For the cutest boy I ever saw
East by southeast of the castle, near what was once the edge of the Forbidden Forest, lay the most fertile ground on the Hogwarts environs. A thousand years or more ago Helga Hufflepuff came across the expanse of rich, dark soil while hunting for the perfect place to plant the tiny seeds she'd taken home from her travels through the juicy green jungles of India.
What she found was this fairly broad lot of fertile soil in a shallow valley between two gently sloping hills that reminded her of home, and in that relative seclusion she planted a single bamboo seed, enchanted by magicians of the far east to grow to maturity and thrive for thousands of years in any soil, regardless of the climate around it. She was tickled at how strange it would look against the backdrop of common beeches and willows, and so to make it up to the lonely tree she planted another one to grow in the gully there beside him.
Soon the two trees towered, their leafy tops arching over nearly enough to touch at the very edges. In time their legend faded into a peculiarity—a good story told to newcomers, and as the common forest advanced on the lawns, closing in around them ever so gradually, most forgot about Helga's two pieces of India tucked away just behind the line which students were forbidden to pass. They bided their time of obscurity with gentle patience, and were rewarded when one day, hundreds of years later, the Keeper of the Keys arrived in the now forested little vale with seven red-haired men—though one of these was only there in spirit. The Weasleys appraised the spot, discussing its merits and possibilities, and soon enough they all seemed to agree on some matter, and they departed for the Three Broomsticks.
A handful of them came each day from then on, making plans and provisions for something—and soon they were felling the brush and saplings around the trees, thinning out the forest around the them so that once more, the bamboo trees could be seen from the lake. In no time at all a foundation was laid in the space between them; a skeleton was raised, and then sheathed with white walls, and all was eventually covered and thatched with a roof.
Various enchantments were then cast upon it—to increase the space within, to keep water from leaking in, to prevent infestations of Bundimuns and woodlice, and to give a certain amount of protection to the people within from things like arrows and reporters. The steady additions of final touches had gradually tapered to a state of satisfaction, until at last the Secret-Keeper of the place stood alone in the kitchen as August came to a hot and sticky end. Ron set his jacket down on the table and conjured a sheet of parchment with a wave of his wand. He withdrew a stout quill from the pocket in his jeans, and began to write.
The prospect of writing this letter had been bobbing vaguely near the surface of his thoughts for many weeks now, but in the literal heat of the moment, he found that even if by some miracle he managed to say something eloquent, it would be oddly out of character anyway, and so he kept it simple.
Harry and Ginny,
In case you haven't realized, there's a Fidelius Charm around the house and the front garden. I'm the Secret Keeper for right now, but send me an owl and we'll arrange a time so we can switch. The Floo's not hooked up yet, we weren't sure if you wanted it, but there's a fireplace in the kitchen and in the living room.
We thought you might like to decorate it yourselves, so the furniture is a bit sparse at the moment, except that in your room, you'll find that Hermione took a few liberties in making up the bed. Hope you enjoy it—the house, that is—not the bed.
He straightened up as he scribbled Love, Ron hastily at the end, and glanced back over it. He wiped a trickle of sweat from the back of his neck, and after a moment's consideration he bent back down.
P.S. I mean—I do realize that you probably will be enjoying the bed, and it's not that I have a problem with that (really, I don't), I just didn't want to make you think that I was, you know... I mean, you don't really need any encouragement from me in that ...he paused for a moment, an awkward grimace on his face, and then finished hesitantly, area.
Deciding he had better quit before he made a prat of himself any more than he already had, Ron pocketed the quill and tucked the letter under the lamp so that it wouldn't blow away. And as he wandered through the house, making sure that everything was in its place, lazily opening all the windows with a flick of his wand, he turned his thoughts to the lateness of the hour, and the wedding which would take place the following day.
