EPILOGUE: Five Years Later
The seventh year students groaned as their teacher announced homework:
'Two feet of parchment on the history, origins and characteristics of lethifolds--come on, it's not that bad--and I want everyone to be practicing their Patronus and Shield Charms for next time. I'll know if you haven't. Class dismissed.'
As the students filed out, the professor heard a few grumbles.
'He's merciless,' complained Jennie MacDonald. 'Honestly, N.E.W.Ts are still two months off!'
'I still say he's a bit cracked from, well, you know,' muttered Nathan Ackerley. 'He went through hell so he feels like he has to pass a bit of it on to us.'
'You're right about that, mate,' said Richard Baddock. 'I mean, the man knows his stuff, but he's definitely a bit barmy, isn't he?'
'Come off it,' said Olivia Quirke. 'He's brilliant. Best Defense teacher we've ever had. And he's so dreamy looking.' Olivia sighed, but then blushed when she saw that the professor had overheard her. She burst into a little shriek of giggles that was matched by Jennie. Nathan looked at his friend Richard and the two boys rolled their eyes and shook their heads.
Professor Harry Potter smiled to himself as the students filed out of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. As always, one student lagged behind.
'Professor Potter,' said the nervous voice of Thomasina Pritchard, the Head Girl and a Ravenclaw, 'I was just wondering...well, I do hate to be a bother to you, but...have you by any chance finished writing those recommendations I asked you about? I know you're terribly busy, but I did want to get my applications sent out before the Easter holidays--'
'I've got them all right here,' said Harry, smiling at Thomasina as he pulled open his desk drawer and extracted half a dozen neatly rolled pieces of parchment, each sealed with a wax imprint and his signature.
'Oh, thank you so much, Professor!' gushed Thomasina. 'You've no idea how much I appreciate this, this will really help me get a leg up on the other applicants, I think, just having a nice word from you, I can't tell you how grateful I am that you went to such trouble for me--'
'It was no trouble at all,' said Harry. 'Though I dare say you don't need me singing your praises to anyone in order to land a great job.'
Thomasina blushed and self-consciously brushed a bit of her very frizzy blonde hair out of her face. 'Well, I'm not really...that is to say...I just work hard, that's all. Books and cleverness, that sort of thing.'
Harry almost laughed. Thomasina might be blonde, blue-eyed and a Ravenclaw, but she was in all other respects so much like Hermione it was uncanny, and very, very amusing.
'So, thanks very much for this,' said Thomasina, hoisting her hugely overpacked schoolbag onto her shoulders. 'Have a lovely weekend.'
'You, too, Miss Pritchard,' said Harry, as Thomasina hurried out of the room in a flurry of curly hair and black robes.
Harry let out a breath and sat back in his desk chair, and without really thinking about it, he opened his other desk drawer and took out the small Snitch in it. It had become a ritual of his, after each lesson, to toss the Snitch in the air and catch it. Harry might not play Quidditch very much anymore, but he was determined not to lose the reflexes that had made him the best Seeker Hogwarts had seen since Charlie Weasley.
I really am my father's son, he thought absently, as he caught the Snitch a sixth time.
Harry caught the Snitch a seventh time and looked up to see Professor Severus Snape glowering at him.
'Oh, I'm so sorry,' said Snape sarcastically. 'Have I come at a bad time?'
'What can I do for you, Severus?' said Harry.
Snape bristled, and Harry once again felt like laughing with immature triumph. He knew Snape hated for Harry to address him by his first name. As a result, Harry made sure to do it at every possible opportunity.
'As you have probably forgotten, I will be going out of town next week, and I'll be gone for a fortnight,' said Snape coldly. 'Minerva has asked all the other teachers to fill in for me in my absence. Unfortunately, that includes you.'
'The Headmistress wants me to take some of your Potions classes?' said Harry, tossing the Snitch up in the air and catching it again. Just to irk Snape further, Harry put his feet up on his desk.
'If it's not a bother,' said Snape. 'Of course, if you'd prefer to spend your time playing with your little balls, I'd understand.'
'Oh, no,' said Harry, smiling nastily at Snape and ignoring the other man's dig. 'It's no bother at all for me to take on some of your lessons. I may even forget to mention to the students why you're going on holiday in the first place.'
Snape went white, and his eyes flashed. 'Potter, you will say nothing about that, do you understand? And I mean absolutely nothing--'
'Relax, Severus,' said Harry dryly. 'I won't say anything. I can't very well have anyone feeling sorry for you. It would ruin your reputation.'
Snape snorted. 'You're insufferable, Potter,' he said.
'Only for you, Severus,' said Harry, grinning broadly. 'Only for you.'
Snape gave Harry a dirty look and swept from the room, muttering to himself.
'Impertinent brat...just like his father...can't believe Minerva gave him the job...'
Harry chuckled. His relationship with Snape, now that it was on equal footing, had turned from mere loathing to mutual, contemptible respect. Snape would sooner jinx off his other leg than to admit Harry really was the best Defense teacher Hogwarts had had in a long time--even better than Remus Lupin and Griselda Hopkirk--and Harry would sooner cut out his own tongue than to say anything nice about Snape, to his face or otherwise. But Harry was Snape's colleague now, not his student, and this afforded him the advantage of being able to piss Snape off frequently without worrying about being sent to detentions or being threatened with expulsion. That Snape couldn't take action against Harry in such a manner anymore was a source of constant frustration for the Potions Master, and a source of constant, wicked glee for Harry, who took great joy in aggravating Snape as much as possible.
Of course, the source for Snape's annoyance on this particular occasion was that his 'holiday' was really a visit to St. Mungo's in which he would be fitted with the latest, state-of-the-art magical false leg, which Harry himself had purchased. Snape knew Harry had done this, and it infuriated him. To his obvious chagrin, Snape had no choice but to accept it, given that Harry was buying the leg in repayment for Snape having sacrificed his real leg to save Ron's life. Never mind that technically, Ron should be the one to do this. Harry had chosen to do so--and had never told Ron just how Snape had lost his leg. Ron couldn't have afforded a new leg for Snape, anyway. Auror pay wasn't much to write home about, and in any case, Ron had had to save up his money for another purchase.
