do the work he had dreamed of doing, those seeds would never grow into anything bigger.

"Thank you so much!" he said. "This is what I have wanted all along!"

"I remember what it was like," Gawain replied and winked at him. He turned around to head back to his own office, but froze in the middle of the movement. "You know," he added. "Eating Meriona is deadly, but smelling it won't do you any harm."

For a while after he had left, Harry simply stared at the wall he had just closed behind him. Then he turned his eyes back to the cup and hesitated for a moment before lifting it up towards his face. Breathing in through his nose, he nearly dropped the cup as he registered the smell. It is one of the wondrous things about smells – they have a way of bringing you back in time, to those small, seemingly insignificant moments that you barely thought of when you lived them. But a smell can pick up that memory, one you didn't even know you had, and bring it forth, as vivid and clear as something that happened only yesterday. The smell of Meriona brought Harry back to an autumn day almost exactly three years earlier. He had been in the Ministry of Magic that day too, only on the first floor and in disguise – as a big, tall man with a black beard. In that exact moment, he had been busy searching the drawers of a desk similar to the one he was sitting at now – a desk belonging to Dolores Umbridge. He he had been looking for Slytherin's locket – the third Horcrux – and so he had opened the bottom drawer. It was from there that the smell had come, but he had only felt it for a few short moments before he had closed it again. Its content (two green twigs and a quill) had not been interesting to him at that time.

Now, however, the memory was nothing if not interesting. Hastily placing the cup in front of him, Harry leaned back in his chair. Could it really be Umbridge who had poisoned Hermione? And if so, for what reason? Sure, Umbridge had worked at the Ministry during Voldemort's reign, actively helping in the persecution of Muggle-borns, but Harry had always assumed that her involvement had merely been due to her desperation to climb further up the positions within the Ministry, that she saw it as a way of benefitting her own needs. She was far from being a good person, but he wouldn't have guessed that she was capable of murder.

Standing up so quickly that for a moment, blackness seemed to take over his visual field, Harry had to lean against the wall for a moment while waiting for his blood to reach his head. Then, he grabbed the cup and rushed towards Gawain's office.

His boss stood in front of his desk, smiling as Harry opened the door, as if he had been expecting him.

"Umbridge!" Harry exclaimed. "Did you know?"

"I recognized the smell too," Gawain nodded. "You figured it out a lot faster than I did, though."

"So you really think it was her?" Harry asked.

"We're about to find out. Williamson and Dawlish have already gone to get her," Gawain responded while pulling something out of his pocket. It was a silver watch, whose hands seemed to spin in every direction without purpose, but Gawain followed their movements attentively before turning his eyes to Harry again. "Just as I thought," he said. "Here they come."

They did indeed; only seconds after the words had left Gawain's mouth, a clearly aggravated Dolores Umbridge appeared in the door opening behind Harry, the two Aurors holding on to one arm each. A rush of gloat filled Harry for a moment as he watched his old professor – back in Hogwarts, her hair had never been so... imperfect, and her pink skirt never so full of wrinkles. He had to admit that it was a joy to see her cheeks burn with anger as she pulled her arms out of Dawlish and Williamson's grips.

"Being dragged out of my own home," she said, "it is absolutely scandalous! Cornelius would have never allowed it – nor would Pius, he was-"

"... a Death Eater?"

Harry's sharp voice made Umbridge jump. For a couple of seconds, she met his eyes. Then she turned her head away and smiled sweetly.

"Of course, I am very relieved that... that little problem is out of the world. Don't ever accuse me of supporting Death Eaters, Mr Potter. I admit we have had our differences throughout the years, but surely you're not suggesting that I would have..."

"Assisted in catching Muggle-borns?" Williamson asked while shutting the door to keep the conversation from reaching any curious ears that might pass. "You were convicted for that after the war, weren't you, Dolores?"

"I was under threat!" Umbridge yelled, her eyes widened into little, round orbs. "I was in a difficult situation and saw no choice but to cooperate. I only did what they ordered me to do! You must understand, Gawain... John, weren't you in a similar position to mine?"

"Not quite," Dawlish responded with a laugh. "If I remember correctly, you were convicted of abetment. I wasn't."

"John really was being threatened," Williamson said, "while you..."

"You just wanted to get more influence," Harry said. "You saw your chance of extending your power and you took it."

"And I am serving my punishment," Umbridge said firmly, "so if you'll excuse me, I have better things to do than just reminiscing those dark times..."

"Oh no, not so fast!"

Dawlish stepped to the side to block Umbridge's way after she had made an onset towards the door, and she froze.

"That's not why we brought you here, Dolores," he said, crossing his arms over his chest. "We think you know very well why you're here today."

"It can't be a coincidence that the woman who was in charge of controlling Muggle-borns also had in her possession the very rare plant that was used to poison a certain Muggle-born young woman a couple of months ago," Gawain said. "You were blinded by your own propaganda, weren't you, Dolores? You fell for your own lies, and now you want to uphold the standards that Lord Voldemort tried to enforce on the people of this country. You didn't have time to get the Dark Mark on your wrist, but that 's all that's missing, isn't it? Am I right?"

"No!"

Everyone's heads turned in the same direction, towards the person who had spoken. It wasn't Umbridge - she looked as surprised and confused as the others. No, it was Harry.

Meeting four pair of eyes, Harry pulled his fingers through his messy hair and began pacing back and forth as he explained himself. "She's not a Death Eater," he said. "She never agreed with them - not then, and not know. She doesn't hate Muggle-borns; in fact, Hermione being a Muggle-born really is just a coincidence, isn't it?"

"If what you're saying is true, why would she have poisoned her at all?" Dawlish asked. "It doesn't make any sense."

"Yes it does." Now, Harry was smiling. "I have already explained why she participated in the persecution of Muggle-borns, haven't I? She was just after power. She loved being Fudge's confidential one when he was the Minister for Magic." Harry noticed Gawain's eyes enlightening with some sort of comprehension, but as Dawlish and Williamson still didn't understand it, he continued: "What was the dream, Umbridge? Becoming Minister for Magic yourself?"

Umbridge snorted, but didn't respond.

"Well, that will never happen now," Harry said, "because according to the verdict of the Wizengamot two years ago, you are not to work at the Ministry or within any sort of political business... and we have Hermione's very convincing testimony during your trails to thank."

"So are you going to admit straight away, or would you like a sip of Veritaserum first?" Gawain asked.

Umbridge hesitated. She opened her mouth to say something, and then she shut it again. Her eyes wondered between Harry's triumphant, Dawlish and Williamson's confused and Gawain's proud facial expressions. Then, finally, she opened her mouth again:

"Yes, I did it, all right? But only because that girl ruined my life! Look at me, look at what she has done to me! I have nothing left, and it's all her fault!"

"Perhaps you should think a little more about that in Azkaban," Gawain said, "because that's where you'll be staying until your trial."

A while later, Harry and Gawain were alone inside the large office with wooden panels that darkened the room and made it seem a bit smaller than it really was. Gawain walked over to Harry and patted his shoulder.

"You should be proud over that deductive reasoning you just pulled off," he said. "It can take you far. You were the only one out of the four of us who understood Umbridge's motives, despite the fact the rest of us have been Aurors for many years... Congratulations."

Harry lowered his eyes for a moment and shrugged. "I got lucky," he said. "I'm sure you would have figured it out in the next moment if I had kept my mouth shut. It just came to me, it has nothing to do with skill-"

"Modesty is another trait worth treasuring," Gawain smiled. "How do I express my appreciation for your achievement this afternoon, Harry?"

"There is one thing I'd like to ask," Harry said. When Gawain nodded and raised his eyebrow while waiting for the request, he cleared his throat and continued: "I would like to be the one to tell Ron about this."




Ron had been sitting in Harry's chair for the last couple of minutes, listening to the explanation of Hermione's poisoning. Now, he rose to his feet, walked over to his best friend and pulled him into a hug - yes, Harry was still his best friend, despite everything that had happened between them. For a long time, Ron had forgotten, but now he remembered that fact; now that they stood in front of each other, Harry's hair sticking up the way it always did, he was reminded of something so important that he wanted to beat himself up for allowing himself to forget: Harry was and always had been his very best friend.

He had spent almost a year hating him. He hadn't been able to see beyond Ginny's tear-filled eyes in order to notice the person standing behind her, his shoulders crouching and his forlorn eyes making him look years older than his actual twenty.

Truth was that Ron could spend endless of hours with George in his shop, come with Andrew Saxby and Justin Finch-Fletchley to the Leaking Cauldron a million nights, but they would always be hours and nights that he should have hung out with Harry. Even if Ginny made him laugh and Hermione understood him better than anyone, none of them could take the place as his best friend.

Once the two young men had let go of each other and cleared their throats a couple of times in a poor attempt to lighten the mood, Ron said:

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that I've refused to listen to you all year. I'm an idiot, I really am."

"I'm sorry I broke Ginny's heart," Harry responded. "If I could make it undone..."

"I know. I hope you'll get her back," Ron said. "Not because I don't like Oliver, it's just... he's not you. He doesn't seem to be able to make her as happy as you did."

Harry's voice was hoarse and his eyes dark when he replied: "She's not going to forgive me, Ron. If she won't believe me, there is nothing I can do."

"I don't think it's up to you to do anything," Ron said. "It's up to her. And there's something I can... I have to go," he said suddenly. "I'd love to stay and talk but..." His eyes flew over to the empty desk by the other wall that hadn't been used for so long. "Perhaps I can move my stuff in here again tomorrow? And we'll talk and...?"

He fell silent, and Harry nodded. "That sounds good." He walked over to the door and stopped to look back over his shoulder. "I'm watching Teddy tonight, so I really can't stay either. I have..." He seemed to debate on whether he should complete his sentence or not, and then he shrugged. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Harry!" Ron said just before the door closed, and Harry stuck his head in again. "I really am sorry. I've missed you."

For the first time, Harry smiled. "I've missed you too."




The idea had come to Ron during one of his many arguments with Hermione on the subject of Harry. At the time, its purpose had been to prove Hermione wrong about him, but now, things had shifted. And so Ron found himself standing in front of the grand, white house in the countryside of England that he had tracked down back then, for the second time in his life, ready to set in motion the plan he had abandoned somewhere along the way the first time – ready to, if things went well, prove the innocence of the friend he had failed and thus, hopefully, beginning the process of mending their friendship.

The iron gates leading into the property were high and dark – at a first glance, they reminded Ron of the Malfoys' home, and he imagined a traditional pureblood family meeting him when he rang the doorbell. Then, the two cars on the driveway caught his eyes - most likely, these people were only wealthy Muggles. He walked through the gate and followed the path that led to the front door, accompanied by the sound of birdsong and gravel scrunching under his soles. A white, furry cat appeared and brushed against his legs. He bent down to pet it, and as it began purring contently, he smiled in surprise.

"You're nice," he told it. "A lot better than Crookshanks. I thank Merlin every day that Hermione's mum decided to take him in when we moved into our flat."

"Does she have anything interesting to say?" asked a voice from somewhere to the left.

Ron looked up. A dark-haired, pretty girl stood a few feet away from him, smiling as he blushed and straightened his back. She looked like she was about his age, but she was dressed in a very girly, pink dress that made her seem so young.

"Hi!" he said quickly. "I'm sorry for just showing up like this... my name's-"

"Ron Weasley," the girl said. "Of course. Every witch and wizard in this country knows that."

"And you're Eleanor?" he asked.

"I prefer Ellie," she laughed. "But yes, that is my name."

"In that case, we need to talk," Ron said. "Do you want to do it here?"

Ellie looked up at the serious tone in his voice, sat down on the step that led up to the front porch and shrugged. "Go ahead, then. Talk."

"This is about Harry," Ron said. "And the night you spent in his flat. When my sister stopped by and found you there."

"I remember," Ellie nodded. "So what do you want to know?"

"What really happened," Ron said firmly. "Harry and my sister broke up because of it, and I need to know if it... nothing happened, did it?"

"Yes, it did. We slept together. What else would we have done?"

"See, I don't think you did," Ron said. "Harry can't remember a thing from that night, which I find kind of strange. I've talked to his friends; the ones who were with him at the bar... they say it's a miracle that he even made it home in that state. So are you going to tell me the truth or not?"

"I'm telling you the truth!" Ellie argued.

"In that case, I would like to see it."

"See it? How are you...?"

Ron pulled something out of his pocket - it was a glass bottle, so small that it fit onto his palm when he held it out towards her. "I want to see your memory from that night, or I won't believe you."

A wrinkle formed on Ellie's forehead as she snorted. "Are you sure you want to see your best mate... doing that?"

"I'll have Harry watch it himself then," Ron said. "Either way, I need you to give it to me."

Ellie looked at him defiantly. "And why should I?"

"Because this is their lives we're talking about," Ron answered. "Harry just can't move on, because he feels like their breakup was for nothing and that she is the only one he wants to be with. So whatever happens in that memory... whether it's what you say it is or what I think it is, it will help him. If you did sleep together, then he'll know that Ginny broke up with him for a good reason, and he'll be able to process it, to accept it. If nothing happened, then Ginny needs to know that. Please. Whatever it may be, I need to know the truth."

Ellie lowered her head. She kept her eyes fixed on her own feet when she began talking again. She drew a line in the gravel with her toes, smoothed it out and drew it again, all while refusing to look at him.

"Nothing happened," she said quietly. "I just wanted it to look like something did, to be able to tell my friends it did. I... I cast a Confundus Charm on him and told him he had agreed to take me home with him. All night before that, he had only talked about your sister... so we went back to his place and all we did was sleep."

Ron shook his head at this, at hearing the truth that made him even more of a jerk than he had thought he was: the truth that he and Ginny and their family (at least parts of it) had shut Harry out for nothing. That they were the bad ones, the ones who had been mistaken – the ones who had broken Harry and Ginny up. It was them who had caused Harry all that pain.

"Thanks for telling me," he said, his voice just as thin and quiet as Ellie's.

She lifted her head. "Will you... are you going to tell people?"

"I'll tell Harry," Ron said. "And Ginny. Our family. But I don't think you have anything to worry about. No one's going to come after you - we're not going to want to waste another second on you."

The white cat meowed as he turned around to leave. This time, he ignored her and walked away, leaving her sitting on the lawn, completely clueless as to why he suddenly showed her no affection; perhaps he was transferring his anger towards Ellie onto her. Either way, no one scratched her white, soft belly that afternoon, and the cat thought it a pity.

 

 




A/N: Yay, the future looks a little brighter! It is what most of you have been asking for, isn't it? And I felt like Ron had to be the one to reveal the truth, to make up (at least a little bit) for the way he has been treating Harry. I think that one of the amazing things about their friendship in the books is how easily they always forgive each other, and so while it might take a while for things to go back to the way they were, they will get there! 

Does anyone believe Malfoy when he says he has no ulterior motives? Do you think he's just developed a newfound interest in magical creatures?

As for Umbridge, she's always been wiling to do almost anything for power, and I don't see her as someone who can accept defeat. Also, I really wanted to punish her, because she IS evil, even if she's not a Death Eater.

Again, I just want to thank all of you a million times for reading, for taking the time to share your thoughts on each chapter and for being so lovely to me. I appreciate it so much, and as always, it would mean the world to me if you'd take the time to leave a review now that you've finished reading :)


Chapter 24: Year 3: Reconciliation
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Friends laughing. Was there, to be honest, a lovelier sound to be heard in this world? Hermione certainly couldn't think of one when she let her gaze wander between Harry and Ron's smiling faces as they tried to tell her the story of Justin Finch-Fletchley's disastrous duel with another boy at Auror Training the day before. They were talking loudly, both of them eager to get to the punch line, and every now and then they would make a pause in the storytelling to bend over the table in fists of laughter.

It was a moment like a million others the three of them had shared before, and yet, Hermione couldn't remember ever having felt such joy in it any of those times. How she had missed this, this friendship that could not be replaced by spending afternoon's at Harry's flat or days of enjoying alone time with Ron. There had been a couple of periods throughout the years, since the day that they all met for the first time on the Hogwarts Express, that they had been apart. There had been that time in the beginning of the Triwizard Tournament when Ron had refused to speak to Harry. Hermione and Ron had been angry at each other after the Yule Ball that same year – not to mention those weeks during sixth year when Ron had been with Lavender Brown and Hermione had, reluctantly, spent time with Cormac McLaggen to get back at him. And then there were those winter days during the Horcrux hunt when Ron had left them… If there was one thing that all of those periods had in common, it was how wrong it had felt. It didn't matter if Hermione had been on speaking terms with both Harry and Ron, or how much she appreciated being alone with either of them sometimes; she needed moments like this one too – moments when they were all together, just like they had always been.

"... you should have seen the look on his face, Hermione!"

"Yeah, it was worse than the time Ron accidentally hexed himself and started spitting slugs!" Harry grinned. "He had lost all control over his wand..."

"And that's a bloke who's supposed to have our back out in the field in a year!" Ron added, and the two of them howled with laughter at the mere thought of it.

Hermione smiled and shook her head at them. She had been too occupied with her own thoughts to pay attention, and so she didn't know exactly what poor Justin had done, but she didn't mind. She was just happy that they were all reunited, and that things had slowly begun to go back to normal. Frankly, she hadn't believed it when Ron had come home from work a couple of weeks before and announced that he thought that he and Harry might be friends again. But here they were now, in hers and Ron's flat, having lunch together – all three of them – and it was wonderful.

"Well," Harry said a while later, once they had all finished their food and Ron had "done the dishes" (Hermione thought that expression was a bit too laudatory, considering all he did was flick his wand, and then they were clean). "Thank you so much for this, it was delicious. I supposed I should let you two leave for Holyhead now."

Hermione studied his face; still, it seemed as though he couldn't think of Ginny without that sadness showing in his eyes, or that yearning taking over his features. She walked over to him and gave him a hug. "Harry, I-"

"I hope they win," Harry interrupted her. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"And you're absolutely sure you don't want to come?"

"Yes, I am." Harry took a step back from her and smiled, waved at Ron and walked over to the fireplace to head homewards.

As soon as he was gone, Ron hurried across the room towards Hermione and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Have I ever told you how much I love the food you cook?"

Hermione grinned. "I've guessed it... I mean, considering the amount of it that you shovel down your throat every day..."

She was interrupted when he bent his head down to kiss her. Then he said:

"And did I tell you how much I love living with you? I mean, it's not just the food..."

When he lifted her shirt, she grabbed his arms to stop him. "It's not that I don't enjoy that part as well," she said, "but we really must get going. The match starts in twenty five minutes!"

 

 

Holyhead Harpies' arena wasn't the biggest one in the league, but its bleachers were close to the pitch, which created a sense of intimacy, and there were barely any seats from which the sight was limited. The fact that it was surrounded by the stunning beauty of the Welsh nature didn't hurt either, Hermione thought as she followed Ron through the rows of seats with her eyes fixed on the treetops that perked up behind the stadium and swayed in the heat that seemed to have decided to linger in Great Britain for a for weeks longer than most years.

"Here they are!" said Ron and stopped so suddenly that Hermione nearly walked straight into him. "Wow. They must really like Ginny, to give her tickets to these seats!"

And it wasn't so strange that they did – from their spectacular seats with perfect view over both sides of the field, Ron and Hermione cheered loudly as they watched Ginny defend her team against the league favourites, Wigtown Wanderers, and managing brilliantly over the following hour.

"Will you look at that?" shouted the speaker after another one of her feats. "Weasley literally drags the Quaffle out of Wigtown’s hands; Smith doesn't seem to know what just hit him! Of course, the visiting team is in the lead still, but let's see what Weasley has to say about that... she passes to Turkowski... back to Weasley... and she scores! Watch out, Wigtown, because this match is not over yet!"

"Almost," Ron said and turned towards Hermione. "Do you see that? Holyhead's Seeker has spotted the Snitch!"

He pointed at the dark-haired player dressed in green, who was diving down towards the ground on her broomstick, aiming for a spot near the opposite bleacher from the one where Ron and Hermione were sitting; something golden glittered in the sunlight just a couple of feet above the grass there.

"I can't watch this!" Hermione covered her eyes with her hands as the Seeker got closer and closer to the ground. She was going to crash, Hermione was sure of it...

"And Katzenberger has caught the Snitch!" the speaker called out. "Holyhead Harpies maintain their home field winning streak; perhaps they'll even be a speculator on the league title. Look at that – Wigtown Wanderers and Montrose Magpies are going to have to step up their game if they want to keep Holyhead Harpies be-"

The cheering of the audience as Katzenberger stretched her gloved right hand into the air drowned out the rest of his sentence. When squinting, Hermione could just barely distinguish a pair of golden wings fluttering between her fingers.

"Ginny would never shut up about it if they won," Ron said. "Holyhead Harpies have never won the league. Wouldn't it be typical if they did this year, the same year that Ginny started playing for them?"

"Typical? I think it would be fantastic, actually. She's an incredible player, Ron, even I can tell that. You should be proud of her." Hermione shot her boyfriend an admonishing look, and he burst into laughter.

"Okay, okay, Mum!" He dodged Hermione's playful punch and grinned.

"Well, I think we should go down and congratulate Ginny!" Hermione said as the people around them stood up and began moving towards the exits.

They followed the flow of people down the stairs, but instead of walking through the gates on their left they turned right and headed towards an opening in the fence that separated the bleachers from the pitch. By all appearances, the large, muscular man who guarded it seemed to recognize them, because he actually blushed as he stepped aside to let them in, which Ron, of course, found hilarious. He giggled as Hermione dragged him out of earshot of the poor man.

"He had me a bit worried there, for a second!" Ron said. "A scary bloke, that's what I thought... until he blushed! Talk about ruining one's image!"

"You're one to talk," said a familiar voice, making both him and Hermione turn their heads to the left. "You blush all the time. Of course, you don't look scary to start with, so I suppose it's not quite the same thing..."

"Ginny!" Hermione said. "You were brilliant! Congratulations!"

"Thanks, Hermione! I'm so glad that you both came," Ginny said, beaming with joy. "Ron, what did you think of that free throw that gave them the lead?"

"Looks to me like the Wigtown Wanderers go to acting classes after training," Ron said. "It was ridiculous – your keeper barely touched him!"

"I know," Ginny said. "I didn't think that you'd come," she then continued, as they began moving towards the dressing rooms. "Mum said you had plans for today. She was being very secretive about it, for some reason..."

"We had Harry over for lunch," Ron explained. "But I said we'd come, didn't I?"

Ginny ignored the little leap that her heart took at hearing Harry's name and cleared her throat. "So everything is back to normal between the two of you now?"

"I know that you still haven't talked to him," Ron said. "But you know what I told you about that girl – Eleanor. And you can't really expect me to be angry with him after that."

"I don't," Ginny said. "In fact, I don't think I am either. Not anymore. I've… he was right all along, wasn't he? When he lashed out at me for not trusting him – he had every right to do that, because I should have trusted him. I can't... how is he doing? Is he alright?"

"He's doing better than before," Hermione said. "But I think he still misses you."

Did he really? Could he really miss her, after what she had done to him? Ginny had been trying to supress her own guilt ever since Ron had told her what had really happened between Harry and that girl, but it was getting more and more difficult every day. She had avoided seeing Oliver for nearly two weeks – how would she manage to even look at him now? She had been able to justify being with him to herself with one simple argument: he's been good to me, Harry hasn't. It had been her way of denying her own feelings for months now, but since learning the truth about Harry she had also realized something else. The only reason that she wasn't with Harry anymore was because of her own blindness, her own stubbornness. It had nothing to do with some mistake that Harry had made or Oliver being so sweet and understanding. It was her own fault and no one else's.

"Ginny," Hermione said. "I'm sorry for asking, but I have to know... do you really want to be with Oliver? I mean..."

Ginny met her eyes, and then she shook her head slowly. "No, I don't think I do. I've been trying to make it feel the same, but he's not... It doesn't matter what I do, if I'm still in love with Harry. And I am."

Hermione and Ron exchanged a look and smiled at each other, as if they had been cooking up a plan that would eventually lead to this very moment: her admitting her feelings out loud. Finally.

Then, a figure behind Ron and Hermione caught Ginny's eyes, and her heart sank into the bottom of her chest; his facial expression said it all; he had heard what she had said, maybe even their entire conversation.

Ginny's heart beat loudly and nervously as she, a couple of minutes later, walked through one of the narrow corridors inside the arena, heading for the Broomstick Servicing room - or, as Darren Weinhold called it, Oliver's office.

Oliver hadn't turned around once; he was walking a few steps in front of her, quickly, determinedly. She wished that she could read his mind, and yet, she didn't want to know what he really thought of her now. What was she supposed to tell him? Didn't he deserve a real explanation? She wasn't sure that she'd be able to give him one. But didn't everything he had done for her count for anything?

As soon as Ginny had stepped over the threshold into his office, Oliver closed the door behind her. She met his eyes, took a deep breath and prepared herself for explaining what couldn't quite be explained, but Oliver opened his mouth first.

"You don't have to say anything," he said. Much to Ginny's surprise, he was almost smiling when he stepped forwards and grabbed her hand. "I think I've known all along. That Harry is always going to be the one you really want, I mean."

"You have?" Ginny said. "Because honestly, I didn't know it myself. I don't want you to feel like I've been trying to lead you on..."

Now, Oliver smiled – faintly, but it was still a smile. "I know you haven't. And even if I think I'm in love with you, and you've enjoyed my company, there are some things that we can't change. Harry being the love of your life, for example."

The love of her life? Was he?

Yes, a voice inside Ginny's mind answered. Because if he weren't, she would have got over him, she would have fallen for Oliver and moved on from him. If he weren't, he wouldn't have missed her anymore, not after she had let him down like that.

"I do like you, Oliver," she said. "I just..."

"You just don't love me like you love him," Oliver said. "I know. I'll get over it. I might be down for a while, and you're going to have to forgive me if I don't want to talk to you... but give me some time, and then we can be friends again."

Ginny wanted him to yell at her, to cry and tell her to get the hell out of his office (which wasn't really his office, but she would have gladly let that one pass). The fact that he was being so nice about it only made it harder – did he have to be such a good guy?

"Just tell me what to do," she said, "and I'll do it."

Oliver smiled again and pulled her into a hug. "Okay, here's what you're going to do," he mumbled. "You're going to take a shower, and then you're going to pay Harry a visit. You two really need to talk. And tomorrow, you're going to rest, because Darren has been talking about your training on Monday... and let's just say that I'm quite glad that I can't play anymore, after I heard what he's going to put you through."

Ginny smiled. "And you're comfortable with still working with the team?"

Oliver nodded. "I already lost my girlfriend today," he said. "You're not going to make me quit my job too, are you?" He walked over to the door and held it open for her. "I'll see you around, Ginny."

She nodded. "I'll see you around."

 

 

For a moment, Harry was convinced that he was dreaming. He rubbed his eyes multiple times, closed them and opened them up again, but she didn't disappear. She was really there, outside his door.

Her long hair was wet, as if she had just stepped out of the shower - drops of water fell off its ends and coiled down her shirt, leaving dark trails behind them in an uneven pattern across her chest. Had she always had streams of gold in her eyes? Harry wasn't sure. Her facial expression was probably the splitting image of his own - blank, her eyes widened, as if she couldn't believe it either. Finally, after what might have been an hour or perhaps just a minute, she said:

"Can I come in?"

Harry stepped to the side to let her in, and then he closed the door behind her before turning towards her again. "How... how did the match go?" he asked.

"We won," Ginny said. Her lips curled into a smile, and a wave of happiness rushed through Harry's body. He wondered if her smile would ever lose that effect on him.

"Congratulations."

Ginny walked over the bureau in the hall and picked up a frame that she hadn't seen before. She studied the photo, still with a smile on her face. It had been a birthday present to Harry from Teddy and Andromeda - an image of himself with his godson on his shoulders. Both of them were laughing at something that happened outside the photo – Harry was pretty sure that it had been Mr Lupin's silly dance moves – and Teddy's hair was a wonderful mixture of bright colours: turquoise, orange and green.

"He's so big now," Ginny said. "I thought of that when I saw him at the wedding. I was surprised that he remembered me."

"He talked about you after that," Harry told her. "I think he was happy to see you again."

Ginny put the frame back in its spot and turned towards him. Pulling her fingers through her hair, which sent a bunch of new drops of water coiling down her neck and onto the grey fabric of her shirt, she breathed in, as if to brace herself for what was to come, and said:

"I'm not here to make small talk. I'm here because I want to tell you how I feel."

Harry nodded. He went to sit down on the armrest of the couch, and Ginny sank into the chair across from him.

"Ron told me," she said. "What that girl did. And it shouldn't have mattered that she did it, because you had told me the truth all along. I don't know why I didn't believe you."

"To be fair," Harry answered, "I started to think I had slept with her too. I couldn't remember that I hadn't, so-"

"Yes, but even before that," Ginny interrupted him. "Remember when you told me that trusting someone means that you believe them even when there's no proof? I should have listened to that. Instead I tried to make myself forget my feelings for you, I tried to make myself fall in love with Oliver..."

Harry nodded again and waited for her to continue; she suspected that he hadn't even blinked yet.

"But it didn't go away," she said. "What I felt for you, I mean. And I think that there might be a reason for that. I think that I still feel miserable over being away from you because... because we aren't meant to be apart. Because I'll never find what we had with someone else."

Harry cleared his throat. "Are you saying that you haven't found it with Wood?"

"Yes. And it shouldn't have taken me this long to figure it out... I shouldn't have needed to hear that from Ron to be able to finally get my head around it. But I think I knew it before too. Oliver and I broke up," she continued, "and I don't know if it's true, but Hermione thinks that you miss me too."

Harry stood up. "I do."

Ginny nodded. "So what do you think about all this?"

He walked over to her, reached out his hands and grabbed hers. Then he pulled her to her feet. "I think that it's going to be hard," he said. "And I think that it will take a little time before we get back to where we were. But I also think..."

And he kissed her. Ginny closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around her neck, and when they broke apart, she leaned her head against his and kept her eyes shut; that was how it was supposed to feel. Harry really was the only one for her. And she planned on doing everything it took to become someone who deserved to have him again.

 

 




A/N: I hope that all of you Harry/Ginny fans are happy now... :) At first, I considered holding this off for a few more chapters - after all, Harry and Ron reconciled in the last one, and I didn't want it all to happen at once... but Ginny's been doubting her feelings for Oliver for quite some time now, so I thought it was time for her to put an end to it. As for Harry, it might seem like he forgave her too easily, but it's like he said: they've got some things to work on, but he does love her and I think he's just really happy to get her back, despite of everything.

Logging onto the site after posting a new chapter is just wonderful! A heap of new reviews, checking how many people have read it, a few more added it to their favourites... I wish I could post a new chapter every day, since you are being so lovely to me and I just want to give back as much as I can. Since that's impossible for me, however, I'll just thank you again, from the bottom of my heart, and try to keep the updates as frequent as I can, and hope that you know that the support you are giving me really means the world to me. Thank you so much. I'd love to know your thoughts on this chapter too. :)


Chapter 25: Year 3: Viola
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Fall had entered London once again; this year, however, Harry and Ron would not get to see as much of it as they were used to. Gawain Robards had lived up to his promise of letting the two of them out in the field, and they both enjoyed it immensely. In fact, when Ron walked into his and Harry's office one Monday morning in the middle of September, he stopped in the doorway and looked around as the thought hit him: when was the last time had been in there? It was probably over a week ago.

While Ron examined each little object on his desk, including his quills and ink, with such enthusiasm that one could have been looking at his father in the middle of a Muggle shop, Harry leaned back in his chair by the opposite wall, stared out the window and thought of Ginny.

Since her reaching out to him, things had slowly begun to go back to normal between the two of them. There had been long nights of discussing their issues and ways of moving past them until Harry had finally had enough, taken her hand said:

"Let's just start over. We'll forget all about last year, and I'll take you out on a date. The rest will come when it comes, don't you think?"

And they had gone to a nice Muggle restaurant and shared a lovely dinner (which, as Ginny pointed out, probably wasn't appropriate for a professional athlete, but she made an exception that once) and talked about happy things: Harry told her of all the funny things Teddy would do and say, Ginny spoke of her teammates and how wonderful it was to finally get to play Quidditch for real, and once they had finished eating, they strolled around London, arm in arm, under the starlit sky. They walked all the way back to Harry's flat, upon which Ginny began saying goodbye, but Harry interrupted her.

"Why don't you stay?" he said. "You have no training tomorrow, do you?"

"Are you sure?" Ginny asked.

And he was. He knew that no one would have blamed him if he had been a little angrier, if he had punished her for not believing in him to start with, but he really didn't see the point. He knew that he was going to forgive her eventually anyway, and besides, this was what he had wished for all along: to get her back. All that mattered, really, was that she had realized her mistake, and that she had come back to him after all that time.

They had gone up to his flat that night, crawled into bed and held each other. Harry had been only seconds from falling asleep when Ginny had made a movement next to him. He had opened his eyes again and quickly realized that she was sitting up. The moonlight falling across her face also gave away the fact that she was staring nervously at him, as if she was debating whether or not she was going to act out whatever thought had just crossed her mind.

“Harry,” she had said, her voice shaking slightly. “I should have told you this already… I just couldn’t.”

If Harry had been half asleep before, he certainly wasn’t after those words had left her mouth. “What are you talking about?”

“Oliver,” Ginny said. “And what happened between him and me. We… I slept with him. Oh, God, I’m so sorry, Harry! I know that it makes me a horrible person, and you probably hate me and want me gone again… which is why I haven’t been able to bring myself to telling you.”

It hurt. Harry couldn’t pretend that it didn’t; how could he have ignored the stinging in his chest, so painful that he had to place his hands over it in an attempt to smother it? There was something sharp in there, hitting his every soft surface with such power that he wanted to scream, because it was true. Those terrible images that had kept popping up in his head after finding out that Ginny was dating Oliver – they weren’t just products of his imagination; they had actually happened.

“Harry?”

“I can’t believe that you didn’t tell me before,” he said. Then, without looking at her, he added: “I can’t believe that you would do that, either.”

“I know,” she said desperately. “I know that I shouldn’t have…”

She leaned forwards, as if to wrap her arms around him, but he moved away from her. “And I’m supposed to just be okay with that?” he asked. “To just ignore that all this time, you were the one who slept with someone else? You were the one who ruined everything we had, and I took the blame all these months!”

“I know,” Ginny repeated quietly. “And I don’t expect you to be okay with it, I-“

Now, Harry crawled out of the bed and stood up. “Is that how little I meant to you?”

“Of course not! You’re not leaving, are you? Because if I remember correctly, that was exactly how things ended last time!”

Ginny’s voice had suddenly become higher, and streaks of panic slipped through her external calm. Her mind was most likely in the same place that Harry’s went to in that moment: an early winter’s afternoon in the Burrow, when they had first broken up. Harry sat back down.

“No, I’m not leaving,” he said. “I’ll listen this time.”

Ginny crawled over to his side so that she sat next to him. “I really thought you didn’t love me,” she said. “That my only option was to move on, to do everything I could to push away every feeling I had for you. And so I turned to Oliver. That’s all that it was; as much as I tried, I never really felt anything for him.”

When Harry didn’t respond to this, she grabbed his hand, which just lay there on his lap, and she squeezed it while letting out a muffled sob.

“Does this… does this change everything for you?” she wanted to know. “Does it mean that you regret getting back together?”

“You should have told me straight away,” Harry said. “But no, it doesn’t mean that I regret it. It just means that it’s going to be a lot harder.”

Now, Ginny leaned his head against his shoulder. Using the hand that wasn’t holding Harry’s, she wiped a few tears off of her cheeks and took a deep breath. “So what do we do now?”

“I suppose we just go to sleep,” Harry said. “And then we’ll take it from there.”

Before getting into bed again, Ginny placed a kiss on his cheek and whispered: “I love you,” and none of them acknowledged the fact that he hadn’t said it back to her since their reconciliation.

“Oi, Harry!”

Blinking and rubbing his eyes as if he had just been woken up from a slumber, Harry looked around and nearly fell off his chair when he realized that Hestia Jones had come into the office and was now standing just a few feet away from him. How had he not heard the door open or both her and Ron calling to get his attention? Shrugging, he turned towards the middle-aged woman with a smile on his face. Hestia, however, didn't seem to be in the mood for returning it, as she simply nodded at him and began talking:

"There's been an attack," she said, "in Diagon Alley, and a girl went missing. Someone just began sending hexes in every direction, one of the shops was set on fire... don't worry," she added quickly when she saw Ron's facial expression, "it wasn't your brother's. Both he and your sister-in-law are fine; they were the ones who reported it, actually. I want the two of you to go with me there. Gather your things and meet me in my office in ten minutes.”

“I should probably bring my invisibility cloak,” Harry mumbled. “What else do we need?”

“I have to go tell Hermione,” Ron said. “I’ll be right back!”

He ran through the long corridor that led to the lifts, and then he got into one and went up to Hermione’s floor. Hurrying past the many offices in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, he nodded at a few of his girlfriend’s colleagues before stopping outside her office. The door had been left ajar, and the sound of voices slipped out of the small opening.

“I can’t believe she said that!” Hermione was just saying. “What did you tell her?”

“You know, that her good side was about as existing as hers and my mother’s friendship!”

Upon realizing that the other person in there was Draco Malfoy, Ron’s jaw dropped to the floor. Of course, he had already known that Malfoy had started working in the department, but that certainly didn’t explain what he was doing in Hermione’s office! Furthermore, it definitely did not explain why both he and Hermione had just burst into laughter. The two of them, laughing together! It made absolutely no sense.

“You’re really different, aren’t you?” Hermione then asked. “I mean, I found it hard to believe…”

“I know, Hermione,” Malfoy said. “But I really am.”

Hermione? As far as Ron could remember, he had always referred to her as ‘Mudblood,’ or, on a good day, simply ‘Granger’. And now they were acting like a couple of old friends? Determinedly, Ron pushed the door wide open and stepped into the room.

“Ron!”

Hermione sounded surprised. She was sitting at her desk, and Malfoy was standing in front of her, leaning over one of the visitors’ chairs that stood across from hers. Both their heads had turned quickly to the door when Ron had come in, and they were now staring at him. Hermione smiled while Malfoy cleared his throat.

“Weasley,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“I should ask you that,” Ron replied.

So maybe Hermione’s boss was stupid enough to hire a bloody Death Eater, but wasn’t Hermione supposed to be the cleverest young witch in England? Then what was she doing alone in a room with the same git who had been raised to hate everything she was, who had actually fought on Voldemort’s side in the war? Ron had accepted the fact that it wasn’t Malfoy who had poisoned her, but to him, it might as well have been.

“I work here,” said Malfoy. “Last I heard, you worked at the Auror Office, though. Shouldn’t you be down there doing your job? As I recall, you Weasleys always had to cling hard to your pay checks.”

“Draco!” said Hermione in shock. “I think that Ron has every right to visit his girlfriend’s office; it doesn’t mean that he’s not doing his job. And Ronald, Draco and I are working together on an institution of general terms of employment for house-elves.”

“Well, I came here to tell you that we’re going away on a mission,” he said.

“Oh, really?” Hermione’s facial expression was a mixture of happiness and worry – she was happy for him, because she knew how much he had wanted this, but she was always scared that he’d put himself in a dangerous position. “What happened?”

“An attack in Diagon Alley,” Ron explained. “A girl is missing… George and Angelina are okay, though.”

“In Diagon Alley?” Malfoy asked. “In broad daylight? I wonder who’d do that…”

“Shouldn’t you know?” said Ron snidely. “It’s probably one of your Death Eater friends-“

“I don’t have any of those,” said Malfoy brusquely. “It was my father who did.”

When Ron opened his mouth to retort, Hermione quickly intervened by saying:

“Ron, if you’re going to be rude, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Good luck on your mission. Promise me that you’ll be careful.”

“Yeah. Good luck,” Malfoy said.

Ron snorted. What was he really up to? It seemed like he was playing a part to fool Hermione into trusting him. And what’s worse was that he seemed to be successful. Shaking his head, Ron decided that he had no time to worry about it right now, so instead, he smiled at Hermione and walked over to the door.

“Promise me!” Hermione called after him. “I love you.”

In the doorway, Ron turned his head to look at her again. “I love you too.”

 

 

Not even in the last days of August, right before school would start again, was Diagon Alley as crowded as it was this day. Harry followed Hestia through the densely packed streets, thankful that she was the one who did the dirty work (which meant elbowing her way through the crowd – one woman began yelling some not so pleasant words at them after her son nearly fell over to make room for them, but she stopped abruptly when Ron turned around to apologize). Then, suddenly, they had reached Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and there was room to breathe again, to walk normally… George met them right inside the door.

“Angelina is in the back,” he said, “with the family of the little girl who disappeared.”

Hestia glanced over his shoulder before turning to the boys. “I’ll go and talk to them,” she said. “I want the two of you to try to find out what happened.”

“Can you tell us anything?” Ron said, turning towards his brother.

“I don’t know much,” George answered with a shrug. “Only that some man just started casting spells all around… a few people have been shipped off to St. Mungo’s. And then there was that little girl. Apparently, her mother turned her eyes away for a couple of seconds, and then she was gone. They have no idea what happened to her.”

“Do you think he was a Death Eater?” Harry asked. “That man, I mean.”

“I don’t know,” George said. “There was definitely some dark magic – you should have seen the damage it did to a few unfortunate people. But not every bad guy is a Death Eater, right?”

Before anyone could say another word, Hestia came rushing out from the back of the store, shooting Harry and Ron an irritated look each while crossing her arms over her chest. “Didn’t I tell you two to go out and find out what happened?”

Sighing, she headed back out into the crowd. Ron and Harry exchanged a look, said goodbye to George and followed her.

An older lady, dressed in a strange ensemble of Muggle clothing – a pyjamas shirt, a pair of shorts and a fringed jerkin – was just telling her male companion:

“It was a blond man. In his thirties, I think. He was staring at that poor child for minutes before he began his attack. I noticed, because I thought it was strange.”

“I thought you said you never saw the girl!” answered her friend.

Hestia cast a glance over her shoulder and realised that Harry and Ron had fallen behind. She stopped to give them a chance to catch up with her, and then she reached out something towards them. Harry took it from her hand. It was a photograph of a girl, who couldn’t have been older than five, or maybe six, with blonde, curly hair and a nearly toothless smile, as she had lost both of her front teeth. She appeared to skip around in some sort of silly dance.

“Ask around,” Hestia told them. “See if anyone saw her. I’m going to get in touch with a friend at the Ministry and see if they can track her down – she’s got the Trace on her, after all.”

Ron nodded and turned to Harry. “It’s sick, isn’t it? I mean, do you think that he abducted that child?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, look at how many people are here. She could have easily just got lost in the crowd, don’t you think? I hope that’s what happened; Merlin knows what he’ll do to her if he has her.”

Ron furrowed his eyebrows and shook his head. “What if it had been Vic?” he said. “And if Bill and Fleur had been back there, worrying about her? We’ve got to find her.”

Harry nodded determinedly and turned to a group of people who were standing a few yards away. “Did anyone see this girl?” he asked, holding up the photograph.

The woman who was standing the closest – a middle-aged witch with peculiarly purple eyes and short, dark hair with grey elements – squinted to get a better look and placed a hand over her chest while sighing dramatically. “Oh, that poor child!” she said. “It’s awful, terrible…”

“Yes, I think I saw her,” said a younger woman and took a step forwards. “She was crying; she seemed to have lost her parents. I was just about to go over and helped her when he grabbed her.”

“Who?” said Ron sharply.

“That man,” the woman said. “The one who attacked everyone… he just grabbed her and disapparated. I didn’t have time to stop him.”

“Thank you,” Harry said. “If anyone saw anything else, please come and tell us… we want to find her as soon as possible, and anything you know may be of help…”

 

 

Most surfaces in the Burrow were cluttered, full of useless things, broken quills, little pieces of Muggle objects that no longer worked, early editions of Fred and George’s inventions that Mrs Weasley had not yet thrown away, dust or just other rubbish. If one were to examine one of the shelves in the bookshelf more carefully, for example, many interesting discoveries would be made: Ron hadn’t thrown away all of his rat chow since losing Scabbers, Percy had misplaced one page of an old report on cauldron thickness and it had ended up there, and there was a book about dragons there that Charlie had borrowed from Professor Kettleburn and forgot to return before leaving Hogwarts.

But there was one surface in the Weasley home that wasn’t cluttered at all; one that was perfectly tidy and organized, and dedicated to one purpose alone – the mantelpiece, which held all the picture frames with photographs of the family. It was by there that Ginny stood and waited for her mother, and she was keeping herself busy by inspecting them.