He wasn't quite sure how he felt about it. Grumpy was perhaps the best word for it. Not outright resentment or disapproval, because technically speaking Ron had been hoping for this day since he was fourteen. The logistic advantages of it were by no means lost on him: Ginny would be with a bloke he trusted, and Harry wouldn't be in love with Hermione. It was killing two of his worst nightmares with one stone. What had never really occurred to him was that if Harry and Ginny did fall in love, they would be in it for more than the logistic advantages. And something about that thought made him grumpy.
He closed the front door behind him and stepped down off the porch as he filled his nostrils with the sultry August air and headed down the newly created footpath. He'd better start making his way over to Hogsmeade if he was going to meet his brothers in the Leaky Cauldron for a drink, because while many things had changed over the past few years, you still couldn't Apparate on Hogwarts grounds.
As the path curved towards the castle, Ron stopped and turned back to look at the little bungalow. There it stood, nestled between the two giant bamboos—like a little toy house between two bundles of long, droopy green grass. Fairies twinkled here and there through the forest, and the sound of their laughter could be heard now and again, blended with the chorus of crickets and the sigh of the wind in the trees. He thought again about the open windows, and looked up. The moon was a healthy-looking crescent hanging just above the trees, and stars covered this particular bubble of the sky from horizon to horizon—not a cloud to be seen. He could leave the windows open for the night, it didn't seem likely to rain—at least not here.
In Ottery St. Catchpole, however, it was pouring. Hotter than a dragon's mouth—and pouring. Ginny lay awake in her stifling bed, tossing and turning, trying desperately to get away from own body heat. But she could only roll over so many times in this narrow bed. She wished feverishly that she could be back at Harry's—where the mattress was softer and it didn't sag in the middle—even if she did have to share it with another body.
But her mother had insisted. It was tradition, apparently, for a young witch to spend the eve of her wedding in the house of her parents. Ginny had raised her eyebrows upon hearing this.
"Well alright!" snapped her mother, "I have no idea whether or not it's tradition—but I'll tell you what isn't tradition—sleeping with your intended the night before the wedding!"
"In that case," Harry murmured, the instant Molly's attention had been driven elsewhere, "I bet it also isn't traditional to go at it like rabbits every night for a year before getting engaged."
Ginny snickered lazily, feeling lackadaisical and yet so tortuously far from sleep. The blankets had long ago been discarded, as had the Silencing Charm over the fan—she had canceled it in hopes that the dull humming as the head drifted from left to right and back again might lull her into slumber, but so far it had been unsuccessful. She shifted again, and felt momentary relief as her front was exposed to open air and her back flopped onto a slightly cooler part of the mattress. Perhaps, if she stayed very still, if she relaxed every muscle in her body and took slow, deep breaths, she would fall asleep. But soon her back began to radiate in misery, and her eyelids ached from holding themselves closed.
She shot up with an aggravated moan of discomfort and swung her legs off of the bed and stood up. She searched around for her discarded nightgown, which she had flung from her burning body not long after the blankets. She slipped it back on, and headed downstairs.
Her mother was awake yet, sitting in the bright, cheery glow from the light above the kitchen table as she did the Daily Prophet crossword. Ginny shuffled over and sat down opposite her with a listless, haggard expression on her face. "I can't sleep," she said dully.
Molly gave her a sympathetic stare. "Are you nervous?"
Ginny shook her head ruefully, "If only..."
"What's the matter sweetheart?"
"I just..." And after many weeks of grappling with an intangible twang of sorrow, it suddenly became very real to Ginny, and she buried her head in her arms on the sticky wooden table and began to cry. "I don't want to get married!"
Her sympathy tearing at her heart, Molly was silent for a moment, taxing every ounce of her wisdom and self-restraint to conceal her own ache from her daughter. Ginny looked up, and misinterpreting the conflicted look on her mother's face, said immediately, "I—I didn't—"
Molly nodded wisely. "You don't mean that."
"I really don't," she said earnestly.
"I know you don't. You just—" Molly paused, remembering just in time that Ginny didn't respond well to being told how she felt, "Is it just that you'll miss home?"