Harry let out a breath and put the Snitch back in his desk, and then turned his attention to the stacks of parchment on his desk. One stack was the pop quiz he'd given that morning--again to the groans and grumbles of his students. The other was their homework assignment. He wasn't much looking forward to having to grade all of them, but then, it was Friday. He didn't see the seventh years again until Tuesday. That, at least, gave him a bit of breathing room.
He gathered up the parchment and stuffed it into his valise and once again was glad he wouldn't be the head of Gryffindor House until next year. This meant that tonight, he could skip having his dinner in the Great Hall, and go home and cook himself something simple, take a long, hot shower, and go to bed early.
He headed out of the castle, greeting students and his colleagues as he went. It wasn't his usual practice to skip dinner with the rest of the school, but tonight he was bloody well exhausted. He had been for the past month, trying to keep Ron and Hermione sane, working interference for them both as they struggled with the stresses of planning their wedding. They had bickered a lot over it--mostly about the cost and the logistics--but part of the pressure was owing to Hermione's emotional state. She was, to put it mildly, a bit of a wreck.
Harry had expected this, of course, as had Ron. It was to be expected that Hermione would suffer badly at the death of her father, who had escaped the wrath of Death Eaters only to die in a car accident two years later. The irony was unbelievably cruel.
The aftermath of that event had left Hermione an emotional mess. Ron had sacrificed a term of study in the Auror training program, deferring his completion of the program for six months in order to come back to London. Hermione moved home with her mother, and Ron joined them, acting as their caretaker for six months and, with the help of Molly Weasley, seeing them through the worst of their grief.
That was three years ago. Hermione had since accepted the loss of her father, and her mother had adjusted to being a widow with grace and strength, but now, with Ron and Hermione's wedding imminent, mother and daughter were both again struggling with the loss of Warren Granger, and the knowledge that he could not walk his daughter down the aisle or otherwise share in what should be the joyous occasion of Hermione marrying the love of her life.
As such, Ron and Hermione had had a very difficult time of it lately. It didn't help that both were suffering from what Mrs. Weasley termed 'the pre-wedding jitters.'
For Harry's part, things might have been easier to cope with over the last month had the love of his life been around to see him through it. But she was on the road this month with Puddlemere United. He wouldn't see her until tomorrow afternoon at the very earliest.
Harry suddenly realized he'd walked the entire way to his flat without really noticing it. It wasn't a long walk, of course--he lived right in Hogsmeade, just off the High Street, but even so, the thought of just going to sleep--to hell with dinner and that shower--sounded doubly tempting.
He picked up the latest issue of The Daily Prophet and scanned the headlines.
LUCIUS MALFOY APPEALS DEATH SENTENCE
Case could drag on for years
Harry sighed. Lucius Malfoy had been caught over a year ago, finally, with no small amount of help from his son, Draco. Draco had 'gone respectable,' as Hagrid had once said, taking over the Malfoy affairs and transforming his father's many illegal businesses into a single, legitimate entity known as Malfoy, Ltd., which bought and traded rare magical antiquities to magical museums and occasionally to very wealthy private collectors. The business was incredibly lucrative, and Draco was easily the richest wizard in the United Kingdom. In catching Lucius--who had become so notorious, even the Muggles were told of him--Draco was knighted by the Queen and given a bunch of awards by the Ministry of Magic. Of course, Ron had played no small part of Lucius Malfoy's capture, but Draco, as was befitting him, took all the credit. Ron said he didn't care about that--all that mattered was that Lucius Malfoy was in prison, entirely stripped of magic thanks to a new set of spells that were rumored to have been created by Hermione's team of Unspeakables. Of course, the Ministry refused to confirm or deny any of that, and no Unspeakable gave any comment to the press. Harry had contributed to the finding of Lucius as well, albeit in an 'unofficial' capacity, which meant that nobody knew about Harry's involvement except those involved directly with the case. That had been an interesting period, to say the least.
Harry then found another smaller headline, also related to the Malfoy family:
DRACO MALFOY TO WED MINISTER'S NIECE
Wedding promises to be the social event of the season
Harry smirked and shook his head. He had no earthly idea what Susan Bones saw in Draco Malfoy, but he was past feeling any real malice for Draco, given that the Malfoy heir hadn't bothered Harry at all in the past five years, that their paths had crossed only as many times as was necessary to retrieve Lucius, and that Draco was no longer pining after Ginny. The last thing Harry had said to Draco was to be good to Susan, or else. Draco had snorted at that, but so far, the consensus seemed to be that Draco and Susan were happy together, or at least content. Harry was sure he'd heard of stranger couples, but at the moment, he couldn't think of any. At any rate, it struck Harry as supremely ironic that Draco would be marrying the other girl Harry had dated while they were in school. Harry, furthermore, had no idea how Draco seemed to have worked past all the tragedies in his life, but it wasn't as if Draco was going to confide in him. They were now nothing more than passing acquaintances, their mutual loathing having burned out in the aftermath of war and loss.
Harry folded the paper, unlocked the front door of the apartment building and stumped up the stairs to his third floor flat; he opened his door with his wand and slid gratefully inside.
Home. It wasn't a very large or grand space, but it had all the room Harry needed, and it was comfortable.
It was also, Harry noticed, as he set down his valise and pulled off his work robes, unaccountably dark. At once, Harry felt his spine stiffen, and he held out his wand. He was sure he hadn't left the flat in this condition. Hedwig's cage was empty; that was normal. The rest wasn't. Something felt wrong.
'Lumos,' he muttered, and suppressed the urge to groan. This was just what he needed after a long week: a stupid prowler or burglar in his home to complicate matters.
