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The Runaway Returns by HPForevermore
Chapter 24 : Eve of the Wedding
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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“You have brooms, don't you, Harry?” asked George.

The question shattered the silence of Lionheart Manor’s kitchen and startled Harry as he finished his lunch.  He turned abruptly to see the five Weasley brothers bottling up the entrance of the kitchen from the side hallway that led to the foyer to the left and the dining room and butler pantry to the right.  Alarmed by their sudden appearance, he knocked his glass of pumpkin juice from the table with his right arm and found the butter dish with the elbow of his left. 

“Smooth, Harry!  Very smooth,” chuckled Ron as the of redheaded horde entered the kitchen.

“Master Harry!  Master Harry!  Several of the Weasleys have already arrived, and Master Longbottom as well!” called a squeaky voice from somewhere beyond the doorway.

“Thanks, Brillare, I can see that.  Can you have some of the other elves help you take their bags to their assigned rooms?”

“Yes, Master Harry!” called the tiny elf from beyond.

“You’re early,” Harry addressed the horde as he cleaned up the spill and scourgified his shirt sleeve.

“I hope you don’t mind, Harry, but we thought one last quidditch match was in order for the bachelor,” replied Charlie.

Harry nodded.  “Well, that’s seven of us and there are ten brooms.  So, I guess it’ll be three aside with a keeper?”

“Actually, there are eight of us, Harry…” started Bill.

“Did I miscount?” asked Harry, cutting across Bill.

“Er, no.  Ginny’s behind us,” Bill replied.

The small horde parted and there stood Ginny, looking alluring as ever.  Her hair was pulled back into a pony tail and she sported a radiant smile.  At her sudden appearance, Harry’s head fell back involuntarily as he looked to the ceiling and took a deep, irrepressible breath through his nostrils.  ‘So it begins.  Remember the agreement.  Two more days is all.  Remember the agreement.

Harry nodded.  “Er, then it’s four a side, I guess,” he said softly.

Despite his best effort to appear nonplussed by her coming, it was obvious to the others that Harry was not exactly pleased by her presence.  He rose for the table and placed his dishes in the sink.  While his back was turned, Ginny gave Bill a nervous, flagging look, which he returned with a reassuring nod.

“Great!  Where are they, Harry?” asked George.

“Er, sorry.  Where are what?”  He was clearly still thrown by the addition of the sixth Weasley.

“The brooms, genius!  Unless you’ve invented a muggle version of the sport, have you?” replied George.

“Oh, right, er, they’re in the equipment shed out by the pitch.  Come on.  I’ll show you,” replied Harry distractedly as he rose from the table and exited a back door of the kitchen.  

A set of steps, separate from those that led from the veranda to the gardens, brought the group to the beginning of a path that circumvented the gardens on the left and led to the west side of the pitch where the shed stood.  Ron and George walked excitedly ahead of the rest.  Harry, for his part, tried to maintain space between George and Ron in front of him and Neville and the rest of the Weasley siblings, most notably Ginny, behind him.  

Harry could sense she was there.  The scent of her shampoo carried on the gentle breeze and seemed to wash over him, but he was not ready to face her.  Hell, he was not ready for the next two days, but at least some quidditch might be able to distract his mind from her presence for awhile.  He could hear whispering behind him, but despite his best efforts, he could not discern specifics of the conversation.  However, regardless of the gap between he and Ron and George, Harry could plainly overhear the two brothers ahead of him.

“I bet you he has a whole collection of Nimbuses in there, if not Firebolts!” alleged George excitedly. 

“You’re daft, George.  Harry hasn’t any money.  Hell, Seamus, Dean, and Neville had to pay for most of my bachelor party, and that was even after the discounts Aberforth gave him,” replied Ron.

“Ten galleons says your wrong, Ickle Ronniekins!” countered George as he reached out and tousled Ron’s hair.

“You’re on!”  Ron threw a right hook, catching George’s shoulder sharply.

“Easiest ten galleons I ever made,” George muttered smugly, rubbing his shoulder.  It had been quite some time since George could best Ron in a scrap, so he let the offence slide.

“George, you’ve gone ‘round the twist on this one,” replied Ron, shaking his head.

“I’m telling you, little brother, all of this – everything you see! – is Harry’s and I’m going to prove it to you.”

“Yeah, you do that, George.”

Harry’s solitude among the throng and concentration on the conversation ahead were broken as Neville approached him from behind.

“Excited, Harry?  About the wedding, I mean.”

“Hi Nev.  Sure, it should be fun, right?” 

“Yeah!  Hannah can’t wait to see this place.  Hermione told her all about it and I have to agree, it’s amazing!  Is this where you were hiding out all those years?”

“Yeah, this is where I usually hung my hat.”

“What?”

“Sorry, old muggle expression.  It means ‘this is where I usually stayed’.”

“Oh.  Er, so listen, I guess you’re nervous about… er, Ginny, huh?”

“Ginny and I have an agreement, Nev.  She’ll treat me decently if I stay around and be here for Ron and Hermione and the rest of the family until the wedding is over.”

“I don’t understand, Harry.  You’ve done so much for them already – finding this place and arranging their honeymoon....”

