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in love, and war

Chapter Text

(did you kiss a girl

with nipples like

pink thimbles)

as him, ask

who (ask and ask

and) ask a simple

crazy

thing

singing

in the snow

-ee cummings

xi.

“Will it matter . . .” she begins in a hushed, trembling voice, drawing out the last r in hesitation, “Will it matter that I’m—that I’m Muggleborn?”

The boy laughs. He’s got a dimple in his right cheek, and he throws a bit of grass at her that she doesn’t dodge in time. “Nah,” he says. “They sorted all that out ages ago.”

i.

When the news comes, Andromeda very quietly takes down all of the curtains in the living room and burns them in the backyard. There is no fanfare or ceremony; they burn quickly and the wind carries the cinders away.

There is no reason for it except that Ted had always hated them.

She goes inside and brews some tea; the clock strikes one; a single brave star pushes past the ash-colored clouds and glitters down at her. For a long time, she does not do anything at all.

Then Teddy begins to cry, and she stands, moving to put her teacup in the sink--

And comes eye-level with the family portrait on the mantle, taken six days after Dora’s third birthday. Ted is teetering precariously on one leg, with Dora hanging off of the other, while Andromeda frantically tries to steady them and smile for the camera at the same time.

The teacup drops from her fingers and shatters across the floor, but she cannot bend to fix it—she cannot move to quiet the baby—she cannot do anything but clutch her stomach and try not to throw up, because everyone in that photograph is dead, even her, for surely this cannot be anything but hell.

But Teddy keeps crying, loudly and unrelentingly, and after a long moment she hears—of all people—Bellatrix’s voice in her head: tears don’t do anything but get you wet.

Her movements are slow, and uncoordinated, but—she does not know how—she makes it up the stairs.

ii.

The first place Hermione goes is Australia. It’s warm there, warmer than she was expecting; the ocean seems bluer than it is in England. She’d read six books about the country on the plane, though Ron had delighted himself with the T.V. and had nearly caused an international disturbance when he proudly declared his wand as a weapon.

Harry had offered to come, of course, but he can barely go outside without someone taking his picture, and she doesn’t want this—not this—in the papers.

Wendell and Monica Wilkins are living in Melbourne, in a pretty blue house with sparkly white shutters. The walk is lined with a flower Hermione doesn’t recognize, and she distracts herself from the pounding in her chest by trying to remember if she’s ever seen it.

Ron takes her hand when they reach the porch, and rings the doorbell when she can’t.

Monica answers, wearing the reading glasses that Hermione always teased her about. She’s got bits of flour on her nose and on her hands, and she’s laughing as she opens the door. "Well, hello," she greets, a puzzled smile on her face. "Yes, can I help you?"

Hermione looks nervously at Ron. He gives her a nod. "Well—well you see, we’re here from . . . that is, I was wondering if . . ."

She trails off helplessly, mind shuttering shut. Her mother is tanned, her blue eyes stark against her darkened skin, hair twisted up in the same careless bun that Hermione had always tried to emulate but never could.

Monica Wilkins looks happy.

Maybe, she thinks for a long, horrifying second, maybe I should just leave them be.

She’s floundering, gesturing madly but making no sound, and Ron steps in smoothly: "We were wondering if we might use your loo. Thought we’d take a walk and, well, didn’t take precautions." He laughs easily at himself, raising his hands in sheepish surrender, and Monica Wilkins smiles back at him, charmed.

"Well, of course," she cries cheerfully, pulling open the screen door and sweeping them inside. "Lord knows I’ve been in your situation a hundred times—you forget how far you’ve gone when you’re looking at the ocean, don’t you?"

"Oh, yes, absolutely," Ron agrees cheerfully. "’Mione, you wait here, I’ll just be a second—" and then he’s gone, kissing her quickly on the cheek and murmuring, "I love you."

It’s not the first time he’s said it, but it still sends a shiver down her spine, and she watches him go with the same dazed eyes that she always does. Monica clears her throat. "Now, then, would you like some tea?" she asks, and when Hermione turns to look at her she knows—suddenly—undoubtedly—that if she lets that woman hand her a teacup she will never have the strength to call her mother back.

She takes a deep breath and pulls out her wand and when Monica’s smile becomes frozen and bewildered she speaks in a voice that only shakes a little.

Her wand glows purple, then green, then yellow, and the light wraps around Monica’s head like a halo or a noose and it’s all Hermione can do to stand there, wand steady wand steady wand steady don’t let it shake

Her mother blinks once, twice, and shakes her head.

