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The Runaway Returns by HPForevermore
Chapter 25 : The Wedding
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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“How you holding up, Ronniekins?”

Ron just moaned through his trembling body.

“Let me get you something for the nerves,” George said.  He made his way from Ron’s room, down the grand staircase, and through the Reception Hall.  It was packed with early arrivals for the wedding and on his way to find some firewhiskey George was delayed several times as guests stopped him to say hello and to comment on the accommodation hosting the affair.  Finally freeing himself, George made a left just before the entrance to the lounge, walked down the hallway, and entered into the second door on the right, which was a butler’s pantry.  He started opening various cabinets in search of a bottle of firewhiskey when an elf entered the room. 

“Kreacher?”

“Good day, Master George.”

“What are you doing here?”  Kreacher was dressed in a maroon uniform with gold trim.

“Master Harry has asked that I oversee the cooking for the wedding.  What can I do for you. Master George?”

“Oh, er, firewhiskey?  It’s for Ron.  Nerves.”

“Yes, yes, Kreacher understands.”  The old elf reached into an unopened cabinet and extracted a bottle and several glasses, placing them on a tray.  “Shall Kreacher take this to the room for Master George?”

“No, that’s quite alright, Kreacher.  I’ll do it.  Oh, and it’s good to know I will be eating well later on.  With you handling the kitchen, I mean.”

“Master George is too kind to Kreacher,” the elf replied with a deep bow before going about his business.

George slowly backed out of the butler’s pantry and once in the hallway dashed back to Ron’s room as quickly as he could, being delayed several times once again by more wedding guests.  Most of the Weasley/Longbottom/Lovegood men were standing about, talking to one another, including Harry.  George placed the tray on top of a nearby dresser and cracked open the bottle, pouring a generous helping of firewhiskey into a glass for Ron.

“Get this in yer, Ronniekins!”  Ron downed the glass in two quick gulps.  The burning sensation had an immediate effect.

“Thanks George,” Ron replied, handing the glass back to him with a somewhat less shaky hand.  George survey the room, trying to determine who was not there.  He was bursting at the seems to tell someone, anyone, about what he’d just seen.  He just did not want to reveal his discovery in front of Harry. 

“Where’s Charlie?” he asked.

“Probably still in his room,” Neville replied.  George dashed out to the hall and walked into the bedroom next to Ron and Harry’s.  Charlie was putting the finishing touches on his dress robes as he turned to see George rush in.

“Primping for Kadeisha, I see,” called George.

“What do you want, George?” replied Charlie irritably.

“I have it!  Conclusive proof!”

“Of what?  That you’re a complete nutter?” Charlie responded with a chuckle at his own joke.

“No, that Harry’s the Benefactor!”

Charlie just shook his head.  “Oh, please.”

“No!  Honestly!”

“So, what’s this ‘conclusive proof’ you’ve discovered.”

“Kreacher!  Harry asked him to oversee the kitchen for the wedding!”

“I know.  He cooked last night’s dinner as well, and this morning’s breakfast.  How did you not know that?” asked Charlie.

“How did you know that?” retorted George.

“Percy told me.  He and Dad saw Kreacher in the kitchen after dinner last night when they’d gone to discover what Harry was up to.”

“But why would Harry ask Kreacher to oversee the kitchen for the wedding when the Benefactor, if it’s not Harry, has all those free elves to do it instead?”

“Well, let’s see.  He’s Harry’s elf, or he was, anyway, he’s an excellent chef, and Harry wants the best for his two best mates’ wedding.  Why wouldn’t he ask Kreacher to do that for him?”

“But Kreacher’s also wearing a uniform!”

“So he’s not wearing Harry’s old Weasley jumper anymore?”

“Kreacher was wearing a Weasley jumper?”

“Yeah, Harry gave Kreacher one of his old jumpers.  But so what?  Harry freed Kreacher.  That’s not so surprising, considering he and Hermione are as good as brother and sister, and you know how she is about ‘house elf servitude’.  Besides, Harry probably had to free Kreacher because he can’t afford him anymore.”

