"You know that you don't even have to ask for discounts on our products, of course?" George asked. He scratched at the back of his head as if he wanted to toss his hair backwards, but was stymied by a lack of hair; he'd cut it short so that there was no hiding his missing ear. "You name it, it's yours."
"That's good," said Ginny blandly, her voice even. "Because I was so looking forward to testing the limits of your anti-shoplifting charms."
"If our customers," George grinned—everything about the shop was in a vague sort of plural form—"are craftier than us, then as far as I'm concerned they're entitled to anything here they can steal. It's an honor system. We'll cater to the world of pranksters out there, and anyone who can outsmart us probably wants to be custom-building their own supply anyway."
"I suspect it hasn't hurt your bottom line."
"Ah, you're into the intricacies of the business world these days? I'd be glad to sell you a share, if the Quidditch thing doesn't work out."
"The Quidditch thing? What would make it stop working out, a Bludger to the face? I'd have thought you'd be more interested in cursing the bats of whatever goon injured me than trying to sell out."
"That," George said slowly, "is an idea. Fake Quidditch equipment, yeah, yeah, you'd want inflatable goalposts too...and maybe a Snitch that slowed down long enough that you'd think you could catch it, and the Quaffle could—well no, that's Quodpot—but yes, you do have a flair for this business thing. Think it over."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "I will."
"Seriously. Between your Quidditch fame and Harry's—saving-the-world routine, I suppose you're going to have the wedding of the century. But if you need to leave him for a more handsome fellow, let me know, I can find some Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder to cover your escape."
"I will keep that in mind."
"Or, you know, exploding party favors, to liven up the scene."
"I'm going to the Auror Department about this, which dark curse turned George Weasley into a sappy wedding planner?"
He leaned back, placing his head in his hands. "Ah, the burdens of fraternal duty."
"Please don't tell me you've bet against the Harpies and are just trying to sabotage me to make a profit."
George sniffed in mock offense. "I would never bet on a league my sister was playing in!"
She thought this over. "You probably wouldn't, no, not when there are dozens of leagues with lower-salaries where players are more susceptible to being bribed."
"Oh, come on. I'm not going to get into a match-fixing scandal with Beaters who can knock my other ear off."
"Seriously, Ginny, you're going to have the wedding of the century whoever you wind up with. No need to rush into things."
"Whoever I wind up with? Maybe you have gone deaf and missed it, I love Harry and he loves me. This isn't a 'maybe' thing."
"Well that's good, he's so rich that ring might have been just a cheap souvenir for him."
"It's for reflecting the sunlight into my opponents' eyes, obviously. Seriously, are you all right?"
"I just want you and Harry to be happy. I'm not sure you're suited, is all."
"Is this about the Quibbler article?"
"Well, I mean—obviously it doesn't have the silly gossip, as much as the Prophet—I wasn't sure how much stock to put into it."
"That interview with Harry is all true, I can't speak for the Crumple-Horned Snorkacks feature."
"So—he doesn't—actually want you?"
"Of course he wants me, you twerp, the ring is generally a hint."
"He doesn't want to sleep with me."
"And you're all right with that? Don't you get—restless?"
"Well," she shrugged, "he doesn't mind if I handle some of my own desires, and no, before you ask, that was not an invitation to diversify your supply. The Muggles are actually more ingenious than you give them credit for."
"You shouldn't have to get by with Muggle equipment."
"Marrying the man of my dreams is not 'getting by'."
"Depends on what your dreams are, innit."
She rolled her eyes. "Tell you what, if you want to experiment in the back room, you can. Just let me test things out before you put them on the market. I'm not having you risk your reputation on slapshod work."
"See? You appreciate the call of fraternal duty."
Ginny raised her eyebrows as she peered into the oven. "There is no way this is going to work."
"Of course it's going to work," said Bill, "give me a little credit."
"I'm not worried about you, but there's no way I can pull that off without lighting the kitchen on fire."
"Don't be modest, you've handled curses worse than this."
"All the same, don't come crying to me if this blows up in your face."
"I wouldn't dare! Besides, Fleur's been complaining about the color scheme for ages now, she'll take any excuse to redecorate."
"I thought she decided on this in the first place."
"What difference would that make?" Bill looked at the clock. "Show time, are you in?"
"It'd be a shame to miss it, I guess."