The one that had caught her eyes when she had entered the living room was one of her and Harry – her mother had taken it down during their breakup, and this was the first time in months that Ginny had seen it. It had been taken the summer before her last year at Hogwarrts, and they were standing in the orchard, Harry’s arms wrapped around her waist and both of them smiling at the camera. That had been before… everything. Before all of their problems. She was so happy to have him back, but she wondered how long it would be before their relationship would feel like that again. So simple and carefree and just happy… she couldn’t wait for that time.

She let her gaze wander on to a picture of the entire family from when they had visited Bill in Egypt after Ginny’s first year at Hogwarts. Involuntarily, here eyes stopped on Fred’s face; a turban covered his hair, and he was grinning from ear to ear. Ginny reached out her finger to touch his hand, which was waving at the camera. Would it ever get easier, living without him? Ginny wished that she could have him there for just one day more, for him to crack a joke and make her laugh – right now, she just felt like crying. Why had he had to move on? She wished that he had stayed, as a ghost, so that they would at least have been able to talk together. He would have still been in their lives. Ginny could picture it – how he’d fly up through the stove top when Mrs Weasley was cooking and nearly scare the life out of her while howling with laughter, how he’d jump through the wall in the middle of one of Percy’s much too serious sermons and lighten the mood – how he’d make jokes alongside George, just like he always should have been able to.

Next to the family photo was one of Victoire, which must have been taken only weeks after her birth. Her tiny fingers and toes twitched every now and then while she slept, and Ginny smiled while wiping away the tears that had welled up while she had thought of Fred. There was a photo of herself there when she was little and sitting on Charlie’s lap, chewing on Bill’s wand. Her smile grew wider as she thought of what had happened only seconds after the photo had been taken – she had been too young to remember anything, but her parents had told her how she had made fire syringe from the tip of the wand and nearly incinerated the kitchen curtains.

Moving on, Ginny looked at another photo of Victoire, taken when she was a bit older. Ginny recognized the pink, dollish dress that her niece had worn for her first birthday. On the photo, she was standing on Mr Weasley’s lap, bouncing up and down and laughing happily.

One day, Ginny thought, that mantelpiece was going to be full of photographs just like that one. Having seven children would surely mean having a whole army of grandchildren, and she knew that her mother couldn’t wait for it. While it was difficult to picture George as a father, he was already married. It probably wouldn’t be that many years before he and Angelina would cave in to Mrs Weasley’s wishes and start a family. And while Percy was never the one to make a hasty decision, Ginny could definitely imagine him and Audrey having a whole bunch of well-behaved, brainy little children one day. And Ron and Hermione… Ginny giggled at the thought of Ron being a father, but she was convinced that Hermione would want kids. And she had to admit, since Victoire’s birth, that Ron wasn’t completely hopeless with children either.

As for herself… she would definitely want children. One day. In the far, far-off future, when she was done with Quidditch, and married to Harry, and lived in a great house not too far from the Burrow (which really meant not too far from babysitters)… yes, then she would really like to have children. Of course, it would be nice if all the sensation around Harry had worn off by then, too. If that would ever happen – Ginny would most likely be old and decrepit before she would see that day.

She may have had her doubts about some of her brothers, but she was absolutely convinced that Harry would be a great father. Just the other day, the two of them had gone to visit Andromeda and Teddy, and it had been wonderful to see him with his godson. Teddy absolutely adored Harry, and Ginny was quite certain that the affection was mutual.

“Ginny? What are you doing in here?”

Jumping, as if she had been caught doing something that she wasn’t allowed to, Ginny span around. Mrs Weasley stood in the doorway, dressed in an apron and with two large oven mitts on her hands.

“Hi, Mum,” she said. “I was just looking at photos. And thinking that it’s probably going to be crowded on the mantelpiece in a while. When all the grandchildren start coming, I mean.”

Mrs Weasley walked over to her daughter, crossed her arms over her chest and eyed her suspiciously. “All the grandchildren… Ginny, you’re not-?”

“No!” said Ginny quickly. “Of course I’m not!”

“And Angelina and George…?”

“No. Not as far as I know.”

Mrs Weasley looked half relieved, half disappointed. Her eyes were drawn to the photo of her husband and granddaughter, and she sighed while placing an arm around Ginny’s shoulder.

“That little girl really brightens my day,” she said. “And when the time comes for you… I will be so happy for you. That being said, I do hope that day is still some time away…”

“It is, Mum,” Ginny said. “You don’t have to worry. I am aware of the fact that I’m only nineteen!”

 

 

“Okay, I’ve just heard back from the Ministry,” Hestia said, grabbing both Harry and Ron by the arm and pulling them away from any curious ears. “We’ve got a location… once we get there, I need you to be very careful and assume that he has taken this child for hostage. Follow my orders, no matter what happens, okay?”

Harry and Ron nodded, still holding on to her arm as she raised her wand and Apparated. In the next moment, they found themselves standing by a roadside, looking up at a small, tumbledown house that seemed to have seen its glory days long ago. The hedge was overgrown, the walls were covered in ivy, and whatever flowers might have once grown on the lawn had been forced to succumb to the long, heavy grass that didn’t seem to have been trimmed in years. The façade of the house looked like it could use some new paint, and the windows were so dirty that they were impossible to see through from where Harry, Ron and Hestia were standing. All in all, it looked like the home of someone who didn’t care at all about it.

Homenum Revelio,” Hestia mumbled, which resulted in the tip of her wand lighting up twice. “Yes, there are two people here. Ron, what do you think we should do?”

“Me?” Ron’s ears went red. “Well, er…”

“Aren’t you an Auror now?” Hestia asked. “Go on, suggest something.”

Ron hesitated and leered at Harry. Then, he straightened his back and said: “You’ve got the cloak, don’t you? In that case, I think we should get a closer look.”

“Brilliant,” said Hestia approvingly. “Harry, want to do the honours?”

Harry had already pulled out his invisibility cloak. He pulled it on and disappeared from sight. Ron could hear the sound of his footsteps on the asphalt, but as soon as he reached the grass it became completely silent. If he looked carefully, though, he could still see the grass bend down here and there for each new step that Harry took.

It took a few minutes before Harry returned. Then, his head appeared out of nowhere next to Ron, who jumped at least a foot up into the air and took a step back.

“Merlin, you scared me!”

“Pay attention, Weasley,” said Hestia calmly. “So? What did you see?”

“I think it was her in there,” Harry said. “She was sleeping in one of the rooms. The strange thing was, though, that there were photos of her all over the place. Of her and that man, and a few with a woman as well… He’s sitting in the kitchen, by the way. He’s having a cup of tea.”

Ron snorted. “Do kidnappers usually do that?” he asked. “Put the kid to sleep and have tea?”

“No, they usually don’t,” Hestia said. “I say we go and talk to him.”

“Won’t he just Disapparate when he sees us coming?” Harry asked.

“That’s what the Anti-Disapparation Jinx is for, isn’t it?” Ron said, raising his wand to perform it.

Half a minute later, they were all standing outside the man’s front door. Harry knocked on it, and then he took a step back and waited. It flew open only seconds later, revealing a fair-haired man dressed in pyjama bottoms and shirt, pointing his wand at his visitors with a slightly panicked look on his face.

“Who are you?” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“Would you please lower your wand, sir?” Hestia asked, her voice deeper and more authoritarian than normally. “We are from the Auror Office, and we’re here to talk to you about the girl who’s sleeping in the other room at the moment.”

“My daughter?” the man asked. His voice was shivering. “What about her?”

“We don’t think she’s really your daughter,” Ron said. “We think that you took her from her family after attacking all of those people in Diagon Alley, and set that shop on fire-“

“No,” the man protested. “No, no, I don’t understand what you’re talking about. That’s my girl in there, my little Viola…”

Hestia flinched. “Viola? What is your last name?”

“Berenson,” said the man, “and my first name is Roman. And my daughter’s name is Viola, like I said.”

Hestia nodded and took a deep breath. “Mr Berenson,” she said. “Will you please go and wake her – Viola – up? We really need to talk to the two of you together.”

Mr Berenson scratched his neck. “Yes, I suppose I’ll make an exception today,” he said. “She’s supposed to be sleeping, but since you came all the way out here…”

As soon as he had disappeared, Ron turned to Hestia. “Are you saying that this is his daughter?” he asked. “That we made a mistake?”

“No,” Hestia answered. “It can’t be. You see, Viola Berenson was killed during the war. Fenrir Greyback bit her to death. She was only four years old – and it was her father who found her body… what was left of it, that is.”
 

 






A/N: Well, I thought it was time to dedicate some time to Ron and Harry's work, especially now that they're not just doing paper work anymore. It would make my day if you would take a moment to tell me what you thought of this chapter.

And as always, I really want to thank you for reading this story. This is actually the first story that I've written that I've ever shared with anyone, and your feedback and reviews and thoughtful comments really mean the world to me. I am so happy that I decided to join this site and share this story with you. Thank you for making me feel so sure about that decision! :)


Chapter 26: Year 3: Understanding
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The sound of a door opening inside the house sharpened each one of Harry’s senses; suddenly, he could hear Ron’s breathing very clearly, the floor creaking as Hestia shifted her weight from one foot to the other, and the wind, rustling though the old house with a ghostlike sound. He noticed the fact that a drop of water wound its way down the window behind Ron – in the few minutes since they had stepped inside, it had started raining – and that the watch on Hestia’s wrist had stopped almost exactly ten minutes ago. Making a mental note to point it out to her afterwards, he lifted his head just in time to see the blond man reappear in the hall, pushing a little girl in front of him. She looked absolutely terrified as she stopped in front of the three Aurors, and the man, Roman, straightened his back and smiled.

Hestia bent down towards the girl. “Hello, dear. Can you tell me what your name is?”

“Julia,” the girl whispered.

“No!” said Roman sharply, making her take a step away from him and burst into tears. “What did I just tell you?” he roared at her. “Tell the nice lady the truth, Viola. Your name isn’t Julia, now, is it?”

“Mr Berenson,” Hestia said. “I suggest that you let the girl go and come with me to the Ministry. If you could just-“

Roman shook his head vigorously and stepped in between her and the child. “No,” he said again. “No, you can’t take her! You can’t!”

“It must have been horrible,” said Harry in a surprisingly calm voice. “Going through what you had to go through, I mean. You lost your child in the most brutal way possible. But can’t you see what you’re doing to Julia’s parents? You’re doing to them what Greyback did to you.”

Roman twitched at hearing the werewolf’s name, and then, without warning, he hid his face in his hands and started sobbing. As he sank to his knees, Julia became visible behind him; she was crying too, her big blue eyes wide and glossy and her thumb stuck into her mouth. Quickly, Hestia walked over to her and took her hand.

“I just couldn’t leave her,” Roman cried. “She looked just like my Viola… I couldn’t…”

“Boys,” Hestia said. “I want you to take Julia back to her parents. Mr Berenson, you’re going to have to come with me to the Ministry.” She knelt down in front of Julia and placed her hands on her shoulders. “Do you see these nice men, dear? They’re going to take you to your mummy and daddy now, okay?”

Julia nodded. Her lower lip was trembling as she looked insecurely up at Harry, who smiled and reached out a hand towards her. She grabbed it, and both she, Harry and Ron turned towards the door. Ron had just pushed it open, however, when he stopped and turned around again.

“Are you sure you’re fine on your own?” he asked Hestia.

“I’m sure.”

“Before we leave,” Ron insisted. “Give her your wand.”

Roman finally looked up. He looked older than he had done before, with lines of tears covering his cheeks and such pain in his eyes that just the sight of him was almost painful. He nodded slowly, and reached into his pocket. Both Harry and Ron stiffened in those crucial seconds before he had pulled out his wand, and then they relaxed as he held it out towards Hestia, who smiled at Ron as she placed it in her own pocket.

“Thank you for looking out for me,” she told him. “You’re a good partner.”

Ron shrugged before he, Harry and little Julia stepped out into the rainy afternoon. They began walking across the rampant lawn to get out of the area that was blocked by the Anti-Disapparation Jinx.

“We just have to walk for a little bit,” Harry told Julia. “Come on…”

He felt slightly panicked because of the fact that tears kept streaming down her face, and he had no idea how to cheer her up. He knew how to comfort Teddy when he had lost his stuffed little wolf cub or fallen on the ground and scraped his palms, but how was he supposed to give comfort to a child who had just been abducted? He sighed in relief when Ron dealt with it instead of him; he stopped in front of Julia and crouched down with a smile on his face.

“Do you want to ride piggyback?” he asked her.

Julia hesitated and looked at Harry, but when he nodded encouragingly she smiled back at Ron and climbed onto his back. He straightened up and began skipping forwards, which actually made the girl giggle. When she also revealed that she really liked horses, Ron shrugged, neighed and shook his head, which of course only increased the giggling. Now, Harry was laughing too – he had to fight the urge to mock his best mate for acting so silly, because truth was that he had definitely succeeded in cheering Julia up.

“I think that’s far enough,” Ron said. “Now, we’ll go to see your mum and dad, Julia. Does that sound good?”

“Yeah!”

Harry pulled out his wand and was just about to disapparate when Ron said:

“Wait! You have to take her! What if I splinch her?”

Harry furrowed his eyebrows. “What if I do?”

“You never do that!” Ron said, bending down so that Julia could set her feet on the ground again. “Hey, wouldn’t you rather go with Harry?” he then asked. Without allowing her to respond, he clapped his hands together and smiled. “Fantastic! Go on, then.”

Julia walked over to Harry, who felt a nervous gutter as he pictured one of her small fingers being left behind, or perhaps half her body; what if he’d end up really hurting her?

“How does it work with children?” he asked. “Should I just hold her hand, or…?”

“Mum and Dad always used to pick me or Ginny up, and then do it,” Ron said. “Just try not to fall over her when you get there, okay? Fred and George always swore that happened to or great-aunt Muriel when she was little, and that she hit her head badly… it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.”

Harry laughed and picked Julia up. “Have you ever apparated with your mum or dad?” he asked her. She shook his head. “Okay,” he continued. “Do you know what? Just close your eyes and hold onto me, and it will be over in just a few seconds. It’s a little scary, but you don’t have to worry. Are you ready?”

It really was over in seconds, and then they found themselves standing in Diagon Alley again, with all of their body parts still attached in the right places. Ron appeared just a few moments later. The crowd of people on the streets may have decreased a little bit in number, but it was still quite difficult to get through, especially since everyone was pointing at them and talking loudly, all of them desperate to get a glimpse of both Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and the girl they had just rescued. They practically ran over to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes to escape their nosey questions and curious glances, and both of them sighed in relief as soon as the door closed behind them and the bell above it gave out a jingling sound.

Julia’s parents must have heard the fuss from outside, because they were already rushing to the exit. Harry quickly set the little girl down on the floor and watched as she literally dived into her mother’s arms. Her father kissed both her cheeks before walking over to shake hands with Harry and Ron.

“I can’t even express my gratitude,” he said. “And of course, it’s an honour to meet you… I have to ask. Why did he do it? Why did he take her? Did he… did he hurt her?”

“No, I think he was good to her,” Ron said. “Really. The thing is that he had a daughter who looked a lot like Julia–“

“–only she was murdered during the war,” Harry continued. “By Fenrir Greyback. I think he just lost it when he saw Julia; it was as if he thought that he was getting her back.”

“And Greyback didn’t just murder her,” Ron said. “He practically tore her to pieces. Who wouldn’t go mad after something like that? Thank Merlin that he’s off in Azkaban now, where he belongs.”

 

 

 

A few hours later, when Harry and Ron were back in their office at the Ministry, Hestia knocked on the door to it for the second time that day. This time, however, she wasn’t as stressed; she simply sat down in one of their chairs and leaned towards the backrest, stretching out her arms over her head.

“So, Mr Berenson is in the gaol, awaiting his trial,” she said. “Sadly, we can’t let him off the hook simply because he has a good reason for acting crazy. Despite of what he’s gone through, he still kidnapped a child.”

“Yes, of course,” Ron said. “But I still feel bad for him.”

“So do I,” Hestia nodded. “These things can be quite difficult to handle, especially when you’re new out there. I just wanted to make sure you were both okay.”

“Yeah,” said Ron. “I’m fine.”

“Me too,” Harry said.

“Good, good.” Hestia stood up again. “You know, I have a method for dealing with it. When I meet a man like Roman Berenson, I just try to think of how grateful we all should be that we have our loved ones. He lost his wife to a disease, and then the only thing he had left of her – their child. If anything, it reminds us that we should appreciate what we have. And not waste any time having silly arguments or holding grudges. It’s not worth it, is it?”

Harry watched Hestia’s face as he let her words sank in. He watched her, but he barely registered the fact that she was now rising to her feet and leaving again. He waved back when she waved at him, but he had no idea what she was saying, as he was too busy thinking of Ginny.

What if he’d lose Ginny tomorrow, or in fifty years, even? Wouldn’t he regret holding a grudge? Wouldn’t he wish that he hadn’t been acting so cold towards her over the last couple of weeks? Wouldn’t he regret not telling her every day that he loved her? What did it matter that she had slept with Oliver – all that mattered was that she had come back to him, and that she had chosen him in the end. Or perhaps all that mattered was that he loved her, and that he wanted her to know that.

“Are you heading homewards?” Ron asked, interrupting Harry’s thoughts.

“Actually, I think I’m going to go to Holyhead,” Harry answered.

“Yeah. I get that,” Ron said. “I really want to see Hermione right now. We’ll talk tomorrow, then.”

“Yes. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As Harry stepped out of the fireplace in Ginny’s cottage a few minutes later, his heart was pounding in his chest, as if he was meeting her for the very first time. Calling out her name, he brushed the ashes off of his trousers and sank into the brown leather couch in her living room.

“Harry, is that you?”

Ginny’s voice was coming from upstairs. Harry flew up to his feet again and was just about to head up to her when she appeared in the stairs, dressed in a knitted sweater and a pair of jeans. She wore her hair down, and she didn’t look like she had any makeup on, and still, she was more beautiful than ever to Harry. He walked over to her and grabbed her hands; much to his surprise, he could feel his heart flutter at the touch of her skin, as if he hadn’t touched it a million times before.

“How was work?” Ginny asked.

“I’ll tell you all about it,” Harry answered, “and I want to know about your training as well, but first, there is something that I need to say to you.”

Ginny looked worried for a second, but then she nodded. Harry could feel her grip around his hands tighten as he continued:

“I love you. I love you and I really want things to go back to normal between us. I know I’ve been difficult–“

“No one’s blaming you, Harry…”

“–but I’ll stop that, okay? I love you so much, Gin.”

Now, Ginny smiled. Taking a step closer to him, she wrapped her arms around his waist and looked into his eyes. “I love you too.”

 

 

 

Ron had, over the last couple of months, found that fieldwork took a whole lot more energy than office work, and he had got used to being exhausted when he came home in the afternoons. It seemed that spending hours of being constantly on his toes, prepared for whatever was to come, drained him of all his energy, and he was usually too tired to do anything at all after leaving work. Once, after an unusually intense Thursday, he had made the poor judgement of thinking that he’d still be able to focus enough to apparate home. Thankfully, he hadn’t splinched himself, but he had ended up a few miles outside of London, in the backyard of a very confused old Muggle couple, who had been out raking leaves when he had popped up and nearly scared the life out of them. He had been forced to modify both of their memories before giving apparating a second try and swearing inwardly that Hermione would never know about the incident. And, of course, he knew better than to tell George – or any of his siblings, really; he knew that they would have never let him forget it.

On this particular day, Ron decided to learn from his past mistake and used the Floo System to get home instead. Despite having stayed at work for a little bit longer than usual, he returned to an empty flat. Normally, he would have loved to just lie on the couch and relax, perhaps even take a nap, until Hermione would get home, but there was a sense of guilt inside of him that wouldn’t allow him to do that. Truth was that he had handed off a lot of the work at home to Hermione lately, and while she hadn’t complained, he knew that it wasn’t fair. As tired as he may be, she had a job too, and he was sure that she didn’t exactly look forward to cooking dinner or doing laundry at the end of each day. Hence, instead of lying down or relaxing, Ron walked out into the kitchen, determined to have dinner ready by the time she came home.

His determination quickly turned into uncertainty as he stopped in the middle of the kitchen and looked around. Where would he begin? What would he cook? His mother had insisted on giving him cooking lessons before he was going to move out, but somehow, he had wriggled out of it (an accomplishment that he deeply regretted now, as he walked over and opened one of the kitchen cabinets, in search of something that might be of help).

It was then that a book on one of the shelves on the opposite wall caught his eyes. His initial thought was: is she really using the kitchen to store books too? Doesn’t she have enough bookshelves in the living room? However, he quickly realized that this wasn’t just another thick, boring, informative book like most in his girlfriend’s collection; it was a cookbook! In other words, it was exactly what he needed.

Opening the book with a sudden eagerness, he flipped through the pages until he found a recipe that looked fairly simple, while also delicious, and began picking out ingredients from the fridge: onion, minced meat, potatoes, vegetables… Soon enough, the entire countertop was full of food, bowls and pots; Ron grinned at the thought of his mother’s face if she had been able to see him in that moment.

Around fifteen minutes later, Ron was far from grinning. The sauce had boiled over and covered the entire stove, and some of it was dripping down on the floor, creating small, brown stains all over the rug. The meatloaf in the oven was black; Ron burnt his hands when he took it out, cussed loudly and practically threw it into the sink, after which he held hid fingers under the tap, letting the cool water sooth his irritated skin. Just as he was beginning to feel a little better, the front door opened and a voice called:

“Hello! I’m home!”

Before Ron had the chance to set his last minute plan (finding his wand and making the whole mess disappear) in motion, Hermione entered the kitchen. Trying to look as innocent as possible, Ron slowly turned around to get a look at her face.

“Dear God,” Hermione said, her gaze wondering from the burnt meat to the stove, and onwards to the ruined rug on the floor. “What… what have you done?”

“I was just trying to cook dinner!” Ron said. “But this bloody recipe isn’t working!”

He closed the cookbook and pushed it away; as if bad luck was haunting him, it fell over the edge of the counter, hit the floor and broke in two.

“Oh, bloody hell!” said Ron furiously and bent down to pick it up, but Hermione rushed over to him to stop him.

“I’ll fix that,” she said, pulling out her wand. “Reparo.”

“Why are you so late anyway?” Ron asked. “It’s almost half past seven!”

“I know, I’m sorry about that,” Hermione said. “Draco and I stayed late at work to finish our report. How was the mission?”

“Draco and you? You’re kidding, right?”

Hermione shot him a stern look and sighed. “Don’t do that again,” she asked him. We have talked enough about him. Since when am I not capable of judging a person’s character?”

“Since now, apparently,” Ron said. “Hermione, he’s a Death Eater! Doesn’t that say more than enough about his character?”

“Actually, Draco and I talked about that,” she replied and started cleaning the spilled sauce off of the stove. “He was against it all along. He was just really scared, and pressured… Besides, his situation was–“

“No situation justifies what he did!” said Ron angrily. “Just look at Snape – talk about being in a difficult situation. But he did the right thing!”

“And so did Draco,” Hermione argued. “At Malfoy Manor. Harry says it too, that Draco helped us out that day. Do you want me to lay the table?”

Ron pulled out the drawer that held knives and forks so hastily that a few of them fell out and nearly impaled his toes; clumsily, he threw them back into the drawer and continued.

“Let me get this straight – you’re actually saying that one action, one simple action, is enough to make up for everything else he’s done? As you may remember, he was the one who let Fenrir Greyback into the castle the night that he gave Bill that scar across his face!”

Hermione stopped her cleaning and turned to look at him. “Ron, I’m not going to have this discussion anymore. You don’t have to agree with it, but it’s not up to you to decide whether or not I'm going to believe that he’s changed.”

“But he’s–“

“That’s enough, Ron. Are we going to eat this or not?”

Ron sighed and looked at the disaster he had created in the normally so neat and tidy kitchen. “Do you think that it's edible?”

“Sure,” Hermione said. “We’ll just scrape off the top layer of the meatloaf... and there’s still a little bit of sauce left in the pot...”

Neither one of them said a word as they filled their plates with food, unless Ron’s grumpy muttering counted as words. Then, they sat down at the table and began eating. As soon as she had taken her first bite, Hermione let out a sound of surprise.

“Wow, Ron… this is actually really good!”

“Really?” said Ron incredulously.

“Yes, really. Thank you so much for cooking tonight.”

“I felt bad,” Ron said, “because I have contributed so little around here lately. I didn’t mean to make such a mess, of course.”

“We’ll clean it up after we’ve eaten,” Hermione said, now with a smile on her face. “I really appreciate it, Ron. And it really was good.”

Ron, choosing not to comment on her tone of surprise, simply smiled and nodded. Things certainly were a lot messier when she wasn't around, and whatever the reason for her tardiness had been, he was happy to have her home.

 

 




A/N: Yes, I'm going to say it again because no matter how many times I've said it I feel like it's not enough: thank you so much for reading this story. It's incredible for me that there are people who willingly read what I've written. When you take the time to leave a review and let me know what you think of it, that makes me even happier. You really are amazing. As always, I would love to hear any thoughts you might have on this chapter. :)


Chapter 27: Year 3: New Year
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It was the morning before Christmas, and another hail of snow was tumbling down from the grey skies, spreading over the already white town of Holyhead. Down by the port, the sailors crouched in the heavy winds and squinted to see through the snow as they worked to prepare the ferries for the final departure before their Christmas break. In St. Cybi’s Church, the choir (which mostly consisted of Muggle women in their fifties or sixties, but one of Ginny’s teammates, Gabrielle Beighley, sang with them) had gathered early to rehearse for the morning mass. In the part of town where Ginny’s cottage was situated, however, things were as quiet and silent as ever.

Ginny was a morning person; she loved those quiet moments when it felt like the rest of the world was still asleep, and she was the only one up. She loved strolling down the streets of Holyhead and seeing nothing but closed blinds and dark windows. She loved the frosty air in the autumn that never seemed to be quite as fresh later in the day, as if she was the first one to breathe in the new air of that day, and the little drops of dew glittering in the grass as the sun rose in the summer. Even on a day like this particular one, when she wouldn’t even step outside because of the weather, she liked the feeling of waking up before her alarm rang, while Harry was still sleeping silently next to her, and how she could almost feel the opportunities and chances of the day poke her toes, waiting for her to get up and grab every single one of them.

In a minute, she would get up and fix breakfast. Perhaps she’d bring it upstairs and have it in bed – after all, it was the twenty third of December, which was sort of worth celebrating. Then she’d get dressed, drag Harry to Diagon Alley and find Teddy the perfect gift (because Harry still hadn’t done it, even though she had told him to a million times). She was responsible for getting Hermione and Ron something, and he was responsible for Teddy. That had been the deal, but Ginny feared that the poor little boy would end up without a gift if she wouldn’t step in. Not that she minded, of course. She loved an excuse to go to Diagon Alley, especially just before Christmas. All of the storefronts would be beautifully decorated, everyone would be in their best festive moods and even though it would surely be overcrowded with last minute shoppers, there was a chance that they’d run into some of their old friends.

Excited about the prospect of a perfect winter’s day in London, Ginny was just about to get up on her feet and sneak downstairs to prepare breakfast when Harry mumbled something next to her, turned around and put an arm around her. She giggled as he pressed his cheek against hers, and then he opened that pair of eyes that she loved so much and smiled.

“Good morning,” he whispered.

“Good morning.”

He kissed her cheeks, her chin, and then her mouth. Ginny wrapped one arm around him, and allowing the other one to stroke his hair, she closed her eyes and pressed her body against his. He let out a moan of satisfaction before suddenly pulling away from her.

“What?” she asked, her brown eyes twinkling. “Didn’t enjoy it?”

“Of course I did,” he said. “I was just thinking… I think you should sell this place.”

“Sell it?” Ginny furrowed her eyebrows. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing’s wrong with it,” Harry answered. “I just… I want this. Every morning. I want to wake up to you every morning.”

Ginny rolled over, so that she was closer to him. Wrapping her arm around his waist, she lifted her head and looked up at him. Her heart fluttered as she said:

“Are you asking me what I think you’re asking me? I mean… are you asking me to move in with you?”

“Yes. I think I am.” Harry smiled nervously. “Unless you think it’s too soon. I mean, I feel like we’re ready, but if you think it’s too soon, you can just ignore–“

“I would love to.”

“What?” said Harry foolishly.

“I would love to move in with you.”

Harry laughed, as if he couldn’t believe that she had agreed to do it. Then, he pulled her closer again and began kissing her, even more passionately – she could feel the heat spread from him and onto hear, throughout her entire body, and he slid his hands under her nightgown… There was something so magical about the way his hands felt on her skin, and she wanted it go on forever…

But she interrupted him. “It’s the day before Christmas Eve,” she said reluctantly. “Diagon Alley closes early, and we have to get Teddy something.”

Harry sighed as he nodded. “I knew I’d regret not doing that after work yesterday…”

“We should have breakfast.”

Harry glanced at her alarm clock. Then, he placed one hand next to her head and the other one on her other side, and he lunged himself over her. Her heart pounded in her chest as he grinned at her.

“I think breakfast can wait for just a little bit longer,” he said.

She grinned back at him, grabbed the collar of his pyjama shirt and pulled him closer to her. “Yes, I think you’re right…”

 

 

It was snowing in London too. Hermione literally took a leap out of bed when she realized this, and then she clapped her hands together in delight. She had never grown out of wishing for white Christmases or getting that special, magical Christmas spirit as soon as the calendar read ‘December’. Now, she rushed past the bed to look out, grinning widely as she rested her elbows on the windowsill. Large snowflakes were whirling slowly to the ground, and a thin layer of white covered the cars that were parked down on the street. A man walking his dog passed by on the sidewalk, leaving dark footprints in the fresh, glistening snow behind him.

Hermione glanced over her shoulder at Ron, who was still sleeping. A faint smile pulled the corners of his lips upwards, and she was just trying to imagine what he might be dreaming about when a thought hit her. There was one gift hidden downstairs that she had yet to wrap. They would leave for the Burrow early next morning, so she wouldn’t have time for it then. And besides, she thought as she stuck her feet into her slippers, it would be best to do it before Ron woke up.

A few minutes later, as she sat down in the kitchen and cut off a piece of the dark red wrapping paper, Hermione though of her relationship. She and Ron had fought a lot lately, more than they ever had. But it was Ron’s fault, she thought as she rolled up the rest of the wrapping paper. He was the one who couldn’t stand the thought of her being friends with Draco Malfoy. It was Ron who was being narrow-minded, unreasonable and stubborn, who refused to believe that Draco had the ability to change. Sometimes, Hermione found it hard to believe that he was the same Draco as the one they had grown up with. She didn’t get along as well with any of her other co-workers as she did with Draco – he was actually nice, and he was so committed to their work. In fact, he had done nothing to indicate that he still believed in the use of the dark arts or oppressing the weak – he was doing the exact opposite by helping form a better life for house-elves. Hermione often thought of him as the living proof of the fact that second chances were worth it, that sometimes, people did change. If only Ron could have seen it too…

“Good morning!”

Hermione nearly fell off her chair, and the scissors she was holding slipped and cut into her finger. She grimaced as she felt the stinging pain, and she grabbed the silvery blue, knitted scarf she was wrapping and threw it under the table. Then, she turned her head to meet Ron’s eyes. He looked so tired that, for a moment, Hermione thought he resembled a zombie – a zombie with red hair, even messier than Harry’s, dressed in a dark brown dressing gown, of course.

“Did I scare you?” Ron said. “Sorry. Look, you’re bleeding!” He grabbed her arm and examined her index finger. Then, his eyes swept over the table – the wrapping paper, the golden satin ribbon and the rusty scissors. “Oh. Were you wrapping my gift?”

“No, it’s not for you,” Hermione said. “Will you get me some Essence of Dittany? From the medicine box in the cabinet…”

Ron nodded. A while later, after he had dabbed the brown, cold liquid on her finger and watched as fresh, pink skin grew over the wound, he straightened up and looked at the table once again.

“This is why you shouldn’t use Muggle scissors,” he said and waved his wand to make the small blood stains disappear from the tablecloth.

“You know what I’m like,” Hermione said. “I want to wrap gifts the proper way, not using Magic. It’s tradition – that’s how I’ve always done it.”

“Yes, but they’re like bloody weapons,” Ron said, glaring at the scissors as if they had deliberately hurt her. “Who was it for, anyway? The gift. I mean, since you didn’t want me to see it…”

Hermione hesitated, but deciding that she didn’t want to give him another reason to be angry with her, she stuck to the truth. “It’s for Draco.”

“Draco Malfoy?”

“He’s the only Draco we know, isn’t he?”

Ron bent down and pulled the scarf out from underneath the table. “Did you knit this yourself?”

“Yes,” said Hermione calmly. Suddenly, she was nervous – not because she had done anything wrong, but because she really didn’t want to fight just before Christmas.

“A blue one? Don’t you think he’d prefer green or silver?” said Ron jeeringly.

“Well, if you must now, I chose this colour because it matches his eyes!” said Hermione irritably and leaned forwards to tear the scarf from his hands.

Ron pulled it out of her reach. “It matches his–? Hermione, are you hearing yourself? How can someone go from hating a person all of their life to knitting scarfs that match that person’s eyes? Why don’t you just go ahead and leave flowers by Voldemort’s grave while you’re at it?”

Hermione’s eyes narrowed; how did he always know what buttons to push to make everything worse? “Ronald Weasley,” she hissed between her clenched teeth. “Don’t you dare compare Draco to Voldemort!”

“Why not? They fought for the same team, didn’t they?”

If Hermione’s eyes had been narrowed before, they were only thin lines now, and they had never been as dark as they were when she shot her boyfriend one final dark look, tore the scarf from his hands and stormed out in the hall. Completely ignoring Ron’s voice, suddenly soft and pleading (“Hermione, wait! Don’t go, I didn’t mean–“) she walked out the door and slammed it close before hurrying down the stairs and into the beautiful, cold December morning.

 

 

Ginny skipped from her seat in the kitchen and over to the hall after hearing the doorbell ring. Harry, who remained sitting at the table, laughed at her good-humour while stirring his cup of tea, and she smiled.

“You’re the only one I know who’s ever this cheerful this early in the morning,” he said.

“It’s Christmas Eve tomorrow,” Ginny answered over her shoulder. “How can I not be happy?” She opened her front door. “Hermione!”

“Can I come in?” Hermione looked like she was going to burst into tears any minute. Little, white snowflakes were already melting in her hair, and the cold had coloured her cheeks red. Ginny stepped aside to let her in.

“Who was it?” Harry called from the kitchen. He sounded like he had his mouth full of food, and Ginny rolled her eyes while dragging Hermione inside.

“Is something wrong?” she asked. “I mean, what happened?”

“Your brother happened,” Hermione sighed.

The two of them walked out into the kitchen, and Harry lit up before noticing the look on his friend’s face, whereupon he became serious again. Ginny mouthed “Ron,” and he nodded quickly.

“Do you want me to take out another plate, Hermione?” he asked.

Hermione’s eyes swept over the table and the feast that they had laid out on it – pancakes, waffles, bread, fruits, bacon and fried eggs… She smiled. “It does look pretty good,” she admitted.

While Harry stood up and started poking about in the kitchen cabinets, Ginny and Hermione sat down. As she poured tea in her best friend’s cup, Ginny asked:

“So what did he do this time?”

“The same thing he always does nowadays,” Hermione said. “Which is getting angry at me for being friends with Draco. This morning, he walked in on me wrapping Draco’s gift…”

“You’re giving him a present for Christmas?” asked Harry, his eyebrows furrowed. Then, noticing the look Ginny shot him, he added: “I mean… go on.” He placed an empty plate, knife and fork in front of her before sitting back down.

“I’m not asking Ron to forgive him too,” Hermione said. “But how can he tell me that I can’t? Really, you should see how different Draco is… we’re actually having fun together. And he seems passionate about what we do, for real. I think it’s his way of making amends… you know, helping those who are helpless – the house-elves, I mean – to make up for what he did, in a way.”

“I see what you mean, Hermione,” Harry said. “It’s just… think about what the Death Eaters took from Ron.”

He was right, Ginny thought. How could Ron ever accept a Death Eater, when it was the Death Eaters who had taken Fred from them? In all honesty, she had no idea why Hermione had decided to believe that Draco Malfoy had gone through a complete personality makeover since the war. It just didn’t seem real. She knew that Harry spoke of him in a friendlier tone since then too, but Ginny didn’t buy it. How could anyone who had been raised by Lucius Malfoy be anything but evil?

“I’ll talk to him,” Harry said and took a last sip of his tea. “You two can’t be fighting this close to Christmas. Of course, it’s not up to him who you choose to forgive and not, Hermione, but just… try to see where he’s coming from too, okay?”

He bent down, gave Ginny a quick kiss, patted Hermione’s shoulder, and disappeared.

 

 

Christmas passed in a blur of happy faces, Mrs Weasley’s ever so delicious food, and glittering decorations. Hermione and Ron managed to stay clear of the subject of Draco Malfoy, and other than Percy, who was moping around because Audrey had decided to spend Christmas with her own family, everyone was full of joy and cheer (and food). Teddy was absolutely thrilled over his gift from Harry and Ginny – an entire miniature Quidditch team, complete with a small Quidditch pitch, Quaffle, Snitch and Bludgers. The players flew around just like in the real version of the game, and the Chasers passed the Quaffle between each other. In fact, it was hard to tell who was more fascinated by it – Teddy, Ron or Angelina.

The week after Christmas rushed by, and then it was New Year. The Ministry of Magic arranged a huge party for all of the employees, and Ron and Hermione were going, Harry was bringing Ginny as his date, and if Mr Weasley’s retelling of previous New Year parties there were true, they were all looking forward to a magical night.

Once Hermione had thrown her pinch of Floo Powder into the fireplace of the Burrow and disappeared, Ron followed her example. A thousand fireplaces, all over England, flashed before his eyes before he spotted Hermione from behind and stepped out into the arrival hall at the Ministry. She was just disappearing from his sight behind a couple that rushed by; Ron had time to notice the open back of her dress that revealed her soft, pale skin just enough to nearly drive him crazy. He smiled to himself and took a quick step to the side as flames flared up only inches behind him and an old woman stepped forwards. Then, his gaze swept over the hall again; he couldn’t remember it ever looking so amazing before. Flickering candles floated in the air, spruce twigs hanging on the walls spread their lovely scent, and the floor was covered in a thin layer of glittering, fake snow. Each fireplace was decorated with stockings, golden bells and candy canes. Again, Ron smiled to himself – it was almost as magical as Christmas at Hogwarts had been.

People were billowing out from the fireplaces – women dressed in beautiful gowns and men in their finest dress robes, much like the one Ron was wearing. Each time someone opened the door into the ballroom, the sound of music, loud voices and clinging silverware hinted at the cheerful atmosphere of the party that had just begun in there.

Ron searched the room with his eyes yet again. Where had Hermione gone? He stiffened at the sight of a tall, skinny and very blond figure. Melting snowflakes glittered in his fair hair, and a silvery blue scarf was wrapped around his neck. Ron frowned. He was not surprised that Hermione had already found him. Just as Ron approached them, she and Malfoy burst into laughter. Ron quickly placed an arm around Hermione’s shoulders.

“Hello,” Malfoy said. Ron suspected that he was trying to sound relaxed, but if that was the case, he failed miserably.

“Malfoy,” Ron responded with a short nod. “Hermione, shouldn’t we go inside? I’m sure we’ll see you later,” he told Malfoy.

“Actually,” Hermione said, “we were thinking that maybe Draco could sit with us?”

“So no date tonight, Malfoy?”

“No.” Malfoy lowered his eyes. “The girl I wanted to take is with someone else tonight.”

Hermione smiled encouragingly at him, and he met her eyes. Ron took a step back as a thought hit him – but, no, it couldn’t be… Malfoy, who had always hated…

Then he remembered Snape. Snape had been a Death Eater, but he had changed, because he was in love with a Muggle-born. It was just another proof that people didn’t choose who they fell for–

“I need to talk to you,” Ron said suddenly, grabbing Hermione’s arm and pulling her away. “Malfoy, we’ll meet up with you inside…”

Malfoy shrugged and turned around to walk into ballroom while Hermione turned to Ron, with a not-so-happy look on her face and her hands on her hips. She raised her eyebrows and waited for an explanation to his rudeness.

“I just realized something!” Ron said. “Hermione, you’re his Lily!”

A wrinkle formed on Hermione’s forehead. “I’m whose what?”

“Malfoy! He is Snape, and you’re his Lily!” Ron sounded impatient, as if he simply couldn’t understand why she wasn’t following. “He’s in love with you?”

Hermione snorted. “That’s ridiculous, Ron,” she said. “Draco is not in love with me.”

“But it all adds up, doesn’t it?” Ron said. “Snape was a Death Eater, right? But he changed because he fell in love with Harry’s mum, who was a Muggle-born. And then there’s you and Malfoy – you claim that he’s changed, you’re a Muggle-born… Aren’t you the one who always says that history repeats itself? Besides, you heard him just now! He said that the girl he wanted to take was with someone else tonight – she’s with me!

“Ron, Draco isn’t in love with me,” Hermione repeated. “We’ve talked about this girl he likes, and believe me, it’s not me!”

“Who is it, then?” Ron demanded to know.

“I said I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Hermione said. “It’s none of your business anyway.”

Suddenly, Ron froze. “It’s not Ginny, is it?”

“No!” said Hermione. “Of course not. Can we please just go inside and eat?”

And part of the frustration that had dominated her facial features over the last minute changed into relief as Ron, after a moment of considering his options, nodded and came with her.

 

 

Harry reached out and grabbed Ginny’s hand as they squeezed themselves through the crowd that blocked the entrance to the ballroom. She turned her head to meet his eyes and smiled, making his heart take a small leap in his chest. She was, if possibly, even more beautiful than usual in her midnight blue dress and her hair swirling around her shoulders as she moved.

“Harry!” Suddenly, Gawain Robards was standing in front of them, his thick, grey hair combed to the side and his beard carefully trimmed for the special occasion. He shook Harry’s hand before turning to Ginny. “And this must be the lovely Miss Weasley, of course! You look absolutely stunning!”

Ginny smiled. “Thank you. It’s so nice to meet you, Mr Robards.”

“Likewise. And I’m Gawain to you, dear,” he said before letting his gaze wander past her. “Oh, I think that’s my wife over there, talking to… I think I have to go and save her. Bertie’s a good man, he is, but he’s incredibly boring. Excuse me…”

Harry and Ginny exchanged an amused look as he rushed away, and then they moved along. Suddenly, Ginny stopped and grabbed Harry’s arm tightly. “Am I going blind, or is that Malfoy sitting at Ron and Hermione’s table?”

Harry turned his head while preparing to tell her that she must be going blind – but no, she wasn’t. He spotted Malfoy’s blond head almost immediately, and quickly noticed that Hermione was sitting in between him and Ron. Seamus and his date were sitting across from them, and neither one of them seemed to be engaged in any kind of conversation. Harry sighed at the prospect of an awkward, uncomfortable evening and sharing a table with Malfoy.

“I’m guessing Ron isn’t exactly thrilled over those seating arrangements,” he said and reached for her hand again. “Let’s go, then.” When Ginny raised her eyebrows, he turned towards her and grabbed her shoulders. “Gin, I understand that you won’t forgive him. But you are one of the kindest, most loving people I know. I’m sure you can find it in your heart to be… at least civil.”

Ginny sighed heavily and nodded. As they made their way to the table, she leaned towards Harry and whispered: “This is so like you, Potter – making me feel guilty so that I can’t be rude to him…”

Both of them grinned as they stopped by the table. “Hello, everyone,” Harry said.

Seamus stood up to introduce his girlfriend – “Martha Stroope, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met!” – while Malfoy mumbled his greetings without meeting their eyes. Harry didn’t know if he was acting his normal, snotty self or if he was ashamed. Surely, he knew that he wasn’t exactly warmly welcomed by anyone at the table, aside from Hermione.

All over the ballroom, people were in their best moods and on their best behaviours – they were chatting, drinking, dancing, eating, socializing, and having a wonderful night. It was as if the sun was shining over the entire room, and there was only one cloud, hovering over the table at which Harry and Ginny had just sat down. Harry tried to start a conversation by asking Martha about her work, what house she had been in at Hogwarts, and if she was enjoying the food. However, she was terribly shy and kept her answers very short and very squeaky, and Harry quickly gave this up. Ron and Hermione both acted like they weren’t aware of each other’s presence, and Malfoy stared at his plate without ever lifting his gaze, his lips pursed and his arms crossed over his chest.

Seamus cleared his throat. “So, Ginny,” he said, attempting to break the silence once again. “I heard about your match against the Kenmare Kestrels the other week. What was it that they wrote in the Prophet? ‘An outperformance,’ I think. Congratulations.”

