-NINETEEN YEARS EARLIER-
Chapter Two: The Burial
They had eaten breakfast quickly, keeping the noise to a low murmur. All of them were well aware of what awaited, as soon as they parted from the castle. Several families had lost members, and all of them had, at least, lost one friend. The next step in their day would not be an easy one, they knew.
Harry walked arm in arm with Ginny, as the Weasley family and Hermione made their way to Hogsmeade, where they would be Apparating to the Burrow. Harry thought that he would like to say thanks to Abenforth. After all, without his help, they wouldn't have reached Hogwarts at all.
When they reached the town, he noticed that their group had slowed down considerably. Many people met in the streets to talk about the last events, in whispers, as if there was still a threat above their heads. Harry held Ginny's hand and waved to call Ron and Hermione's attention.
"Come with me," he told them, nodding towards the Hog's Head. They agreed, and made their way quickly to the pub.
It was closed. Harry knocked three times on the door, and waited.
"Abenforth?" he called, knocking a second time. A small sound, like something being dragged across the floor approached them, growing on intensity until a jerk on the door opened it barely to a small crack, through which, the person they were looking for stared back at them.
"What?" Abenforth's grumpy tone greeted them.
"We just wanted to say thanks", Harry started, "for helping us to get to Hogwarts, and all the rest."
The old man swept Harry with a suspicious look, and jerked his head lightly. "Don't mention it," he added.
"And," Harry said, when the man was about to close the door, "if you ever need anything, be sure to call," he showed him the piece of mirror through which he had, unknowingly, called and received help.
Abenforth opened the door completely. His leg seemed broken, and mended with some rustic bandages and sticks. Ginny and Hermione moved further with a worried look. "Are you alright?" asked Ginny.
"Yes, yes, I'm fine," he waved the issue aside and fixed his eyes on Harry. For a moment, he seemed to want to talk, but only nodded.
"Thanks," he added, and offered a toughened old hand. Harry shook hands with him, as if they were equals rather than two people with a huge age difference.
As they walked back to their group, Ron and Hermione a few steps in front of them, Harry turned to Ginny.
"Ginny, listen," he said. She looked up to him with curiosity. "I have something to ask you."
She stopped her walk, and he placed his hands on her shoulders. "A year ago," he started, nervously, "I broke up with you because I didn't want you to get hurt," he said, looking firmly into her eyes. Her attentive glance, fixed on his every expression, made him even more nervous. "Neither of us is in danger now, not anymore," he added, seemingly picking the words carefully, "and I want to make things right."
"Yes?" Ginny ventured, when he didn't say anything for a moment.
"Right, huh…" Harry said, "Ginny, would you like to be my girlfriend again?"
Ginny didn't answer. Her expression was unreadable. And last, she frowned. Harry panicked.
"Oh, I don't know," she said, looking aside. "Ever since you left, I've been telling myself that I have options, more fish in the sea, you know?" she added, as if telling a story on how she had found and bought a particularly nice dress robe. "And Neville has changed so much in the past year, you should have seen him taking the lead in some of our little bouts of unruliness…" her voice trailed off.
True, Harry thought, in the middle of his desperation. He had noticed how a small crowd of younger students – many of them girls – fawned at him at the breakfast, and after. Had he lost Ginny forever? Did she now see him like a brother, like the way he saw Hermione, and nothing more?
"So, what you're saying…" he started, softly, feeling fear suddenly quell up in his stomach.
"So I'm saying 'yes', Harry," she said, resuming her walk, and trying not to break in laughter.
Harry stood for a few seconds on his spot, confused, but as he finally processed Ginny's answer, he caught up with her and wrapped his arms around her waist, sinking his head in her shoulder and smiling, feeling her shake with suppressed laughter.
Ginny turned around to face him, with that hard, blazing look she had worn the first time they had kissed, and he lowered his lips to hers, feeling as if he had been handed his life back, and that there was nothing else he needed to be happier than he was.
"You should have seen your face," Ginny said, after they parted and resumed their walk back to their group, "I thought you were going to ask me to marry you."
Harry froze, although not in a terrified way. He hadn't thought of that, but now that she brought it up, it made him wonder what exactly was he embarking upon, and whether she wanted to make it more than a simple boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Ginny seemed to have realised what she had just said, and apparently, similar thoughts to Harry's, assaulted her mind. She didn't add anything else for a while, unable to fight the uncomfortable silence that had settled between them.
