Those biscuits must be almost ready; the aroma fills the kitchen, making my mouth water. Molly’s ginger biscuits, my favourite, hot from the oven. It is obvious that Ron can smell the biscuits, too. He, of course, will scoff the lot if he gets the chance.
The kettle is beginning to sing. Does Molly need my help to make tea? No, I’m better off here, watching my two youngest children and their (what did Hermione call them at Christmas?) “significant others”. The expressions these Muggles come up with. Merlin’s beard!
I look along the kitchen table. The kids are sitting together. They arrived together and when Molly queried it they told us that the girls collected the boys from Grimmauld Place; a likely story. These days I can’t be certain whether their proximity to each other means anything. They almost always sit together. When the girls finally finish school in the summer they will be inseparable. I look at them carefully, watch them surreptitiously. I put on my vacant, staring into space face. It’s a look which has served me well over the years.
Just ignore Arthur, this face says, his mind is on other things. The only person who never fell for it was Albus. He called it “a rare talent,” said that I was gifted “to be able to be seen, but still go unnoticed.” He told me that it was better than an Invisibility Spell. I think he was being overly complimentary. After all, he tried to see the best in everyone, even Tom Riddle. But it’s a talent that has served me, and the Order, well. It’s amazing what you see and hear when people don’t think you’re watching or listening.
They’re sitting very close, even closer than usual. They’re sitting in the “defensive” line, too. Ginny, Harry, Hermione, Ron; my two youngest children sit on the outside, ready to protect Harry and Hermione from the wrath of Molly. This, of course, means that there’s something for Molly to be wrathful about. But those two don’t need protection. Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, they are heroes, legends, and so is our little Ronniekins. Ginny, and the rest of my family are famous, too. Not “Harry Potter” famous, of course, but certainly well known.
If, ten years ago, someone had told me that all but one of my children would be awarded the Order of Merlin (Second Class) and that the other one would be awarded the Order of Merlin (First Class), I would not have believed them. If I’d been asked which of them would get the First Class medal, Ron would not have been my first guess, or my second, or third. He’d have beaten the twins and … and he’d have beaten the twins.
I smile to myself at that thought and they notice; that’s a mistake. Hermione had just whispered the word “holiday” when I smiled. They’re worried in case I have been listening. I have.
I heard everything that they said. From Ginny telling Ron to remember what she’d told him, to Harry’s worried whisper of “Ginny” and his nod in my direction when he noticed me smiling. If anyone catches me, it will be Harry. He’s a sharp one. I keep my expression vacant. If they think that I’m listening and watching they will shut up. They lower their voices. Now I hear only the occasional word. Don’t they realise that by talking so quietly they are making Molly suspicious?
Harry and Hermione are touching. They are literally shoulder to shoulder. That’s unusual. It is a sign of them seeking strength in numbers; they are definitely up to something.
Now Hermione is lecturing again, whispering about “the plan.” What are they planning? I can’t hear more without moving. Instead, I watch.
That look of Ron’s when he watches Hermione, how could I describe it? Exasperated admiration, that’s what it is. Harry and Ginny are hand in hand. These days, whenever they are together they are touching. There’s nothing inappropriate in front of the parents of course, but flesh constantly seeks flesh. Hand in hand, arm in arm, head on shoulder, they lean on each other. They can’t bear to be separated. Like Molly and me. Molly’s last year at school lasted such a long time. There were never enough Hogsmeade visits.
Ginny has the trick, too, though she doesn’t realise it. She does it to Harry all of the time, but to no one else. She watches him, without letting him know that she’s doing it. She reads his moods well. That’s good, because he certainly is a moody one. But then, the poor lad has always had such a lot to be moody about.
Perhaps Albus was right and mine is a rare and useful talent, watching without looking. Use it well, Ginny.
Ron will never be able to do it. Silence does not come naturally to him, he has too much of his mother’s passion. He doesn’t know the tricks. He doesn’t realise that it’s possible to pick up a lot by looking and listening but not speaking, especially if you can fool everyone into thinking that your mind is elsewhere. You don’t even need to look at faces.
Harry and Ginny have their forearms on the table. His right hand holds her left, fingers intertwined. They can signal each other with a squeeze or a stroke, I’ve watched them do it. The gentle pressure of a thumb on a hand, that is all that it takes for those two to communicate. They don’t even need to exchange glances, they can shut each other up or pass on encouragement and they don’t think anyone knows that they’re doing it. Sorry to disappoint you, my little Ginny, but your Dad does. I know, because I watch. I know, too, that Ron and Hermione are much more violent than you two.
I need to move my chair.
They’re looking at me, because of the noise. I pay them no attention and they return to their whispered conversation. Now I can see Ron’s and Hermione’s legs. Now I can see everything I need to.
