When everyone's hunger was appeased, Ginny didn't need any encouragement to climb onto the bed and snuggle up to Harry. They held hands and spoke in loving whispers as they finished their tea and idly watched Bonnie draw in a scrap book with pencils supplied by one of the ever-helpful and indulgent Elves. Harry and Ginny had just begun to indulge their recently awakened appetites for each other when there was a peremptory knock at the door.
It opened immediately Harry bade the visitor enter. At the sight of Minerva McGonagall, Ginny went very red; she sat up like a shot and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She was prepared for the little blonde missile that launched itself into her lap and hid her face. Ginny wished she could hide her own mortification by hiding her face against Harry, and sensing this, he put a proprietary arm around her shoulders and pulled her back against his chest.
Minerva came closer to the bed and stood with her hands folded at her waist, and, Harry noticed, a decided twinkle in her eyes. "Well, Harry, you're certainly looking much more human today." She then focused on a still mortified Ginny. "And Miss Weasley, I'm delighted to see you safe and well. It has been a very long time."
"Hello, Professor," said Ginny, her voice, not surprisingly, had lost all of the exuberance and happiness of moments before. Harry squeezed her shoulder in silent support.
Minerva studied the young woman before her. Now that the pallor of shock and the horrors of the previous day had mostly receded, she could see that the Ginny Weasley she had last seen at Hogwarts during her fifth year, had grown into the potential that had practically radiated from the then fifteen year old...she had graduated from fresh-faced prettiness to true beauty. Most redheads—and this included all her brothers but William—had pale skin that burned very easily and then freckled, but this Weasley had a perfect peaches and cream complexion; a collection of tiny freckles marching across the bridge of her nose was the only salute to her red hair.
Minerva looked from Ginevra to her daughter and silently mourned the course the young witch's life had taken, even while she couldn't grieve the existence of the beautiful child who was so obviously adored by her mother. She sighed inwardly.
"I cannot lament the fact that you missed your sixth year of school, Miss Weasley, because, despite the best efforts of most of your old professors, little in the way of learning was actually accomplished that year, unless a student wished to be trained in intimidation and violence with the use of the darkest of magic."
Minerva sighed again and looked pained: the school year of 1997/1998 had been a very dark time for wizarding Britain. Minerva took the happenings at Hogwarts during that horrendous school year personally and to this day, she continued to berate herself with the thought that she should have been able to do more to protect the students. "Thankfully though," she now said in a determinedly bright voice, "only a very small group of students were willing to embrace these abominable acts of wickedness."
From her position of safety, with her face buried in her mother's lap, Bonnie turned her head to the side and was peeking out of the corner of one eye at the lady with the funny voice and the stern face. Minerva smiled, hoping to put mother and daughter at their ease.
"May I sit?"
Harry and Ginny both nodded and Minerva pulled the hard chair closer to the bed. "I hope to be able to speak to you about finishing your education another time, Miss Weasley, though of course, I realise that your time is no longer entirely your own." Her eyes were drawn to Bonnie again; the little girl had finally pulled herself up and was now lounging back against Ginny. She was not yet ready, however, to give her wholehearted approval to this lady and her funny clothes and as such, she kept her eyes averted, and focused instead on her little hands that were playing with her mother's fingers.
"Ginny and I will be getting married soon, Minerva." Harry felt it imperative that Minerva knew the state of things to come; after all, he had already agreed to be the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher when the new school year started in September. If it was going to be a problem for her to have another married professor on staff, then he would have no qualms about declining the position. He had not signed any contracts as yet.
But a smile of delight spread across Minerva's face. "Oh, Harry! I am so thrilled for you..." she turned her beaming face to Ginny. "For both of you. This is wonderful news. You deserve all the happiness in the world. It's about time you concentrated on your own future."
Both Harry and Ginny grinned at this unrestrained and genuine effusion.
Minerva was truly happy for Harry; the young wizard deserved to be happy after the horrors he had suffered during his short life, and it was obvious he was very much in love with the young witch snuggled against him. Ginevra too, if Minerva was any judge, was equally enamoured of the young man whose space she was sharing. And it certainly seemed that she needed her own life to take a turn for the better. Particularly if there was any credibility regarding the theory that Draco Malfoy was the father of the child. That blonde hair...
Minerva wrenched her thoughts away from the conundrum of Bonnie's paternity to more immediate concerns. Perhaps she could take advantage of Harry's revelations regarding his and Ginevra's nuptials to advance her plans. She did not know what Harry had planned, but considering how close he was to the Weasleys, it stood to reason that he would want to reconcile his fiancée with her family.
Minerva clapped her hands together. "Perhaps we could have a nice cup of hot chocolate to celebrate this momentous news." Harry and Ginny shared a look of resignation—they had been looking forward to some time alone with Bonnie—but they watched with undisguised admiration as Minerva drew her wand and tapped the teapot. It changed into a large jug which was filled—if the delicious aroma wafting from it was any indication—with rich, hot chocolate. She then tapped their used cups, banishing the dregs of the tea, and turning them into large mugs, before executing an intricate wand movement to produce a third mug, an exact duplicate of theirs. An absent flick of the wand had the heavy jug rising into the air and tilting to pour the frothy, chocolatey beverage into the mugs. Harry watched in undisguised admiration, and he could only hope that one day he might have just a tenth of his old professor's skills at Transfiguration.
Bonnie had watched this magical performance in wide-eyed wonder, but when Minerva observed Bonnie eyeing the chocolate, and she asked if she would like some; the little girl was now sufficiently used to the elderly witch's presence not to rebury her face in her mother's lap, but she shyly shook her head in refusal.
As the adults drank their chocolate, Minerva engaged Ginny's interest by relating some of the more colourful and outrageous happenings to have occurred during the first six months of her tenure as headmistress. If the elderly witch was to be believed, the portraits of past headmasters and mistresses, especially Albus Dumbledore, were driven insane by her constant questions and need for reassurance. Many had taken refuge in other paintings throughout the castle, or, if they could visit other portraits of themselves away from the venerable halls of learning, they did.
