1: The Appetizer, in which Harry and Arthur Have a Long-Overdue Conversation.
Author's Note: To narrow the focus of this story, I have intentionally overlooked Ron's statement at the end of HBP that he and Hermione were to accompany Harry to the Dursleys' house.
Harry Potter stood outside the closed door of number four, Privet Drive, and savored the moment. Never again would he have to return to this house. Arthur Weasley stood at his side, waiting to take him to the Burrow for Bill and Fleur's wedding.
"I'm ready to go, Mr. Weasley," Harry said at last.
"In a moment, Harry," Arthur said with a solemn look on his face. "Let's go for a little walk. I want to talk with you in private before we get to the Burrow."
"It's..." Harry looked away from Arthur. "It's about Ginny, isn't it?"
"Yes, Harry, it's about Ginny."
For a few minutes, they walked in silence. Arthur's brow was furrowed, as if trying to think of the next words to say, for once ignoring the Muggle houses, and Harry was trying his best to avoid looking at Arthur.
Arthur finally stopped, turned to Harry and said, "This may come as a bit of a shock to you, but for a few moments you came close to being uninvited."
"I'm not too surprised. I guessed Ginny -- "
"Ginny wasn't the problem," Mr. Weasley interrupted. "It was Molly."
"Mrs. Weasley?" asked Harry, startled. "Why?"
Arthur looked up at the night sky and sighed. "When we got word that you and Ginny were together, Molly's first words were, `It's about time!' and I'm sure she was about to do a little dance. In these dark times, to hear such good news! And Ginny! Ah, Ginny. Even after the two boys she'd been seeing, with all she's been through, we knew all along that it was you she really wanted. Then for her to actually be with you! I think that was the happiest I have ever been for any of my children.
"Molly didn't say anything, but I could see she was thinking ahead, making giant mental leaps from you two starting to go out to...well, you know she wasn't all that wild about having Fleur for a daughter in-law, at least until we saw how much Bill and Fleur love each other, but for just a fleeting moment I could see in her eyes she was thinking about making it a double ceremony."
Harry stopped, choking on the word, "What?"
Arthur just grinned. "That was pretty much my reaction, too. Oh, it was never anything serious. You're both too young and it was all too new, but Molly's been thinking about Ginny and who she'll be with since Ginny was born.
"You have to keep some things in mind, Harry. Ginny's special," said Arthur, gently.
"I know. Trust me, you don't have to tell me how special she is," Harry assured Ginny's father.
"I think I do. You know she's our seventh child, but do you know she's the first girl born to the Weasleys in, oh, what must be going on seven generations?"
Harry shook his head.
"Yes, she's the seventh daughter of the seventh son, or something like that. I think she just may be the most powerful of all of my children. Of course, being the first girl in so long, we've all been a little protective of her, her brothers especially. Ironic, isn't it?
"And then there's Molly! Molly has a heart big enough to mother the world. She took to you almost immediately and started thinking of you as one of her own."
"I know," said Harry, feeling uncomfortable.
"I was there when she was arguing with Sirius about me, remember?" he explained. "Sirius said I wasn't her son, and she said I was as good as one." Harry stopped and smiled. "It was one of my happiest moments, the thought of belonging in a real family."
"That's Molly. And then there's all you've done for the family: saving Ginny, me, Ron. The idea of you truly being a member of the family, even for just a fleeting second, was thrilling. And then to have it gone..."
They had reached a playground. A park bench stood, a silent sentinel to the empty swings gently swaying in the night breeze.
"Let's sit for a while, Harry," Arthur said, gesturing to the bench. "Ginny told us why you broke it off, of course. I could see the sadness in her eyes, but she didn't cry, and she didn't say a word against you. I knew she was strong, but I never realized how strong. Molly, on the other hand, wearing her heart on her sleeve, her brief hopes for her daughter – and for you for that matter – gone, grieved as her daughter couldn't and wouldn't. So she became angry with you for breaking her little girl's heart."
"And you weren't?" Harry asked, feeling a little reassured.
"I'll get to that in a little bit. Anyway, for Molly there were a few days of `Isn't she good enough?' and `What was he thinking?' and `All of the time he's spent with this family and this is how he repays us?' I let her get it all out of her system. Finally, we were sitting at the kitchen table and she was going on about not understanding and was just about to scratch your name from the guest list, when two things happened."
"What two things?" Harry queried, feeling more optimistic as time went on.
"I just looked at her and said, `Molly, I do understand.' I vow I thought she was going to hit me with a frying pan. She just stammered, and I said, `Don't get me wrong, even after saving my life, when I first heard about this I was angry with Harry, too, and for a few moments I wanted to knock some sense into him – or at least knock him somehow! But I do understand why he did this. I keep putting myself in Harry's place, wondering. If I thought my being with you would put you in danger, what would I do? Could I face the possibility of losing you?' And then we just sat there."
"What was the second thing?"
"Fleur said that it was her wedding, and that she thought your noble gesture was very romantic, and so you remained on the guest list," said Arthur, with a small smile.
"What about Mrs. Weasley?" asked Harry, not sure that he really wanted to know.
"She's – she's better, but she's still a little angry. How should I say this? She's not angry with you for hurting Ginny – she knows you would never do that, and she's accepted that you did what you thought was best for Ginny – but for hurting yourself."
"Huh?" grunted Harry, nonplussed.
"It's complicated, and I think I'll let her explain it herself. Let's just say she's starting to think there's hope for you yet."
Harry sat on the bench, feeling confused. He turned back to Mr. Weasley and asked, "How's Ron taking it?"
"Ron's fluctuating between being your best friend and wanting to pat you on the back, and being Ginny's brother and wanting to strangle you. As the days pass, I think best friend is winning out."
"What about everyone else?"
"Ahem, yes, well, everybody else. You'll have to see them for yourself," Arthur muttered, looking nervous for the first time.
"Well, thanks for agreeing with me," said Harry, smiling.
"I didn't say I agreed with you, Harry. I said I understood what you did. I don't agree with your actions at all," Arthur said, standing up. "We'd better be going. We're late as it is. Hold on to my arm while I Apparate us to the Burrow."
"If that's how you feel, why are you telling me all of this?"
"I did it to prepare you, Harry. This is only the appetizer. Just wait for the main course," Arthur said with a slight grin as they Apparated.