The sun was high in the sky the day the Weasley family convened at the Burrow for the first time since Christmas. The last time they’d all been together, the snowdrifts had given the old house an air of mystery, like a fossil half uncovered and then forgotten. Now, with the heat of summer still pounding on the curling shingles, it looked more like an ancient ruin still visited by the occasional tourist, but otherwise practically forgotten.
As his broom came to a smooth landing and his feet once again touched the ground, Harry Potter pulled his eyes away from the house, a bright spot of sunshine shifting to glare in his eyes. It didn’t matter how many years passed or how much more difficult it became for the magic to hold the place together – he would never be able to see the Burrow as anything but the first home he’d ever known.
He glanced to his right as Ginny looked up at him. She smiled, but he recognized the same feelings welling up behind those deep brown eyes that he felt lodged in his throat. There was love. Love for her childhood home and the memories it held. But there was also sadness. And he knew this place would always be a little of both.
“Do we have to go inside, dad?”
Harry looked back at his son. Even in his short eleven years, Rafe had already adopted an attitude so similar to his mother’s that Harry couldn’t help but smile at it.
“You know very well we are going inside,” said Ginny, and Harry knew she was latching onto those words to pull away from the memories, both happy and painful. “And don’t you roll your eyes at me, young man.”
“But mum,” Rafe said, tossing his broom over his shoulder. “Uncle Bill is just so weird.”
“Rafe, don’t provoke your mother. We haven’t even been here five minutes yet.”
As if in defiance of her son’s statement, Ginny Potter started briskly up the path toward the front door. Harry watched her go, admiring his view for a moment, before turning back to the boy.
“At least wait until Fred and George get here. Then she can scold them for their bad influence, and you’ll be free to cause whatever trouble you like.” He winked, and then followed his wife’s example.
They got inside to find only a few members of the family gathered in the living room. It hadn’t changed much, Harry noted, unsure whether he felt glad that Bill still refused to make adjustments to his parents’ house, or sad because he knew Bill hadn’t even considered it. Harry understand Rafe’s assessment of the man, even if he himself refused to picture anything but the cheerful man he’d known during his school days.
“Uncle Harry!” came the squeals before Harry was even able to remove his travelling cloak. Harry grinned widely as two miniscule ginger-haired boys with slightly larger than average front teeth practically bowled him over in a hug.
The mirror images glanced at other, mischief twinkling in their eyes. Without answering, they backed away slowly.
Harry saw their mother coming toward him with an equally bright smile on her face, thick brown hair bouncing as she walked. Then he smelled it. The most horrid stench he’d smelled since Fred and George had forgotten a crate of their new and improved dungbombs in his basement. (Though whether or not it was actually an accident was still a debate. Not even age could cure some things.) From the look that crossed her face, it was obvious she smelled it as well
“Arthur! Lancelot!” Hermione screeched. The boys’ only answer was to dash up the squeaky staircase.
She crossed the remaining few feet between them and pointed her wand at Harry. “Scourgify!” With that, the smell lessened in intensity, but it still lingered a bit in the surrounding air.
“Thanks,” said Harry. He pulled the young woman into a hug. “Still got those two testing new products, have they?”
Hermione pulled back and gave him a tired smile. “You have no idea. How are you, Harry? I haven’t seen you around much the last few weeks.”
“Well, you know how busy the slacker lifestyle keeps me.”
She glared at him, the twinkle in her eyes looking very much like that he’d seen only moments before in her youngest sons’ eyes. Before she could comment, however, another figure rounded the corner out of the kitchen.
“Bloody hell! What’s that terrible smell?” It was only from years of practice that the people in the room could make out those words through the mouth full of food.
“As if you didn’t know, Ronald.” Hermione rounded on him, her shining eyes never dulling. “If it weren’t for your genes, we’d have stopped at four like I wanted.”
“You know the first three were far too well-behaved. You’re relishing the fact that you can use all those lines you learned from Mum.” Ron kissed her before she could respond, and she seemed mollified for the time being. His hand lingered on the small of her back.
“Did you see Gin already?” Harry asked. Continuing the current topic was dangerous for more reasons than one.
“Yeah, she’s in the kitchen with Bill.” Ron glanced over his shoulder. A little girl with bushy brown hair sat on the couch with a book spread across her lap. The resemblance to her mother was uncanny, and every time Harry saw her, he half-expected to be dragged off to the library for a frantic study session.
