Below, far below where he stood now on the edge of the cliff in his bare feet, the wind and the sound of rushing water whipping at his hair; his ears, Harry Potter could just make out the white break where the waterfall met the jade blue of the pool beneath him.
Harry rubbed his eyes as he stared out over the blurred distance, wishing for the twentieth time since Apparating to the top of the waterfall that he'd used a Sticking Charm to keep his glasses on his face, rather than leaving them on the bank with Fleur and little Teddy, far below from where he stood now.
Feeling a small, warm hand snake itself into his, Harry looked to his right to see Ginny smiling at him. Not for the first time he felt his breath catch in his throat. She was wearing a red string bikini that tied in the back, and her milky skin was glowing in the bright summer sunshine. She squeezed his hand reassuringly and threw back her head to bask in the late afternoon sun, throwing back her long, red tresses, damp from the mist of the waterfall next to them. Even through his blurry vision she looked positively radiant.
For the hundredth time since the Battle of Hogwarts three weeks ago, it struck Harry like a brick to the head that he was free. For the first time since he could remember, the future wasn't bleak. On the contrary, it shone with possibilities.
"Are we gonna do this or what?" a voice shouted from his left, carrying over the noise of the waterfall. Ron, just on the other side of Hermione on Harry's left, was giving him an impatient look.
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this!" Hermione shouted at Ron, looking over the cliff with a dubious, if not outright terrified, look.
"C'mon, Hermione," responded Ron, "I couldn't very well let you stay down there with Fleur and the baby, this is important!"
There was a teasing glint in his eye, but Harry saw the way Ron reached over to squeeze Hermione's hand in a gentle, reassuring manner, and the way she smiled back into his teasing blue eyes as if seeing him for the first time.
"Oi! Could you two get a room?" he called to his two best friends, and was slightly pleased to see Hermione's face redden.
"You're one to talk," retorted Ron. "The way you and Ginny've been carrying on, I'm surprised Mum hasn't kicked you outta the house yet."
"Hey, leave me out of this!" Ginny shouted at her brother over Harry and Hermione.
"Can we discuss our little sister's snogging habits later?" George called from Ginny's right, interrupting any retort that Ron might have made. With that comment he received a sharp jab in the ribs from Ginny's small, but evidently rather fierce, elbow.
"Hey!" responded George, rubbing his ribs tenderly, as on the other side of him Lee Jordan snickered uncontrollably.
"George is right," called Angelina Johnson from next to Lee as she, Katie Bell, and Alicia Spinnet rolled their eyes in apparent annoyance with the boys' immaturity. "Let's just do this."
"This is for Fred," called a quiet, stern voice that had somehow managed to carry itself over the roar of the waterfall and the laughing, joking voices of the rather large group of young people.
There was sudden silence, and at least thirty pairs of eyes turned to look at Percy Weasley, who stood, rather somber, between Luna Lovegood and the eldest Weasley brother, Bill.
"For Fred," repeated George, suddenly quite serious as his eyes met Percy's down the line of young people, and in that moment a quiet understanding passed between them.
"For Remus and Dora," added Bill after a moment.
"For Mad-Eye!" called Neville Longbottom.
"Albus Dumbledore!" someone else called down the line. "Sirius Black!"
"Dobby!" Hermione called from between Ron and Harry, and they both reached out to squeeze her hands.
On and on it went, as people one by one called out the names of friends and family lost in the war; loved ones killed by Voldemort and his Death Eaters until, finally, the calls of grief trickled away, leaving a somber silence in its wake.
Finally, Harry stepped forward until his bare toes touched the cliff's edge, and he turned his back to the edge, turning to face the people that surrounded him. Everyone was looking at him, their apparent leader, in silent expectation.
These were his friends, his classmates, his family, his brothers and sisters . . .
Finally, when he spoke, what came out of his mouth was simple, "For Severus Snape, possibly the bravest man I ever knew." He silently dared someone to argue with him, but no one did. There was a moment of silence as everyone stared back at him.
"For Severus Snape," Ron finally repeated, breaking the silence, and one by one it was repeated up and down the line until the name of the most unpopular professor at Hogwarts (aside from Slytherin House) and former Death Eater, had been repeated about thirty times.
When at last there was silence again Harry turned around and took his place in line between Ginny and Hermione. Without another word Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs, both former and current, joined hands as one and stepped to the edge of the cliff. Harry counted to three and, joined with the others, jumped.
