The Sugar Quill
Author: CoKerry (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Other Right Prediction  Chapter: Part I
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Harry knew, even if it was something that he would never admit out loud, that he had done a lot of incredible things in his li

The Other Right Prediction

 

HUGE thanks to my betas: Firelocks and PackMan!

Without Firelocks, this story would have been thrown in the trash, so high was my frustration level.  She is a true friend for talking me through it all.

Thank you also to the readers who bugged me to finish this. I never would have, if not for you.

It’s been years, literally, so go back and reread (or read) the prequel to this story, Famous Last Words. 

It’s short and I guarantee that if you don’t, the only comment you’ll have for me is “huh?”  Trust me.

For Kevin and Mieke, on their wedding.

 

Harry knew, even if it was something that he would never admit out loud, that he had done a lot of incredible things in his life.  It was funny though; right now none of them seemed to matter as much as what was going to happen today.

In a matter of minutes, Ron and Hermione’s wedding was going to start, and Harry, although he thought hard for a few moments, couldn’t remember the last time he had been so happy.  The wedding, Harry had come to realize, was doing for him what time should have done - giving him the means to be simply happy, without painful memories affecting everything he did.

Even though nearly five years had passed, Harry had never been able to shake the visions of that last, horrible confrontation and the awful years that preceded it – Ron killing Draco Malfoy…Hagrid’s death…how close they had come to losing…Voldemort’s final destruction.  Not to mention the aftermath - trying to put their world back together…tracking down and dealing with the humiliated remnants of Voldemort’s followers, many of whom, including Lucius Malfoy, had been declared dead though their bodies had vanished…everyone trying with varying levels of success to move on with their lives.  Finally, Harry felt like they were truly succeeding with that last point, and it felt incredible, to be able to focus on the present, and not -

            “Bleeeaarrrgh...”

            A disgusting noise jolted Harry out of his thoughts.  Slowly, his eyes focused as he tried to concentrate on his surroundings, sensations returning in a rush, bringing him back to the reason he was perched on the edge of the counter in the upstairs loo at the Burrow:  Ron was leaning over the toilet, making some truly horrid noises as he lost his lunch.  And, Harry grimaced, probably his breakfast.

            Harry sighed and pushed up his glasses.  Ron had been puking for at least six minutes, and Harry inwardly chided himself for not guessing that something like this would happen today.  He could have at least taken a look at one of Hermione’s books on medicine for a calming charm or potion.

            “Ron?  You all right yet?”  Harry asked as he uncomfortably pulled at the collar of his black formal robes and kicked his heels against the bathroom cabinets.  “Come on, it’s only Hermione, after all.”

            This did seem to jolt Ron out of his nervous throwing up, not that it seemed to have a comforting effect, Harry realized.  It only seemed to distract him from losing the rest of his breakfast. 

Ron reached unsteadily for the wand at his waist, muttered the spell to banish the contents of the toilet, and turned around on his knees to face Harry, his voice shaky and his freckles standing out clearly against his pale face.

            “Only Hermione?”  He squeaked.  “Are you serious?  What if I…forget my vows?  Or…slip and fall flat on my face when I lean over to kiss her?”

            Harry shook his head and hopped down off the counter.  ‘Eleven years,’ he thought to himself, but didn’t think Ron would take that joke too well right now.  Instead, he leaned down and seized Ron’s arm, raising him not unkindly to his feet, and pulled him over to the small window that overlooked the Weasley’s large garden.  Looking down, they had a clear view of entire backyard, which was bursting with their family and friends, everyone talking happily as they waited for the ceremony to begin.

Mrs. Weasley had spent the previous afternoon directing the Weasley boys and Harry in placing everything in just the right position, and Harry had to admit that from up here, it did look impressive, especially the small arch covered in spelled ribbons and flowers surrounded by over a hundred white chairs throughout the garden.

There were still too many weeds, and the gnarled trees and flowerbeds still grew out of control, but he had always thought the garden perfect, and now it looked even better, full as it was with everyone in their brightly colored robes.  Harry tried again to imagine the ceremony as Hermione had described it to him, but he still couldn’t form a picture of it in his mind.  After all his years spent in the wizarding world, he still came upon things that surprised him.

