"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 couldn't help but smile. He was 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 was 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?"
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 told him. "Before she puts us to work."
Harry nodded and the two of them hurried up the stairs to Ron's room. It was practically Harry's room too, since he had spent as much of their time out of school as he could there. Ron didn't mind - Harry had become an extra brother to him, and they were best friends, after all.
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."
The sun was shining - how ironic, Ginny thought - on the morning of the day that Fred would be buried. It looked like it would be a beautiful day, she thought as she followed Hermione down the stairs. 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.
About an hour later the guests had started arriving. Kingsley, dressed in black for once, was going to lead the ceremony and was now standing in the garden, talking quietly to Hestia Jones. Professor McGonnagall had arrived as well, and she was in the middle of a rather loud discussion with Lee Jordan, Fred and George's best friend from Hogwarts. 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 alright 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.
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.
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 Fred." After a nod of approval from Kingsley, he continued: "I got to see you as an old man once, Fred. 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, Fred? 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 is.
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 be a witness to. 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.
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.
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.
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