Ron and he had moved into the old house when they had joined the Auror training. Even though it still had a dark and creepy feeling to it, both of them had learned to call the place home.
Harry felt like he was walking on clouds as he entered, as though he were living sixth year at Hogwarts again. But every time he wanted to shout with joy, he would collect himself thinking of how he still had to break the news to Ron, not to mention his hope that Ginny would say yes.
"Master Harry, I've already turned down your sheets for you," said Kreacher in a tired voice, walking down the stairs as Harry slid his shoes off and hung his cloak up.
"Thanks, Kreacher, I hope you haven't been staying up just for me," said Harry, noticing that Kreacher looked like he was going to pass out with exhaustion.
"Kreacher wanted to make sure that there wasn't anything Master Harry needed before Kreacher retired for the night," replied the elf.
"Thanks, Kreacher, but I'm quite all right. You should go get some sleep," said Harry, feeling bad about not telling him that he was going to the Burrow after he had finished his Auror training for the day. "Oh, Kreacher, there is one thing I'd like to discuss with you."
"I hope Kreacher hasn't done anything wrong, Master Harry," Kreacher said, looking for the nearest object that he could use to punish himself.
"No, it's nothing like that," Harry replied quickly, catching Kreacher glancing at the fire poker. "I just wanted to remind you that I'll probably be spending most of the holiday at Ron's house and that you are free to do what you'd like during that time," he said, thinking of how many times he had offered Kreacher his freedom and how many times the old house-elf had refused to take a piece of clothing.
"Thank you, Master Harry," Kreacher replied in a gracious tone turning to the kitchen and to his bed.
"One more thing, Kreacher, please just call me Harry," he pleaded, thinking of what Hermione would say if she knew he had given him an order.
"If you wish, Master Harry," Kreacher said as if the request had gone through one ear and out of the other.
As Kreacher walked into the kitchen, Harry began to walk up the stairs towards Sirius's old room which had now become his. The room had barely changed from the first time Harry had first seen it two years ago while he, Ron, and Hermione used Grimmauld Place as a refuge after the attack on Bill and Fleur's wedding. It still had all of the pictures of Sirius, James, Lupin, Wormtail, and the faded posters of Muggle girls in their bikinis that neither Ginny nor Hermione approved of. The Gryffindor banners were all still on the walls and seemed that they would remain there as long as the house stood, because neither Harry nor anyone else could manage to reverse the sticking charms that Sirius had put on them. It did not bother Harry though. He wanted the room to remain the way it had looked as much as possible. It reminded him of the short time he had had with Sirius, and Harry had never truly felt that the room really belonged to him. The only differences that he had made to the room were to add a few more lamps to give it a bit of a homier touch, put some more books on the shelves that he had bought for his Auror courses, and stick a few more pictures, mainly of Ginny, to the walls, but with a sticking charm that could be easily reversed.
Harry, drained from the training and his talk with the Weasleys, slowly switched from his day clothes to his pajamas and climbed into bed. He had learned to dread this part of his day. It seemed most nights since the final battle with Voldemort in the Great Hall, he would relive the horrible moments of the war that he had tried to push out of his mind through his dreams. He could no longer count how many times he had seen Mad-Eye, Dobby, Fred, Tonks, Lupin, and Sirius dying, crying out for Harry to help them, but he was helpless. Worst of all was how many times they had all blamed him for their deaths. Only Ron and Kreacher knew that Harry had recurring nightmares. Most nights Ron could hear him from Regulus's old room that he occupied, and Kreacher had awoken a few times and checked on him to make sure he was all right. But Harry had never told either of them what exactly he saw in his dreams, and he had forbidden them to mention them to anyone. He didn't want to worry Ron, Hermione, or anyone else for that matter, but most of all he didn't want to remind any of them of the losses and heartbreak they all lived through. He learned to fear the comfort of his bed and pillow, but slumber would eventually overtake him.
