At least they were able to bury Fred by his two uncles, but for the most part the funeral had the same problem Dumbledore’s had of being too solemn, which of course had been only a small problem in the old headmaster’s case, but in Fred’s was a much bigger one. Had George been the one speaking it might have helped, but Mrs. Weasley had promised he wouldn’t have to, and she spoke in his stead, and she didn’t even properly talk about what he’d done with his life, just generally about his creativity and how he’d always been able to make everyone smile even in the hardest times. Harry wished Ginny would’ve gone up and said what she’d said at the Lake the previous day, but she didn’t. He wondered how many people would yell at him if he declared someone had to set a dungbomb off just to make it more appropriate. Though that probably would’ve been disrespectful to everyone else buried in the graveyard, so maybe not.
The very end was better though, when the actual entombing happened, since when it did, instead of the kind of fire that Dumbledore’s body had transformed with, Fred’s body dissolved into multicoloured confetti, and the air was filled with a sound like that of crackers going off. When the gravestone appeared, several abnormally large canaries settled on top of it. Harry hoped they stayed there as long as possible.
Mrs. Weasley burst into tears afresh. Mr. Weasley pulled her into an embrace and let her bury her face in his chest. George turned and walked off fast. Harry saw Ginny follow him more slowly, probably just making sure he was kept in their sight. On Ron’s other side, he could hear Hermione whimpering.
He looked back over the crowd, and suddenly locked eyes with Andromeda Tonks, sitting there with little Ted on her lap, talking with a man who he spent a moment or so thinking looking vaguely familiar, before realizing he reminded him of Professor Lupin. She beckoned.
He was happy to get up and walk over. He wasn’t entirely sure what this godfathering business would entail, since he was quick to realize it was probably best for Ted to live with his grandmother, but he should probably take advantage of any easy opportunities to see him like this one.
Both Andromeda and the man stood up to greet him, her shifting the sleeping Ted, and as Harry, after extending Andromeda his condolences, found himself shaking hands with the latter, he asked, “Are you...”
“His name is Lyall Lupin,” said Andromeda. “Remus was his son. He’s Ted’s other surviving grandparent.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” said Lyall Lupin. “Remus told me a bit about you, about how you were the best student in his class when he taught at Hogwarts.” He didn’t look that old, but he looked worn far beyond his years, not unlike how his son had been that way.
“Lyall has been living up north,” said Andromeda, “but now he’d considering coming down south to be near us and be more involved in Ted’s upbringing.”
“That’s good,” said Harry, though privately he wondered why this was the first time he had even so much as heard the man’s name, where he’d been during his son’s constant trials and tribulations, during those two years after he’d had to resign from Hogwarts and had apparently been unable to get a job afterwards because of Umbridge. He’d assumed because of the lack of mention of parents that they had both been dead.
Lyall Lupin’s next words did assuage some of these issues, when he said, “I’d be glad to do it. I’m afraid my son always let me do far too little for him during his adult life.”
“We’re trying to figure out the practicalities of it,” Andromeda continued. “Where he’ll live, if he’ll work anywhere, that sort of thing.”
Ron and Hermione hadn’t initially followed Harry over, but they were joining him now, and as they did the introductions and exchange of condolences were done again, and Lyall even repeated to Hermione his words about hearing praise about her from his son. “Really, he was impressed with all three of you,” he said. Hermione turned pink, but Ron looked a little skeptical, which pained Harry, but he wasn’t sure what he could do about that.
Especially not when it was then that Ted woke up and started crying, really, really loudly. Watching a baby metamorphagus have a crying fit was arguably interesting, given how many colours his hair tried to turn at once while his hands and feet got really big and his mouth definitely got bigger too. Not that any of them had time to appreciate it, as Andromeda tried multiple ways to sooth him, from simply stroking to making milk stream out of her wand which he didn’t seem interested in drinking. Finally Hermione pointed her wand, and when his grandmother nodded permission, she muttered, “Tranquillus,” and the baby calmed down. “You shouldn’t do that too often,” she commented.