A heart-pounding sensation of free-falling, a quick blur of blue sky, and suddenly Harry was crashing into the water, his hands still gripping tightly to Ginny's and Hermione's. He kicked for the surface of the water while struggling to see a face, but only filtered, murky sunlight and black blurs bobbed and thrashed in his field of vision. Hermione's hand slipped from his grasp but he held tight to Ginny, and finally the rich, delicious rush of air filled his lungs as his head broke the surface of the water.
He was suddenly gasping for air and aware that Ginny's arms were wrapped tightly around his neck, and she was laughing, a full-throated, relieved laugh before pressing her lips to his. Harry responded, kissing her back and laughing in turn as the voices of friends wolf-whistled around them in the water, but Harry ignored this.
Finally they broke apart, still laughing, and Harry became aware of the others around them. Some had climbed to the bank of the water, while others had merely swum to the shallow end, away from the waterfall, in order to roughhouse.
He caught sight of George and Lee trying to hold Percy underneath the water, and Bill had made it up onto the bank to sit with his wife and little Teddy Lupin. Ron and Hermione were sitting together on a large rock, talking intimately with their faces close together, their fingers gently intertwined. Harry watched on, smiling, as Hermione laughed before kissing Ron playfully, almost shyly, on the lips.
Next to him, Ginny smiled as she followed Harry's gaze. "Glad to see my brother decided to quit being a git," she commented as, together, they swam to join the others on dry land. "Well, he's still a git," she amended, panting a bit as she struggled to talk and swim at the same time, "but you know what I mean."
Before he could respond, they had reached the bank and were being pulled out of the water rather enthusiastically by Neville and Luna, the former of whom slapped Harry on the back and thrust glasses of firewhiskey into their hands as the latter draped towels around their shoulders.
"We're celebrating, mate," said Neville cheerfully, "and it's about bloody well time. I'm about sick of mourning."
"Couldn't agree with you more," said Harry with a smile, noting with silent amusement that Luna, who was now sitting in a chair and drinking something rather foul-looking, had covered up her swimsuit with what appeared to be a pink-flowered muumuu.
Harry dragged his eyes away from Luna and back to Neville, the loyal young man who had proved a brave and true friend from the very beginning. Neville, whose parents had been tortured to insanity by Death Eaters. Neville, who had cut off the head of Voldemort's snake, the final Horcrux, allowing Harry to finally finish the Dark Wizard off. Harry lifted his glass of firewhiskey to Neville before downing it in two large gulps.
Harry sat the empty glass on the ground as Ginny, Neville, and Luna began to converse, about what, Harry had no idea. He was thinking about what Neville had said, "I'm about sick of mourning." It was true, in the past few weeks since the fall of Voldemort it had been a bittersweet time.
He had been staying at the Burrow during this time, and the losses suffered in the war had taken a toll on everyone. The Weasleys had lost a beloved son and brother in Fred's passing, and his twin, of course, had taken it the hardest, although he'd pretended otherwise. "Fred wouldn't want me to mope," George insisted, and although it was undoubtedly true, the sadness was unmistakable behind his sometimes forced laughter. George had been lost these last three weeks without his twin there to finish his sentences and to share in practical jokes. In fact, if it had not been for Lee Jordan's frequent visits to fill the void left by Fred, George might not have handled his twin's absence as well.
Percy had been torn up as well, stricken by not only grief, but guilt at his temporary falling out with his family, and regret that he had not been able to make it up to Fred properly before his passing.
Funeral after funeral had followed in quick succession. After Fred's, there had been one for Remus and Tonks, who had passed, like Fred, in the final battle, leaving their baby son an orphan. Baby Teddy's Grandmother Andromeda, grief-stricken after the loss of almost her entire family, had been too sick to care for him. The baby, like Harry, had therefore been staying in the home of the Weasley family these last few weeks until permanent custody could be decided. Although Harry was Teddy's legal godfather and of age he was, nevertheless, too young and too unprepared to meet the needs and demands of a young baby.
So many losses. So much mourning. It seemed to overshadow the fact that they had won the war, but it was true: They had won the war. They had won and Voldemort was dead. The last of his Death Eaters were being rounded up, and the fact that Harry's fate was no longer dependent on whether he could kill Voldemort before Voldemort could kill him sometimes struck him full force.
