A MODEST PROPOSAL
by Silver Phoenix
The waistband on Harry Potter's trousers was uncomfortably snug.
Harry sighed as he adjusted his belt. This, unfortunately, was one of the hazards of going out with Ginny Weasley – Sunday night dinners at the Burrow. After a week of jam sandwiches and tasteless, EZ-Bake Turkey Dinners ("just wave your wand to reheat and enjoy a delicious turkey meal!"), Harry ended up gorging himself on Mrs Weasley's excellent cooking every Sunday night. Unfortunately, he nearly always paid for it with a bloated stomach and heartburn on Monday morning. Harry thought wistfully of the days when he could tuck into a Hogwarts feast with no unpleasant consequences the following morning. At the tender age of 22, he was no longer a teenager and his body seemed keen to remind him of this. Harry patted his distended stomach and ruefully reminded himself that he was going to have to pay in more ways than one for his indulgences; an extra hour of weight training would be required Monday after his shift to burn off the excess calories. Aurors, especially those fresh out of training, were expected to stay physically fit to do field work. The last thing Harry wanted was a boring desk job like poor old Bartholomew Bortov, who was roughly the size of a small blimp and seemed to have packed on at least another stone over the Christmas holidays.
Harry stretched out and draped his right arm over the back of Ginny's chair while Mrs Weasley sent the used plates and cutlery magically zooming into the kitchen sink. Two seats away from him, little Teddy was trying to turn his hair the exact same shade and length as Ginny's. Ginny threw back her head and laughed as Teddy peered around her shoulder and grinned toothily at Harry. His godson was sporting long, thick red hair that looked bizarre on his chubby little face. Teddy started trying to do each of them in turn – his hair suddenly flew towards his head, darkened to black, and became very messy in imitation of his godfather's coif; then he did Bill's long ponytail and Fleur's silvery mane (Victoire, sitting in Fleur's lap, giggled maniacally); then Percy's close-cropped hairdo followed by the curly black locks of Percy's wife, Audrey; George was next, his hair longer than he or Fred had ever worn it before; then Mrs Weasley's hair, red shot through with silver; and finally Mr Weasley, whose receding hairline made Teddy look so ridiculous that everyone roared with laughter, even George, who didn't seem to laugh nearly as much as he used to.
The Sunday night dinner had become somewhat of a ritual over the past few years. It usually featured a revolving door of Weasley's, Weasley's-by-association, former members of the Order, and old Hogwarts schoolfriends. Ron and Hermione were usually present, but they had gone out for a private dinner to celebrate Hermione's recent promotion at the Ministry. Andromeda Tonks was also usually there, although this evening she had left Teddy with Harry and Ginny while she attended a fundraiser for witches and wizards who had lost family members during the war. The Lovegoods sometimes made memorable appearances, as well as Neville Longbottom and a few others from the DA. Hagrid had come for Christmas (too big for the kitchen by far but welcome nonetheless), and a few weeks before that the Minister for Magic himself, Kingsley Shacklebolt, had stayed for dinner. Then there were some who were present only in their absence – Teddy's parents, Sirius, Mad-Eye, Dumbledore, and an endless parade of others. And of course there was Fred, his arm on the Weasley's grandfather clock tragically stuck forever at "Lost".
Thus it was a smaller group than usual who were gathered on this particular Sunday night. After dessert they all began to drift into the sitting room, where Harry sunk into one of the overstuffed armchairs, feeling uncomfortably full. Percy, George and Bill settled on the couch while Mr Weasley turned on the Wizard Wireless with a flick of his wand and then sat on the floor with Teddy and Victoire. The toddlers had begun playing with one of the Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes products that George and Ron had developed for New Year's Eve - a miniature troupe of infant figurines, the year "2003" emblazoned on their diapers in sparkling gold font. On New Year's Eve, the babies had enthusiastically danced around with diapers flashing, but after a few days the magic was starting to wear off. The troupe of babies danced around sort of half-heartedly before dropping to the floor, curling up and falling asleep one by one. Mr Weasley hopefully prodded one of them with his wand, but it just stuck its thumb in its mouth and continued sleeping soundly.
George sighed. "Longevity-Extending Charms were never my strong point. Failed that section on the Charms N.E.W.T."
"You didn't sit your N.E.W.T's," Harry pointed out.