“Thanks anyway,” said Andromeda. “Listen, do you think you’d like to stay with me and Ted during the trials? Of course you’ve got your house, Harry, but I think you might like mine better.”
“We definitely would,” agreed Harry.
“Good,” she said. “I’ve had to be preparing extra guest space a lot recently, so don’t worry about that. But, um, I assume I’ll have to prepare two spaces?” She looked at Ron and Hermione as she asked this, and Hermione nodded as Ron just turned red.
“No,” said Ron, “though I think Ginny may have figured it out anyway, the way she was looking at the two of us the day after...everything happened.”
The mention of Ginny made Harry feel an urge to talk to her, and he found himself asking, “Do you two need to be alone? If you need to figure out what you’re going to do about telling people?”
“Yes, that sounds like a good idea,” said Hermione, and Ron nodded too.
“Just tell me what you decide on,” said Harry as he headed out, and they nodded again before he closed the door behind him and started walking quickly, partly because he didn’t want to accidentally overhear anything, and partly because the urge to find and speak to Ginny was getting stronger.
Luck was with him; when he glanced outside, he saw her alone, standing over one of the flutterby bushes, using her wand to make the branches unbend, though for the moment they stayed still. “Need help?” he called to her as he stepped out.
She hesitated, and he nearly retreated. But then she said, “Yes, thank you. The second bush is moving a bit too much to do this easily; could you keep it immobilized while I work on it?”
They worked in silence after he agreed. She didn’t look at him. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He’d always liked to watch her cast spells; in retrospect, he thought he’d even watched her do so a little more than he’d watched the others even at DA meetings. He loved seeing her brown eyes intensify in color, even the pupils growing shiny, almost as if the magic coming out of her suffused them. Her wand, spruce and phoenix feather, was slightly longer than his, despite her being shorter, and engaged in quick whips through the air as she flicked it about; when he looked closely, there always seemed to be a bit of a spark coming out of it even when she wasn’t actually casting anything. There was a little bit of a breeze outside, just enough for strands of her fire-bright hair to caress her cheeks and brow.
When she was done, she said, “I still feel the way about you I always have. I can’t stop. For years mum told me sooner or later I’d stop even if I didn’t want to, but...”
They had never talked about feelings like this, Harry thought, at least not so directly, though they’d come close during Dumbledore’s funeral. It was a little scary, even after all he’d been through, but it felt right to. They were adults now, much more than most people their age, and he was now aware that if they worked this out, that could easily mean things like marriage and building a life together. “My feelings haven’t changed either,” he therefore said, and with those words he felt a long-standing knot in his chest ease. “I never wanted to leave you, and if you can forgive me...”
“I think I can,” she said, but she still wasn’t looking at him. Then she added, “But I slept with Neville once, and two more boys twice. And I’m not sorry.”
For a moment the knot in the chest came back, that old monster that had once raged within him, back when last he’d heard Ginny had “given up” on him and moved on, and there was too much danger he would forever be too late. Also when he still hadn’t yet been so completed focused on finding Horcruxes and otherwise every minute involved in the fight against Voldemort, so there’d been more time to get mad about such things. But it was a muffled echo of what it had been once, not enough to drown out his head reminding him he had no right to get mad; he’d let her go, after all. In fact, his main thought after a moment or so was that explained too much about Neville’s behavior, and he’d have to talk to him and tell him he’d done nothing unforgivable.
Meanwhile, he just said, “I think I still did worse to you.”
“You did,” she agreed. “And you’re going to have to start making up for it right now. No,” she added as he leaned in, “kissing me won’t help. We can do that a little later, maybe. Also I want you to understand right now that I would like you to come to my bedroom tonight, if you can sneak around mum, but we are not having sex, because I am not up for it tonight.”
“I’m not either,” said Harry, because the funeral really had thoroughly drained everyone. Though even in his current state, something very deep in his body jumped a little at the thought, that sooner or later that was definitely going to happen.