It was then that he noticed his bedroom door was flung wide open and that a dim light was emanating from it.
Jeez, if this is a burglar, he's a right moron.
Harry crept quietly towards his bedroom; his footsteps were silent on the wooden floor. He might not have gone through with Auror training, but he wasn't a great Defense teacher for nothing.
Upon reaching the threshold to his room, Harry went still for a moment. Perhaps the prowler would leap from the shadows. Harry raised his wand and held it tighter. It was a near-exact replica of his old wand, down to the phoenix feather inside the holly wood, but it felt slightly different in his hand all the same.
When nobody leapt out at Harry and tried to jinx him, he edged his way into his room, keeping his back flush against the wall. He then whirled about, with his wand outstretched, to scan the room, and found himself facing his little walk-in closet, whose door was open. He rolled his eyes.
The closet? Are you kidding me?
Realizing that he was indeed dealing with a person of sub-average intelligence, Harry relaxed his guard just enough to move quickly towards his closet, his wand still pointed out.
'All right, you--'
'Over, here, Harry.'
Harry whirled around just as his bedroom door clicked shut and was about to open his mouth to fire a spell, when he saw who his intruder was.
A mixture of surprise, happiness and anger washed over him. He was genuinely shocked to see her.
'What do you think you're doing, sneaking up on me like that?' he said angrily. 'I could have hexed you!'
'You don't seem very happy to see me,' she said, putting a hand on her hip.
Harry let out a breath. 'Of course I'm happy to--hang on, what are you doing here? I thought you weren't coming in until tomorrow.'
'Oh, that's much better, Harry,' she said sarcastically. 'You know, if you prefer I can just leave and come back tomorrow.' Her brown eyes narrowed at him.
It suddenly occurred to Harry--really occurred to him--whose brown eyes were looking at him with annoyance. Whatever anger and confusion he'd felt disappeared. He was suddenly, overwhelmingly happy. He decided, however, to play along, just a bit. It was how things were between them, and he'd always enjoyed it.
'I'm overjoyed,' he said, as tonelessly as possible. 'You look smashing in my robe.'
'Better your robe than my practice uniform,' she said.
'You came straight from practice?'
'I Apparated and everything,' she said. 'And you know how I hate Apparating. I'm only wearing your robe because I took a much-needed shower and I forgot to bring something else to wear.' And with that, she untied the robe and let it slide off her shoulders. 'See?'
Harry took in a breath. Well, this was certainly a very, very exciting development in what had promised to be a totally mundane and boring evening.
He meant to say just that, but the site of her wearing nothing but a very smug grin, with an impertinent hand on her lovely, curving hip caused his verbal acumen to disappear.
Without further ado he strode across the room and pulled her into his arms, devouring her mouth with his.
She giggled when, a few minutes later, they came up for air. 'Miss me?'
'Good,' she said. 'I missed you, too.'
'I didn't expect you tonight,' he said, kissing the tip of her nose, 'but I'm very happy to see you.'
She gave him a suggestive smile and lowered her small hand to his crotch.
'You certainly are,' she purred.
'Minx,' he breathed.
'Always,' she said. 'Take me to bed right now, Mr. Potter.'
'If you insist, Miss Weasley.'
At some point in the evening, they managed to drag themselves from his bed, eat a light supper and drink some wine. They wound up doing this naked, because Harry reasoned it made no sense to throw something on if they were just going to wind up back in bed again. Ginny decided she agreed with this logic, and so for the first time in his life, Harry ate his dinner completely starkers and watched his girlfriend do the same. Of course, watching Ginny eat when she had nothing on made it difficult to think about food. That is, until Ginny announced they would be eating strawberries and whipped cream as their pudding, and Harry learned that whipped cream tasted better on Ginny than it did on strawberries.
Needless to say, they didn't get much sleep that night.
When they finally did collapse, Harry found he couldn't actually sleep, but Ginny slept heavily. She always slept heavily these days.
Harry was grateful for that. He was grateful for a lot of things, in fact, but he was especially grateful that Ginny Weasley was sleeping through the night, almost every night now, without having to rely on sleeping potions or Empath spells to get her through. She had reverted, she told him once, to her sleeping patterns that she'd had at the Burrow, as a child, before Hogwarts. Back then, she'd learned to sleep through almost anything. One couldn't get a good night's sleep at the noisy Burrow otherwise. That, of course, had changed after Tom Riddle and her first year at school, and had only grown worse after her sixth year, but somewhere at the end of her seventh year at school, somehow, she'd finally discovered sleep again. It was then, she had told Harry, that she knew once and for all she would be totally all right. Scarred, but healed.
He leaned up on his elbow and brushed a copper tendril of hair back from her face. His heart ached a little, in moments like this. It had taken them a long, long time to find each other again. He'd spent two years in Geneva, slogging through the hell of 'finding himself' with the help of Mme Verlaine, a quirky, handsome old woman who spoke with a thick French accent and owned half a dozen ornery little terriers. He'd written letters on occasion to Ron and Hermione even as they wrote to him constantly. It was in a letter from Ron that Harry had learned of Warren Granger's death.
Ron had been faithful in his updates on Ginny, although he seemed to have deliberately kept them just vague enough not to be upsetting in any way. Ginny, Ron had often said, had her good days and her bad days. Harry didn't have to be near Ginny to know that her bad days would have been epic; his own bad days were epic in their horrors, and he knew they both had bad days for similar reasons.
Harry's journey with Mme Verlaine came to an end the day he finally accepted the Dark Arts teaching post, offered by Headmistress McGonagall. It was when Harry started the job itself that he knew he really would be all right. Scarred, but healed.
