No one had slept the night following the day of victory, despite the obvious exhaustion all around. For Harry, Ron, and Hermione, the insomnia resulted from simply being too tired, too wound up, too filled with adrenaline, and too frightened still to actually sleep, even in the safety of the Burrow. They had sat downstairs on the couch, hands clasped tightly, in a silent vigil over the rest of the grieving family. Ginny sat curled up in a chair, sleeping through the tears dripping down her cheeks.
For the rest of the Weasley's, sleep was put aside to celebrate the victory of no more Voldemort and to grieve the loss of Fred.
George was a mess of emotions. Having locked himself in his old bedroom, his hysterical laughter mingling with strangled sobs and screams frightened the rest of the household. Half of his soul had been ripped away that day, and he was at a loss how to deal with the pain.
Molly took to sitting in the kitchen, fingering the edge of a framed picture of the twins, clutching a confiscated extendable ear in her other hand, her face dripping with silent tears. Percy, Bill and Charlie sat around the table with their mother, silent in their own memories and thoughts. Fleur sat rigidly in a chair beside her husband, quiet sniffles betraying her emotions. Arthur sat at the head of the table, his fingers running along the worn, smooth wood of the table, his fingernail tracing scratches and etching from the years of use, a pained expression on his face. Everyone looked up as footsteps slowly clambered into the kitchen, revealing a blotchy faced George, his eyes red and moist, and his breathing unsteady. He joined Charlie's side of the table and sat staring blankly at the vase in the center of the table.
As the moon drifted across the night sky, the silence was broken at last with a shaky, rough, broken voice. "Fred was brilliant." George took an unsteady breath and let it out with a half-hearted laugh. "It was his idea, you know, to start the shop. Well, it started as his idea, but it was easy to take over. When he said 'Hey Georgie, I have an idea…', I knew what he was going to suggest. 'Let's start a joke shop!'." The rest of the table let out a scattering of chuckles. "His response to me when I admonished, very seriously of course, that Mum would flip her nut if she found out, was very Fred-like." He looked up and grinned suddenly. "He said 'Mum'll be too shocked at our success to flip a nut, Georgie.' We'll even send her a "we love you" box!"
Molly let out a strangled bark of laughter, brushing at the steady stream of tears. "You boys did make me proud."
The stories continued until heads started drooping onto folded arms and one by one, the Weasley's nodded off at the table, too exhausted to move upstairs, and too despondent to be without the others.
It was when the sun started to turn the horizon pink and streamed through the kitchen window that woke up the Weasley matriarch. "Oh!" Molly scurried about, scrambling to piece together a quick breakfast. "So much to do today." She barked, nudging each member of the family awake and pointing up the stairs. "Up you go, get ready for the day. No breakfast until you're clean." Percy jumped up and strode obediently up the stairs, every inch the prodigal son who wanted so desperately to be forgiven.
Her eyes drifted to the living room where the three saviours of the wizarding world still sat, eyes almost unblinking, hands still clasped, clothing dirty and worn from the months of running. Ginny was rousing, blinking the sleep from her tear-reddened eyes, having woken at her mother's bark of instruction. "Go, Ginny dear. Professor McGonagall has requested all remaining Order members to be at Hogwarts today."
It didn't go unnoticed to her mother how Ginny's eyes strayed to Harry who blinked slowly at Molly's words and let out a heaving sigh, arousing the other two from their stupor. "Move, move, let's go!" She waved her hands at Ginny, trying to usher her up the stairs before Harry could follow.
Ginny ignored her mother and stood slowly, stretching, before moving to stand in front of Harry, her hand outstretched in an invitation. She smiled gently at him as he slid his fingers into hers and stood wearily, accepting her gentle guidance towards the stairs. Hermione tightened her grip on Ron's hand and stood as well, smiling down at him. He quirked a weak smile in return and allowed her to pull him to standing, pressing his lips to her hair as a thank-you before moving towards the stairs, following Harry and Ginny's example.
Molly made a move as if to protest, but her husband's gentle hand on her arm stayed her words, though her eyes followed the four as they staggered wearily up the stairs. "They shouldn't be together." She hissed. "Propriety must be kept."
Bill beat his father in answering. "They've been sleeping together in a tent for the past year, Mum. They need each other." He shot her a pointed look when she made to protest Ginny's addition to the group. "All of them, Mum." His eyes met Fleur's who came to stand beside him, intertwining her fingers into his.
"Well they aren't on the run any longer! There is no need for them…" Fleur's quiet voice cut her off harshly.
"You deed not see them at zee cottage. Zee nightmares they suffered… Ces pauvres mignons." She let out another sniff, and pressed a kiss to Bill's scarred cheek. "I must get clean. Je t'aime, mon Guillaume. They need each other, I theenk. Non. I know." She shot another look at Molly before floating up the stairs, a perfect picture of beauty and grief.