"Right you are," said George, rubbing his temples. "Guess that would explain why I can't quite get it then. Still...cute, aren't they?"
Victoire threw a sleeping baby at him.
"No?" said George, leaning to the side to avoid the diapered projectile. "Would you prefer Uncle George made you something new, Vicky? Temper Tantrum Toffees, perhaps?"
Ginny, Audrey, and Fleur wandered in from the kitchen, where they had been helping Mrs Weasley with the last of the clearing up. Ginny perched on the edge of Harry's armchair and began playing absently with the short hair on the back of his neck. After all these years Harry still cast a fearful glance at Mr Weasley when something like this occurred, but Mr Weasley was now busy tickling his granddaughter. Victoire shrieked with laughter while Teddy danced around them yelling, "My turn! My turn!"
With his full stomach, the comfortable armchair, and Ginny massaging the back of his neck, Harry began to feel quite drowsy. He was in real danger of nodding off when he was startled by a sudden, loud thump outside followed by an even louder one. It sounded as though someone had just Apparated rather clumsily on the front step. There was the sound of the front door opening and slamming shut, then hurried footsteps. Ron and Hermione came bursting into the sitting room and then abruptly stopped, as if they had been in a great rush to tell everyone something but then had forgotten what they wanted to say. They both had slightly stunned looks on their faces. Harry leaped from the armchair, suddenly awake and alert.
"What is it?" he demanded. "What's wrong?"
Even though the war had ended years ago, he had never really stopped being on his guard. Perhaps it was his line of work, but Harry always felt as though the precarious peace that they had enjoyed for the past few years was unstable and temporary. Whenever he got an owl in the middle of the night, or someone at work approached him looking grim, or Ginny was more than ten minutes late for something, his whole body went cold and he began imagining horrible scenarios – deaths, disappearances, Death Eaters returned to take revenge...
But as he gazed at Ron and Hermione, his pounding heart slowed. Neither of them looked like they had just seen a Death Eater. In fact, Hermione's eyes were bright and shining, and Ron had a look on his face that Harry was sure he had seen before. In fact, it reminded Harry of the time Ron had asked Fleur out in fourth year. Instead of looking like he was going to vomit, though, Ron was grinning madly.
Hermione held up her left hand, where something glinted there, and said quite breathlessly, "We're...we're engaged."
There was a moment of silence, and then a roar erupted from everyone, punctuated by a shriek of delight from Mrs Weasley over in the kitchen. Suddenly they were all on their feet, rushing Ron and Hermione, clapping them on the back, shaking hands and hugging. In the chaos Harry ended up hugging both Percy and Mr Weasley, although he wasn't quite sure why. He also had to dive to scoop Teddy out of harm's way; he had been in danger of being trampled by Mrs Weasley, who had come barging into the sitting room at full speed. She flung herself at Ron, sobbing, and then at Hermione.
"Oh, Ronnie!" she cried. "Finally, finally you asked her! And Hermione! Always been like a daughter, it'll be so lovely for you to really be part of the family! Oh, Ronniekins, it's about time, we've been waiting ages, and I'll have to find Aunt Muriel's tiara, I've no idea where it's gone to, oh I'm all in a dither!"
"D'you think her parents will want to have a Muggle wedding?" Mr Weasley asked Harry excitedly over the din.
But Harry was prevented from answering, as Teddy had begun squirming in his arms and shouting, "Uncle Harry! Put me down! I'm four! I'm a big boy now!"
After a round of Firewhiskey's, a flurry of questions for the newly-engaged couple, another round of Firewhiskey's, and the triumphant re-location of Aunt Muriel's tiara, things began to settle down a bit. Victoire had exhausted herself by running around the room with Teddy during all the excitement, so Bill and Fleur left to bring her home to bed. Mrs Weasley began dashing off letters to friends and family announcing the news. Andromeda Tonks showed up to pick up Teddy, then joined in the celebration and ended up staying to assist Mrs Weasley with her letters. Teddy, meanwhile, passed out on the sitting room couch; Harry carried him up to Percy's old room, grunting under the weight of his godson, who was growing at an alarming rate. George mysteriously disappeared after a third round of Firewhiskey's, and Mr Weasley also went missing for a bit, only to re-emerge with a tattered old Muggle wedding magazine from about twenty years ago. He immediately sat down in the sitting room and began perusing it, occasionally shouting helpful advice to Hermione over in the kitchen.
