They stood in what used to be Ron's room, in front of the mirror; Harry in his new dress robes, and Hermione in the loveliest gown he'd ever seen. White flowers ringed her head like a crown, and white ribbons held her curls up off her shoulders. The healing scars on her back and legs didn't show, and if Harry hadn't seen her receive them, he never would've known they were there. Now, months later, she looked whole once again. Beautiful, radiant, and still…pensive.
"You're nervous?" he asked, even though he knew that wasn't it. Over the past year Hermione had faced down werewolves, vampires and infiri, and the very darkest of evils. She was far from a wilting flower, and not likely to let a little ceremony unsettle her.
"I can't help it, Harry. It just feels wrong. We said we would wait until the war was over."
"Voldemort is dead and the Death Eaters are being tried. How long would you wait?"
She met his gaze in the mirror. "You think they're dead, don't you?"
Harry swallowed. He spent a great deal of time in recent months trying very hard not to think just that. But Poenari in Romania was now the true ruin that it had been glamoured to resemble, and the Wizmere family, like the Dark Lord himself, was no more. Their dungeons were empty, and Charlie and Ez were no where to be found. Six months of searching for them day and night, had turned up nothing.
"Oh, why did I agree to this?" Hermione fretted.
"Because Ron's been insufferable since we got back, and it was the only way to get him to shut up about it," Harry reminded her. "And because you've waited long enough. You want to marry him, and he wants to marry you. And because you're pregnant."
"Quiet, you. You're not supposed to know about that yet." Finally he got a smirk out of her.
"We'll find them, Hermione. Your wedding today isn't going to change that."
There was a brief rap at the door, and Ginny poked her head in. "Ron's asking for you," she said to Harry. "And my, don't you look dashing?"
Ginny looked very pretty, too. He loved her in soft green robes. He kissed her on his way out.
Harry made his way slowly down the narrow stair rebuilt by Bill and Percy and Tonks, board by board, and spell by spell. There were a lot of memories tied up in the house, though his thoughts felt skewed as he passed steps that no longer squeaked and floors that appeared sound. The Burrow had never looked better, but Harry missed the old house. This new one was too straight, too level. There was no ghoul in the attic any longer, and the Gnomes had yet to reappear in the garden - though Ginny suggested it was the layers of protective charms laid over the whole property, and not the right angles to the house that kept them out.
Ron was by the garden wall, in proper dress robes and a fresh hair cut. He squinted against the afternoon sun, tugging at his collar. He looked warm.
"You all right, mate?" Harry asked. "You look a little peaked."
"Remind me again why I agreed to do this?"
"Agreed? You've been begging for ages. Something about making a proper witch out of her, and wanting to stake your claim. I believe she hexed you once or twice over it."
"Yeah, yeah," he said, not amused. "Listen. When were you planning to set out again? Because Percy and Penny have given us a week in their cottage in France as a wedding present. A honeymoon, you know?"
"That sounds brilliant! You should definitely go."
"Yeah? You know she's going to want to keep searching with you and Ginny. Of course, I want to as well, but…but it's our honeymoon, and all."
"No, really. Go. We can owl if we find anything."
Ron nodded his thanks. "Any word from Lupin?"
Lupin had been found raving less than a week after his capture. They'd stripped his mind and left him to his madness. Shacklebolt arranged for a safe place and treatment, but Lupin had made slow progress over the past year.
"He still won't see me."
"It's the guilt," Ron said.
"It wasn't his fault."
"When we find them, we'll find Lupin, too."
Harry wasn't sure it would be that easy, but if they were to bring Charlie and Ez home it would go a long way to help Lupin heal.
The sound of someone Apparating caught Harry's attention, and set his battle instincts on edge. The wedding was to be a small affair and, as Moody had arranged, all of the guests had arrived more than an hour before. Shacklebolt had the Burrow under the tightest of Security Charms to keep out the unwanted press that their new fame tended to attract. Saving the wizarding world might not pay well, as Ron discovered, but people did stand up and take notice.
Except that it wasn't a wedding crasher that Harry saw stumble over the lawn toward the house. It was–
"Charlie!" Mrs. Weasley screamed, and in heels, took off running toward her son. She practically threw herself at him. As did most of the wedding party.
"Oh, thank Merlin," Ron whispered.
The relief that coursed through Harry blurred his eyes and twisted a knot in his chest. And yet, Harry could see that Charlie was changed. His normally jovial face was drawn, humorless, and more angular than Harry had ever seen. His broad, muscular body was smaller, wasted. He wasn't a hero returning from the war, he was a casualty. Harry held his breath, afraid of the next blow.
Charlie, for his part, barely seemed to register the people around him. His gaze fell on Tonks almost immediately, and then little Sani in her arms. Everyone quieted. His expression was one of unbounded grief, of despair. Seeing Charlie look on his son, Harry knew for certain that Charlie had come home alone.
Tonks stepped forward past Fred and George and Mr. Weasley, kissed her foster son on the forehead, and then reluctantly handed him to his father. She cried. Harry was certain she was just as relieved to see Charlie as he was, but he also knew that her heart broke when she gave the baby away.
Charlie took his son. Tonks' distress was contagious, and little Sani threw a fit.
"He looks like her." Charlie's voice was hoarse. He handed his son back, and the baby quieted; his pudgy cheek against Tonks' shoulder and his pudgy fist in his mouth. "Why did he have to look like her?"
"Oh, Charlie, pet," his mum cooed, and linked her arm through his. "You look like you're about to fall over. Come sit down. Eat something. Everyone's here. Ronnie's about to get married. Our Ron! Can you believe it? I think he's gotten Hermione in a family way, but, well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, and now that the war's over–"
"It's not over, mum. It'll never be over. And I can't stay."
"But…but you've only just come home."
Charlie's gaze was hard and flat when he turned to Harry. "You're still my Secret Keeper." There was a question in that statement, and Harry knew what he was asking.
"We've been looking for you for months."
"I know how that goes," Charlie said humorlessly. "I know, Harry. I understand too well. You didn't fail me, I failed…I couldn't protect…" He closed his eyes, swallowed thickly. "Standau's still alive. Just. He's the last. Got to rectify that."
"I'll go with you."
Charlie shook his head. "It's personal." His eyes landed again on little Sani, his thumb in his mouth. "Thank you," he whispered to Tonks when his voice broke over the words.
"We're going with you," Ron told him, and when Charlie continued to shake his head he added, "We've seen a battle or two. We know our way around a wand."
"We're going," Harry agreed.
"All of us," Bill said. Mr. Weasley nodded, as did the twins, Percy and Penny. "We're a family. And she was ours."
Charlie's face screwed tight, and he looked up at the clouds in the sky to keep his grief from spilling over. "She was mine."
"What about the Bond?" Tonks asked.
His eyes strayed to his son, and then away again. It seemed painful for his gaze to linger there. "She was wrong, wasn't she?" He was angry. And Harry thought that Ez had very nearly been right. Charlie certainly hadn't survived the Sever unscathed.
"You're tired, Charlie," Harry said. "You can stop fighting now."
"I came back to Whisper. Then I'll go."
"You need us."
"I need her!" Charlie snapped, harsh voice raised, and emotion twisting his face.
Mrs. Weasley reached out to her son, ran a soothing hand down his arm. "Charlie, dear. Your son needs his father. You can't just leave him. He's a part of her."
"No, no…I can't stay. Please don't ask me to."
"Come into the house," Harry said. "Sit for a spell. I'm your Secret Keeper. Let me carry the burden with you."
"It won't help," Charlie muttered.
"No," Harry admitted, heart heavy. "But then, at least you won't be alone."