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and yes i said yes i will yes (or: four weddings and a funeral)

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i. a joy doubled

George is winning. At least in his own personal estimation. He’s biased, probably, but still. Fred just made a good suggestion of doing a Muggle theme complete with costumes, but it doesn’t compare to George’s own idea of getting a mummy to officiate.

“Polyjuice potion,” he says. “Then we play guess-the-bride.”

“Nice,” Fred says with an approving nod.

Hermione rolls her eyes at them. She doesn’t seem to think their little game is as much fun as they do. Not that such a thing is surprising. Hermione wouldn’t know fun if she had to write twenty inches of scroll on its practices and procedures.

“On broomsticks,” Fred says then.

“Brilliant,” George agrees.

“You’re on your fifth glass of firewhiskey-spiked punch,” Hermione points out tartly. “You think everything is brilliant.”

“Underwater!” George says, as if Hermione hadn’t interjected. “With a merfolk band and gillyweed for all the guests.”

“Oh, honestly,” Hermione sighs.

“Halftime of the Quidditch World Cup,” Fred offers, ignoring her. He hoists his glass in salute as Harry wanders over and sinks into the chair next to Ron, looking hot and itchy in his robes. He’s wearing a distinctly Harry-like expression of befuddlement over his Cousin Barny disguise.

“Did I miss something?” he asks.

“They’re thinking of the most ridiculous, idiotic weddings they could possibly have,” Hermione remarks drily.

“Correction, Hermione,” George says with some annoyance. “The most bloody brilliant weddings we could possibly have.” That’s always been the problem with Hermione, in George’s opinion: no vision. No sense of perspective. She gives him the same look she used to give him when she was a prefect and he was up to no good. He meets Fred’s eyes and Fred nods. Time for drastic action.

“Oh look, it’s Viktor!” Fred exclaims. “And he’s coming this way.” Viktor is nowhere on the horizon, but Ron doesn’t bother to verify before he springs into action.

“Dance with me, Hermione?” Ron asks immediately, up out of his seat and forcibly escorting Hermione by the elbow to the dance floor even before she can accept.

“Ron, really now, there is no need to manhandle me.” Her annoyed voice fades as she and Ron move away.

“Not looking forward to that one as a sister-in-law,” Fred mutters once they’re gone.

“You sure you’re not overestimating Ron’s chances?” Harry asks with a grin.

“Touché, Cousin Barny.” Fred reaches out and clinks his glass to Harry’s. “So are we overestimating your chances with our baby sister, then?”

“Yes,” Harry says darkly, his borrowed face falling into a scowl.

“Oh ho!” George says. “Such pessimism. Faint heart never won fair lady, Potter m’boy.”

“It’s complicated,” Harry says, still scowling.

“No it’s not,” Fred counters. “You meet, you marry, you have babies. We’re wizards, that’s how we do it.”

“Happens to the best of us,” George says.

“Oh? Then why are you two sitting here with me instead of meeting and marrying and having babies?”

“Pity,” Fred answers. “We don’t want you to get so depressed at being alone that you off yourself.”

“Once you’re out of the woods we’ll get you off our hands,” George says.

“And then get those hands on Fleur’s cousins,” Fred finishes. Harry laughs and raises his eyebrows appreciatively.

“Dream big,” he says. “And the marriage and babies will follow, then?”

“Only one way to find out.” Fred sticks out his tongue and waggles his eyebrows lasciviously. Then he grimaces and tugs at the neck of his robes for the hundredth time. “And I can assure you that whomever I marry, the clothing involved will be far more comfortable.”

“Wedding in pyjamas,” Harry suggests.

“There’s the spirit!” Fred and George chorus together. That’s one of the nice things about having a twin. There’s always someone on the same page.

“As diverting as this is, I did promise Ginny a dance,” Harry says. He pushes to his feet, looking a bit ungainly in his borrowed body. He looks down accusingly at his toes. “Though with this body, I’ll probably be an even worse dancer than normal.”

