|SIYE Time:4:25 on 23rd June 2018|
Genres: Drama, General, Romance
Warnings: Death, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Sexual Situations, Violence
Summary: Things are not looking good for Harry Potter. Lord Voldemort has been defeated, but many of his Death Eaters are still on the loose, and Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, will not let Harry anywhere near them, insisting he needs time to recover from the trials of life on the run. And to top things off, he still canít manage to sort things out with his ex-girlfriend, Ginny.
Hitcount: Story Total: 7512; Chapter Total: 1170
God, where to begin. This chapter was a real pain to write, as I struggled enormously with attempting to convey the post-War conflicts that would plague our beloved characters after the defeat of Voldemort. The grief and trauma inflicted by three years of terror would obviously be mingled with incredible relief, and I think the challenge was really to show how these mixed emotions would play out amongst the trio and Ginny. I believe that Harry's experiences at the end of Deathly Hallows would leave him more enlightened with regards to his understanding of love and death than we as readers had previously known him, but that he would still have that typical Harry streak of survivor's guilt and tend to close himself off a bit. I also never read Harry as a character with a ton of emotional maturity, which I guess accounts for how I'm working out his relationship with Ginny right now. I'm not fond of this chapter, I find my writing dry and repetitive, and I feel that maybe I'm not doing the most wonderful job of articulating what Harry is going through. My roommate called the first chapter "boring" (lol) and I think that's kind of the point? The intent of this fic isn't really to be plot plot plot driven but rather show how Harry changes and matures after the war? IDK this is all too much, but I hope that those of you who have written such lovely reviews of the story continue to enjoy it. I don't know how to write from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old boy at all. Also a chunk of this chapter takes place several days before the rest of it and like wtf is there an English version of the passť simple? This author's note is a chapter unto itself. Oh ALSO this chapter is titled after the song Next of Kin by Alvvays.
The Friday after what the Daily Prophet had began to call the Battle of Hogwarts, Fred Weasley was buried on the edge of the Burrow's apple orchard, overlooking both his home and the village of Ottery St. Catchpole. The funeral had taken place late in the afternoon, hastily rescheduled from that morning, for the Wizengamot had abruptly announced that morning it would immediately be making the first inquiries into Voldemort's puppet government. Kingsley had owled the Burrow with the news that Pius Thicknesse was to be questioned within the hour, and Percy and Mr. Weasley had been forced to rush off, with those remaining at the Burrow tasked with owling the incoming mourners to inform them of the change in schedule.
Now the event had passed, and as the guests moved from the orchard to the house, where Mrs. Weasley had set out a smorgasbord of refreshments, Harry remained in his chair a bit longer, feeling the day's last rays of sunshine melt over his face.
He glanced beyond the front row of seats, where an hour before Fred's casket had rested on the soft, early-summer grass. Now, a simple headstone occupied the spot, featuring an epitaph that read Fred's name, his year of birth, and his year of death. Bill and Fleur, who had done most of the planning for the service, had asked Molly and George if they had wanted anything additional carved into the stone. Both had declined.
Harry felt a chill run down his spine as he thought of the Weasleys, Mrs. Weasley in particular. At their return to the Burrow, she had been concerned, to the point of being overbearing, about his wellbeing, forcing him, Ron, and Hermione to eat several hearty meals a day, attempting to send them to bed before the sun had even set.
"You need to regain your strength," she had said again and again, and Harry had acquiesced, but his guilt at imposing himself on the Weasleys during their time of grief was becoming increasingly severe. After the first several days of this treatment, it got to the point where he could hardly stand to look Mrs. Weasley in the eye.
This was just as well, however, because as the week wore on and the second Friday of May approached, Mrs. Weasley had left her bedroom less frequently. In fact, Harry had seen considerably little of the family since their return to the Burrow. Bill and Fleur had retreated to Shell Cottage, only Flooing into the home to discuss further arrangements with the family. Ron and Hermione spent most of their days taking very long walks through the hills and fields surrounding the house, and Percy and Mr. Weasley were working long hours with Kingsley in London every day. Funerals were quickly becoming the only time Harry encountered any of the family.
Most of the mourners had made their way into the house now, and Harry stretched in his seat, taking in the scene around him. Fleur had made everything look quite agreeable; there were lilies and chrysanthemums along the rows of seats and around the headstone, and the yard and garden had been trimmed and pruned to perfection. It was a tranquil spot, though it wasn't very reminiscent of the sprawling Burrow that Harry was used to. He couldn't help but think that Fred would think it was all a bit overdone. Harry remembered with a pang Bill and Fleur's wedding, less than a year ago, when Fred had told the lot of them that when he got married, they could all wear what they liked, and he was putting a Body-Bind curse on Mrs. Weasley until it was over.
Such offhanded comments about eventuality now seemed like a slap in the face given that Fred would never marry. Harry shifted again in his robes, another wave of guilt washing over him. All the witches and wizards he had been encountering over the last few days had felt obliged to remind him that this world was what they had all been fighting for; what Fred and fifty others had died for. He should relax, they said, implying that he had to find a way to enjoy this new reality.