Nodding, Ginny's brow contracted, as her eyes blinked faster to keep up with the rising tears, and her bottom lip began to tremble—it was almost her mother's undoing. She reached out and took Ginny's hand, cradling it in her own and saying soothingly, "There, there dear, it's all right..."
But other than that, she wasn't entirely certain what to say. She did remember how this felt—she remembered the eve of her own wedding, and she wondered, if her own mother had been there, what she would have wanted to hear from her. She pushed out from the table, and moved around it to sit in the chair beside Ginny as she pulled her into her arms.
"Shh..." she whispered, "Ginny—you're much too old to cry like this."
Ginny choked, and pulled back to give her an incredulous look. "You're one to talk!" She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, "Mrs. Gushing-Hosepipe."
"Ah," she smiled, "but you're much too young to cry like that."
Ginny gave her a watery grimace. "I'm scared."
"Scared of what, dear?"
"Well—" She bit her lip, "What if it's not the right thing? Getting married?"
Molly frowned slightly. "What makes you think it's not?"
"Oh I don't know—" she cried tartly, "just this empty, deadened feeling I have when I think about it."
She pulled her tightly to her breast, as if she could squeeze the doubts out of her, "You're scared of loosing something that's already gone, I'm afraid."
Ginny pulled away and looked at her quizzically. Molly smiled wistfully and smoothed her hair away from her eyes. "Darling—I know what you're feeling, I do—but there's no use crying about it. All the things we've lost in this war will still be gone this time tomorrow, whether you go through with the wedding or not. If I had it my way you and Harry would not be getting married for several years—but then again if I'd had it my way you would not have lost a brother, nor joined the Order at sixteen, nor for that matter been possessed by Voldemort at eleven, but all that's been done, and there's no use trying to go back now."
Ginny looked at her mother for a long time, wondering how she had gotten to be so wise when it seemed that all she could ever do was worry. She nodded in understanding.
"Oh Mum," she whimpered, her head falling forward onto her shoulder again, "Where would I be without you?"
Molly did not answer her for several moments, so deep was she in thought and reminiscence. She took a pensive breath at last and said, "You'd be sitting alone here in the kitchen, crying and wondering nervously why you were crying—by the time the sun rose you'd figure out for yourself the same things I have just told you, and then you'd go to bed, oversleep, be woken up by your brother, and barely make it to the church on time. Then you'd get married, and go to the reception, but fall asleep there before all the guests left, and your groom would have to carry you out to the car and to the hotel, and you'd wake up the morning after, having missed your wedding night, but feeling perfectly well rested and happy."
"You seem to be awfully certain of all this."
Her mother smiled tiredly at her, "Of course I'm not—that's just what I did, when it was me."
Ginny felt another pang of understanding, and her sense of gladness that the war was over and her mother was still here to comfort her intensified a hundredfold until it was all she could feel. There was a pause as Molly stifled a yawn.
"I'm sorry dear, but I really must go to bed now—or I'll fall asleep during your reception as well."
She nodded, and then stood up from the table. Molly sent her dishes over to the sink with a flick of her wand, and then made her weary way up the stairs to bed. But Ginny wasn't ready to go to sleep quite yet. She stood alone in the sweltering kitchen, breathing the smell of woodwork on a hot night—a spicy smell like a sauna. There was a flicker, and then a gurgling clap of thunder, and as she stood, rooted to the spot, she felt a childish whim coming on. There was something irresistible about the sound of the rain playing on the roof over the porch—and suddenly Ginny felt that she would not be living at all if she did not go out and experience it for herself.
She pushed open the screen door with her fingertips, and stepped out under the sprinkling sky. She moved out into the garden, her arms spread wide and her head tipped back in wonder. She welcomed the rain as it fell harder, and with each drop her nightgown became heavier—with each trickle of rainwater down her body, she felt washed in purity.
