Chapter 40 : Year 4: May 2nd, 2002
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The photo was one of those award-winning ones, taken just moments after the defeat of Voldemort exactly four years before it ended up on the front page of the Daily Prophet, that had been sold only to the luckiest magazines and for a vast amount of Galleons; it showed just the right mixture of grief and relief in Harry Potter’s face, and bits of the destruction of the Great Hall could be seen in the background. It was upsetting or perhaps, for those who had been miles away from the terrible sights that weren’t shown in the photography, quite thrilling to get to see a little glimpse of the grand moment they were now celebrating every year.
In some Wizarding homes (most of which were inhabited by at least one middle-aged witch), it was another Harry Potter photo that covered the front page of a different magazine – he was whole and clean, his glasses fixed and his eyes glittering as he laughed at the photographer. Instead of exhausted and shocked and wretched, he looked casually handsome in a shirt with rolled up sleeves, and one of his arms was resting around the shoulders of his new wife. Ginny was wearing a simple summer dress, and her bare feet were sunk deep into the sand of the beach in Southern Spain where the couple had spent their three week long honeymoon.
The readers of the latter magazine would devour the article about how the new Mr and Mrs Potter had made sure to return to England before the Anniversary; they would go through the paragraphs, hoping to find a quote or two from the ever so quiet and mysterious (at least when it was reporters from Witch Weekly asking him questions) Harry Potter.
But the curious, gossipy readers of Witch Weekly would be disappointed, because Harry had once again kept his thoughts and opinions to himself. It was for him, and perhaps Ginny, to know how he couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that the Spain sun had seemed to make his wife even more radiant than before. It had added more freckles to her cheeks and her arms, and made the tip of her nose burning red. But maybe it wasn’t the sun’s work, after all, that made her look so lovely; maybe it was her happiness.
Ginny couldn’t remember being happier. She woke up every morning in the honeymoon cottage and pinched her arm to make sure it wasn’t all just a dream. Then, she and Harry would spend the long, hot days down at the beach, people-watching in the centre of the village, or renting broomsticks and flying over the beautiful landscape while letting the warm Spanish winds mess up their hair. All of it was amazing. Not to mention the nights…
By the second of May, however, the couple were back in grey, rainy England; not that they were the least bit sorry. As much as they had loved their holiday and each other’s company, they were both looking forward to what was waiting for them at home – their friends and family, their new house, and as cheesy as it sounded, their new life as husband and wife.
About twenty minutes before the thick Daily Prophet and Harry’s dirty, bloody face would land on the windowsill and wake Hermione up, something touched her arm and pulled her out of the lovely dream she was having. Her first instinct was to push it away; it was something annoying, like a bug, and she would have liked to sleep for just a little bit longer – not because she was a late riser, but because it was her first day off from work in weeks, and she desperately needed the rest.
Smacking the annoying bug woke her up completely, though, as the response was a loud: “Ouch!” that made her jump and open her eyes. Ron was lying right next to her, rubbing his forehead with one hand while staring accusingly at her and pouting in a way that made him look so much like his eleven-year-old self.
“For Merlin’s sake, Hermione!” he complained. “Here I am, trying to be romantic for once, and this is what I get in return?”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “That was you being romantic? I thought I had a bug on my arm…”
“I was just getting to the romantic part,” Ron grinned, ignoring the sour tone in her voice. “Now I’m reconsidering… I’m not sure you deserve it after that smack…”
Hermione put on her most innocent smile as she rolled over and wrapped her arms around his neck. He was already dressed, but he crawled back under the covers, and Hermione smiled and closed her eyes as she felt his lips on his forehead. Then he bent his head down and kissed her. There was something so special about kissing him in the mornings, when his skin was still burning hot from a long night of sleep, and his chin and cheeks were still rough with stubble.
“What about now?” asked Hermione once they broke apart. “Do I deserve it now?”
She sank back down and lay on her back, looking up at all the patterns and shadows that the sun cast on the white ceiling above them. In that moment, she refused to let anything apart from Ron’s hand grabbing hers be real; not the growing cancer cells in her mother’s body, not Draco Malfoy’s betrayal, and not the Death Eaters who still wanted her and most of the people she loved dead.
