Author's Note: Standard disclaimers apply, of course. And for the Americans reading this, a courgette is a zucchini. Thank you to PirateQueen and iviolinist for the fantastic beta jobs.
I used to tease Molly when she made courgette stew. It's always been her "comfort" food, having made appearances at all the most major moments in our marriage. She had insatiable cravings for it while pregnant with all of our children, and it was served at our wedding, so it's always held a special place in her heart - and in mine, at that. None of our children like it much, so every time she decides to make a cauldron (and take my word for it - the only kind of cooking cauldrons Molly has are big ones), Molly and I spend several days trying to finish it. Honestly? I don't like it much either, but Molly loves it, and I love Molly, so... Well, let's just say I've developed a tolerance for it.
She made courgette stew the day Ron went off to Hogwarts. That was the day he walked into our lives with that thin, lightning-bolt scar and that lost, sad expression. I was struck by how scrawny and meagre he was, this boy of whom everyone had such enormous expectations.
Of course, Ginny was taken with him, even then. She goggled at him like he was a four-headed chimpanzee clad in very baggy Muggle clothes and bombarded me with chatter about him.
"Did you see him, Dad? Harry Potter? Did you see his scar? I saw it. Do you think he remembers what happened that night with You-Know-Who? Do you think he's scared to go to Hogwarts? He grew up with Muggles, didn't he? If I grew up with Muggles I'd be scared to go to Hogwarts, too. Do you think he needs a friend, Daddy? Because I could write to him and be his friend. I'm good at making friends, Mum says so. Aren't I, Mum?"
I chuckled and ruffled her hair affectionately. "Of course you are," I said, "but Harry'll be all right. Everyone's a little nervous to go to Hogwarts the first time. I was, your mum was,and all of your brothers were as well."
At that her face scrunched up and her bottom lip quivered. "Who's going to play with me now that Ron's at school?" she squeaked, tears shimmering in her wide, brown eyes. I bent down and scooped her up in my arms, drying her tears with my sleeve.
"What - does this mean I'm too old to play with my own daughter?" I replied, winking.
I remember how confident I was then,about my ability to protect my little girl. A kiss, a wink, a little joke and everything was right again. At that moment, I was the only man in Ginny's life. The only man she had ever needed or would ever need.
They say ignorance is bliss. I say they're right.
Nearly two years later, Molly brewed another cauldron of courgette stew for the two of us. We'd just returned from a trip to Hogwarts and were wrapping up one of the most horrific weeks of our lives. Up until then, anyway. I couldn't get that image out of my head:of Molly sobbing by Minerva's fire; of Harry bursting through the door, covered in grime and blood; of Ginny clinging to his hand for dear life; of the tears streaming down her freckled cheeks.
Molly disapproved, of course, but that day I resented Harry Potter. I resented his scar and his sword, his round glasses and his rumpled hair. I resented that twelve-year-old boy, in all his unassuming glory. I resented the fact that it had been he who'd rescued Ginny from the Chamber. That he'd been the one to risk his life for her, that he'd been the first person she saw when she woke. I resented that it had been himand not me.
As he retold their ordeal, I saw how adoringly Ginny looked at Harry, how she hung on his every word. I saw how she smiled shyly when he stopped by her hospital bed the next day, how she clung to the Chocolate Frog he brought her...
I saw it all,and it terrified me.
After that, we went several years without having to face the ominous courgette stew. I'm told by Fred and George, however, that when I was bit by that snake, the abundance of stew was slightly nauseating to behold. The next time I saw stew was Christmas Eve of Ginny's fifth year. Molly made it, undoubtedly, to counter the stress Miss Delacour was causing her, but I ate several bowls for reasons all my own.
It seemed the tables had turned on Harry. Ginny was seeing Dean, which was all right with me, I suppose, seeing as he was a nice boy who didn't go about saving her when she had a father to do that, thank you very much.
My little girl had grown into a lovely young woman, everyone said so. I agreed. But then, so did Harry.
If he thought I didn't see how his gaze followed her, adoringly, as she pranced around the room that Christmas, he was wrong. If he thought I didn't notice how close together they sat as they unwrapped gifts, he was wrong. If he thought I didn't catch the goosebumps that rose on his arms every time Ginny touched him, he was wrong. If he thought I didn't know how he felt, well...
He was wrong.
Harry was definitely not small anymore. He was tall. Taller than me,even, and mature beyond his years. He'd saved Ginny's life, my life,and Ron's life, all in a few short years. I loved him like a son. The problem was that Harry and Ginny certainly did not love each other as brother and sister.
That Christmas, I ate more courgette stew than I'd eaten since Molly gave birth to the twins.
Molly made the stew again for Bill and Fleur's wedding. It seemed that the stew and I were meeting more and more frequently in those troubled months.
He'd finally done it. Swept Ginny off her feet, I mean.
