Harry stumbled through the Floo after Ginny, dropping his own broom and the beat-up rucksack that had served him for luggage since he, Ron and Hermione were on the run. “Ginny, what the hell do you mean, you’re not going to—?”
She gave him a warning flick of the chin that said clearly, Look around.
With a blink, Harry took in his surroundings. Ron and Hermione were staring owlishly at Harry and Ginny from The Burrow’s battered oak kitchen table. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were standing by the sink. Mrs. Weasley was trying to smile at the new arrivals, but she was wringing her hands, which was never a good sign. Mr. Weasley had his hands on her shoulders; it looked very much as if he were trying to keep her from launching herself through the ceiling. “Hello, Ginny, Harry, dear. How lovely that you’ve come. Now we’re almost all here and we can have a lovely birthday party for... for George.”
“We wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said Harry.
“‘Course we’re here, Mum,” Ginny murmured, giving her mother a kiss on the cheek. Mrs. Weasley’s fingers never stopped working at each other.
Concerned, Harry took a step forward. “Uh, Mrs. Weasley—?”
Arthur Weasley gave a small, firm shake of the head, and Harry felt his mouth close. “Molly, dear,” Mr. Weasley said quietly into his wife’s ear, “there’s plenty for us to do before Lee and Angelina and the others get here—Ginny, will your little friend Luna be joining us?”
“No,” answered Ginny and Harry. Hermione gave a sort of strangled laugh. Harry felt obligated to elaborate. “She’s gone hunting… er… Snorkacks. Great-horned Snorkacks.”
“Ah, what a shame,” said Mr. Weasley, though he looked more relieved than disappointed. “So, children, perhaps you could go up and get the birthday boy... ready. For the party.”
Before Ron could ask whatever it was that he was about to ask, Ginny answered, “Sure, Dad. C’mon, Harry.”
He followed her dutifully, trying not to take too much notice as Mrs. Weasley turned to her husband and began to sniffle. As he reached the first landing, he heard Hermione pushing Ron up the stairs behind him. He took Ginny’s hand. “Ginny—”
“What the hell was that all about?” hissed Ron as he reached the landing.
“Honestly, Ron,” Hermione tutted.
Ginny answered her brother, her eyes on Harry’s, her hand still in his. “Fred’s... death. The idea of going up to the twins’ room must be too much for her. Even at Christmas she never went in there without crying.”
“Really?” asked Ron. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I ever forget, but... It’s been almost a year.”
Hermione tapped her boyfriend on the arm. “But this is the first birthday since. Anniversaries and firsts are hard. Isn’t that so, Harry?”
“Uh, yeah. I suppose.” He tried to think of anything like it—the first Christmas after Sirius’ death, perhaps. But all that Harry could remember thinking of at the time was the glow of Ginny’s face as she decorated the tree or picked maggots out of his hair. “I guess.”
Ginny scanned his face. “Harry...”
“What do you mean, you’re not trying out for the Harpies?” Harry blurted.
She stared at his chest. “Harry...”
“Harry?” asked Hermione.
Ron’s jaw dropped. “You’re not...?”
Ginny’s eyes flashed up. “No. I’m not.”
Harry squeezed her hand. “But...?”
She pulled her hand free and looked back at his chest. “I can’t. Ever since the last match. Everyone thinks I’m a sure thing, but I know I’m not, and I can’t go back to school and tell everyone I tried out but didn’t get it. I can’t.”
“Ginny?” Harry reached for Ginny’s hands again, but she held them at her shoulders. “Come on. That’s just—”
Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t say it, Harry.”
Hermione intervened. “Harry, it is, after all, Ginny’s decision.”
He tried to grasp Ginny’s hands again, but she threw them behind her back. Harry grabbed her shoulders instead. “You can’t just... not try. That’s not like you at all!”
Ginny’s nostrils thinned and her jaw jutted out. Harry knew that if he let her grab her wand from her pocket, he’d be at the receiving end of a world-class Bat-Bogey Hex, something he’d managed to avoid to this point and very much hoped never to experience. “It is your choice, Ginny, honest, but I don’t understand—”
“Ta,” growled Ginny.