"That's the way!"
Crouching low, he yanked the oven door open. Ginny aimed a Summoning Charm inside, and the casserole floated out over the kitchen. Quickly, Bill cast a brief spurt of flame, then a heating spell to bake the underside. Ginny carefully waved her wand to separate the casserole from its dish, midair, and Bill heated the former once more before guiding it back into the dish, which Ginny had already navigated down to the table.
They looked from the dinner to each other; not a glove had been needed, and it was as evenly cooked as one could desire. "Magic," Bill declared, "absolutely brilliant."
"Thank you!" Ginny beamed. "That wasn't hard at all. I have got to teach Harry to do that."
"You could probably get a house-elf," Bill admitted.
"Are you serious? There's no way."
"Well, I guess it depends. Where're you staying, Grimmauld Place?"
"He's there, yeah. Keeps saying it's only until he finds something better to do with it but it's been long enough now, I'm not expecting him to get suddenly inspired."
"Well, then, you should be fine. Even when you have kids there'll be enough room, for an elf or three."
"When we have kids?"
"Well, there's no rush, I assume with the Quidditch schedule like it is you'll be holding off."
"Holding off? Bill, come on, I'm not... I don't really want to be a mother, and Harry certainly doesn't."
"-want to be a dad, either," she amended.
"Are you...I mean, why wouldn't he?"
Ginny shrugged. "Babies cry at all hours of the night, and poop all over the place."
"You're telling me? I put up with a house full of you twerps."
"So, you understand, they're not for everyone."
"Yeah, but I came around, eventually. You won't be lonely with just you two?"
"Well, I was thinking about bringing home drunken Harpies to party with every week, I suppose I ought to run it by him first."
"But-this is Harry. He's been through the war, and everything, doesn't he want kids? You know, a sign or whatever, that life keeps going on?"
"He has one already, on his head. It's very cute."
Bill shook his head. "If you say so."
"We do, yeah," Ginny nodded. "When's dinner? Want to see whether this turned out."
"Whenever Fleur gets back, but hold on. If it's not about the capacity, and it's obviously not about the money, why can't you get a house-elf?"
"Are you kidding? Hermione would disown us both."
"Where're you coming from?" Ginny asked, nodding at the heavy bag hanging from Percy's shoulder.
They had met for ice cream in Diagon Alley. Whether it be Fortescue's disappearance, the fact that she could buy some whenever she wanted, or just her taste buds changing with age, the food itself didn't have the allure it once had. But she wasn't complaining; it was nice to have something she could enjoy with Percy.
"Muggle library," he smiled, eagerly setting the bag down and launching into his sundae. "They have so many books, you can just take them out!"
"That...is how libraries tend to work."
"Yes, well. I mean, I can just sign up for a card in London—I don't even have to live there, you know, because I can Apparate back to return the books—and then I can get into the big library—oh, never mind that. How've you been?"
"Brilliant," Ginny smiled. "Really busy. I didn't always recognize how full the schedule would be—practice for hours a day, of course, that's only to be expected. But then there's interviews and sponsorships and that takes time, it's just a question of planning."
"You poor thing, with your multi-Galleon contracts."
"Well," she blushed, "I have you to keep me honest." His reply, through a mouthful of ice cream, was indistinct, and she continued, "Well, maybe not, you can't talk me down from having a big head if your loyalties can be bought for the price of a sundae."
Percy paused a moment, then noticed that she'd still eaten more than him. "Going to get brain freeze?"
"I'm fine," she says. "How're your books?"
"Well, I've only just started them, obviously, but they seem very in-depth. There are so manyMuggles, who study so many different things!"
"Do you bother to narrow it down, or is that just half of the library?"
Percy glared, almost seeming to kick at the bag as if to prove it wasn't that large, all things considered. Another lick of ice cream relaxed him, however, and he said "A few books written about made-up witches and wizards. Just to see how much they got right, really very little. And a couple books Audrey's mum recommended, to get a sense for her tastes."
"I haven't started those yet. The good news is some of them are older, gives you the chance for a nice range of talents. Most of the recent Wizarding novels I've tried to read are frankly dire—give me Cadogan's pony any day."
"Well, there aren't that many wizards writing books today."
"And those that are should perhaps find other jobs, mmrff." Percy dug into his ice cream to muffle any further criticism.
