“Don’t even think about it,” said the menacing wizard who assumed a dueller’s stance. He nodded his head toward his companions and they each began to flick their wands.
Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione let their feet fall out from under them and the trees behind them exploded from the combined impact of six spells. Harry’s hands reached for both wands and he was surprised when Ginny had already sent a Bat-Bogey Hex at the leader. Ron and Hermione took position behind the shattered trunks and fired volleys at the more exposed attackers. With the Elder Wand casting all manner of jinxes and hexes, and Harry’s holly wand deflecting everything sent his way, it was a short duel. Eventually, every one of their assailants was immobilized.
Harry turned immediately to Ginny. “Are you all right? Did you get hurt?”
She brushed off his concern with a wave of her hand. “Who are these idiots?”
“Who knows?” he said, but Ron was pointing down the hill.
“No time, we should leave.”
The crowds by the tomb were attracted by the noise and lights of the short battle and Harry knew it was time to go. “Come on,” he said.
“Wait!” said Hermione, and she cast a Memory Charm on each groaning wizard. “It’s better for everyone if they forget we ever met.”
“Good thinking,” said Ron. “Now let’s go!”
They sprinted back down the path and as soon as they were on the other side of the gate, Ron and Hermione Apparated away. Harry held out his arm for Ginny and she hooked her elbow in his. Harry thought about The Burrow and took Ginny with him through the suffocating pipe of Apparition.
“Oh good, you’re just in time for dinner. I’m glad I made extra.”
Harry and Ginny appeared next to Ron and Hermione just as Molly bustled through the entryway with a handful of napkins fresh from the wash. Harry noted with a smile that she was wearing an apron with a familiar stern witch across the front. They watched her leave and Ron immediately began to whisper.
“Harry, you’ve got to do something about that wand. Who knows how many nutters there are out there looking for the chance to do you in.”
“Well, I can’t exactly post an advert in the Prophet telling would-be assassins that I’m putting the wand in Dumbledore’s tomb, so you might as well bugger off.”
“Shhh,” said Hermione in response to Harry’s rising voice. “We’ll think of something. Let’s just focus on...”
“Dinner’s ready,” chimed Molly from the kitchen.
Ron smiled and rubbed his hands together. “I love Mum.”
Harry and Hermione shared a reluctant grin and followed Ron to the dinner table.
Arthur was working on something in the tool shed, so it was just the five of them. Molly tried to engage them in small talk, but no one was up for it. By the time she’d finished eating, she threw her hands in the air. “I don’t know what’s got into you lot, but if you can’t do me the favour of being good company at the table, you can very well clean it off.”
She threw her napkin down and went back to the kitchen.
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed that Ginny had hardly touched her food. He bumped her with his elbow. “What’s up with you?”
“Come on,” Harry urged. “Talk to me.”
She put her fork on her plate and met his gaze. “When is it going to end, Harry? When are you going to have peace in your life?”
For a moment, he thought she was going to say ‘our lives’ and found himself disappointed when she didn’t. “I wish I knew.”
Hermione patted Ginny’s hand but looked just as worried.
Ron snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it!” He pointed to Harry. “What if we pull another ‘Polyjuice Harry’ operation to put them off the trail?”
Harry blanched. Though the situation was far less dire this time, he wasn’t keen on repeating the results of their last removal of Harry from Privet Drive.
“No, hear me out,” Ron said on looking at Harry’s expression. “You need to head out of the country for a while. Maybe a year or so. While you’re gone – just for the first month or two mind you – we pose as you and are seen around Britain. That way, no one knows you’ve left but us, and we get some time to work out how to thrown them off the scent.”
Harry was nodding during Ron’s explanation, but he also noticed Ginny get stiffer and stiffer next to him. “That might work,” he offered and turned to Ginny.
“There’s only one way I’m going to go along with this,” she said, her eyes blazing. “I’m going with you.”
Harry grinned, briefly imagining he and Ginny touring the beaches of Australia, which led to visions of Ginny in a bathing costume, whereupon his brain properly jammed. A half-drooled “yeah,” was all he managed.
“Mum won’t like it,” Ron suggested. Harry’s grin faded.