George considered this, but remained resolute.  “I’m telling you.  You mark my words Charlie.  Harry’s ‘The Benefactor’ and I’m going to prove it to you,” he finished in all seriousness as he left for Ron’s room again.

~~~

The trio stood at the top of the marble stairs that led from the veranda to the entrance to the marquee.  They paused to check each other, each ensuring that the others were looking their best.  Harry wore shimmering emerald green dress robes of silk with cream-coloured satin piping around the cuffs and collar, while Ron wore cream-coloured dress robes of satin with emerald green silk piping around the cuffs and collar and Neville was dressed in solid emerald green.  From their position, they could unmistakably hear the dim murmuring emanating from the tent.  Most of the guests had already arrived, the holdouts being Ron’s immediate family and Dan and Jean Granger.

“Alright, mate?” Neville asked Ron.  Ron gulped and merely nodded.

“How about you, Harry?” Neville asked.

“Never better!” Harry exclaimed a little too enthusiastically.  Ron and Neville shot Harry looks of disbelief.

“Okay, so listen carefully,” said Neville as he threw an arm around their shoulders and escorted them down the marble staircase.  “This is going to be a piece of cake.  Just remember to breathe.  Take your time with your vows, Ron.  It’ll be over before you know it.  And Harry, just relax.  Everything and everyone will be fine.”

As the three friends entered the marquee, the murmuring grew to a dull roar.   Ron, Harry, and Neville started down the centre aisle.  Their names were shouted from every direction and Harry and Neville nodded and waved to all those he knew in the crowd.  Ron, on the other hand, was looking as green as Harry’s robes and concentrated solely on reaching the front of the tent where Kingsley awaited on the dais.

Not long after the groom and groomsmen settled in front of the dais and nodded to Kingsley, the rest of the Weasley clan and their guests entered the marquee and walked down the centre aisle.  Harry had his back to the gathering and failed to notice their entrance until he heard an uptick in restlessness.  He turned just as Charlie and Kadeisha took their seats in the front row.  His chin hit his chest, the index finger of his right hand pointing back and forth between the two, as they returned his aghast stare with big smiles of their own.

“If you’d bother coming to a Weasley gathering once in a while, you’d be up to speed with everything, Harry,” chuckled Charlie as he helped Kadeisha to her seat.

Once Percy, Audrey, George, Angelina, and Fleur, carrying Victorie, were settled in their seats, strands of Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Air on the G String’ sprung from the enchanted musical instruments set behind the dais, announcing that the wedding was beginning.  Bill proceeded down the centre aisle with Mrs. Granger on his arm, followed shortly by Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.  Harry stood between Ron and Neville and could clearly hear Ron muttering gibberish under his breath.  He turned to Ron and gave him a pat on the back and the most reassuring smile he could muster, which was not much comfort to the groom as Harry, himself, was a basket case.  

Harry’s tensions eased somewhat as Teddy, dressed in little black dress robes with green and gold piping and carrying a cream-coloured satin pillow with wedding bands tied to it, walked stiffly down the aisle.  The little metamorphmagus employed his best efforts in primly and properly fulfilling his role until he noticed the three young men standing in the front of the marquee, at which point he proceeded to sprint.

“Unca Hawee, Unca Won, Unca Nevvy,” shouted Teddy, adding in a whisper that could easily be heard by everyone in attendance, “How’d I do?  Auntie Ginny made me walk dat way.”

“You did great, mate!  You stand here with Uncle Neville and me now, okay?” replied Harry softly.  He stood his godson in front of him and held the small boy’s free hand. 

Turning once more toward the back of the marquee caused Harry’s nerves to fray again.  Luna had begun proceeding down the aisle, which meant a certain redhead was next.   With another blink of his eyes, there she was.  

She was stunning… flawless… blindingly beautiful.  It was as though the sun itself had ceded it’s rays to Ginny for this very moment.  It was as though every twinkle of every star had been ensnared and sprinkled upon her like the finest dust.  She was more brilliant than the coalescence of every sparkle of every diamond and precious gem known to man.  If Ginny’s aim was to fill him with sadness and with the deepest of regrets at losing her, she’d done an impeccable job.  But despite the sadness and regret accelerating in his chest, he could not look away until he was suddenly distracted by the boy in front of him.

“Ouch!  Unca Hawee!” cried Teddy, pulling his hand from Harry’s grasp.

“Oh!  Sorry, mate!  Didn’t mean to squeeze your hand that hard,” Harry replied quietly.

He watched Neville hold out his arm when Luna reached the front of the marquee and they ascended the dais together.  Harry took Teddy’s right hand in his left and held out his own right arm as Ginny approached.  The movement enabled him to avoid staring into her eyes when he felt her take his arm.  Together they followed Neville and Luna up the steps of the dais and parted, Harry and Teddy to his left and Ginny to her right.  Harry looked to Ron and gave him another nervous smile.  Ron, however, did not notice.  He was too absorbed with Hermione’s entrance to notice anything else.  Ron was mesmerised by the graceful, flowing beauty that was soon to be his wife, and he appeared far more relaxed now that Hermione was approaching him than he had in the last five hours.

Once the wedding party reached the platform, the music ended and Kingsley cleared his throat.  “There are few truly enjoyable tasks I get to perform as Minister of Magic, but of those that are, presiding over wedding ceremonies is at the top of the list….”

As Kingsley spoke, Harry felt an overpowering compulsion to gaze beyond Ron and Hermione to the redheaded beauty standing behind them.

“And presiding over this particular ceremony is the greatest honour and privilege of all.  Not because of Ron’s and Hermione’s prominence in the wizarding world, both individually and together, but because they are, first and foremost, my friends.  Being able to perform this ceremony for them brings me such happiness, such joy, such… such hope for the future!  I am truly grateful that I can be here for the two of them.  Not to mention I now have the best seat in the house for this event,” finished Kingsley to a round of chuckles.

“So, without further delay,  Ron, Hermione, please take each others hands.”  Nervously, Ron and Hermione joined hands, holding Hermione’s bouquet between them, and each gazed deeply into the other’s eyes.  “Ron, you may begin,” said Kingsley with a nod to the groom.

Ron cleared his throat and began the oath he had written and memorised himself.  “’Moine, I can promise you that there will be times when I act like a complete prat and you’ll want to hex me into the next century…”  As the assembly laughed at the universally known truth of Ron’s statement, Ginny happened to glance over Ron’s shoulder and saw Harry staring at her intently.  She had to force herself to tear her eyes away from his as Ron continued.

“But I can also promise you we will have times of great happiness!  Every journey begins by taking the first step, and that’s what we’re doing here today – taking that first step into the journey of the rest of our lives together…”  Ginny chanced another look at Harry and caught his eyes again.  They were filled with an intense sadness and deep longing.  This time it was Harry who forced himself to look away.  

“There will be twists and turns in our journey, dark paths as well as light, forks in the road, mountains to climb.  But the journey is not about where you start or where you wind up, it’s about the journey itself.  It’s about choosing to walk down that road, choosing to make that climb…”  

Ginny felt pulled to glance at Harry again.  He was looking intently at her again, his eyes seemed to penetrate through her own, clutching her soul.  Ginny could not pull her eyes away.  The two were locked together as Ron continued his vows.  To Ginny, it felt as if… although the words were spoken by Ron to Hermione, they were passing through Harry’s own heart and planting themselves deeply within her soul.  She could feel his pain, his disappointment of paradise lost, of what could have been.  She could not prevent the mist forming in her eyes.

“This is my solemn vow to you, Hermione, that I will never leave you again, that I will walk down that road, that I will make that climb, with you and you alone, forever.  You are the most beautiful, the smartest, and the most generous person I have ever known.  You inspire me to be the best person I can be.  I promise to love you for eternity, to respect you, to honour you through both word and deed, to be faithful to you, and to share the rest of my life with you.”



When Ron completed his vows, Harry broke the trance under which he seemed to have Ginny.  She felt emotionally drained. Everything was out of focus and she could not concentrate as Hermione began her vows.  Ginny watched as he stared off into the distance and could see a tear brimming in the corner of the one eye within her view.

“Ron, today, I take you for my own forever.  I promise to love you without reservation, comfort you in times of distress, such as when the Chudley Cannons lose …”  The gathering roared with laughter, save the Best Man and Maid of Honour.  

“…again …”  Even greater laughter followed.

“To encourage you to achieve all of your goals, to laugh with you and cry with you, to grow with you, to be open and honest with you always, to comfort and care for you in times of sickness, particularly Cannons-induced sickness…”  Again, most everyone roared with laughter.

“To trust you and respect you, to love you faithfully through good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles we may face together, to grow old by your side as your lover and your best friend.  I give you my heart and my hand for all eternity.”

Hermione turned to hand Ginny her bouquet.  “Ginny?  Ginny!”  Hermione whispered.  Ginny roused from her rumination and after reorienting to her surroundings took the flowers from Hermione.

Meanwhile, Kingsley had turned to Harry.  “The rings, Harry?”  Harry likewise stirred after feeling a swift kick in the shin from Teddy, his gaze returning from that faraway place.

“Unca Hawee!  Youwa supposed ter take dis!” whispered Teddy quietly enough not to be heard in Glasgow.

Harry, his face turning brighter than Ron’s hair with the ensuing laughter of the wedding guests, retrieved the bands from the small pillow Teddy held and handed them to Kingsley.  Kingsley waved his wand over the rings, handing Hermione’s to Ron.  Ron took Hermione’s left hand in his and placed the ring on her finger just below the first knuckle.

“I, Ronald Bilius Weasley, take you, Hermione Jean Granger, to be my wife from this moment forward until death do us part.”  Ron slid the ring up Hermione’s finger, which was enveloped in a golden glow.  

Kingsley then gave Ron’s ring to Hermione.  She took Ron’s left hand in hers, placing the ring on his finger just below the first knuckle.

“I, Hermione Jean Granger, take you, Ronald Bilius Weasley, to be my husband from this moment forward until death do us part.”  Hermione then slid the ring up Ron’s finger, which was likewise enveloped in a golden glow. 

“I now pronounce you husband and wife!  Ron, you may kiss your bride.”

The gathering stood and gave the newlyweds thunderous applause and shouts, with wolf whistles from George and Seamus Finnegan, as Ron and Hermione lost themselves in a lingering embrace.  Strands of the ‘Spring’ movement of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ sprung from the enchanted musical instruments when Ron and Hermione finally arose for air and led the wedding party down the centre aisle.  Harry took Teddy’s left hand in his right and proffered Ginny his left arm without looking at her.  She took it and they advanced to the back of the marquee.

The wedding party queued up and greeted the guests as they exited the marquee so the elves could convert it for the reception.  Many of the attendees spent as much time, if not more, with Harry as they did with Ron and Hermione.  However, Aunt Muriel, who was being escorted by George and Angelina of all people, tried to take Harry to task.

“Mr. Potter, while I am pleased to finally meet you, I have to tell you I am most disappointed that you did not attend my nephew, Fred’s, funeral.”

“Oh, I was there, Aunt Muriel.  We must have missed each other,” said Harry.

Aunt Muriel gave Harry a chary look, but said nothing more as she left the tent.

“You have some nerve, lying to an old woman like that!” hissed Ginny into Harry’s ear in feigned anger.

Harry chuckled and replied without turning to Ginny, “Firstly, she not just any old woman, she’s Aunt Muriel.”

“Excellent point.”

“And secondly, it wasn’t a lie.”

Ginny turned and stared at Harry in confusion.  He didn’t return the stare, choosing instead to focus on the guests leaving the marquee for the gardens.  He was having a challenging time as it was simply trying to avoid staring at her constantly.  Ginny, as well as Luna, then glanced at Neville who had watched the entire interaction with benign amusement.  Neville subtly nodded his affirmation of Harry’s statement to Ginny.

Most of the gathering passing through the receiving line were polite and a few, much to Ginny’s delight and Harry’s embarrassment, congratulated the two on re-establishing their relationship.  However, some, mostly female ministry associates of Ron and Hermione, were less tactful.  After the sixth witch requested that Harry save a dance for her, Ginny voiced her disappointment.

“Well, at least I know I’ll get one dance with you,” muttered Ginny despondently.

“What do you mean?” asked Harry as he nodded a greeting to some Weasley cousins he did not recall ever having met before.

Ginny sighed, “Harry, after the bride and groom dance to their first song, the wedding party joins them in a dance.  Didn’t you know that?”

“Er, no, I didn’t,” Harry replied nervously.

“How could you not know that?” Ginny grilled him in disbelief.

Harry shrugged his shoulders without making eye contact and responded slightly irritably, “I dunno, Ginny!  I’ve only ever been to one wedding before and the Death Eaters disrupted that one.”