“Fine,” Ron said, “I’ll let it pass just this once. You know, I was thinking last night…”
“Were you really?” grinned Hermione, and Ron’s eyes narrowed, though he couldn’t keep from smiling.
“Watch it,” he warned jokingly before continuing: “So I thought about the things we always think about whenever this day comes around. Fred... How bad it still hurts to think that we’re living without him.” He fell silent, and Hermione squeezed his hand harder as she turned her head to look at him. His eyes were staring longingly up into the ceiling, but most likely seeing the past instead of whitewashed wood. Then, suddenly, he shook his head and his face lit up. “And we think of Victoire’s birthday, of course,” he continued. “This year we think about the fact that we’ll get to see Harry and Ginny again since they came back from Spain. But there’s one thing we forget every year.”
“What is that?” asked Hermione, who for once had no idea where the conversation was going.
“That four years ago… at Hogwarts…” Ron paused and blushed before adding: “We had our first kiss. I think you remember – outside the Room of Requirements – and I’ve been thinking about it ever since you took me back there when we went to see Neville…”
He stopped talking, gulped and dared to look over at Hermione again. She was staring with wide eyes at him, her mouth half open as if she was going to respond, but had forgotten quite how to form actual words.
“… and I know it may not have been until that time in Australia, but I sort of think of that day as the day we first got together,” Ron continued as the red on his cheek spread to his ears and down onto his neck.
Hermione cleared her throat. “Which would mean that today…”
“Today it’s been four years since we got together,” Ron filled in. “That’s worth celebrating too, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is,” Hermione smiled, leaning in to kiss him again.
But a few minutes later, when she got up to get dressed and Ron headed into the kitchen, she still couldn’t stop a hint of bitterness in her from wiping out part of the sweetness that Ron had added to their morning. Maybe it wasn’t even bitterness – maybe it was disappointment. She imagined waking up another four years forwards in time and being in the same bed, in the same flat, still waiting for Ron to mature enough to want to settle down completely…
Suddenly, Ron appeared in the doorway and interrupted her thoughts. He was holding a sandwich in one hand and had half his mouth full of bread when he said:
“I’ve got to head out for a while.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. “Head out? Aren’t we going to your parents’ house in just a couple of hours?”
Ron nodded. “Sure we are. I’ll meet you there, okay?”
“Why? What are you doing?”
“Nothing special,” answered Ron quickly. “Work. Gawain sent for me. See you later!”
Hermione stood and stared at the empty doorway after he had gone, holding her pants in her arms without putting them on. Why was he rushing out all of a sudden? He had never spent the Anniversary apart from her or the family, and she couldn’t think of any reason why Gawain Robards would have him work on that date. In fact, she was sure that Gawain would hunt down every last person in the Auror Department before asking Ron to come to work today. For some reason, she just didn’t buy it.
Maybe, she thought while slowly pulling on her pants, he was lying to her. Because he was planning something to celebrate the four year anniversary of their relationship. Yes, that must be it, she thought as she headed out into the kitchen. She couldn’t think of any other reason why he wouldn’t tell her the truth.
Meanwhile, in a different Wizarding home, Fleur Weasley’s eyes swept briefly over the bottom half of her new brother-in-law’s face on the folded Daily Prophet that was lying on her kitchen table. She trotted over to the fridge and opened it quickly, hoping that she would be able to direct her thoughts towards breakfast preparations instead of the war. She had a tendency of having bad nightmares every year around the Anniversary, but when she had woken up on the second of May, not one single thought of the Battle of Hogwarts had crossed her mind. It was only now, when she was alone while the rest of her family remained in hers and Bill’s bedroom, cuddled up amongst the pieces of wrapping paper that was a result of their early morning birthday celebration, that Fleur first thought of the Battle, her nightmares, and the people that weren’t around anymore because of that day.