The sun hit the window sending its rays pouring into every inch of Sirius's old room. Harry awoke slowly feeling the warmth of the sun, a sensation that was quite similar to the feel of Ginny's lips. He couldn't help but feel happy, for last night had been one of the few nights where had not dreamed of anything at all. As he slowly sat up and reaching for his glasses on the nightstand, that wonderful feeling of bliss hit him like a Bludger to the stomach. He got out of bed and all that he could imagine was how wonderful it would be to wake up every morning to Ginny's beautiful red hair, soft freckled face, and warm personality. Harry slowly walked down the stairs toward the kitchen hoping that Kreacher would maybe make him some biscuits and sausages before he went to Diagon Alley to find a ring, but as soon as he reached the kitchen not only did he see and smell breakfast already waiting for him, but Ron sitting at the table staring at his breakfast with a strained face.
"Morning," Harry said while letting out a morning yawn, but Ron did not answer to this or make any attempt to greet him. "Everything all right?"
"Do you think I'm good enough for Hermione?" Ron asked in a voice that let Harry know this had been bugging him for a while.
Surprised by the question, Harry stated in a confused voice, "What are you talking about?"
"It's just... ever since Hermione started training for Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, I just feel she's out of my league," Ron commented in a dejected tone. "She's constantly traveling and telling me stories of brilliant wizards she's met. It just makes me wonder.'
"Well, who'd be better for her than you?" asked Harry knowing that Ron was probably going to answer the question with the name of Victor Krum.
"I dunno… maybe… Victor Krum," Ron answered in a mumbled voice as if he were ashamed to say the name aloud.
Harry, taking a seat next to Ron while serving himself some of the breakfast Kreacher had left for him replied, "Ron, you're the best man I know, and Hermione is best friend to both of us, and I can't think of anyone else who would do or give more to her than you. Krum may be more gifted on a Quidditch pitch than you are, but I know for a fact that very few people could have gone through what you have and come out with their heads held high." Harry thought of all the memories he had of Ron and how he had never been let down by him. "And I think Hermione knows that too."
Ron's face turned from being filled with doubt and worries to pride and vigor and he looked at Harry and said, "Yeah, you're probably right. Besides, Hermione doesn't know a bloody thing about Quidditch anyway, so it never would have worked out between them."
"Yeah, exactly," said Harry.
"So how'd you sleep last night?" said Ron, but Harry knew he was wondering if he had another nightmare.
"Fine," Harry said, plainly not wanting to spend much time on the subject. Ron must have noticed his intentional shortness and didn't bring it up again.
Harry realized that Ron's mood had changed dramatically now that he had a full stomach and knew that this would be the best time to break the news about him asking Ginny to marry him. Harry looked straight into Ron's blue eyes; he had imagined this moment as often as he had pictured himself actually asking Ginny. Still, he did not know how Ron would react, and decided to take his chance.
"Hey, I've been meaning to talk to you about something for awhile," he said slowly, hoping that Ron may have an idea what it was he wanted to talk with him about.
"Okay," said Ron throwing some more sausages onto his plate. "What about?"
"Your sister and I." Ron's face then turned back to its twisted form and turned a light shade of red after Harry had finished his sentence.
"Look, Harry, I already told you Ginny made it clear that's it none of my business what you two do and, quite honestly, I don't want to know," said Ron awkwardly, as if Harry was going to tell him some romantic moment that he and Ginny had shared.
"It's nothing like that, Ron," Harry said while letting out a soft a chuckle. "What the bloody hell do you think Ginny and I do anyway?"
"Doesn't matter," said Ron in a quick voice as if he wanted the subject changed as quickly as possible. "So what's it about then?"
"I love your sister very much."
"I gathered that much from how often I hear you tell her that, not to mention that you guys snog every chance you get," said Ron, finishing his breakfast.
"Yeah, well there's more. I actually was talking to your parents about it last night," said Harry, thinking of his conversation with the Weasleys.
"I thought you were talking about that Eightball Dad has been using to answer all of his questions within the past week. The damn thing is starting to get annoying."