Harry shrugged his shoulders and interrupted, “I don’t understand it, either, but I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“Oh, sure, okay.  Er, sorry, but… but do you think, maybe… sorry, I know you don’t want to talk about it, Harry, but… do you think, maybe, when she said she wants you to be there for the family, what she really meant was she wants you to be there for her?”

“Be there for her?  Seriously, Nev?  For what possible reason?  So she can insult me some more?  So she can humiliate me, or jinx me, or… or… emotionally torture me?  I don’t think so.  Do me a favour and drop the topic, okay?”

“Yeah, sure, no problem, Harry.”

Harry and Neville approached the shed to find that Ron and George were already inside.  He could hear Ron’s loud, prolonged laughter.  George began shouting to Harry as he approached the open door of the shed.

“Harry!  Nimbus 1001s?  You can’t be serious!  With all of your gold, I would have thought you’d have better brooms than this!”

Bill, Charlie, Percy, and Ginny had caught up with Harry and Neville as Harry asked George, “What are you talking about, George?  What gold?”

“George is under the impression that you’re some super-rich wizard,” explained Bill.

“Well, a super-rich wizard would have better brooms than Nimbus 1001s, wouldn’t they?” replied Harry.

“Ha!” shouted Ron, “You owe me ten galleons!”

“I do not!  I said I bet you that Harry had Nimbuses or Firebolts!  These are Nimbuses, so pay up!” retorted George.

“They’re Nimbus 1001s!  They’re older than Bill is!  That’s not what you meant!  You meant 2000s or 2001s!”

“Guys!  This brainless bet’s off!” cried Harry.

“I’m not using those!  I’m using my own broom!” said Ginny, speaking for the first time.

“Come on, Gin, you can’t use your custom-made Firebolt!  The sides will be uneven, unless we play seven on one,” complained Charlie.

“I’ll take those odds!” replied Ginny with a cheeky grin that made Harry’s heart flip.

‘Merlin, this is going to be a difficult couple of days’.

“No, Gin.  There are enough of the Nimbus 1001 brooms for each of us.  Everything will be on the level that way,” noted Bill.

“It’ll never be level with only one Ginny,” said Percy.

“Thank you, Percy!” said Ginny, flashing another cheeky grin.  

‘…a very difficult couple of days’.

“Harry and Ginny can’t be on the same team,” protested Neville. 

“That’ll square things,” agreed Ron.

“Hey, I haven’t played in, what, five or six years!  How can that be squaring things?” exclaimed Harry.

“Thank you, Harry!”  There was that smile again.  

‘She’s really pouring it on thick’.

“Well, we’re not playing with this snitch.  I don’t think it’ll even fly anymore,” noted Ron.

“Then again, we are flying on 1001s!” laughed George.

“The Nimbus 1001s are not bad brooms, George.  They were the Firebolts of their day.  I think you’ll be surprised,” said Charlie.

“Yeah, right!” snorted George in disbelief.  “At least the bludgers and quaffle look like they’re in decent shape.”

“No bludgers,” demanded Ginny.  “If Gwenog knew I was even out here with you lot, she’d have my head!”

“Scared, Gin?”

“Just being prudent, Charlie.  I have a career to consider,” she replied pointedly.

Percy walked into the shed and grabbed a broom.  Jumping astride it, he took flight and made a quick lap around the pitch.  He came to a stop and hovered over the group.  “I think Charlie’s right.  These actually handle fairly well!”

“Right, then,” said Bill, “Me, Neville, and Harry, with Charlie in one goal, and George, Ginny, and Percy, with Ron in the other.  No bludgers.  First team to one hundred points.  Agreed?”

The two teams took to the air and huddled on their respective ends to discuss strategy.  Despite Harry’s protests and counterargument that Charlie was now the better flyer, Bill insisted that Harry cover Ginny.  Bill’s argument that Charlie could have played keeper for England in his day made sense to Harry; consequently, he had no idea that Bill’s pairing was a ruse to get him closer to Ginny.

Notwithstanding Harry’s concern that Percy would clearly outplay Neville, the match was fairly even for the first hour.  Charlie played brilliantly as keeper, blocking shot after shot, while Ron played nearly as well, allowing only three goals.  Eventually, however, Ginny’s conditioning and training started to show.  Harry was tiring.  He tried every trick and manoeuvre he could recall disrupt her when she had the quaffle, and every other trick and manoeuvre he could remember when he had it.  It was for naught.  After the first hour, Ginny dominated the match.  Even Charlie could not compete.  Worse still for Harry was the fact that after each besting by Ginny, she flashed him another of her mischievous smiles or showered him with her tinkling laugh.

Harry said not a word to her the entire match, despite Ginny’s constant goading and gloating.  He was overwhelmingly confused by her mixed signals.  She was not the same person he had encountered four times in the last four months.  She was fiery and passionate, but in a positive way, the way she was when he first fell in love with her. 

He concluded that her improved attitude towards him was the result of two things: she playing the sport that was her life’s passion and she was keeping her end of the bargain the two had struck three weeks earlier.  It certainly was not that she cared for him.  Only a crazy person has personality swings of this degree.  Either that, or she was just being cruelly vindictive, exulting in the fact that she was so close to him, yet so unattainable.