Harry was wary: he knew Minerva was gearing up to something, but he wasn't sure what. She was being way too nice. Not that Minerva couldn't do nice... she could, just not over such a sustained period of time in his experience. Ginny was responding to the emotional assault and even Bonnie's stringent rules regarding opening up to strangers were ultimately falling by the wayside and she had finally accepted her own serving of chocolate.
Minerva had conjured a green mug upon which animated baby woodland creatures bounded, leapt or hopped as they circumnavigated the base. Colourful birds, bees, beetles and butterflies flew and flitted amongst flowers that were sprouting over the durable, thick china, and Harry and Ginny joined Bonnie in watching the miniature scene in wonder.
Bonnie was totally captivated, and Minerva expanded the enchantment so that one by one, the animals flew, hopped or leapt from the mug onto the over-bed table, then onto the bedspread where they finally spread out and began to chew on tussocks of grass, or lie down in the shade of trees that spread across the expanse of nubby fabric.
With Bonnie's attention now fully focused on the sylvan scene playing out around her, Minerva turned her attention back to Ginny. Ginny looked up, and when she saw the resolute look on her old Head of House's face, her smile slowly disappeared; she pressed herself closer to Harry and his arm tightened around her middle.
If Minerva was aware of the young witch's disquiet, she chose to ignore it. "Miss Weasley...Ginevra, I don't know what Harry has told you about our staffing arrangements here at Hogwarts, these days—if indeed he has told you anything at all..."
Ginny felt Harry tense; if she didn't know what Professor McGonagall was working towards with this topic of conversation, he certainly did. She moistened her lips. "Other than the fact that he'll be taking up the position of Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor in September, and that Professor Snape is still teaching Potions and you're the headmistress, then I don't really know anything."
"Well, I am very happy to say that many of the professors who taught when you were a student here, are still employed at Hogwarts. Professor Flitwick still teaches Charms, in which I know you excelled; he is also the deputy head. Professors Sprout, Sinistra, Vector and Babbling also still teach their respective subjects. And Madam Pince is still the librarian.
Ginny's face had lost a little of its colour as this list was revealed to her. She turned her head and stared at Harry, her eyes wide and full of distress. "Hagrid," she breathed in an frightened whisper. "What about Hagrid?" Harry tightened his arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. Before he could open his mouth to speak, Minerva took centre stage again.
"I'm so sorry, Ginny," she said, her voice full of contrition. "Hagrid is still here and is still the Care of Magical Creatures Professor. I did not mean to frighten you. But I thought Harry would have spoken to you of Hagrid as they are so close."
Ginny's relief was immense, but suddenly, overwhelmingly, guilt overtook her. She couldn't blame Harry for not telling her about Hagrid. She had never asked, and she knew that Harry never broached any subject that he thought would upset her. They had fallen into this pattern very early on; any time Harry inadvertently mentioned anything to do with her family or old friends, or tried to introduce news, past or present about the Wizarding World, she would, by dint of her body language, prohibit any expansion on the subject. It had not taken Harry long to learn to avoid any topic that might upset her. The meagre facts that she did know, she had kind of picked up by osmosis. But now, through a series of horrific events, she was well and truly back amongst some of the people she had been determined to keep her distance from.
Now, basking in the comfort of Harry's embrace and with the sure knowledge that he truly loved her as she loved him, Ginny could appreciate that Professor McGonagall's kindness and lack of criticism for her past actions were genuine. As had Snape been when he had come to the rescue at Grimmauld Place, and then again, when he had run interference for Harry here in the Hospital Wing last night.
If the last twenty-four hours had convinced her of anything, it had convinced her that she had to rejoin the world of magic; she had to embrace who she really was and stop straddling the fence between the magical and Muggle worlds. The time had finally come for her to let the people who had shaped her life up till the age of almost sixteen, back into her life. She could—and would—do this for Harry... and for herself and Bonnie. In short, it was time for her to grow up.
Sitting within the circle of Harry's arm, she sensed that he was preparing to speak, preparing to cover for her once more; perhaps now was the time for her to begin as she meant to go on. Once again, she turned to face Harry. She gently placed her fingers over his lips.
"I think, Harry, that it's about time I stopped hiding...stopped being afraid of my own shadow. I've leaned on you and allowed you to shield me ever since you found Bonnie and me." Ignoring Minerva's presence, she stretched up and replaced her fingers with her lips. "I can't keep expecting you to run interference for me."
She settled more comfortably against him, pulling his arm more securely around her middle, before facing Minerva again. "Harry didn't tell me about Hagrid because I made it plain that I didn't want to hear about anyone or anything from my life before I ran away."
The intensity of Minerva's gaze threatened to undo Ginny's resolve, but Harry rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand, settling her nerves again. "All I know, Professor, is that there was a significant battle here at Hogwarts, and that too many people died, though Harry defeated Voldemort and most of the Death Eaters were captured or killed. And I know that all my family survived, though Fred was badly injured and is permanently crippled and is in a wheelchair"
Harry had hold of Ginny's hand and when her voice hitched a little, he squeezed it comfortingly. But she continued on, her voice gaining in strength the longer she spoke.
"I knew Professor Snape had survived because Harry came to the school on occasion to visit him. I will say that surprised me, considering how they had always hated each other so much."
"Yes," said Minerva with a chuckle. "I think everyone was shocked at that particular consequence of the war. But wonders will never cease."
"I momentarily saw Professor Snape last night and I really was surprised; he certainly haschanged." Ginny was still being careful about not revealing last night's clandestine visit from Harry with Snape's assistance.
"Nearly dying will do that to a person," said Harry, his words almost inaudible.
Ginny turned her head to look at him again, her brows pinched together. "What do you mean, Harry?"
"Nothing," said Harry, too quickly, and he bent his head and kissed the top of Ginny's hair.
It was obvious to Minerva that Harry hadn't told Ginny his own story: the nine or so months leading up to the battle of Hogwarts and his final confrontation with Voldemort. She could see that the young man was desperate for the subject to be changed and Minerva obliged him.