And now here he was, with Ginny back in his life, in his bed, in his soul where she belonged, and yet neither of them could pretend things were quite as good or free as they had been. There would always be challenges for them, and roadblocks. Ginny had given up the idea of becoming an Empath Healer, for the same reason Harry had given up being an Auror: neither one of them wanted careers that reminded them of the horrors they'd seen. They didn't often discuss what they had gone through when they were apart, although when they did talk about it, they were open enough with one another for Harry not to feel like anything was strained between them. It was just that, they both knew it had been absolute hell. Why relive it? In any case, the Empathic bond rather made talking about those things pointless. Harry didn't have to hear in words how tough things had been for Ginny; he knew it every time he touched her or was in the same room with her.
It was the same for him: he could never fully hide that part of him that hurt, that to this day continued to hurt. Both of them still hurt. Both of them had accepted this as a part of who they were, as a part of the way things were now. It wasn't easy, but neither was it crippling.
Still, they fought sometimes. The major source of their problems boiled down to the fact that they didn't see each other as often as both would have liked. Ginny's career--she was now playing Chaser, and not just on reserve, for Puddlemere--kept her traveling, and she had set up a flat for herself in London, which was of course hundreds of miles away from Harry, whose own career basically forced him to live in Hogsmeade. There never seemed like enough time together.
Harry greatly resented Ginny's Quidditch career, not only for the way it kept her away from him so often, but due to the attention it brought her from other men. It shouldn't surprise him, of course: Ginny was a striking girl and she was a female professional Quidditch player--there weren't nearly as many female pro players as there were male players. She was going to get attention no matter what. Reporters had been on her tail for a while now--Marietta Edgecombe, in particular, was relentless--trying to launch rumors, insinuate themselves into her life. She was, in short, dealing with the fame Harry had once had to deal with, and all the attention from the opposite sex that tended to bring. Not only that, but she was the only woman on the Puddlemere team. It was ridiculous, Harry knew, that he should be jealous, and yet he was. He couldn't help but feel selfish. He wanted her all to himself.
It was much the same for her, and this, then, was part of their struggle: the need for each other that tended to overshadow everything else, including rational thought. Mme Verlaine had warned Harry, long ago, that an Empathic bond was never an easy thing to manage, and she had been right. So long as Harry and Ginny were connected, they would struggle to overcome the excesses of a bond that threatened to overwhelm reason, and the urges to be jealous and selfish.
And yet, for all this, Harry wouldn't change anything, or trade it, even with the small sense of restlessness he now felt, knowing that the following evening Ron and Hermione would be getting married while he and Ginny still seemed to be a bit up in the air.
He'd already asked her to move in with him once, and she'd turned him down. He was tempted to ask her again, but he didn't want that rejection. He'd come to learn and to accept that Ginny would take her time with those sorts of decisions, and that he could not rush her, but that didn't stop his impatience.
He sighed and lay down next to her, studying the face he'd come to love above all others. Yes, he had what he wanted, at least for now. Things would never really be easy for them, but she was here, and she loved him, and he loved her. They'd been through worse, together and apart. The ache in his heart matched the full feeling he always had when she was with him. They didn't make plans for the future. They lived for each day, and that was all right for now.
She made a little sound in her sleep and snuggled closer to him. He put his arms around her and closed his eyes, breathing in the scent of her hair. He smiled to himself as he drifted off.
Life was good.
'Ginny! Ginny, wake up. We're going to be late!'
'Wha--Harry, I was sleeping,' Ginny groaned, throwing an arm over her eyes as he flung open the drapes to his room.
'Ginny, it's half-past eleven!' Harry barked.
Ginny shot out of bed. 'Half-past eleven?' she screeched. 'Why didn't you wake me earlier?'
'We didn't go to sleep until four o'clock in the morning,' Harry retorted, 'and waking you is about as easy as herding cats! Come on, get dressed! Ron and Hermione are going to kill us.'
They were dressed in ten minutes and then Apparated to the Burrow, Harry carrying his dress robes.
'This is your fault, Harry,' Ginny grumbled as they headed for the house. 'If you hadn't shagged me half to death last night--'
'Excuse me,' Harry hissed, 'but I was ready to call it a night after the third time. You're the one who was attacking me!'
'It takes two to shag properly!' Ginny retorted. 'If you hadn't--' She broke off suddenly and burst into laughter.
'What?' said Harry irritably, as he let himself into the house.
'I just realized who we sound like,' she said, wiping a tear of mirth from her eyes.
'Who we sound like? What are you--oh.' Harry laughed, too. 'Shit. And we're arguing about shagging, no less.'
'What a stupid thing to argue about,' Ginny agreed. 'Especially since I had such a ruddy good time.'
'Ditto,' said Harry, grinning, and he gave her round bottom a little tweak.
'Harry!' Ginny squeaked.
'Harry, Ginny!' Mrs. Weasley burst into the kitchen, wearing a dressing gown and curlers in her hair. 'Thank goodness you're here, I didn't know you'd be arriving together. Where have you been, what on earth have you been doing?' She paused to look at them both, and then shook her head. 'Never mind, don't tell me. Ginny, you really should go upstairs to Hermione--'
'I'm on my way, Mum,' said Ginny, her face flaming just a bit. 'Is my stuff up there?'
'Yes, yes, just go on!'
Ginny hurried up the stairs.
'Harry, Ron's in Fred and George's room, do you mind...?'
'Not at all,' said Harry, and he quickly kissed Mrs. Weasley on the cheek. 'Congratulations, by the way.'
Mrs. Weasley's eyes filled with tears, and she crushed Harry in her arms.
'Can you believe it? My youngest boy!' she bawled.
'It is...hard to believe...' Harry gasped, struggling to breathe in Mrs. Weasley's bear hug.
'Oh, go on, Harry,' said Mrs. Weasley, letting go of him and wiping her eyes. 'Damn. I've gone and made my eyes puffy, I'll have to fix that.'
She waved Harry away and headed off to her bedroom.
