Chapter 27 : Epiphany
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As he chewed, Ron’s sleep-addled brain churned through the collection of random thoughts that floated through his mind. They connected and disconnected, forming loose patterns and associations before drifting free once more.
First of all, he thought about Percy and Audrey. Percy had sent them a photograph, taken at their wedding in the spring, and it was propped up on the mantlepiece opposite. In the picture, the newlyweds were posing for the photographer in the orchard at the Burrow. That was more than two months ago now, but every time Ron looked at it, he thought that he had never seen Percy look quite so as happy. On his arm, Audrey almost seemed to glow - which was quite extraordinary, because Audrey really was a mousy little thing. That, Ron supposed, was what happened when you met the right girl and snapped her up quickly.
Then, his thoughts turned to Harry, as they so often did these days. Ron was still terribly worried about him. He knew that Harry had loved Ginny very, very much. Still did, if Ron was reading his friend’s behaviour correctly. Ron had always assumed that the pair of them would work out their differences in the end - at least, once he had gotten over his initial fury with Harry. Now, though, with Viktor on the scene, it looked like Harry had missed his chance. Ron wasn’t at all convinced that Viktor could ever make Ginny happy, but he supposed she had to choose her own path. Ron cast a glance at the empty chair at the end of the table where Harry usually sat. This morning, he was absent, still sound asleep (Ron assumed) following his night shift. Ron felt a pang of guilt when he realised he was relieved he wouldn’t have to look at his friend’s haggard face.
Opposite him, Hermione poured herself some more tea, and then leaned over to top up Ron’s mug too. She didn’t ask whether he wanted any more tea, just knew that he would. Then she sat back down and continued poring over the a pile of parchment that was liberally covered in official Ministry stamps. Ron vaguely remembered her telling him that she had a very important meeting with some members of the Wizengamot that day, although he couldn’t for the life of him recall what it was about. As he watched her, she chewed the end of her quill, then frowned and began to write copious notes in the margins of the parchment. Ron could see the colour of the ink changing as she wrote, without Hermione appearing to cast any sort of spell. He shook his head in admiration.
Whenever he thought about Hermione, he was bowled over by his good fortune. She was pretty, and clever, and funny. Brave and talented. A rising star at the Ministry. Privately, Ron still thought she was way out of his league, and yet she had stuck with him for three years now, even tolerated living with him for half of that. He still couldn’t quite believe his luck.
Gradually, these three thoughts began to settle in Ron’s mind, dropping into place like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Harry had lost the love of his life and everything else around him had become a total train-wreck. Percy had married Audrey, and the pair of them practically radiated happiness. Hermione was a witch in a million. When it finally arrived, the realisation hit him like the Hogwarts Express at full pelt: He wanted what Percy and Audrey had. He did not want to end up like Harry. He wanted to marry Hermione. Ron stopped chewing and dropped his toast. Tentatively, he tested out the idea in his mind.
I want to marry Hermione.
I want to marry Hermione.
I want to marry Hermione.
This is Hermione Weasley.
This is Hermione, my wife.
The more he played with the words, the better they sounded. Suddenly, his mind was racing. How did you go about getting someone to marry you? Well, of course Ron knew he would have to ask her. Okay, that was fine; they had the house to themselves that evening, as Harry was on the night shift. Ron could ask her after dinner. But that meant he would need to get hold of a ring, and quickly too. Well, that was fine too. He had the day off today, so he could go straight to Diagon Alley after Hermione left for work. But what sort of thing would she like? Hmm. Well, I’m sure there will be something nice at Golightlys. How hard can picking a ring be?
“Ron? Ron!” Hermione’s voice broke into his reverie. Ron sat up straight in his chair, startled. He wasn’t sure how long he had been staring into space and thinking about engagement rings. It was certainly long enough for the post to arrive, because a familiar tawny owl was sitting on the table. Hermione had already untied the note from its leg, and was trying to hand it over. “It’s for you. Looks like it’s from George. And eat your eggs before they get cold.” She indicated the plate sitting on the table in front of him, delivered by Kreacher without Ron even noticing.