~~~ 

Ginny nudged Harry.  “Come on!  We have to dance now!” she whispered.  

Harry came back from his haze and followed Ginny a few steps onto the dance floor.  She turned to embrace him, but he stiffened, his gaze averted.  Slowly he began to relax a little and they started moving.  Ginny looked up at him several times, but Harry just gazed off into the distance, his jaw locked, fighting to avoid eye contact with her.  

‘CRASH!’

Harry turned in a flash and pushed Ginny behind him, placing himself between Ginny and the source of the sound.  For several seconds, far longer than it took most of the wedding guests to realize Jurisprudencia had dropped a tray of champagne glasses, Harry held Ginny behind him.  The gesture was not lost on Ginny, nor was it lost on Arthur and Molly Weasley.

Harry felt a soft hand on his cheek as Ginny’s gentle voice floated up to his ear.  “Harry?  Harry, it’s okay.  It was just an accident.”  

Harry slowly turned toward Ginny again, but still did not look at her.  Ginny took his face in both hands now and looked directly into his eyes.  “It’s okay now, Harry.  Everything’s fine.”  

A tear rolled down Harry’s cheek, which Ginny wiped away with her thumb.  Ginny again wrapped her arms around Harry’s neck as they started dancing again.  Again, Harry looked away.  ‘If only that were true, Gin.  If only that were true’, he thought.

Ginny looked over Harry’s shoulder to the Weasley table where her mother was giving her a sad, watery smile.  It spoke volumes to Ginny, everything from ‘you need to let him know how you truly feel’ to ‘stop pretending, he still loves you and you love him’.  As the song came to a close, Harry escorted Ginny to the table reserved for the wedding party and the bride’s and groom’s parents.  Next to that table was another reserved for the rest of the Weasley family and their guests.  Once Ginny was seated, Harry excused himself.

“Where are you going, Harry?” asked Molly.

“Oh, er, I have to check on Kreacher in the kitchen,” Harry replied feebly.

As Harry left the marquee, not through the rear entrance like most of the guests, but through a small opening near the front, Ginny turned to her mum silently pleaded with her for advice.

“Remember, Gin, be patient with him,” said Bill as he approached her from behind.

“Have you asked him to speak with you yet?” asked Molly.

“No.”

“No?  I said be patient with him, Gin!  That doesn’t mean sit silently beside him and do nothing but smile!” cried Bill.

“William!  There is no need to shout!” shouted Molly sternly.

Bill lowered his tone, “Sorry, but Ginny, you have to at least tell him you want to speak with him!  You know, give him some idea you’re interested?”

Ginny looked down at the napkin now balled up in her fists and nodded.  She spent the next forty-five minutes sitting at the table, looking for Harry.  She finally spotted him near the back of the marquee, surrounded by Gawain Robards, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and several aurors with whom Ron worked.  He was laughing and smiling amiably.  Ginny’s mood was mildly buoyed only by the fact that Harry had turned away several witches who had apparently approached him for a dance.

However, not long after Ginny spotted him across the marquee, Harry looked in her direction and their eyes met.  His facial expression never changed, the smile he sported never faltered, but she had noticed it.  It was his eyes.  Those brilliant green eyes that were dancing in the fading sunlight seemed to dim ever so slightly.  Even from fifty metres away, Ginny could see the sadness, longing, and disappointment seep into them as he locked eyes with her.  She wanted to talk to him, she had to talk to him, and she wanted it to be now.  But she couldn’t.  She felt frozen.  The sadness she felt emanating from him seemed to chill her.

Audrey, Percy, and Angelina were involved in some discussion of what Percy thought was exciting ministry business as they sat with Charlie and Kadeisha at the Weasley family table.  The latest two paid no mind to Percy’s ramblings, but were gripped with another matter entirely.  Charlie watched his sister, and Kadeisha, her friend, at the wedding party table.  They noticed her melancholy and apprehension and espied with disappointment the glance Ginny shared with Harry.  As if on cue, Kadeisha and Charlie nodded to each other and left the table, heading in different directions.

“Let’s dance, Ginny,” said Charlie in a tone that left no doubt he would not take ‘no’ for an answer.

~~~

The elves will milling about, carrying trays of champagne and hors d'oeuvres as Fleur, the remaining Weasley men, and Xenophilius Lovegood gathered around the Weasley family reception table.

“Beel, don’t ze elvez look cute in zeir uniformz?”  Fleur asked.

Bill just chuckled and asked aloud to those around him, “What’s that say on their breast pockets?  I recognise the Lionheart Manor crest, but some of the writing is in foreign languages.”

Xeno spoke up, “Yes, let me see.  Well, there’s Forcedyme.  He was with us at Salon-de-Provence.  His name is below the crest, you see.  It’s a muddled variation of the French word for ‘fortitude’ and above the crest?  You see where it says ‘Manoir de Coeur de Lion’?  That’s French, roughly translated as “Lionheart Manor’.  And there.  That elf?  Genuíno?  That’s Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, for ‘Genuine’ and ‘Solar de Coração de Leão’, well that means ‘Manor of the Heart of the Lion’, or ‘Lionheart Manor’.  And, yes, yes!  See that elf?  Bezobrazan?  He was with us at Castellabate.  His name is Slovenian for ‘Cheeky’ and he certainly was that, but the place above the crest?  ‘Maniero di Coure di un Leone’?  Again, ‘Lionheart Manor’, but in Italian.  And there.  Zoetheid?  Dutch for ‘sweetness’, and ‘Landhuis Leeuwenhart’, obviously, well, you know.  And this one walking in our direction.  He must be stationed here at Lionheart Manor because it’s in English, but his name, Steinig, that’s German for ‘Stony’.  And that one over….”

“Hold on a tick!” George interrupted.  “What did you say that elf’s name was, Xeno?”

“Which one?”

“The big one right here!”

“Steinig?”

“Yeah, what’d you say his name was in English?”

“Stony.”

Everyone could see that George’s mind was working overtime as he stared at the much larger than average house elf.  For several minutes, he muttered to himself.  The others gave him a look as if he had just plunged off the deep end.

