February was an awful month, Ginny Weasley decided, as she sat at the kitchen table and looked up from her steaming cup of tea to stare outside the kitchen window. It was gray and dreary outside, with dirty snow covering the ground and harsh winds ruffling the treetops. Yes, she thought, February was awful, because just when you had become sick of sleet, snow, and ice, February came gloomily along, reminding you that you had at least another month and a half to go before spring.
Staring back into her teacup, Ginny did not notice her mother walk briskly into the kitchen until she spoke.
“Ginny, darling,” her mother said, pulling down random pots and pans from a cabinet, “be a good girl and cut up these carrots for me, that’s a dear.”
Ginny sighed, standing up and rummaging through the pantry. One day, she vowed, she would not make her children – if she had any, that is – do such mundane tasks, like cutting up carrots. She was a witch – she could just flick her wand at a knife and let it do the tedious job. Or, she reflected, maybe her husband would do it. She tried unsuccessfully to block an image of Harry and herself standing side by side in a kitchen very similar to the Burrow’s, laughing and joking with each other as she stirred a pot on the stove with her wand, and Harry chopped up carrots the Muggle way, because that was just the sort of thing he would do. Besides, Ginny herself knew that old habits died hard – not that she really cared how Harry would cut up his carrots. At least, that was what she told herself.
“Bill and Fleur are coming, I want to make beef stew, the full moon’s next Saturday and that is his favorite,” her mum prattled. Bill did not transform in the least during the full moon, but he did start to have huge cravings for meat a week or so beforehand.
“... and Fred and George are coming as well. They’ve been so sweet lately, coming home for dinner so often, and lunch last week, say they miss my cooking. Such sweet boys,” her mother sighed.
Ginny quickly suppressed a snort. While Fred and George may have actually missed their mum’s cooking, she knew the real reason they had been coming home so often lately: last month Fred had called it off with a girlfriend that had come over and cooked for them several times, and George had gotten sick of trying to rescue and eat Fred’s burnt attempts at cooking in the aftermath. “And she shared a lot more than the kitchen with him,” George had added conspiratorially with a disgusted look on his face last week when she had wheedled the real answer out of them. He had been rewarded with a backhand to the head by Fred, which had eventually resulted in a duel between the twins with fake wands, Decoy Detonators and Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder in the backroom of their nearly deserted shop.
For the next hour or so, Ginny found herself cutting vegetables and setting the table, as well as other small, everyday dinner chores, the wireless and occasionally her mother’s voice breaking the silence. A news report made her pause.
“Today the Ministry of Magic denied reports that they had given up on finding the source of the February 17 explosion in Little Hangleton, approximately twelve kilometers from the Welsh border, near Tinturn Parva. The explosion, which could be seen from ten kilometers and left the house in ruins, was witnessed by hundreds of Muggles, but there were no reported casualties. Muggles were informed the explosion had been caused by arsonists bombing a rival drug laboratory. Minister Rufus Scrimgeour was quoted on the subject today, saying ‘Ministry officials are working more diligently than ever on this case. We will find the culprit.’ When asked about the possibility of the explosion being He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s doing, Auror Nymphadora Tonks replied, ‘Are you bloody serious? You-Know-Who isn’t going to set off a lightshow when the whole country’s looking for him. I don’t think he’s too keen on being found right now.’ And now, back to our Top Ten Countdown. Here’s the Broomstick Boys at number seven with ‘You Stole My Heart (Quicker Than A Pixie)’....”
Ginny returned to her chores, absentmindedly humming the catchy pop tune and vaguely wondering what she would have been doing at Hogwarts. The school had closed after one semester when Death Eaters had been seen on the grounds and in Hogsmeade during the Christmas holidays. Luckily no one had stayed at the school over the break.
Before she knew it, Bill, Fleur, Fred, and George had arrived and were bustling about the kitchen, setting steaming dishes and pot holders on the table, and in the case of the twins, tasting the food as well.
There was a knock at the door. A quick glance at the family clock, perched neatly on the windowsill above the sink, told Ginny that her father had come home. She smirked as she listened to her parents ask their routine questions. The word ‘Mollywobbles’ still made her want to both laugh and retch a little; she still remembered quite vividly the time she had gone to her parents’ room after a particularly bad nightmare the summer after her first year and found them most definitely not asleep. She hadn’t been the first to walk in on them, however. Each Weasley child had a horrifying story to tell; Percy held the record at three.