Harry spotted Dumbledore in his shimmering opal robes standing ready near the flowering arch; he had been acting oddly, or at least more oddly than usual, since he had arrived.  He seemed to think that there was something quite hilarious about Ron and Hermione getting married, and kept bursting into chuckles and shaking his head every few minutes.  Or, Harry realized, maybe Dumbledore had finally cracked for good.  At least he seemed calm now, and Harry chuckled and looked around, easily spotting the bright red heads of the many Weasleys throughout the garden. 

He could see Bill, Charlie, Fred, and George, and searched for Ginny until he remembered that she was probably helping Hermione get ready downstairs.  Harry could just make out Mrs. Weasley, standing by the supper tables at the far side of the garden, giving last minute instructions to the many elves that ran here and there. Mr. Weasley was standing nearby, his bald head standing out just as clearly, speaking patiently to what appeared to be a group of reporters.  Harry frowned – when had that lot shown up?  They must have just arrived.  He squinted and adjusted his glasses…yes, they were reporters; he could see their cameras and quills.  Why was Mr. Weasley talking to them so patiently and with what looked like such good humor?  Harry felt himself tensing up; something was odd about this.  The Weasleys usually kept as far away as possible from the press. Harry was about to turn to Ron and tell him they should find out what was going on, but he stopped himself resolutely.  This was exactly the kind of behavior he needed to put an end to, the kind of behavior that had kept him from moving on with his life for so long.  Nothing bad was happening downstairs. Mr. Weasley had probably decided that it was best to be amiable on Ron’s wedding day; he was such a good person, and it would be nice to have a positive news story about Ron and Hermione in the papers.  Yes, that was it.  Harry could almost laugh at himself - he was going to turn out like Moody had always been if he didn’t stop it.

Harry deliberately looked elsewhere, and let his mind wander back to happier thoughts.  So many people had come, and it obviously wasn’t only due to the fact that all of Ron’s overlarge family was here, from second cousins to great-uncles, more than making up for Hermione’s tiny family.  So many friends had come as well from Hogwarts and the Order, along with others they had met in the years since school had ended.  Everyone looked as happy as Harry felt.

The gnomes were scurrying around the garden carrying flowers and chairs, barely visible as they darted between long robes, and Harry hoped that they were still on their best behavior.   They had all been shocked when the gnomes had offered to help yesterday; even more so when they had actually done it without biting anyone.  Ron had absolutely forbidden his brothers and Harry from telling Hermione, predicting that she would immediately start on an anti-gnome-tossing campaign.  “I don’t need her to drive me crazy for the rest of my life,” he had groaned, and Harry had smirked to himself knowing that it wasn’t like she hadn’t been doing that for the past eleven years anyway.

            Harry turned to look at Ron, and found him staring down into the garden as well looking lost in thought with his hands gripping the windowsill hard.  “Ron,” Harry said, sure he had finally found the right words to calm his friend, even if he knew he'd stammer his way through them, “this is…it’s right. You and Hermione, you've been in love since...well, since we were all eleven, and you damn well know it!”  Harry stopped, watching Ron’s ears and neck begin to turn pink.  Knowing that his own face was also burning, he tried to say something a little less embarrassing.  “I mean…no one ever thought you would make it this far, but since you haven’t done it yet, it must be pretty near impossible to mess the two of you up –”

            “Oy, all right, you,” Ron interrupted.  His face was now totally red, but he was finally smiling, and at least his face wasn’t still as pale as Nearly Headless Nick’s.  “I was just thinking…all that,” he nodded his chin toward the window, “is pretty incredible.  Today is going to be great.  It’s taken us all a long time to get here, and I wouldn’t be here if…well, if, if it wasn’t for you.  Thanks mate.  I - well…just…thanks.”

            Harry shrugged uncomfortably and ducked his head – after all, he and Ron were never so outwardly emotional with each other, and he thought, suddenly, of Hermione, who had never been afraid to show her emotions for either him or Ron.  She was probably still downstairs in Mr. and Mrs. Weasley’s bedroom.  While Harry was acting as the “best person” (“because you’re both of our best friend,” Hermione had explained practically, when they had asked him), Ginny and Mrs. Granger were helping her get ready.  Harry was sure that she wasn’t working herself up over getting married to Ron.  Or actually, he suddenly thought, he was pretty darn glad he was up here with Ron and not down there.  Hermione might usually have more sense, but not when it came to Ron.