She peers at Hermione and no one breathes and then she asks, tentatively, "Hermione? What are you doing here?"

The kettle blows.

iii.

The size of the party that they throw for her seventeenth birthday far outweighs its importance. It’s August, four months since, and mostly the Weasleys are itching for something to celebrate.

There are streamers and balloons and Molly makes everyone get dressed up and the boys all bring dates, except George. Auntie Muriel brings her awful dog Bruiser and it spends the whole evening chasing Ron around the yard, yipping and snarling, while Hermione and Harry watch from the picnic table, keeled over in laughter. Around four, someone suggests two-a-side Quidditch and Charlie and Bill play Ginny and Percy, which wouldn’t be a fair match even if Charlie agreed not to use his hands.

Ginny doesn’t mind the dismal loss; when they touch back down, Percy alternates between apologizing profusely and crying foul at Bill for cheating.

George watches it all with a wistful sort of half-smile on his face. Usually when he speaks, his sentences are left hanging and undone, so he falls silent around dinnertime and only looks up from his plate when Ginny reaches for his hand under the table.

His eyes are bright and watery, but he smiles.

It’s eggplant and tripe, Ginny’s favorite, which elicits a chorus of boos and mimed vomiting from her brothers, but Molly silences them with a glare and Arthur loyally announces that he’s been craving tripe since Christmas. (Ginny gratefully pretends not to notice him holding his breath as he takes his first bite.)

Dinner is loud—maybe too loud, maybe they’re all screaming to cover the ringing silence where Fred used to be. Maybe they laugh at jokes they wouldn’t have before; maybe they stay up late into the night, letting the candles burn all the way down because they’re so grateful that they don’t have to be afraid of the dark.

It doesn’t matter. It is one of the best birthdays she’s ever had—she thinks this, and then closes her eyes and apologizes to Fred, wherever he is, and promises it would have been even better, if he was here.

iv.

Nobody really graduates from Hogwarts that year; the school doesn’t even reopen until October. Neville goes to Kings Cross anyway, and stands for a long time between pillars nine and ten, watching the families march through.

No one recognizes him, outside of his Hogwarts robes, a cap pulled down over his eyes and a jacket that’s so overlarge it makes him look like a dwarf.

The seventh years arrive first, some of them with their parents and more of them without. (Neville chooses not to dwell on this, chooses not to wonder who—where—how long.) He knows most of them, recognizes the ones who joined the reformed DA. There is Angie Phillips, with the long scar from her eye to her chin from detention with Alecto; there is Louisa Macmillan, with the whitened scar on her right hand that reads pureblood; and her boyfriend, Davy Kent, who has the other half the set, reading mudblood; there are the Sealy twins, one blind and one deaf (both gifts from Walden Macnair, if Neville recalls).

Seventeen, now, all of them, and Neville thinks that somehow their robes all look too small, too tight, adults in child’s clothing.

v.

Luna only goes to one memorial. The deceased is named Archie Glendale. He was one hundred and four when he died, at home in his bed, asleep. His daughter Sarah and her two children are the only ones at the funeral; he hasn’t got any other family.

Afterward, watching the gravediggers shovel dirt onto the grave, Sarah asks her quietly how she knew her father. Had she been the poor cleaner who had found him?

"No," Luna says honestly, frantically wiping tears away. She doesn’t feel like she’s crying; her chest doesn’t hurt and there are no sobs bubbling up in her throat; the water that spills out of her eyes seems detached, like its not hers at all. "No, I didn’t know him at all."

Sarah frowns. "I don’t understand," she says, as her two boys begin to fight and wrestle on the ground. "Then why are you here?"

Luna shrugs, opening her umbrella. It’s not raining, but it’s nearly November and that’s when Barbling Humdingers are at their worst. "It seemed easier," she says, her eyes sweeping across the graveyard, at the rows and rows of headstones that bear names that she’s sure she’ll recognize. "I’ve seen enough of people who died too young."

vi.

For a long time, Harry won’t go anywhere but the Weasleys’ and the Tonks’. He can’t walk four steps down the street without someone recognizing him, and he’s had quite enough of women weeping and men shaking his hand so hard that he’d afraid it’ll pop out of its socket.

Then, three days before Christmas, he realizes that he hasn’t got anything for Teddy, and even though he knows better than anyone that no child remembers their first Christmas, the thought of his godchild not opening a gift labeled Love, Harry makes him feel sick.