It occurred to him how much Ginny’s family needed her and how selfish it was to want to take her away from them. A quiet part of his brain reminded him of the ring he’d found in Gringotts and how the diamonds and rubies would look especially well on Ginny’s left ring finger. It was still in his pocket...
Ginny jutted her chin in the air. “She doesn’t have a say, does she?” She grabbed Harry’s hand and stood. “Let’s go tell her. The sooner, the better.”
“Ginny,” simpered Hermione, “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.”
“Sure it is,” said the younger girl as she practically drug Harry into the living room, where they heard the snapping of towels as Molly folded laundry.
“Did you clean off the table?” Molly asked upon seeing them.
“In a minute, Mum,” replied Ginny. “We’ve got something to tell you.”
Molly flicked her wand and the rest of the towels folded themselves and settled into a neat stack on the end of the sofa. She sat next to them and waited for Ginny to continue.
Ginny cleared her throat. “Harry and I are going to have a gap year.”
“A what?” Molly’s face turned a pinch redder, telling Harry that she knew precisely what a gap year was.
“A gap year,” repeated Ginny. “It’s when you take a year off before you decide what job to take. We’re going to Canada.”
Harry turned to look at her. “We are?”
Ginny patted his hand. “Yes, we are. You wanted to see where your family is buried and I’m coming with you to keep you company.”
“You will do no such thing,” said a suddenly stern Molly. “It’s highly improper for a young witch and wizard to go gallivanting across the world together.”
“Mum,” plead Ginny, “we won’t be gallivanting or anything like that. We’re just taking a break. Together.”
“I won’t have it,” her mum said firmly. “Haven’t we raised you better than that? And what about your education? Aren’t you going to finish Hogwarts?”
Ginny folded her arms across her chest and huffed. “Harry’s not going back and I don’t think I will either. We already have four N.E.W.T.s.”
Molly seemed to soften. “I could support the idea if you were chaperoned, or...” She seemed to hesitate, a twinkle in her eye. “If you were married... Of course, I couldn’t say anything about it if you were married.”
Ginny’s eyes grew wide and a flush crept up her neck. For some strange reason, Hermione was grinning so wide that Harry thought she might split her face open. Ron looked as if he needed someone to shove a Bezoar in his mouth.
Harry cleared his throat and scratched his head. An idea was forming in his mind. He wished he had time to sort if all out, especially because he hadn’t had time to talk with Ginny about it, but time was of the essence and since she seemed determined to go with him...
He steeled himself, took a deep breath and dropped down on one knee. “Ginny?” She turned to him in utter shock. Her mouth was working but no sound came out. Molly and Hermione both took in sharp breaths.
“I know we haven’t exactly talked about this, and I haven’t really even thought about this, but sometimes you just have to do something and this is what I want to do.” He paused. Her eyes were glistening and, as he searched her face, he found his answer. “I want you to come with me, Ginny, and there’s never going to be any one else, so we might as well...” He stopped himself before he ruined the moment by saying something stupid. “Marry me?” He pulled out the ring and opened the box.
Her mouth had closed and she blinked a single tear out of her eye. Harry watched it roll down her cheek. She replied with the tiniest of whispers. “Yes.” Then she tackled him with a hug and rained kisses on his face. Molly was shrieking with happiness. Ron was whooping and Hermione was dancing.
“What’s all the commotion about?” It was Arthur.
Ginny pulled back from Harry, clutching the box and radiating happiness. In the fifteen seconds of planning he’d had, Harry had forgotten a step.
“Oh, Arthur!” gushed Molly, but Harry stood and held out a hand to stop her.
“Mr. Weasley,” he began, “I’ve got a question for you. Would you mind stepping outside for a minute?”
The older man’s eyes swept from his still beaming wife to his deliriously happy daughter and a twinkle of understanding lit up his face. “Certainly, my boy. Lead the way.”
The night was still warm when they walked into the garden. White clouds were floating in front of the stars and fingernail moon like ethereal ghosts. A frog was calling from the pond and was answered by a chorus from the river.
Harry fumbled with his wand in his pocket for a while as they walked together. Arthur seemed to have unending patience because, despite the fact that he was missing dinner and the answer to the uproar in his house wasn’t forthcoming, he let Harry have time to think.