Soon the family was seated at the table, the empty chairs not quite as noticeable with Bill, Fleur, and the twins there. Ginny had yet to take a bite of the piping hot stew when there was another sharp knock on the door.
Everyone went silent and stared at one another. They had not been expecting anyone else; no Order member had let them know they were coming for dinner; her mother would have remembered. Charlie was still in Romania, Percy in London, and Ron was traipsing across the country with Hermione and Harry. Her father slowly rose from the table, drawing his wand as he neared the door. Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny noticed everyone else doing the same. She pulled hers out.
“Who is it?” her father asked through the door.
“It’s Ron and Hermione,” a man’s voice answered.
Ginny’s heart leapt – Ron and Hermione! She had not seen them since they had left two days after Bill and Fleur’s wedding – Fred and George had seen them in Diagon Alley right before Guy Fawkes Day. She had been so disappointed when they hadn’t come home for Christmas... but where was Harry?
“... okay then,” her dad was saying. “Ron, what made me get so angry when you were five years old?”
“Fred tried to make me take on an Unbreakable Vow,” the voice answered promptly, “and to this day Fred still reckons his left bu–”
“Okay! Hermione,” Mr. Weasley interrupted quickly, “hmm... what to ask you....”
“Ginny knows that the first time I spent the night here I quoted the entire first page from Hogwarts, a History; she found it and followed along with me,” a muffled female voice replied instantly.
Everyone turned around to look at Ginny. She grinned. “It’s them.”
The whole family jumped up as her father hurriedly unlocked the door and pushed it open. Ron and Hermione were standing there, huddled together, wrapped in bulky clothing, their cheeks red from the cold. Ron was laughing.
“You had an entire page memorized? Will the wonders never cease? Or, actually, now that I think about it, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”
“Oh, shut up,” Hermione retorted. “Hello, everyone.” She smiled.
With that, everyone immediately broke into chatter and laughter, greeting and hugging the two of them.
“Where’s Harry?” Ginny asked, looking from Hermione to Ron.
“Wait! Leave that open,” Ron said quickly as their father made to shut the door. “He couldn’t make it. We need to get our bags from outside.” He dropped his voice, suddenly looking sober and so much older. “Harry’s out there, sitting underneath that old oak tree,” he whispered. “He’s injured, and he can’t walk by himself. He’s under the Invisibility Cloak, and it’ll look suspicious if two people are seen supporting nothing. We need two of you to come out there with us, Disillusioned. He can’t be seen. Both V-Voldemort” (Ginny’s parents flinched) “and the Ministry are looking for him.”
The twins immediately stepped forward and Disillusioned themselves.
“Let’s give them a minute or so.” Hermione smiled weakly. “We couldn’t take him to St. Mungo’s, and I can’t help him anymore. We were hoping that you could.”
“Of course!” her mother said. “Bill, dear, could you go make sure that Fred and George’s old room is ready?” Bill nodded and hurried up the stairs.
“I will ’elp,” Fleur announced, turning around and following her husband, her silvery blonde hair fanning out behind her as she twirled.
Ginny stared dazedly at her brother and her friend. She had gone from feeling elated to horribly worried and scared in seconds. Harry was injured – so badly that he couldn’t walk unassisted from the old oak tree in their front yard to the front door? So badly, that not even Hermione could heal him?
After a few minutes of tense silence, Ron and Hermione went back outside to retrieve their bags, leaving Ginny alone in the kitchen with her parents.
A few minutes later, Ginny could hear scuffling and whispers.
“Okay, Harry, we’re almost there.”
“So, did you happen to meet any noteworthy birds during your travels? I’m in the market, especially for one that knows how to cook.”
“Yeah, Fred’s noticed his bed’s a little colder at night these days.”
“You’ll thank me for my tenacity when we have lovely home-cooked meals on the table at our own apartment, dear twin. But yeah, I suppose I did notice that.”
Ron and Hermione came in shortly afterward, throwing down their duffle bags and shutting the door. They began to shake off some of their layers of heavy winter clothing, hanging their hats, mufflers, and thick coats on an old, rickety coat rack and miscellaneous chairs scattered around the table.
With the sound of two wands hitting their respective owners’ heads, Fred and George reappeared, seemingly supporting nothing. A second later, however, both of them had tugged off the now silvery Invisibility Cloak. All of the Weasleys, save Ron, gasped.
