Ron and Hermione apparated to the Burrow early the next morning expecting to see Harry there. He wasn’t, but all the other Weasley’s were as they waited anxiously for Ginny to arrive and share her news with them. An hour went by and still neither of them arrived.
“Where could Harry be?” Mrs. Weasley wondered aloud as the time for Ginny to get there neared. “I know she’ll want to see him first thing when she gets here.”
“I don’t know Mum,” Ron said a bit guiltily. He sidled over to Charlie who was waiting in the front room with Wendy. “You haven’t seen Harry have you?” he asked.
“No, why?” Charlie asked in surprise.
“Well I know you’ve been spending a bit of time with Wendy and she’s his partner, so I just thought maybe he went to see you two when he left our place last night,” Ron said.
“What time did he leave?” Wendy asked.
“About ten,” Hermione told her. ”He’d been drinking, so we were just wondering.”
Wendy frowned. “That’s not like Harry to drink.”
“Not usually,” Ron agreed. “But sometimes ….” He trailed off as a disheveled looking Harry appeared in front of the house.
Ron and Hermione shot up from their chairs as soon as they saw him.
“Where have you been mate?” Ron asked taking in Harry’s appearance. “Didn’t you go home?”
“Nope. I spent last night at the Leakey Cauldron. Tom never did try to send me home,” Harry said a bit proudly.
Hermione sniffed his breath. “Are you drunk Harry?”
“That depends Hermione. What time is it?”
“Why does that matter?” she asked.
“I’ll be sober again by eleven. Is it eleven yet?”
Hermione sighed. “Not yet. Come on in. Let Mrs. Weasley pour you some coffee. Ginny should be here soon.”
Hermione led her friend inside and sat him down while Mrs. Weasley made him some coffee with hangover potion. He was still sipping it when Wendy and Charlie came into the kitchen to check on him.
Wendy sighed. “What happened to you Potter?” she asked.
Harry looked up at her blurrily. “I’m not on duty Wendy. What I do on my off time is none of your business.”
“Harry that was uncalled for,” Hermione scolded him like they were back in fourth year again.
“You too Hermione,” he snapped. “If you don’t have time for your friends then don’t get mad about what I get up to without you.”
Hermione stared at him open mouthed before turning to Ron to defend her. But Ron shook his head.
“Harry mate,” Ron said sitting down beside him. “You shouldn’t have left. Why did you?”
“Hermione asked me to Ron, in case you don’t remember,” Harry said glowering at him. “Where else can a bloke go when his best friends throw him out?”
“Harry, we didn’t,” Hermione started to protest when Wendy interrupted her.
“I think I know what this is about,” she told the younger girl. “Harry, how is the memory training going?” Wendy asked him.
Harry’s eyes cleared momentarily, pain darted across them before he slumped forward with a shrug. “I dun know Wendy. It’s not hard exactly ….” Harry tried to explain.
“The material isn’t,” Wendy agreed. “But they make you go back through your own memories to look for material to work with. My guess is, that isn’t all that pleasant for you.”
Harry shrugged but didn’t say anything. Hermione frowned looking at her friend in concern.
“Is it anything like occlumency?” she asked Wendy.
“Not exactly. You’re doing it to yourself, but in order to control memories, to be able to manage and manipulate them, they have you go back to your earliest memories possible then work from there,” Wendy explained.
Hermione frowned. She knew from experience that Harry’s earliest memories tended to be about the death of his parents, that and living with the Dursleys. None of that ever qualified as pleasant.
Hermione sat down on the bench beside Harry. “What did they make you remember Harry?”
“Like Wendy said, they make you do it to yourself,” Harry said.
Hermione’s attention didn’t waver and Harry flinched under her gaze.
“Stuff from when I was small, before Hogwarts, alright?” Harry said in an annoyed tone.
“From when you lived with the Dursleys,” Ron said. “That can’t have been a picnic mate.”
“No it wasn’t.” Harry shook himself. “But that’s all behind me. I don’t care that they didn’t want me.”
“Of course you care Harry,” Hermione said. “Any one would care.”
“It doesn’t matter Hermione,” Harry insisted.
“Of course it doesn’t,” Mrs. Weasley said patting him in a motherly fashion on the shoulder. “You know that we want you Harry. You are part of our family now. There is no sense on dwelling on unpleasant things from the past. You just put it behind you Harry. Don’t think about it any more.”
“At least not until Monday,” Harry said under his breath, making sure nobody else in the room heard him.
He had managed for the most part to push those memories back to the past after each memory session in class, but what he hadn’t counted on was the lingering feeling of not being good enough they had produced in him. That combined with his argument with Ginny over living arrangements last weekend and then Ron’s comment about Ginny needing to choose between him and the Harpies only increased the sensation that always lurked beneath the surface within him, calling it to the forefront more than he’d been aware of. Then being asked to leave his friends flat … Harry just shook his head, resting it in his hands, trying to shut out all the negative feelings, feelings he’d tried to drown at the bar. Wendy was right, this was worse than occlumency in a sense because he’d done it to himself.