They approached a group of weather-worn garden chairs. Harry stopped and traced his finger on the silvery wood. “Mr. Weasley?” began Harry tentatively.
“Call me Arthur, Harry.” The older man sat slowly into one of the chairs, groaning a little as he did so. “I’d like to think of you as a son, if you’d allow me the privilege. You’ve certainly earned a place in the hearts of my family.”
Harry nodded, feeling a lump of happiness form in his throat. He felt the same way about every one of the Weasleys. It took him a minute to find his voice again. “I can’t think of a happier thought.”
To his surprise, Arthur chuckled. “Oh, I daresay you can think of something happier than an old wizard like me.”
It was true. Ginny meant everything to him, and he was discovering new ways of feeling it every day he spent with her. “I want to marry Ginny, Arthur, and I’d like to have your approval.”
Arthur grew more serious. “I see.” He stared contemplatively at one of the low passing clouds. “Do you feel the two of you are old enough to be making this decision? Have you had enough time together?”
With another nod, Harry sat in the chair opposite Arthur. “I don’t know if there’s a certain age where the world starts making sense, but I’m starting to realise that Ginny isn’t going to have anyone else very easily. She’s determined, and patient, and... wonderful.”
Heat blossomed on his face as he remembered who he was speaking to.
“That she is, Harry.” He paused. “How do you feel about her?”
Harry pulled at his collar, feeling very warm despite the cool breeze. He thought about kissing her and how she made him squirm with anticipation whenever they were apart. He remembered going a year without her and how he had obsessed with watching her dot on the Marauder’s Map. Then he asked himself how he’d feel if something ever happened to her. A fierce wave of raw emotion surfaced from within him and he knew.
He locked eyes with Arthur. “I love her.”
The older man smiled. “I had no doubt.” The smile slowly faded and Arthur began to pepper him with rapid-fire questions. “Now... have you given any thought to where you are going to live? Do you have somewhere picked out? Have you talked about finances together? You should have a budget and stick to it, regardless of your income. Are you prepared to think about having kids? Take it from me... family planning is extremely important to iron out before marriage.”
Harry’s head swam. He hadn’t thought about any of those things. To be honest, he hadn’t thought past what he was going to have for breakfast and he told Arthur as much.
He laughed. “Well, I daresay there’ll be time to consider such things. You have all the time in the world.”
Ironically, Harry felt just the opposite. Just when he should have all the time in the world, he was being forced to make decisions that he shouldn’t have to worry about for years. Still, when he thought of the future, Ginny was always the one by his side, in his house, and raising his children. “It’ll always be Ginny for me. I’m going to marry her.”
Arthur leaned forward in his chair and pinned Harry with his eyes. “You will and you’ll be happy. You have my blessing and more.”
They stood and embraced; a father who wasn’t losing his daughter, and the son he was gaining in law, if not already in heart.
Ginny was waiting for them on the steps. She stood on her tiptoes and gave her father a fierce hug.
“He’ll do right by you,” Arthur said. He kissed his daughter on her forehead and went inside.
The door closed and Ginny stepped up to Harry, her face inscrutable. Before he could react, she had made a fist and punched him solidly in the midsection. He doubled over and felt the wind forced out of his lungs. Her hands were on his shoulders pulling his torso upright.
Harry gasped for breath when she released him. “What’d you..?” he began, but he couldn’t finish because Ginny’s lips were on his. She was kissing him ardently and the pain in his midsection was soon a distant throb.
Her lips twitched.
“I'll give you this once, Ginny,” he said with sudden sternness. “I've been a punching bag before, and I won't have it from anyone else. Not even you.”
She pulled him into another hug. “I'm sorry. I love you so much, Harry. But you’ve got to give a girl some kind of sign. But you're right; I'll never do that again.”
He took a steadying breath and released her.
“It just caught me off guard. I wasn't expecting it at all.”
“I know... It kind of caught me off guard, too.” He looked down at her hands and caught a glimpse of sparkle in the starlight. He touched it tenderly. “I just found that today. If I would have had a chance, I probably would have waited to give it to you after a couple of years. I don’t even know who it belonged to.”