Harry was leaning heavily on both twins, wrapped in numerous layers, his visible skin pale, his face patched with gauze and bandages. One of his hands was wrapped in a bandage as well.
Her mother darted forward. “Oh, Harry dear, let’s get you upstairs and in bed,” she fussed.
Ginny raced forward, unable to take it a minute longer.
“Ginny, no!” Ron and Hermione both shouted.
Ginny reached Harry and flung her arms around him in a tight hug. She both felt and heard him suck in his breath in pain, and immediately she tried to step back. She was stopped, however, by his arms as they surrounded her and held her tightly back. He was leaning what had to be most of his weight on her, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to support him for much longer. She was worried and terrified for him, but for the moment she just reveled in being in his embrace, his very presence.
Slowly she stepped back and helped Fred and George support him again. His green eyes never left her.
“Fred, George, go ahead and take him up to your old room; I’ll be there in a minute. Ron, Hermione, go sit down and tell us what happened.” Her mother bustled over to the stove as Bill and Fleur returned and Fred, George, and Harry made their slow ascent up the staircase. Everyone sat at the table, watching Harry until he was out of sight.
Her father cleared his throat. “So, what happened?” he prompted.
Molly set two steaming bowls of stew in front of Ron and Hermione. “Thanks, Mum!” Ron exclaimed happily.
“Thank you, Mrs. Weasley.” Hermione frowned at Ron as he immediately began shoveling in stew like a starving man. Then again, Ginny reflected, maybe he was. Who knew what had happened to them these past months. Or maybe she had been away from him so long she had forgotten just how voracious an appetite he had.
Hermione took a sip of water and began to talk, Ron interjecting randomly in-between bites. They told of how after leaving the Burrow and visiting Godric’s Hollow, they had begun their search for some very important objects that Harry needed. They had found the first rather – “surprisingly,” Ron had interrupted – quickly, but it had taken months for them to find this second one – months of research, mistakes, dead-ends, and false leads – until it took them to the Riddle House in Little Hangleton.
“That’s the house that exploded,” Ginny’s father interrupted for the first time. “Were you –?”
“Yes, that was us,” Hermione said heavily.
“Harry made us promise to wait outside,” Ron took over, his bowl unsurprisingly empty. “If he didn’t return in forty-five minutes, we were supposed to come looking for him. We didn’t have to wait that long,” Ron said dryly. “Thirty minutes later we hear a loud boom and nearly get blinded by the light. After we’re sure there’s not going to be a second explosion, we go in there after him. Of course, most of the house is in ruins, and we had to put out a few small fires. Luckily we found Harry fairly quickly; he must’ve been on the top floor. He was a bloody mess – literally. So we just grabbed him and the c– er, object, and Apparated to a safe-house we know of.” Fred and George came down the stairs and sat at the table, followed shortly by Bill and Fleur, all of their faces uncharacteristically pale and worried. Ron gestured to Hermione to continue, grabbing a piece of bread.
“He was unconscious until we were back in the safe-house. Ron was cleaning him off when he woke up. It was... horrible,” Hermione said shakily. “He was incoherent, delirious with fever, and probably pain, too. And the screaming.” She sat quietly for a moment, and then shook herself. “We still don’t know exactly what happened. Harry either doesn’t remember, or just won’t talk about it. We haven’t asked. But we do know that somehow Harry was poisoned, and his injuries wouldn’t heal. I brewed the antidote and gave it to him last night, but he still needs additional doses, and rest. So we decided to come home. We’ve missed you all so much.”
For the first time that evening, Ginny examined Ron and Hermione’s appearances. Both were thinner; no traces of remaining baby fat were visible on their faces. They both looked exhausted and worried, dark shadows underneath their eyes. Ginny looked at the calendar on the wall; the date was outlined in a shimmering gold. Today was the twenty-first of February. Four days. Ginny did not know whether to be glad she had not had to deal with the stress, worry, and fear, or angry that Harry had been suffering and Ron and Hermione hadn’t told another soul about him.
Ginny’s mother sniffed, trying surreptitiously to wipe her eyes with her hand. “Well then, Hermione, why don’t you come tell me what you’ve given him while we go and have a look at him?”
“Well, this morning I gave him a Blood-Replenishing Potion, and an hour before we left Wales a Fever-Reducing....” Hermione’s voice drifted off as she followed Ginny’s mum upstairs and out of sight, leaving Ginny, Ron, the twins, and their father lost in their own thoughts.