Ginny raised her eyebrows. "That's one advantage to having your in-laws murdered before you can crawl. None of these literary delays." She playfully swerved to the side as Percy spluttered, as if to avoid chunks of ice cream being spit out at her. "What? No, we both read the Quidditch page and maybe the Quibbler, that's about it."
"The Quibbler, yes. Interesting choice of venues."
"It beats the alternatives. Unless Lee Jordan's going to sell out and get a proper WWN show, but I wouldn't hold my breath."
"So he's serious, then? About not having children?"
"Who, Lee? Oh, Harry. Right, yeah."
Percy blinked. "Strange. Magic can be a very—oh, I've forgotten the word, inheritable trait, even wizards and witches with entirely Muggle spouses will likely pass on their magic to the next generation. But to not have any children at all—you're sure you want that?"
"Yeah? Whether a kid will cast a spell in ten years is not what I'd be thinking about if I have to nurse them or wake up at all hours of the night when they're sick."
"Well, of course, we're civilized as far as Squibs go. But all the same, if everyone thought that way-"
"Oh, for the love of. Percy, have you been reading any...reactionary books?"
"What do you mean? Of course I read things that are—older than your latest Quidditch scores."
"I mean—rubbish propaganda, come on, Percy, you're better than this!"
"Better than what?" he hissed, lowering his voice so as not to annoy the other customers. But out of sight, Ginny was sure, he was clenching his hands, not ready to reach for the wand.
"All this, if wizards and witches don't have babies, then we'll die out and it'll be just as bad as if Voldemort had killed us all?"
"Well, it's unlikely, but it stands to reason-"
"Percy, this is not about reason."
"No, not a personal thing, just—you and Audrey. Do you sit down thinking about, 'hmm, how can I ensure the survival of the potential for magic by picking out a healthy Muggle-born witch to reproduce with'? Or are you in love with her?"
"Well, of course I'm in love with her, it's only natural-"
"And I'm in love with Harry, and we've made our plans, and as you know perfectly well, not everyone thinks the same way he does. Or feels."
Percy nodded, slowly, muttering something into another lick of ice cream.
"What was that?" Ginny pressed.
"I said it's a good thing not everyone thinks the same way he does," Percy explained, "as frankly, the thought of constantly being besieged by jocks with hero complexes is rather terrifying."
"But you don't want to get drawn against Heidelberg."
"Heidelberg are rubbish."
"They're not, have you seen their Beaters play?"
"Do Beaters score goals? Do they rack up points? No."
"Have your side practiced the fundamentals of staying on your brooms?"
"Every one of us has, for years and years."
"So, as a team, doing proper drills, the answer is 'no.'"
"The answer is we don't need to, not against Heidelberg, who are rubbish."
"They're top of the league!"
"That's the German league."
"Which is a strong league."
"We beat them in '53, we can beat them again."
"We? Mum and Dad were kids in 1953."
"That's as may be, witches are long-lived, it's only a generation or two."
"This is why England cannot win the World Cup! It's all 'we invented the ruddy sport' this and 'we're a decent team, honest' that! You don't stand a chance against—even a well-organized Peru side."
"Now you're just talking nonsense, you don't know anything about South America."
"I don't need to, if this is the best England has to offer."
Ginny blushed. "I'm not the best—there are plenty of brilliant Chasers."
"Oh, now you're just being modest. You will be brilliant. That just doesn't mean your club is that great in the grand scheme of things."
"You're welcome. Any time."
"Or if you need a trial, I'm sure there are some teams that could use you even now."
Charlie raised his eyebrows. "No thank you, I am not sticking my toes back in all the politics of that."
"Fair enough. I'd say your loss, but let's be fair, it's mostly the loss of certain clubs who shall remain nameless."
"And work, is going well?"
"Yeah, of course. Something new every day, the feeding's been going well this year."
"That or overexcited interns taking things too far, we're not sure, but a few of the dragons are actually getting overweight, so we've had to make sure they get enough 'exercise' as it were, and as you can imagine that's never dull."
"Over...how do you weigh a dragon?"
"And it doesn't get boring, just however many of you there are?"
"No, it's brilliant. Mostly being able to Apparate wherever I need to be helps, and that way we can get some infrastructure—boring but necessary equipment you wouldn't otherwise think to build in a station this small."