With a quiet creak she pushed open the gate into the lane, and started down it—hardly noticing the sharp gravel under her bare feet at first, but all too soon the little rocks pokedather skin and made her feel inescapably heavy on the ground. There was only one thing for it: without a second thought, Ginny broke into a run, following the lane down the hill. Her flying feet felt no pain, and she hardly registered the feeling of pavement as she burst onto the main road and ran on. But soon she felt the road incline, and though her heart and lungs panted happily like they could keep on going for miles, her momentum began to fade. She pushed on just a little farther as the slope became steep, but when she reached the top of the hill she stopped abruptly.
She was sheltered now by two spreading elm trees on either side of the road—their gentle arch had formed a gateway in her childhood. These were her old boundaries. For as long as she could remember, her parents had set the limits of her world at the bridge between Ottery St. Catchpole and Ottery St. Mary, Stoatshed Hill, and these two trees. Venturing farther than the crest of this hill was the sort rule that seemed unbreakable to a five-year-old—this was where Hide and Seek ended.
Ever so tentatively, Ginny stepped forward out of the shelter of the elms. The road was now open to the sky, and Ginnywished there were stars to gaze at. It had always been a symbolto herof the inescapable limits in life—that one could not play in the rain and stare at the stars at the same time—it would be like having your cake and eating it too. She did not know how long she stood in the open road, but when she felt that she was properly soaked to the bone she turned around and began the journey back to the Burrow.
She was heavy, fully saturated with the satisfaction that only comes after having a ridiculous fancy and acting on it immediately. She was ready for bed at last, and she trudged back home, wincing frequently as she stepped on what seemed like every little rock in the road between here and home, she was too exhausted to feel fully irritated. It builds character, she mused.
When at last she arrived at the back door, the feeling of wooden floorboards and the sounds of a silent house had never felt so welcome to her. The temperature rose with each floor as she made her way upstairs, but the rain had cooled Ginny to her core and though she could feel the stifling heat of her room, it was no longer overwhelming, and she slipped out of her wet nightgown and into her bed gratefully. Then she fell asleep almost instantly, drifting off into a rapturous rest, where she dreamed of flying and pretty dresses.
Arthur, who had stirred at the slamming of the screen door, and awoken at a loud clap of thunder several minutes later, peeked his head into her room on his way down to the kitchen for a glass of water. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could perceive the outline of his daughter, clad only in her underwear, sprawled out over the mattress and entangled in a single sheet as she slept feverishly. Smiling to himself, he stepped quietly into her room, the sounds of his slippers on the floorboards muffled by the easy whirring of the fan; he crouched down beside her bed and reached out to stroke the hair away from her face. Her skin was damp and chilled to the touch. He waved his wand and silently conjured another sheet, and as he lay it over her, he thought absently that she was not so very different from the little girl he had once privately called his Ugly Duckling.
He reminisced. When she was very small, she used to ask him sometimes, "Daddy, am I pretty?"
If Molly happened to be in the room, the answer was always "Yes," if he did not wish to suffer one of his wife's world-famous death glares. But if it was only him and the boys, as it usually was, then Arthur would smile at her and say, "Ducky—you're the prettiest girl in the room."
"Daddy you fruthtrate me!"
Arthur smiled now, looking into Ginny's sleeping face. He certainly thought she was the prettiest girl in the world, but being well-aware of his fatherly bias, he also knew that it was unlikely that there were a great many people who thought the same. In all objectivity Ginny was not your usual beauty, nor was she an unusual beauty—thus, she wasn't really a beauty at all. But no one looks at the world 'in all objectivity' without a concentrated effort, and somehow—maybe it was her laugh, or the way she caught your eye and stole your attention while other people were talking, but somehow—Ginny was always the prettiest girl in the room. And that, he knew, was not just his fatherly bias.
With one last fond glance, he turned and stepped across her room back out into the hall and closed the door behind him gently. He made his way downstairs thinking of nothing but a glass of water and his bed, and when he waved his wand to extinguish the light above the kitchen table, he briefly caught a glimpse of the family clock. Ginny's hand was half past "Home" and going on "Cloud Nine."Ron's moved decisively from "Traveling" to "Out," where it joined those of Bill, Charlie, Fred, and George, all of whom were currently seated around a table in the Leaky Cauldron, toasting the completion of one fine little bungalow.
