A/N: I'd like to thank you all for supporting this story, especially those of you who have kept me going with your kind and helpful reviews from day one. This fic has really done its purpose for me. I started it in September after finding out my mum had breast cancer, and wrote it on the five hour train journey every other weekend as I visited her. In just over a week she'll be having her operation, and hopefully that will be the end of it. This story has kept me going through a really tough time, and your comments have meant the world to me. I really hope you've enjoyed it, and I hope this sort-of epilogue is a good enough ending. Thank you, Flo xxx
The waves hushed gently against the shore on the last day of August, and despite the glorious weather, the large Cornish beach was almost entirely deserted. Families and dog walkers that approached this particular stretch of coastline kept realising that they'd forgotten to pick Auntie Mabel up from bingo, or needed to put more money in the car parking meter, or even that they were quite unsure why they'd come to the beach in the first place, and that they'd rather be at home.
The only people this odd sensation didn't seem to affect was a large party of mostly red-heads, who had descended the steep path from the cliff above, atop of which a small cottage could be seen. Now they sat on blankets and deck chairs, three young men hammering a large striped windbreaker into the sand.
This was not the only gathering they had had that summer. In an effort to keep the family as close together as possible, Molly Weasley had insisted on dinners, lunches, brunches, walks through the countryside, trips to Muggle London… Anything to try to help them forget what had happened, and who was missing. She kept her children close to her and viewed declined invitations with suspicion, insisting that they make the most of the good weather. When Harry had casually mentioned that he had never had a day at the beach, their activity for the last day before Hermione and Ginny returned to school was set, and the picnic packed with military precision.
Though it had not been overtly mentioned, Molly was clearly nervous and resentful that her daughter was returning to school (not to mention that several of her sons were hinting it was time for them to move out again), so everyone was obligated to come. This included the stray cats of the family: Harry and Hermione, of course, but also Andromeda, Teddy, and even Percy's girlfriend Audrey, who sat awkwardly among the huge family she had never met before, glancing nervously at Fleur and her intimidatingly beautiful figure.
Ginny was leaning back in her deck chair, digging her feet into the warm sand. When she closed her eyes, the sun made the darkness a dusky orange, and she could hear Harry's voice, enthusiastic and determined, from the windbreaker.
'I think I've managed to trace him to Croatia. I know we thought the trail had run cold, but I was thinking about that interview with Madam Marsh, and I really think there might be something-'
'Harry,' interrupted Ron, pausing the erection of the windbreaker, 'do you see this mallet? If you don't stop talking about work, I will hit you in the face with it.'
Ginny opened her eyes and turned to watch, hoping to see Ron get more agitated, but Harry just gave a sheepish grin and continued to hold the post steady.
'I still think we could just use magic,' grumbled Charlie, who was struggling alone at one end. 'The Muggle-repelling charm worked, didn't it?'
'I'm not risking it,' said Arthur firmly. 'There could still be Muggles on the cliffs. We're keeping magic to an absolute minimum.'
'The baby's got blue hair!' said Ron, outraged. Teddy gurgled happily in Andromeda's lap, unaware of Ron pointing at him with the mallet. 'If a Muggle sees that, they're going to know something's up anyway, he looks ridiculous!'
'He doesn't! And they won't see it,' said Harry defensively. 'He's got a sun hat on.' That Teddy kept pulling it off and throwing it on the sand didn't seem to matter.
With the windbreak as sturdy as they could manage it, Harry, Ron and Charlie joined the rest of the family, flopping down onto the blankets, looking out to the sea. Like Ginny, Harry immediately closed his eyes to the sun, stretching out in the warmth. She hadn't stopped staring at him all summer, marvelling in his existence, grateful to the core for his life, though sometimes when she woke in the mornings, she didn't remember that he was really here. She woke with the memory of him lying at Hagrid's feet, and grief would wash over her, renewed and healed every day. It was exhausting.
'I think I'd like to live by the sea,' he mumbled, finally opening his eyes and looking out to the waves.
'It's quite nice, I suppose,' said Ron. 'Not a touch on Australia though, is it, Hermione?' He missed Ginny rolling her eyes by turning to grin enthusiastically at his girlfriend, who beamed soppily back.