Silently, he wandered away from his friends to find his glasses where they lay next to the beach towel where Fleur had lounged with the baby only a few minutes before. Putting them back on his face, he looked around to see Fleur and Bill with Teddy at the edge of the water, dipping his tiny feet into the cool liquid. At this, the baby cooed and his hair turned a bright shade of blue.
Harry smiled as he remembered Tonks, and he knew things would be all right now. Fleetingly, as he watched the couple with the baby he imagined himself and Ginny in Bill and Fleur's place, and instead of a blue-haired baby, they were holding a red-haired baby.
"Oi! Potter!" a voice called, interrupting his fantasy. He looked up in time to see Oliver Wood jogging toward him. "You look like you could use a drink," he said, sitting down next to Harry on the beach towel and thrusting a half-empty bottle of firewhiskey into his hand. Harry accepted it with a nod, taking a deep swig from the bottle.
"So," said Oliver after a moment, "have you been thinking about what you wanna do now that You-Know-Who's gone for good? Career-wise, I mean?"
"Only a bit," Harry admitted after a moment. The applications had begun to arrive by owl about a week after the Battle of Hogwarts – everything from high positions at the Ministry to things as mundane as 'prison guard of Azkaban.' They were in need of new ones, after all.
But Harry had only scanned these and tossed them aside, and they had formed quite an impressive stack in the corner of Ron's bedroom. Truth was, after a hard year – okay, a hard life – it was nice to not have to think for a while. He had spent the last three weeks going for walks with Hermione, Ron, and Ginny in the woods behind the Burrow, playing makeshift games of Quidditch, and sneaking private moments with Ginny when the other members of the Weasley household were otherwise occupied.
"Hermione's going back to Hogwarts when term starts back," Harry continued, "and Ginny still has another year, too."
"Right, Ginny Weasley," Oliver said with a smile. "She's your girlfriend now, isn't she? The scouts tell me she's a kick-arse little Quidditch player. And speaking of Quidditch," he added slowly, "Puddlemere's gonna be in need of a new Seeker come next season, and I thought maybe you'd be interested in trying out."
Harry, whose eyes had been scanning the water in front of him, watching as Dean and Seamus shamelessly flirted with the Patil sisters, suddenly looked back at Oliver sharply. "Now there's an idea," he said slowly, taking another swig of Oliver's firewhiskey. He had always dreamed of becoming an Auror, so the idea of playing Quidditch professionally had never seriously occurred to him. After all, now that Voldemort was dead he wanted to do his part in ensuring that another Dark Wizard would not rise up out of Voldemort's ashes, wishing to continue his evil work. But there was plenty of time for that, he could always become an Auror later. What if he just played Quidditch for a season or two?
The idea of spending the next year playing Quidditch – and getting paid to do so – certainly appealed to him a lot more than being stuck in the library with Hermione for yet another year, studying for tests and listening to her non-stop lecturing about the upcoming N.E.W.T.s. He had never cared all that much about school. Studying did not give him the same thrill that it gave Hermione. But on the other hand, Hogwarts had been his home since he was eleven years old, and going back for his seventh year would give him one last year before going off to have a career elsewhere . . .
And then there was Ginny. Ginny would be there for another year. Since they would now be in the same year, it occurred to Harry for the first time that they would even have classes together. Maybe he could even talk Ron into going back. Although Ron did not care about finishing school in the slightest, Harry knew that Hermione would be able to talk Ron into it even if Harry could not. And then after that one year he could think about playing Quidditch or going on to be an Auror.
"Would that offer still stand in another year?" Harry asked.
Oliver smiled knowingly. "Sorry, mate," he said regretfully. "We have to sign on someone before the new season, and then we'll be bound by contract. But, hey, you're Harry Potter. There'll always be a Quidditch team willing to have you at all costs."
Harry nodded in understanding. "Let me think on it, all right?"
"Sure, no prob. I'll floo over to see ya in the next couple o' weeks to get your final answer. You're staying at the Weasley place, right?"
"That's right," said Harry, reaching out to shake Oliver's hand. "Thanks, Oliver."
At that moment Dean and Seamus wandered over rather drunkenly, their arms thrown around the necks of Parvati and Padma, who seemed to be enjoying the attention. The twins looked good, Harry had to admit. They wore matching royal purple bikinis, and their skin was a deep shade of bronze, shimmering in the quickly fading evening sun.