Bill placed his hand on his mother's shoulder and squeezed it in an attempt to diffuse her anger. "Leave it, Mum. Please." He followed his wife up the stairs and Molly could hear whispers and murmurs before a door shut and cut off the sound.
"Arthur, they are children!" She hissed, trying to get someone to see from her point of view. Arthur smiled weakly and dropped his eyes to where his hand still lay on her arm.
"Molly, have you really looked at them? All three of them are still terrified. This kind of trauma doesn't just vanish because the one causing it is now gone. We need to allow them all the comfort they can find."
She bristled. "I will not have…indecency happen because of trauma. There are rules to follow, proprieties to maintain." She moved her arm out from under Arthur's hand and stormed up the stairs, leaving Charlie still blinking tiredly and sharing exasperated looks with his father, George having disappeared sometime during the night back into his room.
Passing Bill and Fleur's room, she could hear the muffled sounds of comfort being given and she allowed a brief smile. George and Fred's room was strangely silent, and she hoped George was okay. She fought the urge to check on him and continued on her mission. Percy's room was silent and she decided he was occupying the bathroom on that hall. The sound of water running from the second, smaller bathroom and girlish humming calmed her a bit, knowing that Ginny wasn't alone with…with…a boy. With Harry her mind filled in gleefully.
The door to the room under the attic was ajar, and a soft yellow light spilled out into the hallway. Molly halted on the steps, uncharacteristically hesitating now that she was up here, Bill, Arthur, and Fleur's words echoing in her mind. The mental voices where silenced when she heard Harry's strangled voice. "We're okay, aren't we." It wasn't a question, she noted. It was as if he was trying to reassure both himself, and the other two in the room.
"Yeah, mate." Ron was whispering, as if he could hardly believe the words he was saying.
"Oh, boys." Hermione choked back a sob, her voice muffled.
Silence fell again, broken only by sighs and breaths.
"We're alive. You actually did it, mate." Ron's voice held a sense of wonderment, and his mother started to realize what it was the three downstairs had meant by their words to her.
Harry let out a scoff. "We did it. All of us. Everyone in the Order and anyone else who fought against Voldemort in some way or another."
"Did you see the look on Neville's face when he realized what he had actually done?" Hermione giggled. Rustling could be heard as if someone was shifting.
"You mean before or after the hat caught fire?" Sniggered Ron, sharing her mirth.
Hermione continued. "Worth Gryffindor, indeed. I can't believe he actually told the Hat he wasn't brave enough for Gryffindor."
The pair of them continued to laugh quietly before Harry broke the silence. "Did you see the look on that one boy's face after some girl launched herself at him for suggesting to save…what was it, Ron? Hermione? House elves, if my memory serves me correctly."
"Oh come off it, mate." Ron groaned, Harry's sniggering laughter muffled by the thump of a pillow hitting his face.
Molly's eyes narrowed. Was Harry really suggesting…and then she heard the telling sounds of a playful, loud kiss and a giggle.
"Hey, I didn't ask for a repeat!" Harry's laughter turned to mock disgust and the muffled flop of a pillow sounded again, this time with Ron groaning under it. "Especially because whenever I even look at Ginny you threaten to hex me!"
"Fine, I give you permission to snog my sister as often as she'll allow. " Ron finally sighed, resignation in his voice. "Happy now? Can I continue?" Another kiss and a playful giggle.
"Honestly, Ronald." Hermione's tone was gentle and loving. "Stop teasing him."
"I kissed your cheek!" His voice was protesting. "It's not like I'm going to give you a proper snog in front of my best mate!"
"You'd better not!" Harry warned, his voice lighter than it had been before. "I have a wand, and I know a lot of new hexes I can use against you."
Scandalized, Molly took another step and there was a loud creak from the board under her foot. She winced. Busted.
"What was that?" Harry sounded panicked at the thought of having been overheard. Ron let out a weak chuckle.
"I'll bet it's just Mum come up to holler at us for breaking some rule of hers." His tone was somewhat sardonic and turned high pitch in a sort of mockery of her voice. "10 inches of space! Leave room for Merlin's ghost to snuggle in between you! No holding hands! Holding hands leads to babies! Touching is forbidden! Anyone caught snogging will be fed to the Giant Squid!"
"Ronald!" Hermione whispered harshly, though Molly could tell there was a bit of a laugh behind it. "If she is in the hallway, she can hear you!"
"So?" He sniggered before letting out a deep breath. "C'mon, Mum, we know you're out there." And in a lower voice she could still hear, though she knew she wasn't supposed to, he muttered. "Can't believe she didn't just fly in here raging mad like all last summer."