“Uh, Harry, Ginny, just, you know...” Ron said, and Harry turned to him, blinking. When did Ron ever actually act the peacemaker? “Just don’t, you know, be hasty.”
“Yes, o wise one,” snapped Ginny.
“It’s just...” Ron seemed to be trying to hide behind Hermione’s hair. “It’s just, I know, you know, that there are times, you know...”
“Ron,” Harry asked, “what the bloody hell are you on about?”
Ron stood to his full height; Hermione took his hand and gazed up at him. “Just, sometimes, it’s a good idea when you realize you’ve made the wrong choice.”
Harry could feel Ginny turning, felt her at his shoulder, knew that she was looking at her brother with an expression of bewilderment as complete as his own. “Thanks, Ron.”
Hermione squeezed Ron’s hand. “Tell them, Ron.”
Ron looked down at his feet, took a deep breath and looked right at Harry. “Talked to Talionis today. I quit.”
Harry looked at Ron.
“It’s just… I know we said we’d do it together, and I know it’s really important—the Ministry needs Aurors, and the wizarding world needs Aurors. I just… It’s you, Harry. It’s what you want to do, what you’re good at. The bloody best. It’s like Susan—she’s got it in her blood. Or Terry, he’s nails in all the MLE statutes and regs and stuff, he loves it all. But me? I’m only there because…” Ron stopped, blinked miserably at Harry, and then looked down, pleading, at Hermione.
Squeezing his hand again and smiling, she stepped in. “Ron’s realized that he wasn’t very happy these past few months. He’s been miserable these last few months.”
“I know,” Harry sighed.
Ron snorted. “Wasn’t just about being happy, ‘cause, come on, since when has being a miserable git stopped me doing anything? It’s that I’m terrible at it—at most of the work of actually being an Auror. You know?”
“Ron—” Harry began.
“No, come on—I’m absolute pants at it. Pursuit? Statutes? Stealth? Hell, old Dragonbreath told me I made Tonks look like a bloody Lethifold. Okay, the actual combat spells—the things you taught us fifth year—those I was good at. And strategy. Not that the next Voldemort is going to sit down and settle things over a game of chess. But the rest? Pants.”
Ginny asked, “And you’re not… disappointed?” When her brother shook his head, she turned to glare at Harry.
For the first time, Ron looked Harry straight in the eye. “Well, I loved being with you, Harry, and Susan—even if she did seem to enjoy kicking my arse way too much—and Boot and Emery and the rest. And Hermione’s going to be at the Ministry next year. But…”
“I understand,” Harry said, and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“I…” Ron began to look down, but stood his ground. “I didn’t want you to think that I was running away again. Like, you know, last year.”
“Daft git.” Harry pulled Ron into a hug. “Told you last year: you didn’t run away. Well, okay, you stomped off in a fit of Horcrux-inspired pique. And you spent the better part of the next two months trying to run back.” He patted Ron’s back brusquely, leaned back and looked up. “Of course I understand!”
A grin like daybreak broke out on Ron’s face, and Harry suddenly realized just how long it had been since he had seen Ron truly smile. “Wicked! Thanks.”
Harry started to step back but Hermione, who was quickly boiling over from sniffling to blubbering, pulled him back in to a three-way hug. Between his friends, Harry saw Ginny staring at them, her eyes and nostrils slits. “Come on,” he said, not certain why she was angry, but recognizing the signs all too clearly and desperate to escape an explosion, ”let’s fetch the birthday boy.”
The four of them clomped up the stairs to the second landing. Ron, who was clearly feeling giddy, hammered on the door whose sign still read, Fred and George’s Room: Enter at Your Own Risk. “Oi! Old man! Come on down to the party before the prune juice is all gone!”
They stood there, awaiting whatever rejoinder George might send back, but were met with nothing but silence—a sound foreign to The Burrow.