Jurisprudencia was awaiting the players with pitchers of ice-cold pumpkin juice and glasses as they descended from the air.  The elf poured eight glasses, distributed them, and refilled each as it was emptied.  Genuino appeared as Harry was finishing his second glass.

“Master Harry, the rest of the party has arrived.  We are settling them in their rooms.”

“Thanks, Genuino.”  Turning to the others, Harry said, “I’m going to check on things up at the house.  You lot can keep playing if you’d like.  Oh, Ron?  Genuino will be staying with you and Hermione in Greece.  If you need anything or have any questions, he will help you with them.”

Harry slowly walked away from the group without looking back, but a small smile quickly spread across his lips.  He could not help overhearing George’s questions and the groans of the others and he asked them.

“Genuino, do you like being Harry’s elf?”

“My apologies, Master George, but Genuino does not understand the question.”

“You are one of Harry’s elves, Genuino, are you not?”

“Genuino is a free elf.  Genuino has no master, Master George.”

“Then why do you and the other elves take care of Harry like he was your Master?”

“The great and most noble Master Harry Potter is the supreme wizard friend of elves everywhere, both free and house-bound.  His reputation in Elf-lore is cemented in stone.  No elf alive would refuse help to the great and most noble Master Harry!”

“Got your answer, George?” asked Bill.

“I’m telling you, Bill…” said George’s fading voice as Harry finally reached a distance where he could no longer hear the conversation.

Reaching the reception hall, Harry found Teddy and Victorie giggling wildly.  They were running around a wooden table with a circular marble top that stood in the middle of the hall, on top of which sat a large bouquet of flowers.  It took several moments for Teddy to realise Harry was there.

“Unca Hawee!” cried Teddy as he ran headlong into his godfather’s legs.  Victorie ran over and wrapped her arms around one of his legs as well, which surprised Harry.  He was not even aware whether the little blonde-haired toddler knew who he was.  He surmised that Victorie only took to him because Teddy was familiar with him.

“Hiya, Teddy!  Hi Victorie!” 

“Unca Hawee, gimme a lift,” said Teddy as he proceeded to plonk his bum on Harry’s left foot, wrapping his arms and legs around Harry’s left leg.  Victorie immediately mimicked her friend and did the same to Harry’s right foot and leg.  Harry spent the next several minutes dragging his feet across the marble floor of the reception hall as the toddlers squealed with delight.  Eventually, the commotion drew enough attention that one of the recent arrivals finally came to his rescue.

“’arry!  ‘ow are you!  Victorie, Teddy, no more zeeting on Uncle ‘arry’s feet.”

“Hi!  They’re okay, Fleur, really.  I don’t mind,” responded Harry to Fleur’s reproving look at the children.  “So, how are you?  Getting settled?  Is everything okay?  If you need anything, just ask one of the elves.  They’re take care of it for you, alright?”

“’arry, alwayz making zuch zee fuss!”  Fleur kissed both of his cheeks while trying not to trip over the children who ignored her command and continued to cling to Harry’s legs.

“Is everyone here?  Are we still waiting for anyone?”

“Everyone’z ‘ere, ‘arry.  Zis place iz tres magnifique!  Where did you get zese fleur’s?  Zey are somptueux!”

“Thanks!  The elves have a little magic themselves, you know.  The gardens and flowers are one of Steinig’s specialties.”

“Harry!” cried two voices in harmony from above.  Harry glanced up the left staircase to see Molly and Hermione descending.

“Hello!”

“Gamma Molly!  Auntie Mione!  Unca Hawee’s here!  See?  See?” cried Teddy.

“Hello to you, too, Teddy!” replied Molly, but Teddy persisted.

“See?  See?” cried Teddy even more loudly.

“Yes, I see, Teddy!”

“Auntie Mione!  See?  See?” cried Teddy.

“Yes, I see, too, Teddy!”

“See?  See?  See?  See?  See?” called Victorie as she twirled in place in continued to giggle madly, not yet old enough to realise what all the excitement was about.

“Yes, we see, Victorie!” replied Molly with a chuckle.  “We all see!”

Harry’s name was shouted again as Arthur and Xenophilius Lovegood descended the staircase on the right, accompanied by Brillare, and Luna, Augusta, and Andromeda on the left staircase, followed by Affectueux.  

“Everyone’s comfortable, I trust?” Harry asked.

“This place is quite lovely, Harry.  You should have your own wedding here someday.” said Luna torpidly.

“Yeah, maybe I will, Luna,” replied Harry with a snort as he struggled with Teddy and Victorie still clinging to his legs.  “Although I’ll probably be as old as Dumbledore by then.”

“No.  I think it will be sooner than that.”

“Perhaps,” replied Harry somewhat doubtfully.  He’d known Luna long enough to know not to discount everything she utters, but had a hard time fathoming a future family.

“Right.  So were are you hiding my children, Harry?” asked Molly.

“One last quidditch match for the bachelor,” Harry responded with a nod toward the rear of the house. 