Molly guiltily walked into the room, not sure what to expect. All three had crammed themselves onto Ron's bed, Hermione sandwiched between them. She was snuggled a hairs-width closer to Ron, nestled up against him, her head on his upper arm, with his elbow bent so he could play with her hair, her other was holding Harry's dirty scarred hand. I must not tell lies. Harry's free hand was twirling his wand, avoiding Molly's gaze. Hermione barely held in a blush and Ron's eyes were defiant, his free hand also clutching his wand. Tell me we can't be here like this, I dare you. Just try it. She could see Hermione's wand resting on her stomach, within easy reach for quick use.
Despite the laughter that she had heard, there was a sort of darkness etched on to their weary faces, stress and worry lines that hadn't been there a year ago, their eyes looked hollow and weary. She felt something in her heart break for the three on the bed. Bill, Fleur, and Arthur were right. They needed each other, almost as if the others were the very oxygen they needed to survive. Her prepared speech on propriety and rules faded into a simple question. "Is there anything you need, dears?"
Ron's eyebrows shot up under his unkempt fringe in surprise. Harry quirked an eyebrow, his gaze finally drifting to meet Molly's. Hermione was the one who answered, a smile brightening her eyes slightly. "No thank-you, Mrs. Weasley. I'm waiting for Ginny to finish in the bathroom."
A hoarse voice yelled up the stairs. "Ron, Harry, either of you need the bathroom?" It was Percy.
"I'll take it!" Bill interrupted before either of the boys could answer. "Being the oldest has it's perks, eh Perce?" The sound of a door slamming echoed and Molly smiled wryly.
"I suppose you'll have to wait, dears." Turning, she exited the room and started shouting so the entire Burrow could hear her. "Breakfast will be soon, so hurry up! Ginny, Hermione is waiting!" Ginny's reply was lost in the midst of the giggles that erupted from the three on the bed. It seemed normality would eventually return to the Burrow.
Dinner was a subdued affair. The rebuilding of Hogwarts had begun that morning in the form of building the coffins for the deceased and arranging funerals. Bodies of adults and children alike set a very somber mood on the entire process. George, under protest, sat sullenly at the table, using his fork to push the food around on his plate, creating valleys and mountains in his mashed turnips and stabbing half-heartedly at the vegetables that lay there.
The rest of the family ate in silence, the sound of forks scraping plates seeming to echo in the still air. Everyone's eyes, however, were scanning over either George, or one of the trio as they all sat there sullenly. Molly took in the still healing scar on Hermione's neck, the fresh scratches on her cheeks, and the way she rubbed at her arm absentmindedly, as if scratching something that irritated her. Harry had numerous new scratches dotting his face and Ron hadn't emerged unscathed as well. A long cut ran down the side of his face, fresh from the day before.
Arthur seemed to follow his wife's vision and shook his head slightly, as if it would dissuade her from her prying questions. She, true to form, ignored her husband's knowing gaze.
"What happened to you three this year?"
Forks dropped in shock, or froze mid bite. Ron blinked almost comically and then scowled, shoveling food forcefully into his mouth, his glower focused firmly on his nosy mother. Hermione pursed her lips and looked down, taking a dainty bite of the asparagus and chewing slowly, avoiding Mrs. Weasely's questioning, beady-eyed gaze. Harry winced and rubbed at his knee, twirling his fork through the mashed turnips, his gaze on the trail the tines were drawing.
"Molly." Arthur's voice was quiet, almost pleading, risking a quick glance at the three young adults who were pointedly avoiding anyone's gaze, Ron having dropped his glare to his bread roll.
Percy coughed uncomfortably and managed to retrieve his fork from his plate, taking an unsteady bite of salad. Charlie's eyes were roving between his parents and the trio, wanting to know the answer, but not wanting to pry. George was unmoving, seeming not to have heard, though his whitening knuckles indicated that he had heard and was waiting for an answer as well. Bill and Fleur exchanged knowing glances, having heard some after they had arrived at Shell Cottage. Fleur made to admonish Molly for her rudeness, but a gentle touch from Bill halted her words. This was up to the young adults to choose how to answer.
It was Harry who finally broke the uncomfortable stillness. "Hell."
Without another word, Ron shoved his chair back and stormed through the kitchen towards the exit, Hermione close behind. Harry winced at the bang and moved slower than his counterparts. His eyes met Ginny's and she understood the meaning behind his glance. Follow. She was only a few steps behind Harry as they, too, disappeared into the night.