“Bloody hell,” Ron muttered to Hermione as he saw the familiar struggle play across his friend’s face, remembering the hell Harry had gone through with his occlumency lessons with Professor Snape. “Hermione, we are never doing that again,” he said firmly. “If Harry comes to us for help… “
Hermione bit her lip as she glanced worriedly between Ron and Harry. “Of course I wouldn’t have if I’d known. Harry why didn’t you say something?”
Harry shrugged. “It’s my problem Hermione. I’ve got to work it out.”
“But you need friends to do that Harry,” Ron told him. “You know that mate.”
Harry glanced up at his friend. “Yeah Ron I do, but I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“It sounds like it was all a misunderstanding to me,” Mrs. Weasley interjected. “Let’s all put it behind us, shall we?” she encouraged as voices from the front of the Burrow announced that Ginny had arrived.
Harry rose slowly from the bench while everyone else rushed ahead of him to greet her. Again the feelings from the night before rushed in on him. What if Ginny really did need to choose between Quidditch and him, at least in the short term? If she made the team, wouldn’t the Harpies win? I all meant so much to her. Wasn’t it possible he would be shunted aside to make her dream come true? Harry knew he was being irrational, but he also knew that a certain amount of separation was enforced by professional teams for unmarried players and this didn’t sit well with him. This was what they’d discussed, and Ginny did say she wouldn’t be living with him … what if…?
“Harry?” Ginny was calling for him from the front room. A bit unsteadily Harry made his way out to her. “Didn’t you sleep last night?” she asked frowning a bit when she saw him.
“Not a wink Gin. Tell me. What’s the news?” Harry asked.
Ginny looked into his eyes. They were blood shot and bleary rimmed and didn’t look at all like the steady bright green eyes she associated with Harry. Her frown deepened.
“Harry, what?” she started to ask.
“Just open it Gin,” he begged. “What did they say?”
“The try outs went good Harry,” Ginny began. “This letter will tell me the particulars, but I’m pretty sure I made the team.”
“How sure?” Harry asked.
Biting her lip, Ginny slid open the seal on the parchment in her hand and read the letter.
“Very sure,” she said looking up at him. “I’m in.”
Harry grinned. “That’s fantastic Gin!” he exclaimed and he twirled her around, steadying himself and setting her down before he lost his balance entirely, feeling a bit queasy from the combination of the spinning, the hangover and the news.
Ron punched the air and her family let off a chorus of cheers as they clamored around Ginny wanting the details and she couldn’t wait to tell them. But Harry himself stayed on the perimeter of the crowd, telling himself he was letting her have her moment of glory to herself, but in reality feeling a bit shut out. He wasn’t used to Ginny having things he wasn’t included in and he wasn’t sure how to handle it, and he found himself wondering now that she did have the Harpies, what about him? Where did he fit into her plans? All this time he’d been trying to fit her into his, but for it to work, didn’t that also have to work the other way round? Harry stared at the ring on her finger momentarily as she talked, the facets of its stones reflecting in the light. But when she turned to him, Harry smiled, shrugging off his doubt, helping Ginny to celebrate the best way he knew how.
Monday began another week of memory charm training for Harry and the effects of the exercises on him were worse than ever. As part of practicing the skills involved in memory modification, Harry was required to share some of his most powerful ones with his colleagues. After eliminating any memory involving Voldemort as too dangerous to share, that left only with those humiliating memories from before Hogwarts when he lived with the Dursleys for him to choose from. It was supposed to be a powerful memory, one that could provide a challenge for his training partner, but every one of those memories reminded him so strongly of how much they had hated him and resented his presence, of just how unwanted he had been; images from early childhood of Dudley receiving presents and treats and Harry getting none; of toys and playthings being taken away from him, even Dudley’s broken ones that the fat boy hadn’t wanted any more. Harry knew he had grown beyond such mistreatment, that he’d even reconciled the rift with his family to some degree, but the feelings of anguish, of believing he wasn’t good enough, that no one would ever want him, that anything good might be taken away was brought to the forefront of his mind by each and every exercise. He battled it nightly, trying to push those memories and feelings back to the past where they belonged, trying to keep some perspective on his life as it was now, but each day’s exercises brought them back to him more powerfully than before.
The good part of the week, if the week had a good part, was that although he tried, Harry was no longer allowed to simply shunt aside the effects the lessons were having on him after each day, trying to ignore them as he might normally have done. Instead he was bombarded with owls from his friends checking up on him. He received owls from Hermione and Ron every day, telling him about their exams and asking how he was. Both it seemed felt enormously guilty for their treatment of him last weekend. Ron in particular thought Hermione had been out of line, putting exams before their friendship, but then that was Hermione, so what could you do, Ron had asked, and Harry had to smile at that. When it came to Hermione and exams, there was absolutely nothing to do. Hermione’s letters remained tense and fussy all week, but Ron’s relaxed after Monday. After all he only had to sit the one exam and after it was over, he was glad to be free of it. From what Harry could tell though, neither Ron nor Hermione had said anything to Ginny about the effects the memory lessons were having on him. He was glad of that. He didn’t want to distract her from her exams, but more than that Harry knew he wanted any decision Ginny made about him to be free of pity or concern about it. Rather he wanted it to be a decision made from her heart.