“Just get her so drunk she can’t feel her feet,” George suggests. “Then she won’t notice when you step on them.” Harry laughs and waves Fred’s words off, then wanders away in search of Ginny. They watch as he finds her and they begin an awkward waltz on the floor, Harry’s face utterly besotted over Ginny’s shoulder.

“Poor bastard,” Fred says. “Ginny’ll eat him alive.”

“To a fallen comrade,” George intones and they both hoist their glasses towards Harry’s retreating back.

“It’ll be strange, won’t it?” Fred asks after draining his glass.

“What will?” George asks absently. He’s looking for one particular cousin of Fleur’s, one he’s pretty sure he could talk into a few indiscretions.

“Not waking up to your ugly mug every day,” Fred says. Then, shooting his eyes at George’s newly missing ear, “your ugly, earless mug.” It takes a moment for the meaning to sink in, distracted as George is.

“Are you planning on going somewhere without me?” he asks. Not likely. He can’t remember the last time Fred went somewhere besides the loo without him.

“I hardly think my future wife would be keen on double bunk beds,” Fred notes with a laugh. “Nor yours, for that matter, if you ever dupe some poor girl into marrying you.”

It’s not the first time it’s occurred to George that they won’t be together forever. It can’t be the first time, surely he didn’t think they’d live together their entire lives. But it seems like a fresh shock, like something he couldn’t have even dreamed was possible. If he’s honest, he has to admit that he always imagined them marrying another set of twins, girls who understood and couldn’t fathom being separate either. That would be quite the wedding – everything done in duplicate, from the cakes to the decorations to the brides and grooms themselves. George has to admit, it would beat Muggle costumes hands down, even if an underwater wedding is still the clear winner.

It doesn’t take long for them to find their moment to slip away, luring their chosen quarry into the dark night with whispered promises and a careful touch, their words overlapping until it’s like one person speaking. They’re a well-oiled machine by now. Not that these two girls require much convincing. The one George is with has him pulled around the side of the garden shed with her lips on his before he can even blink. She’s Fleur’s second cousin. Or possibly her first cousin, once removed, he isn’t sure. “Removed from what, exactly?” Fred would say if he asked, and then George would laugh as insincerely as possible and tell him he was a great wit, and then they’d never figure it out. George knows she told him her name, but he can’t for the life of him remember. Marie or Renee or some other name with an R that curls in the back of your throat. Normally she would have his undivided attention but tonight his mind is drifting, he keeps dwelling on the thought of a life without Fred, a life as his own person instead of as a matched set. As strange and unsettling as the idea is, he can’t deny there’s something appealing about it, some exhilarating freedom that makes him feel almost short of breath. It’s almost frightening. But there’s still time. They have plenty of time.

“Your bruzzer seems to be ‘aving a lovely time wiz Minette, no?” the girl asks pointedly, smiling coyly when he forces himself to focus on her. George can just barely hear them, the low rumble of Fred’s voice, the answering laugh soft in the night air.

“Yes, Minette,” he says. A lovely girl. They both are. He tries to focus on her face, to let his mind go blank. Doesn’t work. “Are you twins?” Her hands are busy finding their way beneath his clothes. He should be busying his own hands with much the same task, but somehow his heart’s not quite in it

“No,” she says once her fingers have found his skin. “Only cousins.”

“Pity,” is all he says.

*****

ii. the prerogative of the brave

It’s a suitably bleak day for a funeral. Clouds sit heavy in the sky, their undersides stained grey with threatened rain. Everything looks cold and flat, as if it’s the dead of winter instead of spring on the cusp of summer. Harry thinks Fred would have enjoyed it, nature showing the proper decorum in his honor.

Harry’s dress robes from the Yule Ball still fit, but just barely. He’s keenly aware that several inches of wrist and ankle show beneath the cuffs and hem. Hermione had done her best to lengthen them, but sometimes there’s only so much magic can do to repair or replace. That’s something they’ve all learned all too well.

