The Calm Before the Storm
Chapter One: The Waiting
The bright sunlight of the warm summer morning beat down on the back of Ron Weasley. He was leaning over a small hole that had been dug out in the garden behind the Burrow, trying to get a grasp on the last garden gnome he could find. It had taken him the better part of an hour, but he had managed to clear the garden of all unwelcome guests, save this one.
The gnome made a last ditch effort at escape, trying to squeeze past Ron as he moved in. But he tripped it up, grabbed its legs and flung the gnome far over the crest of the hill at the edge of the garden. As he turned away from the hole, a flash of ginger streaked by his feet, heading for the hill.
"Hey!" shouted Ron.
Crookshanks stopped and turned his squashed face up towards Ron.
He waggled a finger at the cat. "Do not chase those gnomes back over here. I'm not de-gnoming again before the wedding."
The cat regarded him for just a moment and then stalked off over the hill.
"And stay out of trouble," he called out. "Hermione'll kill me if anything happens to you."
He wiped the dirt from his hands onto his jeans as he walked across the yard. The Burrow and all of the property surrounding it looked as immaculate as he'd ever seen it. In the few short days since he'd returned home from Hogwarts, the entire Weasley clan (minus Percy, whom Ron didn't bother counting anymore) had thrown all their effort into preparing for Bill and Fleur's wedding. Looking back over the past couple of days, having so much to do had turned out to be a blessing as it helped keep his mind off the death of his headmaster.
He shook his head. His headmaster. Even now, days later, he still found it hard to say or even think the name. It made it personal, and he didn't like the hurt that came with it, but he knew it had to be exponentially worse for Harry. With all that Harry and Dumbledore had been through this past year, he couldn't imagine how his best friend must be feeling. Add in Snape turning out to be the evil bastard he and Harry always knew him to be, and drop the prophecy right on top of all that, and it turned into quite a pile stacked up on Harry's shoulders.
Not for the first time, Ron silently cursed himself for allowing Harry to talk him and Hermione out of accompanying him to the Dursleys'. He was sure that Harry could handle the Muggles on his own, but wondered how well he was doing handling everything else.
As he approached the door to the kitchen, he heard voices coming from inside.
"Charlie and Ron will do it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, this way it'll be all in the family. Gabrielle and Ginny, Charlie and Ron."
Ron opened the door to see Bill and his mother, sitting at the table, finishing their breakfast. "What am I doing?" he asked Bill.
"You're going to be in the wedding party, dear," said a beaming Mrs. Weasley.
Molly turned to Bill. "We'll have to go and get him some black dress robes so he matches you and Charlie. All he has are the blue ones that Fred and George bought for him."
Bill didn't answer as he was looking at Ron with an odd expression on his face. "On second thought," he started, "maybe I'll ask Fred or George to do it instead."
"Why?" asked Mrs. Weasley.
Mrs. Weasley's eyes widened in realization. "Oh, Bill, we can afford to get Ron new robes."
"No, Mum," said Bill, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. "It's not that. I just think that Ron might rather spend quality time with his guest."
She arched her eyebrows at her youngest son. "You have a date for the wedding, Ron?"
By sheer force of will, he was able to keep his ears from turning red. "It's just Hermione, Mum."
Bill nodded and his smile grew broader still. "Just Hermione?"
"I'm not teasing, little brother, I'm saying nice job. She's smart and pretty."
Ron was startled by this revelation. Bill was engaged to a woman who looked like an angel. His opinion certainly carried more weight than any of his other brothers. "You think she's pretty?"
"I do. Don't you?"
This time, he couldn't stop the wave of heat from reaching his face. He looked down at his feet. "Well, yeah. But how did you-"
"Your father and I like her very much," said a beaming Mrs. Weasley.
"Let's not get carried away. It's not that big a deal."
"I don't get carried away."
"Okay," answered Ron, who was now desperate for a subject change.
Surprisingly, it was his mother that delivered for him.
"What about Harry?" asked Mrs. Weasley.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about Harry, Mum. I'm sure he'll be properly entertained," answered Ron, as he dropped into the seat next to her and plucked a piece of toast from her plate.
Mrs. Weasley's face lit up. "Oh, is he escorting someone too?"
Ron swallowed a bit of toast and looked up at Bill. "Ginny didn't say?"
"No. Ginny didn't mention Harry."
Ron studied his toast. "Interesting."
Truth be told, he still wasn't entirely sure how he felt about Harry and his sister being together. He couldn't deny that Harry had been pretty happy lately. Not only had he seen it for himself, but Hermione had also commented to him, on much more than one occasion, how much their friend obviously enjoyed being in a relationship. Admittedly, he himself had pulled for this pairing a year ago, but that was before he'd thought it all the way through.
Ginny's love life, if that's what you'd call it, had always been reasonably well hidden from him. New facts would spring up every now and then, but the general day-to-day stuff was pretty much invisible, with the notable exception of one mind-numbing encounter with Dean and Ginny. Harry's thing with Cho had been out of sight, out of mind unless Harry- or much more likely, Hermione- brought it up. But with Harry and Ginny together, it would be all but unavoidable.