How was he expected to "live his life", or find happiness, or do anything at all when so many others couldn't? He had no idea what to do with this second chance at life, having never really imagined that he'd survive the destruction of Voldemort, and now he felt almost that he was living on time taken at the expense of those who had died. All he wanted was to help track down the remaining free Death Eaters, to alleviate the idleness and self-reproach that had plagued him for the last week.
This guilt had perhaps reached its worst at the funeral of Lupin and Tonks. Two caskets sat side by side, in the garden of Tonks' childhood home, next to a small stone that commemorated Edward Tonks. It wasn't a grave; the Snatchers that had murdered Ted had likely disposed of the body on their own, and in the midst of the war there had been no funeral.
Harry had sat several rows from the front, with Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. Hermione had wept quietly on Ron's shoulder through the service, and Harry had been slightly embarrassed to feel tears welling in his own eyes, even as his thoughts were clouded with irritation at the the small, tufty-haired wizard presiding over the event, who spoke of finding happiness even in grief at the thought of two lives well-lived.
Lupin had finally found happiness, Harry had thought wretchedly, with a family who loved and accepted him. Now he would never see his son grow up; how could that be a life well-lived? His thoughts strayed from the funeral back to the unfairness of all of it… he could hear Ron and Hermione in his head, telling him that it was of no use to dwell, but the remorse was stifling. Could he have acted sooner, made better choices? He wasn't so opposed to his own death, if it meant Lupin and Tonks' child would have another day with his parents, that George would have his twin back….
And then the tufty-haired wizard had finished speaking, and everyone was rising from their seats, walking towards the drive, for there were to be drinks and refreshments at the Leaky Cauldron for the mourners. Harry had straggled at the back of the queue with Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, hoping to avoid more of the people he had encountered all week long, people who would want to shake his hand, thank him, hug him, or (the very worst) cry on his shoulder, when he had felt a hand on his arm and turned suddenly, his reflexes still unwilling to acknowledge that there was no longer anything to fear.
Harry had wondered as he looked her over how Andromeda Tonks had ever reminded him of Bellatrix Lestrange. The woman in front of him seemed slight, as though a strong breeze might blow her away, with none of the haughtiness Harry had remembered of their last encounter. And yet, she met his eye with a sincerity he could not return, for his shame was too great, as he stood here surrounded by his friends, safe, unharmed, alive. Mrs. Tonks had lost her husband, her only child, her son-in-law. All she had left was…
"I suppose you'd like to see him," Andromeda had remarked simply, and for a moment Harry couldn't think of anything he'd like to do less. Still, his sense of obligation overpowered his hesitation, and as he trudged towards the house behind Andromeda, he tried to recover the feelings of elation he had that night at Shell Cottage when Remus had announced the birth of Teddy, who had been a small beacon of hope when it seemed that all was lost.
They reached first the sitting room, exactly the same as Harry had remembered from his time in the house last July, and Andromeda turned down the small hall. He had wondered briefly if he'd ever have an encounter with Mrs. Tonks that didn't send waves of guilt rippling through him; the last time he was here, he was sure that her daughter had perished in the attack during his removal from Number Four, Privet Drive. Tonks had survived that particular battle, but Harry thought bleakly that it made little difference, given that she had died ten months later, brought down by her own aunt.
And yet, as Harry followed Andromeda into the small bedroom off the hall and she gestured to a small cradle in the corner, he had to admit it did make quite a bit of difference.
"Thank you for sitting with him, Hestia," Andromeda said quietly, and Harry gave a start as he saw Hestia Jones stand in the opposite corner, wearing deep black robes and carrying a small, leather-bound book.
"Don't worry about it, Andromeda," Hestia had told the older witch warmly, though her eyes were glassy. "Anything for Tonks, you know…." Andromeda nodded crisply.
Hestia smiled at Harry as she made her way from the room. "It's good to see you," she said earnestly. "Thank you for everything."
Harry tried to make a gracious face, but he felt it probably looked more pained than anything. He didn't know how much longer he could handle the constant thanks. Luckily, Hestia possessed brevity, and she left without saying another word. Harry looked back to Andromeda, intentionally trying to avoid letting his eyes drift towards the cradle in the corner.
"I didn't think it was appropriate to bring him down," Andromeda said softly. "Something about children at funerals… it doesn't seem right."
She faced him again, and Harry felt himself blush. "Did you go to your parents' funeral?" she asked curiously.
"Er, I don't think so," Harry had said uncomfortably. "I don't even know if they had one, but I would've been with my aunt and uncle by then."
"I'm sure they must've," Andromeda mused, but her attention had wandered back to the cradle, from where small gurgling sounds were beginning to emit. She gestured again to the corner, and Harry made his way around the bed and peered into the cot.
Teddy had looked unchanged from the baby Harry had seen in Lupin's photograph, not a week prior, from the small tuft of blue hair to the chubby little face. His eyes were shut, but it was clear that he was waking, for his small tongue was pushing out from between his lips and his hands were flailing to his face.
"He's hungry," Andromeda had told him briskly, as she plucked him up from the cradle.
"Oh," Harry said lamely, as he prayed this may have signified his cue to leave. However, his hopes were quickly dashed.