“Good answer,” she said, and clasped his hand. That made him aware of how sweaty his own was, probably cold with it, but hers wasn’t dry either, though it was very warm, possible still from all the magic she had just been doing. “Let’s go in; mum’s probably going to call us to dinner pretty soon.”
He wasn’t the only one who had had a lot of correspondence over the last couple of days, however. Percy had also been receiving owls, mostly from Ministry colleagues, and as well as condolences they were bringing him news as well. It was from him that night that they learned the details were nearly hashed out for Umbridge’s trial, but that things were getting complicated because she was asking for an advocate.
“But shouldn’t she have one?” Hermione asked. When several people gave her looks, she said, “Believe me, I think she’s the most horrible person I’ve ever met. But everyone who goes on trial should have the right to someone who has experience with the law, shouldn’t they? I mean, I always thought it wrong they didn’t get Harry one, and that was when we thought he was just having a small hearing with Amelia Bones. And think about what would’ve happened to him then, if Dumbledore hadn’t come in to save the day, if he hadn’t managed to get Mrs. Figg there, and argue the court out of doing what Fudge obviously was trying to get them to do. Now, I know there weren’t any advocates at the trials last time around; I’ve read more than enough to know that, especially after Sirius told us that he didn’t even get a trial, and wasn’t the only one. But that’s just the point; it was done all wrong last time. We should do it right this time.”
She had made Mr. Weasley look very grave, and he fixed his gaze on Percy as he said, “There are definitely things that could be done this time, and I’m not sure, from a practical standpoint, how many of them are doable, but some of them should be if we have enough people working with us. What happened last time truly was very bad, but that time You-Know-Who had been around longer and recruited more covert accomplices in the Ministry departments and such, rather than just trying to take over from the top the way he did this time. Also of course there was Barty Crouch being in charge of it. Hopefully whoever runs it this time won’t go as far as he did. From what I’ve heard, anyway, everyone’s going to get at least a trial this time.”
“That’s a good start,” said Hermione. “But who’s in charge? Do you know?”
“Don’t think it’s been decided yet. It probably should be while you three are in Australia. I think there are two members of the Bones family under consideration, and I know Sturgis Podmore is campaigning for it-he would definitely be very careful not to go too far after those six months in Azkaban. Probably some others too.”
“If Harry put his voice behind Sturgis Podmore,” mused Hermione, “do you think it would help?”
“No,” Harry said, hastily, before Mr. Weasley could respond. “I’m not doing that. I’m not getting involved in that kind of Ministry business, especially not by just throwing my name around like that. I refuse.”
“But Harry,” Hermione protested, “surely you understand how this thing needs to be done right. Yes, you’ve had one hard task you had to do for the world, but the way I see it, that task’s not over until all the wrongdoers are sent to their fates. And haven’t we already decided we’re going to appear and testify at Umbridge’s trial, when we know exactly what that’s likely to do?”
“That’s different,” Harry protested.
“Really, Hermione,” Ron added, “do you want us to not testify about Umbridge? I think they’ll need us at least for the bit where she pinned Moody’s eye on her door. They might even insist it needs to be exhumed, and we’re the only ones who know where it is.”
“She pinned Alastor’s eye on her door?!” asked a horrified Molly, which meant the story had to be told of how Harry had found it there, and then, since while it was already known they’d invaded the Ministry of Magic that day, Harry, Ron, and Hermione hadn’t really told anyone the details and especially not why they’d done it, they ended up telling the whole story. Though they managed to avoid all the details about Horcruxes, merely explaining that Umbridge had through a complicated set of events ended up with a necklace they’d needed to destroy to defeat Voldemort. Harry didn’t know why, exactly, but that wasn’t something he was up to telling everybody about just yet. Though he did catch Ginny’s eye, as he gave his brief explanation of why the necklace was important, and saw from her nod that she understood the rest.
This took much of the rest of dinner, and got them off the subject, as they talked further of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s adventures, and though Hermione tried a couple of times to take the conversation back to the trials, when noone else really wanted to talk about it she was forced to give up. Harry had the feeling she wasn’t done yet, though, that she was probably going to corner him and Ron both at some point, and probably some other people too.