“George?” called Harry. “Your mum wants you downstairs.…”
Hermione, who had already had one full-blown panic attack earlier that day over Luna’s odd behavior, looked as if she were well on the way to another: chewing her lip, wringing her hands, her eyes growing round and wide as Luna’s herself.
“George?” Ginny said. Whatever signs of anger she had been displaying moments before were replaced by signs of worry. Putting her hand carefully on the knob—touching anything anywhere near the twins’ room was always an iffy proposition—she cracked open the door and led the group in.
The room, which had been essentially a storeroom when Harry had last seen it, was neat as a pin and devoid of any sign that Fred and George had lived there for seventeen years. The walls were beige and bare. The two desks were utterly uncluttered. The bedspreads, which Harry remembered as being two violently clashing shades of purple, were a matching pale yellow.
On what had been Fred’s bed, the surviving member of the Terrible Weasley Twins lay on his side, curled into a tight ball. His knees were pulled so tightly in front of his face that Harry could only see George’s broad forehead; the long nose, the mischievous eyes—even the missing ear was hidden from view.
Harry started to rush to George, the first responder training he’d been getting over the past few months clicking in. Ron was right beside him and just a step behind. Ginny, however, managed to reach her brother faster than any of them. She touched George’s neck with those thin, clever fingers—taking a pulse, Harry realized—and then let out a breath and held her hand up, as if to say, Give us some room. She knelt. “It’s awful,” she said to George. No Don’t worry or It’ll be okay—just it’s awful. She wrapped her arms around George, hugging him gently.
An odd, vibrating sound seemed to bubble up from George’s middle. At first, Harry hoped that it was a laugh—that George was about to shout April Fool! and tease them all for falling for his trick. But quickly Harry realized that the sound was neither more nor less than a year’s suppressed sobbing. George twisted in his sister’s arms, throwing one brawny arm around her waist, and began to bawl.
Ginny—tiny Ginny—held him and rocked him, there in the middle of what had been Fred’s bed. After a while, Ron sat at the end of the bed, and Hermione sat tentatively beside him, both facing Ginny and George. Uncertain, wishing that there was anything that he could do to help, Harry sat by the pillows and watched as George slowly cried himself out.
Ginny, too, was weeping. Ron was looking away, but Hermione kept dabbing, first at her own eyes, and then at his.
Harry didn’t feel like drying the tears coursing down his cheeks.
When at last he had subsided, and Ginny looked as if she were about to let him go, George pulled her hard against him. “D’you know?” he moaned. “Do you know what today is?”
Ginny looked up at them, speechless, blank-faced.
“‘Course we know,” said Ron. “‘S not bloody fair that he never made twenty-one.”
George laughed now, but it wasn’t at all reassuring. “Not just that. Not just. Not just that we’ll never be the same age ever again. But he was... He and Angie...” George curled himself up against Ginny again, dissolving once more into tears.
As George began to run out of steam again, Percy’s clipped, worn voice broke in. “Fred and Miss Johnson were going to get married today. She’s just come; I’m afraid she’s rather poorly as well.”
For the first time, George looked up, his face blotchy and wet.
Tentatively, Percy continued, “She said that... that Fred...”
“Fred thought it’d be a great joke,” spat George. “Married on April Fool’s.”
“Hmm,” coughed Percy. With an uncharacteristic smirk in his voice, he continued. “I suppose it was so he’d never forget his anniversary.”
George’s jaw dropped, and Harry felt his own follow suit. Harry was about to kick Percy in the shins—when he heard that choked, vibrating sound again. He turned, expecting to see George consumed once more with tears. Instead, George was laughing. Red-faced and choking. But laughing.
Ginny, who was still hugging her brother, looked shocked, but quickly began to giggle herself. Contagious, the laughter spread to Ron and to Harry. Even Hermione seemed to be tittering behind her handkerchief.
Again, the cycle worked its way through. Wiping his eyes on Ginny’s jumper—the jumper Harry had taken such pleasure in removing just an hour before—George snorted, “You’re dangerous, you are, Perce!”