Over the years I’ve seen some vicious kicks under this table. Sometimes it’s been Hermione shutting Ron up, sometimes the opposite. Harry used to do it, too, but no longer. Because what at age thirteen was three friends is now a couple plus one, and he’s the plus one. It’s a good thing he has found Ginny (or did she find him—perhaps, like Molly and me, they found each other).
Recently, Ron and Hermione have reduced the violence. Now it is usually gentle pressure, a heel on top of a toe. They have started encouraging each other with legs and feet, too. I watch as the top of Hermione’s foot slides encouragingly up the back of Ron’s calf.
All of my kids still think that Dad doesn’t know what’s going on. Well, perhaps not all of them. Now that he’s married Bill suspects, but he’s not certain yet. He won’t be sure until he has children of his own. Between us, Molly and I know pretty much everything. Whatever Molly finds out, I’ll know soon enough. I wonder what we will be telling each other in bed tonight.
Parenting is teamwork. Often the threat of telling Dad, or telling Mum, is enough. We tell each other anyway, but the kids don’t know that. We decide who deals with things, and who is “ignorant” and can be used as a threat. But really, kids, both Mum and Dad know everything. Well, almost everything.
We know that Bill and Fleur are trying for a baby. Molly is certain that for a short while, two months ago, Fleur had been convinced that she was pregnant. She wasn’t, but within a year or two I’ll be a grandfather.
We know that Charlie is so wrapped up in his dragons that he’d forget both family and friends if we didn’t drag him home occasionally.
We know that Percy has a girlfriend, Audrey Midgen, but that he’s frightened of bringing her home after the debacle with Penelope. He’s also worried, with good reason, about the teasing they will both get from his brothers. She’s a quiet girl, sensible, but there is strength in her, too. I’m not certain that Percy realises how intractable she can be. We should invite Percy over one evening when Molly and I will be the only ones here.
We know that George relies on Ron to help him with the business. Ron is cleverer and more useful than he realises. The fact that his girlfriend is a genius and his best friend is, well, Harry Potter, makes him think that he’s not much good at anything.
We know that George is wasting his time in shallow, short-term affairs, because his one long term relationship was with his twin. Poor George, he won’t commit because he doesn’t want to be hurt like that again. But by indulging in superficial dalliances he has hurt more than one girl. That is a problem, too, because despite his bluff and bluster, George is a gentle soul. He despises himself for hurting those girls. George still needs to be watched. Could we have been better parents? Should we have encouraged the twins to be more individual?
Here comes Molly with the tea. The kids have stopped whispering. Now we’ll find out what these four are planning.
‘Thank you, dear,’ I say. My wife has a lovely smile, radiant. It always makes my heart beat faster; even after all these years. I take a biscuit, knowing that it’s still hot. I quickly drop it onto a plate as if it had burnt my fingers. The kids laugh at me. Harmless Dad, he can’t even pick up a biscuit. I drink my tea and watch them.
The look in Ron’s eyes when he watches Hermione, when did it start? Has it always been there? Was it there when they were twelve, or thirteen? If it was, how did I miss it? How could I ever have thought that it was Harry and Hermione? Molly spotted that look long before I did.
I thought that because Ron and Hermione always argue, she was hanging around with the boys because she fancied Harry. I was wrong.
Ron and Hermione simply cannot leave each other alone. That’s what I should have seen. They push, poke, shout, joke; they will do anything to make the other react. Each wants to attract the other’s attention, and yet neither of them realises that the other is attempting to do the same thing. They obsess over each other, unhealthily sometimes, but it seems to work for them. There’s that look on Ron’s face again, it’s the look of a man who can’t believe his luck. It’s the look I had, I still have. What did I do to deserve beautiful Molly?
Harry has that look, too. That’s a good thing to be able to see in the man who’s going to take my daughter away from me. Old Perkins had three daughters. I remember him telling me, only days after Ginny was born, that no man will ever be good enough for her, that all fathers felt the same way. Trust Ginny to try to prove him wrong. Her boyfriend isn’t perfect, but he’s polite, pleasant, attentive, extremely wealthy … and he’s Harry Potter. If he isn’t good enough for my little girl, who is? As I watch them I realise that Ginny and Harry are closer and more relaxed in each other’s company than ever.
Have they … are they … intimate? I can’t think about that!
I force myself to remember old Peter Prewett, Molly’s dad. If he, or her brothers, had known what his daughter and I got up to on the roof of the Ravenclaw Tower, I’d be dead, or crippled, or castrated. Molly only had two brothers for me to be wary of. Poor Harry has six ... damn … five, to deal with. That was my seventh year, Molly’s sixth. What a different sixth year and seventh those four had, poor kids.
But they aren’t kids, not even my little Ginny. Ron and Hermione are both nineteen, Ron only just. Harry is eighteen and Ginny seventeen. Yes, the two girls are still at school but legally they’re all adults, though Ginny will always be my baby.