“Did Ginny play?” asked Hermione.  Harry merely nodded without making eye contact with her.  Instead, he was looking toward the rear of the property as though he could see through the walls to the quidditch pitch.  “Could I speak with you, Harry?”

“Oh, er, sure, Hermione.”  Harry turned to face his best female friend in anticipation.

“Alone?”

“Er, okay.  Teddy, Victorie, let Auntie Luna take you to the kitchens.  Uncle Kreacher might have some biscuits for you!”

“Come, little ones,” called Luna, and the children scrambled to their feet and took Luna’s hands, following her through the rear left hallway that extended off of the reception hall.

“Let’s go into the parlour,” Harry said with a nod as he led Hermione to the parlour just to the right of the bottom of the west staircase.

Hermione asked,  “So, its ‘Uncle Kreacher’ now, is it?”

“To those two it is.  I guess I grown rather fond of him… of all of them, really.  The elves are the closest thing I have to family now, I suppose, and Teddy and Victorie, well, they’re young enough that they won’t realise the difference.” 

“So, how was Ginny?”

“Fine.  Great, in fact.  She was so much better than the rest of us out there.”

“I meant, how was she toward you?”

“She didn’t jinx me when my back was turned, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Is that the best you can say about her, Harry?”

Harry looked at his feet with his arms crossed, spending several moments in thought before responding.

“She was smiling and laughing a lot, but then again, she was playing quidditch.  She can’t help herself when she’s playing quidditch, can she?”

“Was she smiling because she was playing quidditch or was she smiling because she was with you?”

“Well, considering I only saw her smile once in four years, and that one time happened to be when she was vacuous from firewhiskey, I have to conclude it was from quidditch.  Every other time I’ve seen her since my return, she’s looked at me like someone’s holding a piece of thestral shite under her nose.  But I’m glad she’s holding to her end of the bargain, at least.”

Hermione stared at Harry as if she was trying to perform legilimency on him.  “What if I told you she was trying to be nice to you because she wants to get back together with you?”

“I’d say you’re still drunk from your bachelorette party.”

“Seriously, Harry.”

“Seriously?  I’d have to see it, I mean, really see it, to believe it, Hermione.  And I haven’t seen it, or anything close to it for that matter.”

“Okay, but hypothetically speaking, if she did tell you this weekend that she wanted to get together with you again, what would you say?”

“I’d say Hermione Granger is doing some wishful thinking, I would!”

“Harry!  Please be serious for a moment!” Hermione stated exasperatedly, which only served to irritate Harry further.

“I don’t know, Hermione!  It’ll never happen, but if she did, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” replied Harry in an attempt to avert any discussion of a certain redheaded heartbreaker.

Hermione folded her arms and glared at him.  Her expression was none-too-pleasant to behold.  It told him that she was clearly not satisfied with his answer and he felt compelled to elaborate.

“Look, despite the fact that my life has been completely insane for, what, eleven years now?  Despite that, I’m really a simple bloke.  I don’t fall in and out of love easily, but when I do fall in love, it has to be with someone who feels as strongly about the relationship as I do.  Ginny doesn’t.  And I realise that my decision three years ago has driven her away, but what I did I did for her.  I had hoped that her love for me would have been strong enough to withstand that, but I was obviously mistaken.  It’s been incredibly difficult falling out of love with her, but I’ve accepted that she has nothing left for me.

“That being said, I don’t want to complicate things any more than they need to be, alright?  Ginny and I will stick to the agreement for the sake of the wedding, and then she can go find some other bloke to emotionally torture,” concluded Harry, trusting that this would end their rather itchy chat.

“Percy said you told the brothers at the bachelor party that when you took the Killing Curse in the forbidden forest you had a choice of staying dead or coming back to life.  Is that true?”

Harry looked away and hesitated before nodding.

“Why did you choose to come back, Harry?”

“It doesn’t matter.  That was years ago,” he said quietly and without much conviction.

“Of course, it matters!  It will always matter, Harry!  It will always matter because I know it wasn’t an easy decision for you to make.  You must have had an exceptionally powerful reason to come back.  What was the reason, Harry?  Why did you choose to come back?” pleaded Hermione.

Harry shook his head and tried to prevent tears from spilling forth.  He would not answer that question.  The circumstances had changed.  His reason for coming back to life was no longer relevant and he believed this discussion to be pointless.

However, Hermione persisted, “What was the reason, Harry?  You came back because of Ginny, didn’t you?”

Harry flinched at the sound of her name, but again he shook his head, not in disagreement, but in frustration.  This weekend was going to be difficult enough merely being in such close proximity to the constant reminder of his soured love life.  He did not need Hermione rubbing salt into his wounds.  “Like I said, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Do you still love her?”

Harry again refused to answer and determinedly avoided Hermione’s glare.  He was no longer successful in preventing tears from falling.

“Hermione, don’t you have bigger things to worry about over the next couple of days?” he asked irritably. 

“Do you still love her?” she pushed.

Harry still refused to answer, choosing to stare out of the parlour window that overlooked a side garden.  He felt cornered and ambushed, and his tetchiness was rising.  He was losing control of his emotions.