"I only found out yesterday that you were alive, Ginny, but Professor Snape filled me in with what little he knew of your history."
"Professor Snape filled you in?" Ginny turned to look at Harry, her pinched eyebrows a unequivocal question mark.
Harry sighed, and removing his arm from around Ginny's waist, he pushed himself further back against the headboard. He reached for Ginny again but she had moved to the edge of the bed and was now looking over her shoulder at him, her brown eyes, not exactly angry, but certainly admonishing. He leaned towards her and placed a hand over hers where it rested on the bed.
"Gin, the last time I came to see Snape...well, it was the day that Ron came to the house that first time. He and I argued because he was cheesed that I wouldn't tell him why I had blocked everyone from being able to Floo into the house. After all, it had been his and Hermione's home up till they got married. I was pretty upset and distracted and Snape could tell there was something wrong. We didn't get any work done.
"I'm sorry, but I did tell him about you."
Ginny shook her head. "Why?"
"Because I needed someone to talk to and I couldn't talk to Ron or Hermione...not then anyway."
Ginny still looked annoyed, so Harry took her face between his two hands and moved his head forward until they were nose to nose. "I was in love with you even then, but I didn't think you cared for me. It was after talking to Severus that I decided that I was going to ask you to marry me, regardless of how you felt." He laughed self-deprecatingly. "After all, you could only say 'no'."
Ginny pulled back a little so she could see the whole of his face. His expression was not difficult for her to read, even though several emotions were vying for supremacy: distress, because he had upset her, hope, that she would understand and forgive him, and fear that she wouldn't. But the one emotion overriding them all, and the one that made her heart flutter against her breastbone and left her more than a little breathless, was love.
How could she be angry with him? If he had confided in Severus Snape because he was in love with her and he had needed to vent, then how could she lament the comfort he may have received from opening up. The bottom line was that he loved her; he had loved her then and it was blindingly obvious that he loved her now. She took one of Harry's hands and turned it so she could kiss his palm.
Minerva smiled at the young couple and she leaned forward to put a hand on the younger woman's knee. "Ginny, let me assure you, Severus did not tell me much, because he did not know much." She decided to keep their speculations about Bonnie's paternity to herself. "The main thing he did learn from Harry though, was the fact that you were virtually isolated in the Muggle world, particularly after your daughter began to exhibit signs of magic. Is that correct?"
Ginny gave a terse little nod.
"That must have been difficult for you."
Ginny eyes were suddenly bright with a sheen of tears. She swallowed and Harry squeezed her hand. "I managed okay while Bonnie was a baby. But when her accidental magic started to escalate when she began walking and talking, I found I had to leave her in the care of my landlady more and more, because she would see something she wanted in a shop and she could sometimes summon it. It got harder and harder to hide the fact that she was levitating things off shelves, or changing the colour of toys, or shattering the glass doors on a milk fridge in a supermarket because she was having a tantrum.
"But then Harry exploded back into my life, and even though I fought him every step of the way—because I'm so ridiculously pig-headed..." Ginny's voice caught at this point and she couldn't go on. Minerva conjured a handkerchief and handed it to the distressed young woman. Her mother's choked voice finally dragged Bonnie's attention away from the cavorting baby animals. She scrambled onto her mother's knee.
"Mummy, what's wrong?"
"Nothing baby. Mummy's got a frog in her throat." That made Bonnie giggle and she pointed delightedly at a frog, sitting on a lily pad on the animated bedcover. Ginny was grateful that Bonnie's attention was so easily diverted and she made a huge effort to pull herself together. She ran her hand through Bonnie's curls as she addressed Minerva again.
"Anyway, to make a long and harrowing story short and less traumatic, Harry finally convinced me to come and live at Grimmauld Place with him."
Minerva put her hand over Ginny's where it rested on the cover. "Well, I'm glad you've come back to us." She looked at Bonnie. "And it's wonderful to meet this delightful young lady too. It would appear that she is going to be a very talented young witch."
Ginny turned her hand over and grasped Minerva's. "Thank you, Professor. Thank you for coming to our rescue yesterday. Harry said you and Madam Pomfrey followed Professor Snape to Grimmauld Place and got us all back to Hogwarts."
"I'm just glad you are back with us, Miss Weasley." Minerva took a deep breath. "I feel it incumbent on me to ask though...what are your plans regarding your family?"
She watched as Ginny pulled back and avoided any more eye contact. She pulled Bonnie onto her lap and lowered her head to nuzzle the top of the little girl's head. Silence reigned for what felt like a full minute, but was, in fact, only a few seconds, but it proved too much for Harry. Minerva felt his discomfort, but he was determined to protect his fiancée.
"No, Harry." Ginny turned to him immediately and once again, she put fingers that shook slightly, over his lips. "I really do have to stop relying on you to do all the hard stuff."
After kissing Bonnie and telling her to go and draw some of the animals cavorting on the bedspread, which, of course, the little girl was loath to do because it was obvious the adults really wanted to distract her, Harry dragged her across to his lap and proceeded to blow raspberries on her neck. With Bonnie's giggles as background music, she took a deep breath and looked Minerva full in the face. "I've already seen Ron and Hermione, Professor." She reached blindly for one of Harry's hands, and though he already had Bonnie to contend with, he freed one hand and threaded his fingers through Ginny's.
She maintained eye contact with Minerva as she continued to speak. "I don't imagine it will be too long before I meet with the rest of my family. I know Harry wants me to reconcile with my mum and dad, and if you really want to know the truth, I'm tired of living in this emotional limbo." She turned liquid velvet eyes towards Harry again. "Besides, the Weasleys are my fiancé's family, and I definitely want to get to know his family."