"Ron!" they boomed raucously, holding up their glasses as their youngest brother swung open the door to the Leaky Cauldron.
"Everything all set?" called Charlie, as Ron made his way over to their table.
Before Ron could do more than nod, Fred interrupted.
"We were jus' reflecting on Gin—" a hiccup interrupted him as he slurred, "reminiscing—if you will... on our.. our youngest person of a fraternal relationship to ourselves."
In fact, they had been discussing the various assets of the Holyhead Harpies—both tactical and otherwise—for the last three quarters of an hour, but Fred was a dishonest drunk and no one else was particularly inclined to set the record straight.
"And the young Mr. Potter!" added Bill, raising his glass and taking another drink.
"And the young Mr. Potter!" agreed Fred, not missing the opportunity to have a bit more himself. "We got Potter!"
At this point George laughed and both began catcalling, as they had when Harry was sorted, "We got Potter! We got Potter!" While Ron ordered a glass of mead.
"Yes," said Bill, as thoughtfully as the alcohol would allow, "We got Potter... how'd that happen again?"
"She's a Weasley!" bellowed George, ceasing the catcall immediately, "We're bloody irresistible—all of us!"
Bill smiled wryly. "So irresistible women won't even go out with us... isn't that right, George?
"Shuddup, you!" he said, throwing a napkin at him.
"Yeah," piped Charlie, speaking a touch more eloquently on behalf of the bachelors, "You know there comes a point—when so many women want you that you think 'alright mate, you know—it's just not fair to pick one, is it?'"
"Exaclty," said George, raising his glass. Charlie clinked it with an acknowledging nod of his head, and fell silent then, watching as his brothers slowly soaked themselves in alcohol. There had been a time, he mused, when he had reveled in the stupor of being smashed, but he was thirty years old now, and fortunately had enough sense to realize that the novelty was wearing off at last.
His gaze flickered to Ron as he loosened up under the influence of the mead and began regaling them all with stories about all the ridiculous things Harry had done over the past few years to get Ginny's attention in their off-again, on-again relationship—not the least of which was buying a red convertible, tattooing a Hungarian Horntail across his chest, and of course the two thousand Galleon broomstick he had used to bribe her into marrying him.
Charlie wondered, though, if Ron realized that the most ridiculous part about it all was that Ginny was so obviously and irretrievably lost to the rest of men because of Harry, and that whatever she might say, she couldn't really love anyone else if she tried. Sometimes it seemed to him that Ron was going into this with the mindset of a brother of the groom, and not the bride. Though maybe it was easier for him that way, he supposed he didn't know.
At last, Tom hobbled over to their table and informed them that the pub would be closing at half past two, and they all got up and began to stagger their way towards the exit. It probably wasn't safe for any of them to Apparate, but all were sober enough to Floo home, and all had significant others who would be able to help them if they got dizzy and collapsed in the fireplace.
All except George, that is. Nobody had had as much to drink as George, and nobody had grown so quiet and dark as the evening wore on.
"Come on George," said Charlie, helping him out the door. The flat above Weasley's Wizard Wheezes was close enough to walk to anyway.
"No," slurred George, whirling away from him, "You think you're all high 'n mighty—think you're better than me—y'can hold your liquor!"
"No," said Charlie tersely, "I'm just not such a flaming idiot as you to drink ten galleons worth of booze in one night."
"Well I don' care!" he replied belligerently, "I don't need your help!"
"Fine!" said Charlie angrily, "Fine! You can go home and puke up your guts by yourself, you sodding prick!"
Fuming, Charlie stormed back into the pub, cast a handful of sand into the fire and yelled, "149 Wilder Street!" leaving George to walk the length of Diagon Alley alone.