In addition to his friends, Harry also heard from three of his colleagues at the ministry that week. There were two owls from Wendy with letters advising him on recovery techniques employed by Aurors who had been through the first war, prior to the new training being put into effect. Harry found some of these to be particularly useful. There was an owl from Kingsley asking for an assessment of the Beauxbatons students’ performance and standing in relation to their Auror training entry requirements. Harry responded to that one right away. It was the last owl though that brought Harry’s attention back to the business of the department and away from his own personal troubles, whether real or imagined, at least for the time being. It was from Robards his superior, requesting that he and the other trainees put their new training into practice by assisting the French Auror department in the field for the two weeks immediately following their training session. This would be followed by a three day work gap in the form of paid time off upon their return to regular field work at the British office.
Harry sighed. He would have to let Ginny and the others know immediately. They had all assumed he would be home again following this final week, but according to Robards he could expect to be assigned to help the French Department off and on throughout the summer, beginning with these first two weeks. This would definitely dip into his and Ginny’s plans, provided of course they ever had the chance to form them. Finally, the end of the week came and the more formalized portion of his memory training was complete. He would no longer be forced to use himself as a practice subject, and he would have the weekend to spend with family and friends.
Harry sent owls immediately letting everyone know the change in plans. But there was absolutely one plan he wasn’t going to change for anyone, that was to attend the Leaving Ceremony at Hogwarts. He wanted to be there in person to see so many of his former classmates and friends finish their school career. Deciding this was a day for family, when the day of the ceremony came at the end of the week, Harry decided to bring Teddy along too.
“Hi little guy,” Harry knelt to greet his godson, who was running towards him, as he arrived to pick him up at Andromeda’s house. “Hi Andromeda,” Harry added to the boy’s grandmother who hurried behind in the toddlers wake.
“Hello Harry,” Andromeda met him sounding a bit breathless. “Are you sure you want to take him? He’s become quite a hand full.”
Harry grinned at Teddy who darted around him, making an impromptu game of chase before allowing Harry to pick him up. Harry caught the boy as he tried to run between Harry’s long legs and tickled him until Teddy squealed with laughter, his hair turning black and messy complimenting his mischievous green eyes, their usual color whenever Harry was with him.
“You see what I mean?” Andromeda said. “He’s got so much energy! Dora was an energetic child too, but she was never like that. Of course Ted would tell me that’s the boy in him and it’s to be expected.”
“I suppose,” Harry said only half paying attention. “We really should get going though. Are you ready Teddy?”
“Let me get his bag for you,” Andromeda said and she hurried back to the front room while Harry continued to tickle and play with his god son. “Are you keeping him over night then?” Andromeda asked.
“I expect to. We’ll be back tomorrow about noon. I'll send a patronus if there’s been a change in plans.”
“I never worry about him when he’s with you. Well have fun, and enjoy the ceremony,” she called as she saw them out.
“We will,” Harry assured her as he walked down the steps or the cottage to the Apparition point. “We’ll see you tomorrow! Enjoy the rest.”
“I will!” Andromeda assured him.
Harry grinned and then turned on the spot. The next thing he knew he was jumping out of the way of the thestral drawn carriages that were bringing guests attending the ceremony from the train station up to the school. Harry hurried to the side, then walked along with several other people who were on foot as they joined the throng on the footpath up to the school.
The ceremony was being held in the Great Hall, and though the hall was crowded it was filled mostly with guests: only the graduating seventh year students were there, all the rest had gone home. The Great Hall had been arranged like an auditorium for the occasion with those going through the ceremony seated in front. Harry spotted the Weasleys seated with the Grangers as soon as he walked in and went to join them where the family stood near the back.
“Ron!” Harry called as he went to join his friend. “Why aren’t you sitting with the girls?”
“The ceremony’s only for the regular students Harry, not for us,” Ron said.
“Us?” Harry said with a start.
“Yeah well, any from our class who did the accelerated bit. McGonagall said there’d be a thing at the end about that, but it would be separate from this.”
“McGonagall said that? That’s great Ron, but surely you don’t think it would have anything to do with me.”
“Why wouldn’t it? You finished last fall,” Ron pointed out. “That was part of this school year.”
“Er, yeah but Ron…I didn’t think…” Harry started to say.
“Oh there you are Mr. Potter,” Professor McGonagall came hurrying up to Harry on his other side. “Thank goodness you weren’t late. I wanted to speak to you about the ceremony.”
“Professor,” Harry protested. “I’m here as a spectator, really.”
She studied him evenly over the tops of her glasses. “Hardly Mr. Potter. You are the first graduate from our accelerated program. The fact that you have gone on to other things which has included teaching the students in the DA both here and at Beauxbatons in the subject of Defense Against the Dark Arts only serves as testimony to the program’s success. Surely you won’t begrudge your old school the opportunity to highlight the accomplishments of our students this year and allow us our moment to be proud of our role in your success.”
