A/N: Thank you, thank you to my beta, Daily Prophet Reporting, for his thoughtful feedback and wonderful encouragement, even in the face of my extreme unwillingness to let any of my chapters dip below 5,000 words.
And now, I give you Chapter Two! It’s shorter than most (in fact, it’s probably the shortest chapter I’ve turned out in a good four years) and there’s a rather evil cliff-hanger-esque moment at the end, but it just means that the rest of the chapters are extra long :). Enjoy!
“Mum – can we talk now?”
Molly turned from the doorway, where she had been waving goodbye to the last of her grandchildren (and their parents), and faced her youngest son. He looked worried about something, and she frowned in concern.
“Ronnie, what is the matter?”
“Nothing, Mum – well, I mean, there is something…. Can we talk now?”
Hermione was hovering behind him, looking even more frightened than Ron, as she spoke to Ginny and Bryan. Harry was leaning casually in the doorway and watching them all.
“Of course, Ron dear,” Molly said briskly. Whatever was the matter? They should be ecstatic – they were getting married, after all. She hated frowns like those. Those frowns meant she was about to hear something she wouldn’t like at all. “Go right ahead.”
Ron glanced over his shoulder at his fiancée and lowered his voice. “No, Mum, we need to talk – er – in private. With you and Dad.”
Molly was starting to feel alarmed. “I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t discuss whatever it is now, dear. We’re all family. Well, except Ryan, that is,” she said, her lips pursing.
Ron frowned ever deeper, shifted on his feet, and glanced over his shoulder again. “No, Mum. We need to talk – just us. It’s about the wedding.”
Molly felt the blood drain out of her face. Surely not. Her knees buckled.
“No – Merlin’s beard, Mum, we’re still getting married, of course,” Ron said hastily, grabbing on to her elbow to steady her.
Molly pressed a hand to her rapidly beating heart. “Don’t you ever frighten me like that again, Ronald Bilius Weasley,” she scolded, gasping for breath. “I don’t appreciate it one bit.”
“I’m sorry, Mum,” Ron said impatiently. “Can we talk now?”
“Very well, very well,” Molly said irritably. “Let me just say goodbye to Harry.”
“Right. We’ll be in the sitting room. All right?”
“All right, I’ll be there,” Molly said, waving him away as she headed towards the cluster of young people. Hermione nodded above Molly’s head at Ron and followed him into the sitting room with a fearful look in Molly’s direction. Molly shook her head – what was going on? – and watched as they grabbed Harry and ushered him out of the hall. “Harry, dear, you’re not leaving yet, are you?” she called after his retreating back.
There was a short burst of whispering before Harry reappeared. “No, Molly, not yet,” he said, looking puzzled.
“Wonderful.” She turned to Ginny and Bryan. “Well, it was lovely to have you here, Bryan. I do hope you’ve had a good time.”
“Yes, I have, thank you,” Bryan said politely.
“Wonderful. And you know that Ginny’s got a busy day tomorrow, don’t you?” Molly said, beaming at her scowling daughter. “Helping Harry shop for furniture.”
“Er, yes, she mentioned it to me,” Bryan said, a frown creasing his brow as he looked from mother to daughter. There was a pause.
“We’ll be going, Mum,” Ginny said finally, her jaw clenched. “Thank you for dinner. I’m sure Bryan will love to come again.”
“Oh yes, definitely,” Bryan said with a smile.
“Of course, Bryan, you must come back,” Molly said, while silently swearing never to have him in her house again. “Goodnight, Bryan. Ginny, I believe we’re having a bit of a family meeting, dear,”’ she said in a not-too-subtle ploy to get rid of Bryan.
It failed. “No, Mum, it’s not a family meeting. It’s just you and Ron and Hermione and Dad.” She had a distinctly malicious glint in her brown eyes. Molly felt like Ginny knew something she didn’t. “Night, Mum.”
“Er, night, Mrs. Weasley,” Bryan called over his shoulder as Ginny pulled him out of the Burrow. Molly watched them until they Disapparated. She was definitely not going to like what Ron and Hermione had to say. But as long as they were still getting married, what could possibly matter so much?
She wiped her hands on her apron and went into the sitting room. She beamed at Harry, who was poised next to the door, ready to go. “Harry, dear, stay for a bit longer, won’t you?”