"We did talk about that and also something else." Harry paused. "I asked for your parents' permission to ask Ginny to marry me." Harry looked from the breakfast table's dark-stained wood to Ron's face. He expected it to be more intensely red than his hair, but Ron's face showed no emotion at all, which sent a trickle of anxiety through Harry's insides. "I would like to have your blessing too."
Ron stirred in his seat in complete silence as if he had sat on one of George's shocking cushions. Harry wondered if he should say something to break the thorny silence, but decided that he would let Ron process what he had just told him.
"What did Mum and Dad say?" Ron asked in a stern voice.
"They both gave me their blessings," said Harry in a collected voice.
"Who knows besides me and them?"
"Just you three, I wanted to make sure you're okay with it," Harry replied. "You're my best mate, and I didn't want to screw anything up." Ron simply stared at his empty plate while fingering his fork.
"I always figured you'd ask me this eventually, ever since that night you and Ginny kissed without a care in the world," answered Ron. "I also knew what I'd say to you when you asked." Harry's posture straightened up with Ron's last words. "Do what you got to do, mate." Harry leapt to his feet and with joy hugged his best friend. Ron said in a loud voice, "This doesn't mean you can snog as much as you want in front of me." Harry just laughed as both let go of each other from the friendly hug.
"So when are you going to ask?" Ron asked in a curious tone.
"I was thinking about Christmas Eve, outside of the Burrow," Harry said, while thinking of taking Ginny on a night walk away from the traditional Weasley party where they could have their privacy.
"Know how you're going to ask?"
"Well kind of, just bits and pieces, really. I haven't put it all together yet," Harry answered, realizing that he still had to go to Diagon Alley and get a ring.
"Bits and pieces? Harry, have you not learned a thing from that book I gave you?" stated Ron, talking about the book he had given him on his seventeenth birthday. "It's got to be just right, according to that book. Girls imagine this kind of moment as soon as they learn what a wedding is. And you know Ginny. She nearly hexed me when I walked in on you asking her out again. Hell, she'd probably use an Unforgivable Curse on someone if this doesn't go right." Harry's high spirits lowered a bit as he had realized how unprepared he was. He had spent all of his time thinking of how to ask for her family's permission and hardly any time on how he'd actually ask her.
"You might want to push it back a month until you get it down to the dot," added Ron.
"I can't. I want to do it while everyone's here so everyone finds out at the same time," he said, thinking of how Hagrid might be offended if he was one of the last to find out. Also, with a bunch of witnesses present, George, Bill, and Charlie were less likely to kill Harry. "Don't worry, I'll have it all straightened out by tonight."
"Well, if worst comes to worst, just push it back a bit, maybe till Valentine's Day; girls love that holiday," said Ron, as if he had mastered the ways of women. "Something about the thought of a flying baby shooting arrows fascinates them."
As if Ron knew what Harry was thinking he said, "Come on, mate, you have to let me tell Hermione. It might help convince her to give me my gift early, plus, I'll get major brownie points."
"All right, but only her and make sure she keeps it quiet."
"I'll play it like I wasn't even suppose to tell her," replied Ron in a happy voice. "Anyway, I'm off to the Burrow. Hermione and I told Mum we'd help get the place ready for the party tomorrow. You want to come?"
"No, not until later. I've got some errands I need to go take care of first, but I'll be there as soon as I'm finished," Harry said, not wanting to reveal too much about what he needed to buy.
"All right then, I'll see you later," and with that final comment Ron walked out the front door and with a crack Apparated to the Burrow.
Harry quickly finished his breakfast and cleaned up so he could finish his errands quickly. He would also need plenty of time to choose a ring that he thought Ginny would love and plan how he would ask her to marry him. His mind kept circling around what Ron had said about how all girls plan this moment from the first time they learned what a wedding was, and he was guessing that most girls learned quite early. He didn't have time to worry about this now, though. He had a mission that must be completed before tomorrow night. With this last thought Harry walked to the door, grabbed his cloak, and Apparated to Diagon Alley.