Ron picked up his fork and began to shovel eggs into his mouth with one hand, using the fingers of the other to wheedle open the envelope. He quickly read the note it contained, covering it with greasy fingerprints as he did so. “Yes, it’s from George,” he said. “He’s asked to meet us for lunch today at the Leaky Cauldron. Everyone’s invited, the whole family.”
“Really? That’s odd. I wonder what he wants?” Hermione finished the last of the tea, and busied herself rolling up her parchment.
“I dunno. Can you make it?”
“No, I can’t,” said Hermione, looking disappointed. “My meeting with Romulus Coutridge about the Magical Creatures Rights Directive is just after lunch. I’ll have to work right through if I’m going to be ready.” She stood up from the table and retrieved her jacket from the back of her chair. “It’s a shame, I didn’t really get to talk to him much at the wedding. It would have been nice to see him today. We’ll have to go and visit soon.”
“Yeah. I’ll see if I can sort something out today.”
“What are you going to do with your day off?” asked Hermione, as she buttoned up her jacket.
“Erm... not sure,” Ron replied, evasively.
“Well, see if you can find something productive to do.” She smiled indulgently at him, then dropped a kiss onto his forehead. “Give everyone my love, won’t you?” And with that, she was gone.
Ron waited until he heard the front door slam, and the faintest hint of a ‘pop’ as Hermione disapparated. Then he hurried back upstairs to his bedroom to retrieve the key to his vault at Gringotts. Right then, Ron. Time to go shopping!
A few hours later, Ron walked out of Golightly’s jeweller’s shop, feeling nauseous. The number of galleons he had just spent on the tiny package in his pocket was astronomical. And I thought dress robes were expensive! He meandered up the street, looking in random shop windows without really seeing what was inside, still shocked at how much the little diamond ring had cost him. It wasn’t even that big compared to some of the enormous rocks in the shop. But I’m sure Hermione will like it. She isn’t the flashy type. Oh Merlin, I hope she likes it! Every so often, he panicked that he might have lost it, and had to search though his pocket until his fingers found the little box and he could relax. It happened three times before he lost patience and charmed the pocket shut.
Ron had made it as far as Flourish and Blotts when a familiar voice hailed him. “Ron! Hello, little brother!” It was Bill, holding Fleur’s hand and smiling broadly. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“Are going to ze Leaky Cauldron, Ron?” asked Fleur, as the three exchanged greetings.
“Bloody hell, is it that time already?” Ron fumbled for his watch, and was surprised to realise it was indeed lunchtime. It was very unlike his stomach not to remind him of that fact. I really must be in shock! He smiled wryly, realising that for once, it wasn’t being in close and unexpected proximity to his sister-in-law that was making his head a bit fuzzy.
“Are you feeling alright, Ron?” asked Bill, looking concerned. “You look a bit pale.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just... um... hungry. Yeah, I’m hungry.”
“Then we’d better get going,” nodded Bill, apparently satisfied with the excuse.
George had reserved a table at the pub, so even though the Leaky Cauldron was busy, the three Weasleys had no problem finding a seat. By the time Ron had sipped his way through a glass of butterbeer, he was feeling considerably more calm. Ron, Bill and Fleur were the first to arrive, but rest of the Weasleys weren’t far behind. Ron’s mother was next, followed closely by Mr Weasley, Percy and Audrey, who flooed in directly from the Ministry. Then came Charlie, who remarked how fortunate it was he happened to be in the country between assignments. Finally, Ginny arrived from Wales.
“Does anyone know what all this is about?” she asked, as she pulled up a seat at their table? “I can’t be long, we’ve got a match this evening, and I have to meet the rest of the team in a couple of hours.”