            Grinning at Ron a bit shyly, he replied, “I…well, anything, Ron.  You know that.”

            Ron nodded slowly; then turned to look out the window again, looking glad for the interruption, as they heard Mr. Weasley shout “Ron!  Harry!”

            He stood below the window now, and began to gesture madly when he saw them looking at him.

            “Oh, um…” said Ron, glancing at his wristwatch, which read time to get hitched, “I think it’s time.”

            “Yeah, well, I think you’ll need these,” Harry replied, picking up Ron’s formal robes from the counter and tossing them to him.  Best person duties like that, he could handle.

            Ron pulled them on, tugging them over his head so that his face was hidden for a moment, and when he emerged, his hair was left looking like Harry’s often did.

            “What?” he demanded, when Harry laughed.

            “Your hair,” said Harry, smiling.  “But don’t panic!”  He pulled out his wand and quickly said the spell that Ginny had been using lately to straighten out Harry’s messy black hair.  “Oh, and here,” he continued, fishing a peppermint humbug out of his pocket.  “You need this too.”

Ron made a face at him, but took the offered mint.  “Anything else Mum, I mean Harry?”  Ron asked, only half-joking; Harry could still see worry in his eyes.

“You’re fine, and…I’m right here,” said Harry; grasping Ron’s arm in what he hoped was a reassuring grip.  “Let’s go.”

            Ron stole one last glance out the window at the chaos that was slowly organizing itself as everyone sat down expectantly.  They turned and walked out of the loo, Ron leading the way.

***

Ginny was completely exhausted.  Leaning her head back against the window in her parents’ bedroom, she let her body to sink down onto the windowsill and her eyes to close slowly. 

She had never helped to plan a wedding before Hermione and Ron’s, and was sure she wouldn’t have offered to help as much as she had if she had known how much work was going to be ahead of her. 

Since Voldemort’s defeat, more and more wizards were having traditional ceremonies instead of a simple crossing of wands.  Hermione and Ron and everyone, really, especially Ginny’s mum, had thought that was a wonderful idea, which had meant that there were thousands of details to take care of concerning things Ginny had never even known existed, such as needing to find an ordained Mugwump to perform the ceremony and making sure that every one of the guests was ready to do their part.  Compared to the typical Muggle ceremony Hermione had described to Ginny, life-bonding was incredibly complicated, with friends and family each adding a bit of their love for the couple to the bonding spell.

Harry had been a huge help in all the planning at least, and Ginny wondered if, with the topic of weddings on his mind, he would feel that they were also ready to take the big step.  After all, they had been together…for some time now…and he was…rather cute…

 Ginny could feel herself falling asleep, her thoughts scattering and her head beginning to nod idiotically as it had when she was fighting sleep in Professor Binns’ lectures all those years ago.  She fought to keep her head up, but couldn’t keep her eyes from drooping down again.  Knowing this was no time to fall asleep, she massaged her face with her fingers, not really caring if it would make her freckles show through her makeup, and forced herself to think of the wedding.  Yes, it had been a lot of work, but it would be worth it, for Ron, Hermione, Harry, everyone.  Better that she be exhausted than Hermione, after all, and finally having the luxury to concentrate on something as happy and peaceful as a wedding felt absolutely wonderful.  It just wasn’t fair, how fully Voldemort had affected all of their lives for so long and in so many ways.

At that thought Ginny sighed a little, thinking of another wedding that should have taken place and would have, if not for Voldemort.  Percy’s death was one of those things that she had learned to live with, but today especially she was feeling the lack of his presence.  He would have been horribly pretentious today, shaking Ron’s hand and proclaiming that he had known today was coming years ago. At least he would have been here, and Fred and George would tease him and she could dance with him before he would go home with his huge family.  Instead, Penny was here by herself.