“Molly Rose, can you go help Aunt Ginny and Uncle Bill with lunch? We’ll be moving to the garden soon.”
“Sure, mum.” The little girl hopped up, reverently marking her place in the book and setting it on the side table.
Ron smiled as he watched the little girl bounce into the next room. However, the corners of his mouth twitched down as soon as she’d gotten out of sight.
“Not having a good day, is he?” Harry asked, his voice low despite the practically empty room.
“He doesn’t have good days. It’s bad and not-quite-as-bad.”
“Ron.” Hermione clucked her tongue.
“What? It’s not like it’s a big secret.”
“Is there anything we can do, though?” Harry asked, running a hand through his messy hair. “I mean, it’s been twelve years since-”
“Twelve years since what?” A voice called from behind them.
“Since a Weasley has graced the halls of Hogwarts, naturally,” came another voice.
Harry turned to see the eldest Weasley twins standing just inside the doorway, their arms full of packages. The well-groomed hair and smart business robes might have fooled the average wizard, but Harry could always tell from the way they grinned when mischief was about to be afoot.
Fred lay his bundles down on the nearest table and began to tug off his outer robe. “Just where are our little Marauders-In-Training today, anyway?”
George advanced into the room sniffed the air. He smiled knowingly. “Hiding from their mum, I’d wager.”
“I guess that means she won’t be speaking to us all afternoon,” the other agreed.
“Oh, you two!” Hermione pulled them both into an eager hug. “Arthur and Lance have taken over your headquarters.” She gave them a glare on the last word. “Molly Rose is in the kitchen. Bax and Bella, well, who knows?”
“I’m sure they snuck out the back door with Rafe soon as they saw he’d gotten here.” Ron said with a shrug.
“Well, they’d better not run too far off,” Hermione said, giving Fred and George another glare just for good measure.
Rafe didn’t waste any time with his aunts and uncles before hurrying off to the mudroom where he knew his cousins would be waiting for him. Uncle Bill might be an oddball – sometimes downright creepy – but he did keep some pretty cool stuff stashed in his back room.
Before he’d even entered the small room, he could see Arbella Weasley leaning over a large, precariously stacked pile of parchments. Her long hair was billowing in the breeze from a nearby leaky window, and it made her look like some sort of fire princess. Of course, no one who knew her would ever confuse Bella with any sort of refined lady. Rafe grimaced at the memory of her tiny fist connecting with his face the first and last time he’d called her by her full given name. Aunt Hermione had railed her something good for it, of course, but that didn’t change the fact that Rafe had done his best to stay on his cousin’s good side ever since.
Arbax Weasley, while not nearly as changeable as his twin, was still not a young wizard one wanted to cross. Every ounce of quick reaction time from Bella and every line of witty humour from Rafe, Bax made up ten times over in deep thought and even temper. Even now he stood very still, mirroring the stance of the large statuette whose base he gripped. He seemed to be studying the markings on it, mumbling to himself as he squinted at them.
“You really shouldn’t be speaking ancient languages to the statues, mate.”
Bella’s head jerked up, and papers scattered onto the floor. “Oy, Rafe! You just now get here? We’ve been waiting for ages.”
Rafe answered her grin with one of his own. “Yeah. Dad let us fly in.”
“Lucky you. Mum made us floo. That fire pixie infestation has only gotten worse since Christmas. I didn’t think I’d ever get them out of my hair.” She tossed a few locks over her shoulder as if double-checking one last time for the tiny invaders.
“It’s not cursed.” Bax didn’t even look up from his studies.
“How do you know?” asked Rafe.
“Uncle Bill wouldn’t have left it back here for us to find if it was dangerous.”
“Why should he care?” Bella rolled her eyes. She trotted over to the back door, not even bothering to straighten the papers she had disturbed.
“Because he knows you two snoop around in here.” A satisfied grin crossed Bax’s face as he spoke the words. He mumbled a few more phrases so lowly that neither his sister nor cousin could hear them.
Bella laughed sharply. “Snoop? I never see you complaining about our explorations. Who’s the one standing nose-to-nose with--“
The statue suddenly split in half. A rolled up bit of parchment stuck out of the base, and Bax grabbed it, not a bit phased at the new development.