Harry headed up the stairs to what was Fred and George's room--at least when they stayed at their parents' house. The 'new' Burrow was configured in much the same way as the old one, except the new house was much bigger, with more and larger rooms, as well as a nursery that was used on a rotating basis by the smallest of the Weasley grandchildren, which were numbered two--Bill and Fleur had had a second son--but would soon increase to four, owing to Fred and Angelina's twins--also boys--that would be due in a few months' time.
Harry knocked on the closed door.
'Come in,' croaked a familiar voice. Harry smiled and entered the room.
Ron was in there, along with all his brothers, who were all grinning from ear to ear. Ron looked about as lost and desperate right then as he had before their first Quidditch match as teammates back at school.
'Hey,' Ron managed.
'It's Ickle Harry!' Fred shouted, and he embraced Harry; the other Weasley brothers--all but Ron, who seemed frozen to the spot--did the same.
'Oi, Harry,' said George, 'maybe y-you can talk some s-sense into Ron. He's f-freaking out a bit.'
'And for good reason!' said Fred. 'He is, after all, marrying Hermione Granger. Consigning himself to a lifetime of being her slave, er, husband.'
'Shut up, Fred,' Ron and Percy both said.
'Maybe we should leave Harry and Ron alone,' said Charlie loudly, and he and Bill managed to drag Fred and George out of the room.
Percy followed them, leaning on his cane. He gave Harry a wink just as he shut the door behind him.
Harry looked up at Ron, who was still frozen in place.
'Er, Ron? Are you okay?'
Ron didn't say anything at first; Harry didn't push, but it was a good thirty seconds before Ron said, 'Shit, Harry.'
Harry gave Ron a look. 'That says it all.'
'I'm nervous,' said Ron, and he began to wring his hands.
'I hadn't noticed,' said Harry.
'I'm getting married in an hour,' said Ron, his blue eyes wide.
'Yeah, that's what it says on my invitation.'
'I'm getting married in an hour!' Ron repeated. 'Shit, shit, shit!'
He began to pace, still wringing his hands. 'How's Hermione? Is she okay?'
'Dunno,' said Harry. 'Ginny's with her, though.'
'Ginny's here?' said Ron. 'Good, that's good. Hermione's been kind of a wreck. You know, with her dad and all. She was crying all day yesterday. I told her yesterday I'd spend time with her today, but she bit my head off, said the groom's not supposed to see the bride on the wedding day before the actual wedding. I thought getting married was supposed to be fun, but this isn't all that fun, Harry.'
'It might be better if you just relax,' Harry suggested.
'Fat lot of help you are,' Ron snorted. He looked in the mirror, and then back at Harry.
'How do I look?' he asked. 'I feel like a prat in this outfit.'
'It's dress robes and a suit, Ron,' said Harry.
'Yeah, but I still feel like a prat,' said Ron. 'No, more like a waiter in some snooty restaurant.'
'You look fine,' said Harry.
'Fine? That's it, just "fine"?'
'Dashing,' said Harry. 'Handsome. Gorgeous. Really, really manly.'
Ron smacked him on the back of the head. 'Git.'
'Hey, don't mess up my hair!' Harry protested. 'It took me ages to make it look this good.'
Ron snorted again, but he grinned and let out a breath. 'Thanks, mate.'
Ron shrugged and his ears went pink. 'You know, for being here.'
'It's your wedding, Ron, of course I'm here. Where else would I be?'
'Prick. You know what I mean.'
Harry grinned. 'Are you about to get mushy on me?'
'No, I'm about to kick your arse,' said Ron, with a wicked smile on his face as he advanced on Harry threateningly.
'Oi, no rearranging of the best man's face, thank you very much,' said Harry, holding up his hands. 'And yeah, I do know what you mean, and you're welcome.'
Ron started to open his mouth to say something, but then he just grabbed Harry and hugged him hard.
Harry hugged Ron right back.
They let go of each other, and Ron said, 'Listen, Harry, maybe you could check on Hermione for me? Just, you know, make sure she's okay? I know Ginny's there, but...'
'Sure,' said Harry. 'Will you be okay by yourself? Should I send your brothers back in?'
'God, no,' said Ron, looking horrified at the thought. 'I think I could use a bit of time alone. Before, you know, everything starts up.'
'You bet,' said Harry. 'Just holler if you need me.'
Harry grinned one last time as Ron tried to adjust his necktie and fix his slightly floppy red hair, and left.
He then realized he ought to change his clothes. He stopped in the bathroom before going to Ginny's room, and pulled on his suit and dress robes, of the same midnight blue as Ron's. He checked his hair--'Hopeless,' he muttered--and went back out into the corridor and to Ginny's room.
He came to the door and gave it a soft knock.
'Come in,' Ginny called.
Harry entered and felt his breath leave him, just a little.
Ginny was dressed in soft, silvery lavender robes, draped gracefully over a matching dress that fell to her ankles. On her feet she wore delicate sandals of the same color, with toes painted a pearly white. Her hair was pulled up loosely in waves.
'Wow,' said Harry. 'You look gorgeous.'
Ginny blushed. 'Thanks. You look quite nice yourself.'
'I do my best,' said Harry. 'Where's the bride?'
'In my magically expanded walk-in closet with the vanity table, fixing her face,' said Ginny. 'She's been crying all morning and her poor eyes are a puffy mess. Thank god I showed up when I did.'
'Hmm, you mean an hour late?' Harry teased.
'I thought we'd already established that was your fault,' said Ginny, putting her hand on her hip.
'If you say so,' said Harry, kissing her gently on the cheek.
Harry pulled away from Ginny at the sound of Hermione's voice, and stared.
The bride wore a gown of ivory lace with tiny, sparkling beads dotted on the fabric here and there. It was topped with a scooping neckline and short sleeves, with a high waist--Harry vaguely remembered Ginny describing it as 'Empire'--and the length of the dress was long and slim, with just a bit of train in the back. Hermione wore no veil but instead had a small tiara of pearls on her head. Her hair was in a complicated style that twisted and fell down her back, and was shot through with tiny beads and ribbons that matched her dress. She wore a simple bracelet on her wrist and pearls at her ears. She was utterly beautiful, and Harry felt a lump in his throat.