Late the next morning Ginny found herself in the kitchen, a hot bowl of beef broth being pushed into her hands. “Take that up to Harry,” her mother said. “He should be waking up from that sleeping draught I gave him pretty soon.” She turned back to the stove, where a spatula was flipping pancakes by itself.
Realizing she was dismissed, Ginny turned around and carefully made her way upstairs. She knocked on the door to Fred and George’s old room, but there was no answer. Quietly she opened the door and stepped inside.
Harry was lying on his back, his breathing loud and slightly labored, his much-too-thin face almost as white as the pillow upon which his head rested, except for the faint flush that colored his cheeks – his fever was coming back. She set the broth on the bedside table and gently sat on the side of the bed. Ginny watched him sleep for a few minutes, deep in thought; occasionally she reached out to smooth his hair or shirt collar. She was debating whether or not she should just go ask her mum if they should go ahead and wake him up when she heard him move and groan softly.
“Harry? How are you feeling? It’s me, Ginny.”
Harry shifted slightly, wincing. He licked his lips and blearily opened his eyes. His normally vivid, clear green eyes were glassy with sleep, pain, and fever.
“Hello, gorgeous,” Ginny said, reverting to the playful nicknames they had used flippantly those few weeks, so long ago.
“Hello, beautiful,” he replied hoarsely, a weak smile gracing his face briefly before he winced again, raising himself up onto the pillows.
“Mum warmed some broth up for you; I think she may have slipped a potion or two in here as well.” Ginny handed him the broth and just sat quietly as he clumsily fed himself with his bandaged right hand.
“Feel better now?” she asked lightly, setting the bowl back on the nightstand for him after he had drank most of it.
He nodded. “Thanks,” he said, his voice already clearer.
“Well, I’ve got a question to ask you then.” Ginny geared herself up. “Why the bloody hell did you go in there after that Horcrux by yourself? And yes, I do know you’re searching for Horcruxes, though I’m still not sure why or what they are. What if the explosion had been worse? You could have died. How could you be so damn stupid?” she ranted. Harry was staring at her, dumbfounded.
“You just didn’t think, did you?” she continued loudly. “You’re the great Harry Potter, the Chosen One, the bloody Boy Who Lived, guess you just thought you’d make it out scot-free, did you? Well, you sure were sodding wrong, weren’t you? You were supposed to come back alive. I told you back in August that I would wait for you. But apparently there’s really no point in waiting for you if you’re just going to get yourself killed. I might as well go ahead and take up with that Muggle boy down the road; at least I know he won’t go on a mission and try to get himself killed because he’s too damn arrogant, stupid, and noble! No more of this, do you hear me? Take the lovebirds with you next time – yes, I know, I saw them this morning; they’re nearly as bad as Bill and Fleur,” Ginny added in response to Harry’s face changing from shocked and awed to mere surprise. Narrowing her eyes at him, she continued.
“So help me God, if you happen to live through another idiotic attempt to take care of things yourself, I will personally make sure that not only will the Potter line not be continued through me, but it will not continue at all.Do I make myself clear?”
Harry stared at her, openmouthed, for several moments. Apparently gathering his thoughts, he slowly nodded his head. “Ginny Weasley?” he croaked.
“Yes?” she asked impatiently, crossing her arms across her chest and staring Harry defiantly in the eye.
“I – I l- I love you,” he said quietly, gazing at her with wonder.
For a moment, words failed her. Ginny first felt uncertainty, then warmth spreading from her heart to her head and the very tips of her toes. She savored the moment – how long had she dreamed, imagined, and hoped for this very moment? Though she had always imagined it would come from a Harry that was healthy and well – probably after the war – and not covered in bandages from head to toe and definitely not lying stiffly on a bed in Fred and George’s old bedroom.
“I love you too, Harry Potter. I have for a very, very long time,” she murmured softly. She bent over and kissed him gently on the lips.
Harry patted the bed beside him, unembarrassed. Without hesitation she climbed under the covers with him, carefully wrapping her arm across his chest, slowly letting the weight go so that it wouldn’t hurt his chest.
They both just lay there quietly, listening to the sound of the other’s breathing until they both drifted off to sleep.
They were both where they belonged.
Two weeks later, Ginny hugged and kissed Harry, Ron, and Hermione goodbye before they left her life once more to complete the journey – the mission – that had begun so very long ago.
A/N: Tinturn Parva is a real town in Wales – I looked it up on Google Maps. :-)