~~~

“…and the wedding music!  Incredibly untraditional, yet extraordinarily beautiful!  It was so befitting Hermione Granger,” noted Gawain Robards.

“Actually, Gawain, I think it’s fairly common music for muggle weddings, not that I’ve ever been to one,” replied Harry.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” came a firm, feminine voice from behind Harry.  He noticed broad smiles spread across the faces of the men surrounding him as they glared at source of the intrusion.  Turning, he saw Kadeisha staring at him with a look that strongly reminded him of Professor McGonagall.

“Oh, er, hi Kadeisha.  Kadeisha Dixon, this is Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt, Head Auror Gawain Robards, aurors Michael Davidson, Aristide Porucrocopolis…”

“Yes, it’s very nice to meet ahl of you,” interrupted Kadeisha resolutely before introductions were completed, “but Mistah Pottah an I have an impoahtant mattah to discuss.”

Kadeisha grabbed Harry’s hand harshly and dragged him to the dance floor just as Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ began to play.  Her beauty, her boldness at disrupting Harry’s discussion with senior members of the Ministry, and her swift movement toward the dance floor with Wizarding Britain’s most eligible bachelor earned Kadeisha the angry and indignant glares of the numerous single witches in attendance.

“Kadeisha, what’s the matter?” asked Harry.

“You, Harry Pottah.  Youah da mattah.  You’ve been a bahd boy,” replied Kadeisha and she drew him in her arms and began to dance across the floor. 

“How so?”

“You haven’ been playin’ by de rules, Harry.”

“What rules, Kadeisha?”

“Harry, when a lady lets it be known she wants to speak to a gentlemon, de gentlemon is expected to make hisself available to speak wit her.  You haven’t.”

“Kadeisha, I’ve been here the whole time.  She can speak with me whenever she wants!”

“Are you sayin you haven’ been avoidin’ her?”

“Of course I haven’t,” Harry replied unpersuasively.

“You look me in de eye an say dat,” demanded Kadeisha coolly, but Harry did not.  He could not.  He had not been avoiding Ginny, exactly, but neither had he made it easy on her.

“I tought so.  Stop makin’ dis moah difficult on her dan it already is, Mistah Pottah.”

Harry simply nodded.

“Good.  No moah of dis nonsense,” concluded Kadeisha as she spun him away from her.

~~~

“Tell him now,” said Charlie.  “Just do it, Ginny.  You don’t need to have the entire conversation at this moment, but you need to tell him you would like to talk to him after the wedding.  Just go and tell him you would like to talk to him after the reception.  I may be a simple man, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know about matters of the heart,” said Charlie as they moved across the dance floor.

Charlie stopped dancing and gripped Ginny’s shoulders, spinning her away from him just as Kadeisha did the same with Harry.  And there they stood, shocked and embarrassed, mere centimetres from each other, close enough to share the same breath, their noses practically touching and their eyes, deep, rich brown and sparkling emerald green, locked upon each other.

“You two ah goin’ to dance now,” said Kadeisha over Harry’s shoulder just loudly enough to be heard by him and Ginny above the music.

“And talk,” added Charlie determinedly as he and Kadeisha left arm-in-arm for the Weasley family table.

Harry hesitated for a moment before tentatively placing his right hand on Ginny’s slim waist and cautiously taking her right in his shuddering left.  Ginny placed her shaky free hand on Harry’s shoulder.  They moved slowly and silently across the dance floor for several minutes.  Harry had broken the eye contact between them and glanced around the marquee, not absorbing the many glares, both happy and disappointed, that were fixed upon the two.  Harry shifted his gaze and fixated on decorative hair comb Ginny wore.  Finally, sensing Ginny was unable or unwilling to say anything, Harry broke the icy wall between them.

“So, er, ahem… I, er, I understand you want to talk?”

“Harry,” Ginny started, the end of his name catching in her throat.  Their eyes caught again and Harry could see she was struggling, her eyes were becoming misty.  He swallowed the lump in his own throat.  ‘Here it comes.

“H-Harry, I… I want to… for us to… to try again.”

And there it is.

“Are you sure, Gin?  Have you thought this through?”

Ginny nodded and buried her head in his chest, pulling him more closely to her than she had in over four years.  There was one thing he still needed to know.

“Ginny, you said the one thing that you couldn’t stand was my leaving you repeatedly.  As you probably already know, I signed up to become an auror.  There may be times I have to go on missions for months at a time, possibly even for a year or longer.  I’m sorry, but I have to ask this.  How are you going to be able to handle my leaving you then?”

She was silent for several moments before answering, “I… I don’t know.”

Harry breathed deeply in disappointment.  “I suppose some more thinking is in order, then.  Come on, dinner is about to start,” he concluded as he escorted Ginny to the wedding party table.

~~~

Harry rapped a spoon against his wine goblet, the chinking sound carrying over the din.  When the marquee became silent, Harry began speaking.

“Good evening, I’d like to thank all of you for coming here today to join me in celebrating the wedding of my two best friends in the world, Ron and Hermione.  However, before beginning the toast, I’d like to particularly acknowledge a few people who made all of this possible….  No, not you, George!  You and Charlie can sit down, thanks!” shouted Harry as George and Charlie began to rise.  Harry waited for the guests’ giggles and snorts to subside before continuing. 

“I would first like to acknowledge Dan and Jean Granger, the folks who raised a most wonderful, amazing, smart, and beautiful young woman.  If I were only allowed to choose one person in this whole world to be my sister, it would be my best friend and my confidant, Hermione.  Mr. and Mrs. Granger, I thank you for giving me the sister I never had.

“To Dan and Jean Granger!” called Harry, raising his flute of champagne to Hermione’s parents.  After the gathering toasted Mr. and Mrs Granger, Harry continued.

“I next want to acknowledge two people who are not only exceptionally special to Ron and Hermione, but to me as well.  As most, if not all of you know, my parents died when I was very young, and while I lived with a muggle aunt and uncle, I never truly had two people that I would or could consider my mum and dad… that is, until I met Arthur and Molly Weasley.”  Harry hesitated and looked in the distance, blinking rapidly for a few moments before continuing his speech.  His voice took on a more humble tone as he now spoke directly to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.

“Arthur, Molly, you took this scrawny, unloved boy into your home, no questions asked; you treated me as one of your own even when you struggled to afford the most basic of necessities for your own seven children; you gave me absolute comfort, comprehensive support, and unconditional love at great personal cost and sacrifice…”  Harry paused to clear the lump in his throat and blink back the tears welling in his eyes.

“… inc… including the sacrifice of your own son, Fred.”

Harry needed a few moments to recollect himself.  Arthur, Molly, and many other family and friends welled up considerably at the mention of Fred.

“And to top it all off, you gave me the best and most loyal mate a guy could ever ask for in Ron.  If I ever have children of my own, you will be my parental role models, and I can only hope I am half as successful a parent as you are.  If I live to be as old as Dumbledore, I will never, ever be able to repay you or thank you enough for all that you’ve done for me, and I know my own mum and dad feel the same way.

“To Arthur and Molly Weasley!” called Harry, raising his flute of champagne to Ron’s parents.  After the gathering toasted Mr. and Mrs Weasley, Harry turned to Ron and Hermione.

“Now, where do I begin.  I would love to start with the time Ron almost, almost, persuaded me to become a Chudley Cannons fan, but I think I’ll save that story for another time,” Harry said with a smile to a smattering of chuckles.