'Hermione,' he said, 'you look breathtaking.'
Hermione smiled, but her eyes filled with tears.
'Hey!' said Ginny sternly. 'There will be no more crying. That's the third time you've had to fix your make-up!'
Hermione laughed and quickly wiped her eyes. 'I charmed it to be waterproof!' she protested. 'I can cry as much as I want.'
She smiled at Harry as he came to her and embraced her.
'Ron's going to pass out when he sees you,' said Harry, grinning.
'Good lord, I hope not,' said Hermione. She gazed up at Harry with wonder in her eyes. 'I can't believe...can you believe we're doing this?'
'Yeah,' said Harry. 'I can. It's brilliant, Hermione. The two of you. It's exactly as it should be.'
'Thank you, Harry… for doing this,' said Hermione.
'I know I'm a poor substitute for your dad,' said Harry, holding her hands in his.
She bit her lip. 'I miss him so much.' She took a deep breath and looked back up at him. 'But I'm glad you're here. And you're not a poor substitute. You're my brother--the brother I never had, and if Dad can't be here for this, there's no one else I'd rather have walking with me.'
'Your dad's here,' said Harry, smiling at her and giving her a gentle, affectionate chuck on the chin. 'He's here and he's seeing everything and he's really proud of you.'
'Dammit, Harry!' said Ginny, her eyes filling with tears as she grabbed a handkerchief from the pocket of her robes. 'Now you're going to make me ruin my make-up. Stop saying such sweet things, okay?'
'Oops,' said Harry. 'Fine. From now on I'll be completely boorish and horrible.'
Both girls giggled and Ginny stuck her tongue out at him as she dabbed at her eyes.
'Right,' said Hermione, taking another deep breath and squaring her shoulders. 'You two have the rings?'
'Of course,' said Ginny. 'Harry?'
'Yep. Ready to make Ron the happiest man alive?'
'And the luckiest,' Ginny pointed out, as she draped a delicate, sheer layer of ivory dress robes over Hermione's shoulders and then handed her a bouquet of delicate lavender roses.
'I'm ready,' said Hermione, smiling radiantly.
Looking back on it, Harry would realize that there wasn't much about the actual ceremony that he could recall with any clarity. Things just seemed to be a blur, dotted with crystal clear memories that came and went in flashes.
The music that filled the lawns behind the Burrow, which Mrs. Weasley and her husband and sons had decorated lovingly and spectacularly with every flower they could get their hands on, and delicate ribbons. Fred and George released dozens and dozens of their Faux Fairies. The make-shift arbor under which Ron stood as he waited for Hermione. The chairs neatly arranged in rows. The sunlight.
Harry remembered how tightly Hermione had clutched his arm, how, in front of them, Mr. Weasley gently escorted Mrs. Granger to her seat, her chin trembling as she struggled not to cry.
Harry felt his own throat burning with the urge to cry. He felt inadequate, leading Hermione towards her future husband. This was not something Harry should be doing, but the job of a father. Not for the first time, Harry wondered why Hermione hadn't just asked Mr. Weasley to take care of this part, but then the music for the bride's entrance started, and Harry knew he couldn't back out now.
He remembered the look on Ron's face as Hermione appeared; it was the look of a man struck dumb with happiness, with awe. Harry remembered the soft gasps of the crowd as they walked by, everyone admiring Hermione in all her splendor. He remembered the tearful smile on Ginny's face as she waited up at the altar, to be at Hermione's side when rings were exchanged. He remembered reaching the altar, where Remus Lupin stood, looking a bit old but regal and dignified in black dress robes and holding the book which contained the ancient Celtic marriage ceremony. Harry remembered taking Hermione's hand from his arm, and passing her hand into Ron's, whose eyes strayed from her only long enough to smile at Harry and for him to mouth the words 'thank you.'
Those were the things Harry remembered. That, and Ginny, who was at least as beautiful as the bride that day, if not more so, at least to him. He remembered exchanging smiles with her. He vaguely recalled the ancient ritual, the curious looks on the faces of Hermione's relatives, for whom the ceremony had been altered just enough so as not to include any spells or other suspicious magical references.
Harry also remembered the end of the ceremony, when Remus announced that Ron and Hermione had been joined in the bonds of marriage, or something to that effect. Harry couldn't be sure; he was too busy smiling at Ginny, who was smiling back at him almost shyly.
And then it was over, and suddenly Harry's two best friends were married, were husband and wife, and photographs were taken--Dennis Creevey had become quite good with a camera.
After photographs, the celebration began in earnest. The Weasleys had set up tables for the outdoor meal, and there was even a makeshift dance floor nearby. People began to mingle and get drinks. The bride and groom were nowhere to be seen, but Harry remembered hearing Dennis mention something about a few more photos; perhaps he'd dragged Ron and Hermione down to the lake. Harry realized he needed the loo; he gave Ginny a swift peck on the lips and headed inside, saying he'd be right back.
He moved past the kitchen when he heard thumping coming from the pantry. Instinctively, he pulled out his wand and edged closer. The thumping continued, and Harry wondered if perhaps the family ghoul had escaped the attic and was wreaking havoc in the pantry. Another thump, and the sound of something shattering, followed by voices.
'Don't worry about it...we'll clean it up later'
'Are you sure you locked the door? And...oh...oh, that's good...you...soundproofed it, right?'
'Yes, I locked it and soundproofed it and...oh, god...don't stop...'
'Bloody hell...you're so gorgeous...'
'Mmm, right there...'
Harry rolled his eyes and shook his head. He didn't want to embarrass them, but he could only imagine the humiliation if Fred and George walked in and found them.
Harry strode over to the pantry.
Harry knocked on the door, quite loudly.
'It's me,' said Harry, resisting the urge to snigger. 'I just thought you'd like to know that you haven't soundproofed this pantry.'