He’d ordered most of the gifts by owl-post, but its too late for delivery, so he trudges upstairs to Ron’s room and shifts around for a baseball cap. It won’t keep them away for long, but hopefully he’ll only need an hour or two.

He’s about to give up and wear Mrs. Weasley’s big feathered sunhat when Ginny tumbles in, her hair sticking every which way, smelling of snow and fresh air. She’s got Ron’s broomstick in her hand and a look in her eye that says she’s stolen it, and his heart stutters to a standstill when she looks up at him and grins.

"Stealing Mum’s hat?" she asks, teasing, as she throws the broomstick back on the bed. "Very shifty, Harry, even for you."

He grins back, though his ears go a bit pink, and he quickly throws it to the side. "What? No, I was . . . I’m looking for a disguise."

The teasing glint hasn't left her eye. "And you thought you'd go as a woman? Crafty. It's the last thing I'd expect." She's laughing at him, and he lets her; it's good to hear her laugh, good to see her with her cheeks flushed and her mouth an achy red from munching snow. "Tell you what," she says, reaching in to grab his hand and not seeming to notice the shock that runs through his arm, "Why don't you let me help you out? You're clearly unpracticed in the art of subterfuge."

She leads him all the way upstairs, past the twin—passed George's old room, and Percy's old room, and Charlie's old room, and they don't stop until they get to a big purple door with an angry red label that growls, "KEEP OUT!" at them when they get too close.

Ginny rolls her eyes at it, ignoring it's vicious hiss as she pushes the door open, and marches to the closet. Upon opening it, several shirts and a moldy pumpkin tumble out; Ginny makes a face and quickly kicks it at Harry. "Throw that out the window, will you, Harry?"

He obliges, watching it fall into the garden and land squarely on an emerging gnome's head. When he turns back to Ginny, she's rummaging through the floor of the closet, bum in the air, muttering, "Where is that thing?"

He's too caught up in the sigh of her perfectly presented backside to be too curious; he's almost disappointed when she crows, "Ha!" and triumphantly emerges from the knee-deep pile of clothing and shoes.

On reflex alone he catches whatever it is that she throws at him. She's grinning so widely that her face might split, so he looks down, and . . .

. . . he laughs. It's startling, even now, eight months since, that he can laugh this way. When he looks up to meet her eye, she's much closer than before, closer than she's been since his last birthday, in her bedroom, when they—

Gently, she takes the glasses from his hands. They're thick, and plastic, with an overlarge nose attached and a thick square mustache. "Bill got these from Dad on his fifteenth birthday," she says, her voice lower, and gently settles them over his own glasses. "He used to walk around in them all the time, because I thought they were so funny."

The mustache tickles his upper lip, and Harry brings a hand up to scratch it—or at least he means to, but the next thing he knows he's tucking her hair behind her ear and Ginny's breathing's gone all shallow and he's forgetting why he ever wanted to leave this house this floor this room . . .

"Harry . . ." she murmurs, "I can still walk away, only tell me now."

The words come out in a tangled, mumbled growl, just before he kisses her, long and deep: "How could you think I'd let you go again?"

vii.

Astoria was never like Daphne. Daphne was loud, opinionated, and always amused by what was going on around her. She treated her friends and family like they were pets or little children and they loved her anyway, because she was sincere and bubbled like a bathtub and had a smile that lit up a room.

Oh, she had her tempers—loud, fiery, burning everything in its path . . . but it came and went quickly, and they loved her for that, too.

Astoria was quieter, gentler, but braver, too. It was Astoria who knocked out Ernie Macmillan's front teeth when they were eight, because he told her that she was going to be a Squib; Astoria who refused to cry when every bone in her right arm were shattered from falling off a horse; Astoria who calmly took the blame when they broke their grandfather's old pocket-watch.

And it was Astoria who got sent to detention for quietly but firmly refusing to say the word Mudblood; Astoria who was banned from the Slytherin Common Room for calling Harry Potter brave.

The Greengrass sisters have always loved, but never understood, one another, so it is Daphne who doesn't think twice about introducing Astoria to Draco Malfoy. Their parents are horrified that either daughter might be seen with him—in public, no less!—but Daphne laughs, "Oh, who cares, nobody remembers . . . I mean, it was a long time ago."

Astoria doesn't want to be left alone in the house, so she tags along, promising to be quiet and unobtrusive and to slip away as soon as she sees a store she likes, so they Apparate together to Diagon.

Draco's there, with a few seventh years, and Astoria accepts their disgruntled glares without complaint. Daphne's loud and her voice echoes and Draco winces, like the noise hurts him.