Ginny kissed him again. “Maybe it’s for the best you asked now. Mum probably thinks I’m a scarlet woman as it is, what with you, Dean and Michael in the space of two years.” She giggled. “Oh, Harry. You do know how to make a witch happy.”
Now it was Harry’s turn to kiss her. They stood there kissing under the canopy of clouds and stars and forgot about Elder Wands and trips to Canada. There was a flash and then the door banged open.
“What was..?” But Harry’s question was cut off.
A very grouchy Ginny pointed her wand at the shadow in the doorway. “What do you want, Ron?”
He shuffled a little on his feet. “Mum’s getting twitchy. Something about chiffon and Aunt Muriel’s tiara. You’d better get in here before she’s got us wearing pink and orange.”
With a low growl that turned into a sigh, Ginny pocketed her wand and gave Harry a quick peck. “Come on, Harry. We’re going to endure Mum’s wedding fever together.”
Ron didn’t move, however. “There’s one more thing.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and seemed to find it hard to look them in the eye. “I was sort of planning to ask Hermione... Well, I’ve been planning it since the battle, actually and since you two are ploughing ahead...”
“Oh just spit it out, Ron,” said Ginny.
He took his hands out of his pockets and in his left was a velvet box. “I’m going to ask Hermione to marry me, but I wanted us to get married with you. A double wedding. What do you think?”
Harry grinned. “Yeah, mate. That sounds good to me.” He turned to Ginny.
She seemed to consider her older brother. “If she says yes... But we’re probably going to get married soon so we can get off to Canada.”
“How soon?” his voice cracked.
“The sooner the better.” She walked past him and whispered a “good luck” on the way to her mother.
This caused Ron to gulp and he nervously put the ring back into his pocket.
Harry moved into the doorway and as he passed Ron, he clapped him on the shoulder. “A bit of advice... You might want to talk about marriage with her before you propose. You know... ask her what she thinks of the idea. Just get her talking; you know how she is.” He thought about Ginny and rubbed his belly. “Trust me; it’ll be less painful that way.”
“Oh, and one more thing...” said Harry. “You’ll be my best man, right?”
“Yeah,” said Ron, still dazed. “Of course.”
The door closed, leaving Ron to his thoughts as Harry faced his future mother-in-law.
“Mum,” said Ginny with a little whinge the next morning, “we don’t want a big wedding. Just our family.”
“It’ll be at The Burrow,” Molly replied. It wasn’t a question.
“Of course.” Ginny rubbed her eyes. “Where else would it be?”
Harry watched the byplay between mother and daughter and took a sip from his mug. He’d ended up kipping in Ron’s room for the night, mostly because he didn’t want to leave Ginny at all, but also because they’d stayed up past midnight pouring over every detail.
Molly flipped over the bacon and pulled a tray of muffins from the oven. “Very well,” she said with an exaggerated sigh, as if she’d conceded something large. “We’ll just have family, but you’d better get those invitations out if the wedding will be in two weeks.”
“You know there’ll be all kinds of suspicion with a rushed wedding like this. Witch Weekly will have their tongues wagging about you getting pregnant or something.” Molly abruptly stopped slicing apples and stared hard at her daughter. “You aren’t pregnant, are you?”
Ginny groaned and Harry suddenly felt the six inches between them was too close. “No, Mum. I’m not pregnant. Harry and I haven’t even talked about...”
“Well, don’t you think that’s something you should discuss?” The slicing resumed, but at a much greater speed.
“Mum,” Ginny protested, “we’ve been engaged for a whole ten hours. It’s not like we’ve been putting it off.”
Molly seemed to be soothed by this and the apples were better off for it.
Soon, Arthur was at the table and breakfast was underway. Harry was just glad for the distraction of having something to eat.
“We’ll all have to get fitted for robes, of course,” continued Molly with her mental checklist.
“Can’t we just use the ones from Bill and Fleur’s wedding?” asked Ginny.
“Certainly not,” her mum replied. “I envisioned a more green and gold motif for your wedding. And besides, you can’t wear a bridesmaid dress to your own wedding.”
Harry swallowed his muffin. “I thought she looked good in it.”
Ginny smiled lovingly at him.
“Well,” Molly continued, “it’ll need to be white anyway.” She looked askance at Ginny. “Right, dear?”