“Instead, I think I’ll begin with something Ron reminded me about last night as we were getting ready for bed.  You see, I held a unique position for many years being part of this trio that was Ron, Hermione, and me.  I was the proverbial ‘third wheel’.  I had a better seat at Hogwarts than Kingsley did today as far as Ron and Hermione’s relationship is concerned.  But there was one particular instant when I knew.  I knew they were destined for each other.  Oh, I knew they loved each other.  I’d known that for a few years at that point, and they knew it, too, even though they continued to bicker with each other constantly.  But at one particular point I knew it would last forever. 

“You see, there was a time during the war, during our mission for Dumbledore, when Ron and I, er, we sort of… let’s say we had a difference of opinion on the direction the mission was supposed to take.  The reason for it doesn’t matter anymore and, in hindsight, it was a petty argument in the first place.  We were both right in the end.  Chalk it up to the stress of the moment.  But on this difference of opinion Hermione happened to agree with me and the three of us split up for a couple of weeks, with Hermione and I going in one direction and Ron in the other.  When we reunited, I can tell you, Hermione was madder than I ever saw her!  Madder, even, than when she punched Draco Malfoy in the face in our third year.”

Harry’s speech was interrupted by cheers and several whoops, the loudest of which came from the Weasley family table and the tables of DA members.

“She was more angry at Ron than I was, and I’m the one who had the fight with him!  She didn’t speak to him for days, and when you’re just the three of you in one tent, believe me, it can get awkward.”  Harry paused again when he was interrupted by several chuckles.

“At first, I couldn’t figure out why she was so angry.  Hermione was absolutely twisted in knots with worry and concern for Ron when he left.  So, when he returned I thought she would be absolutely ecstatic that he was safe and sound and back with us.  But she wasn’t.  She was so, so angry at him!  It took me a few days, but I eventually realised why.  She was so angry because she cared for him that much!  She loved him that deeply!  She thought she would never see him again, and when he returned she wanted him to know he was not to do something like that ever again!

“And a few days after his return is when I knew it would be forever.  Once she started speaking with him again, he let her know that he was fully committed to her from then on, and she let him know that she was fully committed to him as well.  They were able to set his leaving and her anger aside and rededicate themselves to each other.  They each accepted that regardless of the circumstances life threw in their path, regardless of whatever differences they may have, they were willing to commit themselves, completely and freely, both individually and as a couple, to work through those circumstances, to overcome those differences, because they knew that in the end their love for each other would conquer all of that.

“It’s that willing and free commitment to each other that makes their love one of the most powerful I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness.  It’s a love that will withstand the test of time.”

“So, please rise and join me in offering a toast to my two best friends, two people who complement each other so well that together are far stronger than the sum of their individuality. To Ron and Hermione Weasley, may you be blessed with lifelong love and happiness!” called Harry, raising his glass to the newlyweds.

Thunderous applause filled the tent as the whole of the reception lauded the couple for several minutes.  Once the gathering calmed and settled in for the pending feast, Harry took his place next to Ron.  He soon felt the wet face of Molly Weasley press against his own from behind.

“That was so beautiful, Harry!  Thank you for remembering Fred,” said Molly as she embraced him and planted a watery kiss upon his cheek.

Hermione leaned across Ron, adding, “And it’s amazing how history repeats itself, Harry!”

“No, Hermione.  Not yet, it hasn’t,” he replied sadly.

~~~

The party had been in full swing for over two hours and some of the guests decided to take a break.  Charlie, George, Bill and Fleur were seated at the table with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley when Ron and Hermione approached them.  

“Are everyone enjoying themselves?” Hermione asked.

“Oh, I haven’t had this much fun since my own wedding, dear!” exclaimed Molly.  Everyone else expressed similar sentiments, but George.  He was still mentally chewing on something.  As the others engaged in mild chitchat, George turned to Ron as if a thought finally bubbled to the surface.

“Hey, Ron.  Have you ever seen Harry’s owl?”

“Sure.”

“What does it look like?”

“Bloody monstrous!  It’s name is Yama.  Japanese for mountain.  Why?” 

George pondered this for a moment before a wide grin crossed his face.  “Hey, Charlie!” he called across the table.  “I got that ‘conclusive proof’ for you!”

“Really, let’s hear it.”

“The large elf, Steinig, the one that’s been waiting on our table?  According to Xeno, he’s based here at this Manor, and the English translation of his name is Stony.”

“Okay, so what’s your point?”

“Do you remember the story a few months back when a large house elf used the Goblins to threaten to shut down Eeylops Owl Emporium?  The elf purchased an owl nearly as large as itself and the elf’s name was Stony!”

“George, you’re really getting on my nerves about this Benefactor business!”  Hermione said.

“Hermione, I’m telling you, it’s him!  Look, you say the Goblins took everything he had?  That you saw his vault and he didn’t have nearly enough money to cover the cost of the Gringotts damage?  But what if that was just, like, a trust fund or something?  He inherited what was left of the Black Family fortune and what if, once he came of age, he inherited some huge unknown Potter Family fortune as well?”

Staring into faces of disbelief, George continued, “Listen!  If you were Harry and you found out you inherited hundreds of millions in gold, what would you do with it?  Knowing Harry, he would do exactly what the Benefactor did, wouldn’t he?  You’d give it to your family, which in this case is us and Hermione, and you’d give it your closest friends, Neville and Luna.  And you’d give it to orphans because you yourself were an orphan from the last war.  And you’d use it to pay for all of the funerals of everybody and everything who died during the war because you can’t control your guilt.  And you’d buy a substantial part of the league that manages your most favourite game in the world – quidditch.  You’d open your home to your best mates and throw them the swankiest wedding ever!  You’d set up your family and friends in luxurious safe houses because they need protection.  IT ALL FITS!”

“You know, George, you make some convincing points, but it’s still all conjecture.  Where’s the smoking wand?” Bill said with a small smile.

“George, why don’t you just ask him?” added Ron.

“What fun is that?” George replied.

“Listen to me, everyone, particularly YOU, George.”  Arthur said quietly but firmly, “You can ask Harry after the wedding!  No more discussion about the ‘B’ word.  Understood?”  Everyone nodded in agreement, including George after an unusually nasty glower from his father.

“Come on, Georgie!  Let’s get some drinks for the table,” said Charlie.

He grabbed George by the elbow and they left in search of more drinks for the table.  Charlie pointed to an elf several tables away and they proceeded to pick their way through the crowded marquee.  While still several metres short of their destination, George noticed that there were only a couple of drinks left on the tray, and just as they reached the elf, he apparated away.

“Just hang tight, George.  I noticed that they always return to the spot they left with more drinks,” said Charlie.

The brothers stood there, waiting for the elf to arrive.  Sure enough, the elf reappeared within a couple of minutes with a full tray.  Charlie and George collected three glasses of firewhiskey each and started their trek to the Weasley family table.  Suddenly, George stopped and turned in the direction from which he and Charlie had just come, while Charlie continued on.  George stood there for a few moments with an inquisitive expression before walking back to the elf.  Taking a peek at the elf’s breast pocket, he noticed his name was ‘Zoetheid’.

“Er, Zoetheid?  You’re an elf, right?”

“Yes, Master George.  Zoetheid has been an elf for as long as Zoetheid can remember.”

“And you’re a free elf, right?”

“Yes, Master George.  Zoetheid is a free elf.”

“But you weren’t always free, right?”

“That is correct, Master George.  Zoetheid has not always been a free elf.”

“How is it you can still apparate around this place if you’re now free?

“Elves may still access the homes of their former masters, Master George.”

“So, if you were my elf and I freed you, you could still enter my home?”

“That is correct, Master George.”

“But let’s say you were never my elf, could you enter my home then?”

“No, Master George.  There are only two ways Zoetheid could enter Master George’s home.  Either Master George, as owner of the home, was present and invited Zoetheid into the home, or Zoetheid’s master was in Master George’s home and Zoetheid’s master called for Zoetheid.  Of course, if Master George were a muggle, then Zoetheid could enter at any time, even though Zoetheid is never permitted to enter muggle homes.”

“Oh, okay.  Thanks, Zoetheid.”

George stood there for several minutes.  There was something to what Zoetheid had just said that was important.  George could taste it.  There was something about Harry’s connection with the elves that would help George prove Harry was ‘the Benefactor’.  He just couldn’t put his finger on it.

