Seven Months Later
Harry and Ginny were sleeping soundly, nestled in each other's arms, when a loud pounding on the door caused them both to jerk awake and reach for their wands simultaneously.
"What on earth…" Ginny breathed as she and Harry each quickly struggled into sweatpants. He shrugged, but she noticed the way his lips were pressed tightly together and knew he was trying, for her sake, to stay calm. As they made their way to the door, he managed to put himself ahead of her, and she followed him down the stairs, grousing in her head about chivalry but knowing better than to say anything aloud.
At this point, the banging had resumed, and Harry held his wand aloft as they stood before the door. Before he could say a word, Ginny whispered "Don't you think – if this were a death eater or something – that they wouldn't bother knocking?"
Harry's wand came down a bit, and he rolled his eyes at her.
Speaking for the first time, he said exasperatedly, "I bet I know who it is," and he jerked the door open to reveal a wild-eyed Ron in sleeping clothes and extremely tousled red hair.
"I'm going to trip."
They were the first words out of Ron's mouth, and Ginny had to turn around so he wouldn't see her face splitting into a wide, unholy grin. Harry maintained better composure.
"No, you aren't," he said firmly, taking Ron by the elbow and tugging him inside.
"Am," Ron said distractedly. "I'm going to be walking down the aisle, and I'm going to trip. And Hermione's going to see it somehow, and she won't want to marry me, and…"
"Here," Harry said, interrupting this before it could get any worse. "We'll go into the kitchen; Kreacher will make us some tea, and then you'll go back home, all right? If you're not there in the morning, I think your mum might make sure that tripping will be the least of your concerns…"
Ron nodded dazedly and allowed himself to be led to the long wooden table. Ginny tugged Harry closer to her before he could sit and whispered, "You talk to him; I'll make the tea. It's – it's easier that way."
Mystified, Harry nodded. There was something else she was saying here, but he couldn't quite figure out what it was. But then he turned, looked at Ron, and saw what Ginny already knew. The panic had receded… but this was not going to be an easy conversation.
He dropped heavily into the seat beside his friend but kept his voice light as he said, "I hardly slept the night before I married your sister. Remember? You had to help me shave."
He'd hoped to get a laugh out of Ron – Ginny snorted, her back still to them – but Ron merely shifted in his chair and kept his eyes trained firmly on the table.
"Ron?" Harry asked, but Ron didn't answer him. Instead, he looked up and said, "Gin –you talked to Mum on the morning of your wedding, right?"
Slowly, Ginny turned to look at her older brother. Her face was pale, but her eyes were understanding as she nodded.
"What – " his voice broke. "What did she tell you?"
He looked quickly back down at the table, but Ginny shuddered, and Harry swallowed hard.
"She said – she said that she didn't think Dad or Fred would miss my wedding. And as much as I wanted to believe her then, I didn't – I didn't until days later when Harry and I were in Scotland. When I went to get out of bed one morning, I slipped on a banana peel. I'd never eaten a banana. How else could you explain that but Fred? And then that night, the power went out … and the guy who owned the inn came around with batteries for flashlights… well, if that wasn't Dad, then I don't know what was. Mum was right, Ron. It's horrid not to see their faces, not to know for sure that they're happy for us… but … they wouldn't miss it for the world. You know they wouldn't."
Ron sighed, and Harry tried not to notice that his hands were shaking, but then Ron said, his voice strained, so quiet they could hardly hear him, "I want them here."
"Ron…" Ginny said, and she put down the kettle. He didn't look at her, didn't look up at all, and she moved to him, putting her hands lightly on his shoulders. Harry turned his face away as Ron's breathing became even more labored.
"It's not fair," he mumbled, and then he folded his arms on the table and hid his face in them as his shoulders shook under his sister's hands.
Ginny's breath caught in her throat, but she merely tightened her grip and held on until Ron's breathing eased. When he sat up at last, he found that Harry was still studiously looking away. Standing up, he noticed that Ginny's own eyes looked suspiciously bright.
Ron's ears felt hot, but he pulled his sister into his arms and whispered, "Thanks."
She nodded against his chest, and after a moment, they released each other.
"I'm – I'm sorry for waking both of you," Ron said, and now Harry turned back. He smiled, but the sadness in his own eyes was unmistakable.
"It's ok," he said quietly. "We – well, we understand, obviously. So does Hermione. I think – I think maybe you should talk to her about this, too."
Ron stiffened and shook his head.
"I can't – I can't ruin this day for her. She deserves a happy wedding."
Ginny looked at him disbelievingly. "You really think she's not thinking about all of this, too? Seriously?"
But Ron simply shook his head again. "I mean, sure she's thinking about it but not like this. I'll be fine. Thanks again."
And he was gone, leaving his sister and brother-in-law to stare at each other with resignation.
"He's going to be bad tomorrow," Ginny said as they made their way back to bad, and Harry nodded.
"Yes, he is."
Hermione couldn't remember the last time she'd slept in her parents' house, and when she awoke the following morning, it took her a few moments of disorientation before she even remembered where she was. When she made her way to the kitchen, she smiled to see her parents already dressed and ready for their very unconventional transport to the Burrow. It was clear that neither of them was very comfortable with the prospect, but they grinned at her when she walked in.