“No. I haven’t heard a peep from George since Percy got married. Then I get this letter out of the blue, and he just expects us all to drop everything we’re doing and come running. Honestly, that boy!” Mrs Weasley’s voice was sharp, but Ron didn’t miss the sparkle of excitement in her eyes that told him how much she was enjoying a bit of drama and an unexpected day out.
“But we all did, though, didn’t we?” observed Ginny. “Come running, I mean. To be honest, it’s lucky he caught me. If he had picked tomorrow, I wouldn’t have been here. Viktor is taking me away for the weekend.”
“Oh, how lovely!” said Mrs Weasley. Ron recognised his mother’s tone as the one she used when she was trying to persuade her children to do something they didn’t really want to, all false enthusiasm and forced jollity. He winced slightly, and realised she must share his own opinion about Ginny’s relationship with Viktor. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know.” Ginny shrugged. “All he’s told me is that I can expect a really special surprise.”
“Zat is so romantic!” commented Fleur.
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Ginny. Ron didn’t think his sister sounded at all certain. He stored that little nugget away in the back of his brain for later.
A few minutes later, George sauntered up to the table. Angelina was with him, and the pair had their arms wrapped around each other’s waists. As he approached, George cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “Everyone here?” he asked. “Excellent.”
“What’s this all about, George?” asked Mrs Weasley, looking at her son suspiciously.
“Don’t worry, Mum. I don’t need you to stump up bail money or mend any broken limbs!” joked George. “Actually, it’s good news. I wanted to get you all together to tell you in person. Yesterday, I asked Angie to marry me, and I delighted to report that she said yes.”
The entire Weasley family all started to speak at once, congratulating George and Angelina. Mrs Weasley and Ginny both hugged Angelina, while George was clapped on the back so many times, Ron thought that everyone else in the pub probably thought he was choking.
“Can we see the ring, Angelina?” asked Ginny.
Angelina held out her hand with an uncharacteristic shyness. Ron’s were not the only eyes that widened as everyone took in the size of the rock that was sparkling on the ring finger of her left hand. He patted the pocket of his robes, feeling the box inside. Hermione’s ring was tiny by comparison.
Mrs Weasley was the first to recover herself. “Goodness gracious! That diamond is enormous, George! You must have spent a fortune!”
George gave his mother a sheepish grin. “Well, it didn’t come out of a Christmas cracker, that’s for certain! But the shop’s been doing brilliantly, and nothing’s too good for Angie, so I thought I might as well splash the cash.”
“How did he ask you, Angelina?” asked Audrey.
Angelina smiled at George. “He asked me in the back room of the shop, yesterday, as we were closing up.”
“Zat does not sound very romantic, George!” Fleur’s brows creased delicately.
“That’s what I thought at first,” agreed Angelina, “but George had arranged for the ring to be a portkey. When I picked it out of the box, it took us to Paris! We had the most amazing dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower!”
“Ah! Zat is lovely!” Fleur nodded her approval. Then she beamed at her husband. “When Bill proposed to me, ‘e took me to ze beach, near to Shell Cottage, just ‘as the sun was setting. ‘E ‘ad written ‘is proposal in ze sand. When I said yes, ‘e conjured a shower of red rose petals, like confetti. So, beautiful! Zen, we went to ze cottage, where ‘e ‘ad champagne to drink and lobster to eat. It was ‘eavenly!”
“Champagne! What an excellent idea!” George announced, and headed to the bar. The rest of the family fell into excited wedding chatter, but Ron just looked down at the table, fighting a growing feeling of panic. Portkeys? Paris? Rose petals? Lobster? His plan to propose to Hermione in the kitchen after dinner suddenly felt incredibly inadequate. It had never crossed his mind that other people went to so much trouble.