George soon returned with several bizarre-looking cigars in hand. After being discouraged from lighting them indoors ("I'LL BE A HAG'S HAT IF YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING TO LIGHT THOSE THINGS IN MY HOUSE, GEORGE WEASLEY!") Harry, Ron, George, and Percy elected to bundle up and head out into the January night. Harry found that he was not nearly as cold as he thought he would be, but it was perhaps due to the three rounds of Firewhiskey.
"Cause-for-Celebration Cigars," George announced, handing an emerald-coloured cigar to Harry, Ron, and Percy. "Haven't tested these, as they're the newest prototypes, but I'm 99% sure they're fine. Cheers!"
George took out his wand to light his cigar. The end of the cigar briefly lit up like a sparkler, making a high-pitched shrieking noise. George waited for the sparkling and the shrieking to subside, and then took a puff. When he exhaled, emerald green smoke danced and swirled around until it formed a pair of wedding bells, which swung silently in the air.
"Nice," Ron said appreciatively. "Didn't know you'd managed the smoke shape-shifting."
"I've gotten quite good at making some more interesting figures, too. Just wait 'til the bachelor party," said George with a wink. Percy frowned disapprovingly, but only because he probably didn't remember his own bachelor party. It had unpredictably turned into quite the drunken debacle.
Harry warily lit his own cigar. He had never smoked anything before, so he wasn't surprised when he choked on his first puff. The smoke he managed to exhale through his nostrils turned into several wobbly blobs without defined shapes.
"Ah well, that last one looked a bit like a Hippogriff," said Percy encouragingly. He looked cautiously down at his own cigar then inhaled bravely.
All of them stood in silence for awhile, each trying to create interesting shapes with the cigar smoke. Ron managed a star and George a couple of rude words before Percy suddenly started choking and clutching his throat.
"Whoops, thought that might be a problem," said George. "Er - sometimes the shapes form before you exhale and can get caught in your throat."
Harry and Ron hurriedly stubbed out their cigars as Percy's face turned purple.
"Not to worry, Perce," said George breezily, "I've got the potion inside that usually dissolves them, c'mon..."
He led a violently coughing Percy back into the house, leaving the back door to the kitchen open. Hermione, Ginny, and Audrey had taken over the kitchen, and the sound of their excited chatter floated out into the cold night.
As for Harry, after the initial shock and then feeling of elation for his friends, a tiny little niggling thought had somehow squirmed its way into his head. Ron and Hermione were his best friends, and he was as thoroughly surprised by the news as everyone else. Harry had always assumed that this would happen, naturally...but Ron had never mentioned that he was seriously thinking of proposing. Harry was happy for the two of them, ecstatic even, but he couldn't help feeling a little put out that Ron had never even told him he had bought a ring. Now here he was, engaged.
"Truth be told, mate, I didn't even know I was going to do it tonight," Ron suddenly admitted, seeming to read Harry's mind. "To be honest, I bought the ring ages ago...didn't tell anybody...I've been...ah...I've sort of been carrying it around with me for months, trying to work up the nerve to do it."
"Really?" said Harry, the niggling thought in the back of his head fading. "So what made you do it tonight?"
Ron shrugged, his cheeks glowing pink. "It was...er...sort of an accident."
Harry stared at him incredulously for a few moments, and then started to laugh. Ron began laughing as well in a relieved sort of way, as if releasing all of the anxiety of carrying an engagement ring around in his pocket for several months.
"You guys are getting married," Harry said disbelievingly as the laughter faded. He grinned at Ron, who grinned back, and then they did a sort of manly half-hug which ended with each of them clapping each other on the back rather hard.
"You'll be best man, of course?" Ron said quickly.
Harry's grin widened. "'Course I will."
"Good," Ron looked even more relieved. "Hermione's going to ask Ginny to be maid of honour, so at least you won't be stuck with some troll you don't know all night."
"Well, thank goodness for that," said Harry sarcastically. "So what did you mean, it was 'sort of an accident'?"
Ron rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, er...right, so we went to dinner in Hogsmeade..."
" – went to the Three Broomsticks, it was really nice, and we sat at our old table, just like when we were in school..." they overheard Hermione saying in the kitchen.
Harry raised his eyebrows. "The Three Broomsticks for a romantic meal?"