He knew that if they got into a fight he'd undoubtedly side with Harry, because in the end, all girls were barking mad. Like Lavender, who had delayed their impending breakup with her vice-like grip. Like Hermione, who had goggled at him incredulously when he asked her to the wedding, said yes, and then cried on his shoulder. Like his sister, who at one time could not shut up about the boy, but now didn't seem to want to mention that she and Harry Potter were a couple. Barking.
"I asked if you knew who he was bringing," said Mrs. Weasley.
There was a series of loud thumps coming down the stairwell and Ginny burst into view. "Mum, my room's all set for me, Fleur, and Gabrielle to share." She paused and looked at the three of them sitting at the table. "What are you talking about?"
"Ron's date for the wedding," said Bill.
"Yeah," responded Ron, "and I think Bill is bringing someone too."
Bill laughed and flicked a piece of bacon at Ron, striking him on the forehead.
Mrs. Weasley shook her head at her sons. "Don't make a mess. I just cleaned in here."
"Sorry, Mum," said Ron, as he popped the piece of bacon in his mouth.
"So, is Harry bringing someone?"
"No," interjected Ginny. "He told me he was thinking about asking someone, but changed his mind at the last minute."
"Oh, that's too bad," said a disappointed Mrs. Weasley.
"He seemed to be okay with his decision."
It took a moment for this new information to process, but once it did, the pieces all fell together. The oddly formal tone of their conversations after the funeral, the extremely awkward hug, without even the appearance of a chaste kiss as Harry left for the Dursleys', and no visits from Hedwig all added up to one inescapable truth. Harry's decision had been to break it off with Ginny and not tell him about it. He'd been snubbed by his best friend, and he actually felt slightly insulted.
He eyed Ginny thoughtfully. She didn't seem all that upset, though he knew she was a master at hiding things. He didn't believe for one minute that she would come to him looking to talk, but if he got her alone for a moment, perhaps he'd take the initiative.
"Ron," said Ginny, looking out the window, "looks like Pig is here."
Ron moved to the window to watch the tiny owl make his approach across the Weasley property.
"You were expecting an owl?" asked Mrs. Weasley.
"Yeah," he answered, "I had Hermione take Pig home with her so she could write me and let me know when she's coming. She knew she'd be back soon, so she had me take Crookshanks so she wouldn't have to carry him back and forth."
He stepped back as Pig zoomed through the window and skidded to a stop on the kitchen table.
"Getting better," commented Ron, as the owl stuck a leg out with a roll of parchment attached to it.
Pig hooted happily as Ron freed the parchment and gave him a gentle pat on the head. "Go take some of Bill's bacon. It's alright."
Bill laughed as he broke off a small piece for the owl to eat. Pig nipped the bacon from Bill's hand and took off up the stairwell towards Ron's bedroom.
He scanned the parchment quickly, unable to keep a smile from crossing his face.
"She's coming tonight," he said. "Flooing here at seven, so we'll have to take the wards off of the fireplace."
"Is it even safe to use the Floo Network?" asked Ginny.
Bill nodded. "It's as safe as we can make it, and it'll be easier for her if she's got a trunk to bring along."
Mrs. Weasley nodded her agreement and glanced at her watch. "Oh, look at the time. Fleur and your father should be back any minute. I bet they'll be hungry." She got up from the table and set about the kitchen, flicking her wand at a knife which began to slice up some bacon.
"Are they at the Ministry?" asked Ron.
"Yes," answered Mrs. Weasley, who was now cracking some eggs, "they've been working on the arrangements for Fleur's family to travel to the Ministry by International Floo, and then to be driven here." She looked up at her daughter. "Ginny, give me a hand here."
Ron made his way up to his bedroom before his mother could ask him to do more work around the house. Making breakfast for Fleur and his father would occupy her for a few minutes so it seemed the right time to take a break. He flopped down on his bed and unrolled the letter from Hermione.
He read it a few more times, the smile immediately returning to his face. She had written that she missed him, which was just ridiculous, as it had only been a couple of days since they'd seen each other. Girls could be funny that way.
When he'd told his mother that it was no big deal that Hermione was his date, his voice had been strong and clear, which had belied the uncertainty that lay within. In Professor Sprout's class this past year, there had been a moment. A moment he was certain that their relationship had teetered perilously close to some big change. Perhaps that moment hadn't played out to its proper conclusion. He was positive that Hermione being escorted by McLaggen to Slughorn's stupid Christmas party was not where that moment had been headed.
He'd dropped the Quaffle on that one, though he felt strongly that he'd had a giant assist from Krum. Smarmy Bulgarian git could still wreck things, even from another country. Thank Merlin he'd never have to see his ugly face again.
Clearly, things were different now between he and Hermione, but in their typical fashion, they had left everything unsaid. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. By the time she arrived that night, he'd know exactly what he would need to say. He glanced at his watch and sighed. Seven o'clock seemed to be an eternity away, because as it turned out, he missed her too.