"Were you expecting—?" Harry stammered.
"No, of course not," Ginny answered briskly, "we're both too young, and I still have to finish school and—"
"Because I really hadn't—"
They fell silent again, after such a forced exchange of half-phrases, and walked besides each other, Harry's arm stiffly set around Ginny's shoulders, to join the others.
They didn't have the time or mind to think of their conversation, however, because, as they spotted the rest of the Weasleys, they noticed also that they had stopped in front of a closed shop, and were crowded around it in rather odd positions.
It was a nice shop, with a glittery sign that said, in shining purple letters over a background of white and gold, 'Weasley Wizarding Wheezes', around which the small representation of two red-haired youngsters hovered, on broomsticks, laughing, and eluding an old, wretched figure that ran tiredly after them, apparently trying to catch them.
George was leaning against the door, his face touching it and nodding gently over it. As they drew nearer, they noticed he was whimpering, his eyes closed tightly, and as he stopped sobbing and knocked his forehead against the door, his tears trailed down it in a hesitating line.
Molly had hugged him around the waist, and sobbed as well, burying her face on his son's back, while Arthur patted her shoulder, his face twisted in an odd moan, as if he was biting back his own tears. Percy was looking through the window, hiding his face, and behind him, Bill, Charlie, Ron and Hermione stood, the three brothers embraced, gloomy-looking and swollen-eyed.
Harry felt Ginny shaking, and hugged her closely to him, but she let herself free of his grip and ran to George, crying as well. Harry remembered, then, that she and the twins had been very close, and that maybe the loss of one of them weighed heavier on her than in her brothers, save George. But seeing Mrs Weasley shaking and crying, Mr Weasley making a huge effort not to give in to his sorrow, and Percy, with his face hidden and his shoulders sagging in a way he had never thought possible from the proud boy, made him think that they all were mourning him in different ways.
Harry walked closer to Hermione, and they shared a look of anguished despair. The two of them felt almost like strangers, intruding in the private pain of a family who had lost a member, and neither knew what to do to make them feel better, for their loss was something that couldn't be cured by any potion or charm, and the scars in their hearts would only heal with passing time.
Later that day, as they Apparated to the Burrow – Ginny had gone with George in Side-Along Apparition, and they had not arrived at the house until a few hours later –, Molly and Arthur busied themselves with the preparations of Fred's burial, to take place in Ottery St. Catchpole's cemetery, a small burial ground located in the town. Several members of the Weasley family had already been set to their eternal rest in that graveyard, as well as many other witches and wizards. Tonks and Lupin were also going to be buried there, on a collective service for the three of them.
The rest of the family had put on dark robes, and some had locked themselves in their rooms, while others had gone for long walks around the house and adjacent grounds, alone. Harry felt a little lost for words, as he walked alongside Ron in silence, Hermione's arm wrapped around the red-haired boy's at the other side, her head leaning softly on his shoulder.
"Where d'you reckon he went?" Ron asked, his thick voice cutting bluntly the silence between the three of them.
"You mean..." ventured Hermione.
"After he died." Ron said simply. "Do you think he's happy now, wherever he is?"
Hermione bit her lips, trying to think of a suitable answer, and be, at the same time, comforting. But Harry spoke before her.
"Yes. I'm sure he's happy now," he said, patting Ron's shoulder.
The boy smiled feebly. "How can you be sure?"
Harry remembered his parents, and that happy moment in the Forbidden Forest where he had seen them, along with Sirius and Remus. They had all looked happy, and younger than the age they had died. Harry had known, then, that they were in a much happier place than he was, and, as his thoughts were on his own death, at the moment, he had been mildly relieved to see that a place like that awaited him, after all the pain he had endured.
He told Ron and Hermione about his meeting with his deceased beloved ones. It seemed to cheer up Ron a bit, although it brought tears to Hermione's eyes, too, so it was hard to tell if it had been a good thing or bad to tell them. In the end, they settled for good, since Hermione had calmed down and Ron was a bit less gloomy, as they made their way back to the house to face their last, and inescapable, stand to death, loss and mourning, after which they knew they'd have to pick up their lives and find enough meaning to make them significant and worthy to be lived.