“Thank you!” Ginny said. “It was quite a sensation – I don’t think anyone thought we’d win.”

“Actually, I bet on you. It earned me a handful of Galleons.” Everyone turned their heads towards Malfoy, who blushed and lowered his eyes again. “So thanks for that. I mean, for playing that well.”

Ginny smiled. Harry knew her too well not to notice how strained it was, but at least she was trying. “You’re welcome,” she said, managing to make it sound more like a question than anything else, and everyone fell silent again.

As soon as they had finished their food, Seamus and Martha headed out to the dance floor. Harry and Ginny followed, and the remaining three sat in silence during two very long songs. When Harry and Ginny returned, both Ron, Hermione and Malfoy seemed to simultaneously sigh in relief. Ginny gave Hermione an encouraging smile, and the latter sighed again and turned to her left.

“Ron,” she said. “Would you like to dance with me?”

Ron met her eyes. “You know I don’t like dancing,” he said dryly.

“I’ll dance with you,” Malfoy said.

Hermione nodded, allowed him to pull her to her feet and followed him over to the crowded dance floor. Ron pouted as he followed them with his eyes, which narrowed as Hermione and Malfoy grabbed each other’s hands and began moving to the beat of the music.

“What’s wrong with you, Ron?” Ginny asked her brother as she sat down across from him.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Ron asked. Seeing the uncomprehending looks on both Harry and Ginny’s faces, he continued: “Malfoy is in love with Hermione!”

“What?” Harry exclaimed.

“No,” Ginny said, upon which she burst into laughter. “I really don’t think so, Ron. You’re imagining things.”

“But I’m not!” Ron spat out. “I can tell that he is. And she’s expecting me to just be okay with it… with the fact that she works with him, alone, every day… that’s she’s out there right now, dancing with him–“

“She did ask you first,” Ginny pointed out, but he pretended not to hear her.

“–instead of spending New Years Eve with me, her actual boyfriend,” he continued.

Ginny leaned forwards and smacked Ron’s arm. As he let out a sound of surprise and pain, she crossed her arms over her chest. Then, with a voice so similar to her mother’s that it was almost scary, she began lecturing him.

“Oh, snap out of it, will you?” she said. “Hermione would have loved to spend this night with you, if you weren’t being such a git! You haven’t said a word since we got here, and don’t expect the whole jealous boyfriend act to make things any better! It’s your fault that she’s out there dancing with him, and it will be your fault if they do fall for each other, because you’re driving her away!”

“Here they come,” said Harry quickly as Hermione and Malfoy made their way back to the table.

Ron stood up. Walking past Malfoy with a determined look on his face, he grabbed Hermione’s arm. “Let’s dance,” he said.

“I thought you didn’t want to.”

“Am I not allowed to change my mind?”

Hermione shrugged and walked with him back out on the dance floor, just as they music slowed down. Placing one hand on his shoulder and the other in his hand, she looked up into his eyes.

“Ron, I’m…” she began to say, but he interrupted her.

“Look, I know I haven’t been the best company tonight. And I’ll be better. I just… I don’t want you to spend any more time with him.”

“Excuse me?” Hermione looked shocked.

“I know that he’s tricked you into believing all those good things about him,” Ron said, “but I can tell that he’s not being honest. And I can tell that you’re the one he’s in love with… so I don’t want you to be friends with him anymore.”

“Last time I checked, you weren’t my owner, but my boyfriend!” said Hermione angrily. “And this might be news to you, but that doesn’t give you the right to decide who I get to be friends with or not!”

“Yes, when it comes to him, I do!” said Ron loudly, making quite a few of the dancing couples around them turn their heads towards him. “You seem to be completely blind when it…” He fell silent and stared at her for a few seconds before adding: “Don’t tell me you’re… you love him too, don’t you?”

Hermione’s eyes filled with tears as she let go of him. “How can you even say that?” she asked. “You know that you’re the one I’m in love with!”

“So you say,” said Ron dryly. “But the way you act around him… the way you… you want to break up with me, don’t you?”

Now, tears were streaming down Hermione’s cheek. She tried to wipe them away with the back of her hand, but new ones kept coming, and she let her hand drop to the floor as she shook her head.

“You can’t go on like this,” she said. “You have to stop. Draco and I are friends, and if you can’t deal with that… if that means that you don’t want to be with me anymore…”

“Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? If I stepped out of the picture, made things a bit easier for you?” Ron’s ears had gone red, and a few people around them had now stopped dancing and were staring shamelessly at them. “I’m sorry,” he continued. “But I’m not going to do him that favour.”

And he turned around on the spot, squeezed himself through the crowd of people and left. Soon, Hermione had lost track of him, and she hid her face in her hands and began running towards the exits, desperate to get out of there as soon as she possibly could.

 




A/N: Okay, so I didn't plan on leaving the chapter there, but it was getting really long, and I decided to save the rest for the next one. (Don't worry, I won't leave you hanging for too long). So, Ron is sort of messing things up for himself, isn't he? But he's always been insecure, and he's always loathed Malfoy...

Thank you so much for all the support you are giving me and this story! Honestly, it means the world to me. If you've got a moment to spare, just know that it would make my day if you'd take the time to leave a review and let me know what you thought of this chapter.


Chapter 28: Year 3: Forgiveness
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A few minutes after leaving the ballroom at the Ministry, Hermione stepped into her own office and turned on the lights. She blinked as her eyes adjusted to it, and then she looked around. She quickly walked over to her desk and began re-organizing her already well-organized things. As she did this, tears begun flowing from her eyes again – this time, however, she made no attempts to wipe them away. Why didn’t Ron believe her? Why didn’t he trust her? They had been together for a long time, and they had known each other since they were eleven! Shouldn’t he have known by now that she wouldn’t lie to him?

A knock on the door made her lift her head. A few seconds later, Draco peeked in. “I saw you running away,” he said. “So I followed. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Hermione nodded and straightened up. “That’s nice of you,” she said. “But I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.” Draco stepped into the office, closed the door behind him and leaned against the wall. “You can tell me, you know.”

“It’s Ron,” Hermione confessed. “He’s really having a hard time accepting our friendship. And now, for some reason, he thinks I have feelings for you.”

Draco snorted. “You don’t, do you?” When she shook her head he began laughing. “Well, thank Merlin! That would have been so weird.”

Hermione laughed too, before letting out a sob. “I really don’t know what to say to him anymore,” she said. “I don’t feel like talking to him at all right now.”

Draco’s eyes darted to the large clock hanging on the wall above the door. Then, he smirked and said: “I would tell you to worry about him next year. But you… you should probably go and find him. You two want to be together when the clock strikes twelve, right? No matter how much of a git he’s being.”

“Or we could just stay here,” Hermione said, resting her elbows on the desk and her chin in her hands. “And let him suffer for a little longer.”

Draco smiled, and then he shook his head slowly. “No,” he said. “I mean, I honestly don’t want him to dislike me. And I wouldn’t exactly like someone who kept my girlfriend from me at midnight of New Years Eve. Go find him. You’ve only got about fifteen minutes left.”

Hermione lowered her eyes. Staring at her own hands, which rested on her lap and played with the hem of her dress, she thought about it. Draco was right. She was only making things worse. Had she really just suggested that the two of them would stay up in her office until the party was over, simply in order to punish Ron as much as possible? Perhaps, she thought, Ron wasn’t the one who should be punished…

She lifted her head. “You’re right,” she said. “Thanks, Draco. I just… I just wish he had been here to see this side of you.”

Draco shrugged, walked over to the door and opened it. “Go on,” he said. “The clock is ticking.”

Hermione nodded and walked past him out into the corridor. Just as she was about to scurry over to the elevators, she stopped and turned around. Draco was just closing the door to her office, and now, he turned his head to meet her eyes.

“I hope Tracey comes around,” Hermione told him. “She’s really missing out.”

And then she left.

 

 

Less than a minute remained of the year as the Ministry guests gathered on the dance floor, not to dance, but to count down the seconds until midnight. The band had stopped playing and formed a semicircle around the singer and her magical microphone, and they had already begun:

“Twenty seven seconds, twenty six…”

All around Ginny, people were counting along with the music group. She was standing in between Harry and her parents, looking up at the ceiling. Normally, it was beautifully painted in gold and white, but the colours had begun to fade, as if the roof was slowly turning transparent. At first, this had confused Ginny, but then her father had explained that it had been done every New Year for as long as he could remember; they turned the ceiling see-through, so that everyone would be able to see the fireworks at midnight. Now, if she squinted, Ginny could see the dark blue sky and the stars through the white and gold ceiling.

As she watched the sky become clearer and clearer, Ginny thought of the new year that was almost there. She was sure that it would be better than the last one for many reasons, but the main one was currently holding her left hand in his and laughing at something that Mr Weasley had just said. Then, he turned towards Ginny as the chanting “… fifteen, fourteen, thirteen…” drowned out Mrs Weasley’s admonition at her husband’s equivoque.

“You know,” Harry mumbled into Ginny’s ear, “you really are the most beautiful person in here…”

“I have to disagree,” she replied while wrapping her arms around his neck.

“Eight, seven, six…”

Ginny looked into Harry’s eyes. She wondered if his mother’s eyes had had the same effect on his father as Harry’s had on her. The green colour was so intense, so beautiful that she was filled with a bubbly happiness that no one else had ever managed to bring out in her. And the best part was that those eyes radiated that same special happiness and love each time they looked at her.

“Three, two, one… HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

In that exact moment, it was as if the sky exploded and was replaced by a wave of golden, red, blue and green sparks, rippling across the dark blue ocean that was the sky, leaving behind burning streaks of light that etched themselves onto Ginny’s retinas and reappeared each time she blinked. It was beautiful.

Ginny smiled. “Happy New Year, Harry.”

“Happy New Year.”

And as they kissed for the first time in 2001, Ginny couldn’t think of a better way to start the year.

 

 

Hermione was running. She was breathing heavily, her heart was beating rapidly in her chest and her feet were slipping on the icy ground, but she didn’t stop. There were people everywhere, all over the streets and the sidewalks; they were nicely dressed, excited, drunk…

As she ran, Hermione scanned the streets with her eyes. Each time she spotted a red-haired man who was about as tall as Ron, her heart took a leap, but each time the man in question turned around, it sank back down into her chest. She had seen him leave, but where was he now?

Then, suddenly, as a middle-aged couple and their two children stepped out of the way, Hermione saw him. He was leaning against the wall of a house, his shoulders shrunken and his arms crossed over his chest, as if he was hugging himself; as if he was searching for comfort in his own embrace, since it was the only one available.

Hermione ran across the street. She could hear the screeching of car brakes against asphalt and a horn tooting as she stumbled forwards, but she only saw Ron’s face; he was lifting his head at the sound, and his eyes widened in shock. Only moments later, she was in his arms – the car had missed her.

“Bloody hell, Hermione!” Ron shouted and let go of her. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

They were standing on the sidewalk now, facing each other. Hermione was still short-winded, and her pulse was rushing even faster than before – this time, it was a result of her nearly getting hit by a car rather than just running.

“I wanted to find you before midnight,” she said.

Ron’s facial expression softened. “Didn’t you hear them?” he asked. “The fireworks?”

“We missed it?”

Ron nodded, and Hermione bit her lips. She knew that her cheeks were still tear-stained, and perhaps flushed from running, that her hair was a mess and her eyes red and swollen, but it didn’t really matter. She just wanted him to look at her.

“Ron,” she said, and then she continued, louder: “I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry,” he said. “I know that I’ve been acting like a lunatic lately, especially when it comes to Malfoy. But I’m only doing it because I love you, and I’m scared of losing you.”

“I know,” Hermione responded. She took a step closer to him. “But even if Draco had been in love with me… even if he had been Snape, and I had been his Lily… you’re my James.”

Ron smiled. Then, he grabbed her hand and they started walking back towards the Ministry of Magic. As they passed a group of young teenagers, trudging slowly along the sidewalk in an attempt to create a distance between themselves and their parents, who were walking a few yards ahead, (every now and then, one of them would turn around and shout: “Hurry up, please!”) it started snowing.

“We’ll stop fighting,” Ron promised as they turned their head backs to watch the little flurries swirl down from the dark night sky. “I’ll stop being jealous, I promise. I guess it’s just that I still haven’t figured out what it is that makes you want to be with me.”

“Well, it’s not your self-perception,” Hermione grinned. “But I think it’s for the best. You’d be intolerable if you knew the effect you really have on me.”

 

 

January passed in the blink of an eye. For Harry, it was a slow month at the Auror Office, with very few crimes and very little action. For Ginny, it was intense Quidditch Trainings in Holyhead, trying to avoid any uncomfortable encounters with Oliver Wood (this was mostly successful, except for the one time they literally bumped into each other, exchanged a few polite phrases and rushed off in opposite directions, both of their faces burning red with humiliation), and packing up everything in her cottage. About three weeks into the new year, she was finally ready and, with a little help from George, Angelina and her parents, she moved all of her things to Harry’s flat. She absolutely loved setting up her things next to his – picture frames that didn’t quite match his, but in a charming way, books, trinkets and cushions.

After one rainy afternoon in Holyhead that had washed away parts of the unbelievable amount of snow that had fallen over the holidays, Ginny returned to Harry’s – no, hers and Harry’s – flat, completely exhausted. She stretched out on the couch and yawned; she should have been home hours ago, and she would have been, had it not been for the fact that they had lost the Snitch in the rainstorm. The entire team had been forced to stay behind for hours, flying around and searching for it. By the time Ginny’s friend Heather finally caught it, everyone had been so tired it was a miracle that they managed to scrape together enough energy to return to the dressing room, shower and go home. Somehow, they had done it though, and Ginny sighed in relief when the door opened only a few minutes after she had landed on the couch – Harry was home early, which meant that he’d be able to cook dinner that night.

“Rough day?” Harry asked as he entered the living room and sank into one of the armchairs.

“Rough training,” Ginny answered and opened her eyes. “How was work?”

“Brilliant,” Harry said. “Theresa Thent let us watch Berenson’s trial, and then we arrested a group of old wizards who were selling unicorn blood in Knockturn Alley. Fieldwork is so much better than just sitting at a desk all day.”

“It’s also more dangerous,” Ginny pointed out. “You’re being careful, right? Was there any trouble?”

“They fought back, but they weren’t very gifted,” Harry answered with a grin.

He stood up, walked over to her and squeezed himself in between her and the armrest of the couch. “So what do you want to do tonight?” he said. “Do you want me to cook you dinner and then head straight for bed?”

Suddenly, Ginny sat up. “I’d like that,” she admitted. “But there’s something I’ve been thinking about… you know how I ran into Audrey in Diagon Alley yesterday? It hit me that she and Percy hasn’t seen this flat yet. I mean, you’ve had Ron and Hermione over hundreds of times, and George and Angelina, Mum and Dad, Bill’s family… but Perce has never seen the place where I live. I know that he can be boring, but…”

Harry had already risen to his feet. “I’ll send him an owl and invite them over.”

Ginny shot him a grateful look as he hurried out into the kitchen. He knew how much she had been thinking about her relationship with Percy lately. Truth was, things hadn’t quite been the same between them since the Battle, the war, Fred’s death… since Percy left the family. Just thinking about it made Ginny sad – even though she had laughed the loudest at Fred and George’s jokes about Percy, even though she had been as annoyed as anyone at his pompous, stuck-up mannerisms, they had been quite close when she was younger. There had been times when Ron and the twins hadn’t let her join in their games, when Bill had been away and Charlie was too busy with his many girlfriends. At those times, Percy had been her source of comfort. Ginny was quite sure that none of her other brothers had known about it, but when she had walked into Percy’s room, her lower lip trembling and her eyes full of tears because she didn’t have anyone to play with, he had always put down his books or essays and let her sit on his bed, while she had told him stories or complained about Fred and George or Ron. Of course, Percy hadn’t had much to say about it, but he had taken the time to listen, and Ginny had often thought of it as their secret bond, their special moments that no one else got to have with him. Then, when he left the family, he also broke Ginny’s heart, and even though he had made up for his mistake, things hadn’t gone back to the way they had once been between them. Ginny missed it, and she had wanted to do something about it for quite some time now.

Percy and Audrey arrived a couple of hours later, dressed up and bearing gifts (a book titled Maximize your utility – spells and charms to reach your prime while saving time; Ginny was sure that Audrey had picked it out, and she was also sure that neither she nor Harry would ever read it). Harry had spent the afternoon preparing a tomato soup, and Ginny’s stomach growled loudly as the four of them sat down at the kitchen table to eat.

“It smells palatable,” Percy said as he lifted his spoon.

“I didn’t know you could cook, Harry,” said Audrey.

“Mum taught him a little bit before he moved out,” Ginny said. “Besides, I’m worthless when it comes to cooking, so he really doesn’t have a choice.”

“You only think you’re worthless because you have no patience!” Harry protested. “You know, she gave up on it completely because she burned the food one time!”

“It was more than one time!” Ginny said.

“We can say that, if it makes you feel better…”

“Wow,” Percy said, shaking his head at the two of them. “I’m surprised you can go on like that, Harry, without bats flying out of your nose by now. My sister must really love you.”

Harry and Audrey laughed, and Ginny rolled her eyes.

“I can put up with Harry,” she said, “because unlike our brothers, his mocking me hasn’t been going on for twenty years…”

“So you’re saying that in twenty years you’ll hex me too?” asked Harry, raising one of his black eyebrows.

Ginny grinned. “I’m saying that you shouldn’t mock me too much.”

“By the way,” Audrey said while placing her glass of water on the table. “Did we mention that Victoire knows how to say Percy’s name now?”

This made Ginny squeal with excitement and forget all about the previous subject of conversation. “Oh, what if she says ‘Ginny’ the next time we’re there? Harry, can we go tomorrow?”

The others laughed, and Harry shrugged while standing up to start clearing the table. Percy immediately rose to help him, but Harry stopped him.

“Why don’t Audrey and I take care of this?” he said. “You and Ginny can wait for us in the living room.”

Percy followed Ginny out of the kitchen without questioning this, and the two siblings sat down by the coffee table. Percy began talking about something he had read in the Daily Prophet that same morning, and Ginny interrupted him.

“I wanted to talk about something.”

Percy fell silent. As Ginny took a deep breath, she became very aware of everything that went on around them; the sound of running water coming from the kitchen, where Harry and Audrey must have started doing the dishes, the clock on the wall was ticking loudly, and the lines of frozen water that covered the window behind Percy’s head – the snow had begun melting, and drops of water had been running down the glass all day, but as the sun had set it had got colder, and those tiny rills had now frozen and created a striped pattern across the window.

Percy’s back was straight and his hands were clasped together and resting on his lap – even his way of sitting was neat. Ginny smiled as she turned her attention back to him.

“I don’t think we’ve ever talked about the time… when you went missing,” she said. “When you left the family. I don’t know if you agree, but I’ve felt like things never went back to how they were with you and me since then. You might not remember… but I always turned to you when I was alone, or upset… you used to–“

“Of course I remember,” Percy said, placing his hand on her forearm. “I was secretly very proud of it. I don’t know if you ever noticed, but we used to argue about who was your favourite brother. Bill always said it was him, because he’s the eldest, Charlie said he was the ‘coolest,’ Fred and George were the funniest… And Ron was closest to you in age. Every time they talked about it, I thought of you coming into my room all of those times…”

Ginny smiled. If she were to take a wild guess, she’d say that competing for the favourite brother award had been Fred and George’s insane idea. She shook her head at the thought of such a conversation, and then Percy continued:

“But I know it’s not like that anymore. I know that I betrayed the family, and you, and…” He swallowed. Ginny noticed that something was gleaming in the corner of his eyes – was he crying? “It should have been me,” he said. “I know that it would have been easier on all of you if I had died instead of Fred.”

“What? Percy, I–“

“No, it’s true,” Percy said. “You had already come to terms with losing me, hadn’t you? So it would have been easier if I had been the one to die… if Fred had been the one to have dinner with you tonight…”

Now, tears were flooding into Ginny’s eyes as well. She couldn’t believe that Percy was even considering the possibility of those words being true; how long had he carried those thoughts with him? She reached over and grabbed his hand.

“Perce,” she said. “None of us wanted Fred to die. But none of us, even for a second, wanted you to die instead of him! Do you really think we loved him more than we love you? That it even crossed our minds that he… No.”

“Maybe you didn’t love him more,” Percy mumbled. “But you liked him more.”

Ginny shook her head vigorously and squeezed his hand. “It doesn’t work like that. And you can’t go around thinking that it does. You know… I forgave you three years ago, for leaving us. Maybe the problem is that you still haven’t forgiven yourself.”

“But how do I do that, Ginny?”

“If the rest of us found a way to do it, I’m sure you will too,” she answered. “And by ‘the rest of us,’ I mean all of us. Including Fred.”

Percy blinked and reached up a hand to push his glasses further up his nose. “Do you really think so?”

Ginny leaned in towards him to give him a hug. “I don’t have the slightest doubt about it.”

 




A/N: So this chapter took me a little longer than usual, but I just couldn't get it right. I'm still not completely happy with it, so if you've got any comments on it, please share them with me! I'd love to get some feedback. And, once again, thank you so much for reading this story, and for being so incredibly kind and supportive about it.


Chapter 29: Year 3: Previews
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Some days, you can wake up and be completely unaware of the fact that today, you will see something, or hear something, or even taste something, that will make it perfectly clear to you what you really want. It can be a small thing that you just know that you want to have in your future, and small or big, it might even change your path until you find the closest way to such a place. Actually, Harry Potter experienced a day just like that, in the beginning of April before the summer that he would turn 21, on his godson’s third birthday.

The first week of April had been cold, but as Harry opened the window that morning to let in the owl that was delivering The Daily Prophet, a tepid breeze swept into the kitchen and announced that the spring warmth might finally be on its way. Harry smiled at this thought while holding his hand out towards the owl. As he unfolded the newspaper and began skimming over its front page, the bird snatched the treat that lay on his palm. Then, it let out a content hoot, turned around and flew back out into the morning air, much to the astonishment of Harry’s neighbour, Mrs Stack, who was just looking out her window and thereby spotted the owl soaring away from the building. She rubbed her eyes, as if to make sure that she was really awake, and then she looked up again; by then, the owl was gone, and Mrs Stack shrugged and continued to pour water into her teapot.

Four stories above Mrs Stack’s flat, Ginny was just entering the kitchen, cheerful as she always was in the mornings. Casting a glance on the newspaper her boyfriend was reading, she smiled and took out a glass from one of the cabinets next to him.

“Anything interesting?” she asked while pouring pumpkin juice into the glass.

“No,” Harry replied. “Some guy at the Ministry was caught messing with Muggle supplies in a supermarket…” Ginny had just opened her mouth to ask: “Supermarket?” when he added: “It’s a Muggle store. I suppose your Dad’s friend Perkins was involved in the case then, right? Oh, yes, here it is: ‘Philip Perkins, from the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office, says: Fortunately, the problem was discovered before any Muggles were injured. However, one must always ask whether or not this man’s intention was to harm Muggles in particular, and if a person with such views really belongs behind a desk at the Ministry of Magic.’ He has a point, don’t you think?”

“People do that all the time,” Ginny said. “It doesn’t make them Death Eaters. I’m sure Dad agrees.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” Harry said. “The Prophet might not even have mentioned it if it hadn’t been a Ministry Official.”

Ginny emptied her glass and shook her head. “No, probably not. What time is it? Do we need to get going?”

Harry checked the golden watch on his wrist. “Yes, I think we should. Andromeda is expecting us. And if I know Teddy right, he’s probably climbing the walls right now because he can’t wait for us to get there.”

If the little birthday boy had been climbing any walls, it certainly hadn’t affected his grandmother’s mood. Andromeda’s smile was almost ridiculously wide as she opened the front door to let Harry and Ginny in a couple of minutes later. She was wearing an apron covered in red and yellow stains, her hair was a mess and her hands covered in some sort of mysterious-looking goo, but the look on her face showed only overjoy as she stepped aside to let them in.

“We were making pancakes,” she explained. “I let Teddy choose what to have for breakfast today. In response, he poured jam and syrup all over me…”

She smiled as she said this, and Harry and Ginny laughed. In that same moment, a brown-haired, small figure came flying out of the kitchen, stumbled across the rug that covered the hall floor, and wrapped his arms around Harry’s legs with surprising strength.

“Hi, little man!” Harry said, bending down to ruffle the boy’s hair. “Happy birthday!”

Ginny grinned. “Is anyone excited to come with his Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny to Legoland?”

Teddy nodded and giggled happily, and Andromeda smiled widely again. “He’s been shooting around the house like a cannonball all morning, just waiting for you to come,” she said. “He doesn’t even know what that place is, that you’re taking him too, but he’s still this excited about it.”

“I’ve never been, either,” Harry said. “My aunt and uncle took my cousin there once, for his birthday. I had to stay with Mrs Figg, but Dudley wouldn’t shut up about it for weeks afterwards. I mean, I think part of it was just to make me jealous because I couldn't go, but we asked Audrey about it too. You know, her mum is a Muggle, so they went when she was younger…”

“I’m sure the children will love it,” Andromeda said.

Ginny bent down to help Teddy put on his shoes, and Harry and Andromeda chatted with each other as they waited. “Anything new with you, Andy?” Harry asked.

“Actually, yes,” Andromeda said. “I received a very interesting letter the other day…”

“Really? From whom?”

“From my sister. Narcissa,” Andromeda continued. “It said that she and Draco had bought Teddy a birthday gift, and she was wondering if I’d let them come by to give it to him. You know, they’ve never seen him… I was just… I was wondering what you think about it.”

“If I think you I should let them?”

Andromeda nodded, and Harry thought about it for a few seconds before opening his mouth.

“I think they have changed,” he said. “I mean, with Lucius in Azkaban… did you know that Draco works with Hermione now? Believe it or not, but they’re actually friends.”

“So I should give them a chance, then?”

Ginny had finally managed to get Teddy’s shoes onto his feet, and she was now straightening up while grabbing his hand. Andromeda handed Harry her grandson’s little rucksack and waited for a response.

“It’s up to you,” he finally said. “I won’t mind it, whatever you decide.”

They said their goodbyes, Teddy promised his grandmother to behave, and then the three of them left the Tonks property to apparate to their next stop. Only about a minute later, they walked up to the Shell Cottage, where they found Victoire and Fleur already waiting for them outside the front door. Hearing them come, Bill stuck his head out the window – his long hair flitted in the sea breeze and landed across his face, thus blocking his view completely. Letting out a frustrated sigh, he brushed it away (Ginny wondered if he, in that split second, may have been considering pleasing his mother by cutting it all off) and then he called out:

“You have to keep track of her! Ginny, do you hear me? Don’t let her get lost, or fall into–“

“William!” Fleur said, rolling her eyes as she began walking towards the visitors. “Just ignore ‘im,” she told them. “’E ‘as been so nervous all morning, so I ‘ad to tell ‘im to stay inside. ‘E knows that you take care of Teddy all ze time, so you know what you are doing…”

“We’ll just ignore him,” Ginny said. “After all, he was raised by our mother. How could he not be overprotective?”

“Poor girl,” Fleur said while kneeling down to kiss her daughter’s forehead. “Be good to your aunt and uncle now, chérie. And wave goodbye to papa!”

“Okay then,” Ginny said, picking up her niece and waving at her eldest brother, who was still hanging out the window with a concerned look on his face. “We should get going. Bye, Fleur. We’ll see you this afternoon!”

In the next moment, the four of them stepped out of a hidden coppice just outside the Muggle amusement park. Brushing a few leaves off of his shirt, Harry let Teddy down on the ground, grabbed his hand and began leading him towards the entrance. Ginny and Victoire followed closely behind.

A little while later, after somehow enduring a very challenging couple of minutes waiting in line with a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old, Harry and Ginny made it into Legoland, pushing the twin stroller they had rented forwards, along the narrow street within the park. Ginny pointed at each little Lego house they passed, and Victoire and Teddy nearly fell out of the stroller in their excitement as they stretched their necks, both of them eager to imbibe every single impression; the older children, running around the little town built of Lego, the green Lego crocodile in the small pond that actually opened and closed its mouth as Harry pushed the stroller past it, revealing a massive opening and two rows of long, plastic teeth. Victoire shrieked at the sight of this, causing Teddy to burst out in laughter. At first, she looked a little offended, but she seemed to decide to let it pass – Ginny was relieved when her niece joined in the laughter instead of flinging out an arm and punching her best, yellow-haired friend in the stomach, like she so often did when they quarrelled.

After a couple of hours of strolling around, building towers and riding around in a Lego train, they decided to take a break and have lunch. They found a table at one of the terraces, in the sunlight and very close to the enormous Lego pirate ship that Victoire seemed incredibly fascinated by. Harry walked into the restaurant to find a high chair for her, while Ginny helped her and Teddy out of the stroller.

“Oh, let me help you with that, sir!” exclaimed one of the waiters as he spotted Harry, who was in the middle of lifting one of the chairs off of the large pile by the wall. “Where is your table?”

The man was older than Harry, probably in his mid-thirties or early forties, and he had, thick, brown hair and eyebrows so bushy that they actually cast shadows over his kind, brown eyes. Now, he smiled politely as he took the high chair from Harry’s hands and turned around.

“Outside,” Harry responded. “See the red-haired woman over there?”

“Of course.” Heaving the chair over his shoulder, the waiter began walking. “You’ve got a beautiful family.”

“Oh,” Harry said, letting a small laugh escape his lips. “They’re not our children. The boy is my godson, and the girl is my girlfriend’s niece.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the waiter said quickly. They reached the table, and he set the chair down. “Here we go…”

His eyes swept over towards Teddy, who had just crawled up onto the chair next to Ginny’s. Harry had no problem reading the man's confused facial expression, the wrinkle on his forehead or his now widened eyes; Teddy’s hair had just gone from yellow to a familiar light brown colour – it was exactly Remus’ colour, and that thought alone distracted Harry for a few moments before his mind managed to move on, and focus on the actual problem.

“Did his hair just…?”

“Oh,” Ginny said quickly, placing a hand on top of Teddy’s head, as if to cover it. “He’s got so many shades in his hair – I see new colours in it every day. Don’t you, Harry?”

Harry mumbled in agreement. The waiter continued to stare at the boy for a few seconds before shrugging, and then, probably deciding that Ginny’s explanation was the only logical one, he pulled out a small notepad from his chest pocket and smiled.

“Of course,” he said. “Now, what can I get you? Maybe the young mister here would like to start?”

Teddy looked absolutely terrified as he shot Harry a look that seemed to scream for help. Harry chuckled. “I think Teddy would like a children’s menu,” he said. “Anything with hot dogs, right, buddy?”

“Yes, yes,” the waiter mumbled as he scribbled down the order. “And for the little princess?”

Victoire, who had received a golden, plastic crown outside the Lego castle, giggled in delight. About a minute later, the waiter scurried into the kitchen to deliver their orders to the chefs, and Harry and Ginny exchanged a look, both their faces like reflections of each other’s concern.

“He’s suspicious,” Ginny said, streaks of panic in her voice slipping through her ever so calm exterior. “How do we…? Teddy, you have to try not to–“

“He doesn’t know how to control it yet,” Harry interrupted. “We should have just let him wear a hat. Why didn’t Andromeda…?”

“She must have been distracted,” Ginny said. “With the whole Malfoy thing… there’s a shop over there,” she said, pointing her finger at a spot behind Harry. “We could buy him a cap… they’ve got to have those, right?”

“It’s definitely worth a shot,” Harry said, springing to his feet and grabbing Teddy’s hand. “Come on,” he said. “Vic already has her princess crown, so we think you should have something to wear on your head too…”

Ginny waved as they left the terrace. In that same moment, the waiter returned to their table with their drinks.

“Is your company leaving, Miss?” he asked.

“Only for a couple of minutes,” Ginny answered. “Teddy got a little jealous over the fact that his friend here had a crown, and he didn’t, so Harry brought him to the souvenir shop to see what he can do about that… We’re celebrating their birthdays,” she added, as if she was worried that the waiter would think them a bad influence on the child.

The man simply raised one bushy eyebrow and winked at her. “Well, you are allowed to spoil other people’s kids!”

“No-o!” said Victoire firmly, crossing her arms over her chest in the most adorable way. “Mummy says no!”

“Mummy says we shouldn’t do that?” Ginny said. Leaning forward, she began tickling the little girl. “Well, then you’re going to have to keep it a secret from Mummy!”

Victoire giggled loudly. The waiter smiled as he placed their drinks on the table, and as he walked away, Ginny bent her head down to place a kiss on Victoire’s cheek.

“You are the prettiest girl I know,” she told her. “I can see why your Dad doesn’t want to give you away, even if it’s just for a day.”

“I think she shares that title with another girl.”

Ginny looked up and rolled her eyes at Harry, who had returned with Teddy in tow. The little boy was now wearing a purple cap with pieces of Lego in different colours printed on its peak, and he grinned widely as he climbed back up onto the chair.

“Hajjy!” Victoire said. “Hajjy pitty too!”

“What about me, Vicky?” Teddy asked, hastily leaning forwards so that he nearly spilled out both his and Harry’s drinks. “Don’t you think I’m pretty? I’ve got a new cap!”

“Evjyone pitty!” Victoire declared. “Hajjy,” she pointed her small index finger at him, “Teddy,” she moved her hand, “and Ginny,” she moved it again, “and Vicky!” Pressing the tip of her finger into her own chest, she smiled before starting to clap her hands.

“So she’s even calling herself Vicky now,” Harry said. “I think Fleur has to consider that a battle lost.”

“Yes, but with George on the other end, who would have expected anything else?”

 

 

Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes rarely saw any particularly quiet days; at any given hour of the day, there was, with almost no exceptions, at least twenty or thirty children or teenagers in there, dragging their parents or their friends around the entire building, examining the new arrivals in the front or scanning the shelves in the back in search of some gem that had got lost in the jumble of objects in all colours and fashions. Of course, there had been that time, just after the war, when George hadn’t exactly been in shape to run a shop, much less come up with new inventions, and despite the many children casting longing glances at the front doors each time they passed it, it had remained closed for a good five months. Then, Angelina had stepped in, called the twins’ old shop assistant, Verity, and dragged George out of bed. Verity had gladly given up her part time job in a very shady coffee shop, located in the bystreet that separated Diagon Alley from Knockturn Alley, and come back to her old job. Together, the three of them had slowly managed to get the business moving again, and now, about two and a half years later, the shop had long since returned to its former glory, with a constant flow of enough customers and galleons to keep both Verity’s, George’s and Angelina’s pockets continually full.

Ron, who was just pushing the door into Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes open, knew that things were never very quiet in there, but it seemed like a relatively calm day anyway. He noticed that the line to checkout where Angelina was working was long, but George and Verity seemed to be taking a small break, as they were both leaning against one of the walls, chatting to each other while casting suspicious glances at a group of teenage boys a few yards away, as if they worried that they would start filling their pockets with the Exploding Whizz Poppers they were looking at.

Ron ducked as a miniature flying mat headed towards him, and then grimaced as a Fanged Flyer sank its teeth into his shoulder. It backed away and seemed to aim for him a second time, but he punched it, thus making it turn around and soar away in the other direction.

“So the rumours are true!” said a familiar voice, and Ron turned his head to see that George was now standing in front of him, dressed in his magenta robe and with a smile on his face. “My little brother has come to see me!”

“There are rumours about that already, huh?” said Ron sceptically.

“Word travels fast when you’re Harry Potter’s best mate,” George answered while winking at him. “So to what do I owe the pleasure of having one third of the Golden Trio in my presence?” he continued, pretending to be in awe at the mere sight of Ron.

Ron rolled his eyes. “I was in the neighbourhood.”

“Very well! You're always welcome. Don't just stand there in the doorway, though – you might scare costumers away!”

Ron laughed and followed his brother further into the shop. Four young witches, gathered around the large cask filled with pink love potion, stared barefacedly at him as he passed them, and he smiled quickly. One of the girls’ father stopped him to shake his hand, but seemed to be speechless, as he didn’t utter a single word. Finally, Ron and George reached the checkout disk, where Angelina was still busy serving the eager purchasers (or perhaps, in most cases, the parents of the eager purchasers).

“So tell me,” Ron said, sinking into one of the chairs behind the desk. “How’s married life?”

“Why?” George asked with an ingenious look on his face. “Are you thinking about making an honest woman of Hermione?”

“No!” said Ron appallingly. “No, not at all! I was just… making conversation.”

George grinned at his furiously red ears and cheeks before answering: “Married life is… fine, I guess.” Noticing the long look his wife shot him, he burst into laughter and continued: “Okay, it’s wonderful. How could it not be, considering exactly whom I married?”

“Yes,” Angelina said over her shoulder, “its worse for me. I married down.”

Ron laughed, and George tried to look upset at this.

“It really is worse for me,” said Angelina, who had somehow finished off the entire line in only a few minutes (“That’s why I married her,” said George with a grin, “because of her checkout skills!”). “Your mother is constantly nagging me about us having children!”

“Aren’t you going to?” Ron asked.

“Definitely not right now,” George answered. “Did you know that Zonko’s owner accepted our offer last week? That means that we’re opening Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes in Hogsmeade, preferably before September. Lee is going to run it, but it still means that we’re going to have our hands full for some time now.”

“Besides, we’re only twenty two!” Angelina added. “If Mrs Weasley wants another grandchild, she should ask Bill and Fleur to give her one.”

“By the way, Ron,” George said. “I’ve been meaning to ask you if you and Hermione are going to the ceremony at Hogwarts for the third anniversary. I met Hagrid when we went to Hogsmeade, and he wanted to know.”

“No, we’re not,” Ron said. “We should definitely pay him a visit, though. But I think we’re just going to the Burrow, to celebrate Victoire and be with the family. Mum has been sending Charlie weekly letters, begging him to come too. I guess we’ll see if he’ll succumb, right?”

“Let’s hope so. That reminds me, George, do you think Fleur would kill us if we gave Victoire some products from here?” Angelina asked.

“Perhaps, but that’s just more of a reason to do it!” George grinned. “Fleur might want her to be a perfect little angel, but someone has to feed her Weasley genes! We can’t just stand by and watch as she turns into a mini-Phlegm.” He dodged Angelina’s attempted punch and wrapped his arm around her. “You know it’s true!” he said. “Hum… I think I see a bunch of shoplifters over there. Let me go scare them away.”

He scurried away, leaving Ron and Angelina alone at the desk.

“He seems so happy now,” Ron said. “I think you have a lot do with that.”

“The nights are worse,” Angelina admitted. “Sometimes, he’ll wake up and… just call out for Fred. I can’t get him to stop crying… Honestly, I worry that this happiness is just a façade, and that it’s really eating him up inside. What if he’ll break down completely one day, without any of us seeing it coming?”

Ron’s eyes darted to his brother, who was busy dragging two teenage girls over to Verity, who was waiting for them outside the door that led into George’s office. What if Angelina was right? What if he couldn’t cope with losing Fred, and was only hiding it behind a wall of humour, jokes and grins?

“I guess we’ll never know until it happens,” Ron said.

“No,” Angelina agreed. “All we can do is be there for him and hope that I’m worrying for nothing.”

 

 

Ginny smiled and pulled the striped pyjama shirt over Teddy’s head, watching his lips form an ‘O’ as he yawned and stretched his arms into the air. He had had a long day, and his head was probably still crammed with all of new impressions and sensations. His favourite part of the day had been the Lego Pirate ride, which had shown another group of green crocodiles, life-size Lego figures with black eye patches and wooden legs, and a chest of gold and jewellery. Now, he barely had any energy left at all as he sat on Ginny and Harry’s bed, water still dripping from his blue hair and onto the sheets after his bath.

Harry had just set up the travel cot that Andromeda had packed in Teddy’s overnight bag when the boy started crying. Ginny felt the same sting inside she always did when that happened; she was scared that she had hurt him somehow.

“What happened?” said Harry and stuck his head into the bedroom.

Ginny sat down and pulled Teddy onto her lap. “What’s wrong, buddy?” she asked.

“I don’t…” Teddy sobbed. “I – don’t – have – a – mummy – or – daddy! Vicky is with her mummy and daddy, and I don’t have any!”

Ginny wrapped her arms around him, and he continued to cry loudly while pressing his face to her chest. Harry walked over to the bed and sat down next to them. As he grabbed Teddy’s little hand, he said:

“Yes you do. You have a mummy and a daddy, but they’re in heaven. Your grandma has talked to you about that, right? They had to go to heaven, so that you could be safe.”

“But I don’t want them to go!” Teddy said.

“No one did,” Ginny said. “But sometimes you can’t choose. You remember Fred, right? From the photos at Molly and Arthur’s house?”

Teddy lifted his head to look at her. “The other George?”

Ginny smiled. “Yes, the other George,” she said. “He had to go to heaven too. He’s there, with your parents. And do you know what? He was really funny, so I think that they’re all laughing together right now!”

“Okay,” Teddy said and nodded. He looked a little happier now. Then, he burst into laughter and exclaimed: “Me too! We’re laughing together!”

Harry, whose eyes were full of tears, leaned his head against Ginny’s. “That’s great, Teddy.”

“And do you remember who else is in heaven?” Ginny asked. “Harry’s mummy and daddy.”

“Yes, and they are best friends,” Teddy said. “Right?” he added, turning towards Harry as if he wanted this confirmed from the primary source.

Harry nodded. “They are,” he said. “They’re together again now.”

Ginny stood up and walked out the door to the travel cot, but Teddy gripped the collar of her shirt and began whining. “I want to sleep in your bed!” he said. “Please?”

Ginny turned around to look at Harry, who tilted his head to the side and shrugged. Ginny walked back into the bedroom, placed Teddy in the middle of the bed and lay down next to him. After all, they were celebrating his birthday.

As Harry crawled into bed on Teddy’s other side, he thought of the day that had just passed. Teddy placed one small hand on his arm, as if to make sure that he was still there, even now that Ginny had turned out the light and they could no longer see each other. Harry closed his eyes, letting a series of images of small moments from the day flash before them as he waited for sleep to take him in.

Some days, you can wake up and be completely unaware of the fact that by the time you go to bed, you will have seen something, heard something, or even tasted something, that will make it perfectly clear to you what you really want. Just before Harry fell asleep on this day, he thought of a waiter with bushy eyebrows, telling him what a lovely family he had, and he thought of the response he wished he had been able to give him:

“Thank you, sir. I think so too.”

 






A/N: Again, I'm still astonished that you actually WANT to read my story, and it means the world to me that you do! I also can't really explain how happy it makes me to get direct response on it, when you leave a review. I think that this whole site is just amazing like that. If you've got a moment to spare, please let me know what you thought of this chapter. Many of you have been asking for more Teddy time, so I hope that this makes you happy! :)


I can't believe that year 3 is almost over! It feels like yesterday that I posted the first chapter, not knowing at all what to expect. I never thought I would get such lovely response, so many reads or kind comments and helpful suggestions. You are all amazing, and I am so happy that I decided to join this site back in December and actually post this story!!






"Cherié" is french for "honey"

 


Chapter 30: Year 3: May 2nd, 2001
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“But know this; the ones that love us never really leave us.”

Quote from the film 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' (2004) Warner Bros. Pictures






Fred’s family may not have been aware of it, but he had been with them every single moment since the one exactly three years ago, which they all thought of as his last. He had been there to hear George cry himself to sleep in Gryffindor’s common room the nights following that moment, he had seen his mother sneak away from the others when rebuilding a classroom or a staircase at Hogwarts that week to hide her grief, and after the family returned to the Burrow, Fred had been with his father out in the garage and watched as he tore down his entire collection of Muggle objects from his shelves in a fit of rage. Fred had been right next to George, watching his own body being lowered into the ground, and he had sat with his family at Ginny’s graduation from Hogwarts. He had been with them in the waiting room at St. Mungo’s the day that Victoire had been born. He had laughed at George’s jokes, suffered with them in their adversities, and felt his heart break each time they cried over him. Because truth was, that even though he was right there with them, he was also someplace else – someplace calm, and peaceful. And he was happy. Perhaps he could still watch over them, and even share their pain, but he was enclosed in tranquillity, in peace, and happiness. He was fine. The only thing that saddened him was the fact that he couldn’t tell them that.

On the morning of the second day of May 2001, Fred watched as Bill and Fleur woke their daughter with gifts and breakfast in bed. He watched as George and Angelina stayed in bed for a while after waking up, sharing memories of him and trying their best to keep their moods up. Fred’s mother cried for a moment in his father’s arms before getting up to prepare the upcoming birthday party. He stopped to ask himself if he really wanted to witness whatever Harry and Ginny might get up to in the morning, but when he finally dared peeking into their flat, they were, much to his relief, only having breakfast, clutching each other’s hands over the table – it was very innocent and exactly how Fred liked it.