"Obviously you can get breaks, when you want to."
"Oh, of course. I should even be able to schedule one to see you if you're drawn in Heidelberg."
"In which case we'd better not take a whole week. I'll see what I can do."
"And you are coming for the wedding, right?"
"This is Harry Potter we're talking about, I'm sure he can find a way to let you off work if you want."
"Yeah. No. Definitely."
"You all right?"
"Hey, I'm not your baby sister anymore, I'm a professional Chaser. And apparently a brilliant one," she teased, "you can tell me what's going on."
Charlie nodded, twirling his hands behind his back. "I just saw a lot of myself in Harry—and that' s not fair, I'm not that close to him, but from what I could see. This decent guy, Gryffindor, not a bad Seeker either but knows there's more to life than sport."
"Sure, I mean, I hope you like him, he's great—but this isn't about me having secretively repressed desires for you or anything like that?"
Charlie laughed until he snorted. "Thank goodness, no. It's just—he seemed to be the kind of—well first he goes and saves the world once or twice, sure, but all the same, was someone to look up to. And now he's just going to settle down and get married like anyone else? It's not about you, it's just—weird."
"You look up to Harry Potter? I love him, of course, but I thought your heroes were more...Josef Wronski-esque."
"Of course Wronski's brilliant, never said otherwise, but—he had all that off-the-field stuff. Harry seems...well, he's not going to get caught up in some drug scandal or, one should hope, get arrested for practicing the Dark Arts or, or father illegitimate children."
"There are Quidditch stars without those problems."
"Yes, but Harry didn't want any of that, the hangers-on or the witches falling into his lap—he just seemed more relatable, that's all, but to see him doing everyday domestic things just...makes me feel farther away."
"You know he doesn't actually get into sex?"
"That's...what the magazine said, aye. But he did fall in love."
"They're not the same thing."
"But they usually are."
"Yeah, so what?"
"I dunno. If it's not about sex, then what is it—I'm not actually asking you for advice, just, is it something you can notice for sure, falling in love? I can pick out a Snitch at a hundred forty-four paces but I don't know how to figure out what my body is or isn't telling me."
"Are you happy? With life in general, I mean, being single."
"Then it doesn't matter."
"Harry doesn't want all the attention, and he doesn't really want to be a role model for everybody either. You said it yourself, we're not all politicians."
Charlie nodded. "Yeah. It wouldn't be fair, really, for me to expect athletes to be these great, identifiable people—having played alongside several of them for years, they're nothing special."
"Mmhmm. Hey, just keep doing what you're doing with the dragon exercises, maybe someday people in your shoes will look up to you."
"That's...a worrying thought."
"Hey, don't be modest."
Charlie rolled his eyes. "I'll try."
"Oy! D'you have a minute?"
"Do I have a minute?" Ginny echoed. "Do I look like I have a minute?"
"Actually, yes, you do."
She paused. "How'd you know?"
"Because Mum and Dad are running around like the chickens out back trying to make sure everything is under control, I assume you aren't as worried and know everything's taken care of."
Ginny exhaled. "You're smarter than you look. Butterbeer?"
"Can't say no." She quietly fetched two from the kitchen, and they made their way out down the stairs. "You've got to get Harry to let you borrow his cloak sometime," Ron whispered once they were safely in the backyard, "dead useful for this sort of thing."
She nodded, then added a "yeah" in the darkness.
"So?" he finally asked, after a couple sips of the Butterbeer. "Is everything under control—ow," he smiled, ducking from her playful punch.
"Yeah. Um, Muriel's got her own Portkey back so she doesn't have to stay here, thank goodness. Charlie's got off work, and is going to come by through the continental Floo—he's not going to chance Apparating very far. Oh, and Percy's going to pick up the Dursleys, that was the last wrinkle to figure out."
"You actually invited them?"
"It was Harry's idea—I didn't think any of them would come, but Dudley apparently was free."
"Harry's? I mean, I know I shouldn't underestimate him, but—I can't believe he'd want them here."
"Well," she turned to grin, "he's going to be so squirmy through the whole proceedings that it'll be hilarious just to watch."
"There's a point in that. And I guess Dudley is our age, it wasn't all his fault."
"Oh, just, everything Harry went through."