~~~

The late August evening had turned noticeably cooler by the time the wedding guests had begun leaving.  Most of the Weasleys, joined by Mr. and Mrs. Granger and Ron and Hermione stood on the veranda to bid farewell to the guests as they made their way through the back of the marquee and up the marble stairs to the veranda to portkey out of the atrium.  Harry remained at the front of the marquee, saying final farewells to a few stragglers and directing various house elves on their duties.  As the last of the farewells were bade and duties delegated, Harry looked toward the back of the marquee, surprised to see George standing by the entrance and watching at Harry with an odd smile as though he were the cat got the cream.  Harry’s gave George a nod and turned away, exiting the front-left of the marquee and heading toward one of the gardens.  

Harry sat on a bench in the garden, staring at the stars and trying to clear his head of all thought and emotion.  It was proving to be a difficult task.  His thoughts kept drifting to Ginny.  She had been kind and caring to him this weekend and for that he was grateful.  She also informed him that she would like ‘to try again’.  He was pleased to hear that, but not abundantly so.  Like the dance that suddenly thrust them together, her request ‘to try again’ seemed forced, contrived.  Two people cannot be successfully thrust together and forced to speak to each other.  It needs to come naturally, with both parties willing to be open and honest.

Harry could not help but feel that others wanted the two of them to get back together more than she wanted it.  No doubt, he had been feeling pressure from Ron and Hermione to be patient and give her the time her heart needed to heal.  In fact, Ron told him in no uncertain terms last night he was being a gormless git when it came to Ginny, not to mention on the night of the bachelor party George gave him ‘permission’ to marry her and Charlie made his drunken ‘attack’ for allegedly cheating on her.  And the final bachelorhood quidditch match certainly was manufactured to force the two of them together, he realised.  Everyone he knew was in his ear about Ginny.  Everyone, that is, but Ginny herself.  Was she receiving the same pressure from family and friends as he was?  

Then there was the ‘Cora Abbott’ debacle within the last month.  It seemed as though Ginny’s sudden desire to get back together with him seemed to sprout immediately after the photos of he and Cora appeared in the news.  Did Ginny want to get together again because she wanted to be with him, or was it because she was bothered by the idea of Harry being with someone else?  It was a subtle, but important, difference.  Or was it?

Of all of reminders and discussion regarding Ginny over the last few weeks, only Molly’s talk with him yesterday afternoon seemed genuine.  Was he underestimating Ginny’s love for him or was Molly just another of the horde who wanted their relationship to blossom more than Ginny did?  

And was their love sufficient to withstand the obstacles that life may throw their way?  Ron and Hermione were committed to overcoming life’s challenges come hell or high water.  Their relationship was capable of withstanding those challenges, Harry knew, because they mutually conquered the worst that life was capable of throwing at them.  They had faced torture and death together countless times.  Undoubtedly, Harry and Ginny had done the same, but the mutuality was not there.  They faced those tests separately, and often individually.  How would they be able to handle life’s challenges as a couple?  How would they handle the day-to-day drudgery?  Was Ginny too accustomed to operating on her own to be able to accommodate another in her life?

Any way he looked at it, Ginny did not sound fully committed to the idea, and that is what troubled Harry the most.  He believed that this was their final opportunity to be together and she did not seem to be approaching the prospect with the most open of arms.  She seemed as though she needed to be convinced that he was right for her, and if she needed to be convinced of that fact, then perhaps he was not right for her after all.

The stakes were too great to fail.  Being in her presence was torture to him.  Harry knew in his heart that he couldn’t be just ‘friends’ with Ginny.  He loved her too much, and simply being no more than friends with her was emotional anguish.  He couldn’t be a part of her life if he could be in every part of her life, and she still did not appear to willing to commit to their relationship as freely as he did.  Add to it the fact that he would soon be incapable of escaping her, given her new and very public role as a chaser for the Holyhead Harpies.  It meant that Harry would need to leave the wizarding world once again, or at least the British wizarding world, to escape Ginny.  ‘Maybe once I become an auror I could transfer to someplace overseas.  There has to be a place where I can get away from all of this.  Perhaps America, or Asia, or Australia.

Harry’s rambling meditation was interrupted as he heard footsteps rustling in the grass just outside the garden.  He quickly cast a disillusionment charm over himself.

“Harry?”

Every muscle in his body tensed.  The voice of the one person over which he brooded came floating through the silent garden and nestled in his ears.

“Harry?  I know you’re here.  Can I speak to you?” 

Harry removed his disillusionment charm and silently remained seated on the bench.  He couldn’t bear to look at her.  Ginny noticed where Harry sat and walked to him.

“Harry?  Harry, look at me.  Please?”  Harry chanced a fleeting sidelong glance at Ginny and looked away again.  She had wrapped her arms around her and her hands were rubbing her upper arms, the chill having its effect on her.

“Why the sudden desire to get together again, Gin?”

This wasn’t a question Ginny expected and her response was fumbled.  “I… well…”

Harry stood and stepped close to Ginny without making direct eye contact.  He removed his cloak and wrapped it around her.  Instinctively, Ginny placed the cloak collar near her face and breathed in his scent.  It was both soothing and intoxicating.  It was not the scent she remembered, Harry’s clean and fresh soapy scent from her fifth year, but rather it was a woodsy, leathery, musky scent that enchanted her immediately.

“We both know your heart is not yet fully into our being together again.  I don’t want you to force us together simply because everyone else wants us to be.  When you’re ready to commit to the two of us because you want us to be together, I’ll come and find you.”

Harry walked away and was nearly at the entrance to the garden when Ginny finally found her voice.  “Harry!”

Harry paused without turning back to Ginny.

“Please Harry!  I don’t want you to leave again!  I want us to be together!”  

“No, Gin.  Not now.”

“Why not?”  Harry could hear the panic in her voice.  He breathed a heavy sigh.

“It wouldn’t work, Gin.  We’re not ready for it, and if we ever do get to that point, it’ll happen.  We can’t afford another relationship breakdown.  It would destroy me, us.  And if it never happens…  Besides, I can’t give you that assurance that you told me you needed from me... that I wouldn’t leave you?  I start training to become an auror at the end of next month.  As I said before, there will be times as an auror that I may not be home for months, maybe years, at a time.  You’ve made it fairly clear to me that being away from you for that long would be unacceptable.”

“But Harry?  That’s not what I…”  

Harry cut Ginny off.  “Ginny?  I love you.  Always have, always will.  But… but loving someone and… and… being able to live with someone are two different things.  I’m sorry, but I can’t live by the standard you want me to live by.  Not now, anyway.  I can’t guarantee that I will not leave you again.  I… I… I can’t guarantee that I will be by your side every minute of every day, as much as I might want that.  I…I’m sorry.”

“Harry!” Ginny screamed, but it was too late.  Harry apparated away.

~~~

George and Angelina stood patiently in the Reception Hall as the last of the guests departed and the Weasleys strolled in.

“Angelina and I have an announcement to make.  So if everyone would meet us in the parlour over here, we’d appreciate it!” called George.

“What’s this about, George?” whispered Angelina.  He turned and gave her a cheeky wink as the exhausted Weasley, Longbottom, and Lovegood families assembled in armchairs, sofas and loveseats.

“So, what’s this exciting news, Georgie?  I think I speak for everyone.  We’re extremely tired and want to go to bed,” said Arthur.

“Harry’s the Benefactor and I can now prove it conclusively, without conjecture!”