'Yes, how are your parents settling back in, Hermione?' asked Molly, rooting around in the picnic basket.
'Well, they seem to be getting less annoyed with me,' said Hermione happily. 'And we're going to have breakfast in London tomorrow before we get the train.'
Ron's face fell. 'It's not too late if you've changed your mind, you know…'
'We'll have Hogsmeade weekends,' Hermione said, leaning down from her deck chair to pat him on the hand.
'He can't sneak into her room then,' said Ginny quietly over Hermione's reassurances, exchanging a sly grin with Harry. They were all still somehow maintaining an unspoken understanding that she and Ron swap rooms each night, passing each other in the corridor as though simply going to the bathroom, determinedly avoiding eye contact. Harry had been amazed that Ron hadn't lectured him about it, but Ginny had pointed out that if he did, it would be the end of his midnight visits to Hermione too, so even if he was a bit of an idiot at times, even he could see that it was in his best interests to keep quiet. How any of them would cope sleeping alone with no partner to soothe their nightmares she had no idea…
Sandwiches, chicken, biscuits, and pots of strawberries were handed out, bottles of daisyroot draught clinking as they were pulled from the magically-cooled bag. Even with the large tartan blankets laid out, Ginny still felt the gritty crunch of sand in her sandwich, but as her mother pulled out a beautifully decorated cake that had no doubt taken hours, she knew to keep quiet, and instead watched the rest of the family chatter.
'No, no,' Fleur said to Arthur as he handed her a bottle of the cider. 'Zank you, but I am fine.' He looked confused, but then delighted as she quickly started asking him about his recent work with Muggle technology.
'They're called washy machines, and they're quite fascinating, I would love to bring one home to put in the shed…'
Charlie had started enthusiastically digging a hole in the sand between bites of his sandwich, under Bill's chuckling supervision and Percy's concerned warnings about collapsing walls. George was watching them with something close to envy on his face, and Ginny thought he might go and join them, but he simply continued to watch sullenly.
'Pass him here,' Harry was saying to Andromeda. 'No, don't worry, eat your lunch, I've got him…'
Soon the wriggling baby was next to Harry on the blanket, eagerly grasping at a rolled up ball of tin foil that Ron waved above his face like a little silver Snitch. Ginny smiled down at him, making kissy noises, her heart both happy and devastated at the way he looked just like Tonks.
'He's started rolling over now,' said Harry, through a mouthful of sandwich. 'You'll be crawling soon, won't you, mate?'
Teddy looked at him, his electric blue hair softening into turquoise. 'He does like that colour, doesn't he?' said Ginny.
'Nice and bright.' An image of pink through grey dust was flickering in her mind.
'It goes back to black when he's asleep sometimes,' said Harry. 'That must be his natural colour, Remus said it was black when he was born.'
'Are you really going to move back into Grimmauld Place?' Ginny asked, eyeing him carefully. 'Just so you can take him on your nights off?'
'Well, he wakes everyone up, doesn't he?' said Harry quietly, gently playing with Teddy's foot. Ginny knew he was lying. It was not Teddy that woke everyone, though she had certainly stirred at the sounds of his cries from time to time. It was the screaming that woke Teddy, woke them all, from every corner of the house. The night terrors that crept over them like Lethifolds. They had all experienced it, some more than others, and the supply of dreamless sleep potion was getting ever lower…
'Are you sure you're going to be all right on your own, though? You haven't found it easy,' she said bluntly.
He smirked at her, playful offence across his face. 'Well, no, but I haven't been terrible, have I?'
'No, not at all,' she admitted. He'd been rather good really. Initially so terrified he could barely hold him, Harry grew more comfortable with each visit, to the point where he badgered Andromeda for more time. Yes, he still got flustered and angry at himself when he made mistakes, and, yes, in the early hours when he couldn't soothe Teddy's cries, he insisted that it was because the baby missed his parents and that it was his fault… But despite that, Teddy helped him focus and recover, helped him channel his grief into caring for and protecting something close to real family.
'I'll be there too,' said Ron. 'I'm not getting up at night though. Or changing nappies.'
'Oh, Ron, you should help at least a little bit!' scolded Hermione.