“Oh no, I can’t,” Harry said. He looked like he was glad he couldn’t. “I’m sorry, I’ve got to get back to Ron’s. But thanks for dinner, Molly.”
He kissed her on her cheek and she smiled at him fondly. “Such a good boy,” she said, her heart swelling. He was such a handsome man now. He had clearly taken to eating more after leaving Hogwarts and had filled out nicely. He was tall but not too tall and, of course, still had those striking green eyes.
He and Ginny looked absolutely marvelous together.
Soon, Molly. Soon.
She turned to the task at hand after she heard the front door close behind him. “Well, what is it, then?” she asked briskly.
“Erm, Molly, why don’t you sit down?” Hermione asked, scooting over on the couch so there was room for her.
Molly narrowed her eyes and put her hands on her hips. “What’s this all about?” she asked. Arthur, who was sitting in his usual armchair, looked as lost as she was.
Hermione and Ron looked at each other. Ron put his hand encouragingly on her knee and squeezed; she took a deep breath. “Molly, Arthur, it’s about the wedding. I’ve – we’ve – decided to have a Muggle wedding.”
There was a pause. Arthur recovered the fastest; he smiled widely and said, “Wonderful! What an excellent notion!”
But their eyes were on Molly. She heard buzzing in her ears.
“What?” she asked, her voice quiet.
Ron and Hermione stood and went to her. She was dimly aware of Ron leading her to the sofa as Hermione burst into a torrent of words.
“…has virtually been out of my life for the past ten years. She doesn’t understand anything to do with magic and she hates that she can’t. I’m her only child – the only wedding she’s going to be able to plan – and she wants to make it wonderful for me. And she wants it to be completely non-magical. Now usually I would protest, but I can’t, Molly, I simply can’t. She’s got her heart set on this and I can’t take that away from her…you must understand, Molly, my mum wants it so badly, and I feel so awful for excluding her from so many things in the Wizarding world, I think I owe her this. Please say you understand.”
Molly tried to get a grip. The girl was practically crying, after all. But then she looked at Ron’s face – Ron, her baby boy, her last cub (besides Ginny) to leave the den – and let out a wail. “My little Ronnikins!”
It was supposed to be a special, wonderful day at home, with tents and fairy lights and MAGIC, for heaven’s sake – the Lord only knew what sort of things Muggles had in their ceremonies –
“Molly, come on, see reason.” It was Arthur. His dear, wrinkled face moved into her line of vision and she sniffled. “Molly. We’ve been lucky enough to plan the other weddings – in fact, I’m surprised it’s gone on so long without being interrupted. Won’t it be nice to do something different?”
“Different?” Molly cried. “Different? Different would be having the ceremony in front of the house instead of behind it! Different would be having purple tents instead of white ones!” And she fell to crying uncontrollably.
Ron, who was clearly angry, snapped, “Mum, it’s just a wedding, for Merlin’s sake!”
Molly stared at him. “Just a wedding?” she repeated. “Just. A. Wedding? Fine, Ronald, you go and have seven children, lose two of them, fear every day that you’ll lose all of them, and then tell me their weddings are no big deal!”
“I won’t, Mum! I won’t think of that because it wouldn’t matter. All that should matter is that me and Hermione are getting married, Muggle or Wizard wedding!”
“Molly, I wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt you,” Hermione said pleadingly, her brown eyes shining with tears. “If I could have it my way it would be small and at the Burrow. But my mother wants this big to-do, with everyone we know, and I’m going to do it for her.”
She spoke very firmly and Molly admired her for it (secretly). She sniffled, her attention caught on something Hermione said. “A big to-do, you say?” she asked.
Hermione looked suspicious. “Erm, yeah,” she said, glancing at Ron. “With all our family and friends.”
Molly tried to reign in her growing curiosity. “In a big church, I suppose?”
“Yes – the church I grew up in at home in Cabell.”
Molly sniffed again. “And – the reception will be even bigger, I assume? Perhaps at your home?”
Hermione looked apprehensive now. “I think so,” she said.
Molly took a long moment as she pretended to contemplate. But really, her mind was whirling. Perhaps this wedding could be as great as she wanted it to be – maybe even greater.
“Please, Molly, my mother would be so grateful to have your help,” Hermione said, evidently becoming nervous at the silence.