“DO – YOU – STILL – LOVE – HER?” shouted Hermione.

YES!  ALRIGHT?  YES, I STILL LOVE HER.  YES!  FAR MORE THAN SHE WILL EVER LOVE ME!  AND - I - CAN’T - HANDLE - THAT!  THAT’S WHAT I MEANT BY NEEDING SOMEONE WHO FEELS AS STRONGLY ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP AS I DO!  AND SHE DOESN’T!  SHE HAS MADE THAT ABUNDANTLY CLEAR!  AND IT DESTROYED ME TO FIND THAT OUT!  BUT, DO YOU KNOW WHAT?  I’M GLAD I DID FIND OUT!  DO YOU KNOW WHY?  BECAUSE IF I HAD COME BACK THREE YEARS AGO AND GOTTEN BACK TOGETHER WITH HER, WE MIGHT HAVE BEEN MARRIED BY NOW, AND I’D BE FINDING OUT NOW, AFTER WE’RE MARRIED, AND MAYBE EVEN AFTER WE’VE HAD A CHILD, THAT SHE – DOESN’T – LOVE -- ME – LIKE – I – LOVE – HER!  SO… SO… THIS IS ACTUALLY A GOOD THING!”

Harry turned away from Hermione and stormed out of the parlour, ignoring her pleas to return and finish the discussion.  He proceeded through the grand reception hall and out of the manor by way of the front door, which seemed to open of its own accord as he approached it.  He was so caught up in the moment that he failed to notice that the older generations of guests were still huddled on the far side of the reception hall, whispering dolefully after overhearing the shouts emanating from the parlour.  Watching his exit, Molly Weasley charged through the front door after Harry.

“Okay, we heard shouting.  What’d we miss?” asked George as he and the other six quidditch participants entered the hall, just as Hermione emerged from the parlour.  Upon seeing everyone gathered, she turned her tear-streaked face and raced up the staircase to her room. 

“Shite!” muttered Ron as he ran after Hermione.

~~~

After nearly an hour searching the property, Molly found Harry sitting in a small glade in the wood behind the quidditch pitch.  It was a peaceful setting, with sunlight dappling the grass through the leaves that overhung the clearing. The only sound in the wood was the trickling of a small nearby stream, occasionally interspersed with birdsong and the buzzing of a wayward   bee.  While he seemed more controlled, it was evident that Harry had had himself a good weep.

She reached out to him and helped him stand before drawing him into a deep, enduring embrace, placing her hand on the back of his head and gently guiding it to her shoulder.  She remained silent, allowing Harry the time he needed, and she could feel her robe becoming damp.

“I don’t want to talk about it, Mrs. Weasley.”

“And that’s okay, Harry, but I do want to say just one thing.  After that, not another word from me.  Please?” whispered Molly into Harry’s ear.  She felt Harry nod without removing his head from her shoulder.

“I want you to seriously reflect on what I have to say, because I love you just as deeply as I love Ginny and I hate to see the two of you in so much pain… and also because I know my daughter better than anyone, including herself, agreed?”

Harry nodded again.  

Molly drew back and cupped his face in her hands, staring directly into those watery emerald green eyes that her daughter loved so much.  “So, here’s what I have to say, Harry…

“Please, please, please, seriously consider the possibility that you are woefully underestimating Ginny’s feelings for you.  She loves you more deeply that you will ever realise.  From the time she first saw you on that platform in Kings Cross, you’re all she ever thought about.  You’re all she could ever talk about.  You are her dream come true!”

“She has a funny way of showing it, doesn’t she?”

“Actually, it’s funny you should say that, because she said that same thing about you… that you have a funny way of showing your love… that you should have been with her for three years… that when you love someone, you don’t leave them three times.

“I know you’re upset at how she’s handled your return, but understand that as upset you are with her, that’s how upset she was with you.  Her heart was shattered, and that allowed fear to dwell inside her… fear that you would come back and reject her once more.  She had built up this emotional wall.  She believed that as long as she didn’t let you back in, she couldn’t be hurt again.  It was that fear of rejection that fostered her mistreatment of you.

“I guess you heard about Neville’s impassioned plea to the family?”

“Not details, but yeah, I heard about it,” he quietly replied as he rested his head on her shoulder, his tears falling in earnest.

“You should have seen him, Harry.  Augusta was more proud of him that night than for anything he ever did during the war.  But I truly believe that that night was when Ginny first realised how badly mistaken she was about you.  It took her awhile, but she has slowly overcome her fear of rejection.  She has torn that wall down, but the trouble is she now has a new fear to contend with.  This is a fear that’s deeper than any other.”

Molly redoubled her hug before continuing, “She’s afraid that she’s driven you away for good, Harry.  She’s afraid she’s lost you completely.  She had been endeavouring for weeks to work up the courage to speak with you.  And now that she’s finally found that courage, you won’t stay still long enough to let her explain how she feels about you.”

Molly drew back and once again cupped his face in her hands, wiping away the tears with her thumbs, “She truly loves you desperately, Harry.  Do me this one favour, will you?  Please, be patient with her this weekend?  Allow her the time to tell you how she feels?  She may not show it, but she’s more nervous about speaking with you than she is about the wedding.  So, promise me you will at least give her the opportunity to speak with you?”

Harry nodded once again and rested his head on Molly’s shoulder.  

“You – are – so – loved, Harry Potter.  Don’t you ever forget that,” she whispered as she soothed him.  He tears continued to flow.  He was sad that he couldn’t be having this conversation with his own mother, yet grateful that he had Molly to fill this role for him.  He could find no better substitute to be here at this moment.

They remained in the glade in the wood behind the quidditch pitch for some time before Molly tenderly guided him back to the manor.