Accompanied by the steady pattern of raindrops hitting the shutters, Fleur began her normal morning routine. Flicking her wand, she made a whisk soar out of one of the cabinets and start whipping together pancake batter. Her hands seemed to work automatically; instead of thinking about what she was doing, she thought of the weather, and how the rain barely bothered her anymore. When she had first moved to England, she had been convinced she would never get used to it, but although she missed the summers back home every now and then, what she had right there in Tinworth was worth a thousand times more than the sunny coast in France.
In the letter that Fleur’s mother had sent along with the package for Victoire’s birthday, she had expressed a clear worry for her. Not because she was missing out on the beginning of spring in France, and had to suffer through the rain instead, but because Mrs Delacour knew that her daughter had always been driven and ambitious; she was the kind of girl who would sign up for the Triwizard Tournament instead of just spending her time with the Hogwarts boys (although, as Fleur had found out that year, one didn’t necessarily exclude the other). But Fleur was not at all miserable about staying at home with her children. She remembered watching Mrs Weasley when Bill had first invited her to the Burrow, and frowning at the thought of living like that. But she hadn’t had children at the time, and she knew better now; there was no job in the world that could beat caring for hers and Bill’s girls.
Fleur started cutting up fruit with a smile on her face as she thought of the way Victoire would walk up to her, pull at her skirt and look up at her with that adorable smile on her face and her blond hair bouncing around her shoulders, curling slightly at the tips, just like Fleur’s had at that age. She thought of the way Victoire would bend over Dominique’s cot and whisper: “We’ll play when you’re bigger, okay?” as if to make sure that her little sister wasn’t jealous of the fact that she couldn’t be part of the fun just yet.
Fleur was surprised when she looked up from her cutting board and realized that the breakfast was done. A big, and by all looks quite unsteady, pile of pancakes was waiting on a plate in the middle of the table, and the bread she had baked the other day was sliced up and ready to be eaten. After quickly placing the fruit in a bowl, she wiped her hands on a cloth, placed the knife in the sink and hurried upstairs. She had thought that Bill would have brought the kids down by now, but if she knew him right he probably couldn’t tear himself away from this moment with the girls.
When she reached the bedroom, Fleur paused in the doorway and peeked in, a smile spreading across her face as she took in the sight. Bill was lying on his back, his pale, lanky legs stretched out across the duvet and with Dominique lying quietly on his chest. Victoire was curled up next to him, both of her arms wrapped around his one and her face pressed against his shoulder. They all looked like they were going to fall back asleep, but just as that thought crossed Fleur’s mind, Victoire opened one of her eyes, smiled and lifted her head.
“Daddy’s tired,” she giggled, and Bill made a grunting noise.
“No, I’m not.”
Victoire laughed even louder and stretched out on of her arms towards Fleur. “Come, Maman,” she said. “Come here.”
Fleur was just about to tell them that the breakfast would get cold, and that she had to finish the cake before they left for the Burrow, and that everyone would need a bath, but then she met her eldest daughter’s dark blue eyes and instantly changed her mind. She crawled back into bed and bent over to place one kiss on Dominique’s head, and one on Victoire’s. Bill opened his eyes and grinned.
“Hey, what about me?”
Fleur rolled her eyes. “Fine, if you insist, I guess you can ‘ave one…”
And she bent over him again and let her lips brush against his. What did it matter if the breakfast got cold and no one would want to eat it, or if the cake would end up looking a little messy and they would be a little late to the Burrow? She never wanted to get up from this.
A couple of hours later, Ginny and Harry arrived in the Burrow right on schedule, indeed making the birthday girl and her family the last to arrive at the party. The pair had only just stepped through the door when Hermione rushed over to them and pulled Ginny into a hug.
“I’ve missed you so much!” she sighed before turning to Harry. “How have you been? You’re so tanned, Harry – I’ve never seen you like that before.”
“It’s been amazing,” Harry said as he hugged her. “I could have easily stayed for another three weeks. If I hadn’t missed all of you, of course,” he added with a grin.