Harry's smile was breathtaking, and not even pausing to think that her old Head of House was watching, Ginny leaned back on an elbow and with her free hand, she palmed the back of Harry's neck and pulled his head down so she could bestow a kiss that was as breathtaking to Harry as his smile had been to her. Bonnie scrambled away from Harry; she was so over her mother and her much adored Harry kissing and cuddling, she decided that drawing the cavorting animals would be much more fun after all. Bonnie felt that Minerva might need the antics of her mother and Harry explained to her.
"They do that stuff all the time, now," she said with almost-teenage disdain. The statement was accompanied by an impressive eye-roll and Minerva had a hard time stifling a snort of laughter.
Harry and Ginny were oblivious to this exchange but when they came up for air, it was to find Bonnie leaning on one elbow, scribbling away in the scrapbook the elves had supplied. Minerva had had the decency to pretend that there was something out in the grounds that was of intense interest, but the small smile playing about her thin lips was a sign that she was not displeased with what she had seen before diplomatically distancing herself.
"Well, Minerva," said Harry. "Will it be a problem having another married staff member?"
Minerva left the unsurpassable views to cross to the side of the bed again. she remained standing, but the smile she bestowed on two of her favourite ex-students, showed her approval of their relationship. "Of course not," she said emphatically. "Married professors used to be the rule rather than the exception. There is a whole wing of family suites that are virtually unused these days, but which used to accommodate married professors and their families. It's not a hard and fast rule that they have to live at Hogwarts, but of course, the professor has to put time aside to supervise any detentions he might dole out and he must take his turn with nightly and weekend patrols. It is necessary for the professor, on these occasions, to spend the night in the castle. But if his family are not here, he does have a bedroom with en suite facilities put aside for his use."
Harry held Minerva's gaze. "And your current married professor lives in Hogsmeade, does he not?"
Minerva locked eyes with Harry. "He does. For him, this is the next best thing to the family living in the castle; they are still very close to hand." Minerva knew that Harry was aware of just what she had up her sleeve, and with his leading question, she understood that he was giving his tacit permission for her to continue with her plan.
Now that he and Ginny had finally untangled their convoluted feelings for each other, and knowing that Ginny was edging closer every day to getting up the nerve to reconnect with her family, Harry was willing to allow Minerva to take the lead in this endeavour. He was grateful for her initiative: after all, he was reluctant to upset the status quo by launching into immediate plans to bring about a reunion. What Minerva was proposing, if Ginny was ready, was the perfect solution.
"He has a wife and a young baby," continued Minerva, "and having their home so close to the castle, when he has to stay the night here, he doesn't feel out of touch with his wife and son.
Ginny had picked up an undercurrent during this small exchange, but she couldn't imagine what was going on. She looked at Harry. "London's a lot further away than Hogsmeade."
"It's too far away. I wouldn't want to be all the way up here with you and Bonnie stuck all the way down in London. How would you feel about buying or building a house in Hogsmeade?"
"But what about Grimmauld Place? Would you sell it?"
Harry shrugged. "Not sure. That's something for future consideration and something that we will decide together. But being magical, nowhere in Britain is very far away from anywhere else when you can Apparate and Floo."
"Or fly a Thestral," said Ginny with a reminiscent smile.
Harry laughed. "Or fly a Thestral."
"What's a Festral, Mummy?" piped up Bonnie. She wasn't so caught up with her artistic endeavours that she wasn't listening to every word being spoken.
"It's an animal, and it can fly. They live in the forest here at Hogwarts," supplied Harry.
"Can I see one?"
The three adults exchanged looks. It was Harry who answered her again. "No Bonbon, they're very shy and they're very hard to find. Maybe when you're a lot older."
"Plus," added Minerva, "Little children aren't allowed in the forest. But when you come to Hogwarts to learn all about magic, you will go into the forest with a teacher to learn about some of the plants that grow, and the animals that live in there."
"Not for a long time," said Ginny, having anticipated her daughter's question. "When you turn eleven."
Once Ginny had decided that she couldn't keep the existence of magic from her daughter any longer, and after moving in with Harry, she had, with his help, explained to Bonnie why she had been able to do the strange things she had done. And after seeing Harry use his wand on a regular basis, she had accepted magic with the ease of the very young child. Nothing she had seen here at the castle had frightened her unduly...fascinated her, yes, as evinced by the intricate charm Minerva had used to keep her occupied.
"When will I be 'leven?"
"In eight years time."
"But I'm only fwee." She held up three dimpled fingers. "How many is 'leven?"
"More than you have fingers, Bonbon. But the time will go really quickly, so don't worry about it yet. I'm going to work here soon, and you'll be able to come to the castle sometimes."
Bonnie's face brightened. "Yay!" she said brightly, kicking her little feet against the edge of the bed. Then, with an abruptness that only a young child with a very short attention span can display when she becomes bored with the happenings going on around her, she went back to her drawing.
Ginny smiled at her daughter and reached forward to run her fingers through the wild curls again. Harry and Minerva watched the pair indulgently, love for the two of them easy to read on Harry's face. Then, as if by telepathy, their eyes met over the top of Ginny and Bonnie's heads.
Minerva took a deep breath and moved closer to the bed. "Ginevra—"
Ginny shook her head. "Please, Professor, call me Ginny. Ginevra...well, I don't really like it very much. I'm not sure why my parents, and by that I'm sure I mean my mother, had to name me after the Italian name for Geneva."
Minerva inclined her head slightly. "The name is also the Italian version of Guinevere, my dear...meaning 'fair one'."
Ginny snorted. "How could they possibly tell if a newborn baby was going to be fair? As it turns out, they were way off the mark, weren't they?"
"I think they were absolutely spot on, Ginevra," said Harry through a dazzling smile. Ginny glared at him.
Minerva cleared her throat and bestowed a stern look on her two former pupils. "Very well, I will stick to Ginny, as long as we are being informal. But, if we could get back to the subject at hand: Harry has alluded to the fact that we have a young, married professor on staff. It will come as quite a surprise to you when I tell you that you are acquainted with this person."
Ginny lost some of the colour in her face. She sat up straight, Harry's arm dropping loosely to her hip. Her gaze darted from him, to Minerva and back to Harry again. "You know this person?"