She’s standing next to him now on the fringe of the family, two outsiders who are usually on the inside. The Weasleys have banded together now, though, leaving Harry and Hermione and even Fleur temporarily dislocated, watching silently from the edge as a family mourns its own.

It’s when Mr. Weasley begins to cry – his shoulders collapsing inward, his face a grotesque mask of grief – that Harry’s chest seizes, that he fumbles for Hermione’s hand and clutches it desperately. He’s never seen a grown man cry like that. It doesn’t seem right. The universe shouldn’t allow such things to happen.

Hermione’s hand is surprisingly small and soft in his. She’s still just a girl, though it’s easy to forget when she knows everything and can do anything. Her hand tightens on his, squeezing almost uncomfortably. Ages ago he might have worried how it looked. “The Boy Who Canoodled,” Rita Skeeter might have written. “Harry Potter causes steamy scene at funeral with best mate’s beloved.” The photograph might have shown him springing away, wiping his hand hastily on his robes. He might have done just that, back then. But this is now, so he just squeezes back and rests his cheek on her hair when she leans her head on his shoulder.

It’s not quite as dignified as Dumbledore’s funeral, which is (thankfully) Harry’s only point of reference for wizarding funerals. Someone – Lee Jordan, probably – sets off a batch of special Wildfire Whiz-bangs and they wheel slowly across the sky, in an almost stately manner. Laughter breaks out in the crowd. Even Mrs. Weasley smiles a bit as she mops at her cheeks with a handkerchief. Leave it to Fred to bring about the invention of funereal fireworks.

“Oh,” Fleur says, softly, sadly, as a Catherine Wheel makes ever-widening circles around the still-gathered Weasleys before flying up into the air and exploding in an almost gentle shower of sparks. “A funeral should not be so pretty,” she says to Harry when he glances at her, a smile playing at her lips. There’s no disapproval in her voice, just sad fondness. Harry can tell that she too finds all of it strangely fitting. He suddenly wishes he knew her better, that he were free to take her hand as well, in comfort and in solidarity.

“Sod it,” he says under his breath. He reaches over, blindly finding her hand with his own. They stand there, the three of them – the Weasleys adjunct – until the family breaks and expands, enveloping them, pulling them into their gravity.

There’s a massive hole in the roof of the Three Broomsticks. Harry had missed so much of the battle. It hadn’t occurred to him how widespread it must have gotten, how people everywhere must have gotten involved in the conflict. They all spend an inordinate amount of time looking up at the sky through that hole, he notices. Trying to compose themselves, he thinks, or remembering happier times.

“To Fred.” George’s voice is steady as he holds his mug aloft, but his hand shakes almost imperceptibly, sending a tiny spray of butterbeer onto the table at Harry’s fingertips. Harry stretches out a pinky to swipe over the droplets, rubbing the moisture into the scarred wood.

“To Fred,” he echoes, his voice just one in a chorus. Fred was popular, there’s no denying. There are even people outside, peering over each other’s shoulders through the open door to raise their own glasses. After the toast they buzz and rumble, sharing stories of Fred’s exploits at Hogwarts, their laughter interspersed with bludger straight at Malfoy’s face and fireworks during O.W.L.s and and then Neville turned into a canary. Ginny appears with a fresh drink and squashes into the tiny space left on the bench between Harry and the wall. There’s just enough room for it to be uncomfortable, but he wouldn’t dream of asking her to move and she seems like she has no intention of going anywhere even if he did.

“You’ve finished the first already?” he says, gesturing to her mug.

“Don’t you get on me about that too,” she says. “Mum’s already giving me the eye.” Indeed, Mrs. Weasley is giving Ginny a look of disapproval but Harry can tell her heart isn’t really in it. She’s been finding any reason to touch all of them, straightening George’s collar, fussing at Percy’s robes, even wiping a nonexistent speck from Harry’s glasses at one point. It’d be easy to forget that just a day ago she was fighting like a warrior.