“Hey, how did you do that?” Bella quickly closed the distance between them, forgetting her tirade of only a few seconds earlier. “What is it?”
Bax calmly read the paper, rolled it back up and rejoined the two halves of the statue around it. He handed it to his sister. “Have a look for yourself.”
“Come on. Let’s go outside,” Rafe said, pulling on Bella’s arm.
“You know he’s not going to tell you. Why even bother?”
Rafe swung the door open and a blast of sunshine hit him. He couldn’t help but smile as he watched a single gnome skitter through the bushes and then collapse in a sigh of exhaustion. It was hot, but to Rafe it was invigorating, like hot cocoa for breakfast on a winter morning.
“We’ve got to play after we eat,” Bella said as she rushed out the door behind him, her curiosity at Bax’s find apparently forgotten as soon as she’d eyed the vast expanse of clear sky. “I bet we can give Fred and George a run for their money this year.”
Bax wandered out behind her, stopping to pull the door securely shut, despite its unwillingness to do so. “It’ll probably be the last chance we get to play for awhile.”
“I know! It’s so unfair that we can’t try out for the house team first year.” Bella ran the short distance to the nearest tree and jumped, her long arms barely making it high enough to grasp the lowest branch. With a smooth, lithe motion, she pulled her thin frame up into the tree and stretched out on the limb. Her lips had moulded into solid frown.
“My dad was on the team first year,” Rafe commented.
“Which is exactly why they aren’t going to let us do it!” If it was possible, that thought caused her frown to deepen. “Can’t show favouritism to Harry Potter’s son and niece.”
Bella glared at her brother. “Oh, shut it. You don’t want to try out anyway.”
Rafe clambered up into the tree next to Bella, choosing to find handholds in the trunk instead of using her quicker but more challenging method. The bark was just rough enough to give him a firm place to grip, and he had very little trouble ascending. “I don’t think anyone really likes dad that much anyway.” His expression started to mimic his cousin’s. “He and mum were arguing about it last night.”
“Yeah, we saw the article in the Prophet,” said Bella. Her demeanour shifted visibly as she turned a concerned eye in his direction. “But even with that evil witch’s yearly report on How Little “The Boy Who Lived” Has Done for the Wizarding Community—“ Her Rita Skeeter imitation was dead-on…with a little extra obnoxiousness for good measure. “I know there are still people who believe he’s a good luck charm of sorts.”
“I never said I didn’t want to try out,” said Bax. He imitated his twin’s jump for the tree branch, and then took the hand she wordlessly extended him, using that leverage to pull himself up the remaining distance. “And Bella’s right, Rafe. There are plenty of people who still believe your dad can do great things, even if he chooses not to right now.”
“Great. So I either have a hard act to follow or a bad reputation to live down.”
Bella laughed so loudly that both Rafe and Bax look at her in surprise. She continued to laugh, gripping her branch until her knuckles turned white. When her sudden mirth had passed, she turned her watery eyes to her cousin. “You think you have it bad? Trying being the daughter of the smartest witch of her generation for a year or so, and then come back and talk to me about living up to something.”
Rafe glanced back at the house. The adults had just started pouring out the door, arms holding various containers full of food. He watched as his Aunt Hermione conjured up a large picnic table complete with tablecloth, place settings and tiny fountains as centrepieces, and then almost in the same breath shot a spell behind her that stopped the smallest twins in their tracks.
“What have I told you two about mischief around the dinner table?” Her shrill voice carried easily over to the tree that held the three friends.
Rafe turned back to his cousins. He laughed. “Have fun with that. I think I’ll keep my luck, thanks.”
With that, he hopped out of the tree and took off running for the food. The twins were barely a pace behind him.
Hermione surveyed the table with a satisfied smile. She would be hard-pressed to find a single scrap of food remaining anywhere. Even Bill had seemed to find his appetite somewhere amid George’s monologue on the benefits of Weasley’s Wart Wonder and Molly Rose’s uncharacteristic outburst of indignity that she had to wait three more years before starting school. Glancing over at her youngest daughter, Hermione’s smile softened – it was the crying that was unlike the girl, not the well-placed enthusiasm for learning.
A small twittering noise awoke her from musings. She looked up to see a Golden Snitch hovering only inches above her head. It was almost as if the little ball was greeting her, for it stayed there for only a few seconds before zooming back to the nearby pitch where it continued alluding both Bella and Harry’s grasp. Luckily for Bella, her uncle had not yet seen the Snitch; otherwise the game would already be over. Harry never let his niece beat him, and Hermione was sure that her eldest daughter’s skill was due in large part to that mentorship.