The saviour of the Wizarding world and his friends are sitting nervously at my kitchen table. They probably plotted the downfall of Voldemort at this table. Now, based on what I’ve overheard, they are plotting something more personal. If my guess is correct, Molly will object. She will try to “protect” our children. From what? From doing what we did without regret when we were their age?
Bill was conceived on my twentieth birthday, probably. That was a wild day; it was two months after we were married. We had no money. “What do you want for your birthday?” Molly asked. “Nothing,” I told her, “we can’t afford anything. I don’t want anything, anyway. I already have the only thing I ever wanted.”
“And what’s that?” she asked, although she already knew my answer.
“You, Molly, only you,” I told her. I smiled, and she smiled, and that’s what I got for my birthday; Molly, beautiful Molly.
She was three months past her nineteenth birthday on my twentieth. Hermione is already older than Molly was when Bill was conceived. Ginny is older than Molly was when we first … STOP, ARTHUR … don’t think about your children having sex.
The tea has been poured, the biscuits served. Leave some biscuits for me, dammit, Ron. The small talk, the polite exchanges are at an end. ‘What are you up to?’ Molly aggressively asks the four.
Ron is looking nervous. He is the weak link. Molly can break him, make him lose his temper, become flustered, tell all; and the kids all know it. Ginny can tell her mother bare-faced lies and get away with it. Molly doesn’t believe me when I tell her that. She still thinks that Ginny won’t lie to her. “A mother would know,” she’s told me several times. “Just like your mother?” I always ask. “That was different,” she explains. No, it wasn’t, Molly. When you were Ginny’s age, you lied to your own mother about where you were going and what you were doing on dozens of occasions. But you refuse to believe that the daughter who is so much like you could possibly do the same thing.
Hermione is looking at Molly. She is going to be the first to speak. The kids all look at my wife. None of them pay me any attention. They never do, they make it so easy for me. I watch all four of them carefully.
‘My Mum and Dad have booked a holiday villa on Rhodes, in July,’ Hermione begins, ‘They’ve booked it for four weeks.’
‘Last year,’ Ginny interjects, looking at her mother, reminding her, ‘we went to France for two weeks to meet Hermione at the gîte her parents had booked in Brittany. We want to do the same this year.’
Ron is looking down at the table, not at Molly. Look at your mother, Ron, or she’ll start to ask you questions.
‘Ron?’ Molly asks.
Too late! You need to learn, son. My youngest boy looks up, worried.
‘What?’ He sounds evasive. Hermione is once again gently rubbing the back of his calf with her foot. It’s working. He’s not going to blush, not this time. He’s looking his mother in the face. Good, just ignore your Dad, Ron, he’s not important. Harry and Ginny’s fingers are clenched tightly. They know that this is the moment of truth.
‘Is that right, Ron?’
‘Yes, Mum. I’ve spoken to Mr and Mrs Granger. They’ve booked the place for four weeks and they’ve said that we can go over for the second fortnight.’
Well done, Ron, you’ve lied to your mother’s face. But it wasn’t a lie, was it, not really. Not if my guess is correct. Molly looks concerned, she isn’t stupid. What is she going to say?
‘It will be expensive.’ Molly frowns. She’s worried about money. Old habits die hard. I don’t suppose she’ll ever get used to us not being poor. We’re not rich, but we have more money now than we’ve ever had, and just when we don’t really need it. We have no children at home. With my promotion and no school books, equipment and uniforms to save up for, suddenly, I’m wondering what to spend my salary on. What can I buy Molly?
‘Harry and I can pay for ourselves. We’ve been working in the Auror Office for almost a year now. I’ve got money saved,’ Ron says.
‘And I’m paying for Ginny,’ Harry adds. ‘But she’s insisted that she’ll pay me back when she gets a job, as soon as she gets her first pay.’ Harry is running his thumb across the side of Ginny’s hand as he speaks, and she is reciprocating. They have already agreed this, but Harry was obviously reluctant. He wants to spend his money on my girl (that’s another point in his favour), but she won’t let him. She is as stubborn as her mother, Harry. At least you’ve got the sense to stop fighting her once you’ve lost. That’s a lesson it took me a while to learn.
‘Arthur?’ Molly asks.
My wife wants my opinion. For the kids’ benefit I look bewildered, as though I haven’t been paying attention. I wonder, if I wink at Molly, will they see? Best not risk it.
‘Yes, dear,’ I say, trying to sound confused.
‘What do you think?’ she asks. I look into her eyes.
‘What do I think?’ I reply as if stalling for time to catch up with the conversation.