"Are you ready, sleepyhead?" Richard teased, and he turned to his wife. "Who would have thought that we'd be awake before this one on her own wedding day?"
Carol laughed and turned to Hermione. "Do you want anything to eat, dear?" she asked, but when Hermione shook her head quickly, she simply nodded. "All right, then. Are we ready to go?"
Before she could chicken out, Hermione forced a grin.
"We are," she said, the first words she'd spoken all day. "Let's go."
Their arrival at the Burrow did not go unnoticed. Molly came rushing out to welcome Carol and Richard, and when she caught sight of Hermione, she sighed with pleasure.
"It's finally going to be official," she said, a wide smile on her face. "I'm getting another daughter."
Carol squeezed Molly's hand. "We can't think of anyone with whom we'd rather share her more," she said, and Molly impulsively hugged her.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Once inside, Carol set to work helping Molly in the kitchen, and Bill, who'd been sitting in the living room talking to Percy and Charlie, realized that Richard seemed at a loss for what to do.
"Mr. Granger," he called, and Richard looked up and smiled.
"Bill, call me Richard, please," he said as he walked over to them. "You're a father yourself, now. It makes sense for us to be on a first-name basis, don't you think?"
Bill smiled too. "I do. But Mum would have had my head if I hadn't addressed you properly at first. Come join us. Mum won't let us do anything, and Ron's not here yet, so we get to relax."
Richard sat down obediently. In the back of his mind, though, he wondered where his future son-in-law was, but as no one else seemed concerned, he let it go. And when Ron showed up 15 minutes later, he was glad to realize that his fears had been unfounded – almost. There was no denying that Ron did not quite look happy. But he plastered a smile on his face and joined his family, and no one said a word.
By the time the guests had all arrived, Hermione had almost had nervous breakdowns two separate times and was verging on her third when Ginny finally said in exasperation, "Would it make you feel better to talk to Ron? Because honestly, Hermione, this isn't like you at all, and I don't know what else I can do to help."
Hermione looked at her and nodded desperately, keeping her lips firmly clamped together. She felt so sick; she was afraid of what might happen if she opened her mouth. Ginny took one look at her and bolted for the door.
"Ron, it is," she muttered under her breath. Given the state her brother had been in last night, she didn't see how he could possibly be any sort of help, but it was worth a try. But when she banged on his door and then thrust it open violently, she stopped short. Bill was in there with him, and he had his arms around him, holding on tightly as Ron clearly struggled for control. Ginny felt the words die on her lips, and she swallowed thickly as she said, "Ron… Hermione wants to see you."
He froze, and Bill sighed.
"She'll understand," he said quietly. "You have to trust me on this. She will."
Ron stepped back from his oldest brother, refusing to look in Ginny's direction, and he said plaintively, "I want this to be a happy day for her."
Ginny'd had it. Her eyes narrowed as she snapped, "It won't be if you don't go to her right now! Stop acting like such a git, Ron. For some unknown reason, Hermione loves you, and she needs you right now, and if you don't go to her, then you don't deserve to get married to her today."
Her words were like a slap in the face. Without another word to either of them, Ron left the room. Ginny and Bill looked at one another, and she sighed.
"Doesn't he know she misses them, too?" she asked, and her voice sounded weak in her own ears. Bill took a step closer to her, and Ginny suddenly found herself enfolded in his arms.
"We all do," he murmured, and she nodded, closing her eyes tightly and hiding her face in her brother's shirtfront.
She looked beautiful. There was no denying that. She looked terrified, too. And when Ron walked into the room, she looked relieved, and he felt his breathing start to ease for the first time in over 24 hours.
"I'm sorry it took me so long to get to you," he said, his voice colored with shame, but Hermione smiled now and shook her head, reaching for his hand.
"You got here, didn't you?" she asked, and he squeezed hers.
"I'm glad I did."
For a few minutes neither of them said another word, merely stood there watching each other. Hermione wondered if she should say what she'd been thinking all morning and then knew she had no choice. She took a deep breath.
"I – I want to go to the cemetery after this is all over. I want to go put the flowers on their – on their graves. I want them to be part of this day."
He was looking at her still, but he was blinking much too quickly, and suddenly he couldn't see her at all anymore.
"Thank you," he whispered, and he buried his face in her shoulder as she held him tightly. "Thank you."
Hours later, when all the guests had gone, Ron and Hermione Weasley disapparated from the Burrow and put half of her bouquet on Arthur's grave and the other half on Fred's. For a moment, they stood looking down at the names that meant so much to both of them.
"I'm glad you knew them," Ron said. His voice was calm.
"And loved them," Hermione corrected.
Ron turned to her and took her in his arms. "And loved them," he repeated.
"We're going to tell our kids all about their amazing grandfather and cool uncle," she continued even though her voice shook slightly.
Ron nodded against her, but he couldn't say another word. He didn't need to. She was right. They would.
A/N: And it's here at last. I can't say how sorry I am that it's taken me this long to get to the epilogue, but this story is finally complete. Thanks so much to everyone who's read and reviewed. It took me a long time to decide to write this since I didn't know how many people would want to read it, but I am so glad I did. It's been quite a journey. Oh, and before I forget – Lisa, I think you might need some brownies and hot cocoa right about now. This one's for you.