“Heart-warming, mate,” said George, who was just coming out of the kitchen. “But unless I’m mistaken, you’ve been home for three days already. If you really missed us so much, what have you been doing for all that time? Oh, wait, don’t tell me,” he added quickly, pretending to get sick. “You’re newlyweds, so I think we can all have a pretty good guess!”
He winked at Harry, who blushed, and then at Ginny, who narrowed her eyes but failed to keep a straight face. Instead, she walked over and wrapped her arms around her brother.
“We really did miss you,” she assured him. “We were just settling into the new house…”
A squeak coming from the kitchen stopped George from making a cheeky comment about that. In the next moment, Mrs Weasley rushed out into the hallway, her cheeks as flushed as Harry’s, but with excitement rather than embarrassment.
“Ginny, Harry!” she squealed. “I am so happy to see you again!”
“Oh that’s right,” said George, “it’s been three years, hasn’t it? Here I thought it was just three weeks, how silly of me!”
“It feels like three years,” answered his mother and kissed Harry’s cheek. “You both look so healthy – I think the sun did you good.”
“Oh, definitely,” said Harry. “It’s great to see all of you again, though.”
“I know one little boy who has been dying to see you,” said Mrs Weasley and placed her hands on her hips. “Go on – he’s in the living room with the others.”
But Teddy must have heard his godparents’ voices, because he wasn’t in the living room anymore; in fact, he was rushing out into the hallway with such speed that Harry thought he’d run straight into the door. Somehow, the little boy managed to stop though, and Harry couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of his hair – it was changing colour every second, from one dazzling shade to another. Ginny quickly scooped the boy up into her arms and grinned widely as stretched his neck and placed a kiss on her cheek.
“Hi, little man,” Harry said, reaching out his arms to give his godson a hug. “How have you been?”
“Harry!” said Teddy excitedly, bending over to lean his head against Harry’s shoulder. Then, his facial expression went from happy to accusing as he said: “You have been gone for so long.”
“We know, buddy,” Ginny answered while stroking his back. “We missed you loads, though. And next weekend you’re going to come over and play with us, remember? In our new house. And Harry is going to take you to Holyhead to watch me play Quidditch.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Teddy, the corners of his mouth suddenly pointing upwards again. “Or we could do it today?” he suggested.
“We can’t – we’re here to celebrate Victoire,” Harry reminded him. “And the Anniversary.”
“Okay,” Teddy sighed. “But you’ll be here, won’t you? All day?”
“All day,” Harry promised.
And even if he had wanted to leave early, Teddy would have made sure that he couldn’t; he didn’t let his godfather out of his sight all day. When they sat down to eat, the little boy got so angry that his hair went scarlet when Audrey took the seat next to Harry, and she quickly moved over to avoid causing an outburst just before lunch. Ginny was just sighing over the adorable way Teddy clung to Harry’s arm when Ron nudged her arm and made her turn her attention to him instead.
“So have you heard from Luna since you came back?”
“No, I haven’t,” Ginny admitted as she, after a stern look from her mother, hurriedly sat down. “Why? Is she okay?”
“Splendid,” Ron nodded. “She’s leaving again, though.”
“She is?” said Hermione in surprise from across the table. “I didn’t know. When did you hear that?”
“Did Neville tell you?” Ginny guessed. “I bet he’s upset about that.”
“No, I met her this morning, and she told me,” Ron explained. “She’s meeting that guy – what’s his name again? Ralph?”
“Rolf,” Hermione corrected him.
“–she’s meeting him in Peru, to explore the wild life in the rainforests or something,” Ron continued.
Ginny felt a lump in her throat as her brother’s announcement sank in. Luna really was one of her best friends, and judging by the last time she had been travelling, they probably would not see each other for a really long time once she left. Ginny had missed her terribly the last time, and she wasn’t looking forward to feeling like that again.
“… at the Ministry?”
Ginny looked up, and having only heard the last bit of Hermione’s sentence, she stared at her other best friend in confusion. Hermione’s eyes were fixed on Ron though, and although they were narrowed, Ginny could tell that she was struggling to hold back a smile.
“She was… you know…” Ron mumbled.