At the same time Ginny and Neville made their way over, talking animatedly, and plopped down on either side of Harry. As Ginny casually threw her arm around Harry, he thought that the beauty of the Patil sisters paled next to the fiery-haired, fair-skinned beauty of Ginny Weasley. She looked like a goddess, her red hair wild and glimmering with copper highlights, her bare, pale thigh rubbing against Harry's swim short-clad one.
With an almost animal-like urge, Harry pulled Ginny's little bikini-clad body into his lap, wrapping his arms territorially around her middle. Ginny sighed in response, leaning into his bare chest in pleasure.
More people were gathering around them, spread out on the ground, laughing and talking, as the sun slowly but surely began to set. George was leaning into Katie Bell's ear, whispering something to her conspiratorially as his arm snaked around her shoulders. He planted a soft kiss on her throat, right below her ear, and she laughed nervously.
Next to them, Lee talked animatedly with Angelina and Alicia, bottles of butterbeer in their hands. Hermione and Ron had wandered over some time ago and had been handed glasses of firewhiskey by the ever-enthusiastic Neville, and Hermione now lay on a beach towel as she gazed up at the deep purples, reds, and oranges of the setting sun. She had donned one of Ron's button-down shirts as a bathing suit cover – she had hesitantly bought a black bikini at Ginny's enthusiastic insistence. Ron, of course, had agreed with Ginny on this choice of swimwear.
Now Ron lounged with his head across Hermione's belly as she absently ran her fingers through his red hair, which he had refused to cut despite his mother's firm insistence.
Someone had brought out a Muggle-style acoustic guitar, and the music floated through the air, drifting across Harry's ever-dulling senses as his glass that had materialized out of nowhere was refilled yet again. Curiously, Harry realized that he had never been drunk before. Sure, he had had a few drinks at Fred and George's parties, but he had never allowed himself to indulge this much before.
He waved his hand in front of his face and was surprised to see two of them. "Let's dance," Ginny was saying as she pulled him to his feet, which he was surprised to find a bit unsteady. The sun had gone down completely, and someone had started a campfire. Shivering in the late evening breeze Harry reached into his backpack for his sweatshirt before he hastily pulled it over his head.
Ginny, who had pulled on a red-velour tracksuit over her bikini, unzipped just enough to show off ample cleavage, was pulling Harry over to where a group of people were dancing rather sloppily.
He was surprised to see Ron and Hermione amongst the throng, simply because Hermione usually scoffed when around people who had obviously had a bit too much to drink. But Hermione appeared to be a bit on the tipsy side as well. In fact, she must have been, because Ron's hands had crept lower and lower until they had unabashedly cupped her bum, and she was not pulling away or admonishing him. On the contrary, she seemed to be enjoying it, because she had pulled even closer to Ron, rocking against him as she locked her lips with his. This time there was nothing shy about the kiss.
"Good to see Hermione loosening up a bit," Ginny observed with a wry smile. "I love her, but sometimes she's just wound way too tight."
"You have no idea," said Harry, wrapping his arms around Ginny and moving with her to the rhythmic acoustic music. Glancing to its source, Harry realized the guitar had been enchanted to play on its own.
They danced, and slowly the effects of the alcohol he had consumed too quickly began to ebb, allowing him to regain control of his senses. The stars above them twinkled like a million diamonds on a black-velvet canvas.
"It's beautiful," Ginny said with a smile, following his gaze as the song to which they had been dancing ended.
"You're beautiful," he said spontaneously, but it was true. Her brown eyes were sparkling with happiness in the firelight. They had edged to the sidelines of the throng to rest against a tree. In the distance, they could hear the roar of the waterfall above the laughter and music.
Ginny smiled in response, pressing her forehead to his in an affectionate manner. They were silent for several minutes, watching the throng of happy, celebratory, and somewhat drunk young people dance to the increasing tempo of the music. Having dropped Teddy off with Mrs. Weasley earlier in the evening, Bill and Fleur were dancing close together now, his muscled arms wrapped around her tiny waist.
At that moment Percy and his long-time girlfriend Penny walked up, both laughing as they greeted Harry and Ginny. "Hey, Pen, how are you?" Ginny asked, embracing the older girl in a warm hug.
"I'm good," she said, directing a wink in Percy's direction. "I just Apparated here a few minutes ago. Late night at the office."