“Yes, Mum.” Ginny threw up her hands. “I’m pure and virginal. I haven’t been shagging every boy that’s come my way. Why can’t you believe that I saved myself for Harry?”
At that Ginny gave Harry an exasperated smile and fled upstairs.
Molly sighed and seemed to come to a realisation as she stared after her daughter. “I’ll go sort her out,” she said as Arthur began to stand. “It’s my fault and I’ll be the one to mend it.”
She excused herself and Harry busied himself with stabbing an apple piece onto his fork.
“Sleep well then, Harry?” asked Arthur.
“So, so,” he replied and began to chew his fruit.
“What do you have planned for today?”
Harry shrugged. “It depends on Ginny, I guess.”
Arthur chuckled. “You’ll find that your life will revolve more and more around her and less and less around yourself. Ah, the post.”
Two owls, a nondescript brown and a salt and pepper one that had strangely familiar yellow eyes alighted on the table. Arthur untied the letters and Daily Prophet as Harry repressed a pang of longing for his own fallen owl. There was a clink of a Knut in the pouch of the brown owl and they both departed.
Harry’s thoughts drifted back to Ginny as Arthur hummed and sorted the mail. He wondered what it was going to be like living with her all the time. Would they fight like Ron and Hermione? Would they get tired of each other like Ginny had with Dean? Would they lose their attraction like Harry had with Cho?
There was the sound of the paper being unrolled. “Blimey!” said Arthur.
“What is it?” asked Harry.
Arthur didn’t respond at first, but just stared at the front page. Slowly, he turned it over to face Harry.
It was a picture of Harry and Ginny kissing outside The Burrow. There was a white circle on Ginny’s moving hand, outlining the ring and a caption that read, “Boy Who Lived Engaged to Former Ministry Official’s Daughter.”
Harry took the paper and flipped the page to the article.
Not even two months since Harry Potter defeat You-Know-Who in a spectacular and controversial duel at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, reports have swirled around his closeness to one Ginevra Weasley, daughter of former head of the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office. These rumours have new life now that they have been spotted sharing a kiss and the not yet seventeen-year-old is wearing what is clearly an engagement ring.
He skimmed the rest of the article, but it was just a rehash of what he already knew. A thousand thoughts raced through Harry’s mind and all of them pointed to a very unhappy Molly and Ginny.
Arthur caught his eye. “Should we..?” asked Harry, but the older man just shook his head.
“They’ll find out one way or another.”
Harry let his breath out. “I guess it’s a good thing we’re leaving, then.”
Ginny was glad the Prophet article didn’t upset her mum as much as Harry had anticipated. In fact, she seemed strangely pleased that they were caught kissing on camera. Ginny read through the article and then tossed the whole thing aside. “Rubbish,” was her only comment and then she moved on to a stack of Muggle bridal magazines that Hermione brought over during lunch. Ron accompanied her and was nervously twitching with the box in his pocket. Every now and then, Hermione would look over a magazine at him and frown. Ginny just wished Ron would pluck up the courage and ask her.
Harry was acting strangely, too. While she and Hermione poured over dress designs and giggled while taking silly Muggle courtship quizzes, he was busy writing something on a piece of parchment. Whenever she would catch him glancing at her, he would smile and turn bright red. There was definitely something dodgy there and she would have to wheedle it out of him later.
At three, Molly came into the living room and threw cloaks at everyone. “We’re off to get fitted for robes.”
“Muuuuum,” complained Ron. “I don’t want to get another set of robes. Can’t we just...” But Molly cut him off.
“No arguing, Ron.” She tossed his cloak at his head. “Now get off your backside and get to Diagon Alley.
Ron grumbled a bit more, but complied.
They Apparated into the alley behind the Leaky Cauldron and were immediately pressed into the gateway that separated the Magical and Muggle worlds by a large crowd. Harry pulled Ginny close and tried to duck his head behind Ron’s shoulder. Ginny strained on her tiptoes to see over the heads in front of them, all of which were pointed toward the entrance of the pub. Finally, the witch in front of them shifted and she caught sight of what everyone was staring at. In front of the crowd, a mostly bald man with flowing brown robes and a handlebar moustache stood on a small platform.