~~~

Ron and Mrs. Granger descended the staircase, walked through the reception hall, and entered the lounge that overlooked the veranda and gardens.  Most everyone was on the veranda, watching several elves running about the open space between the gardens.  They were erecting the marquee for the wedding, but were having some trouble as it was invisible.  The elves were fumbling and stumbling over invisible ropes, pegs, and each other.  Ron chuckled after hearing Charlie shout, “Make it visible again, then erect it!”

“How’s Hermione?” asked Arthur.  Ron turned to see his father, Xenophilius, and a rather unsettled Dan Granger gathered in armchairs about the lounge’s fireplace.

“She’ll be okay.  She was upset that she might have mucked things up for Ginny.  I told her that after the last four months, she couldn’t do any more harm to their relationship than they’ve already done themselves,” snorted Ron.  “So, where’s Mum?”

“She left to find Harry when he ran out,” replied Mr. Granger.

“Master Harry and Mrs. Weasley are in Gryphondun glade in the wood behind the quidditch pitch,” explained Genuino as the elf entered the lounge.  “They should be returning soon.  Dinner will be ready in one half of one hour.”

Ron shot a quick glance of curiosity at Arthur, but the elder Weasley determinedly chose to ignore his youngest son. 

Bill almost tripped over Genuino as the elf walked through the French doors leading to the veranda to announce when dinner would be served.  As Genuino stuttered apologies, and Bill reassurances that he was just glad he did not hurt the elf, Fleur gracefully sidestepped the two and entered the lounge.

“Zey are returning now.  Zey were down by ze quidditch pitch.”

“How does he look?” asked Xenophilius.

“’e eez too far away to tell.”

Xenophilius rose from he seat and stared through one of the large panes of glass.  “I’d say ‘sombre, yet acquiescent’.  I think that’s a good sign.  I believe our young Harry should be pliant enough to hear our young Ginny through!”

With a nippy nod, Xenopihlius returned to his seat next to Dan Granger, staring at the muggle father of the bride keenly and making Hermione’s father all the more uncomfortable.  However, Dan’s discomfort lasted only for a moment longer as Arthur offered an opportunity for escape.

“Very good, let’s get ready for dinner, then.  Shall we?  I hear there’s some elfin wine waiting!” Arthur stated with a smile and a brisk rubbing of his hands.  

Dan rose and said, “I’m not driving tonight, so I think I’ll join you, Arthur!”

As the two started making their way to the dining room, Arthur exclaimed, “Oh!  Do you drive automobiles?  What’s it like?  I’ve always wanted to try driving automobiles!  How do you not get confused with all of those buttons and sticks and circles and things?  You know, I had an automobile once, but it didn’t drive, it flew.  Just not the same, is it?”

The rest of the manor’s guests were settled in the dining room by the time Molly and Harry entered the lounge off of the veranda.  As they walked through to the reception hall on their way to dinner, they met Ron exiting the dining room and heading for the west staircase.

“Oh, er, hi.  I was just going up to get Hermione for dinner,” said Ron awkwardly.

“Ron,” Harry called.  “Do you mind if I go get her?  I need to speak with her for a moment anyway.”

“Don’t go upsetting her again,” growled Ron.

“No, I won’t, and er, I just want to say I’m sorry about earlier.”

“It’s not me you should be apologising to, mate,” said Ron as he turned for the dining room again.

“Yeah, I know.  But all the same, I’m sorry.”

Ron stopped and looked at his feet for a moment, “Yeah, I know.”

“I’ll see you at dinner, Harry?” asked Molly.  

Harry nodded as he walked up the stairs.

After stopping in the bedroom he was sharing with Ron to freshen up, Harry proceeded to the bride’s bedroom.   He rapped on the door a few times before entering.  “Hermione?  Are you in here?”

“Come in, Harry.  I’ll just be a moment.”

Harry waited in an armchair stationed near one of the dressers.  Though he owned this home and had been in this room a few times, he felt as though he was intruding upon some hidden sanctuary of femininity.  Hermione and Ginny had certainly made themselves comfortable in short order.  Clothes, makeup, hair care products, and a smattering of undergarments were strewn about the room.  He was afraid of looking at anything other than his feet for fear of being caught looking at something indecent.

“Welcome back, Harry,” greeted Hermione coolly.

Hermione’s pronouncement startled him from his preoccupation.  “Er, hi Hermione.  I… I just wanted to apologise… you know, for earlier.  I just get so… so daft when it comes to Ginny.  But I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.  I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too, Harry.  I shouldn’t have pushed you that hard, but it goads me to extremes when I hear you talk about Ginny that way.”  Hermione crossed the room to where he sat, placed her left hand on his shoulder, and lifted his chin with her right hand.