Mrs. Weasley insisted that George do the dishes with her, and they both spent so long in the kitchen that she ended up not being the problem when it came to trying to join Ginny in her room. That was instead Ron, at least after Harry, without thinking, sat in the chair next to Ginny’s and accepted her tentative smile, and he suddenly came over and sat next to them and looked at them in such a way as to make clear if either of them went upstairs he’d make a point of going with them. It was a bit hypocritical of him, Harry thought, considering he’d already done more with Hermione than he and Ginny even planned to do that night, but that was an argument he was not up to having with his best friend at all.
It was Ginny who took care of it instead. When a little less than an hour after dinner the conversation turned to who was likely to make various British teams for the World Cup, Ginny started telling them about a certain Niniane Cemout, who had been touted by the Ministry during the past year as an example of what talents a pure enough bloodline could produce, although this was apparently due to the behavior of her parents rather than she herself. “She rarely gave quotes of her own at all before You-Know-Who fell,” she said, “and now she’s been quick to repudiate everything they said.”
“Well of course she's been,” Ron scoffed. “That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Still,” said Ginny, “technically she’s done nothing wrong, and it’s not nice that the Tornadoes are shopping her around like crazy, and none of the other teams even want her. Though there’s a rumour the Cannons actually might go for her. Would you cheer for her if they did, Ron?”
Ron shrugged. “It won’t happen. The Cannons never get those kinds of players anymore, not even if they have bad reputations off the pitch.”
“But anyway,” Ginny continued, “the Prophet’s got people on both sides writing about whether or not she should be named to the team. If it wasn’t for this she really would be a lock; she’s that good. I’ve actually got both articles upstairs, if you want to look at them.”
It worked; the two of them went upstairs, and ten minutes later Ron returned to announce that Ginny had decided to turn in. Harry wondered afterwards if Ginny had talked to Hermione, because not long after that she asked Ron if he’d be willing to step outside with her for a moment. He remained worried about whether it was a good idea to be only the second person to go to bed after Ginny, but lucky for him Percy took care of that, standing up only a minute or so after Hermione and Ron had gone out and announcing it was time for him to go to bed as well. When Harry did the same about five minutes later, there was no response besides a couple of murmured “Good night”s.
Heading up the stairs for the first couple of minutes was actually the first time that day Harry felt completely relaxed and free from all cares. It was good to have his world narrow down to the creak of a staircase he still knew well. But it was a short-lived relief, when he got close enough to her room to hear what was unmistakably Ginny crying.
That made him run the rest of the way and throw her door open without knocking, he only remembered not to shout and alert everyone downstairs about where he was in a nick of time. He found her under the covers, in her nightgown, and when he sat down next to her on the bed she weakly rolled over towards him. “Sorry,” she gasped through more tears, “it’s just.....it’s just...” She continued to struggle with it.
“Fred?” he asked, and she nodded. “It’s all right,” he said, though he wasn’t sure that would help. After another moment, he took off his socks and shoes and climbed into the bed with her, and he felt that did help, when he had her in his arms and she burrowed into them, and slowly her sobs quieted.
But then she had her clothes in her hands, and she wasn’t moving, just standing by the dresser, staring at what seemed to be a random spot on the wall. He had no doubt she was thinking about Fred again, and on impulse he got up and pulled her into another hug. “I wonder if it ever feels better,” she said. “Maybe I should go visit the Diggorys and ask them?”
Harry considered it, then observed, “They might not like that.”
“I might do it anyway. Maybe the whole family should go over. Or maybe just mum. She and Mrs. Diggory are still good friends, though I don’t think they see as much of each other as they did before Cedric was killed. And You-Know-Who came back, so we were all busy too...but now that we’re not anymore...” She sighed, and very gently pulled away. “You should probably sneak back to Ron’s room. Mum wouldn’t be happy if she found you in here.”
“I think, um, Hermione might be in there, though.”
“Then tell her to sneak back, too; mum wouldn’t be happy with that either.”