"Would you like to feed him?" she'd asked. Harry's heart sank, but he'd reached out, and Andromeda had placed little Teddy Lupin, another orphan of the storm, into his arms.
He'd never held a baby before, and he was sure he looked terribly stupid, but as he looked into Teddy's face, he relaxed, only for a moment. Andromeda guided a bottle into the baby's small mouth and gestured for Harry to take it from her hand, and as Teddy began sucking furiously, Harry found a small smile spreading across his own lips. It was short-lived, however, as the baby's eyes quickly popped open. They were dark, the way Tonks' often had her own, but as he looked at his godfather, they suddenly turned the most emerald shade of green.
"He can control it already?" Harry had yelped. Andromeda nodded. Harry's face grew hot again and he suddenly felt he was going to be sick. He reached his arms out and Andromeda plucked up her grandson.
"I'm sorry," said Harry. "I'm sorry, the Weasleys are waiting for me. I've got to go."
Andromeda sighed, but Harry was already backing out of the room. He couldn't leave fast enough. Returning to the lawn, he'd ignored the questions of Ron and Hermione, and Apparated quickly back to the Burrow.
He had been expressly avoiding thinking of his tiny godson for the remainder of the week, and now he felt guilty not only for the deaths of Lupin and Tonks, but for shirking his responsibilities to their child. Wasn't he doing exactly what he had criticized Lupin for all those months ago, in the basement of Grimmauld Place?
But still, he had no idea how to be someone's godparent. Sirius had come into his life like a fast friend; more like a brother than a father. He'd cared for Harry's well-being, to be sure, but Harry hadn't been helpless like Teddy; he could walk, talk, feed himself. Harry sighed. He knew what Sirius would say if he was there now: all Teddy needed was another person in his corner, someone he could look to as he grew up. But, Harry thought, it not as though Teddy was stuck with the Dursleys. Andromeda Tonks clearly loved him and was competent at caring for him….
His graveside brooding was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of Hermione. She was pale, but wore a look of determination that Harry couldn't help but shy away from.
"Are you coming up to the house?" she asked gently, sitting down next to Harry in one of the folding chairs.
"In a moment," Harry muttered. "I've just been thinking. It's peaceful out here."
"It is," Hermione agreed. "Bill and Fleur chose a lovely spot."
Harry looked away. "How's Mrs. Weasley?" he inquired.
"Running on empty, I think," Hermione replied. "She's made all of these hors d'oeuvres and is going around a bit mad making sure everyone is fed."
She fell quiet for a moment, but Harry could sense her itching to speak again. It didn't take long for her to choose her words.
"I'm don't blame you for not wanting to go into the house, Harry," she began, and Harry felt himself fill with dread, for he knew what she was about to say. "But Ron needs us. Both of us."
"I know," Harry said, more forcefully than he meant to. "It's only - I'm tired of it. I've been to a funeral almost every day this week, and I don't know what to say to anyone. 'I'm sorry?'"
"He's your best friend," said Hermione quietly. "You don't have to say anything. Just be there for him."
"I don't understand," Harry said miserably, finally meeting Hermione's eye. "I don't understand why they're all gone, and I'm here. I mean - I understand, I understand that I could've just as easily been killed in that explosion, or hit by Dolohov's curse, or whatever, really, but I can't stop feeling so terrible, not that I didn't die, but that I get to live. Lupin and Tonks' kid has no parents; Fred's family has been torn apart. It's not like anyone's lives would've been destroyed if I had gone instead… I feel like I owe it to all of them to be doing something, anything, but Kingsley won't budge, and -"
"Harry," Hermione interrupted, an edge to her voice. "You don't really believe that, do you?"
"What?" Harry asked. "That Kingsley is insisting I stay here? I told you what he said to me when we left Hogwarts…"
"No, not that," Hermione interrupted again. "That no one's lives would've been destroyed if you had died…. Do you not realize what it was like for us, when we realized you had left the castle? When we saw you in Hagrid's arms?"
"That's not what I meant," Harry said impatiently. "I'm not someone's parent; I wouldn't have left anyone behind. Or… I don't know, Hermione, if I'd died no one would be without their child, like Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are right now."
Hermione blinked at him. "Mr. and Mrs. Weasley would be devastated if you'd died. We were devastated. It felt like the world had ended."
Harry looked down, embarrassed. "I just meant -"
Hermione sighed, and her expression turned more sympathetic. "I know what you meant," she said. "But I don't think it's wise to go around trying to figure out who is most deserving of life, or who would be missed the most if they died. You'll never be happy again if you let yourself think like that, Harry. It's terrible that Fred is gone, and Remus, and Tonks, but you're still here. I'm still here. Ron is still here. Ginny is still here."
At Ginny's name, Harry looked up again, over Hermione's shoulder to the house, where his ex-girlfriend surely sat amongst her brothers, as a steady stream of relatives and friends offered their condolences for the loss of Fred. Harry felt another uncomfortable pang somewhere around his navel, because, despite his telling Ginny that they would face these difficult days together, he had made no real effort to see her since their return to the Burrow. She had quickly retreated to her bedroom, appearing only briefly at mealtimes, and though Harry had told himself that he was giving her space to grieve, he knew that in reality he simply couldn't face her when she was upset. Harry looked back at Hermione, feeling like the world's greatest coward.
