Chapter 5 : Domestication
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The small cottage in Holyhead was remote, homely, and sturdy. Ron couldn’t imagine a place more fitting for his best friend and sister to have retreated to in the aftermath of the war and Hogwarts than this little house just by the coast, where escape from the hustle and bustle of the hectic wizarding world was just a quick apparition away.
The sea breeze caressed his hair as he crunched up the gravel of the garden path, and he felt his spirits lift immeasurably. Already he was assailed by memories of the place. Lugging in boxes and furniture when Ginny had first bought the place shortly after securing her contract with the Harpies, a multi-thousand galleon deal offered when an agent had seen her play at Hogwarts. Harry and he fighting with an intractable garden trellis which downright refused to be erected to be claimed by ivy when Harry had moved in, and Ginny had demanded they have a nice garden. Or Harry’s twenty-first birthday the previous July, where wards to keep paparazzi away had been so thick you could almost see them; a determined gathering of friends, family, and loved ones.
Ron’s eyes landed on the small, stone bench set in against the wall, intricately carved and worn by decades by the sea and ideally placed to catch the sunlight of a bright summer’s day, a spot where he and Hermione had whiled away more than one afternoon. Sometimes in the company of friends, sometimes when left alone, and…
He scowled to dismiss the memories, his good mood fading almost as quickly as it had risen within him, and so he wrapped his cloak around himself a little better to dismiss the faint chill in the seaside wind, and firmly rapped on the heavy wooden door with the knocker.
He heard a muffled noise from inside that sounded vaguely like Harry’s voice, then some clattering around until there was finally the noise of a key being fumbled in the lock and the door swung open.
His best friend stood in the doorway looking rather dishevelled and relaxed, a far cry from the picture of the war hero the media kept painting and looking exactly how Ron always thought of him. He grinned toothily. “Hey, mate, didn’t know you’d be swinging by this part of the world. Come on in.”
Ron trooped inside, by now moving with the confidence of someone in familiar surrounding. He hung up his coat on the stand in the hallway, which by now had a hook that habit had claimed as his, and moved towards the living room without needing prompting. “Thought I’d just check in, it’s been a while since we spoke. And longer since I popped around. Any chance of a cuppa?”
“So we’re forgoing the usual pleasantries until I’ve made an offering of tea, hmm?” Harry snorted with amusement, but made his way into the kitchen without objection.
“I figured it’d be best to get the ever-important cup of tea dealt with before we start.” Ron grinned to himself as he sat down in one of the overstuffed armchairs of the lounge, a broad, well-lit room with windows well situated for letting in rays of sun. The house was modestly furnished, neither of the occupants particularly inclined towards ostentatious displays of their joint comfortable wealth. In fact, the only things stopping the entire affair from looking like a painfully, stereotypically cosy domestic scene were the many, many, many magazines and catalogues strewn over chairs and the coffee table displaying a wide variety of decorations, locales, clothes, and foods for a wedding.
Considering the date seemed right around the corner as August loomed closer and closer, it quite often felt like very little had been actually finalised. Magazines still bore pictures of cakes, it looked like a dress hadn’t been finalised, and if one catalogue could be believed, flowers were still being negotiated. Funny. He could have sworn Ginny and Hermione arranged all of that back in February; had that needed re-evaluating again?
Cautiously, Ron poked through the magazine bearing various pictures of rather pompous looking groomsmen, keeping an eye out for any which had been marked out. If he could have any sort of warning on what he was going to be expected to wear, it would be rather useful. And if there were any ruffles to be seen, he was going to have to threaten the wedding with boycott until they were removed.
He didn’t think he’d win that war, but if he was lucky, Ginny would kill him for disrupting the proceedings, so he wouldn’t have to wear whatever atrocious item of clothing was being forced upon him.
Harry snorted as he ambled back into the room and identified Ron’s source of consternation immediately, holding two mugs and setting one down next to him on the coffee table. “Don’t worry. The girls are going to have it far worse. You’ll be perfectly understated in comparison.”
“That doesn’t mean a great deal,” Ron pointed out, easing himself back in the chair with a sigh. “I remember Dean’s wedding. If anyone tries to make me wear a top hat again, I’m going to feed it to them. And we looked like bloody beggars compared to the bridesmaids. They looked like Quality Streets.”
Harry peered at him suspiciously. “You know what Quality Street is?”
Ron shrugged. “I’ve spent Christmases with Hermione’s parents. I understand a lot more Muggle things than anyone ever should. I understand Mr Blobby.” He suppressed a shudder. “Well. I’ve seen Mr Blobby.”
Harry blinked. “Who?”
“Ah-ha. See, I’ve got you beaten on some of these Muggle things” Ron smirked victoriously, only for the smile to fade moments later as his mind raced through memories. “It’s all rather perturbing, really. There's a TV show with this pink creature with yellow spots and… well, I couldn’t really say no to John plying me with some of his whiskey when it was all over. And that was Christmas ’99.”