“Well no but …” Harry jostled a restless Teddy in his arms as he tried to concentrate on what McGonagall was saying.
“But what Mr. Potter?” McGonagall asked sternly.
Harry sighed. “I’m not prepared.”
“You won’t have to speak,” she assured him.
“And what about Teddy?”
“I'll watch him for you during that part of the program dear,” Mrs. Weasley offered.
All the other Weasleys minus Ginny were all watching him. “Oh okay then, if you insist,” Harry acquiesced.
“Very well Mr. Potter. Please come forward when we announce the accelerated students’ portion of the program.”
Harry shrugged. “Okay, if you say so. I really wasn’t expecting this,” he sighed to Ron.
“It doesn’t matter Harry,” Neville said as he came to stand beside them. “You’re here, that’s what matters.”
Harry looked at his old classmate. “Neville, aren’t you part of the regular graduating class?” he asked curiously.
“Oh sure, I am, but I’ve been serving as an associate professor for the second half of the term too, helping Professor Sprout out in herbology,” Neville told him. He shrugged. “Lots of us have had an unusual year.”
“Yeah I guess,” Harry say.
“See you after Harry,” Neville called as he made his way to the front to sit with the rest of his classmates.
The rest of the audience was finding seats and sitting down, and Harry along with Ron and the rest of the Weasleys did too. Harry set Teddy on his feet and allowed him to wander up and down the long row of Weasleys, though he found he had to restrain him slightly when the little boy showed an inordinate amount of curiosity about eight week old Victoire who lay sleeping in Fleur’s lap, trying to poke her face with his fingers.
As is usual with ceremonies of that type, there were speeches by the top students in the class, which of course meant Hermione was one of the speakers. Harry glanced at Ron as she got up to speak. They both knew they owed much of their school career to the brains and persistence of this girl. Other students in the regular graduating class were honored too. The names of all the graduates were read, and one by one they shook McGonagall’s hand and received their certificates. Then at what should have been the end, McGonagall had everyone sit down again and read of a half dozen names, Ron and Harry’s names were among them. Harry cringed ever so slightly, but he did as he’d been told and handed Teddy over to Mrs. Weasley and followed Ron to the front of the hall.
“May I have your attention please,” Professor McGonagall said in her most penetrating voice. Students and guests alike settled down from their murmuring. Professor McGonagall was hard to ignore.
“Thank you,” she said as six former students stood behind her up on the platform. “The class we are graduating this year has been in all respects a very unusual class. Due to the circumstances that existed during the previous school year, many of those students who should have graduated a year ago were prevented from doing so by the conditions imposed on them, or us, by the war. Most of them chose to return to school and are a part of the graduating class you see seated here. A few of them however are not. Some had obligations and responsibilities thrust upon them by the end of that war which prevented them from returning. Others chose not to return for a variety of reasons. These former students have already taken up their places as productive members of our society.
“Of those who chose not to return however, six through their own initiative and determination, chose not to abandon their education but to continue it on their own. Though they were needed elsewhere, they asked for and were given the help by various staff members from this school in the form of accelerated, concentrated, after-hours programs which allowed them to complete their education more or less independently. Their effort is no less formidable than that of the rest of the students you see seated before you, and indeed may be more so for they have at the same time held down jobs, run businesses or have engaged in other activities which most of us would have considered full time occupations. At this graduation ceremony, I wish to recognize these students for their academic achievements and to acknowledge their continuing contribution to our society. They are, and please step forward as I state your name,” Professor McGonagall instructed.
“Mr. Neville Longbottom.” Neville stepped forward as Professor McGonagall continued to speak. “While Mr. Longbottom has attended classes with his regular classmates for most of the year, he has also attended evening classes in several subjects in order to make himself available to assist in various areas of the school. Mr. Longbottom has continued to oversee various areas of maintenance and repair that have become necessary since the battle was fought here last year. It is largely due to his efforts that much of the school was as usable as it has been during this past year. He also served as assistant professor to Professor Sprout, teaching first and second year Herbology classes thereby freeing more of her time to the restorative work associated with preserving the schools extensive magical botanical collection.”
Professor McGonagall paused as she read from a prepared scroll. “Miss Parvati Patil.”
Harry watched as Parvati stepped forward. He was surprised to see her at the front with them as he had also seen her at several of the DA meetings.
“Miss Patil like Mr. Longbottom has participated in a hybrid sort of program. While she began the year attending regular classes, over the holidays she was recruited by St. Mungo’s Hospital to begin her training in the healing arts in attendance with their increased patient load as a result of the war. Miss Patil, like several of these others continued her classes at night and on weekends to earn her NEWTS while also attending her basic healers program. In addition to these two very demanding activities, Miss Patil has worked very closely with Mr. Longbottom and Miss Weasley in coordinating with that student organization known as the DA to establish a healers branch. This early training in healing and first aide has prepared several of our students to be directly admitted into the healers program at St. Mungo’s this fall,” Professor McGonagall concluded. Harry applauded with everyone else for Parvati as she finished. He hadn’t known it was she behind the St. Mungo’s program.
“Mr. Harry Potter,” Professor McGonagall read out.