“Thank you,” answered Percy, looking rather pleased with himself.
“Come on, George,” Ron said. “Sounds like Angelina could use your help.”
Nodding and giving Ginny a squeeze, George stood. “Let’s get the party started, eh?” He began to walk unsteadily towards the door.
Ron stood and took George’s arm over his own shoulder. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk with you about, George,” he said, and they walked past Percy and out the door, Hermione trailing behind them, her handkerchief in shreds.
Harry began to follow, but Percy stopped him. “Actually, Harry, Father said that he received your owl this morning, and that he and our mother would be waiting for you in their bedroom.”
Harry thought at first that Percy must be joking again—but then he remembered that he had in fact contacted the elder Weasleys. And then he remembered why. “Uh. Great. Thanks.”
“Harry?” Ginny was peering at him, arms crossed.
Harry felt as if he jumped back into the frozen pond in the Forest of Dean. Ron was nowhere nearby, and Ginny didn’t look at all in the mood to jump in and pull him out. “Uh, you go ahead, Ginny, help out with George and all. I’ll be right down.”
Her eyes narrowed for a moment, but then widened. “O... kay. See you at the party.” She turned on her heels and flounced down the stairs, clearly Not Happy with Harry.
As he heard them descending the stairs to the ground floor, he followed, turning left on first landing to enter the senior Weasleys’ bedroom for the first time.
Mrs. Weasley was sitting, facing away from Harry with her head against her husband’s chest. They were at the end of their bed—which bore a bedspread that was as extravagantly floral as those in the twins’ old room was plain. Mr. Weasley blinked at Harry. “Ah, yes. Harry. I think we—”
“Did you know that Ginny’s decided not to try out for the Harpies?” Harry blurted; he’d had no idea that the words were going to leave his mouth—they certainly weren’t the words he’d practiced over the past few weeks.
“Uh, no, no, we didn’t,” Mr. Weasley said.
“We oughtn’t to let her, ought we?” The fear that had frozen his mind just moments before had given way to nervous heat. “She’s got to try out, hasn’t she?”
“Ah,” said Mr. Weasley, and stroked his wife’s head. “Harry, in my experience with women in general—and with Ginny in particular—it isn’t a matter of letting. They’re going to do what they want anyway, and if you try to stop them, you’re going to find yourself paying for it for quite a long time to come.”
“Which doesn’t mean that you can’t encourage her to see things from a broader point of view. So long as you’re willing to listen—truly listen.”
“But—!” Harry was about to tell the Weasleys all of the reasons that it would be disastrous for Ginny to give up on her dream at this point, but as he marshaled his arguments, he saw the wisdom in what Mr. Weasley was saying. “Oh.”
Mr. Weasley nodded, but then cocked his head—a very Ginny-like gesture. “Now. Was that the reason that you wanted to speak with us?”
“Uh, no.” Harry took a breath and tried to gather the threads of his much-practiced argument back together in his mind. In his jeans pocket, his hand found the ring case. “I... That is... Ginny... Can...? Will...? May...?” There he ran out of steam.
Mr. Weasley simply smiled blandly at him and continued to stroke his wife’s hair.
After a moment during which Harry found himself feeling more and more incapable of saying anything further, Mrs. Weasley batted at her husband’s hand. “For goodness’ sake, Arthur.” She turned around to face Harry, her eyes red as Harry had not seen them since Fred’s funeral. “Of course you have our blessing to ask her, Harry. I hope you would never question that you are the only boy we’d ever even consider good enough for Ginny.”
“The only boy stubborn enough,” Mr. Weasley said with a mild smirk.
Mrs. Weasley batted at her husband again, this time with more force. “And I hope, Harry, that you know better than to question Ginny’s own views in the matter.”
“Uh, thanks,” Harry answered, once his throat allowed the passage of air.