Percy, sitting to Ron’s left, didn’t seem to notice his brother’s discomfort. “Well, I certainly hope George is prepared for how much work is involved in planning a wedding,” he opined. “There’s so much to think about. They’ll need bridesmaids, a best man, ushers, cake, music, chair covers, a table plan, food, drink and rings, and that’s just for starters. They have to think about catering for people with allergies, and keeping people that don’t get on apart, deal with all the people that are disappointed not to be invited, that sort of thing. There really is an awful lot to do.” Ron’s heart sank even further. He hadn’t got as far as thinking about an actual wedding. It really did sound like a lot of work, now that Percy mentioned it.
On Ron’s other side, Angelina was telling Mr Weasley that she and George were planning on a long engagement. “We’re not in any hurry. It probably won’t be for a couple of years at least.”
“I have to say I think that’s a smart decision,” Ron heard his father say. “When I married Molly, we were both very young. I don’t regret it for a moment, but there were times when it was a struggle, and I wished we had waited just a bit longer. It would have made things a lot easier for us.” Then, Mr Weasley swung around to look at his youngest son, before punching him playfully on the shoulder. “Still, I’m glad that Ron here hasn’t thought about getting married yet. Far too young to be tying yourself down yet, aren’t you son?”
Ron tried hard not to look glum as he felt. A wedding was a complex miracle of organisation according to Percy, and Ron couldn’t organise his way out of a paper bag. Bill and George had both planned incredibly romantic and elaborate proposals, but Ron didn’t think he had a romantic bone in his body. Even his father, the man who eloped when he was just eighteen, thought Ron was far too young and irresponsible to be getting married. Between all that and the tiny ring he had bought, there was no way that Hermione was going to say yes.
Ginny drained her glass of pumpkin juice and put the empty glass back on the table. She looked enviously at the full flute of champagne in front of Ron. It had been there untouched for about half an hour. He’s lucky I have a match today, otherwise it would already have been gone! she thought to herself. She wondered again what was wrong with her brother. He seemed so distracted, and she thought about trying to get him on his own to check that there wasn’t something seriously wrong. She was sure she wasn’t the only one to notice Hermione’s absence, and hoped that it didn’t signal anything unpleasant. Just then, the clock above the bar chimed for half past three, and she realised with a jolt that she was already late for the meet time with the Harpies. And I’ve still got to get home and collect my kit bag! Not to mention explain to Viktor where I’ve been.
She had to suppress a grimace as she bid a hasty farewell to her family. It seemed to happen all too regularly now when she thought about Viktor. Their disagreement on the day of Percy’s wedding had marked a real turning point in their relationship, the first sign of troubled waters ahead.
To begin with, it had been fine. Wonderful, even. Through January and February, he had made her very happy. He was so attentive, so keen to spend time with her. Now, though, a few months down the line, she had seen a very different side to him. His attentiveness could be stifling and his constant enquiries regarding her whereabouts felt possessive. Everything they did seemed to be on his terms; he chose where they ate, what they did and who they visited. If she had the temerity suggest an alternative, then an argument was sure to follow. It invariably ended with Viktor sulking, and Ginny thoroughly irritated with him.
As she picked her way through the busy pub towards the apparition point, she forced herself to be fair to Viktor. She knew that he meant well. As he often explained, Ginny was so much more spirited and independent than the girls Viktor had dated before. He wasn’t used to compromising, as those who had come before her simply bowed to the will of the great Viktor Krum. It was her spark and her determination that attracted him to her. And Ginny couldn’t deny that, as long as he was getting his own way, Viktor was very good company.
Moments later, Ginny was back in Holyhead. As she hurried through the front gate to her house, she wasn’t at all surprised to find Viktor waiting for her. He was leaning against the door jamb and looking pointedly at his watch.
“I know, I know!” she muttered, trying to cut off any impending argument as she started the complex process of removing the locking charms on the doors. It was, as she suspected, in vain.
“It is not good enough, Ginevra,” snapped Viktor. “You have kept me vaiting for thirty minutes!”