“Wouldn’t dare,” Harry tells Ginny. She nods in grim satisfaction and raises her glass.

“To Fred,” she says again in a cracked voice. A third of the drink is gone in one long gulp. Her misery is palpable. Harry knows she’d buried it during the fight and the aftermath, focusing only on matters immediately at hand, but it seems to be catching up with her now. He wishes he could hold her, comfort her, touch her the way he felt free to a year ago.

When it occurs to him that he can do all those things, it’s almost a shock. There’s nothing to stop him. No one to punish him. Love doesn’t come with a cost anymore. He doesn’t waste any time. Before she’s even swallowed the last of her drink he has his arm looped around her shoulders, her legs tugged across his lap. Her momentary surprise doesn’t stop her from burrowing into his shoulder. The damp warmth of her tears on his shirt is a small price to pay.

“Look,” he says, after her tears have subsided to wet snuffles. “Sun’s out.” She looks up at the now-blue sky visible through the hole in the roof.

“Does that mean I have to be cheerful now?” she asks.

He laughs. “No.”

“Good.” She drops her head back to his shoulder. “What about this?” She gives him a nudge with her shoulder, bumps her nose against his jaw. “Am I allowed to get used to this or will you wrench it cruelly from me again?”

“I think you’re safe,” he assures her. He curls his hand around her calf, the skin at the back of her knee unspeakably soft under his fingertips.

“That’s good too,” she says. “I’ve already lost about as much as I care to.” He nods, expecting the tears this time with his handkerchief at the ready.

“To Fred,” she says one more time, her voice barely more than a whisper.

“To Fred,” he agrees, and he sits with her watching that patch of blue sky until it’s time to go.

******

iii. reasons that reason cannot know

It feels strangely like watching her child get married. Or a former lover. Someone she once thought of as hers becoming someone else’s. Hermione stands there watching Harry marry Ginny, and she’s astonished to find she has to stop herself from objecting. It’s selfish, she knows. More than selfish, it’s foolish. Ron has always been the one she wanted. She’s never thought of Harry as anything other than a friend, than part of her family. It’s just strange, really, how different everything could have been. How easily it might have been her standing there beside him on his wedding day instead of Ginny. It would have worked, she thinks now with surprise. They would have worked, she and Harry. The two of them were logical. And it’s no secret how fond Hermione is of logic.

Ron couldn’t be more illogical. He is possibly the most foolish, poorly-thought-out thing she’s ever done. They’re so different, so constantly at odds. She disagrees with Ron on most everything he does: how he ties his shoelaces (double knot); which part of the paper he reads first (adverts); even how he cuts a bloody kiwi in half (in the long direction, which is so incredibly wrong-headed she can’t quite understand how she could have pined for such a person for so long). It’s insane, really. But then there are the things he does that seem so right, so unquestionably how they should be. It’s strange. Hermione isn’t used to being confused. Maybe that’s why it works.

She looks at him now, standing at Harry’s side, a mixture of happiness and protectiveness on his face. It took him a long time to sort out his feelings over Harry and Ginny, she knows. It wasn’t easy for her either, at times. Especially after the war. After she came to depend on Ron and Harry, came to expect them there at every waking moment. An interloper, even one as loved and trusted as Ginny, was an unwelcome addition to their little self-made family for longer than Hermione cares to admit now. It had caused more than a few rows between them.

“Harry doesn’t belong to you, Hermione!” Ginny said hotly on more than one occasion.

“I know that,” Hermione always snapped in response, when what she really wanted to reply with was, “Yes he does!” or a plaintive, “But why doesn’t he?” She’d confessed as much to Ron one drunken evening (an evening he had shamelessly used to his advantage, taking her back to George’s apartment and getting his hand into her knickers). She’d been surprised to learn he’d had the exact same rows with Ginny and had wanted to say the exact same things, even though he hadn’t. So maybe Ron and Hermione make more sense than she gives them credit for.