"How are things at the Ministry?" Harry asked her, more out of a need to make conversation than anything. He got updates from Mr. Weasley on a regular basis.
"Slowly but surely getting back to normal," she answered. "My family and I have only been out of hiding for about a week, and things have been a mess." At that, she squeezed Percy's arm, gave a delighted squeal when a song she liked began to play, and dragged him off to join the other dancers.
Ginny and Harry watched on in bewildered amusement. "Looks like everyone's cutting loose tonight," Harry commented.
"Yeah," she answered. "I don't think I've ever seen Percy dance."
"And I don't think I ever want to again." Harry said, watching as Percy moved rather mechanically to the music, looking quite ridiculous.
They both laughed together, their eyes roaming away from the rather awkward-looking Percy to Luna, who stood by herself, arms thrown in the air and swaying to the music, much like she had done at Bill and Fleur's wedding. But this time Neville rescued her, emerging out of the crowd of sweaty bodies to ask her to dance.
"Hey, where did Ron and Hermione go?" Ginny asked suddenly, her eyes scanning the gaggle of couples.
"Dunno," said Harry distractedly. "Walk with me?"
"Sure," she said, her interest in her brother's whereabouts forgotten as she took Harry's hand and allowed him to lead her to the bank of the water. They walked in silence for several minutes, hand in hand, listening as the sound of the waterfall became louder and the music faded into the wind.
"Oliver offered me a position as Seeker with Puddlemere," he said casually, suddenly.
"I suspected as much," Ginny said after a very brief pause. "Whaddya tell him?"
"I told him I'd . . . think on it."
They had reached the bank, and they stood there in silence, studying the way the moon reflected itself off the black surface of the water.
"What's there to think about?" she asked after a moment. "It sounds like fun, and you could use a little of that after all you've been through." Her tone was one of forced casualness.
"Ginny . . ." he groaned in frustration. He knew she was not saying what she was really thinking. "Ginny, I don't need 'fun,' I need. . ."
"What do you need, Harry?" she asked quietly as she stepped closer to him, and Harry suddenly was very aware of how close her body was to his. Absently she reached up to tug at the strings of his hooded sweatshirt, her body a mere inch from his.
"I need normalcy," he replied, ignoring his body's reaction to her. "I need to not have jobs handed to me just for being 'The Boy Who Lived.' I need to have to finish school and work for it like everyone else. I need to stress over my N.E.W.T.s and take my girlfriend on Hogsmead weekends and pretend that I've never in my life heard the name 'Voldemort.'"
He had not thought of these things before, but as he said it he realized it was true.
"Well, The Boy Who Lived, it seems to me that you already know what you should do." She smiled up at him playfully, and he was once again struck by how beautiful she was, and how amazing it was that she wanted to be with him . . .
It came out in a rushed whisper, barely audible over the roar of rushing falls and the far-off splashing and voices of late-night swimmers in the water.
"Wh-what?" she asked, her eyes wide.
"Marry me," he said again, this time louder. He was not sure where it had come from. Sure, he had fantasized about marrying her and about the possibilities the future held, but he had not seriously considered proposing at this young an age. However, as with his revelation of earlier, he knew as he said it that he wanted it more than he wanted anything in this entire world.
"Harry, I'm not even of age . . ."
"You will be in just a couple of months."
She shook her head, trying to process that Harry had actually proposed marriage. "Yeah, but Harry, we're still so . . . young."
"Who cares?" he asked, taking her hands in his. "Don't you see, Ginny? I've been offered a second chance at life. I walked up to Voldemort fully expecting to die, and all I could bloody think was that I'd never get to kiss you again."
He remembered the moment when he accepted the fate that he believed to be inevitable. He had thought of those stolen moments with Ginny as if it had been part of someone else's life, and he had been full of regret that he could not be the one for her. He thought that he could never be the one to marry her, give her children, and spend the rest of his life loving her . . .
But now he could. He was not dead. He had survived. "Ginny, you're it for me."
She was looking at him wildly, and he could tell that she was trying to process everything he was saying. "But you're not even eighteen, and you've only ever had one girlfriend besides me," she said wildly. "What if you decide later that you wanna experience something… more? Something different?"
"Aren't you listening to me, Ginny?" His voice had risen in exasperation, and he squeezed her hands for emphasis. "I said you're it for me. I don't wantsomething different. I want you. I love you."