Well, let it, she thinks nastily, but doesn't turn away when he catches her eye.

They go to Fortescue's and Daphne has a double (of course) and Draco looks forlornly at all the flavors like he's not sure it's real. And for a second—just a tiny second—she feels so sorry for him that it's a nauseous feeling in her stomach, and she wonders if maybe Draco isn't a little bit brave, too, for just being here, for just trying to deserve to live.

So although they don't know one another very well, and although she's heard stories about him that make her toes curl, she bumps his shoulder with hers and looks bravely up at him and says, "I'll share one with you, if you like," and doesn't look away when he smiles.

viii.

Andromeda goes to the graveyard for the first time in February. She'd told herself that she'd stay away until she could bring Teddy and have him understand, but the years stretch ahead of her endlessly and she can't keep away, not that long.

So she leaves Teddy with Harry and doesn't tell anyone where she's going.

She walks blindly, her feet knowing the way although she's never been before. And there they are, all in a perfect row, three stones bearing the name of people that she's loved most.

For a long, painfully strong moment, she wants to lie down across them and go to sleep and never get up, but there is a baby waiting for her at home, and it is the simplest and hardest thing in the world to stay on her feet.

She realizes quickly that she is not ready for these stones, not yet, not if she ever wants to make it back to that baby boy with his father's eyes and his mother's penchant for absurd hair colors (and his grandfather's name, his grandfather's--) so she walks aimlessly, not sure where she's going until she gets there.

It's fenced in, the words Tourjurs Pur written in thick cursive above the entrance. A shiver runs through her as she runs her hand over the door. A little tray pops out at her touch and she hesitates, knowing what's required and not sure she wants to keep going this direction. But it's a long walk back to where she started, and she is not ready to go. Not yet.

So she pulls a pin from her purse and pricks herself with it, and doesn't hesitate again as she squeezes a few droplets onto the tray. It pops back in and the door swings open, and she steps through.

She'd had to memorize all the names as a girl, and runs her fingers over them now: Phineas Nigellus; Elladora; Artcurus; Pollux; Belvina; Callidora.

And from the ancient into the familiar: Cygnus. Druella.

She looks away sharply, before she can read the name on the last, the freshest, before she can let her mind still long enough even to think—

But she's never been able to outdo her sister, nor even really run from her; her eyes dip and yes, there it is, bold and thick and brave: Bellatrix Lestrange.

There's movement from behind her and she turns, guilty, half-expecting the woman herself to be there, smirking, asking, Just couldn't stay away, could you, Drommie, even after everything.

But it's not Bellatrix—of course it's not—it's worse, and she feels shame sweep up her skirts and down her arms, covering every inch of her because she can get in here, she has the blood, she belongs with these people who are her family and the worst part is—she loves them.

She hates them, she wants to light the entire plot on fire, but she loves them, too. She loves them at least as much as she hates them, for all their foolish arrogance and silly traditions, for all their greed and pride and inbreeding, for all their loyalty and honesty and purity.

She straightens, and clears her throat, and throws the shame away as she meets the eyes of George Weasley, and in a motion so swift she almost doesn't notice she's done it, she steps in front of Bellatrix's grave, putting herself between it and him and whatever he has planned.

Neither one says anything.

He's got his hands in his pockets and he lowers his eyes to the ground and after a while he blows a long breath out of his nose and says, "I've been trying to break in for ages you know. Should've figured it would have something to do with blood."

She tries for a smile and only manages a wince. "It's been a long time since I've been here," she tells him gently. "I . . . I'd forgotten, until the door reminded me."

George looks up, and his eyes are so dark and furious that she nearly backs away. But she doesn't; she stays rooted to the spot and thinks: for once, Andromeda, learn to let go. "Why did you come?" he asks, voice trembling not from tears but from an anger that's seeping out of him, anger that she can almost see rising in heat waves from his skin. "You've got—you've got family out there and I saw you—I saw you walk right past them—"

The accusation is thick and heavy and nearly knocks the wind out of her as it whips across her face, and she knows what he's saying even if he doesn't, not quite. How can you betray your family by loving the people that killed them?

She takes a deep breath and lets him glare at her, because he needs to be angry and she needs to think of something other than the people below her feet. "I've got family all over this place," she says at last, trying to keep her face stoic. There's a flash of guilt, but not much, because who hasn't, these days?

Then he laughs, a harsh, broken sound, and says, "Yeah, well, so have I."