“You really have no idea, do you, Harry?  She loves you so, so much!  Just like you love her.  No more and no less!  You two are my dearest friends.  And you love each other.  Why can’t the two of you simply get together already and have done with it?  Why do we need to have all of this drama?”

Harry’s hand and head gestures demonstrated that he was speechless, and answerless, even if he could speak.

“So, anyway, when’s dinner?  I’m starved,” Hermione asked, soliciting a chuckle from Harry.

“Well, they do say married couples eventually adapt the traits of their partners,” Harry replied, which earned him a punch on his shoulder and caused him to laugh even harder.  “And I see you’re getting a head start, as always!” he followed as Hermione grabbed a pillow from the bed and threw it at him, followed by another, which only served to accelerate his laughter even further.

Finally settling down after several punches on his shoulder and pillows to his face, Harry lifted Hermione from the floor – he had tripped her in the process to get her to stop – and linked her arm in his.  “Come on, they’re waiting for us.  I’m sure Ron will never forgive us for keeping him from food.”

As they proceeded down one of the staircases, Hermione softly asked Harry, “I was serious about what I said to you earlier, Harry.  Ginny wants to get together with you again.  How do you feel about that?”

“Yeah, I know you were.  Mrs. Weasley sorted a few things out for me.”

“And?”

“Let’s just see how it goes.  When Ginny’s ready to talk to me, she and I will talk and, well, we’ll see.  I’m still not convinced, though.  I get the feeling everyone else wants it to happen more than she does.”

Hermione gave Harry a quick one-armed hug.  “Well, good!  Talking without leaving is a good first step!  Remember, what I’ve been telling you…” she replied.

“Yeah, yeah.  Be patient and don’t do anything rash,” interrupted Harry.

“Exactly!”

Everyone was gathered around the table when Harry and Hermione entered.  It did not escape him that only two seats were available, one between Ron and Mr. Granger and another between Ginny and George.  It was obvious where the others intended for him to sit.

Taking a deep breath, Harry ventured to adopt a pleasantly neutral attitude.  He gave Ginny a small nod and smile and settled into the festive dinner that Kreacher and Brillare had prepared, and which the other elves eagerly prepared.  However, while Harry partook in the meal, he was frequently interrupted by elves and had to leave the dining room often to attend dinner details and last-minute wedding arrangements.

After Harry had to leave the room for the third time, George said, “Blimey, I’ve never seen this many elves in one place except for Hogwarts.  I wonder how many there are?”

“Harry said there will be eight in total working the wedding.  Two will be in the kitchens preparing food and drinks, while six will be serving,” Hermione informed the group.

“Who on this earth owns EIGHT house elves?”  Percy demanded to know.

“No one, Perce.  Harry said that they’re all freed elves.  They’re getting paid to work,” said Ron.

“There would have been nine working the wedding, but Harry said that two of the elves are a couple and they just had a baby, so only one is working the wedding while the other is taking care of the baby,” Hermione said.  At that moment Harry re-entered the dining room.

“So, does anybody need anything?” he asked his guests.

“Some more of this mead would be great, Harry!  Oh, and I need the name of your elf’s baby!”  George tried to catch Harry off guard in an effort to trick him into revealing information that George could use to prove he was the Benefactor.  However, Harry had been on his guard ever since overhearing Ron and George’s discussion earlier today on their way to the quidditch pitch.  He deflected George’s parry easily.

“Baby?  I don’t have a baby!  I’ve never even… er, never mind.”  Harry trailed off with feigned embarrassment and no one was the wiser.  Instead, the guests responded with gales of laughter.  Ginny turned bright red with embarrassment for Harry and with happiness for another reason.  She was relieved to hear that he had not been with another woman in all the time he had been away from her.  It was a niggling little concept that had long ago settled in the back of her mind.  Ever since first hearing the name ‘Alison Friel’, Ginny had long been disquieted by the possibility that he would find love with another woman.

“No, the name of the elf’s baby, Harry.  You know, the elf that’s not working the wedding because she just had a baby.  What’s the baby’s name?” Hermione asked.

“Oh, er, right.”  Harry had to think for a moment.  “It’s ‘Krizenimas’.”

“Oh, ‘Giggle’!”  Xenophilius said aloud.

The table roared and Charlie asked, “What was that, Xeno?”

“Giggle!  That’s the baby’s name.  ‘Krizenimas’ is Lithuanian for ‘Giggle’.  I LOVE it!  What a great name!”  

The guys around the table chuckled while the girls breathed ‘Ooh, how sweet!’ and with that, Harry’s identity as the Benefactor remained safe, but he wondered just for how long.

Harry was interrupted once again as dessert was being served and he left the dining room with Bezobrazan.  Once he cleared earshot, Ginny’s façade broke and she turned to Bill across the table.

“What am I supposed to do, Bill?  Even when he’s here, he’s not here!  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was purposely trying to avoid me!”

“Just be patient, Gin.  You’re doing fine.  It’s just… there’s a lot going on with the wedding tomorrow, you know?.  You’ll find time to talk.  I’m sure of it.”