"Is she alright? She's barely left her room since we've been back," Harry said, knowing immediately that Hermione would see straight through his question.
"It's hard for her to see her mother so distressed. Why don't you ask her if she's alright? She's not going to come to you, Harry," Hermione said sagely.
Harry grimaced. "I don't know what to say to her," he admitted. "I just want… I don't know. Part of me wants to act like nothing's happened; just pick back up where we left off. But I know that's impossible."
Hermione put a hand on his arm. "That's how it is for all of us, Harry. We're all just dancing around each other right now. No one knows what to do or say, so we try to go through the motions of what we remember normal to be, but it all feels off." She paused for a moment. "Do you remember when you thought you were being possessed by You-Know-," Harry flashed her a stern look, "oh, sorry, Voldemort? During our fifth year, I mean?"
Harry nodded, a bit startled by her sudden change in topic.
"Ginny was the only person who was able to get through to you, then. She's always understood you, I think a bit more than you'd like to admit, because of the connection you both had to him. Maybe try to reach out to her. You've known loss like this before. She hasn't. Help her figure it out."
Harry must've made a face, because Hermione threw her arms up, exasperated.
"You killed Voldemort but you can't face Ginny Weasley? You're worse than Ron!"
Harry's face reddened. "I am not!"
Hermione stood. "Get up. We're going to the house. I don't care if you talk to Ron about Wonky Faints or Mrs. Weasley's treacle tart or what a bloody bother I am, but I'll be damned if I watch you mope in this garden for the rest of the day. I think a greater insult to Fred than your living and his dying would be your decision to spend the rest of your life feeling sorry for yourself. Alright?"
"Alright," Harry agreed meekly, a bit dumbfounded by Hermione's outburst. He stood and followed her up the path towards the house. He knew Hermione was right, of course, but he still couldn't explain to her the nagging feeling that followed him everywhere he went, or that it seemed as though there were six Harrys in his head, each arguing with one another over which thoughts were rational and which weren't.
His feet dragged as he made his way through the front door, wishing silently that he had his invisibility cloak, for the moment that he passed the threshold into the sitting room several pairs of eyes fixed themselves on him. Harry's own eyes scanned the room as he looked for the telling glint of red, landing first on Percy, and then Bill, before finally they found Ron, staring at his shoes and trying to remain inconspicuous next to the old wooden wireless.
Harry hesitated for a moment, knowing that his approaching Ron would blow his best friend's cover, but Hermione quickly shoved him forward. Ron looked up as Harry advanced, and nodded briefly before his gaze returned to his shoes. Harry stood next to him, leaning on the wall, and Hermione positioned herself at his shoulder and gave Harry a pointed look.
"Er - sorry I didn't come in earlier," Harry said feebly. "Lost track of time in the garden."
"It's alright," Ron said with a shrug. "I'm hiding from my mum. She's on the bloody warpath and has somehow managed to convince herself that there's not enough food for everyone. Ginny's gone to help her make more."
Harry stared at the long table that had been set up on the opposite wall of the living room for the occasion. It was crowded with all kinds of cakes, puddings, biscuits, and tarts, enough to make Harry's mouth water with a single glance. Even as he watched, though, Mrs. Weasley bustled out, wearing her best black witch's hat, and placed a plate of meat pies on the very corner of the table, where it balanced precariously. Mrs. Weasley surveyed the room briefly, taking in the sight of the various mourners talking in small groups over drinks, before quietly making her way back into the kitchen.
Ron breathed a sigh of relief, as he had gone apparently undetected. Slumping against the wall again, he closed his eyes, before again acknowledging the others.
"This is the most fucking useless I think I've ever felt in my life," he said irritably.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "You'd think," she said, "the way the two of you were carrying on, that we hadn't spent the better part of the last year sitting in a tent trying to hunt down parts of You-Know- ugh, sorry - Voldemort's soul. Ron, all you could talk about last fall was wanting to be here, in your own bed, with your mother's food-"
"Yeah, well, that was before Fred died, wasn't it?" Ron grumbled. "And half of those miserable sods that were around that wall when it blew up are still running free. Percy told me this morning that Yaxley didn't give anything up when they dragged him out for questioning today. Just sat there, apparently the only thing he said was that he was being "illegally detained" as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement." Ron scoffed contemptuously before continuing. "And I doubt Kingsley has any leads on where the Lestranges are, or Thorfinn Rowle."
"And you do?" Hermione whispered. "What do you really want to do, Ron?"
"I want to kill Death Eaters," Ron said, his voice so quiet that a shiver ran down Harry's spine.
"I know," Hermione sighed defeatedly, and Harry realized suddenly what they must've been discussing on their long walks together. It hadn't occurred to Harry that Ron was as eager as himself to leave to relative comfort of the Burrow, to make himself useful, to round up those who were the reason that they had been to eight funerals in fewer days. Perhaps if he hadn't shut himself off from his best friend so often during the past few days….