“Then you can wait for another two while I grab my bag.”
“It is not just me, Ginevra! You are late for the meet time. Gvenog will not be happy.”
“Don’t you think I know that, Viktor? I’ll be as quick as I can.”
She ignored the way Viktor shook his head, and muttered under his breath in Bulgarian, glad she didn’t understand whatever oath he had chosen. Instead, she dashed through the house, grabbing her kit as quickly as possible. Then, she hastily snatched Harry’s amber necklace from her dressing table before fastening it around her neck and tucking it out of sight under her robes. She had barely set front outside the front door before Viktor grabbed her arm, and together they apparated to the stadium. As soon as they arrived, Ginny made towards the changing room, but Viktor pulled her back towards him and gave her a kiss that left her breathless.
“I am sorry that I shouted at you, Ginevra. You know that I love you, yes?”
“Yes, of course I do Viktor!” she protested.
“Now, run along, quickly. Do not make Gvenog even more angry!” And with that, Viktor turned on his heel and headed towards his customary perch, high up in the stands.
The first person Ginny saw as she made her way to the changing rooms was Cosima. The tiny round witch was on the bench for that day’s game, so she was clad in her training kit. Her eyes widening in alarm when she saw Ginny approaching.
“Where have you been?” she squeaked.
“My brother got engaged and he organised a family lunch to celebrate. I just lost track of time,” explained Ginny.
“Ooh, that sounds lovely,” replied Cosima, enthusiastically. Then her expression darkened. “But you should get to the changing rooms as quickly as you can, I think.”
“Gwenog’s on the warpath then?” Cosima nodded, and Ginny sighed. “I guess we’ll be warming the bench together then.”
“No, it isn’t you she’s angry about. The Montrose coach got caught trying to charm the bludgers to avoid their players, and Gwenog’s spent the last hour demanded he gets sent to Azkaban. You’re lucky, she’s been so busy throwing a hissy fit about that, she hasn’t noticed you’re late. But you should hurry up and get changed, though, before she calms down enough to realise.”
Relieved by her good fortune, Ginny made her way quickly to the changing rooms and slipped into her match robes. She was just in time to join the rest of the team as they headed for the pre-match briefing. Gwenog was so furious about the Bludger incident that her team pep-talk consisted of little more than a tirade on the subject of cheating and sportsmanship, ending with an instruction to her team to make sure that they didn’t “leave a single one of the buggers on their brooms at the final whistle.”
Gwenog may have failed to spot the contradiction in her speech, but it certainly had the desired effect. The Harpies were on fire, and despite her hurried preparation, Ginny played like a woman possessed, channelling all her irritation with Viktor into her game. The score was 230 points to 40 even before the Harpies Seeker got her glove on the Snitch. Ginny had scored more than half of the Harpies goals, and after the match, she found herself in the middle of a scrum of reporters clamouring for quotes and interviews. By the time she finally made it back to the changing rooms, all the other girls were leaving. Unperturbed, Ginny flopped down onto the benches feeling sweaty, exhausted, and very, very happy with her performance. Valmai, who had scored eight times herself, grinned and sat down next to her.
“I’ll wait for you while you get changed,” she said. “Cosima told me your brother got engaged. Isn’t he going out with Hermione Granger?”
“No, not that brother. I can’t imagine Ron ever getting his act together and proposing to Hermione,” she giggled. “No, it was George. He’s a couple of years older than Ron.”
“Oh, right. Romantic, was it?”
“Yes, he took her to Paris with a concealed Portkey. And you should see the size of the diamond he gave her. Honestly, it’s obscene!”
“Sounds very nice.”
“I don’t know. I thought it was a bit over the top, to be honest,” said Ginny, standing up and starting to peel off her match robes. “I’d prefer something a bit more low-key, I think.”
“You wouldn’t complain, though, would you?”