George slid his own chair back and made for the stairs, eager for escape. Charlie continued to eat slowly, his eyes still watching his family. Bill stood and gathered his and Fleur's plates and the abandoned plates left by the fleeing four and George. "You done, Mum? Dad?" His response was a tear filled sniffle and Arthur handing him the two plates. "Perce?" A shake of the head negative.
He set about scraping food off of the mismatched plates and Fleur quickly joined him to escape the tension at the table. He tried to protest, but Fleur waved him off with a scoff and how her household spells were superior to his own.
Molly covered her face with her hands and started to cry, the events of the past two days weighing down so heavily on her mind. Her husband reached a steady hand over and grasped one of her own, pulling it from her face so he could press a kiss to her knuckles. He fought his own tears and tugged on her hand, encouraging her to come to him so that he could enfold her in his arms. They stood there, tears flowing, and he whispered quiet words of comfort.
Eventually, her crying slowed and soon only sniffling and red eyes remained of the torrent. The other three were suspiciously missing and Arthur suspected they had escaped to the upstairs to avoid the torrent of emotion from their mother. She stepped back slightly, though still in his protective embrace, to stare at the door the four children had exited, as if willing them to return and talk to her.
He leaned in and kissed his wife's cheek, stroking her tear –lined cheeks lightly with his thumb before sliding his hand down to grasp one of hers. "I know you mean well, sweetums, but they are no longer children." His own gaze unfocused as he, too, stared at where the four had disappeared. "Those three have been through hell and back over the last seven years, Ginny as well."
"I'm worried, Arthur!" Her voice was choked with tears and she sniffed, brushing her free hand across her cheeks in an effort to dam the tears that threatened to spill over again. "For them, for George…" Fred, oh Fred. Her voice broke. "Horrible things happened during this year, I can see it in their eyes. I tried, oh I tried to prevent it, but…but…" She closed her eyes tightly and took a shaky breath in an attempt to calm emotions.
His arm slid across her shoulders until he could hug her to his chest. "They'll talk about it. When they're ready. We just have to be patient."
It was a silent agreement that they would stop at the edge of the field, just inside the anti-apparition barrier. Ginny, uncharacteristically silent, strode purposefully across the grass and collapsed unceremoniously onto the ground, hands clasped and resting in the hollow of her folded legs, eyes thoughtful and patient, though the fire she had been feeling since being left behind a year prior was smoldering behind them.
The other three were more cautious in their movements. It was Ron who sat first, knees bent up, arms resting tensely on top, his right hand clutching his wand. He held his hand out to Hermione who, without looking down at him, clasped it and sat beside him, her eyes twitchy as they scanned the horizon, her knees slowly folding up to her chest, wand resting loosely in her grasp.
Harry moved to sit next to Hermione but stopped when a terse "herm" erupted from Ginny, who turned her smoldering eyes up at him and cocked an eyebrow. She could see the struggle behind his own green eyes, the desire to lose his woes and sit next to the girl who still loved him despite his senseless nobility, or to follow the habit that had been reinforced this past year whilst on the run, to protect Hermione, to watch her back like she had done for him.
The other two seemed to understand his struggle and Ron matched his sister's cocked eyebrow, nodding his head in the direction of his sister who sat on the other side of him. The look Hermione shot Harry seemed to berate him. Honestly, Harry. She deserves at least that much. He sat next to Ginny, his wand resting much like Ron's, his own eyes scanning, watching, waiting. Constant vigilance.
The only sounds were their staggered breathing against the light summer breeze ruffling their hair, clothes, the grass, and the stalks of the field. Ginny would take a breath as if to speak, and then, losing courage, her shoulders would slump and she would gaze instead at the ground in front of her, stealing glances at both Harry and Ron. It was clear that she was really the only one who wanted to speak, who wanted to talk about the past year.
The almost-but-not-quite silence continued.
"It wasn't…" Harry's voice broke off and he looked up at the dark night sky that was littered with stars and clenched his jaw slightly. "Why you couldn't…" He paused again, glancing over at Ginny who was watching him expectantly. "It wasn't because I doubted your abilities, why you were left behind. Nor that none of us trusted you, that I didn't trust you." His voice dropped off again and he looked down at his hands, fisted around both air and his wand.
"It was the trace." Her soft voice seemed loud in the stillness. "I still had the underage trace. I know." She let out a laugh that wasn't quite outside of bitter. "At least, I accept that now. But for months, I…well. You know me."
The other three nodded, glancing down the row at Ginny before resuming their sweep. Watching, always watching, waiting.
The silence resumed, with Ginny squirming restlessly with the agony of keeping her questions internal.
A loud crack echoed in the emptiness around them and Ginny was startled out of the way as everything seemed to happen at once.