"No," she snaps, losing her patience (she never had much anyway), "You've only got one here, and eight more at home that love you."

He looks at her like she's mad as he cries, "He was my twin!"

She folds her arms across her chest and stares him down as the knot in her chest grows and grows and she prays that she won't cry, not now. "You have more people still waiting for you than I had to begin with, George Weasley. I don't feel any sorrier for you than I do for anyone else."

There's an odd snarling sound in the back of his throat as he starts toward her, and she thinks for a minute that he actually might attack her if she doesn't get out of his way, but she's too tired and angry and sad to care. He is a nineteen year old boy who has lost something more than a brother but she is a fifty year old woman who has lost everything, and she's sick of feeling like she hasn't the right to mourn it.

"Don't. Even. Think. About. It," she growls right back at him, drawing herself up to her full height and calling upon every ounce of noble Black blood within her. She sounds—dear God—like her mother, and it startles him so badly that he stops and stares. "I am about the only person in this world that has lost more than you," she tells him, and her voice doesn't soften as she adds, "I am sorry about your brother. I liked Fred. But if you think your family is the only one worth mourning then you are not the man I thought you were."

He stares at her, breathing ragged, and in a moment he is by her side, and they are sinking to the ground beneath the weight of their own thoughts. "I hate her," he says at last, gasping, his hold on her arm so firm that it hurts.

She reaches out and traces the word Bellatrix with her index finger. A tear drips off the end of her nose and she grateful for his grip, holding her up. In a voice so quiet he has to strain to hear, she whispers, "I wish I was so lucky."

They stay that way for a long time, kneeled like weeping saints before her sister's grave.

ix.

In April, the Muggle police at last declare Corrine Abbott 'presumed dead'. Hannah tries to muster some dismay for the man in the suit who comes to deliver the news, but hope isn't easily faked, and the best she can do is a sort of resigned sadness, a lived-in ache that hasn't really gone away since the letter came to her at Hogwarts.

Perhaps that has been the worst part, the knowing and not being able to tell; it was the perfect, painful awareness of where and how and why her mother was murdered, the little gasp of breath that came every time she tried to speak her name, the wave of guilt that nibbled at the back of her mind and whispered it's your fault.

Of course it isn't. Hannah is sensible. She knows this. Still, it's hard, in her weakest moments, not to close her eyes and wonder what it all might have been like if she hadn't gotten that letter, so many years ago.

She always takes tea with Susan Bones on Wednesdays, Susan who's opened an Apothecary with Padma Patil, Susan whose entire left side is black and dead from a curse. All of Padma's hair was cursed out, so she wears a different wig every day, each one more coiffed and shiny than the last, and though neither woman seems to notice these things Hannah can't make herself stop noticing. She loves and hates seeing them, because they are her friends and she is proud of them, of their scars, of their bravery, but she—

She was there, at the final battle, and she fought, too. She'd trembled and shook and taken shelter for a whole ten minutes behind a statue, trying not to weep, but afterwards she'd steeled herself and gone back into the fray like the good little Hufflepuff she was, because if she didn't, who would die in her place?

Hannah was there, too, but her sides are unscarred and her hair is full and she cannot push away the voice that reminds her that everyone else suffered and she got off, scott-free.

The last Saturday in April, Susan brings the Patils and Lavender to Hannah's flower shop, Hannah's Bouquet, and they're all dressed for dinner—Lavender, with her long blonde hair and wide brown eyes, wears a backless dress that proudly displays the long, angry red scars that cover her back. Parvati doesn't try to hide the scars on her face where Greyback got her. Padma's hair is blonde and curled like an old movie star; Susan doesn't even seem to notice her side anymore, hanging limp and useless at her side.

Hannah wears a collared dress that goes down just past her knee and gloves that cover her all the way up to her elbows and a hat, hiding not proud ugliness but unearned perfection.

Instead of going home afterward, they go to the shop, turning on all the lights and wandering through the aisles of flowers. These are a beauty Hannah feels no guilt for, a beauty she works for and deserves. It's a long time before anyone speaks.

"You know," Parvati says at last, "Lavender and I were looking at tea leaves the other day—"

"—We do it when we need inspiration—"

"—And you'll never believe what we saw!"

Padma rolls her eyes and says dryly, "Wait, wait, let me guess. You saw plants."

Parvati shoots her sister a glare and Lavender pouts, put-out. "How did you know?" she whines, folding her arms across her chest.

"Anyway," Parvati interrupts, rallying her energy to summon a smile, "It gave us the most fabulous idea."