“Now,” said Mrs. Weasley, standing and clapping her hands together, “we need to finish getting the tables set. All the guests arrived and nothing for them to eat?” With that, she strode past Harry out of the room and down the stairs. Mr. Weasley stared after her for a moment, his mouth open, and then followed her, leaving Harry alone.
“Okay, then,” he said, and went to join the party.
In the coming years, Harry was able to remember that afternoon with crystal clarity: Neville’s secret, Hermione’s panic, Luna’s wild appearance, the sweet lovemaking session beneath the table in the Shack, Ginny’s angry exit, George’s catatonia, the Weasleys... What he could scarcely remember, however, was the party itself. The events that followed it, and those that preceded it, sure. But of the actual party? Scarcely a thing.
One memory that he would retain was of sitting on the Weasleys’ lumpy sofa, watching George and Ginny dance with a kind of wild abandon that Harry could only envy in the moment. Angelina, who had been all but silent all evening, was leaning her elbow lightly on Harry’s shoulder and watching along. “Nice to see some fun,” she sighed.
“Yeah.” Harry turned toward her, taking in the dark circles on her dark cheeks. “I’m so sorry about Fred, Angelina.”
“Thanks,” she said, and then turned to him. “Can I tell you a joke?”
“I loved Fred, don’t get me wrong. But George was always the one I fancied.”
“Really? But, I thought...”
She snorted and turned back to watching the manic brother-and-sister dance that was taking up more and more of the sitting room. “Everyone thought. Hell, I guess I thought. I mean, I only started seeing Fred because I thought it was George who’d asked me to the bloody Yule Ball sixth year. Should’ve known. I mean, they were both bloody fools, but George was actually the thoughtful one. In comparison. He’d’ve never just popped out and asked me as soon as the ball was announced like that. Should’ve known. Had to have been Fred.”
“Yeah.” Harry watched her; a smile was beginning to push its way up through her features. “And now?”
“Now?” The smile disappeared. “Doesn’t matter, does it? All either of us can think about when we see each other is Fred. I doubt either of us is going to be looking for company any time soon.” Her low nostrils flared in a snort. “Bloody fools.”
If Harry had answered her, he could never remember. And he’d ask himself more than once whether the fools she was talking about in the end were just the twins.
But that conversation would be one that Harry would happily recall over the years—at Angelina and George’s wedding, at the births of their children, and even when he and Ginny Floo’d over to their flat one night for dinner to find the two of them trading hexes and screaming at each other, blaming each other for the burnt lamb roast.
Love is like the grass pushing up through the cracks in a city street; people can try to pretend that they can conquer it, or that it isn’t there, but it always comes back.
The next thing that Harry could remember in later years was following Ginny out of the full-to-bursting Burrow into the chill of the April night. She led him out toward the paddock, steam flowing back over the silver-washed red of her hair and giving her an even more fearsome appearance.
Harry nearly had to sprint to keep up with her.
Just as he thought that she might be trying to lose him—that she might run into the wood nearby—she grabbed onto one of the worn posts that marked the paddock’s perimeter and turned on him. “I’m furious with you.”
“Do you? Do you know why?”
He was about to answer as truthfully as he could—that he thought she hadn’t liked the idea of him telling her what she should and shouldn’t do—but what Mr. Weasley had said earlier flashed through his mind and he thought that, perhaps, this might be one of those times when shutting up and listening was called for. “I’m not sure.”
She stared at him for a moment and then threw her hands up in the air. “Neither am I!” Looking down at Harry’s shoes, she leaned back the fence, her arms crossed. “I mean, I know what you bloody said that set me off. No one likes to make a bloody decision and then be told it was the wrong bloody one. I wanted to bite your bloody head off. And then, of course, it was all okay for Ron to bloody quit.... But the thing is, I know you were bloody right.”
“You... You do?”
“Of course I bloody do!” Again she flung her hands up. “I’ve been sneaking out here to fly since I was tall enough to open the latch on the broom shed! I love flying, I love playing Quidditch. It’s me. It’s who I am. A chance to play for the bloody Harpies is a bloody dream come true.” She was breathing hard, gouts of steam streaming from her nostrils.