~~~

Harry appeared in his study, grabbed his real estate folder, and began sifting through the files.  He found what he was looking for.

“Steinig!”

“Yes, Master Harry?”

“Have you ever been to this cottage?” asked Harry, handing the file to the large elf.

“Yes, Master Harry.  That’s where I was first stationed for your grandparents,” replied Steinig as her returned the file to Harry.

“I’m going there now.  Inform the other house elves to take care of the guests while I’m away, let them know where I’m going, and tell them that no one is to tell any of the Weasleys where I am.  After that, come to the cottage.  Understood?”

“Yes, Master Harry.  Right away!”

Steinig disappeared with a ‘pop’ as did Harry some moments later.

~~~

“George?” warned Arthur.

“Just hear me out, Dad!” shouted George.  Once Arthur nodded, George began putting forth his case.

“I spoke with one of the elves, Zoetheid.   He said there are only two ways an elf could enter a wizard home.  The first way was if the owner of the home was present and invited the elf inside.  The second way was if the elf’s master was in the home and called for the elf.”

“So, what’s the point of all of this?” asked Bill impatiently.

“Where were we three years ago, Bill?” asked George.

“Er, we were still at Salon-de-Provence.”

“Precisely!  And what was one of the things we did to occupy our time while we were there, aside from playing quidditch, I mean?”

“Try to figure out where Harry was,” supplied Ron.

“Correct again!  And whose help did we solicit to try to find him?”

“Er, everyone’s?” said Percy.

“No, who specifically? asked George as he leaned on the back of a couch and glared at Hermione for several moments.  Hermione glared back at George before reaching up and slapping herself on the forehead.

“Of course!  I called Kreacher to Salon-de-Provence to help us find Harry!”

“What am I mizzing?” asked Fleur. 

“Kreacher is Harry’s elf, not mine.  So, the only way Kreacher could have entered through the wards of Salon-de-Provence was either if Harry was there and he called for him or if Harry already owned Salon-de-Provence!”

George barked out a laugh and began to gloat, “I knew it!  All along, I’ve been telling you lot that it was Harry!  Haven’t I?  I have, haven’t I?  Admit it!  Didn’t I tell you, Angie?  Didn’t I?  I’m not just another pretty face, am I?”

“But that doesn’t answer where all the gold came from,” noted Audrey.

“You’re not suggesting that Harry stole a half-billion Galleons, are you?” asked Charlie cheekily.

“No, Charlie,” replied Bill on George’s behalf.  “Harry didn’t steal a half-billion galleons.  He inherited it.  George’s been right all along.  Harry’s the Benefactor.”

“WHAT?  NO WAY?  The Potters and Blacks weren’t that rich, were they?”  Charlie cried.

Bill continued, “Well, yes and no.  Both families were on par with the Malfoys – well-heeled and with investments in various businesses, but nothing too outrageous.”

“But this,” Hermione gestured to the whole of Lionheart Manor, “and the French villa and the Italian villa…”

“And the Greek villa we’re going to,” Ron added.

“Exactly, this is much more than two ‘Malfoy Family Fortunes’.  So where’d all the extra gold come from?” Hermione asked.

“Think about it, Hermione.  The Malfoys always liked to throw their money around... a lot!  They have, or at least they had, lots of gold.  The Ministry seized most of their assets after the war and sold them to pay for war reparations.  

“On the other hand, Harry now has the Black and Potter family fortunes.  But the difference is – except for the Firebolt Sirius bought Harry several years ago – no one has been spending the Black and Potter fortunes like the Malfoys did theirs.  Harry’s investments have just been accumulating more and more gold with little to no outgoing expense.  That’s about twenty years worth of accumulation.  

“And knowing the Goblins as I do, they didn’t just let that gold sit in the vault.  They would have made additional investments in properties and businesses to generate even more gold, and taking a tidy investment management fee for themselves, I’m sure.  The more gold Harry’s worth, the more gold the Goblins get, and the more gold the Goblins get, the more valuable he is to them.  

“That’s why neither Kingsley nor anyone else could get information from the Goblins on who the Benefactor is.  They were protecting their own income stream by keeping tight-lipped about Harry.”

“But Bill, the gold, it’s still just speculation,” Hermione noted.  “One of us still needs to get Harry to confirm it.”

The rest of the family nodded and looked around the room at each other, all except Molly and Arthur, who seemed to be unusually interested in a peculiar tapestry of a wizard and three lions battling a dragon that was hanging on the wall.  Charlie was the first to pick up on his parents’ unusual behaviour.

“Hey, Mum, Dad?  What aren’t you telling us?”  Charlie asked.

Arthur and Molly shared nervous glances.

“You know, don’t you? You know!”  Charlie shouted.  The rest of the family sat there with mouths agape.

Arthur cleared the knot in his throat and nodded.  “Yes, Harry admitted it to us several months ago.  He asked us not to share it with anyone.”

The extended Weasley gathering then engaged in a lengthy animated discussion about the revelation.  So into the discussion of their friend’s wealth were they that no one but three individuals noticed Luna enter the room.  The three watched as Luna whispered into Molly’s ear and the two left the room together.  Bill nodded to Fleur to follow Luna and his mother.  Hermione also noticed this silent event and slipped from Ron’s arm and out of the room as well.

Molly swiftly entered the lounge and rushed to sit next to her daughter on the leather sofa.  Ginny had her face buried in her knees, her body shuddering.   Fleur, followed shortly by Hermione, entered the lounge just as Luna began to speak in her flighty singalong voice.

“Harry’s left again.  Ginny said he wouldn’t give her a chance to speak to him.  They didn’t talk much and Harry did most of it.  He seems to think being an auror means Ginny will never be happy with him.  I think he’s confused.”

“Ginny?  We’re going to find him.  Don’t worry.”  Hermione said firmly.  

Molly and Hermione consoled Ginny for quite some time, while Luna wandered about the lounge.  She noticed a picture of two people who were dancing and twirling happily.  She stared at the picture for several moments before speaking to it.

“Excuse me?  Yes, hello.  My name is Luna.  Could you stop spinning for a moment please?  Thank you, and, umm, madam?  Could you turn your back to me, please?  Thank you!”

Luna stared at the back of the woman in the picture for several moments until she finally discovered what piqued her interest in the first place.  She strolled over to Fleur, Hermione, Molly, and Ginny.

“Look at this lovely picture I found, Hermione!  This couple looks so happy!  Do you know who they are?”

“Now’s not the time, Luna!” snarled Hermione.

“I’m not so sure,” replied Luna lightly.  “Do you know who they are?”

Hermione irritably looked up at the picture before turning back to Ginny.  “They’re Harry’s parents, Luna.”

“Oh, really?” said Luna before speaking to the picture again.  “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Potter!  It is a pleasure to meet you.  My name is Luna and I am a friend of your son, Harry.”

The couple smiled and waved to Luna before returning to their dance.  “Umm, Mrs. Potter, could you turn away from me again, please?  Like you did last time, yes.  I want to show my friend Hermione something.  Thank you so very much.”

Luna handed Hermione the picture and pointed to the back of Lily Potter’s head.  She was wearing the same butterfly hair comb that Ginny currently wore.

“It was his mother’s?” whispered Hermione.

“What’s that, dear?” asked Molly.

Hermione showed the photograph to Molly, who in turn looked over to Ginny, who began to weep even harder.  Molly re-doubled her hug.

“We’ll find him, Ginny.  Don’t you worry,” said Molly.

“’arry would not geeve you zometing like zis, zometing of ‘es maman’s, eef ‘e didn’t luv you, Geeny!”  said Fleur.

Hermione sat upright for a moment, chewing on a thought.

“Kreacher!” Hermione shouted.

The old elf appeared with a ‘pop’.  “Yes, Mistress Hermione?”

“Kreacher, Harry’s run again.  Do you know where he is?”

“Yes,” Kreacher said flatly.  Several moments passed.

“Well, where is he?” Hermione demanded.

“Master Harry left Kreacher with strict instructions not to tell any Weasley where to find him.”

“But Kreacher, that means you can tell me!”  Hermione said shrilly.

“Actually, ‘ermione, zat meanz ‘e cannot tell you,” reminded Fleur quietly.

“Oh, right!  Sorry!” said Hermione, embarrassed to have forgotten that she was in fact a Weasley now.

“But, it does mean he can tell me,” said Luna.  

“That’s right!” shouted Hermione.  “Kreacher, Luna is not a Weasley, hence you can tell her.”

Kreacher looked disappointed that his master was outsmarted.  

“Kreacher will NOT tell Mistress Luna,” said the old elf.  He shuffled over to Luna and took her by the hand, “but he will show her.”  

“Don’t worry Ginny.  I will make sure Harry finds his way home,” said Luna.

In a blink, Kreacher and Luna disappeared.