“You’re awfully young for this,” she said when Harry told her of his engagement to Ginny. It wasn’t the most gracious way to receive the information, she knew. But then, he must have expected it. Otherwise he would have announced it to the whole family at once instead of meeting her for lunch and hastily blurting out his news all while looking nervous about her response.

“I figured you’d say something like that,” he laughed.

“It’s just so soon after…” She trailed off. After the war, after life going back to normal. After playing at being adults together, all three of them with their flats and their jobs and their lives, without actual adult things such as marriage to complicate all of it.

“I know,” Harry said. “But I’m ready.”

He’s beaming now, looking at Ginny like she hung the moon as they dance together. Would he be quite that happy if it were Hermione standing up there? Would such a sensible pairing ever inspire such happiness? Harry’s never hurt her the way Ron has, he’s never infuriated her to the point of speechlessness. He’s never made her cry. But then he’s never made her heart stammer with his smile, either. He’s never done things so absurdly touching that she can’t believe such a person exists. He’s never touched her so reverently that she could forget she’d ever felt awkward or ugly or unwanted a single day, a single second of her life.

“Yoohoo, Hermione,” Ron says. He ducks to look her straight in the eye and Hermione realizes she’d been staring over his shoulder at Harry and Ginny across the dance floor.

“Sorry,” she tells him with an apologetic smile. “I was wool-gathering.”

“Wool-gathering,” he says idly. “Muggles have such strange expressions. What does it even mean?” He moves her easily across the floor, holding her hand tucked against his chest, his feet on the outside of hers guiding her, encompassing her, protecting her; he’s not an accomplished dancer, or even a particularly good one, but he’s a lovely partner all the same.

“Not sure,” she admits with a bit of a frown. “Something to do with shepherds, I imagine.”

“Someone needs to write Muggles: A History,” he decides. “Explain all the strange things you people do, like having sayings about wool, or sending postcards, or watching game shows.” Hermione laughs. Ron had never quite come around to the television programmes her parents had encouraged him to watch when she’d brought him to visit. “Or flossing,” he adds with a grimace of distaste, her parents clearly in mind.

“How else would you prevent gingivitis?” Her grin is accompanied by a gentle fingertip tracing the shell of his ear the way she knows he likes best. His reaction is immediate and gratifying, his eyelashes fluttering almost closed until she can only see slivers of white between them. She wonders if she’ll ever get used to the idea that she can affect him in such a way.

“Don’t you want to ask what gingivitis is?” she asks innocently. The look he gives her from half-lidded eyes is decidedly less than innocent.

“I don’t understand half the things you say, what’s one more?”

“You make no sense at all, sometimes,” she tells him and there’s no denying the affection in her voice, the sheer happiness she feels at the idea. Hermione Granger, embracing the lack of logic. Who could have imagined?

“Yeah,” he agrees. “That’s why I’m good for you.” He pulls her in closer, his nose skimming up her cheek, his warm breath on her temple making her shiver. She doesn’t respond. She knows she doesn’t need to.

******

iv. one plus one equals everything

Each of them is certain they know who it will be. Molly is sure it will be Bill. George had idolized Bill, tagging after him as a child, begging to be admitted to his room. Molly would often go to check on the boys at night when they were tiny and find George curled with his blanket in front of Bill’s door. Of course he’d choose Bill to be his best man.

Ginny’s positive it’ll be Lee Jordan. Haven’t he and George been thick as thieves for ages, after all? Isn’t Lee the one person George has stayed close to, after withdrawing from almost everyone and everything after Fred’s death?

Ron himself has a suspicion that it’ll be Ginny. George has never been one to be cowed by convention, after all. Having his sister as his best man is just the sort of thing he’d enjoy. Of course, there’s a more unsettling aspect to it, too; Ginny was always close to Fred, sharing his temperament and his temper, and Ron wonders if George, in some misguided need to bring Fred back somehow, might view her as a sort of a replacement for Fred. A stand-in. The next best thing.