“What are you talking about?” asked Ginny, curious as to why her brother was trying to hide something (as the colour of his ears so obviously showed that he was).
“I was just asking what Luna was doing at the Ministry,” Hermione explained. “Because that’s where you were going this morning, wasn’t it, Ron?”
Ginny’s eyes darted back to Ron, who was nodding vigorously.
“How come?” Harry asked, a small wrinkle forming on his forehead, right next to his scar.
“You know, the whole Finland thing,” said Ron faintly. “It’s…”
“Oh,” said Percy from the other side of the table. “Are you talking about the demonstrations in Helsinki? Apparently,” he said in a authoritarian voice, “the Finnish people are outraged at how the Ministry are handling the whole issue with the Finnish Auror who betrayed you in Finland,” he said to Harry. “They say the protests won’t stop until the Scandinavian Ministry authorizes the use of Veritaserum. And it has spread to Oslo and Stockholm… I reckon you’re only days away from being able to get some information out of that lady.”
Ron, who seemed to let out a sigh of relief, smiled and nodded. “Yes, that’s what I was talking about,” he said in a much calmer voice than before. “That’s why Gawain called me in.”
Hermione, being too interested in hearing more about the demonstrations, forgot about Luna and what business she might have at the Ministry, and spent the rest of the afternoon staying close to Percy and taking every chance she got to ask him about it. It wasn’t until she found herself in bed that night that she thought again of Ron’s strange behaviour that morning. There had been no surprise from him, no little gift and – she couldn’t stop herself from thinking it – no ring… So maybe he had been at work, after all. Maybe he had told her the truth. And even though her boyfriend not lying to her was actually a good thing, she couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
As everyone went to bed that night, they thought of many different things. Percy thought of Scandinavia and how he admired the people for standing up against their Ministry. For a brief moment, he felt ashamed over the fact that he had failed to that when he should have had, but just then, Audrey squeezed his hand and smiled at him, and that was enough lately to keep him from beating himself up. George thought of Fred, as he always did at night – he imagined what life would have been like if his twin had survived, and there was that shameful thought that he could never keep himself from thinking: even if that had meant that Angelina would have married Fred instead of him, he would have given her up.
Harry thought of how Teddy had cried and refused to let go of his hand when he and Ginny had left the Burrow, and of how Andromeda had had to pull her grandson away, and how his screams had echoed in both Harry and Ginny’s ears as they had Disapparated. It had broken Harry’s heart, because he had imagined Teddy reaching for Remus and Tonks the same way, knowing that he couldn’t come play and watch Quidditch with them next weekend.
Mrs Weasley fell asleep early that night, exhausted after cooking and cleaning and nagging her children, but she had time to cry over Fred once more alone up in the bedroom. Her husband stayed up a bit longer, though; he went back to their son’s grave under the tree down in the garden, and he sat down by the small tombstone and replayed a conversation he and Fred had had back when the twins have moved into the flat above their shop.
“Tell Mum she has no reason to upset, Dad,” Fred had said after the two of them had caught Mrs Weasley sobbing to herself as she had washed the boys’ clothes one last time. “I’m not going to leave the country, like Bill and Charlie. And I’m not going to stop talking to you, like Percy. I’ll still be here.”
And as he walked across the lawn a few minutes later, feeling the light drizzle on his balding head, Mr Weasley did not cry, because he was sure that Fred was keeping the promise he had made back then; that he was still there.
Finally, another chapter!
So as you can tell, I'm still alive! I've made it to my new home safely and I'm really liking it. I feel like I've already done more here than I did all of last year; but as a result, I haven't found much time for writing. Here it is though, finally - the next chapter. Thank you so much for your tremendous support. It means more to me than you know. When I finally logged on here and saw all of your comments I felt like crying (out of happiness, of course). You are all amazing and you deserve a chapter a day, but I'm afraid I can't do that. I do promise to write as quickly as I can, though, and I promise that I appreciate it more than you know.
And by the way, I will respond to all of the reviews - I just prioritized writing this chapter. Thanks for your patience. Hopefully, I'll see you again soon with the next chapter!
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