All three leapt to their feet, Hermione's shrill voice shouting stupefy!, Ron hoarsely screaming petrificus totalus! and Harry's sharp tenor firm and steady as he shouted expelliarmus!, their next hexes and spells already prepared to scream.
Ginny scrambled backwards, eyes wide and terror-stricken as she fumbled for her own wand. She relaxed only slightly when she realized the crack had been the front door slamming shut. "Mum! Dad!" She pushed herself to her feet and rushed past the still battle-formed trio.
Molly stood frozen in place, her eyes wide in shock at the speed the three had reacted. Ron's spellwork had certainly improved over the course of the year. Arthur lay crumpled at her feet, Hermione's stupefy having hit its mark exactly. Harry's knuckles were white around Molly's wand, his own extended unwaveringly.
Ginny made quick work of releasing her parents, relashio for her mother and innervate for her father. She whirled around, ready to explode at her friends for their haste. What she saw forced the words to dissolve and she nearly collapsed against her mother in agony.
Their eyes were wild with adrenaline and fear, wands held out steady, chests heaving as they fought for control. It was a three-on-three staring match, three trying to grasp what exactly had happened to give the trio such reactions, the other three still evaluating the threat even when logically there was none. It was Harry that spoke first.
"What were the first instructions you gave to me?" The question, and his wand, was directed at Molly.
"I told you…" Her voice cracked slightly. "I told you how to get onto the platform, your first day to Hogwarts."
The wand didn't lower, except to point at Arthur. "What did my Uncle say to you after you blasted his living room wall?"
Arthur, despite having a wand pointed at him, let out a small chuckle. "He said nothing. He merely turned the most interesting shade of purple."
A nod, and the wand moved so that it was no longer pointing at a friend. The three Weasley's were very aware that the three wands never wavered.
Hermione was the first to lower her wand, very slowly as if she were expecting the need to quickly raise it back up again. "Oh, Merlin." She whispered, her mind starting to work around what they had just done. She dropped to her knees and gave a gaspy sort of laugh, pushing her balled up fists into her face and rocking slightly, oblivious to her wand still clutched tightly.
"Bloody hell, 'Mione." Ron's voice was a hoarse murmur, letting his wand arm drop as he simultaneously lowered himself to a squatting position, cautiously resting his free hand on Hermione's shoulder. She started at the touch and then clasped it tightly, giving him a weak smile.
Harry let out a strangled sort of sigh and collapsed to his knees, his arms flinging up to grasp his friends tightly to him, a small circle forming as they laughed together, the sort of laugh that is really just tears that won't fall.
"We're safe, we're okay. We really are okay." He could be heard murmuring, though who he was trying to reassure wasn't readily apparent to the bystanders. What was apparent was that the world had ceased to exist beyond their little circle.
"Molly." Arthur had stood by this point and gently took his wife by the hand. "I told you. They'll talk to us when they're ready.
Molly reluctantly nodded, and shot a glare at Ginny in an attempt to regain control of the situation. "You heard your father, inside."
Ginny's eyes narrowed and the fire that had been smoldering starting to flare up. But before she could speak, a hand reached out and grasped hers. Molly and Ginny stared at Harry, who had broken from the circle, still on his knees. He tugged lightly and gave a vague smile, clearing his throat in an attempt to speak. His voice was hoarse when he finally managed the words. "I need her out here with us. We need her. She's not going to be left. Not again." His words were kind, but his eyes were pleading, screaming if you try to stop her, the results will not be pretty.
Molly's arm dropped from where it had been ready to literally drag her daughter back into the house and her shoulders slumped dejectedly. With a terse smile, she turned on her heal and stalked back into the house, the door slamming open and then shut with a force that made all five left outside jump.
Arthur let out a weak laugh. "I suppose I should…" His voice trailed off as he gestured towards the house. He turned to go but then paused, facing once again to the four young adults. "I love you. All of you. And I am so very proud." He smiled, gently took Molly's wand from Harry's lose grip, and strode purposefully into the house, seeking to comfort his still-grieving wife.
Ginny made as if to pull Harry to his feet, but he tugged again on her hand and she joined him on the ground, the four of them once again forming a line along the barrier. The air had a certain tension that hadn't been there previously, due to the scare they had just suffered. The silence gave way to the restless sounds of nervous shifting and almost inaudible whimpers of perturbation. Ginny felt a hint of annoyance at the obvious discomfort and she quickly squashed it down, guilt flooding in its place. Knowing you were finally safe was one thing, but actually feeling safe was something completely different.
The shuffling intensified as the silence grew longer. Ginny still had all her questions racing around her mind, struggling to free themselves, to find the answers she had been longing for since that dreadful night in the castle. Fred, oh Fred.