Her mouth opened and closed several times wordlessly, so Harry plowed on, "Look, it doesn't have to be tomorrow, for Merlin's sake. We'll finish school, and we'll take as much time as you need. I'll wait as long as you need."
"Yes. Yes, I'll marry you." There were tears running down her face, and Harry realized suddenly that they were tears of joy. "I've loved you for so long. Ever since I was a little girl I've wanted to hear you say those words . . ."
Her arms were suddenly around his neck, and she was kissing him like she had never kissed him before, her hands tangled in his hair, his hands engulfing the small of her back. It seemed an eternity to Harry, but at last they broke apart, gasping for breath as they rested their foreheads together. He could feel her heart beating against his, and he realized that he had lifted her off her feet, and her legs were wrapped around his waist.
Slowly he lowered her back to the ground. "I haven't got a ring," he admitted sheepishly. "This wasn't exactly planned, but I'll get you one – a nice one."
"It's not important. We'll worry about that later."
They stared into one another's eyes for a moment longer before suddenly bursting into laughter. Harry laughed until he doubled over, a stitch in his side, while Ginny fell to her knees, laughing so hard she lost her balance. "We're engaged," she was saying over and over again through a fit of giggles.
Harry collapsed to the ground next to her, unsure of why they were laughing, but knowing that it felt bloody good to do so.
"We'll have to wait until we're out of school," Ginny said, wiping her eyes, when she had calmed enough to speak. She leaned against Harry, sighing contentedly as they watched the waterfall glittering in the moonlight. "I don't wanna be the only married couple at Hogwarts."
"Are you sure?" Harry asked with a wicked gleam in his eye. "Maybe they'd let us room together . . . or have conjugal visits."
At that, they laughed so hard that they both cried. "Harry . . . Harry, look at this!" she whispered abruptly after several minutes had passed.
Looking over to see what she was pointing at, Harry saw a pile of clothes on the rocks next to the bank. Crawling next to her for closer inspection, he saw in the moonlight what looked to be two pairs of swim trunks and two bikinis. Two royal purple bikinis.
Ginny looked up at him, an evil twinkle in her eye.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Harry whispered, looking out at the water and spotting the shapes of four people by moonlight, several meters out.
"In honor of Fred," she said, reaching down and grabbing an armful of swimsuits.
"For Fred," Harry added with a grin, snatching up what Ginny had missed, and together they sprinted back toward the campsite, laughing the entire way until collapsing on the pile of sleeping bags that Hermione had pulled from her beaded bag.
Dropping the swimsuits on the grass unceremoniously, they burst into yet another fit of laughter. "I hope Dean, Seamus, and the Patils enjoy their moonlit swim!" laughed Ginny as she fell on top of Harry, her arms snaking around his neck and into his unruly hair.
At that, Harry tightened his arms around her, pulling her more fully on top of him on the pile of sleeping bags. They kissed feverishly, their lips battling and clashing with one another, tongues fighting for passage . . . Harry groaned when her hand made its way under his sweatshirt, her fingernails scraping lightly up and down his chest. He brought a hand up to tangle in her rich, red hair, pulling her even closer still as her mouth trailed kisses down his jaw . . .
"Merlin, you two! And you were telling us to get a room! I think I've gone blind . . ."
Harry and Ginny broke apart, looking up to see Ron and Hermione approaching from the direction of the water, both with newly wet hair – telltale signs that they had gone for another swim. Harry untangled himself from Ginny and sat up, unable to suppress his grin at the look of repulsion on Ron's face.
"C'mon, mate," complained Ron in disgust as he and Hermione plopped down next to them, "you know I don't mind you dating my sister, but I'd rather not be witness to… to… well, the taking away of my sister's innocence!"
"Excuse me?!?" Ginny sat up stiffly and glared daggers at her brother, on the verge of digging her wand out of her backpack.
"All right, all right!" said Harry, moving his body in between the siblings, if only to protect his best mate from Ginny's vicious Bat-Bogey Hex.
At the same moment Hermione had placed a warning hand on Ron's shoulder and given him her iciest look, effectively preventing an all-out sibling brawl.
Luckily, Ginny appeared to not be in the mood for fighting with Ron because she quickly relaxed into Harry's side, and the moment of tension passed.