Ron and Hermione were the first to arrive at the Burrow, aside from Charlie. To his mother’s delight, the second oldest Weasley brother had grown tired of her nagging and agreed to come to England; well, that was what he had said when showing up the night before, but Fred suspected that while he may never say it out loud, he also really missed his family. After Ron and Hermione, the rest of them kept popping up, increasing the sound level in the house that their conversations and laughter added to, and decreasing the amount of space left in the kitchen and the living room. Fred was astonished to see that Percy and Audrey didn’t arrive until fifteen minutes after agreed time; he was quite sure that if he had still been alive, he would have died of shock.

Naturally, it was Bill and Fleur’s arrival that gave rise to the most stir. Everyone was eager to kiss and congratulate the birthday girl; Charlie made this quite difficult, though, as he claimed to have the right to monopolize his goddaughter.

“You lot see her all the time!” he said, scooping her up in his arms. “You should let me have her today!”

Ignoring Bill’s muttering about treating Victoire like a possession, Charlie then threw her up in the air and caught her again to the sound of nervous exclamations from Fleur’s direction and frisky laughter from Victoire’s.

“Do you know what?” Charlie said, sitting down on one of the kitchen chairs and placing the little girl on his lap. “I’ve got something special for my favourite goddaughter on her birthday… a tickle attack!”

Victoire whooped and giggled, trying to escape his arms, as he began tickling her. When he finally stopped, she threw her arms around his neck.

“Chali, Chali,” she said in a tone that an old woman would use when talking to a child, which most of her relatives, Fred included, found both adorable and hilarious. “Miss you.”

“I’ve missed you too, little one,” Charlie answered. “Every day.”

“So why don’t you move back home, then?” asked Mrs Weasley quickly. “You’re almost thirty, you know. Isn’t it time you settled down with a nice girl and started your own family? Sure, this whole dragon adventure has been exciting, but don’t you feel like you’ve grown out of it yet?”

Fred knew what Charlie’s answer would be before he had said it; their mother may still have been in denial, and she may still not have understood why he had moved so far away from them, but the dragon thing was more than just a silly adventure that Charlie would grow out of one day. It was his life, and he loved it. Frankly, Fred thought, their mother should just be thankful that at least Bill had moved back to England and leave it at that.

“Nope, I’ll never give up on dragons,” Charlie said and put Victoire, who was too restless to remain still on his lap, down on the floor. “I thought you knew that, Mum.”

“Yes, but it just doesn’t go together with family life, does it?” Mrs Weasley argued. “Are you planning to push a stroller around between the dragon cages?”

Charlie shrugged. “I don’t even know if I’ll ever have kids. Oh, come on, Mum, don’t look so terrified! It’s just not for me. Besides, you have a whole bunch of children, so I’m sure you’ll get more grandchildren than you can count either way.”

 

 

Andromeda and Teddy were the last ones to join the celebrations and arrived only in time for cake and coffee. As soon as he spotted her, Teddy rushed over to Victoire, and they instantly dove into the pile of new toys that she had received from her relatives, both of them bubbling with enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, Andromeda walked over to Ginny, who had just returned from the bathroom (Fred hadn’t exactly watched over her in there, but he knew this because she had told Harry where she was going before leaving the room. Oh, if only Fred could have been there physically, too, so that he could have lectured them in the subject of ‘sharing too much with your partner!’)

“Hello, Ginny,” Andromeda said. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Ginny said. “I’m still a little bummed out over the fact that we screwed up against the Montrose Magpies last week, which means that we lost our chance of winning the league… but there’s always next year, right?”

“That’s the spirit,” Andromeda smiled.

“And how are you?” Ginny added. “Did you ever talk to your sister? Mrs Malfoy, I mean.”

“Yes, I did, actually,” Andromeda said. “I had them over last week… her and Draco, I mean. Lyall – Remus’ father – was there too, for moral support. It was… it was fine. But let’s talk about that later. I actually have something I’d like to discuss with you.”

She grabbed Ginny’s arm and pulled her into the living room, leaving behind all of the others, who had begun taking their seats at the table while Mrs Weasley and Fleur were giving the cake its final touch. As she followed Andromeda, Ginny suddenly started to feel nervous – it felt a little bit like being sent to Professor McGonnagall’s office after doing something she wasn’t allowed to, like sending the Bat-Bogey Hex at a group of Slytherins, or playing a prank on a certain Miss McLaggen. Andromeda’s facial expression looked nothing like McGonnagall’s had did those times, however, as she turned around to face her and started talking:

“I know that Harry and you aren’t married, or anything,” she said. “But I suppose you will be one day?”

Ginny furrowed her eyebrows; where was she going with this?

“Well,” she said, “I hope so. I think we both do.”

“But I still think it should be you,” Andromeda continued. “You see, Remus and Dora never chose a godmother for Teddy, and I was thinking… I may not be that old yet, but what if something does happen to me? I can’t think of anyone who would be better for the job, and I’d be able to rest in peace, knowing that the two of you would look after him. You’re so good with him, Ginny, and he really adores you.” Smiling, she added: “You should see the look on his face when I tell him he’ll get to spend the day with you. It almost offends me.”

In the next moment, Ginny had taken a leap forwards and thrown her arms around the older woman. Fred was very amused by Andromeda’s reaction – first, she looked absolutely shocked, then she softened and started stroking his sister’s back, and then she quickly pushed her away, clearing her throat while keeping her eyes fixed on the floor.

“I would love to be his godmother,” Ginny said. “I’d be honoured.”

“I think it’s what my Dora would have wanted too,” Andromeda said. “She thought of you as the little sister she never got, despite her many attempts of talking me and Ted into having another child.”

“I definitely saw her as the older sister I never had,” Ginny laughed. “I mean, I love my brothers, but sometimes I really wish one of them had been a girl!”

Andromeda laughed and was just about to respond when Mrs Weasley appeared in the doorway, her cheeks dusted with icing sugar and her arms crossed over her chest.

“What are you doing in here?” she said suspiciously. “Everyone’s at the table, waiting for you…”

“We’re coming,” said Andromeda quickly. “We were just chit-chatting… nothing important.” As soon as Mrs Weasley had left the room, she turned her head back to Ginny and winked at her. “I figured we should wait to tell everyone,” she said. “Little Vicky has enough things to share everyone’s attention with today, doesn’t she?”

Out in the kitchen, everyone seemed to let out a sigh of relief as the last two guests finally joined the others at the table. Bill had, during the last couple of minutes, struggled to keep Victoire from launching herself forward and finally reach the appetizing, very pretty cake. Teddy had begun whining, and not even sitting on his godfather’s knee seemed to help. Had Ginny and Andromeda stayed in the living room for much longer, there might have been an outright disaster, consisting of both tears, screams, and possible destruction of the cake that both Mrs Weasley and Fleur had put so much work into. Hoping to be able to avoid this, everyone quickly stood up and sang Happy Birthday To You with such speed that Fred found it impressive that no one tripped on the words or fell behind – not even his father, who had such complete lack of rhythm in his body. Shortly after the singing ended, both Teddy and Victoire had been served a slice of cake, and all was calm in the Weasley home again.

Hermione and Ron were sitting on the kitchen bench, squeezed closely together; it was probably made for three of four people, but it was currently holding six, all of which had trouble moving both their arms and legs. In fact, it was quite miraculous that they could all breathe. Of course, if Fred knew his brother right, he was most content with the seating arrangement, as it meant that he got to sit that close to Hermione without earning himself awkward throat-clearing from his father, mocking words from his sister or amused glances from his best mate.

“I’ve got a suggestion,” said Angelina suddenly. “Why don’t we all share a happy memory we have with Fred?” She exchanged a look with Ron, who started coughing loudly before agreeing:

“That’s a good idea, Angelina. I think we should do that more often… focusing on the positive.”

Ha! Fred thought. Perhaps they’d call that discretion, and perhaps it didn’t sound rehearsed to the rest of the family. But to him, who had been in the shop with them and listened to their worries about George a couple of weeks earlier, it was obvious what they were trying to do.

Let it work, Fred thought.

Please, let this help him.

George nodded. “I can start,” he said. “There was this one day, during the war, and Fred and I were the only ones in Diagon Alley who hadn’t abandoned our shop yet. Not that we ever had any customers those weeks… but this one day, a woman came in with her three children – one boy and two girls. She walked up to us and asked if there was anything in the shop that the kids could play with without buying it first. She said they just needed to be distracted for a couple of hours. Turned out her husband, a Muggle-born, had been the sole provider for the family, but that he had gone missing a couple of months earlier. So she hadn’t been able to buy her children any birthday gifts… Anyway, Fred took them to the back of the shop and showed them a few of our newest samples… ‘But under no circumstances are you allowed to break them, do you hear me?’ he told them. ‘You have to promise that you’ll be really careful!’ Then he walked back into the shop and practically cleared the shelves of products, which he smuggled into the woman’s purse. He had to ask for my help with the Undetectable Extension Charm, of course. But then again, I’ve always been the more talented twin.” George met Angelina’s eyes and smiled before continuing: “I remember being impressed with the fact that he did it secretly. He didn’t even want any recognition for it; he said it would be even better if it just came as a surprise when they got home. On the other hand, as he pointed out to me after they left, maybe she’d think that the children had stolen all those things, and she’d end up scolding them instead. But if that was the case, she wasn’t a very honest person, because she never came back to try to return any of it…”

He laughed along with the rest of the family, but Fred saw the tears gleaming in the corners of his eyes. It was still such an unusual thing, to hear George tell such a long story without Fred interrupting, filling in, or completing the sentences. It was an ability that they had spent years developing, and not only had it impressed people that they could read each other so easily, it had also saved them a lot of oxygen.

To Fred’s surprise, Fleur was the next one to speak. She had prepared for it during George’s speech; she had straightened her back, brushed a stray of silvery blond hair from her flawless face, and put her spoon down next to her plate, and when George stopped talking, she quickly took over.

“One of my favourite memories of ‘im,” she said, “is from a few days before we got married. Fred was preparing a prank in time for Charlie’s arrival, and I caught 'im. I wanted ‘im to accept me, so I asked if I could ‘elp. ‘E showed me ‘ow to do it and… I’m sorry, Charlie, but I zink eet was my fault zat your suitcase grew legs and ran away zat night… It was supposed to just ‘ide, but Fred said I did eet wrong. Either way, I remember ‘im admitting that ‘e ‘ad ‘ad ‘is doubts about me when Bill first brought me ‘ome to meet ze family, but zat I ‘ad now proved to be worthy of ze name ‘Weasley,’ even without ze red ‘air.”

“Once,” Hermione said, “I was sitting in one of the chairs in the Gryffindor tower, moping around because of Ron…” She blushed and lowered her eyes before continuing: “Fred found me hiding behind a book, crying… and somehow he got me to tell him what was wrong. Instead of comforting me or encouraging me, he just laughed at me. Later that night, I walked up to him and asked him why he had found it so funny… and he told me that it was hilarious that I was known to be clever, but that I was too stupid to realise that Ron was deeply in love with me, and that we’d probably get married and grow old together.” Again, she blushed, and refusing to look to her side, where Ron was sitting, she cleared her throat. “I found it quite hard to believe,” she said, “because wherever I looked, he was there sno–“ She interrupted herself and smiled at Mrs Weasley. “–I mean, holding hands, with Lavender Brown. But Fred told me not to care about that. ‘He’s too much of a dimwit to realise it yet,’ he said. ‘Just wait… give him time to grow up a little more.’”

“I’ll bet you all the gold I have that he’s gloating about that now,” George said. “I mean, now that it turns out he was right.”

Oh brother, dear, Fred thought. You know me so well.

“I remember when I was… I think I was five,” Ginny said with a smile on her face. “I was worried that I might be a squib, so Fred told me that there was this deadly sure way of finding out. All I had to do was steal Mum, Dad, Bill or Charlie’s wand and wave it. If something happened, I was a witch. We decided that Dad’s wand would be the easier target, and Fred distracted him out in the garage while I snitched it from his workbench. Then we went out to the backyard. In about twenty seconds, I managed to blow up the rain barrel, turn two birds into coffee cups, and send Fred flying a good thirty feet up into the air. Then Charlie found us. Luckily, he’s got a sense of humour and promised not to tell. But there you have it, Mum… the true story of how Fred broke his collarbone.”

After all the favourite memories had been shared and all stomachs had been filled to breaking point with cake, everyone moved outside to enjoy the warm afternoon sun. Harry, however, had offered to stay and help Mr Weasley clear the table, and urged Hermione, Ron and Mrs Weasley to go join the others. Ever since, he had been shaking and trembling, and Fred found it rather miraculous that he didn’t drop one single glass with those unsteady hands of his. He was curious to find out what was bothering Harry, though, which was why he lingered in the kitchen; for someone who had both fought and defeated the darkest wizard of all times, he sure seemed to find simple housework unusually nerve wracking.

“Mr Weasley,” said Harry suddenly.

“Yes?” Fred’s father turned around, his lips stretched into a distracted smile as he folded the dishcloth and put it away.

“Do you have a moment?” Harry asked. “There is… er… there’s something I’d like to ask you.”

Mr Weasley flinched, and he must have been thinking what was Fred was thinking, because he looked a little nervous when he walked over to one of the kitchen chairs, sat down and nodded. Really? Already?

Harry sat down next to him. “I think you know that I love Ginny very much,” he said, “and that I’ll do anything to make her happy. You might think it’s too soon, or that we’re too young… but I know. I think part of me has always known it, but I didn’t realise until sixth year that it’s her, and that it always will be her.”

“She feels the same way,” Mr Weasley said. “Did I ever tell you about her last year at home before she went to Hogwarts? You must have really charmed her that day on Kings’ Cross Station when she and Molly dropped the boys off, because she talked about you all year. Ron writing home to tell us you were his best friend didn’t exactly make things better! And then, after you saved her from the Chamber of Secrets… she would ask me, over and over, if I thought that you had done it as a favour to Ron, or if you really hadn’t wanted her to die. In a way, I think you could say that she’s been in love with you since she was ten.”

Harry smiled with an amazed look on his face. Fred was pretty sure that he knew about the crush Ginny had always had on him, but he probably hadn’t known to what extent. Fred could still remember that summer before her first year at Hogwarts, when she had stolen Percy’s old glasses and forced the neighbour boy to wear them. Then, she had painted a scar on his forehead and pretended to marry him, with Ron as the wedding official, and Fred and George as guests, prepared to throw rice at the newlyweds as soon as Ron had declared them husband and wife. Of course, Mrs Weasley had been furious and forced the five of them to pick up every little grain from the floor by hand. (“Throwing food on the floor!” she had yelled. “That’s a luxury we can’t afford.”)

“What I was hoping for,” Harry continued, “was your blessing… to ask her to marry me.”

“Harry, my boy,” Mr Weasley said, leaning forwards to be able to pat the young man’s shoulder. “Molly and I couldn’t ask for anyone better for our girl. You know that you’ve been part of this family since the day you and Ron sat down in the same compartment at the Hogwarts Express, but I’d be both happy and proud to be able to call you my son for real. So yes, of course you have my blessing.”

Harry looked relieved. “Thank you, Mr Weasley,” he said. They both stood up, and Harry quickly added: “Would you mind not telling Mrs Weasley? I haven’t decided when or how to propose, but I really want it to be a surprise…”

“Of course,” Mr Weasley said and winked. “We best not tell Molly, then.”

Fred watched as they joined the rest of the family, who had started to shiver as the sun began to set, but still refused to go inside. They remained out there for another couple of hours, watching Teddy and Victoire chase each other around the lawn – until a garden gnome bit Teddy, that was, and he crawled up onto Harry’s lap and refused to leave it. Then, as Victoire fell asleep in his father’s arms, and Andromeda brought Teddy home, they all just sat together and talked. At one point, Harry and Mr Weasley exchanged a confidential look, after which Harry reached out and grabbed Ginny’s hand. Fleur leaned her head against Bill’s shoulder while stroking the birthday girl’s hair, and George and Angelina, who were sitting in the hammock, had their arms wrapped around each other. Percy and Audrey were beaming at each other, and next to them, Ron and Hermione were bickering, as always, but both of them struggled not to smile or burst into laughter. None of them knew it, but Fred had been with them all day. In fact, he had never left, and while he knew somewhere deep inside that he was still too strongly bound to earth, to them, he was fine. Someday, he would find enough peace to be able to let them go, and move on, but until then, he would watch over them. They may not have been aware of it, but he was there, and he was happy.

 






A/N: I know I'm just repeating myself, but I feel like I can't say this enough: thank you so much for reading this story. If you can spare a minute, thank you so much for leaving a review and letting me know what you think of it. I welcome and appreciate any thoughts, opinons or advice you may have, so I can promise you that you're not wasting your time.

Year 4, here we go! I can't believe we've come this far already. I have so much to share with you, that I just can't wait! :) I hope you're excited too!



Chapter 31: Year 4: Lily's ring
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The grass covering Godric Hollow’s graveyard swayed slightly as a breeze swept over it, resembling, for a short moment, a wave rolling through an ocean of green. It had flourished in the early summer heat and still kept its rich colour thanks to the tender care of the attendants. Mourners, who had come to visit their loved ones, or distant relatives, who had put flowers at the graves simply out of duty, had trampled the grass in front of many of the headstones. However, there was one headstone around which the grass was tall and untouched, and the bouquet leaned against it had, by all appearances, been wilted for a very long time.

Harry stopped in front of that certain headstone, his eyes sweeping over the inscription twice, as if he thought it would change the second time he read it. It had occurred to him that same morning, as he and Ginny had got dressed to leave for Godric’s Hollow, that he hadn’t visited his parents’ grave since that one time during the Horcrux hunt, when he and Hermione had been there, right before being attacked by Voldemort’s snake at Bathilda Bagshot’s house. He had felt a twinge of guilt over not having come back in over three years, but at least he was there now.

Turning around, Harry realised that Ginny, Ron and Hermione had stopped a few yards behind him, and they were all staring anxiously at him, waiting to see what he was going to do. He beckoned them with his hand before sinking to his knees by his parents’ grave. A short moment later, he could feel Ginny’s hand on his shoulder, and he placed his over hers. Hermione and Ron stopped by his other side, and they all remained quiet for a couple of minutes, before Ginny opened her mouth.

“Hello, Mr and Mrs Potter,” she said. “I’m Ginny. I… I hope you approve of my being your son’s girlfriend.”

Hearing her words, Harry unwillingly let out a sob. If he would have had just one wish, it would have been to get to know his parents. Over the last couple of weeks, he had imagined, more than once, sitting down with his father and asking for his advice on how to propose to Ginny – he didn’t even know how James had popped the question to Lily, or if it had been the other way around. He wanted to be able to go to his parents’ house after the proposal and watch as Ginny stretched out her left hand towards his mother, whose green eyes would be filled with tears of happiness at the sight of the ring. He wanted to see the two of them at the front row of their wedding, next to all the Weasleys. People often said that it was in the small, everyday moments that you miss people the most, but Harry thought differently. It was these things, the life-changing, huge and important things, that he wanted to tell his parents the most. And he would never be able to.

Harry had thought several times of what life would have been like if his parents had still been alive. Even though he knew that the thought alone was probably enough to sentence him to spend his afterlife in hell, he sometimes imagined that Voldemort had gone after Neville instead, and left his family alone. Then, he would have grown up here, in Godric’s Hollow, and he would have known his mum and dad. Sirius and Lupin would probably have been like his uncles, and maybe he’d even have younger siblings; a proper family.

Ginny had knelt down beside him now, and her arms were wrapped around him. Harry leaned his head against hers and closed his eyes. She was his family, and all of the Weasleys, Hermione, and their friends. He would be eternally grateful for having them in his life, but he still couldn’t help but wonder.

It was a quiet hour that they spent at the graveyard; Ron was much too uncomfortable to even think of starting a conversation, and Harry was too lost in his own thoughts to give any coherent responses when Ginny or Hermione said something. Finally, they all sat down in silence, and Harry was once again filled with gratitude. It was exactly what he needed; he didn’t want to talk. He only wanted them to sit with him, just like that.

After leaving Godric’s Hollow a while later, the group parted. Ginny and Hermione headed off to Hogsmeade to meet Luna Lovegood, who had finally returned to England after travelling the world for nearly two years. Harry and Ron, on the other hand, were going to the jeweller in Diagon Alley to buy Ginny an engagement ring.

Ever since the war, Ron and Harry had learned that passing quickly through the Leaky Cauldron was no longer an option. There seemed to be no end of the line of diners wishing to shake their hands, and when they finally managed to escape them, Tom the landlord stepped into their way. After politely listening to his chitchat and his reminiscing of the first time Harry showed his face in the pub, they somehow wriggled out of having to say hello to the young girl Tom had just hired to help him out and managed to escape.

“… I’ve reached an old age, you know,” he had told told them, as if his deep wrinkles and hunched back were invisible. “She’s been very helpful, Miss A–“

By this point, he had been interrupted by a shattering sound; a woman at the table next to them, who seemed to have had a few too many drinks, had dropped her glass on the floor, and it had broken into a million pieces.

“We should let you get to that,” said Ron quickly. “It’s always nice talking to you, but we really must get going…”

And they had slipped out through the backdoor and made their way into Diagon Alley. Now, they were walking along the main street, peeking in through each shop window while enjoying the lovely weather. As always, people were staring at them, but out here, they seemed to be too shy to do more than that. Ron had to admit it was a relief; while he would never complain about getting as much appreciation as he did, it was sort of nice to not always be disturbed.

“Do you want to go to Gringotts first?” Ron said. “I reckon you’ll need a whole bunch of galleons for this, don’t you think?”

His voice was not without hesitation, and Harry seemed to debate on the matter for a few seconds before finally nodding. Neither one of them was very eager to enter the enormous marble building that towered over Diagon Alley like a castle, casting shadows over the surrounding shops; ever since their break-in nearly three years ago, the goblins working at the bank had been everything but welcoming towards Harry, Ron and Hermione. They were only lucky to have Bill to help argue their case – somehow, he had managed to convince the goblins that they had only broken in for a good purpose, and that they would never try anything like it again. Thus, the three “thieves” could set foot in Gringotts again without fearing for their lives, but the goblins always seemed to take personal offence at having to see their faces at all, and they never failed to take all precautionary measures possible before letting either one of them enter a vault.

A goblin with a wide, crooked nose and close-set eyes met Harry and Ron at the entrance of the bank.

“Oh… Mr Potter, Mr Weasley,” he said, his eyes narrowing as he looked up at them. “If you don't mind me asking… are you here to withdraw gold or to steal it?”

Ron, frantically scanning his own brain for the advice Bill had given them on how to stay on good terms with the goblins, bowed. “We’d like to visit Harry’s vault, Mr–“

The goblin sniffed, but Ron noticed how he also straightened his back a little, and his eyes weren’t quite so suspicious when they met his. “I’m Quoryn,” he said. “Follow me.”

Ron’s bowing and sucking up was not enough, however, to get them out of the humiliating and, in Ron’s opinion, very ridiculous security checks they had to pass through. The goblins could talk all they wanted about how being showered in ice-cold water was a “standard procedure” or “highly necessary,” but Ron was still convinced that it was a treat saved only for him, Harry and Hermione. And then there was the fact that they were no longer allowed to bring their wands into the underground passageways where the vaults were located; the first time it had happened, Ron had been sure that the goblins would kill him as soon as they were out of sight from the other visitors (of course, he had never admitted this out loud to Ginny, who had been with him, because he knew that she would have mocked him for it). As he handed over his wand today, he didn’t fear for his life, but he didn’t like the look on Quoryn’s face as he and Harry joined the goblin in the little cart, their hair and their shirts dripping with cold water – perhaps that was the real reason why they took their wands, Ron thought. So that they couldn’t dry their clothes and hair after being showered in water, and instead had to go down into the underground and nearly freeze to death every time they needed to make a withdrawal.

The ride to Harry’s vault was, as usual, an uncomfortable one, and it wasn’t exactly made better by the fact that both Harry and Ron were so cold that the sound of their teeth chattering echoed in the twisting passages. It was a relief when they finally reached vault 687, and Quoryn, using Harry’s small, golden key, opened it up. Ron was convinced that he would never get used to seeing the enormous piles of gold coins that Harry owned; they were so many that they actually lit up the cart and track just outside of the vault, and they reflected in Quoryn’s eyes, somehow making them seem a bit kinder.

Harry had stepped into the vault but was now turning around again. “How… how much would I need?” he asked.

“How should I know?” said Ron with a shrug. “I’ve never bought a… I don’t know.”

Harry turned back around, and as he did so, a stack of boxes in the back of the vault caught his eyes. How had he never noticed them before? Filled with curiosity, he stepped further into the vault to pick them up. A cloud of dust stirred up as he moved them, making him cough and squint before he could finally take a look at their contents.

“What is that?” Ron asked.

“I don’t know,” Harry responded. “I’ve never seen this before.”

He grabbed the box on the top and handed the others to Ron. Lifting the lid off, he could feel his jaws drop as the light from the torches outside the vault fell over its velvet interior. Spread over the soft material was a necklace, decorated with a wreath of emeralds, which was intertwined with the golden chain. Harry held it up to get a better look at the charm; it was a lily, consisting of the same kind of small, green rocks as those in the chain. He turned it around and noticed a small inscription on the back of it: To my Lily, from Dad. A grin spread over Harry’s face as he lifted his head to meet Ron’s eyes.

“It was my Mum’s!” he said. “From my grandfather…”

While Ron started looking through the other boxes, Harry continued to admire this unexpected heritage from his mother. He tried to imagine it hanging around her neck; surely, his grandfather had picked out the emeralds because they were almost the exact same colour as her eyes. Not paying much attention to Ron’s mumbling (“Just another necklace in this one… it looks quite old…”), Harry then wondered when his mum had last worn it. Had she had it on that night, when she had died? Had someone decided not to bury her in it, but instead keep it here, so that he would find it one day?

“Harry,” said Ron suddenly, finally capturing his mate’s attention. “Look at this.”

He held out the smallest of the boxes, and Harry’s heart took a small leap in his chest when he saw it. It was a ring – the most beautiful ring he had ever seen, to be more precise. It was made of gold, adorned with three small diamonds on its front. Thin, golden threads were weaved around them, before entwining like the roots of a tree and forming the back of the ring.

“Perhaps we won’t have to got the jeweller, after all,” Harry mumbled, picking it up and placing it on his palm.

“Does it have an inscription?” Ron asked. “Maybe it was your mother’s too?”

Harry held up his hand and squinted, trying to read the small letters in the dim light. He could feel a lump spring in his throat as he handed it to Ron, finding it impossible to repeat the words out loud.

James and Lily, September 1st, 1979,” Ron read. “Harry, this was your mum’s wedding ring!” When Harry simply nodded, Ron continued: “You have to give this one to Ginny. It’s perfect! And I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to spend an entire afternoon in a jewellery shop – I really think so.”

“I know,” said Harry, who had finally regained his ability to speak. “It is. You know, I wish I had asked Lupin or Sirius to tell me more about these things… The only thing I know about their wedding is that Sirius was my dad’s best man. And I guess… I guess there is no one left to ask now, is there?”

Ron scratched his chin while handing the ring back to Harry. Then, his face lit up as he said: “What about Hagrid? He might know something; he did know them, right?”

“Yeah, I suppose…” Harry mumbled while placing the ring in the box again.

“Let’s go see him,” Ron said. “Right now. We should do that anyway – it’s been a while since we were there. Besides, we’re not supposed to meet Luna and the others until later tonight, so we’ve got time!”

He and Harry made it back up to ground level and got their wands back, and they left the bank in a good spirit – Quoryn even granted them a smile before heading off in the opposite direction. Then, the two young men apparated to Hogsmeade and appeared in the main street of the small wizarding village, only seconds after Luna Lovegood had left that same street and walked into the Three Broomsticks to meet her friends. As soon as she had stepped through the door, a red-haired figure had jumped at her and thrown her arms around her neck while shouting out her name and laughing.

“Luna! It’s so good to see you!”

Luna smiled as they let go of each other. “It’s always nice to feel welcomed,” she said while following Ginny over to the table where Hermione was waiting for them.

“How have you been?” Hermione asked. “I can’t believe how long it’s been!”

Luna certainly looked well – her hair had always been long and blond, but it seemed to have grown even longer and become even lighter in the sun. Her normally fair skin was a tad darker than usual, making her teeth shine brightly as she smiled and gave Hermione a hug. The two of them, being each other’s complete opposites, had never been very close, but Hermione had to admit that it was nice to see her friend again, and to see that she didn’t seem to have changed at all.

“You’ve got to tell us about your travelling,” she said as they sat down. “Where have you been?”

“Here and there,” Luna answered. “Most recently, we were in Africa. But we started out in northern Europe – Sweden, Finland, Russia…”

“Have you told Neville that you're back?” Ginny interrupted. “He’s been talking about you, you know. He was so disappointed when your father returned home without you last summer.”

“Oh,” Luna said. “I would have thought he would have met someone else. Since he’s such a nice person, you know. I did. Meet someone, I mean. He’s the one who took me to Africa.”

“What?” exclaimed both Ginny and Hermione. Then, after the initial shock, Ginny added: “Who is he, then?”

“You know who Newt Scamanader is, right?” Luna asked.

Hermione nodded quickly, but Ginny’s face was blank.

“Oh, come on!” Hermione said. “The author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Surely you’ve heard of him? That book is in the first years’ reading list at Hogwarts. Didn’t you ever open yours?”

“I was kind of busy during my first year,” said Ginny, jutting her lower lip. “You know, Voldemort possessing my soul, opening the Chamber of Secrets…” The look of guilt on Hermione’s face made her giggle. “I am messing with you. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I do recognize the name.”

“But he’s not the one who took you to Africa, is he, Luna?” Hermione asked, turning away from Ginny again. “That would be impossible, considering the fact that he died almost ten years ago.”

“I wouldn’t say impossible,” Luna answered. “My grandfather did fall in love with a ghost once, before he met my grandmother. But no, it wasn’t Newt, but his grandson. Rolf.”

“So where is he now?” Ginny asked. “Did he come with you to England?”

“Oh no, he stayed in Guinea,” Luna explained. “With some friends.”

“So you’re going to go back there?” Hermione asked. “Or is he coming here?”

“No,” said Luna simply. “I’m going home to my daddy. After I’ve seen your flat, Hermione. I do hope you checked for Nargles before you moved in. They can be very hard to get rid off once they’re settled in.”

 

 

Not far from the spot where Hermione was suppressing the urge to roll her eyes, Hagrid was startled by a knock on the door to his hut; back when Harry, Ron and Hermione had still been in school, visits in the afternoons had not been unusual, but lately, he had got used to spending them alone. Of course, that was until she had made a habit of dropping by… Hagrid sighed, and Fang jumped off of his bed and crawled in under the table, where he placed his head on his massive paws and started mewling plaintively.

“Oh, shut up, will yeh?” Hagrid told the dog. “I don’ ask her to come ev’ry night, yeh know!” Then, turning his head towards the door, he called out: “Who is it?”

“Harry! And Ron!”

In the next moment, Hagrid had flung the door open. His smile was wider than ever as he grabbed the two boys by the arm and pulled them inside.

“Sorry for soundin’ a bit grumpy,” he said. “But with the students outta school for the summer, the on’y person who visits is Professor Trelawney, an’ ev’ry day she’s got a new vision of me bein’ fired, or dyin’…”

“I suppose she needs to fill the void now that Harry’s gone,” said Ron with a grin.

“I’ll put on some tea for yeh,” Hagrid said, walking over to his stove. “An’ I made some bred the other day, if yeh wan’ some.”

Harry and Ron, carefully disguising their dismay over having chosen to visit so close to one of Hagrid’s baking days, both nodded before sitting down at the table. A while later, Hagrid had placed three giant cups of fuming tea in front of them, and the two young men were chewing politely on the bread rolls while praying that their teeth wouldn’t fall off in the process.

“I actually wanted to ask you something, Hagrid,” said Harry. “I was in my vault at Gringotts today… I was going to buy an engagement ring.”

Hagrid’s small, black eyes seemed to grow bigger and he slammed his fist on the table. His unruly beard moved as the corners of his mouth pulled up into a wide grin. “Yeh’re proposin’ ter Ginny?” he asked. When Harry nodded, the excitement nearly made Hagrid spill his tea. “Yeh’re gettin’ married!” he exclaimed. “It feels like yesterday tha’ yeh could fit in me hand, and now yeh’re getting’ married!”

“Assuming that Ginny says yes, of course,” Ron interposed. When Harry shot him a concerned look, he grinned and added: “Relax, mate. It was a joke. We all know how much she loves you and exactly what her answer is going to be.”

“Either way,” Harry continued, turning back to Hagrid, “I found this in the vault. It was my mother’s.”

He got out the little box from his pocket and handed it to Hagrid. Then, he watched in amusement as the man struggled to open it – his enormous fingers made such a delicate thing quite difficult – before Ron finally reached over to help him.

“It’s beau’iful,” Hagrid said, wiping a tear from the corner of his eyes. “Your ol’ man had good taste, Harry.”

“I was wondering if you knew anything,” Harry said, “about their wedding… how my dad proposed…”

“Oh, yeah,” Hagrid said and nodded. Then, he emptied his cup in one sweep before continuing: “I wasn’ there for the wedding, but I’ve seen photos. Remus gave me a few… they’re in tha’ album I got yeh, Harry, do you remember? Then yeh know that your mum was very pretty. She always was, but more ‘n ever on her wedding day, eh?

She an’ James were here a couple o’ weeks before tha’ day, actually. We had tea, jus’ like now. They were havin’ the wedding on the firs’ of September, ‘cause it was the anniversary of the day they firs’ met. Of course, Lily thought James was a bloated brat back then. I took ‘em across the lake, the firs' years, an’ James nearly pushed Snape in the water. Lily was furious – it made your dad mute. She was the on’y one who could make ‘im speechless, already when they were eleven.

Anyway, they had tea with me, ‘cause I couldn’ make it to the wedding, and Dumbledore couldn’ come either. The students were comin’ back to Hogwarts that day, so we had to be here. And there was a war goin’ on, so they decided to keep it small an' intimate. The on’y ones who came were Mr Evans – your aunt refused, of course – an’ Mr and Mrs Potter. An’ Sirius, Remus an’ Pettigrew.”

Harry’s eyes seemed to turn brighter for each word that Hagrid said; every time he learned something new about his parents, as he got to know them a little better, he felt like he moved a step closer to them. Though he would never really know his mum and dad, he would gladly have sat like that all day, just listening to stories about them.

Suddenly, a thought sprang to life in Harry’s mind, and he put his teacup down with a bang that made Fang, who had gone back to sleep in Hagrid’s bed, wake up, lift his head and bark loudly.

“I’ll propose to her on the first of September!” Harry said. “Ron, do you realise that this September, it’s been ten years since we started at Hogwarts? That means that it’s been ten years since I saw her for the first time… and it will be just like it was for my parents.”

Hagrid let out a loud sob and pulled out a handkerchief from his chest pocket. After blowing his nose with a sound that resembled the very loud trumpet noise that elephants make, he reached over and placed a very heavy hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“They would’ve loved that!” he sobbed. “James… he was a romantic, he would’ve done tha’ same thing! And Lily, she would’ve thought it was so sweet of yeh…” He closed the little box that held the ring and gave it back to Harry. “An’ if there’s one thing I’m sure o’, it’s that she would’ve wanted this to be the ring yeh’d give ter Ginny. No doubt ‘bout it.”

 






A/N: Okay, so I've got two things I'd like to comment about in this chapter. Firstly, I can't imagine Harry making this huge decision (proposing to Ginny) without really feeling his parents' absence. That's why I've basically dedicated an entire chapter to it, and I really hope you like it. Secondly, Luna. I have been dreading writing her, but I knew she couldn't be away travelling forever. I love her as a character, but I've just always felt like I can't do her justice. If you've got any tips for me that would be absolutely fantastic! :)

Thank you once again for supporting me in writing this story. I really wish I knew a good way to show my appreciation instead of just this rambling at the end of every chapter, but just know that each time you read this story, or leave a review, or add it to your favourites, I just want to do a happy dance! You are all so amazing and you're probably sick of me trying to express my gratitude, but I find it impossible to stop ;)


Chapter 32: Year 4: Unintended disclosures
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August came, hot and droughty, its almost unbearable temperature emptying most of the offices in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. As her colleagues went on vacation, however, Hermione stayed at work, as the knowledge of all the things that still needed to be done would have stopped her from being able to relax anyway. She also found it easier to work with less people around; the empty offices and quiet corridors seemed to have a calming effect on her, and she was not even a little bit sorry about the fact that she missed out on the lovely summer weather.

One particular morning, about a week in to the new month, Hermione stepped into the lift and prepared to let it take her up to the fourth floor, where she was supposed to meet Draco and complete the first draft of the House-elves’ Working Conditions in Wizarding Homes. However, she cast a quick glance on the watch on her wrist and decided to step out of the lift already on the second level and pay her boyfriend a visit in his new office.

At first, both Harry and Ron had been hesitant to the upgrade in the Auror Office that meant that they would no longer have to share a room; they had both tried to hide it, but Hermione knew them too well not to see through their mock excitement. In reality, they had been like two schoolboys who were upset because they weren’t allowed to sit together in class anymore. After a while they had warmed up to the idea, though, and Ron had been talking about his new office all week; Hermione thought it only appropriate that she stopped by to see what all the fuss was about.

Smiling at the sign next to it that read Ronald Weasley, Auror, Hermione raised her hand and knocked on the large wooden door. Again, she glanced at her watch, but she was sure Draco wouldn’t mind waiting a couple of minutes, especially not considering how understanding she had been when he had overslept two days in a row a couple of weeks earlier.

The door to the office opened and interrupted Hermione’s thoughts, and Ron’s smiling face appeared before her. He stepped aside to let her in, and she gave him a quick kiss before turning around to look at the room.

It was big, even bigger than the one he and Harry had shared, with a large window behind the desk. By the opposite wall stood a big, sturdy bookshelf, holding all sorts of strange objects. Hermione recognized a few of them from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes’ defence objects collection, and she smiled before letting her gaze wander on. A photograph caught her eyes and instantly filled her heart with warmth; it was of her and Ron, standing on her parents’ front porch in the middle of December. Snow was piling up by their feet, and Christmas lights twinkled above their heads – Hermione could still remember the terrible, biting cold that day, but their faces gave nothing away. There was nothing but joy and happiness in their features, which was why it was one of her favourite photos of the two of them. The fact that Ron had placed it on the middle shelf, as if he had given it a place of honour, made her feel even better about it.

“I love it,” she said, turning to Ron who had sunk into his desk chair. “It’s really big, and… it’s nice. I can see why you have been bragging about it non-stop since you got it.”

“I haven’t been bragging!” Ron protested, and then, in a softer voice and with his ears slightly reddened, he added: “Okay, maybe a little bit. But you’re such a big shot over in your department, I felt like I had to-“

“It’s really nice,” Hermione said, sliding an arm around his waist. “Do all Aurors have such nice offices?”

Ron seemed to grow a couple of inches as he responded: “No, not all of them… you should see Saxby’s – he’s new, like us, and his is really small, and it smells like a troll has lived there!”

Hermione grinned – she was going to let him have his moment. She knew that he had always felt overshadowed, overlooked, like he came second in every race, whether it was with his brothers or with Harry. That was why she didn’t mind his bragging; she knew that he wasn’t trying to be cocky. He was just really proud of himself, for once, and she was definitely not going to ruin that.

“I should get going,” she said after looking at her watch for a third time. She hesitated for a moment before adding: “I think Draco is wondering where I am.”

Draco Malfoy had been a touchy subject ever since he had started working with her, but after the row she and Ron had had about him at New Year’s Eve, things had improved. Ron was making an effort not to talk badly about him, and she had distanced herself a little bit from Draco and their friendship. They still got along well, but for his birthday in the beginning of June, she hadn’t knitted any scarves. Instead, she had collected money from all of their co-workers and bought him a cake, which they had all enjoyed together after lunch that day.

“Yeah, I suppose you shouldn’t keep him waiting,” said Ron now. Hermione could tell that he was struggling to keep his tone casual, and she appreciated it.

Taking a step towards him, she stretched her neck, placed her hands on his arms and kissed him. A rush of warmth spread through her at the touch of his lips, and it went on through her body and all the way out into her fingertips. Then, they let go of each other and exchanged one last smile before she was out the door.

As expected, the corridor two stories up, where her office was located, was quiet and empty. Normally, Armand Sylver would have stuck his head out the door as soon as he heard the sound of footsteps, and she’d get held up for a couple of minutes by his chit-chatting. Amos Diggory would most likely run from office to office in search of the Head of the department, Gwyn Stayner, and the door to Abigail Aldwinckle’s office would be open, as it prevented her missing out on any possible gossip. However, they were all on vacation, and Hermione couldn’t help but enjoy the silence, and the fact that she could walk through the corridor without being interrupted by Armand’s “Hermione! I was hoping I would run into you!” or Amos’ “You haven’t seen Gwyn by any chance, have you?” or Abigail’s “Have you heard what that woman did…?”

As she walked further down the corridor, Hermione noticed that while Abigail’s door was closed, another one was open – her own. She was just about to hurry through it and apologize to Draco for being late when the sound of voices stopped her. Her curiosity set in and she stopped outside the door, leaning forwards in an attempt to hear what was being said.

“… a shame for your family, that is!” The voice was dark, but Hermione was fairly sure it belonged to a woman.

“Oh, come on,” replied another voice. This one was familiar – it was Draco’s. “She’s actually quite nice to work with.”

“Yes, but what would your father say?” the woman argued. “He’s in Azkaban, serving time for standing up for his beliefs, and his own son is–“

“I’m not saying that I like working with Granger,” interrupted Draco quickly, his tone suddenly both colder and dryer. “She’s… I mean… Did you know that her boyfriend thought that I was in love with her?” He snorted scornfully before continuing: “As if I’d ever look at her that way. She may be nice and all, but she’s still a Mudblood.”

Hermione, realising that she had been holding her breath for the last minute or so, leaned back against the wall as she exhaled. She was mortified but unable to stop it when tears welled up in her eyes and began rolling down her cheeks; she couldn’t help but feel betrayed, naïve, and almost pathetic, because maybe she should have seen it all along.

But she hadn’t seen it. She had given Draco a chance, and even defended him to those who had thought it foolish. She had been so convinced that he had actually changed, that she had got into fights with Ron over it, and even gone to Draco for advice afterwards. And now it turned out that Ron had been right all along, because she was still a Mudblood, and Draco was still a Malfoy.

“I suppose I should get going,” said the woman now. “Send your mother my best, and remind her that you’re always welcome to stop by for a cup of tea…”

Hermione didn’t have time to react before two people had stepped out into the corridor – a middle-aged, short woman with curly, grizzled hair, and the tall, slim figure that Hermione knew as Malfoy’s. The woman stared at Hermione and her tear-stained cheeks for a few short seconds before turning her head and marching away down the corridor. Draco was just about to reach out and close the door after her when he saw Hermione too, and his silvery eyes widened as he froze in the middle of the movement.

“Hermione,” he said, “I don’t know what you heard, but I–“

“I heard enough,” said Hermione, wishing that her voice hadn’t sounded so frangible, “to tell you to get out of my office right now.”

“But you don’t understand,” Draco said. “That was one of my father’s old friends… Mrs Fawley… I had to…”

“You didn’t have to do anything,” said Hermione, pulling out her wand and pressing its tip against his chest to make up for the fact that her voice was still weak and shaky. “Are you going to leave voluntarily or do I have to hex you first?”

Malfoy held up his hand in a defensive position while backing out the door.

“But,” he said suddenly, “our project! The House-elves’ Working Conditions!”

“You can tell Gwyn that I can handle it myself! Just get out!”

Malfoy did as she said, and as soon as the door was closed behind him, Hermione stumbled over to her desk chair and sank into it, covered her face with her hands, and cried.

 

 

Ginny had looked forward to two things all day – spending the afternoon with her entire family, and her mother’s cooking. People often said that having a birthday got a lot less fun once you hit a certain age, but if that was the case, Ginny hadn’t reached it yet. Of course, when she had been little, the excitement had mostly been about getting presents, and now it was more about the people she got to spend the day with, and the fact that her mother would serve anything she asked for at the party. Hence, the lovely odour of chicken pot pie hit Ginny as soon as she stepped out of the fireplace in the Burrow, making her mouth water. She had barely set her feet down on the floor before she had been pulled into an almost rib-crushing hug.

“Oh, Ginny,” sobbed Mrs Weasley as she let go of her daughter. “Twenty years old! I can’t believe it… my youngest…”

“No happy birthday wishes today, then?” Ginny asked, raising one eyebrow just as Harry stepped out of the fireplace behind her.