Ron waved a hand at Harry. 'He knows I'm joking. I like the little potato head really.' Harry's expression suggested that he wasn't sure, but Ginny knew that, as Ron had done with Scabbers and Pigwidgeon, his sometimes dismissive treatment of the baby hid his strong feelings of attachment.
'Go on, George,' came her mother's pleading voice. 'Just have a little.'
'I'm fine,' said George dully. 'I've had a sandwich.'
'Toffee cake, though, George, your favourite-'
'I'm not hungry,' he repeated. Even in the glorious day that surrounded them in warm hues of yellow and blue, George still looked sickly and tired, reluctant to join in any activities. Ginny watched him, and despite the sun felt cold. She wondered if he would ever be the same.
Molly looked desperately at him, but George turned away, looking further up the beach to the distant Muggle fishing village.
'We'll have some of that cake, Mum,' said Bill quickly, throwing a meaningful glance at Charlie.
'Yeah,' agreed Charlie hastily. 'Looks great…'
Ginny knew that Charlie hated toffee. She took some too, trying to smile bracingly at her mother, but it was painfully obvious that, like every other day that summer, the family was putting on a front of happiness, pretending that everything was normal. Often, she felt as though they were all walking on a frozen lake, the ice creaking and cracking beneath them, ready to plunge them back into the devastating despair that had haunted them the weeks after the battle.
Yet it was starting to work, slowly. Maybe not for George, but for everyone else forcing the false happiness and normality seemed to be gradually becoming more natural. Andromeda had opened up a book and was looking increasingly at peace, Charlie was now discussing his plans to return to Romania with his father, and Audrey was looking terrified as Harry tried valiantly to engage her in conversation, bouncing Teddy on his knee.
'It's mostly tax law,' Audrey was saying hurriedly at her feet. 'Nothing exciting like you get up to, I suppose, you've had a very interesting life, haven't you? Not that those tragic things were interesting, I mean- I suppose you don't like talking about it, I'm sorry, I've just never really met anyone that does exciting things before, lots of people think law is very boring, especially tax law, but I do spend a lot of time working with the goblins and of course it is interesting when you put it into the socioeconomic context of wizarding society, particularly after the rapid changes in governmental procedures in recent years-'
'It sounds very interesting,' said Harry politely. 'Is that how you both met?'
'Yes, it is,' said Percy loudly, looking delighted with himself. 'At the time, I was the go-to man for issues concerning taxation policy in regards to taxes on production and importation of broomsticks and other transportation artefacts-' Harry's eyes were glazing over, and Ginny was biting back a giggle, but Audrey was looking up at Percy with an expression of pure admiration.
'We talked for hours,' simpered Audrey. 'He was such a gentleman, and we had such a riveting discussion when we compared the accounts for the major racing brands…'
Ginny looked over at Hermione, hoping to exchange an amused glance, but to her disappointment Hermione actually looked mildly interested. Harry was firmly avoiding eye contact with her, but as Percy began discussing a corporate tax issue with Cleansweep in painful detail, she could listen no more.
'How much snogging do you do?' she interrupted loudly, drawing everyone's attention.
'Ginny!' admonished Molly.
'What? It's a fair question, I just wanted to make sure they don't talk about tax all the time,' she said stubbornly, enjoying how Percy and Audrey had both turned the exact same shade of red.
'Audrey, I'm so sorry about my daughter-'
'It's fine!' squeaked Audrey. 'Fine!'
'My sister can be a little immature,' said Percy, flustered. 'Just ignore her, Audrey-'
Audrey looked even more terrified, staring across at Percy with increasing desperation. Ginny started to feel a bit guilty; no doubt Audrey had been very keen to make a good impression. 'Sorry, Audrey,' she said. 'I didn't mean to embarrass you, I just wanted to make sure Percy was fulfilling all your needs.'
Molly was scandalised, Andromeda was hiding her laughter behind her book, Ron, and Charlie were cackling loudly, even George was watching with interest. Harry's shoulders were shaking as he tried to stop himself from laughing.
Unfortunately, as Percy frantically tried to go over and comfort his embarrassed girlfriend, he tripped over the corner of the blanket, crashing into Harry who, in an effort to keep Teddy out of harm's way, left his entire face exposed to Percy's flailing arm, which connected with his forehead with a loud smack.