“I see.” Harry raised an eyebrow, hiding the rest of his expression behind a gulp of tea.
Ron scowled, putting down his mug and folding his arms across his chest as he realised he’d inadvertently allowed the subject of Hermione to crop up a lot sooner than he would have liked. Such as, at all. “Have you spoken to her?”
“Not in person since that Clarion interview. But we did chat over Floo the other day,” Harry admitted, looking almost sheepish. “She’s apparently rather busy at work right now. Something big’s come up. It’s probably that bill against House Elf abuse.”
“Oh, more pointless legislation for Pure Bloods to ignore.” Ron snorted – then immediately wilted under Harry’s accusing eye. “What?”
There was a pause, then his best friend just sighed and rolled his eyes. “Oh, nothing. Just… what’s the matter with you two? Everything was fine, you’d finally got it sorted, I thought you’d be moving in together when I left, then you started fighting like cats and dogs when our Auror training finished and, well, now… this.” Harry stumbled over his words towards the end, allowing the ‘this’ to hang in the air pointedly.
“I don’t know,” Ron confessed with a heavy sigh. “She worked late nights. So did I. We never seemed to be able to arrange a night off on the same day. We got… aggravated.”
“Late nights weren’t exactly a novelty when we were training. Considering how hands-on it was. You managed to cope; you scrounged every minute, made the most of things, and somehow made it work,” Harry said. “What made this different?”
“She seemed to spend more time at the office. More time doing her job, even when she didn’t have to. More time being mad about House Elves than being mad about… anyway. I don’t know,” Ron repeated, shrugging exaggeratedly and reaching for his tea.
Harry winced a little. “Have you spoken to her?”
“No.” There was a definite sulky tone present in Ron’s voice. “Don’t need to, do I. The Clarion says it all. ‘We aren’t as close as we used to be’. Pretty straightforward. I’ve got some stuff of hers, but I’ll get round to returning it. You know, when she deigns to communicate with me in person rather than by the mass media.”
There was a silence at this, Harry clearly having run out of things he was at least willing to say, and a few seconds passed of nothing more than determined tea-drinking. Then Ron lifted his head moodily. “Ginny around?”
A small, slightly wistful smile tugged at Harry’s lips. “She’s out. Wedding stuff. Shops. Today is a cake day.” From the stack of catalogues it was rather clear it wasn’t your average bakery product he referred to; from here Ron could see one magazine devoted entirely to types of icing, another to filling, and one to figurines. “Honestly, I had no idea you could get that many tiers on a dessert without it collapsing.”
“You should have seen my cousin Juliet’s wedding,” Ron reflected gloomily. “There wasn’t just a bride and groom figurine on the top, there was an entire wedding party. Dancing. They were edible, too, you just had to catch them. That was a challenge after half a bowl of punch, and no mistake. I accidentally elbowed cousin Alfie in the face, almost broke his nose…”
Harry laughed, leaning back on the sofa. “Well, I’ve left the matter in Ginny’s hands today. For once I have most cunningly escaped, rather than being expected to be there to nod and smile and agree with everything she says.”
“An intrinsic part of the decision-making process,” Ron agreed.
“Absolutely. I’ve done my bit on picking out what gazebo we want. I didn’t know there were different types of gazebos, to be honest – colours were enough of a bloody challenge – but you live and learn. This is my compensation. My day off.” Harry looked rather smug about this, taking a victorious sip of tea.
Ron nodded slowly, then paused as a thought occurred to him. “Doesn’t that mean she’s going to get to taste the different wedding cakes… you know, try out which is best, that kind of thing… and so you’re missing out on all of that?”
Harry gave him a look of utter betrayal, before draining his mug of tea, slamming it with intentional melodrama down on the table, and sitting up. “Alright, Weasley, why are you here?” he demanded, expression mock-indignant, wryly amused beneath it all.
“Just seeing how you are with your life of leisure, mate, that’s all.” Ron grinned toothily at him, for once enjoying the game of cat and mouse. It meant less time thinking about more frustrating subjects, from Hats to Hermione. “Wondering how it’s suiting you.”
It did indeed seem to be suiting Harry rather well. When the war had ended he’d gone straight into Auror training, and then immediately into active duty, a rather hectic state of affairs which had left its mark. Ginny had taken action when, four years after working incessantly to defeat a Dark Lord, Harry still hadn’t taken a break of any length, and arm-wrestled with his superiors until they’d given him a few months off. Time to help plan the wedding, time for the subsequent honeymoon. Time to relax, for the first time in his life. Time to be happy.
It had been some time since Ron had felt particularly jealous of his best friend – not being a target for murder by every madman in the country had helped him consider his own situation to be quite good – but he knew the sensation well, and so his efforts at clamping down on the familiar twist in his stomach were both well-practiced and fuelled by guilt.
“I’m doing fine. The garden’s looking good; flowers whose names I have no idea about look like they’re blooming, and I presume this to be positive. I’ve had a chance to keep my hand in with some Quidditch, joined in some kick-abouts with Ginny’s team-mates at the stadium. No Voldemort, no dark wizards, no ending of the world.” Harry leaned back again, smiling a broad and lazy smile. “You should try it some time.”