“Harry, dear!” said Mrs Weasley, ignoring Ginny’s snide remark. “Did you sing for Ginny this morning?”

“Yes, he did,” Ginny said. “We had a lovely morning. Despite him being tone-deaf and all.”

She grinned at the dismayed look on Harry’s face, and he retorted with:

“Hey! How can you tell if I’m a good singer or not, when you are tone-deaf?”

In that very same second, the squeaking back door interrupted them, and George and Mr Weasley stepped inside. George nodded at Harry before staring in surprise at his younger sister.

“Gin! I had no idea that you’d be here!” he said. “What’s that, Dad? It’s her birthday? Well, aren’t I lucky? I just happened to take a walk around Diagon Alley during lunch yesterday and buy her a gift.”

“Did you now?” interrupted Angelina, who had just turned up behind them. “You’re not going to get any credit this time – I’m the one who picked it out, Ginny, he’d never be clever enough to come up with it…”

A grin spread over Angelina’s face as she brushed a wisp of her long, black hair, which had fallen out of her ponytail, out of her eyes. Ginny only had time to smile quickly back at her before a group of other people entered the room and began showering her in hugs, happy birthday wishes and gifts. Meanwhile, Mrs Weasley slipped back out into the kitchen to continue her cooking, and one by one, the others followed. Ginny was just about to leave the living room as well when green flames flared up in the fireplace behind her and made her turn around. Bill was just stepping out of it, and Victoire stooped forwards between his legs, grinning up at her aunt. Ginny bent down to give the little girl a hug as new flames arose. Only seconds later, Fleur stepped out onto the wooden floor.

“’Appy birzday, Ginny,” she said.

“Thanks, Fleur.”

“Yeah, happy birthday,” Bill said, flinging out an arm that landed around Ginny’s shoulders. “Sorry we’re a bit late, but the Floo System isn’t quite as fast as Apparation.”

“Why did you use it, then?” asked Ginny as the four of them went out into the kitchen, where the rest of the party were waiting. Most years, Ginny’s birthday dinners were held in the garden, but after spotting a few suspiciously dark clouds on the August sky, Mrs Weasley had decided against it this year – she hadn’t wanted to repeat the mistake of Ginny’s tenth birthday, when they had invited a whole bunch of cousins and friends and sat down outside, only to be soaked by pouring rain before anyone had taken as much as one bite of the dessert.

Ginny’s question went unanswered as everyone greeted the new arrivals. Victoire, most likely deciding to make the fullest out of having everyone’s attention for once, started to dance and spin around in circles. As her relatives started clapping their hands, her dance moves became more and more intense, until she slipped and fell backwards. Thankfully, she didn’t seem to get hurt; she simply crawled back up on her feet, pointed both of her index fingers at her stomach and said:

“Baby! Baby!”

Mrs Weasley, who was the only one, except for Ginny and Bill’s family, who hadn’t sat down at the table, put down the large salad bowl on the countertop and bent down next to her granddaughter.

“Do you have a baby in your tummy, dear?” she asked.

Victoire nodded proudly. Then, she span around, pointed at her mother’s stomach and called out the same thing: “Baby, baby!”

Bill and Fleur exchanged a quick look, and Ginny gasped. “Really?”

Bill took a step towards his sister. “Ginny, I’m sorry… we didn’t want to tell everyone on your birthday…”

The rest of his sentence was left unsaid, as Ginny had interrupted him by launching herself forwards and wrapping her arms around him. She was beaming with joy as she took a step backwards a few seconds later.

“You’re having another baby!” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want to tell us? That’s the best birthday gift I can think of!”

George had left his seat at the table and was now slapping his eldest brother’s back with a grin on his face. “You just can’t keep your hands off your wife, can you?”

“George!” scolded Mrs Weasley. Then, her face softened as she turned to Bill and Fleur, tears already forming in the corners of her eyes. “I am so happy for you! When is the due date?”

“In ze beginning of January,” Fleur answered. “We are really ‘appy too!”

“We explained it to Victoire last night,” said Bill, casting an amused glance at his daughter, who was still dancing around by their feet. “You know, how Mummy has a baby in her tummy. And she quickly decided that she did too.”

Mr Weasley chuckled, rose to his feet and bent down to pick Victoire up. She immediately wrapped her arms around his neck and placed a smacking kiss on the tip of his nose.

“Grandpa,” she said happily. “My grandpa.”

“My little Victoire,” Mr Weasley replied with a smile on his face. “Are you excited to have a little brother or sister?”

Suddenly, Victoire looked very serious. She shook her head vigorously.

“But of course you are!” argued Percy. “It will be fun, to have someone to play with–“

“No!” interrupted Victoire. Her lower lip started to tremble, and then, she burst into tears. She reached out her arms towards Fleur, who took her from Mr Weasley’s arms and began hushing. “No brother or sister,” cried Victoire, “please, Mummy!”

“But eet is going to be fun,” Fleur said softly. “Eet is really fun to ‘ave a little brother or sister. We will get to bring ze baby ‘ome with us, and you can ‘elp me pick out clothes, and sing to ‘im or ‘er…”

“Bu-but,” Victoire sobbed, “who will sing to me?”

“I will,” Fleur answered. “And papa. We’ll sing to you and ze baby. We will have time for ze both of you.”

Victoire leaned her head against her mother’s shoulder and nodded.

“Great,” said Ron quickly. “Now that we’ve settled that, can we please eat? Congratulations on the baby, by the way. It’s not that I’m not happy for you, I just… I’m starving. I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and I–“

“Don’t worry, Ron,” Bill said as he sat down next to Angelina. “We know how these things work with you – food first, and then you’ll share our happiness.”

Ginny laughed loudly at the comment before joining the others at the table. Her father sat down across from her, leaned over the table and placed a hand on her arm.

“So… did you get any special gifts today?” he asked, his lips curled into an indecipherable smile.

“Well… yeah, I suppose,” Ginny answered as a wrinkle formed on her forehead. “Teddy gave me this really cute drawing…”

“No,” said Mr Weasley, “I meant… did Harry get you anything special?”

Next to Ginny, Harry coughed loudly. Ginny turned her head to look at him while furrowing her eyebrows.

“Dad,” said George, “are you really asking her if she got it on with Harry this morning? That’s quite a weird thing to ask your child, isn’t it?”

Mr Weasley looked terrified, and Ginny could feel her blood rush to her face, colouring her cheeks dark red. Harry’s reaction nearly made her giggle, though – he instantly pushed his chair a couple of inches away from hers, and when she looked over at him, he refused to meet her eyes.

“Of course not!” said Mr Weasley, whose cheeks were as red as his daughter’s. “That’s not what I was asking about…”

Like all other members of her family, Mrs Weasley looked both embarrassed and uncomfortable as well, and she seemed to be fighting an internal battle – one part of her wanted to yell at George, and the other wanted to spare her husband the humility by quickly changing the subject. She hadn’t decided on which side to act on when she opened her mouth, and felt like the words formed themselves as she said:

“Fleur… would you rather have a boy or a girl this time? Have you thought of names yet?”

“No, it doesn’t matter… well, per’aps William is ‘oping for a Mini-Bill again?” Fleur said, casting a glance at her husband.

Bill shrugged. “Not really,” he said. “Last time I thought I wanted a boy, but then we had Victoire… so it really doesn’t matter to me either. Whatever we have, that is what I’ll want.”

“Well, how about that,” George said, playfully pinching Ron’s arm. “If Mum had been that reasonable, you may never have been born!”

“What do you mean by that, George?” said Mrs Weasley, her eyes narrowed.

Much to her surprise, Percy stepped in to defend his brother. “Oh, come on,” he said. “It’s quite obvious that you wanted a girl… so you kept going until you had one.”

Mrs Weasley’s stern gaze wandered between her sons as she crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll have you know,” she said, “that each one of you is equally desired. I have been blessed to have so many children, and I’ll always be grateful for it. Were your father and I thrilled to find out that Ginny was a girl? Yes, of course! But it doesn’t mean that we wanted her more than any of you boys.”

“Can you please tell ze story of ze day Ginny was born?” asked Fleur, placing a hand on the barely visible bulge under her blouse. “’Ow was it, when you realised zat she was a girl?”

“Well, we had both started to think that we didn’t have the genes that you need to have a daughter,” Mrs Weasley said with a smile. “We didn’t bother to get any clothes for a girl, thinking that the baby could just inherit his brother’s old ones…”

“And I was responsible for everyone else when you and Dad went to St. Mungo’s that day,” Bill remembered. “Just imagine, being in charge of three-year-old Fred and George – I still think I deserve a medal for keeping them from burning down the house or something. And there was Ron to look out for as well – he was only a year and a half, and he wouldn’t sit still for one second. And of course, Charlie was no help at all!”

“Yes, I remember that too!” Percy said. “You yelled at me when I went up to my room to read, and I wouldn’t have dared to go against what you said, like Charlie did…”

“That was a good thing,” said Bill. “If you hadn’t helped, Mum and Dad probably wouldn’t have had a house to bring the baby back to!”

“At the hospital, when the healer told me it was a girl…” Mr Weasley cleared his throat before continuing: “I thought that she must have been mistaken, so I asked her to check again… and then I walked over to the bed to tell Molly…”

A small trip down memory lane turned into a two-hour journey, after which most of Mr and Mrs Weasley’s children returned to their own homes. Harry and Ginny accepted Mrs Weasley’s offer to stay a bit longer and have another cup of tea, but Ron and Hermione decided to follow Ron’s brothers’ example and head off.

The two of them walked from the Burrow, to get out of the Non-Disapparation zone, in silence. It was getting darker outside, and the air was thick and muggy, as if a thunderstorm was lurking around the corner. Hermione sped up, and Ron did the same; neither one of them wanted to still be there once it started to rain.

Since they were walking in silence, Ron had a lot of time to collect his thoughts. Fearing that the whole thing with Malfoy earlier that week had upset Hermione more than she wanted him to know, he had decided that he had to get her to talk about it. Each time he had tried to, however, Hermione had simply cut him off, hissed at him, or quickly changed the subject. But his previous failed attempts didn’t stop Ron from giving it another try when they returned to their flat that night; hence, instead of going straight to bed, which was what he felt like doing, he followed Hermione into the kitchen, where she immediately began cleaning the dishes that he had left in the sink that same morning.

“I can do that,” Ron offered.

“It’s fine,” said Hermione shortly. “I don’t mind doing it.”

Ron shrugged, pulled out a chair and sat down at the table. “So, another baby,” he said. “That’s exciting, right?”

“Yes, really exciting!” answered Hermione, her voice a lot softer now. “I’m so happy for Bill and Fleur – and for Victoire. It will be great for her to have a little brother or sister to play with. I can tell that she gets really bored whenever Teddy is not around. Being an only child, I know how that can be…”

“Yeah,” Ron mumbled. Then, he took a deep breath and said in an attempted casual tone: “So… any signs of Malfoy at work today?”

Hermione turned her head to meet his eyes. “You already asked me that, when you got home today,” she said. “The answer is still no.”

“And you haven’t asked Gwyn about it? Maybe she knows something… maybe he resigned?”

“I really don’t care,” said Hermione, turning back around and continuing to frantically scrub the remains of scrambled eggs off of Ron’s plate. “In fact, I’d love it if he just never showed his face at the Ministry again…”

“But you were friends,” said Ron tentatively.

“No, we weren’t. I thought we were, but no. Will you please just let it go? I’m sick of talking about him; like I said, I really don’t care where he is.”

She placed the clean plate in one of the cabinets, turned around and walked out of the kitchen. In the doorway, she stopped and turned around. “Are you coming to bed, or are you going to sit there all night?”

Ron sighed and stood up. Maybe she really didn’t care about Malfoy and what she had heard him say, but he still found it strange that she was so untroubled about the whole thing. To him, it seemed like it was just a mask that she wore to disguise the fact that she was really heartbroken over having been proven wrong when she had put all of her faith in someone. A yawn interrupted Ron’s thoughts, and he turned out the lights in the kitchen before following Hermione into the bedroom. He was almost positive that she would need to talk about it at some point, but he was terribly tired, and there was always tomorrow.

 
 





A/N: As always, I want to thank you all for reading my story. As I'm writing this, it's the second most viewed story on this site during September, and that just blows my mind. I would never have even considered the possibility of so many people wanting to read something that I have written before, and it makes me feel so proud! Also, thank you so, so much for the continuing support! You really do give me all the energy and encouragement I need to keep on writing, and I don't think I can explain how much I appreciate it.

If you've got the time, please let me know what you thought of this chapter. I really do care a lot about your opinions - for example, I have decided to change some things around and bring in a little action/adventure to year 4, because a few of you suggested it. So thank you, both for encouraging and supporting me, and for helping me make a better story (because I do think that it will be better this way). You all deserve the biggest of hugs!! :)


Chapter 33: Year 4: The first of September
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The weather in London had, ever since Ginny’s birthday, been awful. An excessive amount of rain had fallen, and the blue sky had been continuously hidden behind a thick, dull layer of grey clouds. But as if the universe was doing Harry a favour, he and Ginny woke up to sunshine and a clear sky on the morning of the first of September, and now, as they strolled down the streets of their once again lovely home town, they were both making an effort to enjoy the last bit of summer warmth as much as they possibly could.

It was Harry who had suggested they would go outside for a walk before lunch, and Ginny had gladly accepted. As she was quite the talker, Harry wasn’t sure whether or not his girlfriend had picked up on the fact that he was unusually quiet; truth was that the nervous fluttering in his stomach kept him from really paying any attention to what she was saying.

They stopped by a red light, and Ginny stopped talking, lifted her head and looked around. “Where are we going?” she said. “We’re not heading for King’s Cross Station, are we?”

Harry’s mouth went dry. “Well… I was thinking that–“

“You know,” Ginny interrupted, pulling up the sleeve of her sweater to check her watch. “It’s past eleven anyway. The barrier will have closed by now, and the train has already left. Besides, we don’t know anyone who’s going to Hogwarts this year, do we?”

“No,” Harry admitted. “But I’ve got… come on, just trust me on this one. I really want to see it again, even if we can’t get on to the platform. I’ve missed Hogwarts lately, and if I could see just a little bit of it…”

Ginny eyed him curiously before succumbing to his wish. Grabbing him by the arm, she started to walk again, across the road and towards the train station. Harry let out a sigh of relief, because he wanted the whole thing to be a surprise – he couldn’t wait to see the look on Ginny’s face when she saw it.

They made their way through the station, zigzagging between the travellers, the sounds of voices and train engines filling their ears. Harry smiled at the sight of a man in a long cloak, pulling a young boy with him by the arm. Their clothing caught a lot of attention, and already before the man spotted Harry and started staring shamelessly at him, Harry knew that they were wizards. Most likely, they had been to see someone off to Hogwarts – perhaps an older sibling to the boy – and had lingered behind until now. What Harry had said before had only been an excuse to get Ginny to go with him, but as he thought of the Hogwarts Express, which was heading north in this very second, he actually did miss Hogwarts. He thought of the excitement in the eyes of all the children sitting in the train departments, chewing on Chocolate Frogs and sharing stories of their summers, and the magnificent feast that was waiting for them in the castle. Had he appreciated enough when he had been one of those children? It seemed like the years had gone by so fast that he had barely time to do that.

“Well, here we are,” Ginny said, stopping by the barrier and turning to Harry. “Platform 9 and 10.”

Harry looked up, his eyes scanning the metal barrier. The fluttering in his stomach had increased, and he closed his eyes and took two deep breaths before setting in action the next step of the plan.

He turned to Ginny and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s run through it,” he said.

“Run through…? Harry, are you mad? I told you; it’s already closed!” Ginny said, shaking her head at this suggestion.

“No, it’s not,” Harry said, and when she opened her mouth again to protest, he quickly added: “I know, I know. It’s supposed to be closed, but they’ve kept it open for a bit longer today.”

Ginny raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms over her chest. “And why would they do that?”

Harry grabbed her arm and took a step closer to her. “Come on,” he said, placing one arm around his waist. “Trust me. I wouldn’t let you run straight into a wall if I didn’t know you’d just pass right through it, would I?”

Ginny’s facial expression softened, and she smiled, reached over and pressed her lips gently against his. Then she pulled away, grabbed his hand and turned towards the barrier.

“All right,” she said. “But we’ll do it together.”

And they did. They ran straight towards the barrier, and they never hit any metal; it was nothing more than a barely noticeable breeze, and then they were on the other side.

 

 

The man and his son, who had just seen Harry Potter walking through King’s Cross Station, had made it to the exits. They had sat in the Muggle section of the station for a while after seeing the boy’s sister off, just watching these peculiar non-magical folks with a curiosity that could nearly be compared to that of Arthur Weasley’s. But as the young boy had grown sick of sitting still, they were now heading home. The man was still quite sad over having said goodbye to his daughter, a first year, but the fact that he had been only yards away from Harry Potter had significantly improved his mood. If he had turned his head to the right after stepping out onto Euston Road, his day would have become even better; none other than Hermione Granger was just passing by. That would have been something to include in the letter to his daughter that the man had already started composing in his head. But by coincidence, something to the left caught his eyes instead, and he missed the chance.

Hermione did not see the wizard and his boy either; she was leaning against the wall of the large building, sighing in relief over her luck. She had lingered behind on Platform 9 ¾ for a little too long, doing her part of the proposal plan even more thoroughly than she and Harry had agreed on, which meant that she had also almost run straight into him and Ginny on her way out. Fortunately, she had seen them first and managed to crouch down between a very large man and his suitcase and thereby prevent herself from giving anything away.

After taking a few minutes to collect herself, Hermione began walking towards the hidden spot from which she was planning to Disapparate. She couldn’t help but feel nervous; she and Harry had been planning the whole thing for weeks, and she could only hope that it would be everything Harry had imagined.

Only around five minutes later, Hermione walked into hers and Ron’s flat. It was unusually quiet, and she rolled her eyes as she realized that her boyfriend must still be asleep. She would never understand how he could relax enough to waste away days like that, but unless she woke him up, she was sure that he would gladly sleep until late in the afternoon.

Hermione had only just started to consider going to the Ministry to get some work done – she was aware of the fact that it was Saturday, but with Malfoy still gone, she had quite a lot on her plate – when a knock on the door interrupted her plans. She walked back out into the hallway and opened it up.

A very tall man with thick grey hair stood on her doorstep, his beard a little more rampant than normally. According to Ron, one could tell how busy he was just by looking at his beard – if it was neatly trimmed, it meant that he was calm and relaxed. If not, that was an indication that he was very busy at the moment.

“Mr Robards,” said Hermione now. “What a nice surprise.”

“Haven’t I told you to call me Gawain?” replied the Head Auror, a smile playing on his lips. “It’s always lovely to see you too, of course. However, I must admit that the reason for my visit isn’t quite as pleasant.”

“Oh, really?” Hermione said. “What’s wrong, then?”

“It’s work,” Gawain said, instantly muzzling whatever worst-case scenario had begun to form in Hermione’s mind with his calming smile. “I’m here to drag Ronald away from home, on a Saturday and all! We’re having a meeting in the Auror Office that simply cannot wait until Monday. Of course, I do hope this doesn’t interfere with any plans you might have for today.”

“Oh, no, it’s all right,” Hermione assured him. “Ron’s still asleep, though. I’ll go and wake him for you – would you like anything to drink while you wait? A cup of tea, coffee, lemonade?”

“A glass of lemonade sounds lovely,” Gawain said, stepping into the hallway and closing the door behind him. “Don’t tell my wife, though; she keeps complaining about my sweet tooth. She’s the one who created it, though, isn’t she, with her delicious cookies and pies and…?”

He trailed off into his thoughts, and Hermione smiled while walking into the kitchen. There, she poured him a glass of her mother’s homemade lemonade and left him sitting at the table as she headed for the bedroom.

Gawain had time to get a refill before Ron appeared in the kitchen, his hair still quite messy but with clothes on and clean teeth. Gawain stood up almost immediately, and after thanking Hermione, he turned to the younger Auror and said:

“I’ll explain everything once we get to the Ministry. First, we must go and get Harry; I need him there as well.”

Ron and Hermione exchanged a quick look, and then Ron said: “Mr Robards… Gawain… is it really necessary that Harry comes? I know for a fact that he’s busy and–“

“I wouldn’t come and drag you out of bed like this if it wasn’t important, Ronald,” answered Gawain.

Ron’s shoulders drooped as he nodded, and he started to follow his boss towards the door when Hermione stepped into their way.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I understand that this is important, but it’s just that… Harry’s in the middle of proposing to Ginny, sir! If you could at least give him another hour…”

Gawain’s deep eyes widened. “He’s proposing? But why didn’t you say so? I… er… we’ll start the meeting without Harry, then. We probably won’t be leaving tonight anyway, so we should have time to fill him in later…”

“Leaving?” Hermione echoed, but Gawain was already half way out the door. Now, he raised his hand and waved it quickly while saying:

“Thanks again for the lemonade!”

And in the next moment, he had dragged Ron out into the staircase and shut the door.

“What did you mean by leaving?” Ron asked as he hurried down the steps along with his boss. “Are we going somewhere?”

“Most likely,” Gawain replied. “As I said, everything will be explained once we get there…”

The two men walked in silence, Ron half a step behind as he struggled to keep up with the pace that Gawain’s long legs could manage. They stepped outside, and Ron looked up in surprise at the cloudless sky, grinning at the thought of how happy Harry must have been with those circumstances. It was hard to concentrate on anything, really, as so many questions were swimming around in Ron’s brain; he desperately wanted to know how things were going with Harry and Ginny, and he was also both curious and confused about what was going on with the Aurors. It wasn’t until he nearly walked into Gawain that Ron realized that they had reached an empty alley, and that the older man had pulled out his wand.

“Apparate straight into the Auror Office,” he instructed Ron, “to the middle office.”

Ron envisioned the large room, with the oblong table and high chairs, in which he couldn’t recall getting anything but bad news about dangerous missions, and raised his wand. For a few seconds, he felt as if his entire body was compressed, every cell leaving its place inside of him. Then, as the office appeared before him in a blur, the cells jumped back into place, and his feet landed on the stone floor.

There were only three chairs at the tables that weren’t taken; Ron assumed that one was for him, one for Harry, and one for Gawain. The rest of them were taken by Ron’s colleagues – Hestia Jones, Dawlish, Williamson, Seamus Finnigan, Andrew Saxby, a nervous-looking Neville, and Jack Marwick. There was only one face among them that was unfamiliar to Ron. It belonged to a woman who looked like she was in her sixties or seventies, with grey, curly hair and tired eyes. She had a certain air around her – it was, for some indefinable reason, obvious to Ron that she didn’t belong at the Ministry of Magic, perhaps not even in the magical world.

“So, everyone is here,” Gawain said.

“What about Potter?” asked Jack Marwick, a man about five years older than Ron with blond, almost yellow hair and a certain arrogance that had made Ron despise him from the very start.

“He couldn’t make it today,” said Gawain shortly, and before Marwick was given the chance to protest, he continued: “We have a visitor today, as you can see.” He made a gesture towards the old woman. “Over the last years, we have received many reports about Death Eaters mobilizing somewhere in Russia, and we’ve never been close to actually finding them. But last night, the Scandinavian Ministry contacted us, and it turns out that we might have been searching on the wrong side of the border.”

“Finland?” asked Hestia, whose brain seemed to have worked faster than the others’.

“Exactly,” Gawain confirmed her guess. “It wasn’t until Marja here,” he said, making a gesture towards the visitor again, “stumbled upon a few of the people who have been on our wanted list every since the war…”

“Stumbled upon?” Marwick said derisively.

The scornful tone in his voice made the woman, who had looked terrified ever since Gawain had acknowledged her presence in the room, open her mouth and speak.

“They came to my house,” she said in a strange accent. “For my boy. My son… He left, he… go to England, five years ago. To fight, he say to me…”

“Marja’s son sympathised with the Death Eaters,” Gawain explained.

Again, perhaps after seeing the looks on everyone’s faces at hearing this information, Marja opened her mouth.

“He was a good boy! Don’t think he was not good. I loved him, he was… he was good.”

“I’m sure you did love him,” Gawain said, pausing a moment before continuing: “He was killed shortly after arriving to England, and with Voldemort controlling the Ministry, no one was ever convicted of the crime. We suspect that these certain Death Eaters, in Finland, thought that he got scared after seeing the reality of it all and just returned home. So now, when they are trying to rebuild their forces, they decided to track him down and have him live up to his promise of serving as one of them… only to be met by his poor mother, and learn that he’s no longer alive.”

“And they just let you go?” Hestia asked, her eyes fixed on Marja. “Did you have to defend yourself?”

“I’m not a witch,” Marja whispered. “They said… they wanted to hurt me. To shut me up. But I saw my son’s friend there, and I looked at him… and he told them to leave me.”

“Perhaps he was making his friend one last favour,” Gawain said. “Either way, Marja didn’t keep it to herself, and the Scandinavian Auror Force are trying to track them down in this very minute. They have requested our help with the actual confrontation. These people are wanted for crimes they committed in Great Britain, and so it’s only right that we arrest them. And, seeing as we are the ones who have experience with dealing with Death Eaters, it’s also the safest option.”

“So we’re going to Finland?” Ron asked.

“A group of us,” Gawain confirmed.

“When?” asked Seamus.

“I can’t say,” Gawain said. “As soon as we hear back from the Scandinavian Ministry, we’ll have to be ready to leave.”

 

 

 

Ginny had never seen Platform 9 ¾ so clearly before; there was no steam there to bedim her sight, no students pushing heavy trunks towards the Hogwarts Express or parents jostling each other, trying to get one last glimpse of their children through the train windows. But even if there had been many things and sounds and noises there before to keep her from really noticing it, she was absolutely positive that it had never looked anything like this whenever she had been there before.

The floor of the platform was covered in a thin layer of petals in different colours, making a beautiful contrast to the stone floor beneath. Above their heads, large branches spread out like a green roof, and rays of sunlight seeped through here and there, casting a pattern of light and shadows on the flowers below. Ginny felt like she had stepped into a forest glade, and the scent of the flowers and the trees, a perfect mixture between fresh and sweet, was so lovely that she couldn’t stop taking deep breaths through her nose. Her lips were already curled into the widest of smiles when she turned towards Harry.

“Did you do this?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Well, not on my own; Hermione helped me with the charms, and it was Professor McGonnagall who set it up so that they kept the barrier open a bit longer for us. Do you… do you like it?”

“Like it?” Ginny started to laugh, and in the next moment she had thrown her arms around his neck. “Harry James Potter… this is the loveliest thing anyone has ever done for me!”

Harry was smiling too know, and he wrapped his arms around her waist as he leaned in and kissed her. His touch sent little electric shocks through her body, and she caught herself wanting to get even closer to him, despite the fact that they were already pressed against each other. Her hands flew to his neck, and as the warmth of his skin spread onto hers, she marvelled at the fact that while his hair was, without exceptions, always messy and untidy, it was also incredibly soft against her fingertips.

Eventually, Harry pulled away. “You know,” he said. “I’m… I’m so glad that I’ve got you. I don’t think I tell you that as much as I should.”

“Yes, you do,” Ginny said, looking into his incredibly green eyes; they were almost the same height, which meant that their eyes were as well. “I mean, look around. This is absolutely wonderful, Harry. I have to ask, though… I know for a fact that you’re aware of the fact that my birthday was weeks ago, because you celebrated it with me. So what is this for?”

“It was weeks ago?” Harry pretended to be surprised. “No, I thought it was today…”

He grinned as Ginny rolled her eyes at him, and then his hands were on her waist again, and his lips brushed against her cheek as he leaned in and said, in a low voice:

“Today is September first, year 2001. Which means that exactly ten years ago today, we met for the first time.”

Ginny couldn’t believe that he had actually thought of that, and decided to make such a big deal out of it. She also couldn’t help but smile at it though; it was just so sweet of him. She thought of that day ten years ago, and how her own excitement at having seen Harry Potter had actually overshadowed her annoyance over being the only one out of her siblings who couldn’t go to Hogwarts. She had woken up that morning and expected to just be dragged to King’s Cross Station and be forced to watch her brother’s go off to Hogwarts, which sounded like a real fairy tale to her, while she would be stuck at home with her mum for yet another year. What was even worse was that she wouldn’t even have Ron to share the misery with that year – and then it had ended up being the highlight of her week, if not even the rest of the year. Harry Potter, she remembered telling her dad that night, he was standing right next to me!

“Yes,” she said, raising an eyebrow at her boyfriend. “I remember that day.”

Harry laughed. “Me too,” he said. “I remember you begging your mum to let you get on to the train and take a second look at me, after finding out who I was. Yes,” he added after seeing the look on her face, “I heard you talking through the window.”

“And Mum told me off for thinking you were some exhibit that I could just stare at, didn’t she? Oh, that’s embarrassing…”

“I think it was sweet,” Harry said. “And I also remember you being upset over the fact that your brothers were leaving you behind. You know, when I was younger I always wanted an older brother… I used to dream that I had one, that no one knew of, and that he’d come and save me from Dudley and my aunt and uncle… but in that moment, seeing you with them, I wanted a little sister.”

“You did?” Ginny beamed at him before adding: “I bet you don’t wish you had an older brother now, do you, after you’ve met all of mine?”

“What do you mean?” Harry laughed. “I happen to like your brothers!”

“Yeah, well… so do I, I suppose,” Ginny smiled. “Most of the time.”

“Back then,” Harry said, grabbing her hand and turning to look at the empty track, “I could never have even imagined that you and I would end up here, ten years later… or that I would be so in love with you.”

“Who would have ever thought it?” Ginny said. “You never noticed me, did you?”

Harry smiled faintly. “I’m sorry that it took me so long. But I honestly think that the only reason I didn’t notice you before was that you were Ron’s sister. I mean, you’re not supposed to think of your best mate’s little sister that way…”

“Didn’t stop you, though,” Ginny grinned.

“It couldn’t stop me, eventually,” Harry admitted, grinning back at her. “But I think it held me back before, without me even knowing. I wouldn’t have changed it though, even if I could.”

“Neither would I. That’s what makes us so great, don’t you think? The fact that we knew each other for so long, and that our relationship had time to evolve from friendship and into something more.”

“I think so too,” Harry nodded. “And fortunately, I did come to my senses. Too bad I had to wait until you were already with Dean, right?”

“Yes, but luckily for you, he wasn’t the right person for me.”

Harry took a deep breath before asking: “And do you think that you’ve found the right person now?”

Ginny smiled and wrapped his arms around his neck again. “Take a wild guess.”

“I know for a fact that I have,” Harry said, smiling back at her. “You know, I spent all of my childhood feeling like I didn’t belong, not at the Dursleys, not in school… and I’ve spent all of my life mourning over the fact that I don’t have a family. Over my parents, and Sirius and Lupin, and now… I know that I do have one. And I do have a place where I belong, and… It’s quite hard to believe sometimes, you know, that I really have all those things that I wished for. But the most important thing, and the one that gives me a place to belong more than anything, is what you and I have. And you. You’re just… I know that I’ll always want to be where you are, and that I’m supposed to be.”

He made a pause and let go of her hands. In the next moment, he had pulled something out of his pocket, and he knelt down amongst the petals, reaching for her hand. Ginny’s eyes were filled with tears and half her mind was spinning in chao,, while the other was perfectly still and calm, as if part of her had known that this was supposed to happen, right there and then. And Harry opened the box he had got from his pocket, revealing a golden ring with three small diamonds glistening in the sunlight that fell perfectly on it, and said:

“Ginevra Molly Weasley… will you marry me?”

Ginny felt something grow in her chest; it was as if her emotions were slowly expanding, and she wondered for a moment if her heart would in fact explode, and then she burst into tears, knelt down in front of Harry and managed, somehow, to say:

“Yes! Yes, of course I will!”

 

 




A/N: So there you have it. I've been so nervous about posting this, because I know that there are some people with very high expecations waiting for this moment, and I can only hope that you're not disappointed! I tried to keep it sweet, but not too soppy, because I just can't imagine that Ginny would that. Please, do let me know what you think; I'd love to get some feedback!

Also, I'm sure you're aware of the fact that this took me a little longer than usual, but I'm also sure you understand that life gets a little crazy sometimes, and that I always do my best to get the chapters up as soon as possible :) Thank you so, so much for continuing to read and support this story. It really does mean the world to me!


Chapter 34: Year 4: Plans and schemes
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Distraction. Over the last couple of hours, Ginny had learned one thing about the concept of it: her mother had absolutely no idea what it meant. She had sent Ginny an owl that same morning and invited her to the Burrow, where she and a few other people would ‘help get her mind off of things’ (things, as in her fiancé, and the fact that he had left the country only two days after asking her to marry him, and was now off in Finland somewhere, chasing after a group of Death Eaters whose greatest wish probably was to see him dead). When Ginny had arrived in the Burrow a few hours after getting her mother’s letter, she had found that Hermione, Luna and Angelina were all there as well. And what were they planning to do, to keep Ginny from thinking about Harry? Oh, that’s right – they were going to start planning their wedding.

Yes, Ginny thought sarcastically as she browsed through her parents’ calendar, it really was a brilliant plan. As if it wasn’t enough that she hadn’t heard from him since he left three days previous, or that every time the engagement ring on her finger caught her eyes, she found herself wondering if a wedding ring would ever actually join it… if he’d make it home this time.

Ginny constantly found herself fiddling with the ring, going back in her mind to that last moment before the news of Finland had ruined it. She and Harry had stayed at platform 9 3/4 for another hour after his proposal; she had conjured a mattress of soft moss in the middle of the petals covering the floor, and they had laid down on it, looking up at the enchanted branches that were their roof, and just talked.

“It’s my parents wedding anniversary,” Harry had told her, and he had showed her the inscription on the ring. Ginny couldn’t quite remember the exact words he had used next, but he had said to her that she was the only person he could imagine giving his mother’s ring to. Instead of replying, Ginny had leaned in and kissed him; she knew that he had understood her gratitude even though she hadn’t spelled it out to him.

Then, she had said: “I’ll tell you this much. This ring is the only heirloom that will make it into our wedding. I am not going to wear my mum’s old dress, no matter how many times she begs me.”

This had made Harry laugh. “Deal,” he had said. “Do you know what kind of a wedding you want?”

“Growing up, I always imagined having it at the Burrow,” Ginny had admitted. “I know that’s what both Bill and George did, but I thought their weddings were really nice, and I–“

“The Burrow it is, then,” Harry had interrupted. “And you know… I always imagined living in a house when I’m married. I think we should get one, before the wedding. My parents wouldn’t mind it if I spent the money they left me on a house, right?”

“Well, you don’t have to pay for it yourself,” Ginny had said determinedly. “I’m a professional Quidditch player, you know. The pay is all right.”

“Okay,” Harry had smiled. “You know, maybe we can even give Teddy his own room in our house! Of course, we’ll have to save a couple of bedrooms for our future children…”

Ginny had bitten her lip and smiled at his comment. “Our future children, eh? Tell me more about them.”

“I’m thinking that we’ll have three or four,” Harry had said. “Preferably boys. And we’ll play Quidditch with them in our backyard, just like you used to do…”

“Just boys?” Ginny had said, raising an eyebrow. “I grew up in a house full of men. Don’t I deserve to have a couple of daughters after putting up with that?”

“Hm,” Harry had responded while turning his head to look at her. “Maybe you do. But I wouldn’t know how to raise a girl! Boys would be easier, because I am one, and we already look after Teddy a lot… Besides, everyone is always saying how hard it is for a dad to watch his daughter grow up. Don’t I deserve some peace and quiet in my life, for once?”

“You’d hate peace and quiet,” Ginny had said with a grin. “You’d get bored after a week. How about we agree to just let nature decide the gender of our children? There’s not much we can do about it anyway.”

“Ginny!”

Looking up, Ginny realized that she wasn’t in fact back at King’s Cross Station with Harry, but in her mother’s kitchen, and everyone was looking at her, waiting for her to say something. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t catch that.”

Her mother crossed her arms over her chest. “I said: how about a winter wedding? We could decorate with large snowflakes, and everyone will be home for Christmas anyway. Charlie said he’d might even bring a girl this year!”

Ginny shook her head. “And risk having Fleur’s water break in the middle of the ceremony? I don’t think so. And Harry and I have already talked about getting married here, in our backyard. We won’t be able to do that if there’s snow everywhere, will we?”

“So Harry actually had an opinion about it?” Angelina asked as she looked up from the pile of cut-outs from Witch Weekly that she had been assigned to go through (it was an impressive pile; it seemed that Mrs Weasley had started to cut out anything wedding-related sometime during the middle of the 70’s, and never stopped since). “Wow. You’re a lucky girl, Ginny. Every time I asked what George thought about something he told me that the only thing he’d do was show up. The rest was up to me.”

“I’ve always been told that the bride and groom should do half each of the preparations,” said Luna, who was standing over by the window, looking out at the spot where both Bill and George had tied the knot. Her long hair was tied together with a piece of purple yarn, and she was dressed in a strange-looking, fringy creation that made Ginny think of a hay bale. Now, she turned around and smiled sympathetically at Angelina. “If they don’t, that usually means that the marriage won’t make it past the first five years.”

Angelina looked depreciative, but dived back into the pile of cut-outs instead of replying. Meanwhile, Mrs Weasley placed a kettle on the stove and put the tip of her wand to it, quickly filling it up with water. “Ginny,” she said for what must have been the third time that day. “Can’t you at least consider wearing Grandma Prewett’s old wedding dress? I wore it, my mother did, and her mother, and it would be such a shame to just let it go to waste… you’d look so lovely, I know you would! And I know it’s a bit more traditional than what you might have had in mind, but…”

“A bit more traditional?” Ginny said. “Mum, it’s from the nineteenth century! And I don’t care how many of our relatives have worn it, because it’s still hideous!”

Mrs Weasley looked a little hurt, but she shrugged and nodded before turning back to the stove. Then, perhaps feeling Hermione’s eyes on her, she lifted her head again. “Maybe you’ll wear it, dear,” she said. “When you and Ron get married.”

Ginny put down the calendar and placed an arm around Hermione’s shoulder. “Don’t promise anything,” she warned her. “That woman has the memory of a… a…”

“A Crumple-Horned Snorkack?” suggested Luna helpfully.

Ginny smiled. “Let’s just say she might as well be a living Pensieve,” she said. “She never forgets a thing.”

Hermione laughed along with the others before turning back to the long piece of parchment in front of her, which was full of her own neat handwriting. But instead of picking up the quill and continuing to write down names of people she thought that Harry and Ginny would want to invite to their wedding, she thought of Ron. Perhaps she would consider wearing Mrs Weasley’s old wedding dress… if they ever would get married. She wasn’t sure if Ron would ever settle the matter and actually propose to her, and it worried her a bit. Sure, they were still young – she was twenty two and he was twenty one – but they had been together for four years, and there had been no break in their relationship like the one Harry and Ginny had had. And sure, they were already living together, but Hermione would never hear Ron talk about their future. Not even after their best friends got engaged did he mention something about the two of them ever doing the same thing. Of course, Hermione knew that he loved her, but she also thought that it would have been nice to get it confirmed. Most of all, it would be nice to get at least a hint from Ron that their relationship would eventually go the same way as Harry and Ginny’s; she didn’t need to get a ring on her finger tomorrow, but she wanted to know that it would happen one day.

“How about April?” Mrs Weasley said, waking Hermione from her thoughts. “The garden always looks nice in April.”

Ginny thought about it for a few seconds before nodding. “Yes, I like that idea, Mum.”

“And have you thought about bridesmaids?”

“Well, I already asked Hermione to be maid of honour,” Ginny replied, exchanging a quick smile with her best friend before continuing: “And there’s Luna, of course. And Angelina, I was your bridesmaid, and I’d love to have you as mine…”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Angelina quickly. “I was okay with being in my own wedding, but I think I prefer to just watch.”

“Alright, if you’re sure…” Ginny answered with a shrug. “I think Harry is going to ask George to be one of the groomsmen, you know…”

“I’m sure,” said Angelina and smiled. "George is a big boy; I'm sure he can manage standing up there without me."

“I’d like to ask Heather too,” Ginny continued. “From the team. And it would be great if we could include Teddy in some way. Mum, do you think he could be the ring bearer?”

“I think that would be lovely,” her mother replied. “And how about Victoire as the flower girl? She’ll be old enough, don’t you reckon? I remember when my cousin Finn got married, and they had a little girl spread rose petals all the way down the aisle before the bride - it was lovely.”

“That sounds perfect,” Ginny said. “Hermione, we could have the same petals that you and Harry had put at the platform when he proposed! Right?”

“Of course,” Hermione said, smiling at the excited look on the redhead’s face and ignoring her own concerns – she wasn’t going to rain on Ginny’s parade, no matter how concerned she may have been for hers and Ron’s future. Besides, she was quite sure that if Ginny had been able to read her mind in that moment, she would have laughed and told her that she was just being silly. Perhaps, she thought as her gaze flickered to the Weasley family clock and Ron’s hand on it, which was still pointing to ‘travelling,’ she should really be worrying about what might happen in Finland. She wasn’t used to not being included; during their Hogwarts years, she had always been right there, in the middle of the heat of the battle. Sitting at home and waiting was new to her, and she hated the silence in hers and Ron’s flat, and the fact that she couldn’t quite express her fears to Ginny, because she didn’t want to make her friend feel any worse. In fact, she had caught herself wanting to talk to someone else earlier that day, when she had been sitting in her office and writing a letter to one of the Wizarding families who was still refusing to let her come talk to their house-elf. In that moment, she had wondered what Draco might have told her if he had still been working with her, and if maybe, just maybe, it would have made her feel better.

 

 

Ron’s feet hurt. Every step he took was torment, and he felt like every rock or tree root he stepped on cut into his sore soles. To make matters worse, he had accidentally set his right foot down in a hole filled with water a short while ago, and so one of his trainers was soaked. He would have got out his wand and dried it, but it was tucked in under the many layers of shirts and cloaks he was wearing to shield himself from the raw, damp, cold air, and he was sure that the others wouldn’t wait if he stopped to try to take it out. He was already half a step behind the others; he struggled to keep up and was quite scared of the thought of losing sight of Neville’s back in between the large, tall trees that all looked the same, and the densely grown thickets all around them.

Since arriving at the Scandinavian Ministry three days earlier, the group of Aurors had done nothing but walk. One of the Finnish Aurors had taken them to a spot that, in Ron’s mind, seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, where she had left them after announcing that they wouldn’t be able to get any closer to the Death Eaters’ head quarter with any magical means of transportation, as they suspected that the Death Eaters were tracking the area.

“Wait,” Ron had said after hearing this. “How are we supposed to get there, then?”

The Finnish woman, whom Ron had considered quite pretty until that moment, smiled and tipped her head to the side, as if she was talking to a child when she responded: “You walk, of course.”

And then she had left them. Ron had started to question her credibility, thinking that she was just trying to lead them astray. He didn’t understand why none of the Scandinavian Aurors were coming with them, but Harry and Seamus had laughed at his concern when he had put words to it.

“You’re just mad because you’re tired of walking,” Harry had grinned.

And rightly so, Ron had thought bitterly. Now, as he looked around, he sighed heavily before increasing his speed – he really didn’t want to fall too far behind. If he’d get lost here, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever find it back. This wasn’t just an area with trees growing closely together, and there were no separate elements or plants. It was a forest, melted together into one being after hundreds, maybe thousands of years of growing. Roots, stretching towards each other for so long that they had become part of each other; moss, not growing upon but with the trunks; the soil and the sun, far up above that thick roof of branches and needles, maintaining the life in this one of the few places on earth that was still completely untouched by man.

There were no paths to walk on, only uneven ground. Every other step, Ron was sure that he would fall and land head first on a rock or a thick root, deviously hidden beneath a layer of soft green. All of his attention as he walked was turned towards wherever he was setting his feet, and all he was thinking about was how long it might be before Gawain or Dawlish would decide that it was time for another break. He had tried humming for a while, but quickly grew sick of hearing his own voice. Now, all that could be heard was the sound of little twigs breaking underneath everyone’s feet, the occasional swish of the branches above their heads as a breeze swept by, and Jack Marwick’s never-ending whistling.

Ron was just thinking that his feet must be bleeding when he realized that everyone else had stopped a few yards ahead, and that Gawain had transfigured a small rock into a chair, and a smaller one into a footrest, complete with a midnight blue padding.

Not even bothering to get out his own wand to do the same thing, Ron sank to the ground right next to Harry, leaning his back against one of the smaller tree trunks. Just as his head touched the bark, something jumped onto him, and he flew back up to his feet and started wagging his arms around, his eyes closed as something sharp kept poking him right next to his eyebrow.