With a small crack, Harry arrived at Diagon Alley, and as he expected the place was in total chaos. Shoppers were everywhere trying to make last minute purchases for Christmas morning. The mad rush of people dashing from one shop to another would have intimidated most, but Harry welcomed it, for the crowd made it easier for him to blend in. Harry had grown tired of being chased by photographers and random people since he had defeated Lord Voldemort. He appreciated how people wanted to thank him or simply shake his hand, but the media had been nothing but a nuisance. The Auror program, because of the constant badgering of reporters and photographers, had almost rejected Harry. He could still remember how Kingsley said, "It will not only be hard to sneak up on a Dark wizard, but dangerous for you and the others with you, if you have a constant entourage of media following you, Harry." Today it would be much harder to spot Harry amongst the shopping crowds.
Harry carefully made a list of what he needed and thought of the most efficient way of getting the items. He needed to pick up some books for Hermione, a broom-grooming pack for Ron, and some new knitting yarns for Mrs. Weasley. He had already picked up some Muggle books about airplanes for Mr. Weasley, and two small hovering brooms for both Victoire and Ted, much like the ones Sirius had given Harry when he was a child. Finally, he needed to find and buy a ring for Ginny. Harry swiftly ran from one shop to another, trying to avoid making eye contact with people who noticed his scar. Once in awhile he thought he could hear someone say, "Is that Harry Potter?" or "I think I just saw Harry Potter," in soft whispers to their shopping companions, but luckily for him no one could tell for sure. He quickly ran through the list and as each item was eliminated, he became more and more anxious to see Ginny. He had told her that he'd see her today and knew that if he didn't hold up to that promise, she might not be very happy with him on Christmas Eve, and that would hurt his chances of making the proposal perfect. He wished that he would have had some Felix Felicis to help insure the plan, but he knew he did not have time to brew or find any.
When he had finally left the broom shop and stopped admiring the new Nimbus, he walked slowly to a small jewelry shop that he had seen his previous years shopping. Harry walked slowly to the small shop, noticing that the closer he got, the less people there were. He welcomed this because he knew that if any reporter saw him buying a ring, the Prophet would have a hey-day with front page coverage. The sign above read The Wizarding Jewel. He grabbed the polished gold knob on the tall handsome door and walked into the shop.
The place was empty of people except for Harry and a small, older woman wearing dashing green robes who stood behind the counter of one of the jewelry displays. The room was much larger than Harry had expected. He wondered if this building had similar charms to the tent that Hermione and Ron had used two years ago while they were hunting Horcruxes. The room had rich, wood floors, green tapestries on the walls that complimented the golden floor, and statues of knights in each corner of the room quite similar to the ones at Hogwarts.
"Welcome," the small woman said in a soft, delicate voice as Harry stepped deeper into the shop. "Some last minute shopping for someone important, I take it?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "Something like that." He looked distractedly at the first display that had watches on model hands that looked quite real.
The small woman smiled calmly. "Well, you've come to the right place. What's the occasion?"
Harry stopped and looked at her, not knowing if he dare tell her that he was here for a ring to give the girl he was going to ask to marry, but after a moment of hesitation he finally decided to be honest with her and hope she hadn't already realized who he was. "I'm looking for a proposal ring."
"Ahhh, the most special of all," said the woman, walking Harry to a different display. "Do you have an idea of what kind of stone, cut, and band you are looking for?" With these words Harry knew how truly unprepared he was for tomorrow night because the only word that he had understood was stone. "Let me help you," said the woman with the same soft smile while catching Harry's overwhelmed face. "Each ring is special and made for a certain person, much like a wand. However, instead of the wand choosing the wizard, the wizard chooses the ring for the witch he loves." Harry listened intensely, drawing each word in as if she were giving him the recipe to cure a terrible illness. "The tricky part is finding the right ring," she finished, while taking Harry to a display that was in the center of the room. It had nearly twenty different rings, all of them with different colors and shapes.