He doesn’t say this to anyone other than Hermione, though, and then only when it’s late and she’s half-asleep, her mind soft and muzzy and incapable of debate. He only wants this thought to be heard, not examined, analyzed, contested. Most likely she has her own idea of who George will choose as his best man and would talk Ron’s ear off with theories and evidence and possibly even sketch out a diagram if he ever brought it up while she was lucid. The dynamics of large families are a subject she’s never quite managed to master, though; her guesses would probably be wild and baseless. Their father, maybe. Or Hagrid.

(Everyone’s wrong, naturally. The day George marries Angelina, the space beside him will be empty, a deceptively narrow gap between him and Ron. Not everyone will be scandalized at George’s choice of a bride. There will be many in attendance who know nothing of this Johnson girl. They will sit and smile serenely, the doddering relatives and family friends, the Ministry officials and scions of wizarding society who have concerns more pressing than young George Weasley marrying his dead twin brother’s one-time love interest. Others, however, will gossip. “Can you even believe?” they’ll say, voices tinged with disapproval, or frank admiration, or sometimes both at once.)

George had told the family over dinner at the Burrow. He said it casually, the exact same way he would say, “I’ve hired someone on at the shop,” or, “I’m thinking of going on holiday.” Molly shrieked and dropped a plate of potatoes, only a quick charm from Charlie saving them from a splattery end on the floor. She rushed to George, practically smothering him in her embrace (“She’s always been worried he won’t marry,” Hermione would tell him later, and a fine thing it is to hear about your own mother’s emotional state from your girlfriend). Everyone offered congratulations, gave George hearty claps on the back. Ron wonders if he’s the only one who found it all jarring and strange.

“It just seems morbid, somehow,” he says against Hermione’s neck as they lie in bed together. They maintain separate flats – for Molly’s sake – and they all pretend, Molly included, that the two of them sleep in their respective beds alone. Hermione combs his hair absently with her fingers, holding a paperback open with her free hand and frowning slightly at the dense paragraphs, paragraphs that make Ron sleepy and bored just glancing at them. He can’t count the number of times they’ve lain like this, their movements settling into a comforting routine that often only varies with her book and the level of complication of her nightclothes – silken and easy in summer, flannel and pleasantly frustrating in winter.

“Fred and Angelina barely dated,” she reminds him, dropping her book to rest open on her chest, inches from Ron’s nose. The pages flutter slightly when he exhales. He watches them stir, turns his head against the jut of Hermione’s collarbone. His fingers test the yield of the flesh on her hip. She’s softer now than when they were eighteen and he felt that hip for the first time. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s there.

“I know,” he answers. He does know. Fred never even called Angelina his girlfriend. But still. If Ron had died, wouldn’t it be strange for Harry to marry Hermione? Even as the thought occurs to him, he realizes it wouldn’t be so outlandish, that Harry and Hermione might be a good match under the circumstances, and he can’t stop a flare of deepest jealousy, the kind he thought he’d been rid of for good years ago.

“Ow, Ron, fingers.” Hermione winces slightly as his hand tightens reflexively on her hip at the thought. Contritely, he slides his hand up, curves it carefully over her ribs.

“Just promise you won’t marry Harry if I die,” he says.

“I couldn’t,” she promises, giving no indication if she thinks his request strange. Then her lips twitch as she says, “He’s already married, it’d be illegal.”

“Funny,” Ron grumbles. “You’re a real wit.”

“That’s why you love me,” she agrees.

“Is that why? I thought it was because of the sex.” He rolls halfway on top of her and shoves her book to the side, all thoughts of George pushed into an empty room at the back of his brain. His mouth is against her throat and he makes a growling noise. She giggles, not stopping even when he kisses her. Crazy how she seems younger now than she did when they were eighteen, sometimes.