Harry couldn’t argue with that. He wondered if he might be allowed to kiss her goodbye, especially since despite her earlier suggestion, between her crying the previous night and this current wake-up, they actually hadn't gotten around to doing any kissing yet. But by the urgent way she was looking at him and the door, he figured probably not.
If Hermione had been with Ron his room the previous night, however, she’d realized the need to sneak away earlier, because all Harry found there was Ron, clutching the bedclothes in such a way Harry had seen him do when was fully awake, but really didn’t want to get up. Which would’ve been fine, because it wasn’t like any of them had anything to do that morning, except that Ron, when he was doing this, usually wasn’t wearing an expression which indicated he was in dread of opening his eyes. It was the same thing that was afflicting Ginny, of course, but here Harry didn’t know what he could do about it.
He still hadn’t figured anything out when the ghoul started hammering through the ceiling, louder and longer than Harry could remember him doing in the past. It started out unsettling, then as it went on and on, and he started moaning very loudly too. Harry felt himself grow tenser, struggle to remind himself that the ghoul had never broken through the ceiling or attacked anyone, but had in fact been very cooperative while posing as Ron this past year. He was just about to go up to the attic and do something when Ron, who had been stubbornly clinging to his blankets all the tighter, gave up and pulled himself up. “Mum warned me he wasn’t happy with having to move back to the attic,” he commented. “You know, I used to not care how loud he got. I got used to it, you know? And I really shouldn’t mind it now. But somehow, I do. It just isn’t easy to sleep through noise anymore, and I don’t even know why.”
That was when Harry was forced to really face the truth: the Burrow wasn’t the place for them anymore. It wasn’t even exactly for one specific reason. But the idea of spending more than a few weeks here, having to sneak in and out of each other’s rooms all the time, probably failing to sleep through all the noise, most of the house bringing back some memory of the past few years, or of Fred, everyone in pain and noone really knowing how to make it better...when he thought about it, Harry very quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to stand it. And he suspected Ron and Hermione might not be able to either, even before he asked quietly, “What about Hermione? Did she have any trouble sleeping through it?”
Ron blushed, since this was the first time they’d ever directly talked about the fact that he and Hermione were sleeping together. He’d noticed too how Ron had not asked him where he’d slept the previous night; it seemed he wasn’t going to go that route. But he answered, “Actually, yes, she did. But she didn’t grow up with it.”
They didn’t have to have to this conversation now, Harry reminded himself, and he wasn’t sure Ron would react well to the suggestion anyway. It could wait until after they came back from Australia.
For now, they fell back in with the girls as they went down to breakfast. Most of the Weasleys still seemed to be either asleep or still in their rooms; they found the living room deserted. But when they stepped into the kitchen they found Percy at the table. The heavy set of him and the rings around his eyes were enough to make Harry dead certain he hadn’t slept at all the previous night; he was familiar enough with that sight.
For a moment he wasn’t sure what he should say, or for that matter if he should say anything at all. But then Percy said, ghostily, “If I’d done things different, would Fred still be alive?”
“I doubt it would’ve made much difference,” said Hermione gently. “If you’d taken our side and refused Fudge, he would’ve just found someone else, and from there things probably would’ve proceeded exactly as they had.”
“Unless,” Ginny said, hesitant for only a moment, before continuing on, “Percy, did you ever make any big suggestions that they took? I mean, like that whole appointing Umbridge as Hogwarts High Inquisitor level of big?”
For the split second he was silent, Harry very badly hoped Percy would shake his head. But his response, his voice unchanging was, “The Inquisitorial Squad was my idea. I didn’t approve of the rules for the Prefects changing the way they had the previous year anyway, and I thought...I’m not even sure what I thought anymore.” Another split second, then, “I thought the world was going crazy.”
“It must have occurred to you,” Ginny said slowly, “that things being as they were, this would end up getting giving power to the Slytherins.”