“Maybe when you’re back. Somebody’s got to keep the office in one piece. Not to mention the whole bloody country,” Ron said wryly.
“True. So why are you here?” Harry asked again, the question this time slipping out lazily, but making it clear he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “Can’t be stuff at the office, because you know Ginny would have your guts for garters.” There was a slightly conspiratorial look about him at this, and he leaned forwards a little furtively. Ron could tell his best friend almost wanted him to be smuggling in forbidden Auror business.
It was just as well the current situation fell into a loophole, then, as it suited everyone’s interests. Also, it avoided evisceration at the hands of Ginny, which was a plus. “I need a look at the Marauder’s Map.”
Harry didn’t react to this immediately, just tilted his head. “I heard you’ve been doing some work for McGonagall lately. Helping her sort things out before retirement. Strikes me as a little odd for an Auror.”
“Yeah, well, there aren’t many cases which come the way of an Auror who doesn’t have a partner,” Ron pointed out smoothly, then grinned. “So this is more something… freelance.”
“Freelance, hm?” Harry returned the smirk. “McGonagall got you hunting down First Years wandering the corridors at night? Looking into prefect corruption? Theft of supplies from the kitchen?”
“Actually, something more serious.” Ron rubbed his hands together, expression sobering a little as he leaned forwards. “The Sorting Hat’s been nicked.”
The look on Harry’s face must have born quite a similarity to Ron’s own expression when he’d first heard this fact. “What?” The question held mild amusement as well as disbelief.
“No kidding. Just disappeared out of McGonagall’s office a few nights ago.” Ron ran a hand through messy hair, dimly surprised when he realised that it had been such a short time ago, and how much more tired he’d become in that period. “Nobody came through the door, nobody came through the windows. I can’t tell where the Hat moved to. So I’m wondering if there are any secret entranceways that even the headmistress doesn’t know about.” Or is helpfully not telling me.
Harry scratched his chin thoughtfully, standing up and gesturing vaguely for Ron to wait before he left the room. Ron was all too happy to sit and finish the tea, for he knew without being told where Harry was going. In the kitchen there was a door to the cellars, and although these cellars were still home to the boxes of wine and the Christmas decorations and all manner of domestic items, there was also an old, battered trunk which had seen many trips to Hogwarts and been dragged across the country, tucked into one corner. The trunk was protected with as many charms as the combined efforts of the newest generation of Britain’s Aurors could think of.
For inside was anything and everything Harry had picked up over the years that he would no longer use, but which he did not wish to fall into the wrong hands. The Invisibility Cloak was in his closet, useful for a variety of missions – but with Hogwarts long behind him, the Marauder’s Map, amongst other things, was relegated to this dark corner, probably waiting for the next generation of misbehaving Potters to earn such a bequeathing.
It took Harry longer than strictly necessary before he came back into the living room, but this was no surprise to Ron. The trunk had so many little odds and ends in there that opening the lid was like opening the door to nostalgia. If Ron himself hadn’t been in the house, he wouldn’t have been surprised if Harry had ended up spending the rest of the afternoon poking over old relics, pictures, odds and ends.
The map looked the same as ever, though Ron’s familiarity with it paled in comparison to Harry’s own. His best friend laid it out on the coffee table, unfolding it entirely before leaning in.
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
Ron actually looked away as the text began to scroll across the parchment. He knew what seeing the names appearing did to Harry, and could do without bearing witness again to the glint of sadness in his friend’s eyes they summoned. Moony, Padfoot, Prongs, and… the other one.
“So. The headmaster’s office.” Ron looked back as Harry leaned over the map, ink scrawling across the parchment to show the walls of Hogwarts they both knew so well. Though he’d seen it a thousand times, its magic never failed to amaze him, and not for the first time he wished he’d had more in-depth conversations with Sirius and Lupin about how they’d made it.
Of course, back then, he hadn’t really appreciated how much work had to have gone into something like this.
The headmaster’s office was empty, and it took Ron a second to locate the small dot of McGonagall, wandering the corridors on some prowling patrol of her extended territory. Across the rest of the school he could see the progress of other names he recognised – though they were fewer and further between these days – as Hogwarts ambled along its everyday business.
“That’s the main stairway up,” Harry mumbled, tracing the markings with a finger. “That’s the main door…”
“And he’s a right miserable git, I’ll tell you that for nothing.”
Harry chuckled wryly, not lifting his gaze. But both of their expressions sobered within a few seconds of surveying the scene before them, until Ron gave a deep sigh, slouching back in the chair.
“Nothing. There’s no other bloody way in or out, is there?”
There was a pause as Harry continued staring at the map, as if further examination would reveal anything different. Then he shook his head. “I’m sorry, mate.”
Ron made a small noise of exasperation, running his hands through his hair. “Then how the bloody hell did the thief get in and out?”
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