Several minutes later they all sat roasting marshmallows around the campfire, a 'Muggle tradition' that Hermione had shown them. "After this weekend I'm spending the rest of the summer with my parents," Hermione was saying in answer to a question Ginny had asked.
"I'm spending a couple o' weeks with them," Ron announced, wrapping an arm around her waist. "Two weeks living like a Muggle. Hermione's gonna let me watch television and everything." He said this like a proud three-year-old being awarded a treat by his mummy.
"Only if you behave properly and don't drive my parents mad."
At that moment the conversation was interrupted by a commotion from the water. They heard yelling and distinct female screaming. The four exchanged looks, but before they could draw their wands Dean Thomas emerged from the darkness in the direction of the water, followed by Seamus Finnigan and the Patil twins. All four were one-hundred percent starkers, but were trying rather lamely to hide this fact behind hastily picked bits of shrubbery.
Other people, lounging in sleeping bags and sitting around magic-induced fires, pointed and laughed as the four naked youths scrambled, red-faced, to produce clothing from their personal effects. In his haste Seamus dropped his bit of shrubbery, causing the people around him to shriek with laughter.
"What the . . . ?" said Ron, a slow smile spreading across his face. "That's bloody brilliant!" he added after a moment.
Meanwhile Harry and Ginny, unable to contain themselves, burst into hysterics, laughing so hard they clutched each other while tears spilled down their faces. They were joined momentarily by Ron and Hermione, the four of them laughing so hard they wept. "I can't believe . . ." Ron was choking, "Who could've . . . ?"
At that moment George, Lee, Angelina, and Katie approached, smiling in appreciative humor as their eyes darted toward the skinny-dippers, who by this time had managed to dress themselves, albeit sloppily.
"Beautiful," George was saying as he sat down on the other side of Hermione. "Absolutely brilliant! Wish I could take the credit, but alas, this was not my doing."
"I have to say," added Lee, "The Patil twins have nice twin -- "
Angelina punched him solidly in the arm, effectively shutting him up.
"If it wasn't you, then who could it've been?" asked Ron when he had calmed enough to speak.
Wordlessly, Ginny reached behind her and pulled out the wad of bathing suits, tossing them on the ground in front of the fire for all to see.
"You?" asked Ron, his eyes darting between Harry and Ginny.
"Us," confirmed Harry, trying to fight the laughter from bubbling up within him once again.
"Sis, you've done me proud," George said dramatically as he looked at his sister, hand over his heart. "Somewhere up there Fred is looking down at you, smiling his approval."
Ginny smiled at that, but there was sadness behind her eyes. "Just so long as he isn't always looking down at me. Some things I wouldn't want him to see."
"You just remember that when you're sneaking off with Harry here," George replied, causing Lee and Ron to snicker.
"I get enough of that from Ron, thank you very much, George. Besides…" She stopped abruptly, looking at Harry. She had been about to say, "Besides, Harry and I are engaged now," but she did not think that telling everyone right now would be for the best. The last thing she wanted was people trying to talk her out of it.
"Besides," she continued, "I'll be of age in just a few months, and then I'll be able to do whatever I want."
"Just so long as what you're 'doing' isn't The Boy Who Lived."
They all looked up to see Bill and Fleur approaching, the latter looking three sheets to the wind. "Not you too!" Ginny cried at Bill in irritation, jumping to her feet. "Merlin, I hate having so many brothers!" she cried as she stalked off. "I'm going to find another drink."
At that moment Fleur turned a particularly nasty shade of green, and Bill responded just in time, leading her away from the group to the grass where she proceeded to empty the contents of her stomach. "Veela have no tolerance for alcohol," Bill called toward them apologetically as he held Fleur's silvery hair out of her face. "I told her to go easy."
When she finished, she slouched against her husband, barely conscious. "Well, I'd better get her home. I'll see you all Sunday for dinner? Fleur's cooking Mum's roast recipe."
The seven people around the fire nodded their confirmation.
"Good." With a pop, Bill and Fleur were gone.
A half hour later, as Ginny crawled into his sleeping bag with him, settling into his chest, their bodies a tangle of limbs, Harry took a deep breath. He breathed in the scent of her hair as he listened to her breath and felt her heartbeat against his.
His wife. Ginny would be his wife.
With this last thought he allowed himself to drift off into a peaceful slumber, Ron and Hermione in the sleeping bag next to them.
All was right with the world.