“Get off me!” he yelled. “Get off, get off…”

Suddenly, whatever thing was on his face was gone, and he peered suspiciously with one eye still closed, looking around to see what had just happened. Harry was standing next to him, holding a tiny creature between his fingers. Ron recognized it from Care of Magical Creatures at Hogwarts; it greatly resembled a stickman, and its long fingers (which were probably the sharp things that had just tried to poke Ron’s eyes out) were twitching, trying to get Harry to loosen his grip around one of its bark-like legs.

“A Bowtruckle, is it?” asked Seamus curiously, stretching his neck to see better from his spot by Gawain’s feet. “It probably lives in that tree.”

“Yes,” said John Dawlish, who was still standing up, “and they’re very protective of their habitats. You’d do best not to intrude, Weasley.”

“It’s not like I knew I was intruding,” muttered Ron, but he started groping for his wand in order to conjure a chair like the one Gawain was sitting on, rather than testing his chances with another tree. “I don’t exactly fancy getting my eyes poked out…”

“So what are we having for dinner today?” asked Jack Marwick, who had been in a bad mood ever since their mission had started – Ron suspected it might have something to do with the fact that out in the forest, he couldn’t keep his hair soft and wavy like it usually was. The way Marwick kept smoothing out his hair, and his annoyance when he had seen his own reflection in the shiny clasp of Neville’s winter cloak, only strengthened this theory.

“Same as yesterday,” Dawlish said, hustling one of his bags. A clicking sound hinted of the many cans he was carrying in it, all of which were full of compressed, rather tasteless meals. They weren’t exactly good, but with his stomach constantly growling for food, Ron would have found anything delicious.

“We might as well sleep here tonight,” said Gawain as he looked around. “Harry, Ronald… would you mind taking a look around, to make sure we’re alone? And cast the protective spells?”

Ron, who had just made himself a very comfortable-looking chair out of two rocks and a little bit of moss, frowned at having to walk even more, but followed Harry without complaining.

“Do you think the girls will be worried?” he asked as they walked further away from the others.

“Probably not as worried as your mum,” Harry answered while raising his wand to cast the spells. “I hope they’re not,” he added as he began walking again a few moments later. “Hopefully, they're keeping each other busy.”

“Yeah,” Ron agreed, grimacing as he climbed across a large rock and put all of his sore muscles to use. “How long do you reckon it will be before we get to go back?”

“It all depends on how things go, I suppose,” Harry answered. It was getting late, and darker – Ron couldn’t quite distinguish his mate’s facial features when he turned around and continued: “Gawain said we probably don’t have that long left until we’re there. That’s when it all begins. I mean, we don’t even know how many Death Eaters will be there, or how well protected it will be…”

“I know,” Ron said and nodded, even though Harry was no longer looking at him. “I just… I miss home, you know? I miss Hermione.”

“Yeah. I miss Gin, too. She is…” Suddenly, Harry fell silent.

“She’s what?” Ron asked, but Harry didn’t answer.

“Do you hear that?” he said instead.

Ron looked around – the tall trees were getting spookier by the minute, as darkness took over, and he felt a strong urge to turn around and go back to the others. A loud crack nearly gave him a heart attack, before he realized that it was Harry who had made a sudden movement and broken a branch in the process. Then, without warning, Harry started to run.

“Where are you going?” Ron called after him, and then he started running too. “Harry!”

But there was no reply; just the silhouette of Harry’s tall, skinny figure as it disappeared into the darkness of the forest.

 

 

 

As darkness fell over England too, Hermione and the other girls left the Burrow to go back home. She returned to a dark and empty flat and wished again for Ron to come home; if he’d stumble in through the door right in that moment, Hermione thought as she turned on the light, she wouldn’t care about his lack of commitment, and she’d never get upset over their relationship moving slower than Harry and Ginny’s again. If he’d only come home, right now… She stared at the front door for a few seconds before joggling and shaking her head. It had only been three days, after all; it wasn’t that much, and it would probably take a little longer before she’d hear from him. They’re fine, she told herself inwardly as she went out into the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. Of course they won’t have time to send letters. But if someone had got hurt, I would have known it by now.

With her teacup in one hand and a book in the other, Hermione walked into her bedroom. She changed into her pyjamas and braided her hair before crawling in under the covers. She had just got comfortable when a tapping sound made her lift her head; she knew instantly that an owl was at the window, and she practically flew over to open it. Could it be that Ron had actually written to her, after all? She stroked the bird’s beak quickly before taking the envelope that was tied around its leg. As soon as she saw the writing on it, her heart sank into her chest – she would have recognized Ron’s penmanship in a heartbeat, but this wasn’t his. Without giving up completely on the hope that it might still be news of their mission, though, Hermione quickly tore the envelope open and began reading the letter.

 

To Miss Hermione Granger,

I am probably the last person you expected to receive a letter from, just as I never expected to find myself here, in my kitchen while my son is sleeping, writing a letter to you. And yet, when it comes to my son I often find myself doing things I never thought I would, going to lengths I never thought I’d reach. So here I am, writing this letter, of which he shall never now, but a letter that I have to write nonetheless.

I’m sure you know what happened to our family after the war. My husband has spent nearly four years in Azkaban now, and Draco and I have struggled to get by without him. Do not think I am looking for pity here; I know that we brought this on ourselves. We chose the wrong side, and this loneliness, this solitude, is the price that we pay. It has brought my son and I closer together – that’s what you do when times are hard, isn’t it? You turn to your family.

However, there is one family member to whom I have not been able to turn until very recently. She was about your age when she decided to turn her back on us. I was younger, still at Hogwarts, and it broke my heart. I felt so betrayed, and yet, I admired her strength. She had always been my hero, but when my father told me to hate her for it, I did. She didn’t come to his funeral, and Lucius reinforced that sense of hate inside me by commenting on it. Shortly after my graduation and my father’s death, she had a baby – a girl. I never wished to see my niece until Draco was born, and I felt an unexpected urge to compare him to his cousin, to discuss motherhood with the younger of my older sisters. Yes, of course that’s whom I’m talking about – my sister, Andromeda. But you are known to be clever, so I’m sure you figured it out after my first line.

You see, I may think that I lost a lot during the war, but then I think of my sister, my childhood hero. Before this war, she had a husband and a daughter. During it, she gained a son-in-law and a grandson. Now she’s left, widowed with an orphan boy to raise and no family left. It has been growing in me ever since the war ended, the desire to speak to her, to mend the family bond, and to reach out a hand to her after all these years. But I know my sister. I know her pride, her stubbornness, her inalterable ways. And none of them would as much as consider accepting that hand stretched out in her direction.

This knowledge is what led me to do what I did; the knowledge that it would take more than an apologetic facial expression or a pitiful smile to make her open up her door to me. That’s why I asked Draco to reach out to you – that way, when I finally reached out to Andromeda, I hoped she would have heard that Draco had changed, and so my chances of getting a fresh start with her were much bigger. Please, do not blame Draco for any of this – he did it only because I asked him. He took that job in the same department as you, and he approached you with the intention of making you see a different side to him.

If you feel that you need to tell Andromeda about this letter, then do it. If you think she deserves to know the truth, then give it to her. But know that I only did what I did with her best interest at heart; that I wanted her to have a family again. We are the only ones left. And I missed her so.

Draco has resigned from his position at the Ministry, and neither he nor I shall bother you again. If you do tell my sister about this, I ask only that you will be there for her, be that family, which she no longer has, to her. Help her out with the child, and support her in her grief. If the opportunity comes, do tell her that these stolen weeks we’ve spent together, being sisters again, will be forever treasured in my heart.

I wish you all the best, and I hope you can understand both Draco’s actions and mine. Our intention was never to hurt you, and I am only writing this letter because I suspect that Draco did not have to pretend to be your friend.

Best regards,
Narcissa Malfoy









A/N: Firstly, I must apologize for how long it has taken me to get this chapter done. I can mostly blame it on being sick, though; I was in no state to write at all, but I'm finally better, and the chapter is finally finished! I'm really sorry for keeping you waiting.

I know that some of you were sceptical to the idea of Malfoy working at the Department for Magical Creatures, so hopefully that all makes a little bit more sense now. A lot of questions will be answered in the next chapter, like why Harry is suddenly running away from Ron, and how Hermione will react to Narcissa's letter. (And it won't take me weeks to get it finished, I promise.)

Thank you so much for continuing to read the story! Your support continues to amaze me, and I can't thank you enough. As always, I would love to hear that you thought of the chapter. :)


Chapter 35: Year 4: Duplicity
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Holding out his wand to light up the ground in front of him, Ron ran as fast as he possibly could without stumbling on any protruding tree roots. He couldn’t see Harry anymore, but he still heard him; the sound of his footsteps and the cracking of branches and twigs echoed loudly in the forest, which seemed to have gone to sleep for the night. Ron’s left arm, the one that wasn’t holding the wand, was held out before his face to shield it from any wily branches that his eyes might look past in the dusk. He cursed under his breath as his arm scraped against something sharp, and grimaced at the stinging pain it caused as something small and dark flew out of the thicket he had just hustled. The creature lingered before his eyes for a few short seconds, but turned around and disappeared into the darkness as soon as Ron pointed his wand to it. Hurrying on, Ron was too distracted by the thoughts of what sort of creature it might have been to notice a whole in the ground, and the next thing he knew, he was falling headfirst.

“For Merlin’s sake!” he muttered. “When I get a hold of Harry I’m going to–“

He interrupted himself; he had just lifted his head, and was now staring with his mouth half open at the scene in front of him.

The thick, dense forest had thinned out into an open meadow, bathing in moonlight; for a brief second, Ron thought the moon was full and started to listen for werewolves, but he quickly realized that it wasn’t. A pond was spread out between the trees that rose up from the ground like walls in every direction – it was as if this was a room, hidden in the middle of this woodland. Harry was standing just by the waterline of the pond, so close that his feet might actually be under water. Ron didn’t look at him long enough to check. Instead, his gaze quickly wandered on to the silhouette that was emerging from under the water, like a flower that was growing out of the soil and spread its petals in the sunlight.

It was a woman, but she wasn’t human – she couldn’t be. Her skin was like silver in the moonlight, and the drops of water that glistened in her hair looked like diamonds. Her skin was glowing in a way that instantly reminded Ron of Veelas, but he had seen enough of Fleur and her family to know that this was a different creature. When she lifted her head, he realized that her eyes were literally shining – they cast a cold, bluish glow over both Harry and the rest of the meadow, and they lit up her face enough for Ron to notice that she was extraordinarily beautiful.

As Ron crawled to his feet, Harry took two steps forwards with a splashing sound. Then, he began wading through the water, towards the creature, whose unnaturally long, slender arms were stretched out towards him.

“Harry!” Ron wheezed. “What are you doing?”

When he didn’t get any response, he stepped out into the meadow himself, raised his voice and said sharply:

“Oi! Harry! Aren’t you going to marry my sister in just a couple of–“

Then, as the womanlike creature slowly turned her head towards him, the blue, cold light hitting him straight in the eye, his voice failed him, and he felt a pull somewhere above his waist. He had to get to her… He had to get to her before Harry. After quickly estimating the advantage Harry had on him, he pulled out his wand and aimed it at his friend’s back – hexing him was the only solution he could think of.

As if he had read Ron’s mind, Harry suddenly turned around. His eyes widened slightly at the sight of the wand that was pointed at him, and he shivered as he came out of the spell that he had been under for the last couple of minutes.

“Ron,” he said now, his heart beating hard in his chest. What was this creature? What was she doing to them? “Ron, it’s me. It’s Harry.”

The hand that Ron had stretched out began shaking, and his face stiffened; he looked as though he was fighting an internal battle. Just as Harry prepared to take out his own wand and disarm his friend just in case, something wet and slippery slid around his hand, and in the next moment he was pulled down, under water. He instinctively drew a breath, involuntarily gulping down a mouthful of the roily water. When he turned his head and squinted, trying to see through the clouds of sand that stirred up as he moved his feet along the muddy seabed, he realized that the creature, who was a lot less beautiful now than she had been before, was holding him firmly, smiling as her long, slim fingers trailed up his arm. Then, suddenly, they closed around his throat, and he choked as he struggled to peel her fingers off of him.

Just as he was getting dizzy from the lack of oxygen, a flash of light hit the water surface above their heads, separating Harry from the creature with such force that he was thrown up on land, while she sank back down into the muddy water. Harry shivered in the cold and he breathed heavily as he lifted his head to look around; he had no idea what had really happened over the last couple of minutes.

Ron must have been the one to cast the helping spell, as his wand was still stretched out. But he was not alone anymore – a few steps behind him stood Gawain Robards, staring in confusion at the wet, coughing Harry, the rings on the water where the woman had just disappeared, and Ron’s frozen position.

The three men remained like that for almost a minute, until Ron finally moved. He lowered his wand and walked over to Harry, where he knelt down and patted his shoulder awkwardly. “Are you all right, mate?”

Harry lifted his head – he could barely see anything through his wet glasses, but he still turned his face towards Ron and nodded. “What was that?” he then asked.

“That,” said Gawain, who seemed to have finally regained both his ability to speech and his mobility, “was what the Scandinavians call a Huldra – a Lady of the Forest.”

“Right,” said Ron while flicking his wand to dry Harry’s clothes. “And what does a Lady of the Forest do, then? Besides pulling innocent people into dirty ponds in attempts to drown them?”

“In fact, that is what they do,” Gawain said, furrowing his brows as Harry started coughing again. “Or rather, they lure innocent men into their grasp – they do not care for women. Although folklore here does speak of male creatures, who do the same thing to women. Like I said, they lure you in with their beauty – she was stunning, wasn’t she? And when she sings, anyone who hears her will seek her out. Most of those who fall into their hands are never seen again, so we can’t know what happens to the men. Some say they are killed, while others claim that the Lady brings them to the underworld, where he’s forced to live amongst the hidden folk.”

“So why did she stop?” Ron said, looking almost offended. “She didn’t want Harry or me?”

“In fact, I think it’s quite extraordinary,” Gawain answered, his gaze sweeping between the two young men. “Their influence is strong enough to turn most friends against each other. But you,” he nodded towards Ron, “fought against it. You’re lucky, Harry. You’ve got a true friend in Ronald here.”

Harry glanced over at Ron and noticed, despite their dark surroundings, that the colours of his cheeks had deepened significantly. Chuckling, he leaned forwards and placed an arm around his mate’s shoulders.

“Thanks for not hexing me,” he said, and Ron shrugged without meeting his eyes.

“No problem.”

“We should probably head back to the others, then,” said Gawain. “We don’t want to put that friendship to the test again while waiting for the Huldra to come back, do we? Besides, we’re already losing valuable sleep.”

The three men span around and started walking back into the forest, leaving behind the meadow and the Huldra, who still hadn’t come up from under the water – Harry wasn’t exactly worried about her not being able to breathe, though. He found it quite impossible to care for a creature that would most likely either kill him or trap him in some sort of underworld if she got the chance.

Noticing that Ron was falling behind, Harry slowed down his pace until they were walking abreast. “Are you all right, Ron?”

“Yes,” said Ron quickly. “I was just thinking…” He lowered his voice, and Harry knew instantly that this thought was not intended to reach Gawain’s ears: “You know, a beautiful woman luring me in, trying to seduce me into turning against you... Can we – can we not mention this to Hermione?”

Harry burst into laughter. He tried to imagine Ron trying to explain the whole situation to his girlfriend, which of course only made him laugh harder. At first, Ron looked offended, but his facial expression quickly softened, and he seemed to be holding back a smile as well. Then, Harry gave him a slap on the back and said:

“Sure, mate. Not a word to Hermione.”

They continued to walk in silence. Harry was just starting to recognize their surroundings and thinking about how much he was looking forward to crawling into his sleeping bag and finally get some rest, when Ron suddenly grabbed his arm and made him stop. Harry looked over at him in confusion, but Ron simply nodded to their side, and Harry felt his stomach drop as he spotted the dark-clothed, hooded figure that was walking towards the campsite where the rest of the Aurors were waiting.

A thought shot through Harry’s mind: the protective spells. He and Ron had been in the middle of performing them when the Huldra’s singing had interrupted it, and he had started running towards her. As a wave of guilt washed over him, Harry realized that his friends and co-workers were unprotected, and the dark-clothed figure was with almost certainty a Death Eater, heading straight towards them. Was he or she alone, or were there others? Perhaps they had already surrounded the campsite?

A few steps in front of Harry and Ron, Gawain had picked up on the danger as well - he had already aimed his wand at the Death Eater, and without uttering an incantation, he swished it, sending a white flash through the darkness. The spell hit the Death Eater in the back, and he fell to the ground without making a sound.

Just as Harry was about to let out a sigh of relief, a voice yelled out: “Someone’s over there!” In the next moment, panic broke out.

Gawain started casting spells around him, which every now and then seemed to hit its target, as the Death Eaters’ yelling to each other proved. In between each flash of light, he instructed Harry and Ron to quickly make their way back to the campsite; most likely, the others were awake and aware of what was going on by now, but they would have to make sure. Additionally, being spread out wouldn’t exactly help their chances against however many Death Eaters were really at the scene.

The campsite was closer than Harry had estimated; after a short walk and successfully avoiding running into any other hooded figures, he spotted it through the trees. Neville was just climbing out of one of the tents, and Jack Marwick had lit his wand, which he was now swinging around, trying to see anything at all in the darkness, which seemed to grow more and more compact by the minute. A few yards away from Neville and Marwick stood two other men; Harry saw only their silhouettes but understood quickly that it was Seamus and Dawlish, the remaining two in their group.

Ron, who seemed to be shocked at how calm everyone was, stumbled out from between the trees and instantly started hissing at them, as quietly as he could. “What are you doing? There are Death Eaters all over the place – didn’t you hear it? Or at least see it?”

“Death Eaters?” repeated Marwick incredulously. “Those flashes of light?”

“Yes, those flashes of light!” Ron snapped. “Gawain is back there, fighting them. We have to help him out! Besides, there might be more of them all around this place!”

“Get out your wands,” said Harry, “and let’s go back and find him.”

Dawlish looked like he was about to protest, but he soon did as he was told. Harry had just span around on the spot and said: “Let’s go, then,” when a voice made all six Aurors freeze.

“Not so fast, Potter.”

It was a woman’s voice – Harry turned around to look at her, but couldn’t tell which of the five people behind him who had just spoken. They all wore similar, loose robes and cloaks, and they were masked.

The one in the middle, the tallest out of the five, took a small step forwards. “I suggest dropping those wands,” he said. His voice was cool, and Harry recognized it immediately – it was Travers. “Then, no one will have to get hurt.”

“As if!” Marwick said defiantly. “We outnumber you!”

“Do you now?” Travers replied. “And what about the rest of us, who are surrounding your little camp here – who are pointing their wands at your chest in this very second, prepared to kill you any second?”

Marwick gulped involuntarily and did not respond. Harry wished that Travers wasn’t wearing his mask; it was impossible to tell if he was bluffing or not about the other Death Eaters when he couldn’t see his face.

Before anyone had the chance to say anything else, Neville spoke up. “And so what?” he asked. “It’s not like you’re not going to kill us if we just give in, is it? You don’t need us for anything – you just want to get away scot-free. You’ll kill us, so that we can’t bring you to Azkaban, where you belong!”

“Maybe so,” said another one of the Death Eaters – the woman who had called them before. Her voice sounded vaguely familiar, but Harry couldn’t identify it. “It wouldn’t stop your friends from the Ministry to search for us though, would it? Our plan is a lot better than that, boy. Perhaps we shall start with you?”

She raised her right hand, which shook slightly when she pointed it straight at Neville’s face. At the same time, all of the Aurors pointed their wands at her – except for Ron, who startled everyone by letting out a triumphant sound and pointing his index finger at her instead.

“Hang on,” he said. “I knew you were up to something. You’re the woman from before, who showed us here. From the Scandinavian Ministry!”

“Yes,” she admitted instantly. “You know, these things are so much easier to do when the right people – like our Minister for Magic – trust you. Now, lower those wands and I won’t murder your little friend here.”

Just as everyone was about to what she said, a noise interrupted the action; it sounded like an explosion, which echoed in the quiet forest and temporarily deafened Harry – in the next moment, a flash of light lit up the entire area and blinded everyone. With two of his senses out, Harry fell to the ground and clung to it, as if he was scared that it would go away as well.

He didn’t know how much time passed, but gradually, his hearing came back. Someone was yelling – he was quite sure that it was the Head Auror, but he couldn’t make out any words. Then, as he blinked, he began making out shapes of trees and people around him again.

He wasn’t the only one who had fallen to the ground. Ron was crawling around on his left side, and Marwick was sitting on his knees while flattening his hair with his hand. John Dawlish was lying on his stomach facing the ground. Seamus and Neville were the only ones who were still standing, and Gawain was walking towards them.

“… gone, all of them!” he was just saying.

“What happened?” Harry asked while rubbing his ears, as if to try to soothe them. “The Death Eaters…?”

“Disapparated, all of them,” Gawain explained. “There was some sort of explosion… one of them sent a hex at me, and it collided with a spell that I cast… I’ve never seen anything like it before. It gave them quite a fright, though. I suppose that’s why they left.”

“So what do we do now?” Seamus asked. “Keep on walking?”

“I suspect this was a setup,” said Gawain and bent his head down. “Someone at the Scandinavian Ministry has betrayed us, and I fear it won’t get us anywhere if we stay here any longer.”

“So it was a total failure?” said Jack Marwick and frowned. “We came here for nothing? We’re nowhere near capturing them?”

Harry sighed in frustration; normally, Marwick’s attitude would get to him, but in this case, he couldn’t actually blame him for being so cranky. They had walked for days to try to find this headquarter, and maybe finally capture the remaining of the known Death Eaters, and they had actually found them… only to let them slip out of their grasp. What was even worse was that it was his fault – if he hadn’t let himself get distracted by that Huldra creature, the protection spells would have kept the Death Eaters from finding the Aurors, and the Aurors would have found them instead…

As if he had been able to read Harry’s mind, Ron suddenly shoved him in the side. “You do realize that it’s that woman’s fault, don’t you? She set us up.”

“Do you think their entire Ministry is in on it?” asked Seamus, but Gawain quickly shook his head.

“No, I’m sure they’re not,” he said. “But they do need to investigate their officials; I’m sure they will, too, after we tell them about this.”

“What bothers me is this plan she was talking about,” Dawlish said while scratching his chin. “They obviously wanted us to find them, so the question is what they were going to do to us.”

“If there had really been that many of them, wouldn’t they have just taken us?” Ron mused. “They must have been lying about that.”

“In fact,” Gawain said, “I think we’ve got Harry here to thank for that.” When Harry raised his eyebrows in confusion, the Head Auror smiled faintly. “They’re terrified of you, Harry. You defeated their master – they used to consider him undefeatable, you know. If you hadn’t been with us, I’m sure they would have captured us without hesitation.”

“So now,” Jack Marwick said, “we’ll go back to England?”

Everyone was just starting to nod and agree when a noise from somewhere behind Harry broke the silence. He lifted his head in time to see Neville’s eyes widen. In the next second, Neville had launched himself forwards while shouting: “Harry, no!”

The flash of green did not surprise Harry; he and Neville fell heavy to the ground, and he heard the swishing of wands and incantations echoing amongst the tall trees above their heads, but his glasses had fallen off and he barely saw anything at all.

“I got her!” said Gawain suddenly. “John, Seamus… will you go get her wand?”

“Here you go,” said a voice right next to Harry, making him jump. Then, he realized that Neville was holding out his glasses towards him, and he mumbled a thank you while putting them on.

Seamus and Dawlish were just dragging the woman from the Finnish Auror Force towards the group of British Aurors; her entire body was slack, which most likely meant that someone had stunned her. Harry turned to Neville while furrowing his eyebrows.

“She tried to kill me?” he asked.

Neville nodded.

“You saved my life?”

“I don’t know if I–“

The rest of Neville’s sentence was cut off when Harry hugged him tightly. Then, they let go of each other, and Gawain Robards, who was just swinging a bag over his shoulder, patted Neville’s back.

“You know, you would have made a great Auror. It’s a shame you’re leaving us.”

Everyone’s gaze instantly flew to Neville, who smiled shyly at their boss’ praise.

“Leaving?” Seamus said.

“What’s he talking about, Neville?” Ron asked.

“You’re not quitting, are you?” said Harry, his voice full of the same surprise as the others’.

“Well, I sort of got offered another job,” Neville explained. “I was going to start on the first of September, but then this mission came up…”

“And he didn’t want to desert any of you,” Gawain filled in. “He’s a good co-worker, and perhaps an even better friend.”

Harry placed his arm around Neville’s shoulder and grinned. “So tell us, mate. What is this new job that could make you want to leave us all behind?”

“It’s at Hogwarts, actually,” answered Neville proudly. “Professor McGonnagall asked me to come to the castle a few weeks ago, and she and Professor Sprout were there… It turns out Professor Sprout is retiring, and they asked me to replace her! Me! A professor! Can you believe it?”

“Well… yeah,” said Ron and shrugged. “You were always brilliant at Herbology, Neville.”

“And Professor Sprout used to direct me to you whenever I had any questions,” Seamus agreed.

“Yes, you definitely deserve it,” Harry nodded.

“Now,” said Marwick irritably, “can we please get out of here before any of the other Death Eaters decide to come back and try to kill someone?”

“Yes,” Gawain said. “Now we go back to England.”

 

 

Inwardly thanking her lucky stars that her best friend was a morning person, Hermione hurried up the stairs that led to Harry and Ginny’s flat. Her head was aching and her eyelids were heavy after an almost completely sleepless night, but she still managed to bring herself to smile at the little boy who was just walking out of one of the flats on the fourth floor. His mother, who was still inside, called him back just as Hermione swept by and hurried on, her words echoing in the staircase: “Billy, I told you to put on your wellies! It’s raining outside.”

Indeed it was, Hermione thought as she shivered in her coat, which was soaked from walking all the way from hers and Ron’s flat. She had decided that she was too worked up to Apparate, and while she was quite sure that Ginny would be up already, she didn’t want to risk scaring her by just popping out of her fireplace this early in the day.

It had been a long night, to say the least. Since receiving Narcissa Malfoy’s letter just before going to bed, Hermione had found it impossible to relax enough to be able to fall asleep. A million thoughts had been running through her head, and she had paced back and forth in the living room for hours, taken a long bath, and started re-organizing her book collection. None of it had helped, and she still hadn’t managed to sort out her mind.

She didn’t know what she was supposed to make out of the whole thing; Narcissa, taking to desperate measures to try to fix her relationship with her sister, Draco, acting all nice and understanding in order to make Hermione forgive him, and then that last line of the letter, which she had read over and over but still refused to believe: “… and I am only writing this letter because I suspect Draco didn’t have to pretend to be your friend.”

From what little she knew about his relationship to his parents, Hermione had understood that Draco was a mummy’s boy, and she had no trouble imagining him agreeing to do this for his mother. And truth to be told, many things made more sense to Hermione now that she knew of their hidden agenda. Firstly, she finally understood why Draco had applied for a job that was so unlikely for him to go for, and why he had dedicated himself to it the way he had. He probably didn’t care about house-elves, but what better way was there to win Hermione’s trust and approval than to act like he did? Secondly, she now knew why he had been so willing to listen to her complain about Ron, and why Ron’s jealousy towards him had unsettled him so; it probably wasn’t just the fact that he thought it shameful that someone would even consider the possibility of him falling in love with a Muggle-born. Obviously, Draco hadn’t wanted Ron to dislike him, because Andromeda knew Ron as well, and the word might spread and cause her to question her sister and nephew’s intentions.

Realizing that she had reached the right floor, Hermione woke from her thoughts and rang the doorbell. She had waited all night to talk to Ginny; truth was, despite the fact that he had made it very clear what he thought of the Malfoys, that she was really longing to speak to Ron. But that wasn’t an option at the moment, and Hermione was hoping that Ginny would understand as well.

The door opened after just a short moment, and a worried line instantly formed on Ginny’s forehead at the sight of her friend. “Hermione! Have you heard anything about Harry and Ron?”

“No,” said Hermione quickly. “Sorry. This isn’t about that.”

“But something’s wrong?” asked Ginny as she stepped aside to let her guest in.

“I don’t know,” Hermione confessed. “Maybe. I guess. I really needed to talk to someone…”

Ginny glanced at her watch and raised an eyebrow. “Have you even had breakfast yet?”

“No,” said Hermione, shaking her head.

“I’ll make some, then,” said Ginny. “Just don’t expect too much, okay? Harry usually does the cooking around here.”

Hermione waited in silence while Ginny fried eggs and bacons, cut bread into slices and poured orange juice into glasses. Normally, she would have offered to help, but the combination of lack of sleep and her crammed mind had led to her just sinking into one of the kitchen chairs, where she listened with half an ear to whatever Ginny was talking about.

Then, as the two started eating, Hermione started telling her friend about the letter. By the time Ginny had finished her breakfast, Hermione was still talking, and the food on her plate was mostly untouched.

“Wow,” said Ginny when Hermione finally fell silent a little while later. “So he was… wow. What are you going to do? Will you tell Andromeda?”

“That’s part of the reason why I wanted to talk to you,” Hermione answered as she picked up her fork and began moving the food on her plate around. “I mean… have you ever talked to her about Narcissa? Or Draco?”

Ginny nodded. “Yes. You know, I think their plan worked, at least a little bit. She asked Harry what he thought about it after Narcissa wrote to her, and he mentioned that you and Draco were friends.”

“And have they seen each other a lot since?”

“I wouldn’t say a lot,” Ginny said. “But yes, both Narcissa and Draco have been over a couple of times. Andromeda doesn’t talk that much about it, but I think she likes having them around. And Teddy loves them, apparently, especially Draco. Harry’s not too happy about that.”

Hermione smiled and put her fork back down. “So wouldn’t it be wrong to mess with that?” she asked. “If they can finally be sisters again, shouldn’t I just let them be?”

“Would you even be able to?”

“I think that what they did is wrong,” said Hermione determinedly as she crossed her arms over her chest. “They shouldn’t have done it like that, and they took advantage of… I mean, they didn’t consider the fact that people’s feelings might get hurt. But they didn’t do it to hurt anyone, did they? Narcissa just wanted to have her sister back, and from what she wrote I think she genuinely want what’s best for Andromeda. So if I were to meddle, and expose this whole thing… that would just be out of spite, wouldn’t? I’d make it about me, when it really isn’t.”

“And Draco? The whole part about him actually caring about you?”

“That’s not what she wrote,” Hermione corrected her friend. “She said that it was possible that he might have been my friend for real…”

“So will you forgive him?” demanded Ginny. “Ask him to come back to work? And be friends?”

Hermione considered her words for a few moments before opening her mouth to reply. “I think… I think I’ll forgive him. As for work, he can do whatever he wants. But we’re not going to be friends. As much as I’d like him to be that person I got to know when we worked together, there’s always going to be that other part of him… and I think we’re both better off not being friends.”

 
 




A/N: I am amazed at the response I get from you readers, and as always I just want to hug you all for being so lovely. It's still unbelievable to me that so many people are reading this story, and each review I get make me so happy - I can't even explain how great it is to get to hear your thoughts on these chapters and the story in general.

As for this chapter, I've struggled a little bit with it. I've always found action very difficult to write. If you have any tips for me, I'd be very thankful! The whole Finland part of this chapter ended up being so much longer than I had imagined, but I really hope it won't bore you ;) I'd also love to know what you think of Hermione's reaction to the letter, if you've got the time to write a review and tell me. Thank you again for reading this story! :)

Also, I'd just like to say something about the Huldra; it's a creature that exists in Scandinavian mythology, and while it may seem a bit too similar to the Veelas, they really do lure men in with their beauty in the same way.


Chapter 36: Year 4: Winter
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The first weeks following Harry and Ron’s return to England were nothing short of wonderful. The weather steadily grew colder, but no one could remember the last time so many days had gone without the sun being blocked by thick rain clouds or fog, and the leaves turning yellow and red only made London prettier. Nothing seemed to be able to interfere with Ron’s cheerful mood – he couldn’t remember his bed ever being so comfortable, food ever tasting so good, or ever having so much fun just hanging around the flat with Hermione. Not even hearing about Narcissa Malfoy’s letter upset him too much; sure, he was angry over the fact that the two Malfoys had cared more about getting what they wanted than about Hermione’s feelings, but he was surprisingly supportive. Quite honestly, he may have supported Hermione’s decision not to go back to being Draco’s friend a little too wholeheartedly, but Hermione simply let it pass, and complained instead about Ron’s newfound habit of Apparating from room to room inside their flat, because according to him, all the walking he had done in Finland had been enough for a lifetime.

Meanwhile, Harry and Ginny dedicated their time to wedding planning. They decided to go with an April wedding at the Burrow, and Mrs Weasley was beyond thrilled. In fact, both Ginny and Harry discovered that it was impossible to have a conversation with her anymore without it somehow ending up being about wedding.

At the Auror Office, most of the Aurors were working on one thing only: finding a way to get the Finnish woman who had betrayed them to speak. They had her in custody, but she refused to answer any of their questions, and because she was not of British citizenship, International Wizarding Law forbade them from using Veritaserum on her. Therefore, Gawain Robards had remained in Finland, where he was working on getting the Scandinavian Ministry to do it for them, but so far, they had been unexpectedly reluctant.

The days of October flew by in a blur; not much changed at all as everyone turned their calendar pages. Things stood still at the Auror Office, and Gawain started talking about having Harry go visit the Scandinavians, as his influence might help persuade them easier. When he wasn’t working, the wedding took up most of Harry’s time; Ginny insisted he had nothing to complain about, though. It seemed like everyone around her refused to talk about anything else with her, whether it was her mother, her teammates, or Hermione, and she often fled over to Luna’s house in the evenings to escape it all. She found it much more relaxing – and amusing – to listen to Luna and her father’s dinner conversations and browse through Xenophilius Lovegood’s folder of ideas for upcoming articles in the Quibbler (which had decreased in popularity again after the war, and judging by the article ideas, Ginny wasn’t too shocked about it).

Much to her surprise, though, Ginny found that Luna still talked a lot about Rolf Scamander, the young man whom she had met during her travels. Apparently, they still wrote letters to each other, and Luna acted as though she was expecting to see him again soon. Ginny, who had always thought that Luna would be the perfect match for another one of their friends, subtly tried to mention Neville’s name every now and then, but other than asking how he liked being a professor, Luna didn’t have too much to say about him.

Without any of them really noticing, October passed into November, and the first snow fell over the now bare trees in England. In fact, it was on the very day that Hermione saw the first snowflakes that winter, that it happened – that thing, which woke everyone from the doze they had been in since the middle of September.

Hermione was walking home from work when she realized that it was snowing – normally, she’d use the Floo System or Apparate home, but she really enjoyed walking. Especially since Mrs Weasley’s birthday party the previous weekend, when she had been complaining about how cold it was getting, and Audrey had taught her a spell that made both her coat and her scarf secrete warmth. Since then, walking in the cold was a lot more pleasant, although Hermione couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor Muggles around her, all of whom seemed to shiver and shake as they hurried along the busy streets.

She had stopped by Ron’s office before leaving the Ministry, and he had told her not to wait for him, as he had so much to do. Therefore, Hermione knew that she was looking forward to an afternoon in an empty flat, and it was this knowledge that made her decide to go and visit her parents instead of continuing all the way home.

The Grangers lived in a nice neighbourhood in the suburbs of London. The houses there were quite small, but pretty, and white picket fences and well-raked lawns completed the idyllic look. It was snowing there too, and Hermione smiled to herself as she imagined how lovely and Christmassy it would look once it was all covered in white.

As soon as she stepped up on her parents’ front porch, Hermione heard a meowing sound from inside the house. She smiled again and opened the front door just as Crookshanks entered the hallway. While she bent down to untie her shoes, the cat started rubbing against her legs.

“Hi there,” mumbled Hermione affectionately. “Did you miss me?”

Crookshanks looked up at her with an almost accusing look on his squashed face, and Hermione sighed and petted the top of his head. “I know I’m terrible for leaving you here,” she told him. “But you’d never be able to go outside if you lived with me. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”

And besides, she thought as she straightened up again, it probably wasn’t a great idea to have Ron and Crookshanks live under the same roof. Of course, the pair got along a lot better since Ron no longer had Scabbers, but Hermione had a feeling they were both still holding a grudge against each other. Especially Ron, she thought and rolled her eyes while walking further into her childhood home, Crookshanks in tow.

“Hello!” she called as she entered the living room. “Is anyone home?”

The silence that met her confused her; the door had been unlocked, and she couldn’t imagine her meticulous parents ever leaving home without locking it. She was just about to take out her wand and start searching the house when someone appeared in the doorway to her parents’ bedroom.

It was her father. Something about his appearance startled Hermione, and she eyed his clothes, but he was wearing what he always wore – brown trousers, and the collar of his white, neatly ironed shirt sticking up over the neckline of his grey jumper. As she turned her eyes back to her father’s face, Hermione then realized just exactly what was different about him. He had been crying – she could almost see the traces on his cheeks where the tears had run down, and if that was not enough proof, the redness in his eyes certainly was.

“What’s wrong?” she said immediately. “Did something happen to Grandma? Is she…?”

Mr Granger shook his head, and just as Hermione was about to open her mouth again, her mother came out of the bedroom as well. If Hermione had been worried before, it was nothing compared to what she felt when she looked at her mum; Mrs Granger wasn’t crying. In fact, she looked surprisingly composed. Which wasn’t a good sign at all – she was always the one to freak out when something happened, while her husband remained calm. So what could it possibly be, that had Mrs Granger so unruffled, while Mr Granger cried?

“Sweetheart,” said Hermione’s mum and reached out a hand towards her daughter. “Let’s sit down. There is… there is something we need to talk about.”

As the little family sat down – Hermione in one of the armchairs by the window, and her parents in the couch across from her – a strangely familiar fear started growing inside Hermione. It was a feeling she had lived with for a whole year, if not longer, before Harry had finally defeated Voldemort. The fear of not knowing what was to come; being on guard without really knowing what she was trying to protect herself from.

“Tell me,” she begged her mother, because she knew that her father wouldn’t be the one to say it.

Mrs Granger smiled, but it wasn’t a real smile, because it wasn’t happy. Then, she took a deep breath that made her chest expand, slowly exhaled and said:

“I’ve found out I’m sick, honey. I have cancer.”

It was the strangest thing, because Hermione watched her mother’s lips move, and she heard the sounds that came out of her mouth, but it was as if her brain couldn’t piece it all together. She couldn’t take it in, and so she fled into that one part of her mind, which was so comfortably stable and immutable and fixed – the logical part. Reason.

“They’ll treat you,” she said. “You’ll get better. They’ll remove it, and you’ll live another forty years, won’t you?” When neither one of her parents replied, Hermione gulped and added, in a voice that seemed much thinner than before: “People survive cancer nowadays, right?”

When she had been six, a boy from school had teased Hermione about her abnormally large front teeth, and she had been crying when her dad had picked her up that day. Her father had told her that her teeth were perfect the way they were; he was a dentist, he had pointed out, so he should know better than some six-year-old bully whose parents hadn’t raised him right.

“I love your teeth,” he had assured her. “Don’t worry about it.”

Two years later, when Hermione had been six, she had accidentally burnt a girl’s hand. Poor Rebecca Webb had been trying to convince Hermione to come play outside for nearly fifteen minutes, but Hermione had insisted on finishing her book first. When Rebecca had reached over to tear out the pages of that stupid book in frustration, Hermione’s anger had resulted in some involuntary magic and blisters all over Rebecca’s hand. When Mr Webb had come to pick up his daughter from the Grangers’ a few hours later, Hermione’s mum explained how the girls must have snuck into the kitchen and turned on the stove. While he dragged his daughter outside and over to the car, Mr Webb had yelled at her for doing something so ill-advised, and Hermione had turned to her mother and whispered:

“But that wasn’t how it happened, Mum. It was one of those strange things again, but I promise I didn’t mean it…”

“I know you didn’t, sweetheart,” had Mrs Granger replied. “I’m just not sure that they would understand. But don’t worry about it, okay?”

And here they were now; Hermione was twenty two, but she still wanted – no, she needed – to be told not to worry. That everything would be fine.

“Some people get better,” said her mother instead, “but I’m afraid I won’t.”




As with all things, everyone quickly realized that Emily Granger’s disease hadn’t stopped the clocks, and the neighbourhood where she and her husband lived was soon covered in snow, and it looked lovely and Christmassy, just as it had for the last twenty five years. On Christmas day, the pair left the idyllic little street with the pretty houses and twinkling Christmas lights, and came with their daughter to the Burrow. There, a festive spirit and happy faces fought hard to overshadow the constant presence of ‘cancer,’ the mutual awareness that seemed to hover above their heads and hang over everyone’s shoulder. It was as if every other topic of conversation was constrained, whether it was wedding plans (a subject that couldn’t be discussed without the bride-to-be sighing and yawning very loudly), Bill and Fleur’s baby (which, judged by the size of Fleur’s belly, seemed like it could pop out any second now), or one of Percy’s incredibly long and equally boring expositions on all the reasons why the Scandinavian Ministry aggravated international cooperation by refusing to work with the Brits.

And yet, as the night progressed and darkness fell over Ottery St. Catchpole, Ginny had to admit that Mrs Granger’s cheeks looked a little less hollow in the light of the Christmas tree, that Mr Granger’s laughter sounded more and more sincere, and that Hermione relaxed more next to her for every minute that passed. Glancing to her side, Ginny watched as her best friend debated vigorously with Percy about ways to best solve the Aurors’ issue in a diplomatic way, and when Audrey said: “Wow, Hermione! Have you ever considered becoming a politician?” Ginny could see a twinkle in her friend’s eyes that hadn’t been there for weeks.

An outsider looking in through the window might not have seen anything other than joy; there was Harry, rereading the letter that Neville had sent them, telling them all about life as a professor and Christmas at Hogwarts. Next to him in the couch sat Mr Weasley and Charlie, both of them laughing loudly at something one of them had just said. Much to the rest of the Weasleys’ joy, Charlie’s visits had been a lot more frequent since the end of the war. Ginny had been very surprised to hear that he was coming home for Christmas, since he was also coming to her wedding in April, but she was beyond happy about it.

Bill and Fleur were sitting across from Harry, Charlie and Mr Weasley, Bill with his arm around his wife’s shoulder, and Fleur with her hands resting on her belly. Both of them were smiling as they watched Victoire, who was skipping around the room, chasing the large snowflakes that came flying out of the tip of George’s wand.

Ginny smiled at her niece as well before turning her eyes back to Harry. He was just folding Neville’s letter and putting it back into the small envelope when he seemed to sense her staring at him and lifted his head. His lips instantly curled into a smile as their eyes met.

Suddenly, someone started pulling at Harry’s trouser-leg, making him turn his head to the side. Victoire must have grown tired of the snowflake game, because she was standing right next to him now, smiling adorably with her blonde curls pulled back from her face with the help of two glittery clips, and her hands playing with the hem of her deep purple dress.

“Where’s Teddy?” she asked.

“He’s not here today,” Harry reminded her. “He’s spending the day at his Granddad’s house. We got to see him yesterday, though, remember?”

“But I want Teddy to be in my Granddad and Nana’s house!” said Victoire angrily and crossed her arms over his chest.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said and bent down to pull her up into the couch. “You’ll see him another day, Vic.”

His words made Victoire’s lower lip tremble, and she climbed into Mr Weasley’s arms and started sniffing quietly. Fleur smiled and shook her head.

“Zose two ‘ave really become inseparable,” she said. “I’m sure zey will be best friends when zey are older too.”

“Yes,” Bill agreed. “I hope you’re right. But don’t cry about it now, sweetheart,” he told his daughter. “How about we ask if Teddy wants to come over for a play when we get home tomorrow?”

“You are such a softie,” Fleur complained. “You’re spoiling ‘er.”

“It’s Christmas!” Bill argued. “I don’t want her to be sad on Christmas!”

“Okay,” Fleur said, “but you’ll ‘ave to watch zem yourself, zen. I can’t chase after two little children in zis state.”

“You do realize that you’ll have two little children of your own once that baby is born, right?” George asked as he summoned a chair from the kitchen and sat down amongst the others.

“Yes, and by zen, I won’t be pregnant anymore,” said Fleur, and after struggling to change her position for a few seconds, she sighed and added: “I really can’t wait.”

Mrs Weasley let out an excited squeal at the thought of the baby actually being born, and then she quickly rose to her feet. “I’m going to put on some tea,” she said. “Is anyone hungry? I could whip something together…”

“After the dinner we had, I doubt anyone in here will be hungry before New Year’s Eve,” said Charlie and grinned at his mother.

“I can put the kettle on,” Ginny offered. “Just sit down and relax, Mum.”