Harry took a deep breath and nodded.
Ginny stared at him for a moment and then turned back to Minerva. She seemed to brace herself. "Who is he?"
With no further preamble, Minerva announced, "It's your brother Charlie."
Ginny sat immobile for several seconds, her brown eyes focused on Minerva's faded hazel ones. Minerva stared back unwaveringly and she continued as if she hadn't just dropped the proverbial bombshell. "Charlie is our flying instructor and our Quidditch referee. But he also assists Hagrid with the Care of Magical Creatures classes.
"Because it has proved almost impossible to have Hagrid stick to the creatures suitable for the students in years three and four to learn about, Charlie teaches those classes that bore Hagrid because the creatures are not interesting enough for his tastes.
"He keeps Hagrid on the straight and narrow when it comes to the more dangerous creatures that the senior classes study and he makes his suggestions in such a way and with so much common sense and diplomacy, Hagrid comes away with the belief that all curriculum related decisions are his and his alone."
Ginny was still reeling from the shock of knowing that one of her brothers was so close to hand. She was now staring at Bonnie who was still happily creating a work of art, the adults' conversations holding no interest for her at all.
"Why isn't Charlie still working with dragons in Romania?" Harry knew the question was directed at him, even though Ginny kept her gaze on her daughter.
"Charlie joined the Order, and when the war was at its peak, he arrived to help fight in the battle of Hogwarts...helped turn the course of the battle, I might add." Ginny had now turned towards him and was listening intently.
"Why didn't he go back to Romania?" Ginny nodded.
"Because after Fred was so badly injured, Molly was in such a state, she would become almost hysterical if any of her children—me included—disappeared from her sight for more than a few minutes at a time."
Ginny swallowed and looked down at her hands where she was twisting her fingers together. Her voice when she spoke, was almost a whisper. "And she had already lost one child, a year before."
Harry took one of her hands and brought it to his lips. "It took her a long time to return to anything approaching her normal self...in fact, I'd say she's never really reverted to the pre-war Molly. She tries, but it's an effort. Once Fred was out of danger, and no longer needed his mother's constant care, he insisted on moving out of the Burrow and in with Angelina. Molly felt superfluous to needs until the grandchildren came along. They have given her back her pleasure in life.
"Charlie had had more than one close call with the dragons, and with his mother being so fragile, he decided to return home so that he was close to the family. He assisted with the reconstruction of Hogwarts, and while he was here, Minerva approached him and offered him a job."
Minerva took up the tale: "Being Hagrid's keeper is quite a responsibility, and Charlie has risen to the task with enthusiasm. They get along very well indeed and each is the other's unswerving advocate. I am no longer peppered with owls every other day insisting I get rid of Hagrid."
Ginny had listened to the whole tale and now she looked at Harry. "And Charlie and his wife..."
"Devon. Her father runs the Hogsmeade branch of Quality Quidditch Supplies and she assists him in the shop when she can. She and Charlie have a house in Hogsmeade and divide their time between the school and the village. They met during the reconstruction and were married in August 1999. Sam was born last November."
"Sooo," said Ginny slowly. "I presume Charlie is here today?"
"He is." Minerva's voice was decisive and Ginny knew that this whole friendly interlude had been leading up to this moment. "With your permission, we will tell Charlie that Harry is here in the hospital wing. He will want to come and visit him. He has a free period in about half an hour."
Ginny closed her eyes and tried to calm herself by taking some steadying breaths. Harry rubbed a comforting hand up and down her slender back. "It'll be fine, Gin. You survived Ron, so even-tempered Charlie will be easy. He isn't going to fly off the handle, he'll just rejoice in the fact that you're back. I think of all your brothers, Charlie will be the most suitable to act as an intermediary with the rest of the family."
Ginny bit her trembling lip; fat tears welled in her eyes and overflowed in a torrent. With a muffled sob, she turned her head and buried it against Harry's chest. He wrapped his arms around her heaving shoulders, holding her close and crooning into her hair.
"Mummy..." Bonnie, still tuned into her mother's state of mind, once again abandoned her drawing and crawled up the bed and onto Ginny's lap.
Minerva thought drastic action was needed: Ginny was too upset to try and soothe her daughter, so after Harry reassured his almost step-daughter that her mother had a bad headache and that when she took some special medicine, she would be fine, Minerva stepped in. She thought that Ginny should meet Charlie without Bonnie observing the reunion and the emotional maelstrom that were sure to ensue between the siblings. There would be plenty of time for Charlie to meet his niece. It wasn't easy, as her mother's episodes of emotional torment were beginning to tell on the little girl.
Even after resurrecting the animated animals from earlier, it was clear that Bonnie was not going to easily succumb to the visual blackmail this time. But in Minerva's favour, was the fact that the child had been cooped up in this small room for longer than an energetic, inquisitive three year old could reasonably be expected to remain relatively inactive and quiet. Ginny pulled herself together long enough to lend her support to Harry and Minerva's, to encourage Bonnie to go and spend some time exploring Hogwarts. Being told that Hogwarts was a very old and very big castle gave the little girl all sorts of notions taken from some of the Muggle fairy tales she had heard. Consequently, she was eager to look around to see if she would meet a handsome prince, or a princess with a beautiful golden ball.
After the elderly witch and her tiny charge left, Harry continued to comfort Ginny. Her old life was rapidly catching up with her new one, and for many stressful minutes she was convinced she wouldn't be able to cope. It wasn't easy, but Harry finally convinced her that she could cope with anything. And finally, she thought she could, because she would have Harry at her side: he was her one constant in a world that had been turned upside down to recreate a picture she had not looked at for a long, long time. And Harry was right: of all her brothers, Charlie was the one who would take her reappearance with the greatest degree of equanimity.
Harry encouraged Ginny to go and freshen up; he convinced her that it might be less of a shock for Charlie if Harry could word him up before he actually clapped eyes on his long-lost sister. It wasn't difficult to convince Ginny. He told her he would ask a female house-elf to freshen her clothes while she showered, and after kissing Harry, she left.