Waving her wand and muttering a few words under her breath, Hermione began to clear the table. Bill had already started the same at his end and even offered her a quick grin as he picked up the pace, racing her to the middle, vanishing dishes as fast as their wands could flick. Once they were done, Bill excused himself and went back into the house as his usual sullen self. Still, Hermione felt positively cheery; the war had not been kind to Bill, and the years after no better, so even a tiny hint of his old self was a mood lifter.
Hermione settled back down at the clear table, intending to summon her copy of Historical Curses and Ancient Charms for a little light reading in the warm summer breeze, but she felt her eyes drawn back to the Quidditch game as if someone had summoned her thoughts there. The groups always played adults against kids, despite Hermione’s protests in the early years, and she had to admit that Bax, Bella and Rafe were almost able to hold their own these days. Besides, in a few years the youngest twins would be old enough to join the fun, and then the grownups would really have a tough time of it.
The game was played without bludgers, due mostly to the reduced team sizes, and to Hermione’s great relief. Fred and George would instead trade off on playing Keeper, sometimes switching in mid-game when it was convenient and they didn’t think anyone was paying attention. Only Ginny ever seemed to notice the switch, and she, for once, kept silent about their mischief. The other twin and his sister played Chasers, and Harry, naturally, played Seeker.
The exception to the adults vs. kids rule was Ron. He chose to balance out the kids’ team by playing as their Keeper with Rafe and Bax as the Chasers. More often than not someone would joke that Ron really hadn’t ever grown up, and that’s why he was “stuck” playing in the little leagues. Ron’s ears would turn red by default, but Hermione knew he really didn’t mind. He relished the time spent with his kids and nephew. And he had no reason to be ashamed of playing on the kiddie team; after all, he was the only one among them who actually had a career in professional Quidditch.
Hermione felt a great swelling in her chest as she thought about her husband and the second love of his life, the Chudley Cannons. The upcoming season would mark his tenth with the team, and Hermione had great hopes that this would be his year. The team had soared to the number one ranked team in the league since Ron began his assistant manager position, and no one was under the illusion that Ragmar Dorkins had suddenly grown a brain and improved his coaching. There had been rumours for years now that he was going to retire and hand the team over to his second in command, and she felt sure that this was finally the time. It hadn’t even happened yet, but she was already more proud of Ron than she’d ever been of anything. And that included her own achievement in securing a high security clearance job as an Unspeakable.
Hermione was roused from her admiration by two loud “pops” a few meters away. Unperturbed, she conjured two cups of tea at the spots opposite her, and then turned toward the source of the sound.
“Afternoon Remus, Tonks. I’m glad you were able to come after all.”
“I’m sorry we had to owl our apologies so last minute, Hermione,” Remus Lupin said. He lowered himself into the chair across from her without bothering to remove his outer robes. She couldn’t help but think that age had improved his looks considerably since their first meeting, though much of the credit for that could be given to the witch next to him.
Tonks, unlike her husband, jerked off her travelling cloak as soon as they had apparated in, almost as if it were constricting her movement, despite the voluminous nature of the garment. She also took her place at the table, immediately taking a sip of her tea. She glanced over her shoulder at the match in progress, a wistful expression on her face. “It’s a shame we missed everything.”
“I do hope everything’s alright….” Hermione gave the two a look of concern.
“Oh yes, quite all right,” Remus assured her. “Nymphadora had some last minute preparations to which she had to attend.” He flashed a grin at his wife, and Hermione thought she detected a blush rising to the witch’s cheeks, though it could have simply been the sun reflecting off of her cherry red hair.
“Those better be school preparations you’re talking about,” a voice said.
This time Remus’s cheeks matched Tonks’, but he still rose to shake the man’s hand then draw him into a hug. “Harry, it’s been far too long. For a man of leisure, you’ve got an awfully full schedule.”
Harry’s face was serious, but the smile gleamed from his eyes. “Still bitter that they offered me the DADA position first?”
“Only because you didn’t take it.” Remus’s lips twitched for a second before he finally gave in to the grin. “At least now I can take it out on someone.”