She rose to her feet and went out into the kitchen, where the smell of turkey, Brussels sprouts and roast potatoes still lingered, and where the radio was still playing Celestina Warbeck; Ginny noticed that the music was strangely muffled now, though, and she strongly suspected that Fleur and her imaginative spellwork had something to do with it.

“Need any help?”

The voice made Ginny smile and turn around, with the large kettle in her hands. Harry was just entering the kitchen, his hands nonchalantly stuck into his pockets and his eyebrows raised as he waited for her to answer his question.

“I know I’m a terrible cook,” Ginny said, “but I think I can handle putting on some tea. Believe it or not.”

Harry laughed, walked over to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “I believe you,” he said softly. “I suppose I just saw the opportunity to get a little alone time with you, and decided to grab it.”

He bent his head down to kiss her, and Ginny hastily put the kettle on the countertop before wrapping her arms around Harry’s waist. When they broke apart, she looked up into his almond-shaped eyes and smiled again.

“Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” Harry replied. “Can you believe that by this time next year, we’re going to be married?”

“Assuming I don’t change my mind before April,” Ginny said. “Or you, for that matter.”

“I won’t. I can’t wait for April,” Harry said, pulling her closer again.

This time, however, Ginny slipped out of his grip, grabbed the kettle and continued doing what she had come into the kitchen to do. Meanwhile, she cast a glance at her fiancé over her shoulders and raised one of her brows.

“Don’t tell me you’ve become like everyone else I know,” she said, “and that we’ll only ever be talking about the wedding for the next four months.”

“Don’t worry,” said Harry and shrugged. “I realize that doing that probably would make you change your mind.”

He smiled quickly and turned away to get teacups out of one of the cabinets, and Ginny felt a twinge of guilt inside her. Abandoning the kettle once again, she marched over to him, grabbed his arm and forced him to face her.

“It’s not that I’m not excited about it,” she promised him. “I can’t wait either. And I want everything to be perfect, and for it to be the best day of our lives… I’m just not as interested in flower arrangements and centrepieces and colours of napkins as most people seem to think I am.”

Harry grinned. “The fact that you’re not only makes me want to marry you more. Like I said, don’t worry about it.”

Ginny nodded and turned back to the stove. “I love you,” she said as she heated it up with her wand. “A lot.”

“I love you a lot too, Gin. Now will you please stop worrying about my feelings and actually finish making that tea?”

A few minutes later, the two of them headed back towards the living room; Harry walked a few steps behind Ginny, watching as she balanced the large tray of teacups in her arms (she had stubbornly refused to let him help her with it, and he suspected that it was her way of making up for the little soppy, romantic moment they had just shared). He grinned to himself and was just about to walk into the room and take his place in the couch next to Mr Weasley again when a voice stopped him.

“Harry? Can I have a word?”

Harry turned around to see that Bill was just walking out of his old bedroom, and he stopped to let his soon-to-be brother-in-law catch up with him. Bill brushed his long, red hair away from his face – which, much to Mrs Weasley’s dismay, was now covered in an equally red beard. Harry assumed that Bill had let it grow because it covered parts of his awful scars, but Mrs Weasley complained often and loudly about how it made her eldest son look like even more of a slob.

“What’s up, Bill?” asked Harry once he was finished pondering on his friend’s facial hair.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while,” Bill confessed as he leaned against the wall across from Harry. “Because… because I owe you an apology. I never told you how sorry I am for the way I treated you when you and Ginny were broken up. I know it was a long time ago, but I was a complete prat and you didn’t deserve it.”

Harry smiled. “Water under the bridge, right?”

“Maybe,” Bill said. “But I still wanted to tell you. And I also want you to know that I know how good you are for Ginny. She’s never happier than when she’s with you.”

Harry, smiling again as a strange, warm sensation spread inside him, felt his cheeks flush a little as he nodded. “I really love her,” he said.

“I know you do,” Bill replied. “And there’s no one I’d rather see my sister get married to.”

The two men smiled at each other before turning their heads down in an almost simultaneous movement. An awkward silence crept in between them, and after clearing his throat a few times, Harry finally broke it by saying:

“Maybe we should get in there before the tea gets cold?”

Bill hurriedly agreed, and the two of them scurried quickly into the living room, as if the temperature of their tea was the most important thing in the world, and as if one flick of their wands couldn’t reheat it instantly, if needed.

While Bill and Harry helped themselves to some tea, Hermione brought two steaming cups over to her parents. Mr and Mrs Granger scooted apart to let her sit down in between them, and as she sank down, her father placed an arm around her shoulder, and her mother lowered one of her scraggy hands to place it on her knee. Closing her eyes, Hermione tilted her head to the side and let it rest on Mrs Granger’s shoulder, where it fit as perfectly as it always had, despite the fact that the shoulder was a lot more protruding now than it had used to be.

“I love you, sweetie,” Mrs Granger whispered, and Hermione opened her eyes again. She hated it when her mum did that – when she said those words with such eagerness in her voice, as if she was scared she wouldn’t get the chance to tell her again.

Something shiny caught Hermione’s eyes, and she blinked as she watched the golden bracelet she was wearing. Her mother had given it to her that same morning, and now, as she inspected the thin, simplistic chain and the perfectly shaped little charms that dangled from it, Hermione knew she would probably never take it off.

“You know,” said her mother, who must have been looking at the bracelet too, “your grandmother gave that to me once. When I graduated from University… I can’t believe I didn’t remember to give it to you when you left Hogwarts…”

“I don’t mind,” Hermione interrupted. “I do love it, though.”

Mrs Granger grabbed her hand and squeezed it, and although neither one of them would say it aloud, they were thinking the same thing: they couldn't know whether or not Hermione would ever have a daughter, but they did know that if she would, Mrs Granger wouldn't make it to her graduation and see that bracelet be passed on to adorn another wrist.
 




A/N: I'll gladly confess to being a broken record, and thank you again for reading this story. It's just amazing that sites like this one exist, where we can actually share stories with each other, because before joining this site, I never let anyone read anything I had written. And the most amazing thing to me is having a dialogue with all of you. It's been almost a year since I posted the first chapter of this story, but even after all this time, each review you leave makes me so happy, whether it's positive or negative feedback, because I'm so glad that I get to hear what you think. Thank you so much for taking the time to do it. I doubt this story would be half as good without your help, support and encouragement!


Chapter 37: Year 4: Something new and someplace old
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The squeaking sound of the kitchen window of the Burrow opening seemed loud in the quiet January morning. It was very early and still dusky, and so anyone watching would just barely be able to distinguish the silhouette of a small owl that stepped off the windowsill and spread its wings as it soared out into frosty air with a crumbled piece of parchment tied to its right leg.

As the owl flew across the English countryside, the sky gradually grew brighter, and the wintery landscape far beneath became visible. In most places, snow covered the otherwise grey and brown soil, and the white rooftops seemed to float together into one from the bird’s perspective. Closer to the city and the owl’s destination, there was less snow and more houses, and despite it still being very early in the morning, there were also signs of life there; with its sharp senses, the bird picked up on the headlights of cars driving by below, the sounds of engines and even footsteps, which struck hard against the frozen ground.

Upon reaching his destination in a very central part of Muggle London, the owl started tapping its beak against the window in the hopes of capturing the attention of the two people living in the flat. The attempts were unsuccessful, however, and after a few minutes, he gave up, nestled up into a ball of grey feathers, and lay down on the ledge to rest until the recipients of the short message he carried with him would wake them up.

It was not until nearly two hours later that Ginny got out of bed, pulled on her dressing gown and headed out into the kitchen to make breakfast. It was a task that she’d normally let Harry take care of, but he had been exhausted from watching Teddy the day before, and she figured she should be a good fiancée and let him sleep for a little longer. Now, she entered the kitchen of their flat while tying the belt of her robe and casting a glance at the window. Now that Christmas was over, she wished that the snow would just melt away as quickly as possible, so that she could start playing Quidditch again; the league was on winter break until the end of February anyway, but as of right now, the harsh cold in Holyhead made even training impossible, and Ginny was sick and tired of running and lifting weights, which Gwenog Jones and Darren Weinhold insisted they must do six days a week to keep in shape. Some break, Ginny thought as she walked over to the window, hoping to see snow melting and dripping from the rooftop across the street.

It wasn’t until she got nearer that Ginny noticed the ball of feathers lying on the sill, and she quickly opened the window to pick up her parents’ owl and set it down inside.

“Poor thing,” she mumbled while she stroked its head, “you must be freezing!”

Ag, the owl, was a new addition to the Weasley family – it had only been a few months since old Errol had passed away (something that had made Ron surprisingly sad, despite his muttering that “It was about time, wasn’t it?”). Conveniently enough, an owl belonging to one of Mr Weasley’s colleagues had just had owlets at the time, and Ag, the silver coloured one, had moved into the Burrow shortly after. Ginny found him absolutely adorable, and she didn’t even mind that both Ron and Harry teased her about treating the owl like her own baby – he wasn’t fully grown yet, after all, and she thought it was only right that someone cooed over him until then.

After giving Ag a snack and some water, Ginny took the piece of parchment, unfolded it and began reading.

Only seconds after, she burst into the bedroom while yowling with joy. Harry quickly sat up and started rubbing his eyes with a confused look on his face, and she skipped over to him, grabbed him by the arm and started pulling him out of the bed.

“Come on!” she said. “Get dressed, we have to get going!”

Harry glanced over at his jeans, which were lying in a pile on the floor, but didn’t walk over to actually do as she said. Instead, he raised one eyebrow and placed his hands on her shoulders, trying to get her to calm down and tell him what in the world she was on about.

“It was Mum!” she said excitedly. “The letter!” Then, she fell silent; it seemed that she couldn’t slow down enough to actually form a full sentence.

Harry started laughing and shook his head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he told her, and Ginny rolled her eyes.

“Keep up, will you?” she said mockingly. Then she continued: “It’s the baby! I found Ag outside the window when I woke up. Mum wrote to us saying that they were going to St. Mungo’s, because Fleur is in labour. But I don’t know how long Ag’s been out there for, so we have to get going. I don’t want to miss it!”

Now, Harry actually did grab his trousers and started getting dressed. Ginny tapped her fingers impatiently against the wall while she waited, until she realized that she was still in her pyjamas too and rushed over to the bureau to change into something else.

“I suppose there’s no chance you’ll let me have breakfast before we leave, right?” Harry asked when they left their bedroom a short moment later.

“Absolutely not!” Ginny said, grabbing his arm again and pulling him towards the fireplace in the living room. “Come on, let’s go.”

For whatever the reason may be – perhaps more babies than usual had been born over Christmas and New Year, Ginny thoughts as she scurried after Harry through the corridors, and so no one had had time to take them down – Christmas decorations, fairy lights and miniature angels were still embellishing every last surface of the maternity ward of St. Mungo’s hospital, even though it was the middle of January. Ginny was sure that her baby niece or nephew wouldn’t mind, though; after all, who would object to being born into a world of glitter and festivities, even if it were a bit late for it?

Suddenly, Harry stopped in front of Ginny, nearly causing her to bump into him. He didn’t notice, though; instead, he just turned towards her with a smile on his face and made a gesture towards the door.

“Room 147,” he said. “Are you ready?”

Ginny nodded vigorously, and in the next second, the two of them stepped over the threshold and into Fleur’s room. As they entered, a whole bunch of heads (most of which were covered in Weasley red hair) turned towards them. Fleur was sitting up in her bed, and Bill was next to her, clenching one of her hands in his. Ginny’s gaze swept quickly past Percy, Ron, George, and Angelina, who were sitting in the chairs by the window, and the proud big sister, who was just climbing up onto Hermione’s lap. Then, Ginny’s eyes paused on her father, who was holding a bundle wrapped in a white blanket in his arms, and she stretched her neck to try to get a better view of it.

“It’s another girl!” said Mrs Weasley happily. “Come and look at her – she’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Ginny walked over to her parents, and Harry followed her. The baby was incredibly small – Ginny could have sworn that Victoire had been a lot bigger when she had been born, but maybe she had just forgotten. This baby had a tuft of hair on the top of her head that was similar to the one her sister had had, although it wasn’t quite as fair. Instead, it had at least hints of Weasley red mixed with the Delacour blond, and Ginny found it absolutely adorable.

“Do you think she’ll wake up if you put her in my arms?” she asked longingly, and her father shook her head.

“We’ve been passing her between each other all morning,” he said, “so it should be fine.”

Ginny sat down, and Mr Weasley bent down and gently placed the baby in his arms. Ginny smiled down at her niece’s sleeping little face as Bill left his spot next to Fleur and sank into the chair next to her.

“She’s so beautiful,” she told him, and he nodded.

“She really is.”

“What’s her name?” Harry asked.

“Dominique,” said Bill. Then, he leaned towards Ginny, placed an arm around her shoulder and added: “And you can forbid me from calling you by your full name all you want, Gin, but you can’t stop me from calling my daughter Ginevra. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Dominique Ginevra.”

Ginny’s eyes widened as she turned them away from the baby and to her eldest brother. A wide grin spread across her face and she reached over, grabbed his hand and squeezed it tightly.

“I’d hug you,” she said, “but my arms are occupied… You’re really naming her after me?”

“Of course we are,” said Bill. “We knew straight away that we wanted to, didn’t we, Fleur?”

“Speaking of her name,” said George suddenly and jumped up from his seat, “it’s another really long one… so what nicknames are we going for, Fleur? How about Nicky? Nicky and Vicky – now that has a ring to it!”

Both Ginny and Bill started to giggle, but Fleur snorted (Ginny rolled her eyes at the fact that her sister-in-law could make even snorting sound graceful) and said:

“I am too tired to argue with you, George. But just because we made you ‘er godparents, eet doesn’t mean we cannot take eet back.”

“I don’t think you want to do that, Fleur,” said George and winked at her. “I mean, with my influence, she is going to be the best kid in the world. Aren’t you, Nicky?” he added while grinning sheepishly.

“How about we just call her Dom?” suggested Angelina diplomatically before Fleur had the chance to respond. “I should get a say too, George, because I’m her godmother.”

Ginny laughed to herself before turning her eyes back to Dominique, who was still sleeping quietly in her arms. While Bill stood up and announced that he’d better get to the hospital Owlery to write to Charlie, Ginny stroke her niece’s round, soft cheeks with her thumb and smiled before bending down to kiss her forehead. She breathed in that wonderful scent that all babies seemed to have, before smiling again and whispering:

“Welcome to the family, Dom. I think you’re going to like it here – once you get past all the craziness, this is the best family anyone could ask for.”




The news of the latest addition to the Weasley family would cover the front page of most Wizarding magazines over the following weeks, making people skip past the pages concerning the conflict with the Scandinavian Ministry or the Muggle mountain climbers in central Europe who nearly got killed by two dragons over the weekend. Dominique’s arrival seemed to overshadow most other news in the Weasleys’ personal lives as well – as often as Bill and Fleur would have them, Ron and Hermione would come over to the Shell Cottage, and for the hour or so that Hermione could sit with the baby in her arms, she’d forget about everything else that was going on around her. Percy and Audrey were relieved over the fact that Mrs Weasley was so busy gushing over her newest granddaughter that she didn’t say a thing about the two of them getting married or having children when they announced that they were (finally) moving in together. As for Ginny, she seized the opportunity to tell Harry something she had been dreading to tell him right after they had visited Bill’s family – that Oliver Wood had been given a fulltime job with the Holyhead Harpies. It meant that he would now be in charge of both supplies, broomsticks and press relations, and it also meant that Ginny would see a lot more of him than before. She didn’t know if his good mood from seeing Dominique actually had anything to do with it, but Harry took it surprisingly well, and she made a mental note to thank her niece some time for being so cute.

On the particular Saturday that Dominique turned three weeks old, another thing took up Ron, Hermione, Harry, and Ginny’s minds, though – namely their scheduled visit to Hogwarts. Neville had invited them a few weeks earlier, and they were all excited to see both him and the castle again.

The Hogwarts students who were cluttering up the streets of Hogsmeade were tiny – Ron was positive that he had been a lot bigger than them back when he had been in school. He did recognize their enthusiasm, though; their cheeks were flushed with excitement as they scurried from store to store, their house scarves wrapped tightly around their necks and their arms full of bags, most of which had the logo of Honeydukes or Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes on them.

“The shop looks great,” Harry said as he passed by what had used to be Zonko’s Joke Shop before George had bought the place. “We should go in and see if Lee is around on our way back…”

“Yes, but not right now,” Hermione said, pulling at his arm to get him to keep moving. “Neville is expecting us at half past two, and it’s already–“

“Hermione,” Ron interrupted with a smile on his face. “We’re only about two minutes late. And Three Broomsticks is right over there,” he added while sliding an arm around his girlfriend’s shoulder. “Just relax, okay?”

He waved at a group of Ravenclaws who had just stopped a few yards away, and were staring with wide eyes at them. Then, his gaze wandered on towards the pub, which was crowded as always. Through the frosty windows, he could see that more students dressed in Hogwarts colours and villagers gathered around the bar were keeping the landlady, Madame Rosmerta, busy. He was just trying to catch her eyes through the glass when Hermione hustled him, and he turned back towards her instead, his ears instantly going red.

“Neville!” he said loudly, relieved to see that their old friend was standing right outside the door to Three Broomsticks, keeping Hermione from making any comments about him staring at Rosmerta. “How is it going?”

Neville, who was just talking to a pair of the very small students, waved at them before crossing his arms over his chest and turning back to the two young boys.

“I said no, all right?”

“But Professor, it’s only half a foot too short, surely you can look past that just this once?“ said the taller of the boys.

“And the fact that mine is just a little bit shorter!” said the other one. “I’ve gone through that book you gave me, Professor Longbottom, and there’s nothing more I can add to what I’ve already written about the effects of–“

“If that’s the case,” Neville cut him off, “Madame Pince will help you find another book in the library. And don’t ask me to push the deadline until next week, because you’ve had two weeks to do this assignment, I don’t know why you’re just starting now…”

“Wow, Neville,” said Ron, walking up to his friend and placing a hand on his shoulder. “You’re tough.”

Neville smiled, turned away from the boys and gave each of his friends a hug. Meanwhile, the two students seemed to struggle to hold in their squeals of excitement as their eyes flickered between their professor’s friends.

“It’s really them,” whispered the shorter one, tugging at his mate’s sleeve.

The other boy took a deep breath and turned towards Neville again. “So it’s really true, Professor? That Dumbledore’s Army thing that everyone talks about? You really helped them defeat Voldemort?”

“I don’t think I should take any credit for that,” said Neville modestly just as Harry said:

“Yes, it’s true! We couldn’t have done any of it without him.”

“And is it true that you took those Death Eaters – The Carrows – and hung them from their ankles down in the dungeons?”

“And that you hexed Snape’s bed so that every time he tried to lie down in it, it would hurl him off?”

“And that you poisoned that Umbridge lady’s food so that she couldn’t stop vomiting for days?”

Neville raised his eyebrows and started scratching his chin. “Well, maybe you shouldn’t believe everything you hear, boys…”

“But Snape did look very tired that year, didn’t he?” said Ginny and winked at her friend. “You’d think he got no sleep at all…”

The two boys exchanged a look and grinned widely. “Wow!” Then, they both turned around and rushed towards the door that led into Three Broomsticks, most likely so that they could tell their friends about what they had just heard.

“Don’t worry, Professor!” called one of them over his shoulder. “I’ll hand in that essay in the morning!”

“Hmm,” said Hermione as Neville gave him the thumbs up, and they all started walking towards the castle. “That wasn’t entirely true, was it, Ginny? Not that I can’t see you actually doing something so stupid… I just can’t see you doing it without bragging about it afterwards!”

“So maybe it wasn’t true,” Ginny admitted, “but I never explicitly said it was. I just implied that it could be…”

Neville laughed. “Well, it worked,” he said. “Maybe they’ll tell all their friends about it, and everyone will have a newfound respect for me… I mean, most students are all right, but those two are horrible when it comes to getting their homework done.”

“So other than that, what’s it like?” asked Hermione. “Being a professor, I mean.”

“It’s amazing,” said Neville and lit up. “I mean, I’m not used to being good at things, but Herbology… I can answer all of their questions, and watching them grow is the most incredible thing. I have this one student, a first year, who refused to touch a single plant in the beginning of the year, because her older siblings had told her that someone lost their hand to a flesh-eating plant in Herbology last year. But now she’s the best in her year! It’s all about getting into their heads and seeing it from their perspective, and then the rest of it just comes naturally.”

“It sounds to me like you’re a great teacher,” Harry said. “How is working with the other professors, then? McGonagall, Slughorn…?”

“It’s a bit strange,” said Neville with a shrug, “but McGonagall is a lot less scary now that I’m not her student anymore. And Horace is really nice. He hasn’t stopped favouring certain students, though.”

They had reached the gates that led into the school grounds, and while Neville let them in, Ron lifted his head to look at the castle. A nearly overwhelming feeling of nostalgia washed over him as they started walking across the snow-capped grounds, their boots leaving deep prints in the same path they had walked so many times before. Ron loved his life the way it was now – he was with Hermione, and he was working as an Auror – but he could still miss his Hogwarts years at times. After all, it was the place where he had done most of his growing up. They had all gone through so much together there throughout the years, and it was strange, but admittedly very nice, to be back.

“So what do you want to do first?” asked Neville once they reached the entrance to their old school. “See the Gryffindor Tower again? Pay Hagrid a visit?”

“You know,” Ron said, “I’ve been really curious about that lavish accommodation you described in the letter you sent us for Christmas.”

“Okay,” Neville answered. “Let’s head up to my place, then.”

As they passed through the castle, the portraits on the walls called out after them. Ron found it very amusing to watch the painted figures scurry from frame to frame, following them through the corridors and up the stairs in attempts to capture the attention of people whom they wouldn’t have looked at twice before the defeat of Voldemort. Other than the portraits, the group was also greeted by numerous students, most of whom would cast admiring glances at Neville as they realized that Ron, Harry, Hermione and Ginny were all in his company.

Finally, after being led astray once as a passage suddenly decided to take a turn instead of continuing to the sixth floor corridor, they reached Neville’s office. It was quite a small room, but it had soaring ceilings and giant windows, which let in plenty of the bright afternoon sunlight. A large, antique desk was placed under one of the windows, and it was occupied by a series of different pots and jars, all of which held suspicious-looking plants and seeds. Behind the desk stood a bookshelf filled with books with titles such as How to Be Grand in the Greenhouse or Cultivation Tricks for Witches and Wizards. Two kind-looking, smiling people whom Ron recognized at Neville’s parents waved at him from a photo on the top shelf. Next to the frame laid a brilliantly red Remembrall (“It’s never not red, that thing!” sighed Neville, whose memory was apparently as bad as ever, despite him being a professor and all). A deck of shelf-shuffling cards was spreading out across the shelf below, until Neville made it stop by tapping his wand against it.

“My bedroom is through there,” he said then, nodding towards a wide wooden door with a golden knob. “Do you want to see it?”

He went over to open it, and his friends stepped inside. The luxury described in Neville’s letter had not been an exaggeration; a wide canopy bed stood in the centre of the room, the sheets hanging from its frame made in a fabric that looked so soft and swishy that Ron couldn’t resist reaching over to touch it. The fireplace across from the bed was lit, and Ron could feel how it heated up the stone floor through the small gap between his socks and his pant legs (a gap that Ginny had pointed at and laughed as soon as she had seen it earlier that morning, but Ron couldn’t be bothered to get changed, so he had ignored it).

The walls of Neville’s room were covered in the most amazing artworks. There were no people painted on them, and Ron assumed that it was deliberate, so that Neville would get a bit of privacy, at least in his own room. Large windows, like the ones in the other room, overlooked the Black Lake and the very edge of the Quidditch pitch. Ron squinted to try and make out the shape of the goal posts while sighing longingly – it had been a long time since he had last played, and he missed it.

He felt a hand slide into his, and looked up meet Hermione’s eyes. She smiled at him before dragging him towards the door, and he realized that the others were already heading back out into the corridor.

“Next is the Gryffindor Common Room,” explained Hermione as the two of them followed Harry, Ginny and Neville towards the stairs to head up to the seventh floor.

“I wonder if the bloke who sleeps in my bed now knows who had it before him,” mused Ron as they walked, and Hermione snorted.

“Why? Do you think we should tell him, so that he can have the mattress washed an additional time?"

“That could be a good idea,” Ron grinned.

Just as he was about to turn left at the top of the stairs, like the three others had just done, Hermione’s grip around his hand tightened, and she started pulling him in the opposite direction.

“Let’s go this way first,” she said breathlessly, and Ron shrugged as he followed her.

Soon enough, they were standing right outside the Room of Requirements – or, in the eyes of the Hufflepuff girls who were sitting on the floor further down the corridor, by a stone wall, both their heads lifted and their eyes fixed on it.

“So,” said Ron after a few seconds of staring, “why are we here? Do you have something you want to hide in here? Or is there… Is there something that you just can’t wait until we get back home to do?”

He grinned suggestively, and Hermione slapped his shoulder. “Ron!” she said accusingly. “There are children right there!”

She nodded towards the Hufflepuffs, and Ron chuckled before raising his eyebrows. “So what are we doing here, then?”

Hermione’s cheeks took a vermillion colour as she turned to her right, so that she faced him. Ron mirrored her action and she took a step forwards, placing an arm around his waist.

“I wanted to come here, because… you may remember,” she said, “that we were standing in this very spot when we had our first kiss.”

Now, a smile spread across Ron’s face, and he wrapped both his arms around her. She took a deep breath before stretching her neck and kissing him, more softly than she had done that first time, and with more confidence, because she had done it thousands of times since. That first kiss had been spectacular, Ron thought, but practising had only made it better.

When they broke apart, he playfully slapped her, the way she had just done to him about a minute earlier. Then, grinning from ear to ear, he nodded towards the students further down the corridor and said:

“Try to keep yourself in shack, will you? There are children right over there!”

 






A/N: So I hope you liked seeing what Neville's new life is like, and the fact that Dominique has entered the world. I knew instantly that I wanted Bill to name her after Ginny. What do you think about it?

Oh, and before I forget, I've got a rather important message for you this time. Okay, the most important thing is obviously thanking you all again for reading this story. I'm constantly amazed at the response I get and each and every review is amazing to receive. I hope you by now how much I appreciate it. :)

But let's get on with the message. From what I've gathered from your lovely reviews, it seems like many of you are looking forward to the wedding. And trust me, so am I. I can tell you now that chapter 39 will be the wedding chapter, so it's not that far away. I promise you that I will write as quickly as I possibly can and hopefully get it finished before the Christmas break, which starts on December the 20th. I really want you to have it before New Year.

And why is that, you may ask? Well, the truth is that my life is going to change dramatically after New Year. I am going to leave the comfort and safety of my home, friends and family, and move to what is literally the other side of the planet, where I will be staying for the following year. It's very exciting and very scary, and while you certainly don't have to worry about me not continuing with this story while I'm over there, I might not be able to post anything for some weeks in the very beginning, while I move and settle in and all of that. Obviously I will keep writing and update as soon as I find the time, but I have no idea how much time or energy I will have during those first weeks. I'm sure you understand. So that is the reason why I'm going to try my hardest to get to chapter 39 before that - maybe you'll send me some encouragement while I attempt to finish two chapters in two weeks (in December, which is a busy month to start with...)? 

Thank you again for your tremendous support, and for making me want to prioritize this story. You are all amazing.


Chapter 38: Year 4: Preparations
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The early spring sun, warm on their skin for the first time that year, reflected in the display windows of the shop they were standing by and nearly blinded both Ginny and Hermione. Squinting, they took a few steps forwards, and Ginny reached out a groping hand, found the door handle and stepped inside, closely followed by her friend.

The shop was covered from floor to ceiling in the most stunning sort of fabrics – pieces of cloths that fluttered slightly, despite the fact that they were inside and no wind could reach them, half-finished little bags that glittered and sparkled like nothing Ginny had seen before, and dresses with long, flowing skirts and the most complex, beautiful embroidery patterns. Not even Ginny could help but gasp in amazement as her gaze wandered between the different hangers, her eyes widening more each time they found a new piece of the impressive handiwork.

“Ah, Miss Weasley,” said a soft voice, making both Ginny and Hermione spin around. “I was hoping I’d see you in here soon.”

The man who had just spoken seemed to blend in with the wall behind him, which was probably the reason why neither one of the girls had noticed him when they had first stepped into the shop. He was dressed in a white and silvery robe, which hung loosely over his shoulders and swept over the floor behind him, as it was several feet too long for his short, slender figure. The man was quite old, probably in his sixties or seventies, and every inch of his face wrinkled as he smiled at Ginny. His long, thick hair, which was the exact same colour as the silver in his robe, fell over his eyes as he lowered his head in what looked like a bow of respect. Then, he raised a wrinkled hand, which only had four fingers, to brush the lock away from his face, and waited for Ginny to speak.

It wasn’t until Hermione shoved her in the side that Ginny finally opened her mouth and said:

“Right. Of course. I mean… you expected me?”

“Not exactly,” responded the silver-haired man with a faint smile on his thin lips. “But I think that every tailor in this country – maybe in all of Europe – has been waiting for you ever since the announcement of your engagement.”

Suddenly, he turned around and walked past the two young women to the opposite wall, where he began browsing through the hangers, which made loud, squeaking sounds as he pushed them aside, all while mumbling something that sounded a lot like: “Now, where are you, you little…?”

Ginny looked helplessly at Hermione, who shrugged; perhaps this certain tailor was a bit crazy?

“Well,” said Ginny loudly. “The thing is, I’m looking for a–“

She was interrupted by a triumphant: “HA!” and took an instinctive step back as the tailor spun around, clutching something in his arms, that he then held up in front of her; it was most likely the simplest piece in the entire shop, with long sleeves and a round neck, and yet it was so incredibly breath-taking…

“–a wedding dress,” Ginny finished her sentence, a smile spreading across her face. “How did you…?”

“Like I said,” the tailor replied, “I was hoping you would come. So I made you this, in case my hopes would be heard.”

“It’s perfect,” Ginny whispered, reaching out her hands to touch it. “May I try it on?”

The tailor smiled and handed her the dress, which was surprisingly light, and then he nodded towards a door in the back. “You can get changed in there. I hope you’ll like it. And if there’s anything you want to change, let me know and I will do it.”

But as Ginny stepped out of the changing room a few minutes later, she already knew that no changes would be required. The dress fit her perfectly – even her broad, athletic shoulders fit into it (without looking too broad and manly, like they usually did) – and she was certain that it was the most beautiful piece of clothing she had and ever would own. Normally, she wasn’t very comfortable wearing a dress, but this was different, far from the curlicue and puffy skirts that her mother had tried to get her to wear when she was little. The cut was straight and simple, and unlike many of the other dresses in the shop, there were no embroidered flowers or lace, no glitter or pearls. Those decorations weren’t necessary, because the dress alone, and the gorgeous, soft fabric was pretty enough.

“Ginny…” said Hermione, her voice full of astonishment. “You look so beautiful.”

Ginny glanced over her shoulder and into the mirror that was hanging on the door to the changing room. It was actually true. She did look beautiful, and more importantly, she felt more beautiful than she had ever done before. Surprised at how much this moved her, she turned to the tailor, who was standing by Hermione with a proud look on his face.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “This is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. Thank you.”

“You’re the one who’s beautiful, Miss,” the man said. “This dress only brings it out even more.”

“No, it’s the dress,” Ginny insisted, and the tailor laughed.

“Isn’t it refreshing?” he asked, his question seemingly directed to himself. “A pretty girl who doesn’t even know it…” Turning to Hermione, he smiled crookedly and added: “Most women who come in here act as if they’re the embodiment of beauty, but this one… Refreshing,” he repeated, and Hermione smiled and nodded.

Ginny let her hands run down her sides, feeling the smooth material under her fingertips. “I don’t ever want to take it off…”

“So that’s the one, then?” the tailor asked. “That’s your wedding dress?”

Ginny nodded vigorously. “This is the one. I’ll take it.”




Despite Ginny’s deciding to go with the first dress she tried on, the two girls remained in the tailor’s shop in Diagon Alley for another two hours, which consisted of several cups of tea, the tailor demonstrating (about eight times) how he had weaved the amazing fabric of Ginny’s dress with a simple flick of his wand, and him trying to get Hermione to try on a few of the wedding dresses as well. She refused though, and after emptying her teacup and promising, with a rather bitter tone in her voice, that she would come back if Ron would ever actually ask her to marry him, the girls finally left. As soon as they got out on the street, they went their separate ways; Ginny Disapparated, and Hermione headed for the Leaky Cauldron and Muggle London, carrying the large box with the dress in her arms, since Ginny was meeting up with Harry and couldn’t take it herself.

It was only minutes later that Hermione walked into Royal Free Hospital, feeling a knot form in her stomach as she passed through the doors. She absolutely detested coming there; it seemed like every little thing about it made her skin crawl. She hated the chemically clean smell of it, the way she couldn’t seem to make it up to her mother’s room without seeing sick people or people crying over sick people, and she hated the way that every nurse and doctor smiled and nodded at her with that sympathetic expression on their faces. On this day, a sobbing woman scurried past her already in the arrival hall, and Hermione forced herself to look away, pressing her fingernails into her own palms to try to keep herself from thinking of how long it might be before she would be one of those relatives who would cry in the corridors and upset the other visitors.

When she finally reached her mother’s room, Hermione paused for a second in the doorway. She could see her father sitting by the bed inside, his hands clasping his wife’s but his eyes on the book that lay open in his lap. Taking a deep breath, Hermione stepped over the threshold and caught his attention, and he lifted his head and smiled at her.

“Hermione! I didn’t think you’d be here so soon.”

“I should have come sooner, actually,” Hermione said as she walked over to him, thinking only about the fact that she had not yet looked at her mum. “Since Ginny bought the first and only dress she tried on.”

“Mum’s been asleep anyway,” said her dad, nodding towards the bed, and Hermione bit her lip before finally turning her head towards it.

The knot in her stomach grew as she took in her mother’s appearance. Mrs Granger was lying on her back, her head tilted to the side, and a tube was sticking out of her throat. Each time she took a breath, it moved slightly. Her cheekbones were sharp and her skin had an almost grey colour. Hermione wasn’t sure if she was imagining it, but she thought that her mother looked so much sicker for each time that she saw her. Whether it was true or not, it wasn’t completely delusional – despite the aggressive treatment, the cancer inside Mrs Granger’s body had grown since the doctors had first discovered it.

As she sat down in a chair next to her father, Hermione then turned her eyes to her mother’s head. It was covered in the same bushy hair that 11-year-old Hermione had yelled at her for passing on to her. With this latest treatment, it was all going to fall off. It was ironic, thought Hermione bitterly, how she had once wished that her mother hadn’t had hair like that; was this the twisted way of the universe to grant her that wish?

“How did the treatment go?” she said, turning towards her father, who had closed his book and placed it on Mrs Granger’s nightstand.

“There’s no telling yet,” Mr Granger answered. He reached out his hand and grabbed hers. “She’ll have to rest after this, and then she’ll come back and they’ll inject more of the drugs. She’ll probably be really tired during the course of the treatment…”

“… but it could slow things down for her.” Hermione’s voice was dry.

There was something heartbreakingly soft in the way her father looked at her and nodded. Then, squeezing her hand, he said:

“She won’t be able to go to the wedding. I promised her I’d take lots of photographs of you in your bridesmaids dress, though.”

Hermione forced herself to smile. “You always take lots of photographs, so there’s no surprise there.”

A subdued mumbling made both father and daughter turn their heads back towards the bed. Mrs Granger’s eyes fluttered open, and Hermione, thinking that it would be nice for her mum to wake up to a smile, kept the corners of her mouth stretched upwards as their eyes met.

“Honey,” Mrs Granger whispered. “It’s so good to see you.”

“How are you doing, Mum?”

Mrs Granger smiled. “I don’t know. I don’t want to feel it just yet.”

Hermione bit her lip hard, but found it impossible to hold back her tears. “You don’t have to be strong for me, Mum. I can take it. I want to be there for you…”

“Okay,” Mrs Granger said. She closed her eyes for a few seconds, clenched her fists and then looked up again. “I’m okay. I feel a little weak, but I’m okay.” She reached for Hermione’s hand, brought it up to her face and kissed it. “I’m so proud of you, sweetheart. I hope you know that.”

Her eyelids seemed to grow heavy, and soon enough, her eyes were closed again. It seemed like she had fallen right back to sleep. Hermione smiled and leaned in towards her father, who placed an arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head.

“You should get to work before it gets too late, shouldn’t you?” he said, and she nodded reluctantly.

“When she wakes up again, will you please tell her I’m proud of her too?” she asked, and her father nodded.

“Of course I will.”

Hermione stood up, grabbed the box with the dress, which she had put by the foot of the bed, and walked over to the door. Before heading out, she turned back around and smiled one last time at her father.

“I love you, Dad.”

“I love you too,” Mr Granger replied, placing his hands over his wife’s thin one. “We both do.”




For once, Hermione, who was heading off to the Ministry to get some work done despite it being a Sunday, wasn’t alone in being productive. Ginny and Harry, taking advantage of the fact that they finally had some time on their hands, had met up with an estate agent and had just formed a small circle along with the burly, brown-haired wizard around the broken picture frame that he had just put on his desk. Raising a rowdy brow, he smiled and placed his index finger on it, carefully avoiding the broken glass.

“Go ahead,” he said then, making both Harry and Ginny follow his example. “Just a few more seconds now, and then we’re off…”

It was Harry who had insisted they should try to squeeze some house shopping into their schedules before the wedding, but he was quite sure that Ginny was more excited than him about it. They had briefly considered living at Grimmauld Place, but they both agreed that the Black family and later on the Order of the Phoenix had left too many permanent marks on it for them to ever feel like they could make it their own. Harry had been there a few times since the war, and it looked the same as it always had; Kreacher had greeted him at the door every time, and though the house-elf always offered to cook him anything he wanted or come with him to the flat and clean it, Harry thought it was best to let him stay at Grimmauld Place. He had told Hermione that he was keeping it for Kreacher’s sake when she suggested he could try and sell it, but his few visits over the last four years hadn’t been for the elf. Instead, he had gone to sit up in Sirius’ room, where he had gone through his godfather’s old things yet again. He had never found anything of much interest, but when missing Sirius he had somehow found comfort in reading the old Quidditch articles that his father's best friend had cut out from the paper, or in just sitting on his bed and imagining the teenage version of Sirius sulking in there while writing complainant letters to James about his family.

But no, neither Harry nor Ginny wanted to live in that house; their marriage, they had decided, should be something new and fresh, and they would need a new and fresh place to start with.

They spent the afternoon looking at some incredible properties; the estate agent, Mr Brooks, had taken one look at their budget before starting to drag them around ample gardens, four-storey houses with sea views, and swanky foyers. But as amazing as they were, Harry couldn’t see himself living in any of the houses, and Ginny’s excitement seemed to drop a little every time they arrived in a new place. Finally, standing outside an enormous, white manor with raked gravel paths leading up to the front door, Mr Brooks took one look at their faces and sighed.

“Let’s not bother with this one, then,” he said tiredly. Scratching his chin, he seemed to contemplate for a few seconds before he continued: “We’ll try something completely different. If you just grab my arm, we’ll Apparate there…”

The next time Harry looked up, he found himself standing by a winding, narrow road, which was surrounded by yellow and green fields and trees. Seeing as both Ginny and Mr Brooks were staring at something behind him, Harry turned around. On the other side of the road, there was a garden, untamed and overgrown, grass and branches so long that they had to lean against the stone walls of the house. There was a trodden path in the grass leading up to the front door, which was covered in flaky paint. Two large ceramic pots were standing on each side of the door, and the plants in them looked like they had been wilted for a long time. The windows were dusty and the front porch dirty, and it was certainly different from the other posh houses they had seen, but Harry couldn’t imagine anyone being able to picture living here

That was, until he turned towards Ginny. Whatever enthusiasm she had dropped as the afternoon had progressed, she had definitely found it again; it was pouring out of her skin, glowing. There was a light in her eyes as they wandered between the ivy that grew on the walls, the unkempt garden and the dead plants, and Harry understood nothing of it.

“Obviously, this one you’ll need to fix up a bit before you can move in,” said Mr Brooks, and Ginny nodded as a smile spread across her face.

“I think it’s perfect!” she squeaked in a very uncharacteristic way. Then, she took a step forwards, grabbed Harry’s hand and pulled him into the garden. “Imagine a really nice flowerbed in front of the house, right here… We’ll have roses, like the ones Hermione’s parents have… And over there, if we weed out those bushes, there will be a little grove where we can put a hammock to sit in in the summers!”

They walked around the corner of the house, and Harry was surprised to see how big the garden actually was. A fence separated it from the woods that stretched out behind it, but a water stream flowed under its bars and debouched in a small pond in the middle of the lawn. On that day, in the spring sun and in the middle of a rampant lawn that was in desperate need of trimming, it looked absolutely beautiful.

“Oh, if the water’s not too muddy, we can dip our feet in there when it’s hot outside!” said Ginny happily. “And there’s enough space to set up goal posts and play Quidditch over here. We could keep our broomsticks in that little shed...”

After walking through the garden, Mr Brooks led the couple into the house. Once again, Harry was pleasantly surprised: the hallway was wide and light, and the stone walls made a lovely contrast to the dark wooden floor. The kitchen was on the right; it was robust and rustic, with a countertop made of stone, and whitewashed cabinets. Harry imagined cooking dinner there, and placing a table over by the window, so that they could eat it while looking out at the fields on the other side of the little road.

On the opposite side of the hallway was the sitting room; a fireplace made out the centre of it, and though the walls were much too dark for Harry’s liking, a glass door leading out to a small porch overlooking the pond made him smile widely. They could easily repaint the walls, after all, and he would really like having breakfast out on that porch on those summer days that the temperature would allow it.

The bedrooms were on the second floor. There were more of them than they had asked for, but it didn’t matter. The master bedroom was through the first door – it was a lot larger than their bedroom in the flat, the countryside view was absolutely stunning, and the wooden ceiling beams reminded him of the Burrow, which gave the room a homely, familiar air.

The rest of the bedrooms were smaller, but in better condition than Harry had expected. As he walked out of one of them, he realized that Ginny had stopped in the doorway to the last one, and was now leaning against the doorframe while staring into it. The floor creaked under his feet as Harry walked over to her, wrapped his arms around her waist and peeked in over her shoulder.

It was a nursery – the walls were bright blue with a welt of white little sheep jumping around the room. By the window, where Harry assumed that the cot had once stood, a mobile was still hanging from the ceiling, with tiny silver stars, teddy bears and blue cars swinging slightly in a gust.

Both Ginny and Harry stood in silence and watched it for a moment. Then, Ginny turned around to face him, placed her hands on his chest and said:

“Can’t you see it? Can’t you see our children grow up in this house?”

Harry let his gaze sweep past her, to the mobile and its subtle movements, and then onwards to the window. Through it, he could see the sunbeams reflect in the pond, and when he looked at Ginny again, it was with an expression on his face that she had only seen once before – in the moment right after she had accepted his marriage proposal. Now, Harry bent his head down and kissed her softly.

“Yes,” he answered when they broke apart a few seconds later. “Yes, I can see it.”




Nearly two weeks after seeing his future home for the first time, Harry returned to it with the keys in his pocket. This time, he wasn’t in company of the person he’d live there with, though, but with her brother, and he watched in amusement as Ron’s widened eyes wandered between the house, the garden, and the dead flowers.

“You bought this?” he spat, his eyebrows wrinkled in concern, as if he was worried that his sister and future brother-in-law had both suddenly lost their minds. “Harry, it’s…”

“I know,” Harry chuckled, patting his friend on the back. “It’s all about seeing the potential. Plus, it looks a lot better on the inside than you’d think.”

A little while later, after being dragged around the garden and all the rooms of the house, Ron’s attitude towards it was slightly less negative, especially since hearing about Ginny’s Quidditch pitch plans. Promising Harry that he would make him return the favour the day that he bought a house, Ron then brought the paint cans inside with unexpected enthusiasm (he had complained on the way about working over Easter, when they finally had time off from work, but he seemed to have forgotten about it now).

Harry watched as his friend pulled out his wand, waved it at the cans and made paint fly out of them and spread perfectly on the walls of the sitting room. It was finished within seconds, and Harry shook his head in amazement.

“This is what I love about magic,” he said. “We’ll be finished in no time, won’t we?”

Ron checked the watch on his wrist before replying: “By the time Ginny gets back from training, you can probably start moving in.”

“Oh, but we’re not moving in yet,” said Harry while making a pair of sponges jump out of their bag and start scrubbing the windows. “Not until after the wedding. We thought we’d move all our stuff right before that, and then we’ll come straight here after the honeymoon.”

“Right. That’s about it for this room, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Let’s head upstairs.”