At first, I was all right with it, having read Ginny's letters and sensed her happiness. I couldn't very well complain about something that made Ginny's heart soar like that. As much as I hated to admit it, I trusted him. I trusted him to take care of her, like he had that day so many years before,when he terrified me so.
Then Dumbledore died, and he had to go and be all noble and self-sacrificing,like he'd always been. He'd swept her off her feet and dropped her, and Molly and I were left to pick up the pieces.
He didn't have to wait around helplessly when Ginny locked herself in her room to cry. He didn't have to stand meekly outside her door, trying to comfort her as she let her tears fall. He didn't have to slide under the covers at night and worry about his heartbroken daughter soaking her pillow with her cries. He didn't have to worry that Ginny would never be over him, that she'd spend the rest of her youth pining for the boy who'd left her to be a hero.
The evening of the wedding, I was sitting alone in the kitchen, devising the best way to sneak an hors d'oeuvre from the tray without Molly noticing, when I heard voices drifting in from the living room. Carefully, I peered out from the kitchen, seeking out the owners of the voices and hoping neither of them was Molly.When my eyes landed on Harry and Ginny, however, fury erupted in my veins.
He stood behind her, gathering her long hair in his hands and placing it in front of her left shoulder. He trailed his fingers along her other shoulder, stopping at the nape of her neck and gently pulling strands of hair out of the zipper of her dresswhere they were entangled. One by one he worked with the strands, coaxing them out, prolonging the process. Then, when he was done, he paused, took a breath,and stepped closer to her, pressing himself against the small of her back. His ears burned red and Ginny's eyes fluttered shut as Harry bent forward to place a soft kiss at the juncture of her neck, where it met her shoulder. She sighedand his arms went around her waist, slowly, gently, almost obscenely.
My mind screamed furiously at meand there was a roaring in my ears, but I was rooted to the spot, unable to move or look away.
“Ginny,” he murmured.
“Hmm?” she replied, her eyes still closed.
“I'm sorry.... I'm so sorry... for everything...”
Ginny whirled around suddenly, and for a moment I was sure she was going to slap him. She stared at him intenselywith that hard, burning gaze that we all knew so well.
“No,” she said, and I could tell he was taken aback. “No. Don't apologize to me. Don't. I don't need it. I don't want it.”
“No,” she said again, snatching the front of his robes and pulling him down so his face was level with hers. “Not 'I'm sorry.' Anything but 'I'm sorry.'”
She hadn't looked away from him and now her blazing stare had turned into a pleading gaze. She was begging him to understand her. I wanted to understand her, too.
Harry swallowed hard and suddenly his expression changed from one of confusion to one of comprehension. He nodded. “Okay. Not 'I'm sorry.'” He lifted a hand and brushed the hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ear. “I miss you,” he said, his voice heavy and constricted.
“I know,” she said, smiling sadly. “I miss you, too.”
Suddenly I understood. “I'm sorry” meant regret. Regret over being together, over breaking up, over being who they were. Ginny wasn't sorry. She didn't regret being with Harry or regret the fact that he was a hero. She didn't even regret that they couldn't be together, so long as he was being hunted. She didn't want him to regret iteither.
“I'll wait for you, you know,” she told Harry. For a moment his face took on a pained expressionand I was sure he was going to cry. Then he cleared his throatand smiled at her. As quick as it came, the moment vanished.
“I know.” He looked as though he would have liked very much to say something else, but he only kissed her cheek and straightened. Ginny watched him as he turned and walked out into the yard, where Molly was heading the decoration of the numerous reception tables.
From that moment on, I wasn't worried about either of them. I knew Harry would do everything in his power to return to her. I knew Ginny would move on if he didn't.
My kids were grown up now, I knew. It had happened too soon, maybe, but there it was. Sadly, I turned back into the kitchen and resumed raiding the mounds of food.
I was in the mood for some courgette stew.
The day I gave Ginny away at her wedding, it wasn't to Dean Thomas, Michael Corner, or any other nice boy who left the saving to her father. No, I gave her away to that scrawny boy from the train station, the one I was always afraid of, who saved Ginny more than once, who was headstrong and kind and brave, and whom I trusted to take care of my only daughter more than I trusted Fred and George to blow things up.
As they stood at the altarin front of my entire family, I saw that their adoring glances were mutual at last.
You know, they say that fathers aren't supposed to cry. They say they're supposed to stay strong. I say they're wrong.
That night, when all our kids and their families were crammed into the bedrooms at the Burrow and Harry and Ginny had left for their honeymoon, Molly and I sat in the kitchen solemnly, sharing a pot of tea. It was finally over, I supposed. Somehow, everything felt so final, with the last of our children married. Molly sniffledand I drained the last drops from my fourth cup of tea.
“Arthur, dear?” Molly asked me, her voice hoarse and quavery from crying.
“Would you fancy some courgette stew?”
I smiled. “Of course,” I said, standing up.
And together, using her biggest cooking cauldron, Molly and I made a massive pot of the best courgette stew the country had ever seen.