A sudden exhale of breath broke the night, the whisper that followed as startling as if it had been shouted. "I really would feel better if…" Hermione let her voice trail off and she fingered her wand nervously, eyes still roving across the seeable horizon. She sent a pleading look at Harry who gave an imperceptible nod. Ron hummed in agreement and shot Hermione a questioning look and she shook her head negatively. "I've got it." A gentle, yet strained smile accompanied a soft kiss to his cheek. "Thank-you, Ron."
"What…?" Ginny began, but fell silent when Ron shushed her with a furrow of the brow and a frown. In a minute his eyes seemed to tell her and she nodded tersely, the smoldering fire starting to flare once again.
Hermione stood fluidly, her wand held steady. She barely whispered the words but Ginny could hear the spells clearly.
A rustle in the tall grass sent Ron and Harry to their feet, wands extended, eyes searching. Hermione continued, a little hurried.
"Salvio hexia. Muffliato."
The rustle intensified and the boys took a step forward and then inward, automatically shielding Ginny from potential danger. Ginny made a move to protest, to stand to her feet, but a quick glance from Harry stopped her. His eyes were cold, hard, demanding. Stay put. She was almost frightened by such a look from the boy who was always so kind, so warm.
"Cave inimicum. Repello Muggletum." Hermione stepped in between the boys, her wand pointed at the sound. "Homenum revelio." She relaxed slightly, her voice trembling with something Ginny couldn't quite grasp. "Probably an animal or a frog. We are near the pond. "
"Or the wind." Harry muttered, unsettled, his wand arm lowering as he collapsed back next to Ginny.
Ginny watched as her brother ran his left hand lightly down Hermione's arm to her waist, hugging her to him. She smiled brightly up at him and they took their seats on the opposite side of Ginny, effectively sandwiching the girls between the two boys. She inwardly smiled when she saw her once emotionally stunted brother rub his fingers over the fist Hermione had made over her wand, before resting his hand on her knee in a comforting manner.
"I imagine you have…questions." Hermione began, smiling wryly at the girl she thought of as a sister. A cocked eyebrow was her response, as if to say no shit, Sherlock.
"And you call me insensitive." Ron muttered good-naturedly. "I'd worry more if she didn't have questions. Ginny never shuts up with her questions—ouch!" He rubbed the sore part of his arm and glowered at his sister as she moved her pinching fingers back to her own lap. An exasperated bark of laughter escaped at the cross-eyed look she shot at him.
Hermione shot him a glare that he had been on the receiving end of since first year and he responded in kind with a playful quirk of the eyebrow that seemed to say you love me, you know you do. She stifled a smile and looked back at Ginny. "Protection charms." She motioned to the invisible protection wards she had just cast. "We've used them at every campsite. I don't….I can't…" She looked helplessly at the ground, struggling with the words.
"We feel safer with them." The boys said in unison, a sardonic chuckle immerging from both at the harmony. Hermione's hand drifted to her forearm, brushing against it lightly, a slight wince in her eyes. Ron let out a whimpering sound of protest and snatched her hand away, brushing a kiss across her knuckles. "Don't. Please, don't."
"Honestly, Ronald." She sighed without the usual snap behind the words. Ginny's curiosity was piqued at the look of anguish in his eyes.
The words were out before she could stop them. "Don't what? What does it matter if she touches her arm?" Ginny winced as soon as the words escaped. I truly am mother's daughter.
Everything stopped with her question. Harry froze, unblinking as he stared into nothing, lost in his memories. Ron was glaring at her, fuming with anger and agony, knuckles turning white around his wand and the fist that pressed against Hermione's thigh. Hermione pursed her lips, blinking in an attempt to stop the tears from forming, her hand moving once again to brush against her arm.
"Ron, she has a right…"
"She doesn't need to, Harry! Not this."
"Boys!" Hermione's sharp voice broke through the beginning of their argument, effectively halting the rising words. "It's my choice, really."
"S'private." Ron muttered again, his eyes drifting back to the ground, clenching his jaw in an effort to hold back the anger.
"Ron." Hermione leaned in and rested her chin on his shoulder, her forehead brushing against his ear. "I'm okay." She whispered. "Because of you, I'm okay. Remember that, please." He turned his head and rested his forehead against hers and swallowed hard as she kissed his cheek again. "It's going to be okay." She reassured again before sitting back up, giving a twitch of a smile at his whine as she moved. Her fingers started toying with the sleeve of her jumper. She opened her mouth and then closed it again, debating. The sleeve slowly pushed up past her elbow and she turned her head away, closing her eyes against the tears, not wanting to see the cursed scar that had been left behind.