Poppy had given permission for Harry to use the bathroom, but she had forbidden him to have a shower in case he suffered an attack of vertigo. So, he made do with a lick and a promise and a magical shave; he had noticed a slight pink flush on Ginny's cheeks and chin and was aware that he had given her a mild case of stubble burn. That wasn't something he wished to make a habit of.
Harry had just left the bathroom when there was a sharp knock on the door, and Charlie Weasley thrust it open and poked his head in. "What in the name of Merlin have you been up to, young Harry?" he demanded with a wide grin. "And whatever it was, was it absolutely necessary that you end up at the mercy of Poppy Pomfrey, she who emits sweetness and light wherever she goes?"
Harry laughed, shaking Charlie's hand, before reluctantly climbing back onto the bed. "It's a long story, mate."
Charlie dragged the chair closer to the bedside and sat, stretching his legs out and resting his booted feet on the bedcover, indifferent to their pristine, starched state.
"I've got plenty of time: free period and then lunch before I've got a third year Slytherin/Gryffindor, Care of Magical Creatures class."
"Ah," snorted, Harry. "Good ol' Slytherin and Gryffindor. Always a fun combination."
Charlie laughed. "You'd think that a war might have brought a degree of tolerance to bear for young witches and wizards who attend Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, regardless of which house they end up in. Not so, though, in my humble opinion, tensions don't run as high as they used to do."
"Good to know," said Harry. "So, in your humble opinion, I won't have to worry about Slytherins wanting to assassinate me in my bed when I join the staff?"
"No need to worry your untidy black head, Harry James Potter, the rest of the staff are going to act as your bodyguards."
"Once again, good to know." Harry and Charlie grinned at each other. "How are Devon and Sam?"
"Charlie's grin widened. "Both brilliant, and Sam's thriving: he's slept through the night three nights in a row now." He put his hands together in a prayer-like attitude. "Bliss!"
"Maybe now you won't look like you've been trampled by a herd of Hippogriffs."
Charlie laughed, but quickly became serious. "We've not seen you at the Burrow for lunch for a while, Harry. In fact, some of us haven't seen you since Ron and Hermione's wedding. Mum's pretty worried about you."
Harry took a deep breath. "There's a good reason why I haven't been around, Charlie." Charlie raised his eyebrows questioningly
"I've been protecting someone who didn't want the family to know she was around."
Charlie looked puzzled for a moment, then his expression darkened and he lowered his feet and sat up straight. "What the hell are you talking about? Who needs protecting from us?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer but the door opened at that precise moment. Harry knew Ginny must have been listening at the door for her timing to be so impeccable.
Charlie had twisted around in his chair at the interruption. For an instant, it was as if he couldn't register who was standing there, time stood still for what felt like an hour; then he stood so abruptly, the chair crashed to the floor. As with Ron, two days previously, Charlie's face had lost every vestige of colour, down to his freckles.
Brother and sister just stared at each other; Charlie swallowed through a throat that was rapidly swelling with emotion, the sound audible in the tense atmosphere of the room. Harry didn't know who made the first move, but suddenly the two Weasleys were in each other's arms, and chocking sobs, not words, filled the emotional atmosphere.
Harry recalled that along with the loss of skin colour, this too had been the initial reaction when Ron had first seen Ginny, but he wasn't worried that Charlie would turn on his sister like Ron had. Charlie was so much more laid back than Ron; he and the twins seemed to be the only offspring of Molly's who had not inherited her legendary temper to some degree or another. Charlie was pure Arthur, except he didn't have his father's fascination for all things Muggle.
After a couple of minutes, when brother and sister still clung to each other, Harry was beginning to feel superfluous to needs. He decided that another trip to the bathroom was the best strategy and would give the siblings a few minutes to themselves. He was definitely de trop reclining here, trying to focus his gaze anywhere but on the long overdue reunion taking place across the room.
After washing his hands and sluicing water over his face, Harry dried off and cautiously opened the door. He expected to see Charlie and Ginny sitting and talking quietly, though he couldn't hear any voices, but they were still locked in an embrace: now however, they stood with Ginny's head resting comfortably on her older brother's upper chest while his arms still encircled her loosely and his chin rested on the top of her head. It was a healing and definitely non-judgemental, silent embrace.
Charlie saw Harry re-enter the room, and with a sigh, he let his arms slowly drop. Harry saw Ginny's eyes screw tightly shut for a second before she opened them; at the same time, she stepped back from her brother. It seemed words were still difficult to come by, and Ginny locked her brown eyes with Charlie's blue.
Charlie reached out and took a lock of Ginny's hair, rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger. "All this time," he said, almost to himself, "we thought you had to be dead."
Ginny looked down, unable to maintain eye contact, she pulled away and walked to Harry's bed on shaky legs. Harry, who was now back in the bed, patted the space next to him. Ginny sat down next to him, raising her legs onto the bed and relaxing as Harry's arm encircled her shoulders. Charlie watched this little tableau with interest.
Harry indicated the chair beside the bed. "Come and sit down, Charlie. We've got a long story to tell, so you may as well make yourself comfortable.
"We?" asked Charlie, as he sat down. "Have you known she was alive all this time, Harry?" There was a slight edge to the normally placid man's voice.
"No!" cried Ginny, at the same time as Harry said...
"Only since just before Christmas." Charlie's brows rose as his blue eyes moved assessingly between the two of them. Harry could feel the tension building in Ginny's slight frame and he hugged her more tightly to his side.
"'Just before Christmas', is just over a month ago by my calculation."
"Don't start on Harry, Charlie," hissed Ginny, leaning forward, her eyes narrowed. "None of this is his fault."
She took a deep breath in an effort to calm herself. "Harry has helped me...saved me really. If it wasn't for him, I'd still be struggling along, by myself, in the Muggle world, which is where I've been all this time."
Harry could see that Charlie's brain was teeming with questions waiting to find release. Unlike Ron, however, he wasn't going to dive in, boots and all, when it was very obvious that Ginny was as brittle as a stretched piece of toffee.