Ron shifted his weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
"Suppose I'll just have to do my N.E.W.T.s. If I can make it to Auror training Kingsley won't have a choice but to let me after the Lestranges," he said sullenly. Harry nodded. It was maddening to watch problem after problem bubble up in the vacuum left behind by Voldemort, while Kingsley and Mr. Weasley and Bill and Percy and everyone else kept encouraging them to take the summer to recuperate and prepare for their final year at school. The defeat of Voldemort hadn't brought the same gratification that would come from hunting down his followers, those who carried out his terrible orders, and Harry was itching with the desire to do something reckless.
Hermione sighed, and Harry thought bleakly that she looked much older than eighteen. "Kingsley," she said quietly, "is not the enemy. He only wants what's best for us."
"We're of age now," Harry argued. "It's not for Kingsley to decide, especially after the last year…."
"Well, have you even bothered to tell anyone that you don't want to go back?" Hermione asked.
Harry's face reddened, but was saved from Hermione's question by Lee Jordan, who unexpectedly appeared at his side, looking far more cheerful than anyone else in the room.
"Ron, mate," he said amiably. "Remind me, which room is Fred and George's?"
"Second floor, first door off the landing," said Ron, his eyes narrowing. "Why?"
Suddenly Harry was thrown off balance as a second person crashed into him. A pair of hands grabbed onto the front of his robes and dragged him back up haphazardly.
"Sorry," Angelina Johnson giggled, brushing him off. "Got a bit excited." She looked to Lee, and Harry heard a loud clank come from the depths of her robes. "I found some! Mr. Weasley didn't seem to mind parting with it."
"Nice," Lee said appreciatively. "Ron's just told me where the room is. Have you lot seen George?"
Harry, Ron, and Hermione must've looked quite the sight with their matching expressions of shock. They shook their heads in unison, eyes wide as they took in Lee and Angelina, practically bouncing with enthusiasm before them.
"No," answered Hermione shortly. "What are you two up to?"
"We've decided," Angelina said theatrically, and Harry caught a whiff of a fruity aroma that he had often associated with Aunt Marge's visits to Privet Drive, "that this funeral needs a little brightening up. Something to really celebrate Fred's life, you know?" Harry, who'd known Angelina quite well during their time on the Gryffindor House Quidditch team, didn't think he'd ever seen her in such a bubbly mood, which, given their dour surroundings, was particularly notable.
"We have almost everything we need for the grand event," Lee said. "Once we get into the room, that is. Angelina, why don't you go and find George." He paused for a moment, thinking. "And probably Ginny, too. She'll want to see." He turned towards the trio. "Come on, then."
Angelina started towards the kitchen, while Harry, Ron and Hermione apprehensively followed Lee to the rickety staircase. The reached the second floor, and Lee pushed open the twins' door unceremoniously.
In the two years since Fred and George had moved into a flat above their shop in Diagon Alley, it seemed that their bedroom at the Burrow had still been repurposed into a makeshift storeroom for various Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes products, which lined the walls on tall, precariously stacked shelves, covered the two beds, and took up most available floor space. This seemed quite in line with Lee's expectations, as he clapped his hands together, muttering "Excellent" under his breath before setting to work shuffling through the various cardboards.
"Er - what exactly are you looking for?" Harry ventured carefully.
"Do you remember," Lee began distractedly, sticking his hand blindly into a box that proceeded to make a very loud shrieking sound, "at the end of our seventh year, when Fred and George decided to go into open rebellion against Umbridge?"
Surprisingly, Harry felt his face split into a grin for the first time in days, knowing that he would never forget the circumstances of Fred and George's premature departure from Hogwarts, and also realizing exactly what it was Lee was looking for in the jumbled mess of the twins' room. Stepping forward, he began peering in boxes alongside Lee, while Ron gave a chuckle and a shrug, walking towards the shelves on the opposite wall. Hermione, however, hung back.
They had only searched for a moment when Ron gave a low whistle from the corner of the room.
"Found 'em," he said, a hint of reverence to his tone. He stepped back and Harry saw a large box, emblazoned with the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes logo. Sticking out of the open top were dozens of rockets, Catherine wheels, firecrackers, and sparklers.
Lee hurried over. "These'll do, don't you think?" he asked the others.
"How're we meant to move them past that lot?" Harry wondered, jerking his head in the direction of the sitting room.
"Hermione can do that," Ron said.
"No, I can't," said Hermione, blushing suddenly. There was a soft rap at the door, and Angelina walked in, with Ginny trailing behind her, looking rather bewildered. Harry's breath caught in his throat, as it did almost every time he had seen Ginny since she had fallen through the Hog's Head passage into the Room of Requirement. Her eyes were red-rimmed and her face blotchy, but still Harry couldn't help but abashedly admire how beautiful she looked in her black dress.
"What's the issue?" Angelina asked them, looking around the room. "Did you find any? We've got George waiting downstairs."
"We found them," Lee said. "We've just been trying to decide how best to move them to the garden."
"Hermione, look, would you just put them in your bag?" Ron asked, clearly quite warmed up to the scheme at this point, while three pairs eyes belonging to Ginny, Lee, and Angelina traveled down to Hermione's beaded bag, hanging limply from her wrist.