“So I know I should try out. I know... I know I bloody have to.” She crossed her arms again, but instead of looking fierce, she looked lost. Her eyes were still downcast and her chin was beginning to tremble. “But I can’t. I can’t... I can’t stand the idea of bloody failing, Harry. Of everyone looking at me I feel as if there’s so bloody little I’ve accomplished on my own—compared to you, say, or Hermione or my git of a brother or... or Neville.”
Neville. Neville kissing her... “You’ve—”
“Shut up. I know you’re going to say I have, or that you love me no matter what, or something else just as lovely, but Harry, there are three bloody things in my whole life that that I’ve ever been truly proud of. One was the DA last year, and hey! When the DA joined the battle last year, where did I start the night, Harry? Another was Gwenog bloody Jones asking me to try out. And the other was you. You saying, you know...”
“I love you.”
She flashed him a pained grimace of a smile. “Well, yeah. Not that those aren’t wonderful, really bloody wonderful things, but Merlin, I feel like such a whinging, bloody, foolish girl, but if I lost either of those things, I couldn’t stand to lose—”
“Will you marry me?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered, and stood there blinking.
“Till death do us part?”
He walked toward her, holding out a hand that, somehow, held the ring box that he’d dropped so often in his kitchen. He opened the box, took out the ring that he’d found in his vault, took her hand and slipped the ring on. “Me too,” he said.
They both looked down at Ginny’s hand, and then up at each other. Her face, which had been pale, was in full bloom. She frowned. “But—”
“You’ll be brilliant. And even if you don’t end up making the team this time no one’ll think any less of you. Definitely not me. I’m not going anywhere.”
She folded herself beneath his chin. “Mph.”
“Morrison retired at the end of last season, you know that, and Susan just told me that her cousin—whose wife is the Harpies’ team Healer—told her that McKerrigan’s pregnant with her third, and isn’t likely to be flying next season at all. That’s two-thirds of their starting Chaser line. And they carry a full reserve squad. Gwenog might pick up one from another team, but she’s going to want at least one younger player to train up. So you going to tell me that there are two Chasers your age who’re better than you?”
She peered up at him; now her eyes went from rounded to narrowed—though unlike earlier, there was a glint of humor there as well. “Are you saying my making the club won’t be a big deal?”
Smiling, she pushed up on her toes and kissed him, and it felt very right.
Some time later, they were lying on the damp April grass; he had conjured a pair of blankets, one for them both to lie on, and one to throw over themselves. They were still dressed, but the night was cool and evening mist was beginning to close away the world.
“You meant it, right? Getting married.”
“Good.” She shifted in his arms. “Was that what had you so jumpy today?”
“A bit. Knowing that I was going to talk to your parents. But also...”
Pushing up, she rolled and looked down at him. Her moon-chased hair streamed down either side of his face. “Also?”
“He came, because... He wanted to talk. To tell me.”
She looked down—no fear there, no artifice, just curiosity.
“He kissed you.”
“He—?” Her face twisted, but then relaxed. “Oh. Yeah. Twice. I... forgot.”
He grinned. “Lucky me.”
“You want to get lucky, do you, Harry?” Her eyes were dark with promise.
He began to pull her toward him, but she slipped out of his grasp. When he groaned in surprise and disappointment, she laughed and skipped away from him. He sprinted after her, but six older brothers and years of training on a broom had taught her how to stay just out of his reach. They sprinted around the paddock, Ginny just ahead, zigging and zagging, both of them laughing.
I get to do this for the rest of my life, he thought as they completed the circuit.
Suddenly, she turned and stopped, standing back on the blankets. Harry slammed into her and they tumbled to the ground, still laughing, but kissing now, as if each were trying to erase any separation from the other.
As their embrace passed from snog to something more, Ginny groaned and pulled Harry tight. “April Fool,” she sighed.
April Fool, he thought, and released himself utterly to the moment, and to folly.