"Tell me, Harry, do any of these stand out to you?" the woman said while starring at the display.
"So you figured it out, huh?" Harry said noticing that she had called him by his name.
"Oh, it wasn't hard, I think nearly all of England could pick you out from a crowd," she said with a gentle chuckle. "But don't worry. I won't spoil your surprise. Your presence here will be our little secret."
Harry, feeling relieved, replied, "Thanks, I appreciate it."
"Where were we? Oh yes, do you like any of these?" she restated again kindly.
Harry looked left to right, scanning the various rubies, sapphires, pearls, diamonds, and beautiful stones that he had never seen before, but none of them felt right for Ginny. "I don't think so," said Harry in a questioning voice.
"All right, well, come over here," she said while heading towards a different display, but as she walked something had caught Harry's eye he had not seen before.
"Wait, what about this one?" Harry stated while pointing to a ring that had a silver band with small rose vines engraved on the side and a stone shaped like a tear that had the color and shine of a star. The small woman stopped for a moment and stared at the ring as if memories had came back to haunt her on the sight of it.
"That is a very rare ring," she replied while snapping out of her trance.
"Why?" Harry asked curiously.
"It's the stone that makes it rare," she said as if she was holding something back. "This is a phoenix tear jewel," she added as if Harry should now understand what made the ring so special.
But Harry still did not understand. He had seen a phoenix tear before in the Chamber of Secrets his second year at Hogwarts, and it was not a stone like the one in this ring. The tear that had saved his life had been an actual liquid. "I'm sorry, but I thought a phoenix tear, is, well, like normal tears," said Harry, thinking about the memory of Fawkes.
The small witch, now understanding that Harry didn't know what she was talking about, looked at him with interest. "You're right, phoenix tears are like our tears other than theirs are used for healing, but the first tear a phoenix sheds is the most rare of them all," she said, noticing that Harry was caught in a daze that got deeper and deeper with every word she said. "You see, the first tear a phoenix sheds freezes immediately and stays in its frozen state forever."
Harry had never heard of this, but the more he thought about it the more he realized he knew very little of phoenixes and their magic. The only real reason Harry knew anything about them at all was because of Dumbledore's phoenix. As Harry thought of all of his lessons with Hagrid, the woman waved her wand and made the glass that covered the display vanish. She then slowly reached her spare hand into the case and slowly picked up the ring and placed it into Harry's hand. As soon as the ring touched his skin, the sparkling clearness of the tear changed slowly, spreading gold and scarlet throughout the tear that resembled Gryffindor house colors. That was not the only effect the ring had on him: He felt a feeling of joy and ease spread from his hand to his heart. The feeling was similar to something he had experienced before but couldn't put his finger on it.
"The ring takes a different color for each person, for each person's heart is different," she said, seeing Harry's amazement with the tear's change of color. "The stone has taken the colors of Godric Gryffindor, which says a lot about your values and morals," the woman said while looking at the gold and scarlet jewel. "But how do you feel?" asked the woman with a bigger smile than the one she had earlier.
"I feel good, I feel happy, like I have no cares in the world," replied Harry still feeling the familiar peaceful feeling that was filling his body.
"The tear also has the same effect as the song of the phoenix, but unlike the song that comes from the bird, only a few can feel the song of the tear."
"Why can't everyone feel it?" asked Harry, remembering Fawkes's song that had been heard by all the students and teachers after Dumbledore's death.
"You have to be truly in love," she said while taking the ring from Harry, which turned back to its pure clearness.
"Where'd you get this?" asked Harry, now more curious about the ring than ever.
"You of all people should know this," replied the witch while she put the ring back in its resting place.
"Why should I know?" Harry asked in a confused but polite voice.
"Because the bird that shed that tear," she said while pointing at the ring, "also shed the tear that healed that scar," she said while pointing at Harry's arm that had been pierced by Slytherin's great snake.
"Fawkes shed that tear, Dumbledore's phoenix?" Harry blurted out while staring at the ring. "How'd you get it?'