Ginny stared, horrified, as she read the revealed word that had been carved into the skin jaggedly. Mudblood. A fury welled up inside her soul, and her fists clenched in her lap. "Who? When?" She hissed, her fiery eyes darting between Ron and Hermione, relaxing only marginally when she felt Harry's hand slide over her knee. "Why?"
"Bellatrix." Hermione said simply, sliding the sleeve back to hide the horrible word. "During the spring, I think it was some time either at the end of March, maybe the beginning April, I really can't remember now, we were captured by some snatchers." She ignored Harry's muttered my fault and smiled weakly at Ginny. "We were taken to Malfoy Manor where they threw Ron and Harry into the cellar, and I was kept upstairs to be tortured."
There was silence again. Ginny knewthere was more to the story, there had to be, nothing was that simple. A strangled sort of sob jolted her back to the present and she gaped at her older brother.
Ron was hunched over, hands clutching at his hair, Hermione clutching him about his back, her face buried in his neck. Both were crying.
Harry heaved a shaky breath and ran his fingers over Ginny's knee absentmindedly. "Ron screamed himself hoarse, pleading for them to stop, to take him instead. Screaming her name, pounding on the walls. The worst part was the silence. We didn't know if she was dead or had simply passed out from too much of the crucio."
Ginny's hands covered her mouth, her eyes wide. Harry nodded at her unspoken question. "Bellatrix wanted her to suffer. She was convinced we had broken into her Gringotts vault and taken the Sword of Gryffindor and wanted to know what else we had taken."
"It is how we knew there was a—a horcrux inside her vault." Hermione's voice was muffled from her face being pressed into Ron's neck. "So it was worth it."
Ron let out another strangled sob. "Don't say that!"
"It's true, Ron." She said gently, as if they had had this conversation before. In one swift move, she lifted his head up and kissed him fervently. "And I'm okay now. All for the greater good." She motioned to her arm. "This is nothing in the larger picture. We needed that cup."
Tears still in his eyes, he crushed her to his chest, her arms sliding around his waist in a tangle of limbs that couldn't be uncomfortable. Neither protested from the position, needing desperately the comfort the other could provide. Ginny looked away, slightly perturbed by the display, and rested her hand on Harry's shoulder. "We can stop." Her voice was softer than usual, filled with understanding and compassion. Harry nodded gratefully and slid the hand on her knee around her waist and hugged her to him.
"I'm going to bed." Ron stood suddenly and started back towards the house, trying to ignore the three gazes boring into his back. Halfway, he turned and gave Hermione a shy, almost-smile. At this, she immediately leapt up and followed.
"Later, Ginny." She called over her shoulder as she took Ron's hand in her own and let him lead her into the house, leaving Harry and Ginny sitting in silence, still staring at the now closed doorway.
Inside, Ron was expecting to face the inquisition force that was his mother, but was pleasantly surprised to see no one waiting for their return. He briefly debating apparating up to his room, but realized the noise would alert everyone in the house. "C'mon." He released Hermione's hand and trudged up the stairs, his girlfriend close behind. As they reached the top of the long staircase, he felt a light pinch and he whirled around to see an impish smile on her face. A matching grin colored his face and he reached for her hands to tug her into his room, barely missing the door frame as he walked backwards.
She freed one hand to close the door and let him drag her to rest fully against him, his arms coming up to circle her waist. Her fingers walked up his chest until her hands were resting over his shoulders, fingers moving to play with the hair at the nape of his neck.
There was a war raging behind his eyes, trying to decide between kissing her until neither of them could think and uttering the words that had been in his mind since Bill and Fleur's wedding. "Hermione." He winced. His voice sounded harsh to his own ears and he hoped she didn't mind.
Her soft reply melted away his fears. "Yes, Ron?"
His eyes focused on a stray curl that stood out from her ponytail in an effort to stem the sudden nervous butterflies that had taken residence in his stomach. "We're not in the heat of battle."
Her eyes took on a slightly confused look before understanding dawned. Her gaze softened even more and a small smile curved her lips. "I noticed, yes."
His shoulders shook a little from silent laughter at his obvious statement and he pressed on before his nerves could take over. "So what I'm about to say, you can't tell me it's from fear of not living through the night."
"Mmmm." She hummed, and pressed a little closer. "I suppose I can't argue with that logic."
He swallowed hard at the contact and willed himself to continue, his fingers clutching a little firmer on her waist. "Hermione…" He rested his forehead on hers and closed his eyes briefly. Now or never, big guy.
"Ron…" Her voice was little more than a breath on his cheek.
"I love you." His voice was quiet, but steady. Firm and solid in the conviction of his feelings.
"Oh, Ronald." Her lips touched his, softer than he could have imagined, melting into a blissful oblivion where only they existed. She pulled back slightly, enough to breath her response. "Ron, I love you."