They all looked toward the open field where the other Quidditch players still milled about, obviously in an animated discussion. Ron’s arms were waving about wildly, Rafe following his example. Fred, George and Ginny squared off with them, and they were all still hovering a few meters above the ground, broomsticks bucking with every strong gesture.
“Game over?” Hermione asked, nodding toward the others.
“Ron is insisting that Bax scored six goals, not five, but Fred is sticking by his count,” said Harry.
Tonks looked surprised. “The score was that close? The little tykes have grown.”
“Nah,” said Harry. “We won by two hundred points.”
“But that’s still fifty points closer than last time,” Hermione pointed out.
“Sixty points!” Bella strode up to them, a triumphant grin on her face. “And I saw the Snitch first, but Uncle Harry was just closer to it.”
Without warning, Harry grabbed his niece and swung her over his shoulder. She giggled and squealed, squirming wildly, but his muscled arms held her easily. “I’ll teach you to disrespect your elders.” He started to walk away.
“Don’t forget, Harry,” Hermione said, suddenly serious. “We need to talk to Remus and Tonks about—”
“I haven’t forgotten.” A dark cloud passed over his features, but was quickly replaced with his smile. Hermione could tell he regretted the sharpness of his words as soon as they had escaped his lips. “Let me just take this one inside, and I’ll be back.” He turned back toward the rest of the group. “Rafe, Bax, inside!”
The other eleven-year-olds ran up to Harry before he had gotten more than a few steps. Bax made faces at his sister, feigning innocence when she protested. Ginny and her twin brothers came close behind them. Fred and George had their arms draped around their sister in conspiratorial closeness. Ron was the last in the line, and his arms were full of all the equipment. He tossed a glare at his siblings as he shifted the weight in his arms, but they didn’t notice, so he deposited the items in their case before joining the rest.
“Hey!” said Bella in a more serious tone that stopped Harry in his tracks. “How come we have to go inside? You’re going to talk about all the interesting stuff without us!”
Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but Ginny beat her to it. “You know, on second thought, maybe we should come inside with you. Then I’ll be able to confiscate whatever it is Fred and George brought with them for you.”
Fred and George exchanged faux-horrified glances, but the look that passed between Bax and Rafe was anything but faked.
“Shut it, Bella,” said Rafe, running ahead. “Come on, dad! We don’t want to keep you from your important conversation.”
Harry laughed and lowered his niece to the ground. “All right, off with you.”
Hermione bit her lip. She knew they were waiting for her to speak up, to yell after the kids that they would not be taking any of their new gifts to Hogwarts with them. As much as she wanted to fill their expectations, she simply couldn’t make any sound come out of her mouth. There was a tightness in the pit of her stomach like she hadn’t felt in years.
Ginny seemed to notice her friend’s distress, and a similar expression spread over her face. “Harry, are we sure about this?”
Ginny’s voice was barely above a whisper, and Hermione’s heart joined the rest of her bodily aches. Who was she to think of her own pain with this conversation looming? Her friend surely had a million reasons in her head why this subject should never be breached with those who didn’t already know. Bringing the Lupins into the fold was not only a huge step of faith, but also scary. Hermione could see the moisture shining in the woman’s eyes as she breathed slowly, trying to keep her nerves in check.
“You know we have to,” said Harry quietly, slipping an arm around his wife’s waist.
It was as if everyone had forgotten how to speak. Even Remus and Tonks had been rendered mute by the intensity of their friends’ silence. They all watched as the children filed into the house, Molly Rose a little more slowly than the others, as she refused to close her book as she walked. Thankfully, the little twins had long before fallen asleep and been placed on Bill’s plush couch. Once the door had closed behind them, Ron settled at the table next to his wife, taking her hand and massaging the knuckles gently. Hermione smiled at him, but her lips trembled slightly.
“I had no idea you had anything this important to discuss,” Remus said, taking a slow, deep breath. “You know whatever it is we’ll do anything we can for you.”
Ginny moved to the table next to him. “We know, Remus. It’s just—” She burst into tears before she could even seat herself.
Harry enveloped the witch in his arms. He looked over her shoulder at the group, lips twitching as if to say something. He glanced at Hermione, eyes pleading for her to say what they could not. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Being the one with all the answers could be hell sometimes.
Hermione snuggled into Ron’s offered embrace, buckling down for the long evening ahead of them. “It all started with Draco Malfoy….”