The woman looked pleased that she had met someone who was as curious about the ring's history as they were about the ring's value. "Albus and I were always close. We first met at school," she said while looking at the ceiling. "Not many people liked Dumbledore, some didn't because of his father, some because he was great at almost everything he did, and others because they simply didn't understand him. However, I cared for Albus very much," she said as if she was scared someone was listening in on her. "We were very close during those times and had many great times together."
"Did you love him?" asked Harry noticing the affection in her voice.
"No, I think… not," she said reminding him of his conversation he had with Dumbledore after Voldemort had hit him with the Killing Curse in the Forbidden Forest. "His will for glory and my craving for a simple life never allowed us to truly fall in love. Albus had great things in store for himself. He wanted to see the world and to experience things no other wizard had. I, on the other hand, wanted a peaceful existence, a family," she said with a tone of regret. "But neither of us got what we wanted. I never married and I'm sure you know what happened to Albus's mother after he had finished school."
"She died," Harry said in a soft voice, trying to show respect.
"Yes, and very shortly after that, he lost his sister. Albus changed, not in a bad way, just a different way. He had grown content with his life and took up teaching and later became Headmaster, which kept us apart just as much as his adventuring would have, but we still kept in touch… as friends," she finished.
"But how'd did you get the tear?" asked Harry, remembering his initial question.
"He gave it to me when Fawkes hatched from his egg. He had found it in the Forbidden Forest but at the time he thought it was a rare stone, so he asked me to come inspect it. When I arrived I told him that I had never seen anything like it and wondered if it was a stone at all, but as the night passed on we forgot all about it, and we lost ourselves in the past at Hogwarts and memories we had of each other," she said while locking her fingers together. "Then the egg hatched and Fawkes shed his first tear and Albus gave it to me." As she finished she looked at Harry with what looked like tears of her own in her eyes.
"He told me to use it to help my shop. It was still fairly new then and struggling. I protested, of course, but he wouldn't have it any other way. The only request he made was that I sell it to someone who truly felt the song," she said smiling. "He always was a hopeless romantic."
Thinking of Dumbledore and how he always spoke of love and of its true power, Harry let a smile overtake his face, because he knew that Dumbledore really had been a hopeless romantic. "Why do you still have it?" asked Harry out of curiosity, knowing that someone beside himself had to have come in and felt the song.
"Many wizards and witches have come here for that ring, but I don't think Dumbledore would have wanted them to have it. I'm sure some felt the song, but I believe most have wanted it for its value, not as a token of love," she said, glancing from the ring to Harry.
"I would like to buy that ring," Harry said, now feeling that of all the rings that he would or could ever see, none would ever be as close to perfect for Ginny as the tear that Fawkes had shed. "That is, if you'd let me."
She stared at Harry with the same intense look that Dumbledore had always given him. He felt she was measuring his worth in his eyes, but it did not make him falter. He kept his head high and stared directly back into her own deep brown eyes. "You do remind me so much of Albus," she said as she retook the ring from the display and walked over to the counter. "I'd like you to have this ring, Harry. As a gift," she said while taking out a small white box.
"I just can't take it from you…" faltered Harry, realizing that he did not know her name.
"Shortboard, Tweak Shortboard," she said as Harry remembered her name had been some of Dumbledore's favorite words and now understood why. "Albus would have liked you to have it," she said compassionately.
"Thank you," were the only words Harry could find as she handed him a small white box with a red ribbon tied around it.
"I'm sure she'll love it."
"Yeah, I think so too. Wish me luck," said Harry as he slid the box into his inner cloak pocket. As he walked out the door, his head turned looking at the small witch. She didn't say anything. She just smiled and waved as the door closed behind him.
A/N: Hey everyone! I just wanted to say thanks for all of those that are reading, and I also wanted to apologize to anyone who prefers British English. If you haven't guessed yet, I am from the States so the story will continue in American English, sorry. I also wanted to thank my great beta, he's been a great help and without him none of this would have been possible.