“No, I suppose not. But I’d hope that anyone I was seriously thinking about marrying would know me well enough to judge it a bit better.” Ginny picked up her towel, and turned to head towards the showers.
“You’re a hard woman to please, Ginny Weasley, but you’re prob...” The words died on Valmai’s lips and her eyebrows rose up her forehead in surprise. “Ginny? What’s that around your neck?”
Ginny’s hand flew to her throat. She had forgotten about the pendant, no longer concealed beneath her clothing. “Nothing,” she said, embarrassed, pulling her towel higher to hide the necklace again.
However, Valmai’s quizzical gaze confirmed that she wasn’t fooled for one moment. “That’s funny, because it looks very much like the pendant that Harry gave you,” she said.
“Yes. Well. I always wear it for matches. It’s... lucky.”
“It’s... lucky,” parroted Valmai. “And that’s the only reason, is it, Ginny?”
Flustered, Ginny busied herself by fishing around in her kit bag for some shampoo. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Valmai was quiet for a moment and Ginny thought that her fiery friend might be about to launch into a lecture about cutting off her feelings for Harry. Not that I have any, she swiftly reminded herself. But when Valmai spoke again, her voice was soft and thoughtful.
“You know, Ginny, when you and Harry were together, you used to talk about him all the time. You used to tell little stories about him, or drop his name into the conversation, and you had this glow about you whenever you did. It was as though thinking about him always made you smile. You’re not like that with Viktor, not at all. You barely even mention him, you know, and when you do, it’s usually to complain about him. Now I find you’re still wearing Harry’s necklace, and I can’t help but think that you’re being very dishonest about the whole thing.”
“I am not!” responded Ginny, hotly.
Valmai didn’t rise to the challenge in Ginny’s voice though. She kept her dark eyes level and calmly focused on Ginny’s. “Yes you are, Ginny, although I know you don’t mean to be. There’s nothing malicious about it. But I see the way that Viktor looks at you. He adores you, Ginny. And you just don’t feel the same way, do you?”
“He’s my boyfriend! Of course I do!”
“Really? Because that’s not the impression you give. He tries really hard to please you, but you always push him away. It’s because of Harry, isn’t it?”
“No! I’m completely over Harry!” Ginny fought the urge to cross her fingers behind her back.
Valmai sighed. “You know I want that to be true Ginny. But even if it is, you can’t seriously tell me that everything is a bed of roses between you and Viktor.”
“No. Well. Maybe not. I know he really cares about me, but he wants to keep me on such a tight rein that I find it very difficult.” Ginny looked down at her feet. “We fight a lot. More than... More than I think is healthy.”
Valmai reached out and took her friend’s hand, and Ginny looked up to find nothing but concern on her dark features. “Ginny, I just want you to be happy. Are you happy with Viktor? Really?”
“Yes! No. Oh, I don’t know.” Ginny slumped back against the wall, her earlier jubilation now replaced with confusion. “I want it to work out between us, Valmai, I really do. Maybe I just need to work harder at it.”
“Maybe.” Valmai’s voice was soft and non-committal.
“Viktor is taking us away for the weekend tomorrow. I hope it’s going to be a fresh start for us.”
“Well, be careful, Ginny,” said Valmai, drawing her friend into a hug. “Please. With your feelings, and with Viktor’s. I’m worried that you’ll both get hurt.”
A/N - I am so, so, sorry that it's taken me so long to post this chapter! It's been over 2 months, which is a record amount of tardiness, even for me! If you're still sticking around, then thank you! I hope you enjoy this chapter, it's a little lighter in tone. And for those of you badgering me about Harry and Ginny... well, I hope this chapter cheers you up a bit:-) Thanks as ever to the awesome CambAngst for his sterling services as world's best beta-reader - you make such a difference to my wriring! He has a couple of new stories for you all to read, and I particularly recommend Detox, which is a fab Draco/Astoria story.
So - if you enjoyed this chapter, please do leave me a review. I would love to know what you think!
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