I think that Ginny’s eyes are deep and brown and just like yours, and I wonder how Harry copes with that. I think that if you fixed Harry with those eyes he’d be as bad a liar as Ron, possibly even worse. But you rarely ask him. You’ll pressure your children, but not the surrogates. Yet despite that, our children are protecting them from “Mum’s wrath.”
I think that you have reached the same conclusion as I. I look carefully. I can see it in your eyes. Yes, you know what I know.
At no point have the kids told us that the Grangers will be in Rhodes with them. “Mum and Dad have booked a villa for four weeks.” True. “They’ve said that we can go over for the last two weeks.” True. “Last year we went to the gîte.” Also true.
But last year Mr and Mrs Granger were there to act as chaperones, and last year you made a point of telling us that. This time, you haven’t mentioned their presence. That is not an oversight, I’m sure. The kids are waiting for my answer. They don’t think I’ve been paying attention. Should I force them into a lie? I decide not to ask a direct question.
‘If they’re going to be with the Grangers, Molly, I don’t see a problem.’ My simple statement gets the reaction I expect.
Hermione’s foot has stopped rubbing Ron’s leg. Harry and Ginny have clenched their hands tightly together. So, I’m right, the Grangers are not going to be there. I had best be certain. I need final confirmation.
‘Do your parents want us to let them know, Hermione?’ I ask. ‘I’ll be quite happy to talk to them on the fellytone if they do. I’ve been practicing.’
Ron has put his hand on Hermione’s thigh and, in a reversal of what was happening moments ago, his foot is now rubbing the back of her leg. Harry and Ginny are holding their breath. Harry is leaning in towards Hermione. His arm rests against hers, and he’s encouraging her by his presence. Molly will have spotted that.
‘There’s no need to go to the trouble, Mr Weasley,’ Hermione tells me. Her voice is a slightly higher pitch than normal. It always is when she’s worried, or lying. ‘They wanted me to make sure that it was okay with you. If it is, I’ll tell them.’
I smile and nod. That was a nice, neutral, reply. But you’re not getting away with it that easily. It’s time for me to have some fun.
‘Perhaps we could come too, Ginny, your mother and I have never been to Rhodes,’ I suggest.
Now it’s Hermione’s turn to stop Ron from panicking again. That’s why I ask Ginny. Ron would have given the game away.
‘I don’t think there will be enough room, Dad.’ My daughter looks at me with her mother’s innocent eyes. ‘There are three bedrooms, a double and two twins, that’s right, isn’t it, Hermione?’
Well done, Ginny, you looked me straight in the eye when you said that. But you licked your lips before you spoke. You’ve been doing that since you told your first little fib, when you blamed the twins for a broken mug. You don’t realise that you do it, and I’m never going to tell you.
How many bedrooms are there really? Are they doubles?
‘Yes, that’s right, Ginny,’ Hermione replies. Ginny asked the question so Hermione cleverly looks at her and gives her the answer. That way there is no eye contact with me. But you really need to learn to control that squeak in your voice, Miss Granger.
‘Well,’ I tell them, ‘I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t go. But you’re all of age, so we couldn’t stop you anyway.’
I look at my wife seriously. That last statement is for your benefit, Molly. You know that it’s true. We could confront them. But what would that achieve? I know that you don’t approve, but a confrontation would simply lead to an argument. The kids would forcefully tell us that they are all adults. It’s a good defence against parental interference; you know it is, Molly, because it’s the one we used on your parents. Anyway, it seems that Hermione’s parents accept, even condone, this arrangement.
‘Well, if you’re sure, Arthur.’ My wife is hesitant. I smile at her. The smile she gives me in return confirms that we both know what has just happened. We’ve been married for over thirty years after all.
‘I am,’ I tell her firmly. Without words, I try to get her to understand my reasons. Why start an argument that you will lose, Molly, quarrelling will simply upset everyone. Sometimes apparent ignorance is bliss.
‘Thanks, Mr Weasley.’
‘Thanks, Mr Weasley.’
So this time I take the credit, not Molly. She still looks uncertain about my decision. She decides to change the subject.
‘It’s George’s twenty-first birthday on Thursday,’ Molly reminds them. ‘This will be his first birthday without Fred. You will all be here, won’t you?’
‘Certainly, Mrs Weasley.’
‘Of course, Mum.’
‘Definitely, Mrs Weasley,’ comes the chorus of relieved confirmations.
Ron smirks and winks at Hermione. That’s a bad move, you should never gloat, Ron, especially not in front of your mother. Molly doesn’t like to lose. She’s going to say something despite my warning. We really don’t need a family argument, especially not so close to George’s birthday. It will sour the atmosphere of what will be a very difficult day anyway. She opens her mouth. It’s time for me to interrupt.
‘Do you remember my twentieth birthday celebrations, Molly?’ I ask quietly. That immediately silences her. You are so pretty when you’re flustered and embarrassed, Mollywobbles.