Instead of starting in on the questions about why his sister had left her family to go and live in the Muggle world, and for all intents and purposes, let them think she was dead, he started with something more immediate. He said, "This..." a finger moved backwards and forwards between the pair of them, "looks to be the product of more than just over a month's association." His voice wasn't angry or accusatory, rather, it was interested.
Both Harry and Ginny flushed, but Ginny said defiantly, "That is none of your business...we, as a couple—and yes, Charlie, we are a couple—are none of your business!" The siblings eyed each other; Ginny's look was a glare, defying her brother to make an issue of her and Harry. Charlie remained calm in the face of his baby sister's obduracy. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his broad chest.
Inconsequentially, Harry wondered—and not for the first time—how Charlie had had the makings of a world class seeker. Seekers generally had light frames, much like himself. It was fortuitous that he had fallen for someone as petite as Ginny, for though he had grown and filled out quite a bit since he had left school, he definitely wasn't what you would call beefcake material.
While Harry's thoughts had gone off on a tangent, Charlie had taken Ginny's words on board. He now shrugged and gestured for Ginny to begin her story wherever she would.
Harry studied Ginny's set face; he expected her to launch into her last, horror year at Hogwarts. He could feel her nervousness and wished he could take over for her. But it was her story to tell. So Harry was shocked when the first thing out of her mouth was, "I have a daughter, Charlie."
Charlie's shock was great, Harry had no doubt, but the only outward sign was his lips parting slightly, and a quiet indrawn breath. Ginny didn't give him a chance to comment before she recited, Bonnie's name, and age.
Silence reigned for what felt like an agonizingly long time. Harry kept his eyes down, his gaze on where he was threading his fingers with Ginny's; he desperately wanted to lend his verbal support to his fiancée, but he knew Ginny had to be the one to reveal all to her family. And as long as they did not begin to attack her for her choices, or until he felt she wasn't coping, he would try to hold his counsel. Try.
Ginny held her brother's shocked gaze. She raised her chin a little and Charlie, perhaps seeing how very fragile she was, bit down on his desire to interrogate her. Instead, he said in a suitably interested, but—he hoped—non-confrontational tone, "Of all the things you might have told me, the fact that you have a kid wasn't something I considered."
Ginny's chin lifted a little higher. "Well, I do."
Charlie took a deep breath, his mind teeming. Still, he continued to play it cool. He couldn't afford to antagonise this young woman who, despite being his baby sister, was almost a stranger. "Both Bill and I have boys, so a niece is certainly going to be a challenge."
Ginny didn't respond; she was leaving it all up to Charlie. He felt like he was being tested, and if he didn't pass, he didn't want to think what the consequences would be. He enlarged on his previous statement. "But it's a challenge I'm willing to embrace, as I'm sure our brothers will too."
Harry felt the rigidity slowly leave Ginny's frame. A tiny shiver shook her but Harry pulled her closer against him. He looked at Charlie over Ginny's head. "She's a brilliant kid, Charlie. I defy you not to fall in love with her."
"She's my sister's kid...of course I'll fall in love with her." Charlie watched as a silent communication took place between Harry and Ginny: Harry reached across to the bedside cabinet and picked up his wand
With the woman he loved in his arms, Harry had never found it easier to produce his Patronus. As the magnificent, blindingly bright stag materialized, Ginny caught her breath; she hadn't seen Prongs since she had left the Wizarding World; he was more magnificent than she remembered. Charlie was, as usual, blown away; the only Patronus he had ever seen that was brighter than Prongs, was Dumbledore's Phoenix Patronus.
Harry stared into Prong's soft eyes and conveyed an unspoken message; with a shake of his magnificent head the Patronus disappeared through the ceiling.
"Perhaps it's time for you to meet Bonnie," Harry said to Charlie, and then he looked down into Ginny's eyes and added, "And then you can go off together and you can tell him what you've been doing for the last three and a half years."
"I want you with me," Ginny tried to keep the distress out of her voice. Harry pulled her to him and kissed the top of her head. "You need to talk to Charlie by yourself, babe." He looked across to Charlie who had watched this further interchange in total silence; he could see however, that these two kids really did have a close relationship
Charlie hadn't been around a lot during his baby sister's school years, but he had heard the occasional speculation of his brothers and his parents about the possibility of Harry and Ginny ending up as a couple. He could easily see that they had a deep rapport, and if, as Harry had stated, he hadn't seen her since shortly before Christmas, there must definitely have been some underlying attraction between the two teens all those years ago. Hell, Ginny was still only a teen, and Harry still wasn't 21. They were both still babies, and his baby sister had a baby of her own.
He was finding the whole of the last half hour difficult to get his head around: his youngest sibling...his only sister, wasn't dead after all. And on top of that, he was an uncle for the third time. Three and a half years of mourning had been (incredibly and wonderfully) overthrown by the reappearance of his sister, who, though nervous, was also very defiant. It was obvious that he had to take every care not to tread all over her sensibilities with his size twelve dragon-hide boots.
Silence had overtaken them again; Harry and Ginny were waiting for the mediating influence that they hoped would be exerted by the presence of Bonnie, and Charlie was too nervous to start asking questions in case Ginny clammed up entirely and disappeared on him again. He couldn't let that happen.
It was at that moment that there was a knock on the door and Charlie only had time to gain his feet before Minerva entered the room. She was holding the hand of a blonde, curly–haired, angelic child. He managed to see that she was as tiny as Ginny had been at the same age, before the kid pulled free of Minerva and ran to the bed. Ginny had already positioned herself so that she could scoop up her daughter and hold and position her so she could hide her face from the stranger in their midst. Bonnie held on for dear life and Ginny crooned comforting words in her ear. Charlie had been expecting a Ginny clone, but this child had moon-bright hair, not fiery red. He hadn't seen that colour hair for quite a few years.