Harry stepped forward to the sound of thunderous applause, and a distinctive shriek from the back as Teddy responded to seeing him at the front of the room.
“Mr. Potter was the first student to finish our accelerated program,” Professor McGonagall began. “He did in fact finish most of his NEWT coursework and meet his examination requirements last summer before the term for this school year had even properly begun. His last class however, Transfiguration, he finished with me last fall, concurrently with beginning his training last September under the current Auror training program. This barely scratches the surface of Mr. Potter’s achievements this year however.”
A squeal from the back of the room temporarily interrupted Professor McGonagall and announced Teddy’s escape as a tiny little boy with black messy hair and bright green eyes broke free of Mrs. Weasley and made a bee line for Harry up on the platform. Harry never even hesitated. He simply knelt as Teddy ran up to him, scooped him comfortably up into his arms and stood patiently waiting for the professor to stop talking about him.
“As I was saying,” Professor McGonagall continued over the chuckle of the crowd, “Though Mr. Potter is still a trainee himself, he has gone on to make substantial procedural contributions to the Auror Department at the British Ministry. He has also been instrumental in implementing a newly designed Auror training program, including taking on the pre-training of students interested in becoming Aurors at both Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft and Beauxbatons Academy in preparation for their acceptance into the formal program at the British Ministry of Magic next fall. Due to Mr. Potter’s efforts, Minister Shacklebolt tells me that our seriously depleted Auror department will be able to replenish its ranks in no more than three years time, with a substantial number of those new recruits coming from the graduating class seated before us.” Here Professor McGonagall paused to look at a squirming Teddy still in Harry’s arms. “Might I also add that Mr. Potter has been thrust into the role of surrogate parent during this past year? As you can see, he has shown himself more than capable of caring for this orphaned little boy, his god son.”
“Mr. Dale Summerby,” Professor McGonagall read.
The boy Harry knew the least well stepped forward, looking extremely embarrassed to be there.
“Mr. Summerby like the rest of these students here has been called away from his regular studies by other commitments, in his case the needs of his family: caring for four younger brothers and sisters, two of which are in attendance here in their younger years, and two in muggle primary school, after the loss of both their muggle parents during the war. Caring for younger siblings is always a challenge, but especially so in a family such as his. Mr. Summerby has like his classmates, completed his education by attending classes at night and on weekends when other family members were available to assist him.”
Harry stared at the boy. He knew that muggles had been killed, and he knew children had been orphaned by the war, but how would it be to not only loose one’s parents but to be left with the care of four younger siblings in the offing, two of which apparently were still very small? He was having a hard enough time with Teddy and that was only one child to care for, and yet he knew Summerby was the same age he was. It was incredible.
“Finally, Mr. Ronald Weasley,” Professor McGonagall read.
Ron was the last to step forward.
“Mr. Weasley left school in support of his family last fall. His brother needed him as part of their family’s post-war recovery effort, and so he became a shopkeeper full time to do what was needed of him. It may sound like a familiar refrain by now, however he also continued his education via evening and weekend classes, and so he stands here before you having done both, supported his family when they needed him most, and obtaining his NEWTS for his future chosen career. Mr. Weasley will be one of those joining Mr. Potter as part of the Auror Department in the fall.”
Applause broke out as the six accelerated students were handed their certificates.
“Will those recruits joining Miss Patil please stand?” Professor McGonagall asked.
Ten from the seated graduating class stood up.
“Will those recruits joining Mr. Potter please stand?” Professor McGonagall asked.
Fourteen from the seated graduating class joined those already standing. All said that was nearly half the graduating class.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, this years graduating class and the hope of the wizarding world for the future!” the Professor concluded.
The applause that broke out at her proclamation was thunderous, whistles could be heard coming from the Weasley section, and the noise was so tumultuous that Teddy’s lip began to quiver at the noise. Harry spoke to him soothingly, and as soon as they were dismissed from the front, he and Ron made their way over to Hermione and Ginny, calling to the rest of the Weasleys across the hall, who were all waiting for them near the castle doors, promising to all meet at the Burrow shortly for the family’s own private celebration. Ron and Harry thumped each other and several of their classmates on the back as Ginny took Teddy. They all greeted and mingled with friends before taking their leave and apparating away.
It was nearly an hour later before the foursome plus Teddy arrived at the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley had outdone herself in preparing for the family party celebrating the Leaving Ceremony at Hogwarts. Hermione’s parents had joined them in celebrating their four graduates and she could hardly have been happier, though Harry kept trying to convince the other three that this was their day and to leave him out of it.
“This isn’t about me,” he told them all for what must have been the umpteenth time that day. “It’s about you lot. Let’s just celebrate and enjoy it.”
“Yeah Harry, like you had noting to do with it,” Ginny said pointedly.
“Well I didn’t,” Harry replied. “Not much at least,” he amended when Ginny glared at him.
“You know I would never have passed anything if things had gone on the way they were before the holidays,” Ginny reminded him. “You helped.”
“Yeah okay, just a bit,” Harry said. “I did try to at least motivate you.”