“No, it honestly didn’t,” he protested. “I suppose I wasn’t really paying attention enough. Well, I knew the Ministry wasn’t happy with Gryffindor House in general and apparently Umbridge wrote Fudge at one point to say she thought that house was the source of all the trouble, but still...I didn’t realize how things were, not to that extent.”
Harry didn’t know whether to offer his forgiveness or not. Though he was tired of being angry anyway. He was immensely relieved when Hermione said, “It’s all the past. The Inquisitorial Squad caused a lot of misery to various students, but that’s all; it didn’t do anyone any permanent damage. It certainly didn’t make any different in the way the final battle went; all of its members were off the grounds by then.”
“That was the biggest thing I did, then,” said Percy. “I don’t even really remember most of what else I did. After Fudge went out I wasn’t really doing much anyway, especially not once the Death Eaters took over. But now…” He took a deep breath. “Mr. Shacklebolt talked to me at the funeral yesterday. He wants me to take charge of one of the departments; he’s not sure which yet. He says I’m someone he feels he can trust to both be good at the job and to not try to sweep all the collaboration of the higher officials under the rug.”
“That’s good, Percy,” said Hermione. “Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?”
“It was, once,” said Percy. “Back when I was sure there was no way I wouldn’t be worthy of it. I’m not sure of that anymore.”
“You’ll feel differently,” Ginny told him, maybe a bit chidingly, but mostly gently. “I really think you will.”
"Especially," Hermione agreed, "if you think about what I said last night. If Shacklebolt puts that much trust in you, you can make a big difference. Just think about it, all right?"
After a moment, Percy nodded. "We should have breakfast, I think," he said, and started to get up.
But Hermione shook her head. “You’re in no state to cook,” she said. Harry wondered if the four of them were either, though, and maybe she did too, as she stared into the kitchen for another moment, before saying, “Let’s see what’s in the breadbox.”
Breakfast ended up being slices of bread, mostly well-toasted but with bits of it slightly singed(mostly by Ginny, who was amazed at how good at that kind of basic cooking the three of them had gotten while out in the wild), drunk down with a juice Harry was too tired to identify but tasted good, if a little stale. It revived Percy enough that he largely cleaned up for them afterwards, which Mrs. Weasley walked in on him doing. She actually looked worse than she had the previous day, heavily deflated, and very, very tired, and in a way that it occurred to Harry he’d never seen her look while all her children had still been alive. It made him feel guilty over the thoughts he had earlier that morning, that he and Ron and Hermione and Ginny really ought to leave her roof.
Especially when she said, “So, you’ll be flying to Australia soon?”
“Yes, Mrs. Weasley,” said Hermione. “And we may go back there again later.”
“I know,” she said. “Ron told me about the World Cup tickets.”
“I wonder if maybe we could get tickets for anyone else,” Harry said. “I mean, your husband was able to get really good ones for the final last time anyway, right?”
“Well it’s different when you’re hosting it,” said Percy. “Still, it might be done, at least if we bring your name up. Although I’m afraid most of the tickets for sale have almost certainly long been purchased by now.”
“Still,” said Mrs. Weasley, “are you sure you want too big a crowd around the three of you? It would attract more attention.”
“Oh, that kind of attention’s unavoidable anyway, I think,” sighed Harry. “At least now.” And at least a little for the rest of his life too, but that had been happening since he’d first entered the wizarding world. He was holding out hope, at least, that eventually his fame and ability to attract attention would decrease down to its old level. It would probably take a few years, but maybe ten or fifteen might do it.
Until then, he nodded in agreement as Hermione added, “I think be might as well just bear it then. I don’t know how convenient it might be for you all to come to Australia for that long, but when you can. You’re coming at the end of June, right, Ginny?”
“That’s right,” she said, and Mrs. Weasley nodded; obviously her daughter had already talked to her about this. “Or maybe earlier…but probably not.”
Perhaps she really did want to take things slow with him. That was okay, Harry thought. He’d made her wait a year, after all, and she’d waited it. He could return the favor if she really wanted him too. Though it did make him a little sad that they’d be going to Australia so quickly, and that he’d thus soon be without her, at least for a little while.