"It - well - it doesn't seem appropriate, does it?" Hermione squeaked. "Setting off fireworks in the middle of a funeral?"
Angelina's gaze turned sharply, looking Hermione straight in the eye. "No one'll force you to come," she said, not unkindly. "But I don't think anything about Fred Weasley being dead feels appropriate, do you?"
"Hermione," Lee said, more gently than Angelina, "we'll go to the far end of the orchard… it won't disturb anyone. We just want a chance to say goodbye, one that fits the Fred we knew. I spent every free moment at Hogwarts following him around, and to sit listening to that little bloke up there talk about his 'droll personality' and 'entrepreneurial spirit' and whatever else… it just didn't cut it."
Hermione bit her lip, still clearly unconvinced that the idea was a good one. Still, she reached her arm out to Harry, who snatched up the tiny bag, wrenching it open as Ron grabbed several fireworks to pack in.
They emptied the contents of the box quickly into the bag and moved out of the room single file, Lee leading the way. Harry thought briefly that they would never make it out the front door without arousing the suspicions of Ron's family, but as they entered the sitting room, he realized he was quite mistaken. It was clear that most of the mourners were still too shrouded in their grief to take much notice of anything. The room was still full to capacity; Percy and Charlie were quietly speaking to several Hogwarts professors, including Filius Flitwick, who had wept quietly throughout the funeral. Hagrid was taking up an entire corner of the room himself, sniffling loudly into his tablecloth-sized kerchief. Bill was slumped in a chair nursing a glass of Firewhisky while Fleur sat next to him on the arm of the chair, her own arm around his shoulder, and Harry could hear Mr. and Mrs. Weasley arguing about something in the kitchen. Their raised voices, even from afar, made Harry flush again with guilt.
George stood by the door, looking half-human, as though his limbs themselves had no agency, but rather someone had propped him up and left him leaned against the doorframe to wait. Harry hadn't heard him speak since their return to the Burrow, and he found himself wondering what exactly Angelina had said to convince him to come along.
George straightened slightly as they approached, and the group of seven made their way through the door and into the garden, setting off quickly for the orchard. Harry trailed at the back with Ron and Hermione, clutching Hermione's beaded bag. He felt excited, not necessarily for the fireworks themselves, but because of this feeling, of having something to do, of being in on a secret…
Hermione slowed for a moment in front of him, hanging back. As Harry reached her he could see that she was biting her lip again.
"There's something else I was meaning to speaking to you about," she said softly.
"What's that?" asked Harry, bracing himself.
"Well, I - well, we, actually - Ron and I, that is - we are going to Australia. In June."
Harry's heart sank. "Australia?"
"To find my parents," said Hermione. "To reverse the memory charm I placed on them. I - I should be going sooner, but with Fred of course... and we have to make sure Mrs. Weasley's alright, and I can tell that Ron isn't eager to leave the country with so many Death Eaters still on the loose. But it hardly matters, I expect a few weeks won't make much of a difference with the memory modification anyways."
Harry felt defensive and slightly betrayed. After all he, Ron, and Hermione had been through, it stung that they had made plans to travel halfway around the world without him. Why hadn't Ron mentioned that when he was going on about wanting to kill the Lestranges and Rowle?
"We want you to come, too," Hermione finished, as though reading his mind.
Harry frowned. He didn't much like the idea of being left behind while Ron and Hermione went off to recover her family, but he, like Ron, didn't want to waste even more time on another continent while there was still so much to be done in Britain. What if the Lestranges struck out, and he wasn't here…
Hermione was looking at him hopefully, but Harry was saved by Lee for a second time, who shouted out from the front of the group.
"I think this is the spot!"
The had reached the far end of the orchard. The sun had finally set, and the sky was clear over the tops of the trees. Lee surveyed the area, nodded briefly and gestured for Harry to hand over the bag. He and Ron started removing the fireworks, again one-by-one, until they had amassed quite the pile there on the grass.
From behind him Harry heard another, this time louder, clank and turned to see that Angelina had extracted a large bottle of Ogden's Old Firewhisky from the depths of her robes and had passed it to Hermione and Ginny, the latter of whom was finishing off an impressively sizeable swig. She turned, reaching out to Harry, who took the vessel from her hands, his fingers brushing against hers.
"Thanks," he said.
She nodded, gazing at him candidly, and though she did not smile, Harry thought he saw a small twinkle in her chocolate-colored eyes. It was blind, dumb hope, perhaps, after he'd acted over the past few days. He raised the bottle to his lips, letting the warm burning sensation trickle into his stomach, where, combined with Ginny's kind look, it bubbled into something near-happiness.
"Right," said Lee, surveying the mess of whiz-bangs on the ground in front of him. "What's the best way to -"
But before he could finish, George had pointed his wand lazily at the pile of fireworks and a trail of bright orange flame burst from the tip, covering the pile easily. Harry reached out for Ginny's arm, yanking her back as a high-pitched wheezing sound emitted from the flames. It lasted only a moment, and then dozens of sparks flew upwards in every direction.
Harry stared opened mouth as a great, green, blazing dragon flew out of the flames and roared over the tops of the trees, emitting massive bangs from its sparkling snout, while no fewer than ten rockets shot off the direction of Ottery St. Catchpole, silver and gold sparks flying behind them. The sounds were magnificent, roars and bursts and explosions all around.