“You did Harry,” Ginny assured him.
“I think you must have inspired Ron too,” Hermione told him. “I know I couldn’t have gotten that burst of studying out of him there at the end like that.”
“Nah, I don’t think it was me Hermione,” Harry told her.
“I think it was,” Hermione insisted. “He saw how swamped you are and didn’t want you to keep going on like that, so I think it was you Harry.”
Harry exchanged a look with Ron.
“Not entirely,” Harry assured her.
Hermione looked blankly at Harry before turning to Ron.
“Hermione, a word?” Ron said. “Just for a minute?”
Hermione frowned. “Okay,” she said but she didn’t get up.
“In the sitting room?” Ron suggested.
Hermione looked puzzled but got up to follow him in. Several others got up to follow them; including Ginny but Harry held them back.
“Give them a minute you lot,” Harry told everyone.
Ginny met Harry’s eyes with a knowing smile while Mrs. Weasley looked suspiciously at him. A moment later when they heard Hermione squeal from the sitting room and shout ‘Yes’ no one had to wonder what was going on any longer. When they came back into the kitchen, the pair glowed, and though colored bright Weasley red, Ron had never looked happier. Harry came around to shake his friend’s hand.
“Congratulations mate,” Harry said seriously before pulling first Ron then Hermione into a three way hug.
The rest of the family hesitated momentarily as Hermione broke free of the boys and turned to her parents, her eyes shining brightly.
“Mum?” she asked hesitantly.
Mrs. Granger rose from her place at the table, her eyes intent on the happiness mixed with apprehension on her daughter’s face. Her husband was right behind her.
“Congratulations sweetheart,” she said enveloping her daughter in a hug.
“Me too pumpkin,” Mr. Granger echoed his wife’s words. “We only want you to be happy.”
Hermione was grinning ear to ear as she emerged from her parents embrace.
Ginny approached her saying, “Okay, let’s see.”
Hermione held up her hand sporting a brand new engagement ring. Suddenly everyone was talking at once. In addition to dinner and the Leaving Ceremony, everyone was now also talking about weddings. Harry fell uncomfortably silent as the conversation evolved and it became clear that Ron and Hermione intended to marry in somewhat less than a year. He glanced at Ginny who seemed to have the same thought. They’d already been engaged for six months, and not only had they not set a date, they had no definite wedding plans at all. It was inevitable that Mrs. Weasley would ask and of course before the evening was up she did.
Dinner was over and everyone was seated comfortably in the sitting room. Ron was seated on a chair with Hermione on his lap. Fleur was feeding Victoire, and Harry was giving Teddy a bottle with Ginny sitting beside him. All the rest of the Weasleys were grouped comfortably around the room talking in groups of twos and threes when Molly Weasley settled herself in a chair close to Harry.
“So, have you two decided when you’re going to get married yet?” Mrs. Weasley asked.
“Not until Harry finishes training Mum,” Ginny answered calmly.
“But why?” Mrs. Weasley asked. “Ron isn’t waiting, why do you think you have to?”
Harry glanced at Ginny.
“It’s what we agreed on Molly,” Harry told her truthfully.
“Ohhhh, but Harry, you don’t have to wait that long. We could make it a double wedding, wouldn’t that be nice?” Mrs. Weasley said longingly.
“No Mum,” Ginny said firmly. “Not a chance.”
“But Ginny dear, it would be so lovely! You and Hermione will make such lovely brides and Harry, you know you and Ron would be standing with each other anyway,” Mrs. Weasley told them.
Harry smiled down at Teddy, trying not to roll his eyes at his future mother-in-law’s eagerness to encourage them on with, if not take over completely, their wedding plans.
“Molly, I promise that Ginny and I will come up with a date between now and next Christmas, just as we planned. And once we do, Ginny is going to have the wedding she would like to plan. I promised her that much,” Harry told her firmly.
“Even if that means we get married before you do Harry?” Hermione asked.
Harry glanced again at Ginny, wondering what she was feeling about the timing. Ginny met him eye to eye in a way she hadn’t very often lately. They both had a lot going on in their lives in the coming year. A wedding would only complicate matters and neither of them felt ready to interrupt their professional lives just yet.
“It doesn’t matter,” Ginny said firmly. “We got engaged on our own time, we’ll get married on our own time too, just as planned. Right Harry?” she asked.
“If that’s what you want Gin,” Harry said as he sat Teddy up to burp him.
He was almost too big to do this with, but Harry had learned the hard way that if he didn’t burp him before putting him to bed, Teddy would be awake and howling in an hour with a stomach ache. Teddy let out a loud belch and Harry excused himself to go put Teddy down while the others talked. He was half way down the stairs again when Ginny met him coming up.
“Are you okay with this Gin?” Harry asked.
Ginny nodded but she frowned. “That’s what we planned Harry. I don’t think we should change our plans just because Ron and Hermione have finally made theirs, do you?”
Harry frowned too as he studied her face. She was saying what he’d expected to hear, but she didn’t look happy about it at all.
“Are you sure Gin?” Harry asked. “We could get married a year from now around the time they do if you want to.”