He settles on top of her, his chin resting on her breastbone, taking the place previously occupied by her book. Stray curls of her hair tickle his nose and mouth and she brushes them away with gentle fingers.

“It’ll work out,” she says softly, and he knows she’s right. She always is. It doesn’t irritate him the way it once might have. He runs his cheek over the soft swell of her breast, the bristle of a day’s worth of beard catching and snagging on her shirt, and reaches for the book next to her on the bed.

“Ghosts and Ghouls: A Comparative Analysis,” he reads from the cover. “Not the most promising bedtime story, but I suppose it’ll have to do.” He flips oven the book and scans for a good place to start.

“Just make sure you do the voices,” she says, smiling as if despite herself.

“I wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.”

*****

v. the country of the heart

It’s the weekends that try Molly the most these days, child-free and peaceful as they are. The weeks seem much as usual, Arthur at work and she occupied with the same mundane tasks as always. It’s only on the weekends that the two of them rattle around the house like forgotten pieces of junk in an otherwise empty drawer. The Burrow always used to seem too small to contain them all, but now it feels empty and cavernous, the clamor of family filling it all too infrequently for her liking. Those weekend days stretch ahead of her like an ocean sometimes, too endless to imagine. Sometimes she marks them off on a mental calendar – another weekend, another imaginary X, drawn thick and black, ticking off the weekends of her life, the days yet to go. Strange how she can both dread and anticipate the day when those weekends are all crossed off.

True, there are things to disrupt the pattern. Big events and special occasions that serve to shake up the box her days are in, leaving them in a jumble until routine puts them to rights again. Birthdays – her husband’s, her children’s, their increasing numbers of children’s. Her own, the least welcome of any. The anniversaries of battles and deaths and weddings. And then there are the weddings themselves. Though she won’t be having any of those to distract her again for quite a while. Ron is her last until her grandchildren come of age. All the more reason to make a fuss.

“It’s anticlimactic,” Ron’s complained. “Hermione and I have been together longer than anyone, the wedding is just tying the last loose end.” Hermione greets such sentiments with calm disinterest. Ginny rolls her eyes. Molly tends to take them as a challenge. Anticlimactic, my foot, she thinks to herself.

“We’ll just see about that,” is what she says to Ron.

Hermione makes a beautiful bride. Hard to imagine that this is the same girl with fly-away hair and more tooth than strictly necessary that Molly met so long ago on Platform 9 ¾. Hermione’s mother seems unafflicted by the melancholy that besets Molly; she’s all smiles and happy tears and motherly pride. She helps Hermione with her veil and sets her shoes out side by side and takes picture after picture with a curious little camera that’s small enough to fit into her pocket.

“Almost time!” her mother says. “I’ll go join your father, then, shall I dear?” Hermione smiles and gives her mother one last hug. Molly knows she should follow suit. Arthur will be waiting for her, an empty seat by his side, the one on the aisle because he knows she likes to have a clear view of everything. But she hesitates instead of following Hermione’s mother out. Her mind drifts back to that Easter, the one during the Triwizard Tournament, when she sent Hermione that pitifully tiny egg, one barely a quarter of the size of Ron and Harry’s. All because of that Skeeter woman’s articles pairing her with Harry.

“Hermione, dear?”

“Hmm?”

She hesitates, long enough that Hermione realizes her silence and turns away from the mirror to face Molly, her expression curious. Molly holds her breath, decides she’ll only congratulate Hermione and leave, but then says anyway, “I’m sorry about the egg.” Any hope that Hermione might have forgotten about the egg goes unfounded. Her brow beetles slightly, the side of her mouth twitches downward as if caught on some invisible hook. Molly knows Hermione’s never forgotten. One more thing to regret. But then her face smoothes out, her mouth assembling itself into a potential smile. She nods, just barely, and Molly knows the slight has been long-forgiven if not long-forgotten.