Molly wiped her eyes one last time and sniffed again. “Well, I suppose I could do that.”
After a moment, she added a smile of her own to those around her.
A flashbulb went off in Ginny’s face the moment she and Harry stepped through the brick arch behind the Leaky Cauldron.
“Mr. Potter! Mr. Potter, is it true you’ve been hunting Dark wizards for the past four years?”
“Mr. Potter! Over here!”
“Mr. Potter! The Daily Prophet wants to know your opinion on the recent pro-Magical Creature legislation!”
Harry shot a grim look at Ginny. “Sorry, occupational hazard,” he said. She was busy coughing from the cloud of purple smoke that had accompanied the flashbulb.
“Mr. Potter! Smile for us, please!”
“Mr. Potter, are you back here in Britain to stay?”
“Rita Skeeter for Witch Weekly, Mr. Potter,” a familiar voice oozed. Harry and Ginny turned in horror to see Rita Skeeter, unchanged from the rigidly curled blonde hair and sharp fingernails (a charming shade of bright yellow to match her silk robes) down to the acid green quill in her hand.
She smiled at them as if they were a delicious dessert she were about to consume. “And if I don’t miss my guess, this is Ginny Weasley, reserve Chaser for the Harpies,” she said. She hit the photographer behind her, who was picking his nose. “Are you getting this?” she snapped, before turning her attention back to Harry. The photographer hastily took a picture, blowing smoke into Rita’s face. She waved her hand impatiently and leaned towards Harry. “All my readers want to know, Harry, is if you’re attached or not,” she asked with a nasty smile and a probing look at Ginny.
“No comment,” Harry answered firmly. He made to push through the crowd of clambering journalists and photographers, Ginny’s hand firmly in his grasp.
Wait. When had that happened?
“We are not together,” Ginny said to Rita as she freed her hand. “Did you get that? We are not together. I have a boyfriend.”
“But you were sweethearts at Hogwarts, right, Miss Weasley?” Rita asked, her eyes alight with curiosity and ambition. “What happened?” She lowered her voice conspiratorially and hissed, “Did he treat you badly? Dump you for another girl?”
“Shut it, Rita,” Harry said with a scowl, grabbing onto Ginny’s arm. “Let’s go, Ginny.”
“We’re not together,” Ginny repeated to Rita as Harry pulled her through the crowd and into the Apothecary nearby.
Harry sighed when they got inside and pushed a hand through his untidy hair. “I knew I should have done something to disguise myself,” he said reproachfully. He looked at her warily. “I’m sorry.”
Ginny waved her hand at him dismissively. “It’s not like it’s your fault,” she said. She frowned out the window. “I just wish we hadn’t been together is all.”
Harry’s face was impassive as he looked at her. “Rita’ll print whatever she wants to print,” he said. “I’m sorry you had to be seen with me.”
Ginny scowled at him. “Stop being dramatic. I just don’t want people to get the wrong idea about us.”
“You just don’t want Bryan to get the wrong idea about us,” Harry muttered.
Ginny rounded on him, hands on her hips. “I happen to like Bryan very much!” she said hotly. “And it’s none of your concern anyway! I don’t owe you any explanation!”
“Yes, you’ve made that perfectly clear,” Harry said shortly.
“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?” Ginny demanded, poking her index finger into his (very warm and solid) chest.
He grabbed her hand and stepped towards her. His green eyes were boring into her as he stared down at her, their bodies inches apart. “What I mean is,” he said, his voice low and distinctly husky, “I know you don’t like me. Everyone knows you don’t like me. So could you drop it?”
Ginny was frozen, every nerve in her body tensed. She couldn’t look away from him.
And then something crashed behind them and she sprang away from him as though an electric shock had run through her. She turned around and saw a small child laughing as he surveyed a knocked-over barrel of wriggling salamander tongues. Ginny grimaced in disgust and turned away as the shopkeeper and the child’s mother ran over to him, both yelling.
Harry was at the door. “Coast is clear,” he said, and left the shop without a backward glance at Ginny. She clenched her jaw and followed him.
The first store they went to, Wizarding Living, was bright and cheerful inside. It was full of modern pieces that wouldn’t go very well with the furniture already in Grimmauld Place (most of which Harry was having cleaned and restored), but they did take the opportunity to pick out several paint shades for a few of the rooms. Ginny tried to be standoffish and cold, but after Harry almost selected a ghastly salmon color for one of the bedrooms, she felt it was her duty to step in.