Ron shrugged. "Wasn't really. We went out to celebrate Hermione's promotion and all. Plus, Madam Rosmerta always gives us our meal on the house. 'Cause we're heroes and whatnot. Good thing, too...I er, sort of forgot my moneybag at home."
"...then he suggested we take a walk up to Hogwarts, and I started to sort of suspect he was up to something..." Hermione continued.
"I actually fancied seeing Hagrid," Ron admitted sheepishly.
"How is he?" asked Harry. "I haven't seen him since Christmas."
"Yeah, that's because he's been breeding Glumbumbles and fire slugs, and most of his beard's been singed off because they keep belching flames," Ron explained.
"...the castle's changed so much," Hermione was saying, "the Entrance Hall's been completely re-designed, but it looks fantastic, and they've had to re-build the North Wall, you know...where..." she suddenly trailed off and a heavy silence fell in the kitchen and outside. Harry looked to Ron, who had tensed. He couldn't help but wonder if they would ever be able to discuss Fred freely, without a rush of guilt and this constricting feeling in Harry's throat.
"Anyway," Ron continued, clearing his throat, "most of the kids are still on Christmas holidays so the castle was pretty empty. There's new security stuff though – we had to get Visitor's badges, like at the Ministry, and they told us we weren't allowed in the Gryffindor common room."
"I'm fairly sure that former students out of school were never allowed in the Gryffindor common room," Harry pointed out.
"It's not really fair though, is it? It would've been a laugh to go up there again, see our old dormitory, kick some snot-nosed kids out of our chairs by the fire..." Ron sighed wistfully. "So we were just wandering around, climbing - "
" – the moving staircase on the fourth floor," Hermione's voice had risen to an excited pitch, "which was, incidentally, the first place that Ron and I ever properly held hands, at the end of sixth year..."
Ron shrugged, a bemused expression on his face.
"And then," Hermione gushed, "all of a sudden I turned around and he was - "
"Bending down to tie my shoe," Ron admitted in a very low voice. "But she thought - "
" – down on one knee!" Hermione finished. Harry didn't hear the rest of Hermione's explanation though, because he was shaking with laughter.
"So I pulled out the ring," Ron said, ignoring Harry's mirth, "because she was standing there on the step above me with her hands over her mouth, and I figured that this was as good a time as any, so I just...went for it."
In the kitchen, the girls were all gushing over something Hermione had said. Ron had his arms folded and was looking defensive, his cheeks redder than ever.
"So," Harry said, taking a deep gulp of cold air to try and stop laughing, "what did you say?"
"Well, it was really good, actually," Ron said rather peevishly. "'Cause I'd been practising in the mirror for months, see."
Harry almost started laughing again, but then he heard Ginny's voice in the kitchen and thought about putting himself in Ron's shoes. Suddenly it was not so funny anymore.
"I said...I said that I loved her," Ron said. His ears were on fire now too. Harry had a feeling that he would not have been so liberal with this information had he not consumed so much Firewhiskey. "And that she's brilliant..." Ron's voice softened and took on a strange tone. "And I said...'I know I can be a git sometimes, but I want to marry you, and I've wanted to for ages, so um...Will you marry me?'"
Ron finished and then seemed to realize that this was a rather lame ending, even in recounting it, because he suddenly deflated.
" – and it was a perfect proposal," came Hermione's voice from the kitchen. "Because it was...it was just so...Ron."
Ron perked up and a soppy grin spread over his face. Harry suddenly felt like an intruder in this moment, although ostensibly he was the one talking to Ron while Hermione was having a separate conversation in the kitchen, unaware of their eavesdropping.
"So then?" Harry prompted. After his sudden realization that he, too, would have to go through this sometime, he now felt an urgent interest in the whole process.
"Well, she started crying..." Ron grimaced. "But it was all right, because she was you know, happy crying. Then she said yes, and I put on the ring, and we snogged for a bit, which was nice..." Ron sighed. "And then some ruddy first or second-year girl appeared at the top of the staircase and started screaming bloody murder..."
Harry imagined being in first or second year and finding two full-grown adults snogging in the middle of the moving staircase on the fourth floor, and thought he may have done the same.
"So then," Ron sighed heavily, "McGonagall showed up."
Harry almost choked. "WHAT?"