'Careful, Perce, you'll give him a scar,' said George.
The moment hung in the air like an explosion. The entire family stared at him. He seemed surprised himself. Harry's spluttered laughter broke the pause first, swiftly followed by the rest of the delighted family. George didn't join in, and his expression returned to one of melancholy, but it was the first sign of the real George they had seen in months, and it elated them all.
As the sun sank lower into the sky, a small campfire was made, and they circled around it, stubbornly ignoring the increasingly chilly air. The laughter and smiles becoming ever more genuine, and, after some crying, Teddy fell asleep in Harry's arms.
There was a cough, and the chatter was silenced as Bill and Fleur rose. 'Now seems like a good moment to let you all know…' began Bill.
'Oh my goodness,' shrieked Molly, looking at them both in a mix of shock and excitement.
'…That we're expecting a baby,' he finished, smiling down at his wife. Once again, the family erupted in happy noise, everyone leaping up to hug and congratulate the couple. Teddy woke with an irritable cry, but both Harry and Andromeda were grinning broadly; to hear that there was going to be new life was fantastic. A tiny spark of their future had started that evening, and it was the greatest cure of all.
When Harry finally handed Teddy back to Andromeda, Ginny sat next to him on the blanket, curling up close despite her family being there. They only had a few hours left together after all.
'Christmas seems far away,' she said softly.
He kissed her forehead. 'I'll miss you. But it will be easier than before. At least we'll be able to write, and I can visit on Hogsmeade weekends.'
'And I can officially tell Romilda to back off.'
He grinned and they quickly checked to make sure nobody was looking. Fleur was still the centre of attention, everyone was too distracted to look over to the far side of the campfire. Harry kissed her, deeply and meaningfully, he warmed her very soul.
'Oi!' Ron had spotted them, and Harry jumped away from her before more attention was drawn to them.
Later, when everyone had returned to talking (Andromeda and Molly suggesting baby names already), Charlie now waist deep in his hole, Ginny watched George rise and quietly walk to the water's edge. She followed him, nervous that he would shout at her and tell her to leave him alone as he had done several times that summer, but when she stood next to him in the surf he didn't move. Though cold, the breeze was pleasant, and it made their hair flicker and dance around their eyes, George's freckles seemed almost brown in the glowing light of the setting sun.
'You made a joke,' she said simply.
'Yeah,' he replied, his voice a little hoarse. He breathed in heavily, and then his sigh was slow and controlled. 'Are you going to be all right?' he said suddenly, after several moments of silence. 'At… At school.'
She had given the same answer to everyone, even Harry, but to George she decided to be honest. 'No.' He looked at her. The water swirled around their feet. 'But that's okay,' she said.
He nodded slightly. 'You'll have Hermione with you, I suppose.' There was a long pause again, he seemed to be gearing himself up for something, so she waited patiently. 'I'm going to open the shop again,' he said finally.
'You are?' she couldn't help the hope sounding through her voice, she could feel her cheeks pulling involuntarily into a smile. She didn't want to frighten him off, or put too much pressure on him, but he just nodded again, and looked back out to the horizon. In the distance, a triangle of white bobbed on the waves, gleaming in the dimming light.
'Yeah, I… I'm tired,' he said honestly. 'All I do is sit around all day and… It's tiring.'
'I know what you mean,' she said quietly. 'You have to keep yourself busy.'
'It's not even that,' he said, eyes still fixed on the sail boat. 'You lot all play happy families and act like everything's fine, and I wish I could too… But I'm always too tired.'
'If we're being insensitive-'
'No,' he said, still breathing deeply. 'He was your brother too. I can't keep acting like I'm the only one who misses him. And there'll be another baby on the way soon, and I need to catch up with you all and be able to… You know, to celebrate these things.'
The waves broke gently at their ankles, and Ginny found herself leaning against him, his arm automatically wrapping round her shoulders as they both stared at the boat. 'He'd like the shop to be open again,' she said quietly. His heart thudded under her ear, steady, calm and strong.
'Yeah… It won't be the same. I won't be the same. But you're right. That's okay.'