'Hermione! You forgot to soundproof it!'
'It's not my fault, you were putting your hands all over me and I got a bit distracted!'
'Still not soundproofed!' Harry yelled, clapping his hands over his ears.
'Maybe we should just come out,' said Hermione.
'What? No!' Ron whined. 'I wanted to--'
'What? Shag in the pantry while Harry knows we're in here?'
'You know what?' Harry called. 'You two shag as much as you want, just soundproof the bloody door before Fred and George come in here and catch you at it. Meanwhile, I'm going upstairs to take a leak and try to forget what I've just heard.'
And with that, he ran to the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes later, Hermione and Ron showed up at their party, looking a bit flushed and quite happy. Ron pulled Harry aside.
'Thanks, mate,' he said, 'for, you know, telling us about that door.' He grinned.
'I take it by that perverted smile on your face that you did wind up shagging in there,' said Harry, smirking.
'Hey,' said Ron, 'we're married now. It's perfectly proper for a husband to shag his wife in a kitchen pantry. Ruddy brilliant place to do it, too. All those shelves...you know, they were really sturdy. Surprised the hell out of me. Well, I've never shagged in the pantry before, of course, but...who knew?'
'That's nice, Ron,' said Harry, and then he grinned wickedly and decided to get a bit of revenge. 'You know, maybe Ginny and I could have a go in there later.'
Ron smacked Harry on the back of the head.
After a long and hearty meal, prepared by Winky and three other house elves that the Weasleys had 'borrowed' from Hogwarts (all of them were getting wages now), the dancing began in earnest, and by then many of the guests--most of them Ron's family--were well into their cups. It was no small thing, keeping them from doing magic. Half the stress of planning the wedding in the first place was the constant issuing of instructions to the Weasleys and the Prewetts not to mention anything to do with magic.
Of course, things hadn't worked out quite that well. Here and there some uncle or aunt would forget himself or herself and mention some spell or potion, and on two occasions, Fred and George had had to quickly cover up some accidental spell-making by one particularly drunken uncle with quick demonstrations of their joke products.
Not that the Granger family seemed to notice. It was such a small group of people, and while they had all appeared stiff and formal at first, it took only a few drinks to loosen them up. Mrs. Granger was engaged in a boisterous conversation with Ron's uncle Gareth about something or other, and Harry noticed that Hermione was smiling, glad to see her mother come out of her shell and have fun.
Harry found himself having a better time than even he had expected. Hagrid and Madame Maxime were there (the Granger relatives all marveled at how 'big boned' they were), along with Neville and Luna, Fred and a very pregnant Angelina, Bill and Fleur--both of them toting a child, Charlie and his new girlfriend, none other than Mary Stebbins, one of Ron's colleagues, Penelope and Percy, Oliver Wood and Katie Bell. The war had long ago claimed Alicia Spinnet, but George had recently begun dating a girl called Tracey Davis, a former Slytherin. Dean Thomas danced with Parvati Patil; Seamus and Lavender canoodled from time to time under a tree. Mrs. Tonks and her husband Ted were there, along with their daughter, who managed to drag Remus Lupin onto the dance floor a few times. Professor McGonagall shared a few dances with Kingsley Shacklebolt. Lizzie Towler, now nineteen and beautiful, looked utterly delighted to dance with Ron. Blaise Zabini led one of Ron's comely red-headed cousins in a few waltzes and they very quickly wound up spending much of the evening in each other's company.
And yet there was the slight pall of those who weren't there. Like Dumbledore, and Dr. Granger, and Lee Jordan and Colin Creevey and Padma Patil and Kenneth Towler and Alicia. His parents. Sirius. Harry had allowed himself not to think of them until now, as the evening was starting to wind down and the last dance was starting.
And then Harry felt Ginny tug on his hand and she led him out to the dance floor. He smiled down at her and felt the warmth of her closeness, the comfort of her powers flowing through him as her hand interlaced with his.
'Having fun?' she asked, smiling up at him.
'Yeah,' said Harry. 'I am. Although I witnessed something earlier that I'd like to forget.'
'Ron and Hermione screwing in the pantry?' said Ginny.
'How did you know that?'
'I saw them leaving it,' said Ginny, 'as I was coming downstairs from the loo. Those two. They're like rabbits.'
'I dunno,' said Harry, grinning, 'I think we do all right ourselves.'
'Only all right?' said Ginny. 'I'll have you know, Potter, I'm still sore from last night.'
'Good,' said Harry.
'Pig,' said Ginny.
'Guilty,' said Harry.
He kissed her lips and pulled her close; they danced for another minute, when Ginny pulled back.
'Harry, I've been thinking.'
'Sounds serious,' he said, smiling.
'I am serious,' she said. 'You asked me, six months ago, to move in with you...and I said no.'
Harry stiffened and stopped dancing. Honestly! Did she have to bring this up on the ruddy dance floor?
'What about it?' said Harry.
'Do you know why I said no?'
Harry sighed. 'Do we have to talk about this now?'
'Just answer the question, Harry, please.'
'Because you weren't ready,' said Harry shortly.
'That,' said Ginny, 'and I was scared. I've been scared...ever since the day we got back together.'
'Scared of what?' said Harry.
'Of us...this...the Empath thing,' said Ginny. 'Of having it, and losing it.'
'I thought we'd accepted...that's how things just are with us,' said Harry, and he felt his heart begin to pound.
Merlin, is she...breaking up with me?
'I thought we had, too,' said Ginny. 'But I realize I haven't. Not really. At least, not until last night.'
'I don't understand.'
'I came back a day early, Harry, because I wanted to see you, but also...because I'd made a decision,' said Ginny, taking her hands in his. 'Shit. Dance with me, please. I can't say this if you're just standing there staring at me.'
'O-okay,' said Harry hesitantly, and he pulled Ginny back into his arms and began to sway to the music. 'What...what's your decision?'