“But if we do that, Mum will push for it to be a double wedding Harry, and I don’t want that, do you?”
“Not really, but Ginny be serious for a moment, what’s our alternative? We said we’d get married two years from last Christmas remember? That’s eighteen months from now. Do you really want a December wedding?”
“Well no, I’d always pictured it being in the spring or the summer Harry, not in the dead of winter.”
Harry nodded. “Me too. What about late next summer then? Would that work? That would be near the time I make Auror junior grade, or at least I would if we stayed with the current training program.”
“Do you think you might be promoted before that?” Ginny asked.
Harry shrugged. “They’re re-doing the whole program starting in September Ginny, and Kingsley wants me in charge of a lot of it, so it might affect my position but I’m also still really a trainee, so I don’t know yet, but maybe. But even if they do promote me I think it will take an extra year to finish all the foreign programs I thought I’d be doing next year, what with organizing all that and the administrative work for this year’s class as well.”
“So you won’t really be finished next September even if we did stay with the original plan,” Ginny realized.
“Probably not,” Harry told her. “Which means I could probably get married any time. What about you though? What do the Harpies think about players being married?”
Ginny shrugged. “I’ve read the by-laws. There’s no rule against it, though I can tell from the roster that there are very few who are. Pregnant players aren’t allowed to play obviously, so most don’t get married until they’re ready start their families. We aren’t, are we?”
“Not yet,” Harry agreed. “We can’t even seem to take care of Teddy for more than a couple of days at a time. But Gin, what about us? I’m not allowed around the Harpies training facilities if we’re not married, and you still do want to get married, don’t you?”
“Of course I do Harry, but I really want to do this with the Harpies. Couldn’t I have at least one full season first?” she pleaded with him.
Harry stared down at her. Playing a full season would take her from this summer when training initially started, through the World Cup of next summer, another full year. Then if Ginny wanted to get married in the spring, they would need to wait another six months after that. Was it possible she wanted to put their marriage off even longer? Could it be true? With a bit of anxiety in his voice he asked,
“But Ginny, what about us? If you’re not allowed to spend nights away from the training facilities during the season and I’m not allowed in, when are we ever going to see each other?”
“I don’t know Harry. Maybe if we’re both traveling?” she suggested hopefully. “Maybe you could come to some of the games and we could get together afterwards?”
Harry sighed, closing his eyes as he leaned back against the wall of the stairwell, but he didn’t answer. He could foresee problems with that as well.
“We’ll work it out,” Ginny promised. “Look Harry, I’ve got a week off before I need to report for the training camp full time. I go on Monday just to get fitted for my uniform and photos and stuff, but then I can come home for the rest of the week, and I’ll have the practice and the game schedule by then so we can work on it together, okay?”
“Ginny, I can’t. It’s like I said in the owl I sent, their sending me back to France for the next two weeks to do field work with the French Aurors in the memory division. It’s sort of like the practical bit to the training we’ve been doing, but it’s going to keep me away during the week. I’ll get three days off at the end of that. Will that help?” Harry asked anxiously.
Ginny frowned. “I’ll be in training full time by then Harry, so I doubt it will.”
“Well we at least still have tomorrow though, and next weekend too, don’t we?” Harry asked hopefully.
But Ginny shook her head. “I’m supposed to report to the training camp next Saturday evening. I'll have the day but I really should be packing my things and getting ready. Practices start the following Monday,” she said.
Harry frowned but nodded. This was her dream and he didn’t want to discourage her from it, but the Harpies restrictions for their players were going to make things even more difficult than the Ministry restrictions for their employees did.
“Okay Gin. You just tell me when and I’ll try to be there,” Harry told her soberly. “At least I should have more time in the evenings now that the school year has ended. Maybe I can see you then? After practices?”
Ginny grimaced. “Let’s work on it tomorrow Harry. Everyone’s waiting for us right now.”
Harry nodded, put on a positive face and went back down the stairs. The conversation went back to circulating around everyone’s futures, Ginny’s position on the Harpies, Ron’s enrollment in the Auror training program, and Hermione it turned out had finally accepted a position at the Ministry in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures where as Harry had expected, she wanted to make a difference in the treatment of house-elves. Their futures seemed to be blossoming before them.
Harry was happy for his friends but he was unnerved by the change too. Their lives were pulling them all in different directions as they all got involved with different sorts of things. Even for himself and Ron, both of whom would be working for the Auror department, they wouldn’t be there as equals. In the short term at least, his friend was going to be reporting to him, so that would put an extra element of strain on their relationship. Never again would they have those days together like they’d been when they were all students at Hogwarts, doing similar things and helping each other to do them they way they had. They were adults now and the changes that was bringing surprised him, just a little.
The evening finally broke up and Harry and Ginny went home taking Teddy with them. Well Harry thought of it as home, and he thought Ginny did too, but he was once again reminded that she said she wasn’t yet ready to live with him, so maybe it wasn’t yet for her. Thinking of this Harry went to the drawing room after tucking Teddy in bed to consult the tapestry before turning in.