~~~

Luna and Kreacher landed in a rich, lush wood.  To their right was a steep embankment that sloped some twenty metres down to a river that was approximately fifty metres wide.  To their left was a dirt footpath that twisted its way deeper into the wood.  Kreacher grasped Luna’s hand and walked down the path until they approached as small clearing, in the middle of which sat a charming little white-washed cottage with a thatched roof.  Flowers of every colour imaginable overflowed the window boxes.  Luna could just discern smoke billowing from the chimney against the dark backdrop of the trees.

“This is lovely, Kreacher!  Where exactly are we?” Luna asked.

“Mistress is on the German-Austrian border, on the Austrian side, about five kilometres south of Burghausen, Germany and Duttendorf, Austria.  That was the Salz River and this is Master Harry’s cottage.”

“Kreacher, is this where Harry spent his three years away from everyone?”

“No, Mistress Luna.  This is the first time Master Harry has been here.”

Luna could see through the windows of the rustic cottage where but a few candles were lit.  Aside from the flicker of candlelight and the crackling fireplace, everything was still.  Quietly she and Kreacher approached the front door.  Luna raised and lowered the ornate knocker on the beautiful hand-carved door, which bore the Lionheart Manor crest.

Steinig cautiously opened the door and was bewildered to see Luna and Kreacher standing on the porch.  Immediately the large elf and the old elf immediately began hissing and screeching at each other in elfin.  Harry emerged from a door in the hallway while trying to pull a shirt over his head.

“Steinig, what’s all the racket about?” Harry bellowed. 

After the shirt slipped over his head Harry looked up at the doorway and froze.  After a few moments of stunned silence Harry yelled, “Kreacher, what are you… what do you think you're doing!”

“Please forgive Kreacher, Master Harry, but Master Harry's instructions were only to not bring Weasleys to the cottage.  Mistress Lovegood is not a Weasley and she insisted on speaking with you.”

Harry let out an exasperated sigh and stepped aside, allowing Kreacher and Luna to enter.

“Hello Harry,” said Luna dreamily.

“What are you doing here, Luna?”  Harry’s tone left no doubt that he was unhappy with their appearance on his doorstep.

Luna breezed through the doorway and into the parlour.  She was still wearing the emerald green gown she had worn to the wedding.  Luna took a seat on a comfortable overstuffed armchair and waited for Harry to do the same.  

“So, what’s this about?” Harry asked, struggling to maintain his composure.

“I was just wondering why you insist on making yourself sad all the time, Harry.”

Harry sputtered.  “I… I do… I don't!  I don't insist on being sad!”

“That's not true,” said Luna.  Her tone was factual and not accusatory at all.  “Happiness is yours for the taking.  It's within your reach.  You just have to choose to be happy, but you don’t.”

“Luna, what are you talking about?  You’re not making any sense!”

“You know, you and Ginny could be together, forever, if you want, but you, Harry, have to choose to be together.  However, you choose not to be together.  You keep running away from her and it makes both you and Ginny sad.”

“Luna, it was Ginny’s choice for us not to be together!  I am only respecting her wishes!  She’s not ready to commit to me.  She’s not ready to live the life I will be living and to adapt part of her life to mine.”

“But she was so nice to you at the wedding, Harry.”

“Well, she had to be, didn’t she?  I know her well enough to know she wouldn’t want to make a scene at her brother’s wedding!”

“She did it for you, Harry.  She did it because she wanted to be nice to you, not because she had to be nice to you.  She did it because she wants to be with you, Harry, because she wants to be with you, not because everyone else is telling her to be with you!  It’s what she wants!  And it’s what you want!”

“None of that matters anyway, Luna.  Ginny said it herself.  If I can stop leaving her then she wants no part of me.  When I'm an auror, there might be times when I'll be away from her for months, if not a year, at a time and she can't handle that.  She said so herself!”

“Actually,” replied Luna, “what Ginny said, and what she has been trying to tell you, is that she wants you to stop running away from her.  You know, leaving without saying goodbye properly and letting her know that you will, in fact, return to her.  Going out on auror missions or business trips is not the same thing as running away.  When you go on a mission, and say goodbye properly and let her know you intend to return to her when you’re done, she will know you will come back to her.  And when you come back to her, I know that she will be waiting for you.  So I don't see how being an auror is a problem, really.

“You both want the same thing… to be together forever.  She’s gotten over her fears and she’s ready for you now, Harry.  But you need to get over your fear.  And the two of you can’t be together if you keep running away from her, Harry.  So, the best thing for you to do is to stop running away.  So, that’s it.  Get over your fear, and once you do, go back to Ginny and stay there and be truly happy for the first time in your life.”

Luna glanced around the room.  “This really is a beautiful, peaceful place.  There's not a wrackspurt to be found for kilometres.  It's a great place for clear thinking and for de-stressing.  You should bring Ginny here someday.  Well, that's all I had to say.  Harry, I do hope I will see you soon.  You shouldn’t be such a stranger.”

With that, Luna rose from her seat, bid Harry farewell, and walked out the door with Kreacher to the end of the wards, were they apparated away.

~~~

“You returned without him?” Ginny asked incredulously.  “You said you would bring him back with you, Luna!”

Luna looked at Ginny and calmly replied, “Actually, Ginny, what I said is that I would bring Harry home, and he’s almost there.  He been lost for a long time, but he has just about found himself again.  Once he has finished finding himself, he will come home and find you.  Then the two of you will be together again, and this time it will be for good.  I’d say it will happen within a month’s time.”

“A MONTH?  Luna, I want him here now!”  Ginny howled.

“What I really said was he will find himself and come home to you within a month, but no.  It wouldn’t do to rush things now.  Just get some rest until he does come home, Ginny, because when it finally happens, it’s going to be very intense for the both of you.  The love the two of you share is exceptionally powerful, exceptionally passionate.  You will be glad you waited.”

“Well said, Luna, well said,” said Molly with a smile.

“’ermione, are you zure eet’s not Luna oo’s ze brightest weetch of ‘er age?”  Fleur asked.

“She just may be, Fleur.  She just may be,” replied Hermione with a smile.
 


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The Runaway Returns: The Wedding

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