Harry wondered for a moment if they should've gone further down the pasture, for he worried they were risking the trees catching fire, but even as he watched the fireworks grow larger in the sky above them, the leaves were doused with colorful light, and suddenly looked as if they themselves were fireworks, and Harry felt that he had exited reality, and that the world had transformed into somewhere bright and innocent and good.
A sparkler flew above Ginny's head and began twisting itself in the air, leaving a trail of letters in its wake. Harry smiled, remembering the swearwords casting themselves over the halls of Hogwarts, but as the phrase "Merlin's Nuts" fixed itself over the skyline, Harry thought perhaps there were, to quote Angelina, better ways to brighten up this commemoration to Fred. Raising his wand, unsure of what counter-charms Fred and George would've put in place over their creation, he took aim at the words lingering over the treetops.
But it was remarkably simple to transfigure the letters above them, and as Harry worked quietly he saw, out of the corner of his eye, the heads of his friends turn to watch what he was doing.
Harry lowered his wand, admiring his work for a moment. The glittering letters were not nearly as neat as the ones initially left by Fred and George's sparkler, but now, rather than a testament to Merlin's bollocks, the group gazed up at the words "Mischief Managed" illuminating the night over the orchard. Lee, Ginny, and Angelina all looked again bemused, but Hermione stepped a bit closer to Ron, weaving her fingers through his.
"My dad helped make the map," he said quietly, meaning for only George to hear, but he felt Ginny stiffen beside him, and realized that she too was listening.
He saw, out of the corner of his eye, George's head turn away from the sparklers to gaze intently at Harry's own face. Harry kept staring resolutely at the words, which were now spelling themselves over and over again in the sky above the orchard.
"I never told you or Fred," he continued, attempting to express what he had realized that night, in the forest. "It was my dad, Lupin, and Sirius. They were Prongs, Moony and Padfoot, and now they're all gone. But they're still a part of me. They're not here, obviously… but they're never really that far away either. They're just… they're just beyond where we can see, I guess."
George was still staring, and Harry finally worked up the courage to meet his friend's eye. He couldn't think of a time he'd been so open with someone before; maybe when Sirius had died, and Luna had explained the veil to him…
But then George made a very odd croaking sound, and before Harry's brain could race through all the terrible causes, choking and poison and sickness, George's shoulders began to shake with silent laughter.
"Was it really?" he asked through chuckles. "Was it really Sirius and Lupin, all that time?"
Harry nodded and George laughed even harder. Lee and Angeline turned, wide-eyed. Ginny looked between the two, utterly confused. Hermione was smiling sadly, though it quickly changed to a look of terror when one of George's laughs transformed quickly into a loud sob. The lone twin covered his mouth quickly with his hand, but another came, and then another, and the others all stood quiet, unsure of what to do or how to respond.
Ginny stepped away from Harry, about to go to her brother, when suddenly another person strode past her, and when Harry looked back, it was Angelina Johnson who had wrapped her arms around George's shaking figure, and George's head fell onto her shoulder as he wept.
Harry stared at Ron, who mouthed quickly over Hermione's head, "What's that about?"
Harry shrugged. He looked back over the tops of the trees, watching the great dragon circle the orchard. He didn't see what was really so funny about the identities of the Marauders, but George's laughter, in spite of his subsequent tears, had lightened him somehow. Perhaps they would be alright after all.
That night, Harry had a rather peculiar dream. He was laying on a beach in Australia with Ron and Hermione. He kept insisting they put on suncream, but both were laughing and reminding him they wouldn't burn but simply tan. Ron had even rolled his eyes and insisted that Weasleys were well-known for their sun-kissed complexions, which Harry had seriously doubted. He had finally given up when two loud cracks sounded across the dunes, and suddenly masked and hooded Death Eaters were standing in front of them, the tide lapping at their robes. Harry stood up, wand raised, but Ron and Hermione remained supine.
"There's nothing to worry about, Harry," Hermione told him, using her hand to shield her eyes from the sun. "You-Know-Who is gone. You killed him, remember?"
Harry had opened his mouth to argue, when suddenly one of the Death Eaters raised a bony hand to remove his mask, and underneath were not the blank eyes of Rodolphus Lestrange, but red slits on a pale face. Harry's blood ran cold, as Voldemort raised his wand.
Harry jerked awake in his camp bed, breathing heavily and drenched in sweat. He blinked rapidly, as if checking that the orange ceiling of Ron's room wouldn't suddenly turn into the face of Voldemort.
He looked around, making sure that he had not awoken Ron with his nightmare, but Ron was nowhere to be seen. Harry sighed. He was happy that Ron and Hermione had finally worked out their feelings for one another, but them sneaking off to be alone every minute of the day was making him feel lonelier than he'd ever care to admit. Throughout the entirety of his adolescence, they had always been Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and he wasn't sure if he was ready for his best friends to go off without him.