"Yeah," Ron grumbled. "Guess she heard the kid screaming and she turned up, thinking someone had been hurt. Don't see why she has to be patrolling the bloody corridors. She's headmistress for Merlin's sake, you think she'd be up in that office having a jolly old time with all those silver trinkets Dumbledore had."
Harry was roaring with laughter again. Still overfull from the meal, he clutched his stomach; each bout of laughter sent a stabbing pain through his abdomen. He noticed that, in the kitchen, the girls had moved on to chattering about the ring. Hermione seemed to have delicately left the entire McGonagall encounter out of her narrative.
"What," Harry managed to gasp out, "what did McGonagall say?"
Despite himself, Ron grinned and put on his best imitation of McGonagall. "She said that public displays of affection in the corridors were inappropriate for Hogwarts students and visitors alike, and just because we wasted six years making eyes at each other and being incredibly thick, it doesn't give us a license to start snogging all over the castle now."
Harry fell over into the snow, clutching his stomach and howling. This prompted Ginny to wander out of the kitchen to investigate and then lecture him on how Firewhiskey made him a first-class idiot.
They stayed at the Burrow until nearly two in the morning, discussing wedding dates and dresses and cakes and guest lists until Harry started to feel uncomfortable again, although this time it was not from a full stomach. He hadn't had a moment alone with Ginny since the start of the evening, and he felt a pressing need to speak to her. All this talk of weddings and proposals had set his mind buzzing...he was thinking and imagining things he hadn't dared to, but maybe it would be all right now...and he needed to know if her mind was buzzing, too...
Finally Mrs Weasley pointed out that it was unforgivably late considering that most of them had work in the morning. "And you'll be taking the Floo network, thank you very much," she said, snatching the jar of Floo powder from the mantelpiece. "You're all probably so tired or," she gave a significant look to George, "your judgement is so impaired that you'll end up Splinching your arm off if you try to Apparate home."
"Who's got an impaired judgement?" said George, who had finally just succeeded in removing a triangle-shaped smoke ring from Percy's throat.
"Oh never mind, Mum," said Ron, gently taking the jar of Floo powder out of her hand. "They'll be fine. We've all Apparated under much worse conditions."
Mrs Weasley frowned, but then her look softened as she gazed up at her youngest son. She smiled and patted him on the cheek fondly. "Oh, Ronnie, I'm so pleased...another one married in the family, and so soon after Percy!" She sighed wistfully. "Now we'll just have to drag Charlie away from those dragons long enough to find a nice girl..."
"It's dragging him away from all those nice girls to find one nice girl that's tricky," Ginny quipped under her breath.
Mrs Weasley glanced around at her daughter and Harry, "...and then you two, it's only a matter of time..." Harry felt a swooping sensation in his stomach. "...and George, I'm sure there's a girl out there for you somewhere, and..."
She stopped suddenly, seeming to realize that she had run out of children to mention. Everyone tensed, and a cold feeling seemed to enter the room with the unspoken name. Fred. Harry's throat constricted again, and he furiously tried to think of something, anything, to say...
"Fred would've been chuffed about you two getting engaged," George said quietly, breaking the silence. All eyes turned to him. "He always liked you, Hermione. I know he used to take the mick out of you a lot, but...he always liked you. Thought you were brilliant, in fact. Thought Ron was a real twit for never asking you out."
The tension broke and Mrs Weasley, smiling through her tears, silently pulled both George and Ron into a fierce embrace. George rarely, if ever, spoke about Fred, and Harry thought that maybe now things were going to start to be a bit easier when it came to his lost twin. Harry still felt anxious about the 'only a matter of time' statement, though, and his eyes searched for Ginny's. When they met, hers said, Not now. But soon. Harry felt a sense of relief that they were on the same page, and a little kernel of hope and anticipation for the future seemed to begin growing inside him.
Harry looked around at Ginny's family, which would someday soon be his family. And as he relaxed into the peace and happiness of the moment, Harry thought for the first time, but not the last, that all was well.
Author's Notes: I'M BACK! See my profile for the full story.
After a very long hiatus from fanfiction, I got the idea for this short story in my head and had to write it out.
Kindly review if you enjoyed this, and even if you didn't. I could sing or dance or make up a little poem like I used to in order to try to bribe a review out of you, but instead I'll just say - authors thrive on and are inspired by reviews. Feedback of any type is always appreciated.