He let out a broken sob and buried his face in the crook of her neck, his tears soaking into her jumper. A bit startled, she slid a hand from where it had been resting on his shoulder to gently clasp his neck, pressing him to her, the other hand moving soothingly over his back. She could barely hear his muffled words but could make out "Fred, happy, why."
"Ron?" She felt him move and rest his forehead on her shoulder, his breathing shaky.
"How can I feel so happy and so miserable at the same time?" Ron collapsed back onto the bed, his head dropping into his hands. "Fred would have loved this, would have reveled in teasing me relentlessly over this. I mean, he already has – had – for years. Fred would have been so happy for us."
For once, she had no words for him. Instead, she moved to the bed, collapsing next to him, mentally and emotionally exhausted. He watched as she pulled her wand out of her pocket, whispering the charms to prevent prying ears from hearing what would be said and curious intruders from entering the room. She swallowed, sifting through what she wanted to say. "I'm here, Ron and I'm not leaving you. Not for Harry, not for Ginny, not even if the whole of wizarding kind threw me a party tonight. I need you." Her voice lost some of its conviction, insecurity seeping into her words. "And you need me." She relaxed at his nod and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "What do you need tonight, Ron?"
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down with him, settling on the bed and clutching her to him like she was his lifeline. "I just need you."
Hermione had said later, which to Ginny, meant that the conversation about the last year would happen at a later time that was most definitely not tonight. She shifted on the grass, attempting to get a little more comfortable. Pulling her knees up to her chest, she snuggled into his side, relishing in the feel of his arm around her after so long. "Harry…" Her voice trailed off, unsure where to begin.
His fingers brushed against her thigh as they moved to splay across her stomach, his other hand braced behind him to provide balance. "I'm sorry, Gin." He sighed heavily and looked down at her, meeting her gaze unwaveringly.
Her voice was unusually quiet, softer in his admission. "I know." Then, teasingly, "it's that ridiculous nobility you Gryffindor men are known for."
He laughed, his face lighter than it had been in months. "I'm sure many a Gryffindor man has had those very words tossed at him by many a woman." His face grew serious again and he furrowed his brow slightly, thinking about his next words. "I still love you, Ginny. I never stopped." He froze when he felt her chilled nose nestle in his ear, a tiny shiver racing down his spine.
"I know, silly man." A shiver ran through her body and she realized her fingers were growing numb. "It's rather chilly for May, don't you think?"
"Mmmm." He hummed indecisively. "I'm not sure. I'm pretty warm, to be honest." He laughed as she shoved him away and he flopped onto his back, his eyes shining brightly with mirth at her from the ground.
"Git." She snorted, tweaking his nose with her fingers before settling down next to him in the grass, her head resting on his arm, her hand reaching over for his other hand. He obliged willingly.
"This isn't fixed, you know." She said suddenly, turning her head to face him, the righteous fire that had been smoldering for the last year fully blazing in her gaze. She saw him wince and look away.
"I know." His voice was hoarse with regret.
"We still have a lot to discuss." She continued, softer than before, though no less passionate.
"As much as you're allowed to tell me, I need to know. I may not always want to know, but if I'm going to trust you fully again, I need you to trust me enough to tell me." She propped herself up on her elbow and looked down at their clasped hands before meeting his eyes resolutely.
A soft smile was slowly forming on his bruised face, softening his eyes and melting her heart. "I'll tell you whatever you want to know." He promised fervently, his gaze never wavering. "But if it's something I feel is either Ron or Hermione's choice to reveal, you need to accept my decision about it."
Ginny gave a nod, her hair falling into her face. "Agreed." The angry passion was now completely dissipated, leaving in its place only her love for the young man on the grass next to her.
She settled back to her original position. "We're closer to being fixed." She decided, before admonishing gently. "But not nearly half-way there."
Harry chuckled and rolled over on his side to kiss her cheek. An eyebrow rose he bit back a laugh at the affronted look in her eyes. "Seriously? I give you the best birthday kiss you've ever received and all I get now is a brotherly kiss on…" The rest of her rant was abruptly cut off as he dove at her, covering her lips with his still grinning ones.
She broke the awkward kiss and started laughing. "How was that?" Harry asked in faux seriousness.
"Closer…You might be half-way now." She giggled, her fingers playing with the hair at the nape of his neck.
And all conversation was effectively cut off.
It is to be noted that not everything was fixed, not by a long shot. Lives were still broken by the war, souls shattered by the loss of their other half. Tomorrow, reality would have to be faced once more in the form of rebuilding, funerals and uprooting remaining Death Eaters. But for tonight, the bad could be forgotten in the arms of someone who loved them.