He stared at the ceiling for a few more moments, but sleep did not retake him. Rather, he was feeling increasingly restless. He half-debated going to find Ron and Hermione, probably tucked away somewhere in the garden, and again venting all of his anxieties and frustrations to them as punishment for leaving him on his own, with all of these terrible thoughts.
He stood from the camp bed, which creaked terribly under him. Though still only May, the heat of summer was already stifling, and Harry had taken to sleeping only in a pair of his pants, so he kicked through his and Ron's dirty laundry until he unearthed a t-shirt and pyjamas.
He pulled open the door to Ron's room quickly and looked down the stairs. Each landing seemed to be empty, though he figured if he met anyone he could use the age-old excuse of needing the loo.
But he didn't stop at the toilet on the fourth floor, or the one on the second. He only halted as he reached the first floor, and it was then Harry realized that he had been moving without really knowing where his feet were taking him. He hesitated, only for a moment, before reaching out and knocking lightly, just once, on Ginny's door.
The moment the rap echoed across the landing, Harry's nerve failed him. He pitifully considered for a moment bolting back up the stairs. But then he heard a creak from within, and from the crack under the door saw a light go on within the room. It was too late, and then the door was wrenched open and Ginny stood in front of him, wearing only a very large t-shirt sporting the Holyhead Harpies logo and holding a small purple flashlight.
"Harry?" she asked, blinking several times and turning off the light. "What's happened? Are you alright?"
He blushed immediately, not intending to have worried her. "Er- yeah. I'm fine, I just - well, I needed to talk to someone."
"You needed to talk to someone?" she repeated in a whisper. "It's three o'clock in the morning."
Harry gulped. "Yeah, I know, I'm sorry. It's just, well, I suppose I don't really need to talk to someone… I need to talk to you."
She sighed, but then smiled slowly, as though having a private joke with herself. Harry's heart pounded nervously. She reached out and gestured for him to enter the room, gently closing the door behind them, before walking slowly over to her unmade bed. Harry couldn't help but notice that her shirt rode up as she moved, revealing the bottom of her blue cotton knickers. He swallowed loudly again, fixing his gaze on the Weird Sisters posted tacked on Ginny's wall.
Ginny sat down heavily on the bed and took a deep breath. "What do you need to talk about?" she asked.
Harry turned back to face her. "I- erm- well, I'm sorry. For Fred, but also for not coming up here sooner. I just - I didn't know what to say, and Ron and Hermione have been driving me a bit mad; I thought I wanted to be alone, but I don't. I want to be with you."
Ginny surveyed him calmly. Harry took a moment to wonder if anything he said could ever take her by surprise. She seemed to really know him, sometimes in ways that it felt like even Ron and Hermione couldn't appreciate, and he felt overcome with shame at how he had kept her in the dark about so much over the last couple years. But even now, as she looked at him softly in the dark of her bedroom, he knew that she understood. He took a step closer.
"I want to be with you," he said again, surprised by his own candor.
"I know," she said.
He moved closer to the bed, emboldened.
"I'm sorry for how things ended last year."
"You shouldn't be."
"I'm really sorry for not coming to see you sooner," he said again.
Ginny sighed dramatically, and Harry knew she was about to tease him. "I did want to be alone as well, really," she said in her best posh voice. "I'm sure Hermione told you that we witches like to be comforted when we're brooding but I actually prefer-"
"I want to comfort you when you're brooding," Harry interrupted, taking yet another step. Ginny's breath hitched in her throat, and she was suddenly serious.
"Don't feel guilty," she whispered. "It's going to take time, for both of us. I can't even begin to understand what it was like for you…" she trailed off, unsure of herself. "I want to be with you too. But we can't fool ourselves into thinking it's going to be like it was before. I thought when we were at the castle that if we just acted like nothing had happened... but then we got back and being here makes it all feel so much more… real."
Harry nodded. He had taken a final pace, and her room was small; he was mere inches from her now. She was still sat on the bed, but had to look up to see his face. He sank down to his knees, and for a brief, mad, moment he thought he must look a complete tosser, but Ginny didn't seem to mind, for now that they were level she reached out and gently placed her hand on his face, reaching out to brush her thumb against his scar.
"Does it hurt?" she asked. The electricity in the room was tangible.
Harry shook his head. She moved her other hand to his face, leaning forward slightly so that their foreheads were touching. He wrapped his arms around her waist. He knew he should probably make a move, but he was still inexplicably nervous, and his mouth opened again, ready to spew more senseless conversation.
"D'you remember when we first kissed?" he asked her stupidly.
"No," she said sarcastically. "Remind me about it, will you?"
Harry laughed, and Ginny chose this moment to pull him into her. His mouth was open from chuckling, and as she brought his mouth to hers their teeth clicked together, but Harry didn't even care about this awkward lapse, for as their lips met and one of his hands found their way back into her hair and he found that he didn't care about anything, only Ginny, her laugh, her smell. She was so perfect, he thought blissfully.
He couldn't have said how long they had been locked in their embrace when she suddenly pulled away, drawing a shaky breath.
"It might not be any of my business," she began, her lips puffy and eyes unfocused. "But, Harry? Don't - Don't go to Australia, alright?"
Harry pushed himself up from his knees so that he too was on the bed, leaning over her.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said, grinning.
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