He waved his wand. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he began and the noise died down, “thank you for attending this momentous event. Today marks the first of many measures which will grant our world greater security and peace. By sealing the doors to the Muggle world permanently, not only will we prevent further contamination of our culture and heritage from their divisive influence, but we will preserve a tradition steeped in a greater understanding of life and prosperity.”
Ginny wrinkled her nose. “What a pompous arse,” she said and got a scolding from her mother for it.
“That’s the Minister of Magic,” she whispered harshly. Several witches and wizards around them stole glances and then turned their attention to Crackshot.
He turned on the platform, waved his wand at the Leaky Cauldron and with an incantation Ginny didn’t recognize, sealed the doors closed and produced a large, magical brick wall that completely covered the structure.
Flash bulbs went off and Harry subconsciously pulled his head down again. Luckily, the cameras were all pointed at Crackshot, who looked remarkably pleased at having further divided the Wizarding world from Muggles. Beside Ginny, Hermione was shaking with anger.
Crackshot stepped from the platform and began to talk to the gaggle of reporters that hovered around him. Molly tapped the bricks with her wand and soon, the crowd was pushing them forward and into Diagon Alley.
“What was that all about?” asked Ron as they made their way toward Madam Malkin’s.
“It’s about anti-Muggle bigotry,” replied Hermione through gritted teeth. “He’s using the war to advance his short-sighted, narrow-minded, backwards view that Magical people are somehow better than Muggles because of their magic.”
Ron eyed her warily. “Been thinking about it much?”
“I think about everything a lot, Ron,” she said. “Right now, I want to think about Ginny’s wedding dress.” She pulled Ginny from Harry and followed Molly into the robe shop.
Time seemed to speed up as dress after dress was tried on and modeled. Harry and Ron seemed to be fitted in no time and were stalking around the front of the shop, but Ginny couldn’t see them. She had been shunted off to a special dressing room Madam Malkin reserved for brides-to-be.
“Hold still, Ginny,” her mother said and pushed her shoulders around to catch the latest dress from every angle. “No,” she said at length. “Not enough lace.”
Ginny fingered the eyelet strips that adorned her front. “Mum, I hate lace.”
Molly made a tsking noise and shook her head. The dress came off and Madam Malkin appeared with another one. Luckily for Ginny, this one, which featured an enormous petticoat, was dismissed before she even had to put it on.
“Let me help select a few,” Molly said and followed the matron out of the dressing room.
Ginny blew out her breath and collapsed on a cushiony settee. “I wish this were over with,” she moaned. “I just want to go home and be with Harry.”
Hermione smiled. “You’ve only been gone from him for a couple of hours.”
“Only?” Ginny asked, staring at herself in the mirror across from where she was slumped against the side of the chair. “It seems like forever.”
“It won’t be,” Hermione replied, feeling the satin of one of the ‘maybe’ dresses that hung on a rod next to her. “In a way, I’m very jealous of you, Ginny.”
Ginny caught her friend’s eye in the mirror. “Why in the world would you be jealous of me?” She sat up straighter and offered her bare shoulders to her reflection. “I’m pale, spotted, and... plain. You’ve no reason to be jealous of that.”
Hermione sighed. “You’re in love,” she pointed out. “And Harry’s in love with you.”
“Yeah,” Ginny gushed. “But so are you.”
The older girl shrugged. “I am.”
“With my brother.” Ginny made a face and they both giggled.
“Don’t underestimate the power of freckles,” Hermione said wisely and then sighed. “You’re lucky your man knows how to be decisive.”
Ginny turned to look at the real Hermione. “Is that what this is all about?”
Hermione looked sheepish but nodded.
“Oh, Hermione, don’t give up yet.” Ginny pulled her into an embrace. “Ron’s thick and stupid in the head when it comes to love – that you know – but he’s also very much in love with you.”
Ginny had to laugh at the pitifully hopeful smile Hermione offered her. “Yes, Hermione, he does love you. You just have to be patient.” Then to herself, Ginny thought, “I just hope he doesn’t wait too much longer...”
The door to the dressing room opened and Molly appear brandishing another dress. “This,” she said with a gleam in her eye, “is the one.”