“You have the most horrible taste,” she said, snatching several samples from him and tossing them at the sales witch. “We need more solemn colors – greens and dark reds and blues and browns,” she instructed. The teenaged sales witch, who had been staring avidly at Harry in a way that made Ginny feel even worse-tempered than she already was, hurried to do her bidding.
Ginny looked at several shades of paint and discussed each of their merits with Harry.
“Red for the dining room,” she said, handing him a burgundy sample. “It’ll go lovely with the bronze drapes when you get them cleaned.”
“You’re right,” Harry said thoughtfully. “I would never have thought of that.”
Ginny gave him a look. “That’s why you shop with a woman.”
He grinned at her and her stomach did an alarming back flip. She hurriedly returned to the samples. She was having a spot of trouble coming up with something for the front parlor and kept coming back to a lovely shade of green that she just couldn’t shake. “I think this one for the drawing room,” she said finally, showing it to the sales witch.
“Oh, it’s the same color as Harry’s eyes!” the girl gushed, and then blushed to the roots of her hair, clapping a hand over her mouth in abject horror. “Oh, I mean – erm – all right, I’ll just take-”
She disappeared faster than a bolt of lightning. Ginny elbowed Harry in the ribs when he dissolved into peals of laughter. “Come on, that’s not funny, she’s embarrassed!” she said, although she was working to control her own grin. “You didn’t laugh at me when I put my elbow in the butter dish.”
“How d’you know I didn’t go up to Ron’s room and have a good laugh later, then?” he asked teasingly. She elbowed him again. “His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad....” he quoted, and when Ginny, her face burning and trying to contain her own laughter, smacked him smartly across the side of the head, he only laughed harder.
They hopped from furniture store to furniture store for the next few hours but gradually began to lose interest after viewing the seventy-ninth (Ginny had kept count) upholstery fabric shoved under their noses. Still, they were a bit productive, especially in an antique store they stumbled across that was chock full of lots of lovely pieces. They made sure to test each one.
“I dunno, it’s a bit severe, isn’t it?” Harry asked on the fourteenth couch. He bounced on it slightly and Ginny leaned back against the cushions, frowning.
“Well, you’ll just have to make sure you don’t sit on it too often. I think it would be lovely in the formal drawing room.”
“Hmm, good point.”
Ginny sighed and stood up. “So, is this all in this store?”
Harry looked up at her and chewed the side of his mouth. “I think so. Hey, d’you want to take a break?”
Ginny was dying for something to eat. It had been a while since their small (and awkward) lunch at the Leaky Cauldron. “Yes, feed me,” she said.
Grinning, he told the sales wizard which pieces he would be buying and together they left the store. “C’mon, I know just the place.”
Ginny was dimly aware of what was happening inside her as she followed him out onto the busy street. She was becoming too comfortable with him, again. So easily they had fallen back into how they had been – before. Joking, laughing, feeling warm – it was all there, just like it had been.
He took her to Florean Fortescue’s, which had been rebuilt after the war and the abduction of Florean himself, where they were given complimentary ice cream cones (a perk of being friends with Harry, Ginny supposed) and made fun of the messes they made of their faces.
“Well, have we got anywhere else to go?” Ginny asked after she had wiped all the chocolate (or so she hoped) off of her face.
Harry looked thoughtful. “No, not particularly….unless you wanted to come see the work that’s been done on the house?”
Oh, no. Don’t do it, Ginny. Don’t do it. Not a good idea. Don’t.
“Sure, I’d love to,” her treacherous mouth said. It even smiled back when he grinned at her.
The walk to 12 Grimmauld Place from the Leaky Cauldron wasn’t bad – twenty minutes or so – and it was spent companionably talking about Ginny’s work as a reserve for the Holyhead Harpies and Harry’s plans – taking a break and then possibly going to the Auror Academy – now that he was back. When they reached Grimmauld Place, Ginny was astounded as she watched the house squeeze its way into view – it looked totally different.