“I wondered where you’d gotten to,” Ginny said drawing her arms around his waist as she came up behind him. She saw Harry looking at her name. The symbol beside it was visiting rather than the house it that been for so long. Harry turned to look at Ginny in concern.
“I see it Harry,” she told him when she saw the anxiety in his face. “There for a while, while I was at Hogwarts, this was the place I thought of when I thought about going home,” she said.
“But not now?” Harry asked.
“It can’t be, not yet, can’t you see that? If I’m really going to try to be on my own for a while, I can’t keep thinking of it that way. I’m going to need to find my own place to stay when I’m not in training, at least for the next year,” she told him.
“But why do that?” Harry asked. “I’m barely here as it is. You can think of this as your place if you need it to be.”
“I need to be living closer to the Harpies training facilities than London, you know that. Besides Harry, you promised when we got engaged that I could have a year on my own first, do you remember? That’s the only reason I agreed…well maybe not the only reason, but that was a big part of it. I need you to keep that promise to me and to try to understand that I need this, okay?” Ginny said anxiously.
“Ginny, I’ve waited so long as it is to have you with me,” Harry said. “This house is ready for us, you have a place here. Are you sure you can’t just stay here with me?”
“I will for this week. I already told you that.”
“I know you did Ginny, and that’s great. I mean it would be if I were going to be here, but I guess what I don’t understand is, when you don’t have to be with the Harpies for practice or for games or anything, then why don’t you want to stay here?” Harry asked again. “Is it me Ginny? Is it us?”
“It’s none of those things,” she insisted. “Why do you insist on making this more difficult than it has to be?” Ginny asked stubbornly. “I already told you I need the time, and I’m going to take it Harry. And if you can’t accept that, then maybe we do need to rethink those other things.”
Harry felt stung by her words.
“Fine,” he said angrily. “If that’s what you need to do, do it. Forget about me.”
“Harry, that is not what I’m saying and you know it. This isn’t about us. Us I know about and am sure about. This is about me finding me. Please don’t keep making out that I’m trying to reject you by doing that, because I’m not. I haven’t changed the plan. I’m doing exactly what we thought I would do all along.”
“I said fine,” Harry repeated irritably.
“Well obviously it isn’t,” Ginny retorted with equal irritation. “I need you to be supporting me right now Harry, not working against me.”
“Me too Ginny. You have no idea how much I’ve needed you, needed somebody these past two weeks, and everybody’s been too busy. Please, don’t shut me out Gin. I need you.”
Ginny narrowed her eyes at her fiancé. “What do you mean you’ve needed me?”
“Never mind,” Harry said abruptly as his resolve not to burden her with his troubles snapped firmly back into place. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Harry?” Ginny said in a low tone.
“I said never mind.”
“What do you mean, you’ve needed me?” Ginny repeated.
Harry stared at her, arguing with himself. Should he tell her his fears, the nagging sense the memory training had left in him these past few weeks? Or instead of understanding it for what it was, would she interpret it as evidence that he was unwilling to support her decision to live on her own for a year? Harry couldn’t be sure, his mind felt muddled and his thoughts unclear. The only thing Harry knew for sure was, that if didn’t need her so desperately right now, he would have readily agreed to her plan. He knew under normal conditions he did agree. But these past few weeks had been far from normal for Harry, and now didn’t feel like the time to divulge the fact he’d been hiding things from her.
“I’m going out,” he said abruptly.
Ginny grabbed his arm as he turned to leave. “Talk to me Harry. That’s what you’re always telling me to do.”
“Yeah well maybe now’s not the time to do that,” Harry said sourly.
“Like you said, you’re hardly going to be here, so if you don’t talk to me now, just when did you think we’re going to do it?” Ginny demanded.
“Later. When things settle down a bit.”
“Harry,” Ginny said in a low growl. “You will not walk away from me like this.”
“I said later Ginny. We’re both too upset right now. If I tried to talk to you, we’d only end up in a fight,” Harry retorted.
“And what do you call this Harry?” Ginny shot back. “First you tell me I can have the year, then you try to go back on that. Then when we try to discuss it, you say it’s because you need me, like something’s going on with you, but you refuse to say what. Now when I try to listen, try to give you the chance to tell me, you refuse, telling me it’s not the right time.”
“Alright, you want to know what’s going on with me Ginny?” Harry said rounding on her. “It’s the Auror training Gin. It’s driving me crazy, they’ve been making me…” But Harry didn’t get to finish.
“Harry Potter, don’t you try to tell me that anything going on with you and that Wendy person, or things Kingsley’s telling you to do, or any of that crap, is reason enough for you to break your word to me on something as important to me as this.”
“That’s not what I’m telling you Ginny!” Harry cried in exasperation. “I’m not trying to break my promise to you. I’m trying to tell you what I need.”
“What you need is to keep your word Harry. Your conscience won’t be bothering you nearly so badly if you do.”
Harry glared at her breathing hard. How had this gotten so twisted around?
“My first instinct was right. We can’t talk about this, not now. I’m going out.”
Harry grabbed his wand and his cloak and stormed out the door, leaving Ginny feeling angry and bewildered staring after him.