“So what are we doing with the bedrooms?” asked Ron as they climbed up the stairs a short moment later. “I mean, are you… Do you want to keep the nursery the way it is, or…?”

Harry laughed. “Are you asking if we’re planning on having kids any time soon?”

Ron shrugged. “Maybe I am,” he said. “And I might also be wondering if you’d like me to paint over that sheep border or not.”

“Well, I don’t think we’ll be needing a nursery for a while,” Harry said in a more serious tone than before. “I mean, Ginny’s got her Quidditch career… She wouldn’t be able to fly if she was pregnant, would she? And one of us would need to stay at home with the baby after it’s born too… So I suppose we’ll wait until she feels like she’s ready.”

“But if it was just up to you, you wouldn’t wait?” Ron asked, his eyebrows raised as high as they could go.

“Maybe we’d wait a little while,” Harry said and shrugged. “I want Ginny to play too. I don’t want her to give it up, not when she's got all that talent… But I am excited for the day that she’ll be willing to.”

Ron let out a nervous laugh. “I can’t say I understand you there, mate. I mean, by Merlin’s beard, Harry, you’re not even twenty two years old! I don’t think I’ll even consider that for at least another ten years…”

“Don’t let Hermione hear you say that,” Harry warned him, and Ron grinned.

“Trust me, I know. But it’s not that I don’t like the idea of marrying her. It’s more just the idea of marrying anyone.”

“It’s not the same for me, though,” Harry said. “I’ve never had a family of my own. I know, I know,” he added quickly when he saw the look on Ron’s face, “I’ve got your family now, but… I’ve always wanted this. When I was younger, I longed for my parents, but I’ll never have them. But I will have Ginny, and one day I’ll have our children too. I’m sure it won’t take you ten years to feel the same way, mate.”

Ron shrugged; he didn’t seem to know how to respond. Which was fine, Harry thought, because he didn’t need to say anything about it. He knew that Ron wished as much as he did that he could have had his parents, at least when he was younger.

“In just a few weeks,” said Harry, as if he had just realized, “I’ll have a wife.”

“I know,” Ron said and grinned again. “I’m so glad you’re marrying her, Harry. Even though I think you’re absolutely mad for doing it so soon.”

“It’s perfect, you know,” Harry said. “Obviously that’s not why I’m marrying her, but it’s perfect that I fell in love with your sister. I mean, I won’t just have a wife in a few weeks… When Ginny and I are married, you’ll be my brother. For real.”

He smiled as he watched Ron, who kept his eyes fixed on his own shoes as his ears went red. Just as Harry wondered if he should change the subject to spare his friend the emotional moment, Ron lifted his head, took a step forward and hugged him.

“That would be true,” he said, “but we’re already brothers.”
 

 





A/N: Thank you so much for reading! You are amazing and as always, there's nothing I can say to really express how grateful I am to all of you. And so many of you have wished me luck for this adventure that I'm heading off to very soon, so thank you for that too! It's so lovely how you're not just supporting this story, but me as a person too.

As for the next chapter, I have not given up completely on the hopes of finishing it before the 20th, but I really can't promise you anything. I have written parts of it, but I really want it to be perfect too! Either way, I have realized that I will be able to post it before I leave, because the Christmas break ends before I leave. So whether or not I can finish it in the next couple of days, you WILL get a wedding before I go. I hope you're ready for it. Harry certainly is!


Chapter 39: Year 4: Harry and Ginny's wedding
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At the Burrow, everyone woke up to the discouraging sight of a dark sky on the day that Harry and Ginny would get married. As was always the case, it was Mrs Weasley who woke up first, but her distraught shout as she looked out the window at the foot of her bed woke her husband, who was lying on his back next to her, and Charlie, whose bedroom was right next to theirs. (When he had been younger, he had slept down the hall, but Mrs Weasley had made him switch rooms when he reached his teens and she caught him bragging to Bill about the two seventh year girls who hade promised to Apparate into his bedroom every night if they passed their Apparation test before Christmas break. Needless to say, Mrs Weasley had been horrified, especially considering the fact that Charlie had only been thirteen at the time.)

After barging into his parents’ bedroom to make sure that they hadn’t been woken up by a murderer leaning over their bed, Charlie spent the following twenty minutes sitting on the edge of the mattress next to his father, listening as his mother wailed about how rain would ruin the most important day of Harry and Ginny’s lives. Every now and then, Mr Weasley would try to cut in with, “Maybe it won’t start raining,” or, “It’s not the end of the world, dear,” but after receiving a few not very happy glares from his wife, he decided to follow Charlie’s example and just listen quietly and wait for it to end.

Perhaps she was hoping that the sky would clear up before anyone else would see it, because in a very uncharacteristic manner, Mrs Weasley ended her complains by saying that no one was allowed to wake anyone else up for another hour or so. Ironically enough, on the day that she actually wanted her children to sleep in, they all seemed to wake up extra early. George and Angelina, who had slept up in Bill’s room (since George still refused to as much as walk into the room he and Fred had shared when they had lived at home) came walking down the stairs shortly after the first three. Angelina was fully dressed, and she looked well rested and cheerful. George, on the other hand, was still wearing his striped pyjamas, and judging by the look on his face, he probably would have liked to stay in bed for a few more hours. Only seconds after the couple had entered the kitchen, they heard Ron shouting gleefully from his room just beneath the attic:

“Get up, you skiver! You’re marrying my sister today, you’d better get up and prepare for it!”

“What a lovely way to wake up on your wedding day,” said Angelina and raised an eyebrow as she and George sat down at the kitchen table.

“He deserves it,” George answered, grabbing a bread roll from the little basket that his mother had just placed in front of them. “He’s been much too calm about this whole thing. You know, I kept asking him last night if he was nervous about tripping or messing up his words, but he was just smiling the whole time. I’m telling you, there’s something wrong with him.”

Angelina giggled while playfully pinching her husband’s arm. “You mean because he’s not a nervous wreck on his wedding day, like you were?”

“Now that’s just defamation!” George complained, his blue eyes twinkling as he rubbed his arm and pushed his chair away from hers. “We weren’t allowed to see each other before the wedding, so you can’t know whether I was nervous or not!”

I know,” said Mrs Weasley while reaching over to tear the bread roll from his hands before he could take a bite of it. “And she’s right – you were an absolute wreck.”

“Still, I’ve been thinking about adding a few puking pastilles to Harry’s breakfast this morning,” George mused. “He’ll be a pain if he’ll manage to go through this entire day without feeling at least a little bit of anxiety. I’ll never hear the end of it.”

He reached out his hand towards the basket to grab another piece of bred, but Mrs Weasley quickly pushed it out of his reach. “Stop that, George!” she said. “This isn’t for you – it’s for your sister. In fact, since you’re up, maybe you can bring this to the Lovegoods right now? I’m sure the girls will be up soon, and I would hate for Ginny to have to start her wedding day by eating Xenophilius’ breakfa–“ She interrupted herself and blushed before quickly adding: “I mean… since this is her favourite bread, I think it will make her happy.”

George grinned, took the basket and stood up. Sticking his feet into his father’s old slippers, he then walked over to the door and opened it.

“Not in your pyjamas, George!” Mrs Weasley scolded, but he ignored her and stepped over the threshold. “Fine, wear that ugly old thing, then! But if I hear about you adding puking pastilles to the girls’ breakfast – or Harry’s – I won’t be as forgiving!”

After watching through the window how he hurried across the hills towards the Lovegood property, Mrs Weasley, Charlie and Angelina started laying the table. By the time Ron and Harry made it downstairs, a feast had been laid out, and Ron hurriedly sat down and started helping himself to some of it. After showering Mrs Weasley and her cooking skills in compliments, Harry proceeded to do the same thing.

“I’m so sorry,” said Mrs Weasley then, her hand placed over her chest and her head tilted to the side as the watched Harry with a sympathetic look on her face.

“About what?” mumbled Harry with his mouth full of crusty, perfectly fried bacon.

“About the weather,” Mrs Weasley sighed dramatically. “I mean, we can always hope it won’t start raining, but…”

A smile spreading across Harry’s face interrupted her, and she stared at him in surprise while he shrugged and washed his food down with a sip of pumpkin juice.

“Don’t worry, Mrs Weasley. I’ll marry Ginny in pouring rain, if I have to. It’s not the weather that will make it perfect, but the fact that she will become my wife today. That’s the only thing that matters to me.”




Over at the Lovegood property, Ginny had already been awake for hours. She had been a little dissatisfied with the weather when she had first looked out the window, but since then she had been distracted worrying about the wedding bouquet, which her teammate and bridesmaid Heather Perrington had gone to get, and which was not at all the one she had picked out (“As if I’d ever go for pink roses!” she had said to Heather, who had defended herself by replying: “Well, being a bride tends to change people, Gin!”) Heather had taken the flowers and Apparated back to Diagon Alley to sort out the mistake, and Ginny had gone into the bathroom to take a long shower, shave her legs and forget all about the lousy start she had had to her wedding day. By the time she left the bathroom, Heather and George were just stepping through the front door, Heather carrying the new bouquet and George carrying the breakfast basket.

After seeing the new flowers – a much simpler bouquet consisting of only white orchids – Ginny gave her friend a quick hug, took the basket from George and sent him out the door again.

“Thanks for the warm welcome!” he mocked her, and she stuck her tongue out in response.

“You’re not allowed to see me in my wedding dress anyway!”

George pretended to be disgusted. “Ginny, you’re not confusing me with the groom, are you?”

After having a second breakfast (the girls did eat right after getting up, but Ginny said something about athletes having a fast metabolism before happily digging into the goods her mother had sent her, and the others – even the non-athletes – quickly followed her example) it was time to start getting ready. Luna had volunteered to do Ginny’s hair, but Heather had somehow talked her out of it by going on and on about how badly she wanted to do it, and Ginny was grateful that she wouldn’t have to get married with carrots (or something even weirder) in her hair.

Although she would deny it later, Ginny caught herself really enjoying the getting ready part of the wedding. Normally, she’d barely waste a minute on putting on makeup or doing anything special with her hair, but she liked the fact that she could allow herself to get pampered for once. While Heather did her hair, Hermione painted the bride’s nails, and Luna spent almost thirty minutes poking the wedding dress with different sorts of roots that were supposed to bring good luck. Ginny didn’t know whether it was thanks to that luck or not, but somehow, the next time she looked in the mirror, she was prettier than she had ever been – and she hadn’t even put on the dress yet.





As the day progressed and the hours crept by, the time for the ceremony got closer. Everything had gone surprisingly smoothly at the Burrow, but of course, Mrs Weasley was stressed out anyway. Other than a nerve-wracking few seconds after taking a nap, when George shook him awake and yelled: “Oi, Harry, wake up! You’re missing the ceremony – Ginny’s flying off the handle by now!” Harry remained calm, up until the second he walked down the aisle and stood next to the wedding officiant, the same short man who had married Bill and Fleur, and George and Angelina. That was when he first felt a wave of nervousness, and he grinned when he saw the look of content of George’s face. He couldn’t explain why he wasn’t freaking out; he was well aware of the fact that getting married was a big deal, by far the biggest one he had ever experienced.

He hadn’t always been aware of it, but truth was that this was the day Harry had been waiting for, not just since they had set the date back in September, but all his life. On some unconscious level, every moment of his life, from when he had barely learned to walk to when he had rushed through the scenes of a battle while thinking that his life could be over any second, had been leading to this one – to him, standing at the end of the aisle outside the Burrow, his heart thumping loudly in his chest and his fingers entwined with each other. There were only a few short moments left now – moments in which he’d turn his head to the side and see Ron, George and Neville’s encouraging smiles, let his eyes sweep over the seated guests and smile at Professor McGonagall, Hagrid and Mrs Weasley – and then she’d appear, at the other end of the aisle, and their eyes would meet. Harry knew that they would both be smiling, and that those seconds, during which they would just be looking at each other, before Mr Weasley would pull lightly at his daughter’s arm and they’d start walking, were the reason that he had lived all those times when he should have died. They were the reason why he had been able to do all the impossible things he had done in his life; it had all been for this.

The music started playing, and Harry lifted his head. As he did this, a figure in the very back caught his eyes – but it couldn’t be… He blinked and stretched his neck, trying to see the man’s face, but it was impossible. If he hadn’t known better, though, Harry would have sworn it was his cousin Dudley.

He wasn’t given any time to think of this, though, as the bridesmaids were already on their way down the aisle. Hermione came first, wearing a pastel green dress and with her hair softer and curlier than usual. She looked absolutely lovely, and Harry glanced over at Ron and the look of amazement on his face before quickly turning his head back forwards, afraid that he might miss something.

He smiled as Luna and Heather went to stand next to Hermione, and then he saw Ginny. She looked exactly like he had pictured it and she was a million times more beautiful than he could have imagined; he didn’t need to look over at Fleur, who was seated in the front row with Dominique in her arms, to know that even her beauty would pale next to his bride.

Ginny’s eyes were fixed on the ground; she was not comfortable walking in heals, and despite the fact that she was clinging to her father’s arm, she was afraid of falling. She imagined the mortification of tripping in front of all the guests, and she could feel her cheeks burn just from thinking about it. Then, as her father started pulling her forwards, she lifted her eyes and met Harry’s.

As they looked into each other’s eyes, Ginny increased her speed, suddenly desperate to get to him. Now, she was the one pulling Mr Weasley forwards, and he chuckled next to her before whispering:

“Calm down. He’s not going anywhere.”

Ginny nodded, and as she grinned at Harry, she thought of how ridiculous his hair looked – it seemed that someone (most likely her mother) had poured lots of hair potion into it in an attempt to flatten it. But not even on his wedding day would Harry Potter’s hair cooperate, and Ginny considered it fortunate that even ridiculous was handsome on him.

Harry thought that they were walking too slowly. He wanted to hold her already, but just as she had told him once, he would have a whole lifetime to hold her. He could wait a few more seconds. In an attempt to think of something else, he turned his eyes to her dress. It was flawless; flawlessly sown, perfectly shaped and fitting. The skirt swirled around her legs as lightly as if it had been made of air, and the neckline almost melted together with her pale skin – only her freckles made it possible for Harry to make out the line that separated it from the fabric. He wanted to kiss every single one of them.

Then, after what felt like a hundred years, she was right in front of him, Mr Weasley placed her hand in his, and after Harry had placed a quick kiss on her forehead, they both turned towards the little wizard, who raised his hands towards the guests with a smile on his face.

“Thank you,” he said, “for joining us today and for being a part of the uniting of two hearts, which will become one. Today will mark the first day of the lifelong bond of marriage between these two – Harry James Potter and Ginevra–“

Ginny coughed. “Ginny, call me Ginny…”

“–pardon, Ginny Molly Weasley.”

 

Later on, Harry and Ginny would both agree that the ceremony seemed to fly by; once it was over, Mr Weasley and most of Ginny’s brothers rearranged the chairs and set everything up for the reception. The sky was still hidden beneath an impenetrable layer of silvery clouds, but it hadn’t rained all day, and it seemed they would make it through the party as well without anyone’s hair or dress robes being ruined by rainfall.

As everyone sat to eat, the newlyweds made it through the crowds; each and every step, someone stopped them to congratulate and hug them. They passed through Hagrid’s bone crushing embrace, to McGonagall’s rather stiff one, and what felt like thousands of others, before they finally reached their seats in the middle of the head table.

When Ginny would look back at the day – which she would do thousands and thousands of times in the following years – she would only remember snippets. She would smile as she thought of the way Teddy walked up to her after dinner, bowed and asked her, very politely, to dance. She, finding him too cute to be able to turn him down, ended up having her first dance not with her husband, but with her four-year-old godson! She would remember the mixture of shock and amusement on Harry's face when she covered it in cream while cutting the cake, and how he didn’t get back at her, but instead leaned in and whispered: “I’ll get you in the morning. Right now, you are just too beautiful.” She would definitely remember how strange it felt not to mock him for his mushy comment; for once, she just smiled radiantly at him and kissed his creamy cheek.

She would recall her father’s sweet speech, which made both her and Harry cry, George’s spectacular firework show in the middle of dancing, and how Luna and Xenophilius followed up with a strange performance, during which they sang in harmonies (quite well, Ginny thought, but she couldn’t hold a note herself, so she wasn’t the best judge), they danced, and performed a strange ritual that forced both her and Harry to bite their lips to keep from bursting into laughter. She would remember the distant look on Harry’s face when the danced, and how when she pointed it out, he told her:

“I’m sorry. It’s just… you didn’t see Dudley at the ceremony, did you?”

“Your cousin?” Ginny responded. When he nodded, she continued: “Well, I don’t know what he looks like – I’ve never met him. But I can’t recall seeing anyone I didn’t recognize.”

“It was probably just imagination,” Harry said with a sigh. “You know, your mother insisted we had to send them an invitation, but they never replied to it. I doubt Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia would like being surrounded by so much magic.”

“Well, they are the ones missing out,” Ginny said and kissed him. “Both by not keeping in touch with you, and by not showing up today.”

But one of the most vivid memories of the night, both to Ginny, Harry and most of the Weasleys, would be Ron’s speech. He had tried to wriggle out of it, but both Hermione and his mother had been shocked to hear that he hadn’t prepared one about a week prior to the wedding, and rather than contradicting the two women, he had sighed and agreed to do it. It was evident that he wasn’t a very enthusiastic speaker, but his moment on stage was very memorable.

“Hi,” he started as soon as he had captured everyone’s attention. “I’m Ron.” His ears were already furiously red by this point. “I could talk about how glad I am that Ginny and Harry found each other – and I am, believe me – and go in Dad’s footsteps and say that he and Mum gained another son tonight – as if they don’t have enough of those already. But instead, I thought we could relive a memory that can help illustrate what my sister feels for Harry. So I was thinking I would sing a song that is very special to Ginny, Harry, and the very beginning of their relationship. Maybe it can remind you of that first stage when you’re old and you’ve been married for ages… just think of this moment and this song, and you'll remember how you once felt for each other. I've asked my brothers to help, just to make sure even Great Aunt Muriel hears every word of it..”

On his mark, Charlie, Bill, George and a blushing Percy stood up and climbed up on their chairs (Percy did it with a apologetic look on his face and while adjusting his collar). Then, after Ron counted to three, all five of them started singing from the bottom of their hearts:

His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard,
I wish he was mine, he’s really divine
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord.


After about ten rounds of the verse, Ron ended his toast by raising his glass of champagne, grinning at Ginny and saying:

“Congratulations, he’s finally yours. Cheers!”

After all the toasts and lots of dancing, all single girls gathered at the dance floor for the traditional bouquet toss. Harry smiled and shook his head at the girls' excitement as he sank into a chair next to Charlie and George, exhausted from dancing for what must have been more than one hour straight. Across from them, Victoire was just pulling at her father’s sleeve, motioning for him and little Dominique, who was sleeping in his arms, to come with her to the dance floor.

“I’m not married!” she told him. “Or Dom! We have to go!”

“I think you should both keep it that way for a few more years,” Bill chuckled and reached out an arm to stop her. Harry laughed too before turning his eyes back to Ginny and the other women.

His wife (he loved being able to think of her as that) was just turning her back to the awaiting singles, calling over her shoulder:

“Okay, are you ready?”

“Aim for me!” shouted her teammate Gaylene Turkowski. “Merlin knows I could use some supernatural push in the right direction if I ever want to end up where you’re standing…”

“Hey, no cheating!” protested Heather Perrington. “Just because you scare off any bloke who gets within a five mile radius–“

The rest of her sentence was drowned out by the noise that followed as Ginny tossed her orchid bouquet over her head and turned around just in time to see her three dorm mates from Hogwarts in the middle of the tugging war. An extra hard pull from one of the girls sent the flowers flying up in the air again, before they landed right in a surprised Hermione’s arms.

Within seconds, George had jumped out of his chair and walked up to Ron, who was leaning against the wall behind his brothers’ table. Now, George flung his arm around his shoulder and grinned contently as he said:

“So how are you proposing? If you’re interested, I’ve got a few ideas for a serenade.” Then he started singing, quietly (most likely so that Mrs Weasley, who was sitting a few tables away, wouldn’t hear: “Her eyes are as brown as a…” Although Harry couldn’t hear the rest of the line properly, he was quite sure that word ‘toad’ had been exchanged for one with the same first and last letter.

Out on the dance floor, Gaylene was giving Ginny a sour look for her ‘bad toss’ while Heather walked up to Hermione.

“So I guess you’re next to get the married, then,” she said with a smile.

“I doubt it,” Hermione said with a shrug. “I don’t think it ever happens like that.”

Ginny walked over to where Harry was sitting and sighed as she sat down next to him.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said as she slid an arm around his waist, “I love getting married. But I have to admit it’s quite exhausting.”

“Let’s not do it again after this, then,” Harry suggested, and she smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder.

“So have you seen them yet?” she asked.

“Seen whom?”

She lifted her head again and pointed upwards. Harry lifted his eyes, and he knew almost instantly what she was talking about it; floating around above everyone’s heads, just inches below the floating little flames that George had set up to light up the night, soared little golden ornaments that made tears well up in Harry's eyes. There was a lily, glittering as its petals spread out just above the spot where Professor McGonagall and Charlie were dancing. Harry smiled at it. “Mum,” he whispered. Right next to the lily was a stag, galloping in circles around it. “… Dad…” A dog and a wolf were one step behind the stag, and Harry let his gaze linger on them for a few seconds. “… Sirius, Remus.” They were all there with him, like they had promised they would always be.

“Did you do that?” Harry said, turning his head to meet Ginny’s eyes.

“Yes.” She smiled up at him. “Do you like them?”

“You know, I’ve spent most of my life hating being me,” he admitted. “I hated it when I lived with the Dursleys, and I hated the responsibility when I got to Hogwarts. I hated how people expected me to do all these things and fight, and be the hero… I wish someone had just told me that being me would also mean that I’d end up right here one day, with you.”

“Yeah,” Ginny replied, placing her soft hands on his cheeks. “At least you’re here now. I love you, Harry Potter. I’m so lucky that you wanted to marry me.”

“I love you too, Ginny Potter. And forgive me for picking a fight on our wedding day, but you’re wrong. I’m the lucky one.”

 

 





A/N: So I can't wait to hear what you thought of this! Thank you so much for reading. I think it's incredible that we've come this far in the story. It's a moment that I know lots of people have been waiting for and I can only hope that you'll like it :) Again, I'd just like to thank you for being a part of this story by reading it, and by reviewing - you're so much more help than you can imagine, and it really does mean the world to me that people willingly read this!

As most of you know, I'm going to move now. I'll take a break from thinking about this story for a couple weeks and then I guess I'll see you when I'll see you. Thank you again for all of your support. Take care until next time!






"His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard,
I wish he was mine, he’s really divine
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord."


is a quote from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p 238, ch. 13, by J.K. Rowling.


Chapter 40: Year 4: May 2nd, 2002
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A large photography of a spectacled, scrawny young man covered the front page of the unusually thick issue of the Daily Prophet, his green eyes roaming about the inside of most Wizarding homes in Great Britain as he reached up one of his hands to press it against a cut across his cheek. Where it wasn’t covered in blood, dirt and dust made his skin look a darker shade of grey, and there was a crack in his glasses that made him squint slightly.

The photo was one of those award-winning ones, taken just moments after the defeat of Voldemort exactly four years before it ended up on the front page of the Daily Prophet, that had been sold only to the luckiest magazines and for a vast amount of Galleons; it showed just the right mixture of grief and relief in Harry Potter’s face, and bits of the destruction of the Great Hall could be seen in the background. It was upsetting or perhaps, for those who had been miles away from the terrible sights that weren’t shown in the photography, quite thrilling to get to see a little glimpse of the grand moment they were now celebrating every year.

In some Wizarding homes (most of which were inhabited by at least one middle-aged witch), it was another Harry Potter photo that covered the front page of a different magazine – he was whole and clean, his glasses fixed and his eyes glittering as he laughed at the photographer. Instead of exhausted and shocked and wretched, he looked casually handsome in a shirt with rolled up sleeves, and one of his arms was resting around the shoulders of his new wife. Ginny was wearing a simple summer dress, and her bare feet were sunk deep into the sand of the beach in Southern Spain where the couple had spent their three week long honeymoon.

The readers of the latter magazine would devour the article about how the new Mr and Mrs Potter had made sure to return to England before the Anniversary; they would go through the paragraphs, hoping to find a quote or two from the ever so quiet and mysterious (at least when it was reporters from Witch Weekly asking him questions) Harry Potter.

But the curious, gossipy readers of Witch Weekly would be disappointed, because Harry had once again kept his thoughts and opinions to himself. It was for him, and perhaps Ginny, to know how he couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that the Spain sun had seemed to make his wife even more radiant than before. It had added more freckles to her cheeks and her arms, and made the tip of her nose burning red. But maybe it wasn’t the sun’s work, after all, that made her look so lovely; maybe it was her happiness.

Ginny couldn’t remember being happier. She woke up every morning in the honeymoon cottage and pinched her arm to make sure it wasn’t all just a dream. Then, she and Harry would spend the long, hot days down at the beach, people-watching in the centre of the village, or renting broomsticks and flying over the beautiful landscape while letting the warm Spanish winds mess up their hair. All of it was amazing. Not to mention the nights…

By the second of May, however, the couple were back in grey, rainy England; not that they were the least bit sorry. As much as they had loved their holiday and each other’s company, they were both looking forward to what was waiting for them at home – their friends and family, their new house, and as cheesy as it sounded, their new life as husband and wife.





About twenty minutes before the thick Daily Prophet and Harry’s dirty, bloody face would land on the windowsill and wake Hermione up, something touched her arm and pulled her out of the lovely dream she was having. Her first instinct was to push it away; it was something annoying, like a bug, and she would have liked to sleep for just a little bit longer – not because she was a late riser, but because it was her first day off from work in weeks, and she desperately needed the rest.

Smacking the annoying bug woke her up completely, though, as the response was a loud: “Ouch!” that made her jump and open her eyes. Ron was lying right next to her, rubbing his forehead with one hand while staring accusingly at her and pouting in a way that made him look so much like his eleven-year-old self.

“For Merlin’s sake, Hermione!” he complained. “Here I am, trying to be romantic for once, and this is what I get in return?”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “That was you being romantic? I thought I had a bug on my arm…”

“I was just getting to the romantic part,” Ron grinned, ignoring the sour tone in her voice. “Now I’m reconsidering… I’m not sure you deserve it after that smack…”

Hermione put on her most innocent smile as she rolled over and wrapped her arms around his neck. He was already dressed, but he crawled back under the covers, and Hermione smiled and closed her eyes as she felt his lips on his forehead. Then he bent his head down and kissed her. There was something so special about kissing him in the mornings, when his skin was still burning hot from a long night of sleep, and his chin and cheeks were still rough with stubble.

“What about now?” asked Hermione once they broke apart. “Do I deserve it now?”

She sank back down and lay on her back, looking up at all the patterns and shadows that the sun cast on the white ceiling above them. In that moment, she refused to let anything apart from Ron’s hand grabbing hers be real; not the growing cancer cells in her mother’s body, not Draco Malfoy’s betrayal, and not the Death Eaters who still wanted her and most of the people she loved dead.

“Fine,” Ron said, “I’ll let it pass just this once. You know, I was thinking last night…”

“Were you really?” grinned Hermione, and Ron’s eyes narrowed, though he couldn’t keep from smiling.

“Watch it,” he warned jokingly before continuing: “So I thought about the things we always think about whenever this day comes around. Fred... How bad it still hurts to think that we’re living without him.” He fell silent, and Hermione squeezed his hand harder as she turned her head to look at him. His eyes were staring longingly up into the ceiling, but most likely seeing the past instead of whitewashed wood. Then, suddenly, he shook his head and his face lit up. “And we think of Victoire’s birthday, of course,” he continued. “This year we think about the fact that we’ll get to see Harry and Ginny again since they came back from Spain. But there’s one thing we forget every year.”

“What is that?” asked Hermione, who for once had no idea where the conversation was going.

“That four years ago… at Hogwarts…” Ron paused and blushed before adding: “We had our first kiss. I think you remember – outside the Room of Requirements – and I’ve been thinking about it ever since you took me back there when we went to see Neville…”

He stopped talking, gulped and dared to look over at Hermione again. She was staring with wide eyes at him, her mouth half open as if she was going to respond, but had forgotten quite how to form actual words.

“… and I know it may not have been until that time in Australia, but I sort of think of that day as the day we first got together,” Ron continued as the red on his cheek spread to his ears and down onto his neck.

Hermione cleared her throat. “Which would mean that today…”

“Today it’s been four years since we got together,” Ron filled in. “That’s worth celebrating too, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is,” Hermione smiled, leaning in to kiss him again.

But a few minutes later, when she got up to get dressed and Ron headed into the kitchen, she still couldn’t stop a hint of bitterness in her from wiping out part of the sweetness that Ron had added to their morning. Maybe it wasn’t even bitterness – maybe it was disappointment. She imagined waking up another four years forwards in time and being in the same bed, in the same flat, still waiting for Ron to mature enough to want to settle down completely…

Suddenly, Ron appeared in the doorway and interrupted her thoughts. He was holding a sandwich in one hand and had half his mouth full of bread when he said:

“I’ve got to head out for a while.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. “Head out? Aren’t we going to your parents’ house in just a couple of hours?”

Ron nodded. “Sure we are. I’ll meet you there, okay?”

“Why? What are you doing?”

“Nothing special,” answered Ron quickly. “Work. Gawain sent for me. See you later!”

Hermione stood and stared at the empty doorway after he had gone, holding her pants in her arms without putting them on. Why was he rushing out all of a sudden? He had never spent the Anniversary apart from her or the family, and she couldn’t think of any reason why Gawain Robards would have him work on that date. In fact, she was sure that Gawain would hunt down every last person in the Auror Department before asking Ron to come to work today. For some reason, she just didn’t buy it.

Maybe, she thought while slowly pulling on her pants, he was lying to her. Because he was planning something to celebrate the four year anniversary of their relationship. Yes, that must be it, she thought as she headed out into the kitchen. She couldn’t think of any other reason why he wouldn’t tell her the truth.





Meanwhile, in a different Wizarding home, Fleur Weasley’s eyes swept briefly over the bottom half of her new brother-in-law’s face on the folded Daily Prophet that was lying on her kitchen table. She trotted over to the fridge and opened it quickly, hoping that she would be able to direct her thoughts towards breakfast preparations instead of the war. She had a tendency of having bad nightmares every year around the Anniversary, but when she had woken up on the second of May, not one single thought of the Battle of Hogwarts had crossed her mind. It was only now, when she was alone while the rest of her family remained in hers and Bill’s bedroom, cuddled up amongst the pieces of wrapping paper that was a result of their early morning birthday celebration, that Fleur first thought of the Battle, her nightmares, and the people that weren’t around anymore because of that day.

Accompanied by the steady pattern of raindrops hitting the shutters, Fleur began her normal morning routine. Flicking her wand, she made a whisk soar out of one of the cabinets and start whipping together pancake batter. Her hands seemed to work automatically; instead of thinking about what she was doing, she thought of the weather, and how the rain barely bothered her anymore. When she had first moved to England, she had been convinced she would never get used to it, but although she missed the summers back home every now and then, what she had right there in Tinworth was worth a thousand times more than the sunny coast in France.

In the letter that Fleur’s mother had sent along with the package for Victoire’s birthday, she had expressed a clear worry for her. Not because she was missing out on the beginning of spring in France, and had to suffer through the rain instead, but because Mrs Delacour knew that her daughter had always been driven and ambitious; she was the kind of girl who would sign up for the Triwizard Tournament instead of just spending her time with the Hogwarts boys (although, as Fleur had found out that year, one didn’t necessarily exclude the other). But Fleur was not at all miserable about staying at home with her children. She remembered watching Mrs Weasley when Bill had first invited her to the Burrow, and frowning at the thought of living like that. But she hadn’t had children at the time, and she knew better now; there was no job in the world that could beat caring for hers and Bill’s girls.

Fleur started cutting up fruit with a smile on her face as she thought of the way Victoire would walk up to her, pull at her skirt and look up at her with that adorable smile on her face and her blond hair bouncing around her shoulders, curling slightly at the tips, just like Fleur’s had at that age. She thought of the way Victoire would bend over Dominique’s cot and whisper: “We’ll play when you’re bigger, okay?” as if to make sure that her little sister wasn’t jealous of the fact that she couldn’t be part of the fun just yet.

Fleur was surprised when she looked up from her cutting board and realized that the breakfast was done. A big, and by all looks quite unsteady, pile of pancakes was waiting on a plate in the middle of the table, and the bread she had baked the other day was sliced up and ready to be eaten. After quickly placing the fruit in a bowl, she wiped her hands on a cloth, placed the knife in the sink and hurried upstairs. She had thought that Bill would have brought the kids down by now, but if she knew him right he probably couldn’t tear himself away from this moment with the girls.

When she reached the bedroom, Fleur paused in the doorway and peeked in, a smile spreading across her face as she took in the sight. Bill was lying on his back, his pale, lanky legs stretched out across the duvet and with Dominique lying quietly on his chest. Victoire was curled up next to him, both of her arms wrapped around his one and her face pressed against his shoulder. They all looked like they were going to fall back asleep, but just as that thought crossed Fleur’s mind, Victoire opened one of her eyes, smiled and lifted her head.

“Daddy’s tired,” she giggled, and Bill made a grunting noise.

“No, I’m not.”

Victoire laughed even louder and stretched out on of her arms towards Fleur. “Come, Maman,” she said. “Come here.”

Fleur was just about to tell them that the breakfast would get cold, and that she had to finish the cake before they left for the Burrow, and that everyone would need a bath, but then she met her eldest daughter’s dark blue eyes and instantly changed her mind. She crawled back into bed and bent over to place one kiss on Dominique’s head, and one on Victoire’s. Bill opened his eyes and grinned.

“Hey, what about me?”

Fleur rolled her eyes. “Fine, if you insist, I guess you can ‘ave one…”

And she bent over him again and let her lips brush against his. What did it matter if the breakfast got cold and no one would want to eat it, or if the cake would end up looking a little messy and they would be a little late to the Burrow? She never wanted to get up from this.





A couple of hours later, Ginny and Harry arrived in the Burrow right on schedule, indeed making the birthday girl and her family the last to arrive at the party. The pair had only just stepped through the door when Hermione rushed over to them and pulled Ginny into a hug.

“I’ve missed you so much!” she sighed before turning to Harry. “How have you been? You’re so tanned, Harry – I’ve never seen you like that before.”

“It’s been amazing,” Harry said as he hugged her. “I could have easily stayed for another three weeks. If I hadn’t missed all of you, of course,” he added with a grin.

“Heart-warming, mate,” said George, who was just coming out of the kitchen. “But unless I’m mistaken, you’ve been home for three days already. If you really missed us so much, what have you been doing for all that time? Oh, wait, don’t tell me,” he added quickly, pretending to get sick. “You’re newlyweds, so I think we can all have a pretty good guess!”

He winked at Harry, who blushed, and then at Ginny, who narrowed her eyes but failed to keep a straight face. Instead, she walked over and wrapped her arms around her brother.

“We really did miss you,” she assured him. “We were just settling into the new house…”

A squeak coming from the kitchen stopped George from making a cheeky comment about that. In the next moment, Mrs Weasley rushed out into the hallway, her cheeks as flushed as Harry’s, but with excitement rather than embarrassment.

“Ginny, Harry!” she squealed. “I am so happy to see you again!”

“Oh that’s right,” said George, “it’s been three years, hasn’t it? Here I thought it was just three weeks, how silly of me!”

“It feels like three years,” answered his mother and kissed Harry’s cheek. “You both look so healthy – I think the sun did you good.”

“Oh, definitely,” said Harry. “It’s great to see all of you again, though.”

“I know one little boy who has been dying to see you,” said Mrs Weasley and placed her hands on her hips. “Go on – he’s in the living room with the others.”

But Teddy must have heard his godparents’ voices, because he wasn’t in the living room anymore; in fact, he was rushing out into the hallway with such speed that Harry thought he’d run straight into the door. Somehow, the little boy managed to stop though, and Harry couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of his hair – it was changing colour every second, from one dazzling shade to another. Ginny quickly scooped the boy up into her arms and grinned widely as stretched his neck and placed a kiss on her cheek.

“Hi, little man,” Harry said, reaching out his arms to give his godson a hug. “How have you been?”

“Harry!” said Teddy excitedly, bending over to lean his head against Harry’s shoulder. Then, his facial expression went from happy to accusing as he said: “You have been gone for so long.”

“We know, buddy,” Ginny answered while stroking his back. “We missed you loads, though. And next weekend you’re going to come over and play with us, remember? In our new house. And Harry is going to take you to Holyhead to watch me play Quidditch.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Teddy, the corners of his mouth suddenly pointing upwards again. “Or we could do it today?” he suggested.

“We can’t – we’re here to celebrate Victoire,” Harry reminded him. “And the Anniversary.”

“Okay,” Teddy sighed. “But you’ll be here, won’t you? All day?”

“All day,” Harry promised.

And even if he had wanted to leave early, Teddy would have made sure that he couldn’t; he didn’t let his godfather out of his sight all day. When they sat down to eat, the little boy got so angry that his hair went scarlet when Audrey took the seat next to Harry, and she quickly moved over to avoid causing an outburst just before lunch. Ginny was just sighing over the adorable way Teddy clung to Harry’s arm when Ron nudged her arm and made her turn her attention to him instead.

“So have you heard from Luna since you came back?”

“No, I haven’t,” Ginny admitted as she, after a stern look from her mother, hurriedly sat down. “Why? Is she okay?”

“Splendid,” Ron nodded. “She’s leaving again, though.”

“She is?” said Hermione in surprise from across the table. “I didn’t know. When did you hear that?”

“Did Neville tell you?” Ginny guessed. “I bet he’s upset about that.”

“No, I met her this morning, and she told me,” Ron explained. “She’s meeting that guy – what’s his name again? Ralph?”

“Rolf,” Hermione corrected him.

“–she’s meeting him in Peru, to explore the wild life in the rainforests or something,” Ron continued.

Ginny felt a lump in her throat as her brother’s announcement sank in. Luna really was one of her best friends, and judging by the last time she had been travelling, they probably would not see each other for a really long time once she left. Ginny had missed her terribly the last time, and she wasn’t looking forward to feeling like that again.

“… at the Ministry?”

Ginny looked up, and having only heard the last bit of Hermione’s sentence, she stared at her other best friend in confusion. Hermione’s eyes were fixed on Ron though, and although they were narrowed, Ginny could tell that she was struggling to hold back a smile.

“She was… you know…” Ron mumbled.

“What are you talking about?” asked Ginny, curious as to why her brother was trying to hide something (as the colour of his ears so obviously showed that he was).

“I was just asking what Luna was doing at the Ministry,” Hermione explained. “Because that’s where you were going this morning, wasn’t it, Ron?”

Ginny’s eyes darted back to Ron, who was nodding vigorously.

“How come?” Harry asked, a small wrinkle forming on his forehead, right next to his scar.

“You know, the whole Finland thing,” said Ron faintly. “It’s…”

“Oh,” said Percy from the other side of the table. “Are you talking about the demonstrations in Helsinki? Apparently,” he said in a authoritarian voice, “the Finnish people are outraged at how the Ministry are handling the whole issue with the Finnish Auror who betrayed you in Finland,” he said to Harry. “They say the protests won’t stop until the Scandinavian Ministry authorizes the use of Veritaserum. And it has spread to Oslo and Stockholm… I reckon you’re only days away from being able to get some information out of that lady.”

Ron, who seemed to let out a sigh of relief, smiled and nodded. “Yes, that’s what I was talking about,” he said in a much calmer voice than before. “That’s why Gawain called me in.”

Hermione, being too interested in hearing more about the demonstrations, forgot about Luna and what business she might have at the Ministry, and spent the rest of the afternoon staying close to Percy and taking every chance she got to ask him about it. It wasn’t until she found herself in bed that night that she thought again of Ron’s strange behaviour that morning. There had been no surprise from him, no little gift and – she couldn’t stop herself from thinking it – no ring… So maybe he had been at work, after all. Maybe he had told her the truth. And even though her boyfriend not lying to her was actually a good thing, she couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

As everyone went to bed that night, they thought of many different things. Percy thought of Scandinavia and how he admired the people for standing up against their Ministry. For a brief moment, he felt ashamed over the fact that he had failed to that when he should have had, but just then, Audrey squeezed his hand and smiled at him, and that was enough lately to keep him from beating himself up. George thought of Fred, as he always did at night – he imagined what life would have been like if his twin had survived, and there was that shameful thought that he could never keep himself from thinking: even if that had meant that Angelina would have married Fred instead of him, he would have given her up.

Harry thought of how Teddy had cried and refused to let go of his hand when he and Ginny had left the Burrow, and of how Andromeda had had to pull her grandson away, and how his screams had echoed in both Harry and Ginny’s ears as they had Disapparated. It had broken Harry’s heart, because he had imagined Teddy reaching for Remus and Tonks the same way, knowing that he couldn’t come play and watch Quidditch with them next weekend.

Mrs Weasley fell asleep early that night, exhausted after cooking and cleaning and nagging her children, but she had time to cry over Fred once more alone up in the bedroom. Her husband stayed up a bit longer, though; he went back to their son’s grave under the tree down in the garden, and he sat down by the small tombstone and replayed a conversation he and Fred had had back when the twins have moved into the flat above their shop.

“Tell Mum she has no reason to upset, Dad,” Fred had said after the two of them had caught Mrs Weasley sobbing to herself as she had washed the boys’ clothes one last time. “I’m not going to leave the country, like Bill and Charlie. And I’m not going to stop talking to you, like Percy. I’ll still be here.”

And as he walked across the lawn a few minutes later, feeling the light drizzle on his balding head, Mr Weasley did not cry, because he was sure that Fred was keeping the promise he had made back then; that he was still there.

 




Finally, another chapter!

So as you can tell, I'm still alive! I've made it to my new home safely and I'm really liking it. I feel like I've already done more here than I did all of last year; but as a result, I haven't found much time for writing. Here it is though, finally - the next chapter. Thank you so much for your tremendous support. It means more to me than you know. When I finally logged on here and saw all of your comments I felt like crying (out of happiness, of course). You are all amazing and you deserve a chapter a day, but I'm afraid I can't do that. I do promise to write as quickly as I can, though, and I promise that I appreciate it more than you know. 


And by the way, I will respond to all of the reviews - I just prioritized writing this chapter. Thanks for your patience. Hopefully, I'll see you again soon with the next chapter!


Chapter 41: Year 5: The going away party
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It was one of those nights that seemed to have got lost and made it into the wrong season; it must not have known that it was almost summer, because neither the thick, foggy air nor the chilly winds seemed to belong in that time of year. And yet, the cold swept in from the ocean and over land, through silvery mist and a heavy rainfall.

It was a strange place for a house, miles away from civilization and out on a lone island; combined with the pouring rain and on such a foggy night, it was quite difficult to actually to make it out. The property was almost completely hidden amongst the high, pointy rocks that rose from the raging ocean a short boat ride away from the northern shores of Great Britain, and only a crooked rooftop could be distinguished from the waterline, where a group of men and women were standing side by side, holding their arms above their heads to shield themselves from the downpour, and to try to get a better look of the place they were soon heading for.

One of them – the tallest – scratched his red hair and shook his head before turning to his friend. “Why don’t Death Eaters ever live in homey places?” he asked. “They always have to have this spooky vibe about their houses; no wonder they’re all a bit mad. I reckon the smell of homemade bread and a nice, warm fireplace would do them good, don’t you think?”

Harry Potter grinned and shrugged. Then, turning to his right, he met his boss’ eyes and quickly became serious. Gawain Robards looked worn out, exhausted from months of working overtime, of a nation raging at him for not getting anything done with the Finnish Death Eater, and his wife’s daily complaints about his absence. Dark rings flanked his eyes, and his grey beard was more rampant than his younger Aurors had ever seen it.

“Okay,” Gawain said without breaking eye contact with Harry. His voice was shaking, and he cleared his throat before continuing: “Everyone ready?”

“Are you scared?” asked Jack Marwick scornfully, and then, as Gawain’s head flapped towards him, he coughed and added: “Sir?”

Gawain took two determined step forwards towards the younger man. For a moment, it looked like he was going to hit Marwick in the face, but then his hand landed on the boy’s scraggy shoulder with a soft thud.

“Of course I’m scared,” he said. “I’ve never been on a mission when I haven’t been. I’m scared of getting captured… I’m scared for all of you. I’m scared that my wife yelling at me for missing dinner again tonight will be the last conversation I’ll have with her.”

Marwick gulped and lowered his head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean–“

“–to be disrespectful and insensitive?” Gawain finished