Lavender nods excitedly. In a loud half-shout, she announces: "Neville Longbottom!"

Hannah exchanges a glance with Susan; she frowns. "Um. I'm not sure I follow."

Parvati and Lavender look at one another and shake their heads, disparaged. "Well," Lavender says, sighing exasperatedly, "You liked Herbology, didn't you?"

"Yes, but—"

"And you've got this fabulous flower shop, haven't you?"

"Yes, but—"

"And Neville is the one who grows the plants for the Apothecary, isn't he?"

"Yes, but—"

"So we can set you up! He's like, a war hero now, and he's gotten muchbetter-looking since he lost all that weight—"

"—And everyone knows he fancies the pants off you—"

"—It'll be perfect!"

Parvati frowns suddenly. "Only . . . you can't wear that."

Hannah looks down at the dress. "What? Why not?"

"Well . . ." Lavender shrugs delicately. "It's ugly. And it hides you. It's like wearing a lampshade."

Susan nods solemnly. "Or a – wait, what's a lampshade?"

But Hannah waves them both away. "Listen, I don't need you to set me up. I'm perfectly happy, I'm—"

"Hannah." It is Padma, with her wig slightly askew, arms crossed over her chest. She doesn't meet anyone's eyes as she says, "You're hiding the most beautiful thing about you: you don't have any scars."

Hannah flushes a deep, ashamed red and she mutters apologetically, "I know, I'm so—"

"Don't say sorry," Padma interrupts, waving the apology away with something akin to fury in her eyes. "Hannah, don't you see? You're perfect. You fought with us and took hits with us but they couldn't touch you. All the ugliness in the world couldn't settle permanently on your skin." She hesitates; then, with a deep breath, plunges into a confession: "I'm proud of my hair, I'm proud of what I did, but—sometimes—looking around, all I cansee are the scars, and I can't remember what we were fighting for. This? These ruined faces?"

She smiles, tremulously, and meets Hannah's eye. "But then I see you . . . and you're still so—untouched—and it reminds me. It gives me hope."

Hannah looks down at her dress. She cannot speak. Guilt and shame are rolling off of her in waves and suddenly finds herself laughing, tearing off her gloves, her hat, ripping the sleeves off her dress. In a single, fluid motion, she's pulled the whole thing over her head and she's standing in nothing but her underwear.

"I've forgotten what I look like," she says, still laughing, joyously, flinging her wand in the air. Water spilled from the ceiling dispensers over the flowers and over her.

There is water on her skin, her perfect, unblemished skin, and she looks over at her four friends, who are staring with jaws open, until Susan begins to laugh, and tears off her dress, too. And soon they're all running through the aisles in their underwear, all arms and legs and stomachs—all useless sides and bald heads and scarred backs and ruined faces and Hannah, Hannah in the front, perfect.

x.

On the one-year anniversary of Voldemort's death, the Ministry holds a big ceremony. There's awards given and speeches made, honors bestowed and epitaphs read. It's covered on every wireless station and on every page of every newspaper and magazine; for those that don't have tickets, live magicasts are shown on huge billboards throughout Diagon Alley.

Harry doesn't go.

He'd been invited, of course; enticed with the Order of Merlin, First Class; promised treacle fudge and Pumpkin Pasties (Shacklebolt is no fool).

Instead he spends the night at the Weasleys, with Ron and Hermione bickering happily over a game of chess, Crookshankes mewing haughtily beneath them; the smell of mashed potatoes and butter wafts in from the kitchen, where Molly is humming a tune he doesn't recognize; every few minutes there is the sound of something shattering and Arthur shouting: "AHA!" from the shed outside.

Ginny is curled against him like a cat, her head rested against his chest as she reads, and he plays idly with her hair, delightfully pleased with the view he has down the front of her shirt.

It's disrupted by a sudden, house-shaking explosion; he leaps to his feet, and all of them dive for their wands, thinking oh God no not again no

But the dust clears and the house stops rattling and when he clears the ash from his eyes Harry sees George, crouched at the bottom of the stairs with soot and dirt all over his face and hands, beaming like he hasn't seen in exactly a year.

Into the stunned silence, George dips into a flourished bow and announces cheerfully, "Exploding Eggs, for the nieces and nephews you just can't get rid of! Whaddya think?"

There's a long pause, and then Molly shouts: "GEORGE WEASLEY, WHEN I GET MY HANDS ON YOU—"

And George throws his head back and laughs, long and hard and free, and in the echo Harry thinks he hears Fred laughing, too.