When Minerva grasped his upper arm and gave it a comforting squeeze, Charlie exchanged distracted words of greeting with her. He kept on shooting glances towards the bed, his mind more on that scene than on his employer. He looked down, though, when she gently pulled on his arm, indicating she wished him to bend down so his ear was level with her lips. "Don't try to learn everything in five minutes, Charlie. Just enjoy the fact that you have your sister back and an adorable little bonus into the bargain.
Charlie shook his shaggy red head. "My emotions should be starting to settle by now, but the longer time goes on since I entered this room, the more bewildered I feel. It's like I'm in a time warp, seeing her..." he indicated Ginny with a jerk of his head, "sitting their larger than life after all this time. I just can't get my head around it."
Minerva rubbed Charlie's back, a supportive and sympathetic gesture: Minerva McGonagall came across as a no-nonsense, headmistress who was most interested in the happenings inside her school as they related to the students and the staff performance, but when it was needed, she was there for all her staff members when they had to deal with personal issues. She had a good working relationship with all her staff members, and she considered a few of them as dear friends. She was close to the whole of the Weasley family.
"Just go with the flow," she now said. "Allow Ginny to set the pace. You don't want to spook her, and from everything I've seen—and I really haven't seen that much more than you—it won't take much to spook her." Charlie nodded his understanding, and Minerva continued in an even softer voice.
"Harry and I both thought you would be the best person to use as the mediator between your very skittish sister, and the rest of the family." After dropping this little gem, Minerva left, but not before informing Charlie that she had his lessons covered for the rest of the day, so he had plenty of time to spend with his resurrected sibling.
Ginny had been comforting and quietly talking to her daughter since the kid had catapulted past him and onto the bed. Charlie carefully lowered himself into a chair and he watched as Harry leaned across and whispered into the kid's ear. The little one didn't hesitate to release her stranglehold on Ginny's neck and lean across so that Harry could gather her into his arms. It was obvious that Ginny's daughter was as enamoured of the Chosen One as was her mother. Charlie was relieved to see it, but he could see that if he couldn't convince Ginny to reconnect with her family, then they would also lose Harry, their surrogate son and brother; there was no way that Harry was going to let Ginny go, regardless of the rest of the family. Charlie could tell that Harry wanted the Weasley family to be whole once again, but if Ginny was as stubborn and wilful today as she had been as a little kid—if her hard life as a seemingly impoverished Muggle had not ground down every facet of her previously feisty personality—then the reins were firmly in her small hands.. From what he had seen so far, she still seemed as aggressively determined as she once had been.
Ginny and Harry had been carrying on a quiet conversation with Bonnie while Charlie waited as patiently as he could. He couldn't see much of the sprog's face, since it had either been squished against Harry or Ginny since she had shot across the room upon her entrance. All he could really see was the back of that moon-bright head of hair and the fact that the kid—Bonnie, wasn't it?—was tiny: Leon, Bill's oldest, was a year younger and he was taller and more sturdy than this little girl. She was definitely her mother's daughter in that respect.
Charlie came out of his reverie when he heard his name: Ginny was trying an introduction. She tried to get Bonnie to at least look at her Uncle Charlie, but other than a quick glimpse of one eye—brown, Charlie could see—which was immediately hidden against the side of Harry's neck again, she wasn't prepared to cooperate at this point in time.
"Bonnie, Uncle Charlie is my brother. Would you like a brother one day?"
After a second, Charlie heard a muffled reply, and though he couldn't hear, it was obvious Ginny could, for she said, "Remember baby, I told you Harry is going to be your daddy soon...we're going to get married soon and after we're married, one day, we might have a baby. That would make you a big sister. Charlie is my big brother.
Bonnie turned her head a little more and stared at the stranger for a little longer, before hiding away again. Harry took the initiative and hoisted her a little so she could no longer burrow into his body. Charlie could now see her more clearly, but though she didn't try to bury her face again, she put a thumb into her mouth.
"Hello Bonnie. It's nice to meet you, little one."
Bonnie stared at him through big eyes the exact shade of her mother's. Then she looked at her mother again and after extracting her thumb from her mouth, said in a small voice, "Is he going to yell like the other man did?"
Charlie's eyes snapped up to meet Harry's, and Harry mouthed, "Ron." Charlie performed a half eye roll, but then he sat forward a little and said in as gentle a voice as he could muster, "No, Bonnie, I'm not going to yell. The other man, your Uncle Ron, gets angry pretty quickly, but then he forgets all about being angry. He's Harry's best friend, and he can be really funny."
Bonnie looked skeptical at best, but Ginny took over the explanations. "Your Uncle Charlie is right, Bonnie, Uncle Ron can get angry, but Mummy can get angry too. Sometimes, even Harry can get angry."
"No, he doesn't," contradicted the little girl. "I never have seen Harry angry."
"Well, it doesn't happen often, but it does happen. And Uncle Ron wasn't angry with you, Bonbon, he was angry with me. But he's not angry any more...we've had a long talk, and we're both pretty happy now."
Bonnie looked back at Harry. "Are you happy, Harry?"
"As long as you and Mummy are happy, Bonbon, then I'm very happy. And I like your Uncle Ron and your Uncle Charlie very much.
"And," added Ginny, " Besides your Uncles Ron and Charlie, you have four other uncles."
Bonnie's eyes widened and she held up three, and then—after a few seconds consideration—she added another chubby finger. "Four?"
"Four," confirmed Ginny. "Uncle Bill, Uncle Percy, and Uncles Fred and George."
Bonnie studied Charlie's amiable face a little more openly, but after a few seconds, her little forehead creased. "And are they going to yell at you, Mummy?"
"No." Harry and Charlie answered together. The two wizards looked at each other, but Harry yielded the floor to Charlie.
"No, Bonnie, I won't let any of your uncle's yell at your mummy. I promise."
Bonnie studied Charlie from the comfort of Harry's lap. Finally, she placed her thumb back in her mouth, wriggled into a more comfortable position and said, "Okay."
A/N: It's been a very long time between drinks, I know, but I hope you all enjoyed this latest chapter.