However, Bill’s comforting words were lost on Ginny.  Her stomach was churning as if she’d swallowed undiluted bubotuber puss.  She looked up at the ceiling and took several deep calming gulps of air, but they only seemed to help a little.  Her anxiety was all too conspicuous.

“Sweetheart, after dessert, I’ll go see what he’s doing, but Bill’s right.  Just be patient.  I’m sure he’s not trying to avoid you on purpose,” stated Arthur soothingly.

“I’ll go with you, father,” said Percy reassuringly.

~~~

Arthur and Percy entered the kitchen to see Kreacher working on preparations for the following day’s wedding.  He was still wearing Harry’s old Weasley jumper.  Arthur could not suppress a smile upon seeing the old elf working away energetically while taking the utmost care with the clothing his wife knitted for Harry so many years ago.

“Hello, Kreacher!  That was a wonderful meal.  Thank you!”

“It is Kreacher’s pleasure to serve Master Weasley and his family,” he replied with a nod toward Arthur before returning to his business.

“Er, Kreacher, do you know where Harry happens to be?”

“Master Harry is in the marquee, tending to wedding preparations.”

“Thank you again, Kreacher.”

“Again, it is Kreacher’s pleasure to serve Master Weasley,” the elf replied with another nod.

Arthur and Percy proceeded down the hall from the kitchen to the lounge and through to the veranda.  Reaching the bottom of the marble steps near the rear of the marquee, they could clearly hear Harry’s exasperated voice.

“No, Forcedyme, I said one extra large reinforced chair in the back and two hundred standard chairs.”

Entering the marquee, Arthur and Percy began to laugh heartily.  Two hundred massive folding chairs strong enough to support Hagrid were crammed into the marquee and stacked atop one another haphazardly.  Harry was feverishly pulling the extra large chairs from the various stacks and waving his hand over each to reduce it to a standard size.

“Need a hand, Harry?” asked Percy, struggling to control his amusement.

“Please!” replied Harry, a little more forcefully than he intended.

Arthur and Percy extracted their wands, pulled chairs from the stacks, and began performing ‘reducio’ spells on them.  Shortly thereafter, Bill peeked he head inside the tent and quietly whispered to Percy, “Everything under control?”

“We’re going to be awhile, but we got it under control,” Percy replied with a nod.

Bill glanced around the tent and sniggered one last time before returning to the rest of the family to report on Harry’s preoccupations.

~~~

Ron was settled into bed for the last night of his single life when Harry finally entered the room looking weary.  As he changed into his bedclothes, Ron asked, “So, did you and Ginny have a talk yet?”

“No, mate.  I was too busy running around with the elves.  I never realised everything that goes into a wedding before all this.  Remember this, never hire family to work for you.”

“Yeah, I heard about your old Uncle Kreacher!  I can see the family resemblance!” added Ron with a silly snigger.  “And now you have Teddy and Victorie calling him that!”

“Yeah, pretty good, isn’t it?  And Kreacher loves it.  I don’t think he ever had a real family of his own, elfin or human.  He’s really taking to the little ones – caring for them like they were his own!  So, not to change the subject or anything, but are the nerves getting to you yet?”

“Nope.  But ask me again in about twelve hours and you might get a different answer.”

As Harry climbed into bed, Ron asked, “Hey Harry, when was the last time we slept in the same room together?”

“Er, the night after the battle, I think.”

“Just like our old dormitory at Hogwarts, yeah Harry?”

“Suppose so, yeah.”

“Do you remember when we were at Hogwarts, Harry?”

“Of course.”

“Do you remember there was that gormless guy…”

“There were several of those, weren’t there!” Harry interjected.

“Yeah, well, there was this one gormless guy in particular.  Didn’t know his arse from a hole in the ground.  Anyway, do you remember there was that girl who was smart and pretty and who was absolutely in love with the guy, but he was so dense that he never noticed?  And then when he did notice her, all they ever did was bicker.  Man, he must have driven everyone loony, particularly his best mate!”

Ron looked over to Harry’s bed and saw that he was grinning from ear to ear.  He hesitated for a moment before continuing.

“And the funny thing was, he was absolutely in love with her, too!  But he was so insecure, he never had the nerve to suck it up and ask her to date him until it was almost too late.  Could you imagine that?  What do you think would have happened to that guy if he never got past all their squabbling?  What do you think would have happened if that guy never plucked up the courage to ask her out, huh?” asked Ron.

“I dunno.  Probably hustling enchanted fish heads for five sickles apiece in Diagon Alley like old Mundungus Fletcher,” chuckled Harry.

“Yeah, that guy and that girl drove everybody round the twist!  Everyone saw how perfect the two of them were for each other.  Everyone but that guy!” said Ron.

Harry chuckled again.  He could clearly remember almost every fight his two best friends ever had.

“Yeah, well, you’re truly my best mate, Harry, the best ‘best mate’ ever, so I feel I’m on pretty safe ground when I tell you this…

“When it comes to Ginny, stop being that guy or you’ll be hustling enchanted fish heads for five sickles apiece in Diagon Alley.”
 


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