“He’s always been my sensitive one,” Molly says, as if she’s just making conversation and not voicing the fundamental worry that’s been her companion for so long. She takes a compulsive step forward to fuss with Hermione’s skirts, twitching them back and forth and picking at nonexistent bits of lint that might as well be absolution. “Poor thing always got the short end of the stick, the last of the hand-me-downs. He felt the lack so keenly and all I could do was add another patch.” She remembers the years of frayed hems, of ankles showing beneath too-short trousers and books layered with Spellotape. Molly straightens and attempts to smile brightly. She can’t seem to keep still; her hands creep of their own volition to straighten Hermione’s skirts once again. Hermione catches her hands and stops the motion. The strength of her grasp is reassuring.

“He was always my first choice,” she tells Molly quietly. Molly tightens her hands so much she’s sure she must be hurting Hermione. She inhales deeply and loosens her grip.

“I know, dear.” How silly it seems now, to think Hermione ever felt otherwise. How very brooding mother hen. She’s careful not to wrinkle Hermione’s dress when she hugs her but she can’t quite keep back the moisture welling in her eyes. “Oh goodness, look at us. You mustn’t ruin your make-up.” Never mind that it’s Molly’s eyes that are wet and smudged rather than Hermione’s. She rushes out before Hermione can make such an observation, stopping to dab at her face with her sleeve before taking her seat next to Arthur. It wouldn’t do to look like she’d started crying before the ceremony even began.

It’s the most beautiful wedding. Molly says that about each one, but it’s true. She wouldn’t be able to stop crying throughout the ceremony even if she tried, so she doesn’t bother with the attempt, instead sobbing openly into Arthur’s handkerchief. Ron shoots her a slightly exasperated look, but Hermione smiles and winks at her. She’s holding Ron’s hand tightly in hers; she has been since she reached out to him after walking down the aisle. It only makes Molly cry harder. Maybe she drinks a little too much at the reception, maybe she hugs Ron one too many times, maybe her steps are a bit unsteady when she sways in a dance with Arthur. He’s her last, the last of them to leave her. She has an excuse.

“I’ve been thinking about getting a job,” she tells Arthur as they both read in bed later that night (she the latest Witch Weekly, he a pamphlet describing the care and maintenance of some Muggle appliance called a refrigerator, a gift from Harry, the dear boy).

Arthur says nothing. She can tell by his silence that he’s surprised, curious, waiting for her to continue. After these many years, they can read the silences more easily than the words.

“The children are all gone now,” she says, willing her voice not to wobble and betray her. The black Xs stretch to the horizon. “They don’t need me so much anymore. Maybe I could volunteer at St. Mungo’s. Or do something at the Ministry.” He regards her – carefully, affectionately, tragically – and she works at convincing herself that it’s just a simple conversation about a job, nothing more.

“All right,” he says, in that quiet way of his, the way that made her fall in love with him (stories she told her children of grand gestures and sterling character aside). “I’ll see if there are any positions open tomorrow at work.”

“All right,” she echoes him, too grateful to trust herself to say more. He turns back to his reading, his hand placed lightly on hers over the covers acknowledging what she said and all she didn’t say. She studies him out of the corner of her eye. It’s so familiar a sight after all these years, she could probably draw it from memory: rumpled nightshirt, glasses low on his nose and head tilted back to peer through them, mouth slightly open in absent-minded concentration. She can’t remember a time when that wasn’t the last thing she saw before falling asleep.

She flips her hand over beneath his, laces their fingers together and squeezes. His answering squeeze is firm, his hand warm. Sometimes the mundane pattern of life is something to be grateful for, she supposes.

 

main title from ulysses by james joyce
section titles:
i. “a joy shared is a joy doubled” : johann wolfgang von goethe
ii. “a coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave” : mahatma gandhi
iii. “the heart has reasons that reason cannot know” : blaise paschal
iv. “in the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything” : ninon de l’enclos
v. “the family is the country of the heart” : giuseppe mazzini