Except that George wasn't alone. He certainly thought he was, as he wended his way down the crooked street, half laughing, half crying his troubles to the drizzling night. He didn't even know what was bothering him anymore. For all intents and purposes he was still identical to Fred, but when they became drunk one waxed jolly and poetic and the other grew sardonic and disdainful. One loved company, the other preferred to be alone.
But he wasn't alone. He was never alone when he was like this, because there was always someone watching over him—someone disapproving of him from his high horse in heaven—someone with horn rimmed spectacles and a pompous attitude.
Percy held a vigil over his little brother that night, seeing to it that he made it home safely, and that if and when he started to vomit, he was lying the right way so as not to suffocate. In life and death, that's what brothers were for. He stayed by George's side until the sun rose, passing no judgement and thinking no thoughts,andhe watched over them all through the following day,as they ran around like Nifflers in Gringotts as the last frantic details of the event were put into place. He felt mollified to learn that Ginny had changed her mind and decided to let their father walk her down the aisle after all, and he was gratified beyond words when a tear slipped down her cheek as she took her first steps towards the altar, because he knew, through the sort of omniscience that comes with being departed, that she was wishing he were there. She looked lovely, and as she made her way towards the reverent groom, what began as a nervous quivering of the lips grew into a strong and healthy grin, and she beamed at him.
He had the same goofy expression he always did whenever he took a step back and realized how cool it was that he was going out with Ginny Weasley—it reminded Ron of an overgrown puppy. He rolled his eyes at Harry and turned his gaze to the girl walking towards them on Arthur's arm.
To his surprise, his own breath caught in his throat. It wasn't as though it had never occurred to him that Harry would be marrying his sister, but these sorts of revelations can hit a person multiple times without losing any of that novel sting. He tried to think of something to say to Harry—they had never really had a heart to heart about this whole thing. He tried to find a way to tell him how cruel she could be—but that if you could stomach the cruelty, you'd find a hurt and vulnerable girl inside, but he couldn't think with that much clarity. So he tried to tell him that Ginny would always get her way—and that if she didn't she'd change her mind to want whatever way she was getting, and that was just the way she coped. But that wasn't any easier to say.
Time was of the essence, as Ginny grew ever closer, and Ron—realizing that this was one of those moments when he could say something about owl pellets and pass it off as meaningful advice—decided he'd better say anything. He took one look at his best mate and said slowly, "You don't even know."
Harry tore his eyes from the bride for just a moment and gave him a questioning glance.
He gazed at Ginny, and then clapped Harry lightly on the back. "You have no idea how much you love her yet."
Harry looked bemused, but the expression didn't last, because at that moment Ginny drew level with them and his attention was forfeited for the remainder of the evening. But it made no difference, because long after the ceremony had ended, and the reception had drawn to a close, and the five brothers and Mr Weasley had given a collective toast to announce their gift to the happy couple—long after the little bungalow, the speechless bride and the reverent groom were mutually felt and touched and explored and adored and loved and finally settled into that first rest of thousands yet to come, Harry would remember those word and see their truth unfold before his eyes.
For Ginny, her beloved childhood was over, and though the end of any great thing is painful in its own way, she went forward with the flow, rolled with the punches, and never looked back.
And for eternity, their vows echoed in the evening, in the trees, and were absorbed in the forests and the hills, until they bled down the mountainside in many little rivulets, rushing seaward as they converged and made their way to the river's end—a delta on the shores of the lake, east by southeast of the castle.
A/N: Well—that's it. That's really it. Thank you all so much for your patience with me—it's been nearly two years but it's finally finished. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would finish this story, but all the same, it's a great relief to have it done.
That said, I have lots of material floating around in my brain regarding sequel stuff, and while I'm not about to embark on any big project like this one in a hurry, you can expect to see some one-shots popping up in the near future.
And would it be an author's note if I didn't beg you all shamelessly for reviews? This is my last chance to get some,so be coo' and revoo'! (wow... let's hope I never say that phrase again.)