"Everything? I should hope not."
"You know what I mean, from his aunt and uncle, not the Voldemort routine."
"I'd have let even them come, if they wanted. I mean, it's a small world, ours. If you go around with grudges towards everybody who's earned them, you run out of friends quickly."
"All the same, they were horrible! If it hadn't been for them—"
"I mean—well, that's between you and Harry, innit."
"No, I don't get it."
"The way they treated him, isn't that what made him—not interested?"
"Of course not, that's just who he is! He's healthy, he's madly in love with me, and even if he hadn't been—well, that'd have been my loss, but look how Charlie turned out. No one goes around saying Mum and Dad were rubbish parents."
"You're sure, it doesn't get caused by anything?"
"That'd be like saying I spend so much time around my teammates in the locker rooms, that it'd make me start fancying witches."
"But that's what people do say in the Prophet sometimes."
"Well, the Prophet's rubbish. Honestly, let's get Lee to dance with Luna and he can take over at the Quibbler or something, it'd be a step up for both of them."
"I'll do it. But don't tell Mum, she's busy enough trying to figure out where everyone else is going to sit."
"Muriel gets her own chair, and we'll save her another seat by the wine, the Harpies get their own table, the DA are going to want to get around and, hopefully, deflect attention from us."
"If Harry can save the world, I feel like he should be able to handle Mum's wedding planning."
"Don't count on it."
"That's why I have my favorite Aurors armed at the ready."
Uh, so, I'm sure you already know that Ginny and I are getting married, and—I wanted to tell you that of course I'm going to look out for her and not hurt her. Because, I'm sure you're the type to hex anyone who gets on your bad side, and despite, uh, the circumstances, I'm still frankly scared of what you might do. And yeah, there's a chance I'll foul it all up, but that's life, so, cut me some slack. We'll make it work.
I wish you were here, because we could really use you to handle all the crowds, the photographers, that kind of thing. If you could swap their film for something tricky that would blow up and make a smoke cloud in their faces, that would be brilliant. And George is doing everything he can, but you know, he's got a busy life these days.
But as annoying as they all are, this is what we get for living in a free country, I guess, more or less. Ginny and I are going to be happy, even if it's not in the most straightforward way, and we, the two of us and all of us really, owe everything to you and the others. So thank you, once again, for that. We never can thank you enough.
I guess technically you don't need to be hanging around to protect your little sister's, ahem, 'virtue' from my advances, but that said, she's the Harpies' star Chaser now and hopes to have a good long career, so she's being written up in Which Broomstick and—well I haven't read all the magazines, I'm sure there're more on the way. So if you need to hang around and haunt certain admirers, I'm sure she'd appreciate the effort. But, not as much as she'd be happy to know you've moved on and are...exploring...the secret passages...wherever you are.
Anyway. Yeah." Harry blew his nose into his spare robes—it had been a good idea to save his suit for later on. "Thank you."
"I thought I'd find you here," a familiar voice called from behind him.
Harry shut his eyes, blotting out his view of the Forbidden Forest. Next to him, an enchanted stone displayed the names of the fallen heroes of the Battle of Hogwarts, Fred's among them as one of far too many. He'd been cremated, of course, needing a flying exit, but this seemed as good a place as any to kneel and remember. "Are you wearing your dress? Can I look?"
"No, and yes, you git."
Harry smiled as he turned around, taking in Ginny, wearing an equally practical set of robes. "You'd better hurry up. Mum's well past the point of no return, blubbering-wise, but Dad's starting to worry, and that's never good."
"How are your brothers handling things?"
She paused. "As well as can be expected. It's not every day your little sister marries the Boy Who Lived, after all, but—they're managing."
He nodded, walking towards her. "Good."
Ginny nodded at the stone. "Thank you for coming."
"Course. Wouldn't have missed it."
"I knew there was a reason I fell in love with you."
He shook his head. "You really are gorgeous. I can tell, you know."
"Of course you can."
"Being in love tends to do that," he agreed, leaning in for a kiss. She responded lightly, then pulled away. "There'll be time for that later."
"I suppose you'll just want to kiss half the night, once we're married?"
He paused, tilting his head to the side. "That sounds brilliant, actually. When you put it that way."
"I like a man who's easy to please," said Ginny, and together they Apparated back to the Burrow.