Ginny wasn't looking at him, but he could feel her bite her lip, felt her chest rise and fall as she let out a breath.
'I was going to tell you last night but I chickened out,' she said. 'I guess bringing it up here isn't the best but...I keep seeing Ron and Hermione and they look so happy...'
'What do Ron and Hermione have to do with us?' Harry asked.
'I...I want what they have,' Ginny whispered, moving her face into the crook of Harry's neck as she clutched him more tightly. He felt a wave of emotions flow into him. She was trembling and scared, but Harry knew what she meant, and he felt his stomach swoop about like an out-of-control broom.
'You...you want to get married?' he said.
Ginny laughed nervously. 'No,' she said. 'I mean...yes, I do, some day...but not now. I...just...I want...'
She pulled back from him, still swaying to the music, and met his gaze. Her eyes were filled with tears. 'I want to know...that we have a future. That...that I can wake up next to you, and we can share a home. Stuff like that.'
'Ginny, what are you saying?' said Harry, although he had a fair idea.
'I want to move in with you,' she said. 'If...if the offer's still open. I hate my stupid flat in London and I don't feel at home there. I want to be home with you.'
Harry stared into her caramel-colored eyes, and brushed a tear away from her cheek. His heart was floating inside his chest.
'You want to move in?' he repeated.
'Yeah,' she said. 'I mean, if you want me to.'
'I want you to,' he said. 'I do.'
She smiled. 'Good.' She paused, and said, 'There's something else I should tell you.'
Harry froze again. 'You're not pregnant, are you?'
Ginny snorted and rolled her eyes. 'Harry.'
'I'm leaving the team after next season,' she said.
'What?' said Harry. 'Ginny, no. You love your job.'
'You don't,' said Ginny. 'You hate me playing pro Quidditch.'
Harry hemmed and hawed for about two seconds before remembering he was bonded to an Empath, and he couldn't possibly lie to her if he tried.
'Well, yeah,' he said, 'but you love it. That's what's important.'
'You're more important,' said Ginny.
'I've already decided,' she said. 'And I've even got another job lined up. I've thought about this a lot.'
'A job?' said Harry. 'Not...Healing?'
'No,' said Ginny quickly. 'A job at Hogwarts, actually.' She grinned at him.
'You're joking,' said Harry, suddenly feeling elated again. Such was life with Ginny--an emotional rollercoaster. Highs and lows that could occasionally frighten him and leave him with an unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach. But life with her was never, ever dull, and that was as he liked it.
'Nope,' said Ginny, and she ruffled his hair. 'Madam Hooch is retiring next year and Professor McGonagall offered me the post of flying instructor slash Quidditch referee. It's perfect--I'll still be able to fly almost every day, I won't have to travel all over the place...'
'McGonagall didn't say anything to me about that,' said Harry.
'I wanted to surprise you,' said Ginny.
'I'm surprised,' said Harry. 'And...this is brilliant, Ginny. Or at least...well, is it brilliant? Are you sure that's what you want?'
She squeezed his hand in hers and gave him her answer without speaking.
'I'll get to see every day,' said Harry, smiling. 'Every single day.'
'You'll get sick of me,' said Ginny, putting her arms around his neck.
'Never,' said Harry. 'In fact, I'll be tempted to shag you over my desk now and again.'
'And the broomstick shed?' Ginny whispered.
'And the changing rooms,' said Harry. 'And the showers...'
'We'll get ourselves fired,' Ginny giggled.
'But at least we'll have had fun,' said Harry.
'When can I move in?' she asked.
'Tonight,' he said, grinning, and he picked her up and spun her around. She squeaked and giggled again before he set her down and kissed her.
'I love you,' he murmured, against her lips.
'I love you,' she said back. She wrapped herself more tightly around him, and they lost themselves in the slow beat of the music.
Harry opened his eyes and over his shoulder saw Ron and Hermione enjoying the last dance of their wedding. Hermione had abandoned her shoes and Ron had thrown off his dress robes. They both looked exhausted but deliriously happy.
Ron looked up and grinned at Harry, and Harry grinned back. His heart was as full as it had ever been. There would always be pains and regrets and loss, but on this night, there was a lot of joy, too. His two best friends in the world were married, and someday they'd have children and Harry would be a godfather, just as Sirius had been. Maybe, someday after that, Harry would be a father, too; he would make babies with Ginny.
For now, though, he was content to start a new journey with the girl--the woman--in his arms. A journey that would be full of challenges that they would meet together.
Harry smiled one last time at Ron and then turned his eyes upward, to the velvet-black sky that was strewn with stars. One star streaked across the horizon.
'Did you see that?' said Ginny.
'Yeah,' said Harry.
'Make a wish,' she said.
Harry looked down at her, letting himself see his reflection in her eyes. He kissed her lips again, and then leaned his forehead against hers and closed his eyes, squeezing her hand, holding her close and feeling the faint hum of their bond pass through them, back and forth. Her heartbeat blended with his.
'It already came true,' he whispered.
A/N: It's over! I hope the ending wasn't too ridiculously sappy, and I hope it gave people some of the closure they were looking for.
My masochistic brain is already tingling with ideas for a third story in this universe, which is why I included a few references to Draco and my favorite nasty villain, Lucius, but...if it happens--and that's still a big IF--it won't be for a while.
Belated realization: In choosing a name for Ron's uncle I cast about for the first British-sounding name that popped into my head, and it was Gareth. It was only after I'd finished the epilogue that I realized where I'd gotten the inspiration from: Mynuet's brilliant outtake Fruition, from her brilliant story The Plan.
Oh yeah, those final lines of dialogue that Harry and Ginny have? Shamelessly stolen from one of my favorite movies of all time, Sixteen Candles, starring Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall and directed by John Hughes. (Why yes, I AM a child of the 80s!)
My unwavering thanks to all who have followed this story, to all who have reviewed, and especially to my betas, lina and Buckbeaky.