The brick was cleaned and bright, the windows painted, the lamps polished and shining. They climbed up the bright marble stairs and Ginny watched as Harry let them inside; the creepy knocker was gone and the door was freshly painted navy blue (to match the shutters). He let her in to the sound of distant banging and voices from somewhere above them. “They’re painting and gutting and things,” he explained airily, shutting the door behind her with some difficulty.
Ginny gaped at her surroundings. Everything was completely different from the last time she had entered the place. Gone was everything, really, that showed the house once belonged to a family of fanatical (and sometimes Dark) purebloods: There were no traces of snakes, house-elf heads, or creepy family portraits. Everything had been cleaned to within an inch of its life and, although there wasn’t any furniture and the peeling walls were bare, the house was already more welcoming than it had ever been.
“I figure once I get the furniture and paint the walls it’ll look a bit more like home,” Harry said. He sounded nervous for some reason.
Ginny turned to him. “It’s amazing, Harry,” she said honestly. “Really wonderful, what you’ve done.”
He shrugged modestly. “It’s been all the decorating wizards; I haven’t lifted a finger – or wand, rather.”
He led her through a short tour of the rest of the gutted rooms on the first floor, all shining and bright with sunlight from the open windows. Ginny’s impression of the home was much changed by the time they arrived back in the entrance hall.
“I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s finished,” Ginny said.
“Yeah, me too,” Harry said with a wistful smile. “Maybe I’ll be able to call this place home once and for all.”
Ginny felt a lump rise in her throat. This house held so many painful memories. She stepped towards him, the unconscious and instinctive need to comfort him rising up in her like it had so often before. “It is your home, Harry. It’s where you belong.”
“You think so?” he asked, staring down at her with slightly unfocused eyes.
She nodded. “I do.”
What were they talking about?
The world stopped when he bent his head and leaned towards her. And then she was caught – caught in his net, caught in his lips, her tongue caught with his. She moaned without knowing it and it just felt so good – so right – that she slid her fingers into his hair without second thought and kissed him back. Hard. Her stomach was floating, her knees were weak, her senses were filled with Harry.
She gave him fifteen seconds of all the passion within her before she remembered.
She felt like she was standing on the edge of a precipice and knew that as soon as she let her guard down, she would fall and never be able to climb back up. She couldn’t. She wouldn’t.
She pushed on his chest and freed herself. They broke apart, gasping. Ginny hurried towards the door and tried to pull it open with some difficulty.
“Wait – Ginny, what does this mean?” Harry asked desperately, coming to stand next to her.
“It doesn’t mean anything – nothing happened,” she snapped, twisting the handle and pulling with all her might. The door came loose suddenly and she would have fallen if Harry hadn’t steadied her.
“Don’t touch me!” she said, her voice slightly hysterical.
“Now wait just a damn minute,” Harry said, his voice rising in anger as he used his strength to push the door closed again. “You can’t just kiss me and leave, Ginny.”
“Watch me,” she snarled, unable to look him in the face. She tried to pull the door open but he was too strong for her. “Let me go!” she shouted finally.
“Not until you tell me what this means!” he yelled, evidently frustrated. “You can’t just walk out!”
Ginny looked at him with as much fire as she possessed. “Like YOU walked out on me?” she cried. “I can’t do the same to you? Damn it, Harry, it didn’t mean anything, it was just a kiss-”
“It was not just a kiss and you know it!” Harry said hotly. “Look, Ginny, I was wrong to leave you. I know that now and I’m sorry. You’re the one with the problem here if you can’t see what’s right in front of you.”
“And what, exactly, is that?” she yelled.
“Me,” he said simply. “I’m here. I love you. I want you back.”
Ginny’s lungs seized up. She couldn’t breathe. He said it. He told her he loved her.
“You don’t know what love is,” she said finally, brushing away tears on her pale cheeks. “Love is standing by someone through everything. Love is – is not LEAVING your girlfriend when she needed you the most. Love is scary and meaningful and you can’t love me, Harry, because you don’t know me.”
He stepped close to her, his eyes infinitely tender as he reached up and cupped her cheeks with his hands. “I do know you, Ginny, and I’ll always love you.”
She jerked away from him. “You knew me four years ago, Harry. I’ve changed. We’ve all changed. But you wouldn’t know because you weren’t here.” She pulled the door open. “You had your chance, and now it’s gone.” She left without looking back.
She had to stop once she rounded the corner to wipe her face; she couldn’t see through her tears.