On the verge of crying, Ginny looked over to Hermione, who was sitting quietly across the room at the dressing table while Mrs. Granger applied her make-up.  Desperate to calm her turbulent emotions, Ginny willed herself to think about Hermione and Ron.  They deserved their happiness, and seeing Hermione’s beautiful reflection in the mirror made Ginny smile.  Her formal robes were simple and her hair, usually so bushy, was pulled up in soft curls into which Ginny had twisted several roses.  Try as she might, however, Ginny couldn’t remember how long it had taken to do Hermione’s hair that morning.  Her only recollections were seemingly unending wand movements…muttered spells…and two extra-large bottles of Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion…

“Ginny?  Ginny?”  It was Mrs. Granger’s voice, and it sounded as if it was coming from very far away.  With a start, Ginny jerked straight up, realizing with a shock that she had fallen asleep.  Blushing a little sheepishly, she got off the windowsill, rubbing her eyes and stretching.  Mrs. Granger was chuckling at her, but Hermione was looking worried.

“I’m sorry I’ve tired you out so much these past few days.  I guess…I…I just wanted everything to be perfect, and, well…” Hermione trailed off a little uncertainly, looking at Ginny in the mirror.

Ginny hurried to cross the room to stand next to Hermione.

“I wanted to help, really!” she tried to assure her, smiling at how she had just been thinking very nearly the same thing.  She was lucky that Hermione was becoming her sister at last.

Glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece, Ginny was surprised by the positions of the planets, which showed that it was nearly time for the wedding to start.  She felt a thrill of excitement wash over her, her tiredness suddenly forgotten, and she teased Hermione in a happy rush of emotions. 

“Wait, why did I want to do all this work?  Something to do with you not being able to keep your hands off one of my loser brothers?”

“Very funny,” Hermione said faintly.

Mrs. Granger giggled at Ginny, catching her eye from where she was leaning over Hermione. 

Ginny grinned back, and remembered why she had woken up.  “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Granger, what were you saying?”

“Just that I really love these witch cosmetics!”  Mrs. Granger told her, as she finished Hermione’s face with a light touch of lip-gloss.

“It’s their charms that make them so wonderful,” replied Ginny, smiling as she bent down to see Hermione’s face in the mirror more closely.  Their reflections could have been a study in contrasts – Ginny, rumpled and pink, red hair scattered across her shoulders, Hermione, polished and quiet with warm brown eyes and hair.  “You look perfect, Hermione!”

“Do I?” Hermione asked quietly, barely glancing at herself in the mirror.

“You both look beautiful,” the mirror wheezed to Ginny, startling Mrs. Granger into dropping the lip-gloss on the dressing room table, leaving a smear that quickly vanished.  “But if I didn’t know any better,” the mirror continued, “I’d say Ginny was the one getting married!  This one’s barely said a word since she sat down!  Not exactly the right one to marry a Weasley, now is she?”

“What?” asked Hermione, her voice shaking.  “No!  I am!  Aren’t I, Ginny?  Oh…I keep running over everything in my head again and again…but I just cannot believe the wedding is today.  It seems unreal…we’ve been waiting and planning for so long, and now that it’s here…I feel so unprepared…and scared.”

Ginny gasped.  “Hermione!  Of course you’re perfect for Ron.  Don’t worry, getting nervous before a wedding is totally normal.  It happens to everyone.” Ginny tried to remember the article she had read in Hermione’s copy of Weddings for Witches “Is it Cold Feet or a Cold Heart?” and hoped she sounded reassuring.  “Now, you’re...um…you’re happy with Ron, aren’t you?”

“Of course Ron makes me happy!”  Hermione rushed to assure her.  “Don’t be ridiculous!”

“So, then, you’re just nervous!”  Ginny announced, leaning down and taking Hermione’s hands in her own, staring at her until Hermione raised her eyes to meet Ginny’s.

“Yeah,” she replied softly.  “I know I shouldn’t be…Ron knows me better than anyone else in the world.  He’s everything to me…”

“Humph…” interrupted the mirror, obviously not convinced, but Ginny gave it an icy glare and it sealed its wooden mouth.

“Oh, you stop that.   This is just our Hermione,” Mrs. Granger said crossly to the mirror as she leaned down to smooth the shoulder of her daughter’s robes softly.  “Don’t you worry, you’re perfect for Ron. Ginny’s right; being nervous is completely normal before a wedding.  I remember when I married your father…I was a bundle of nerves for a week before!  I nearly drilled a hole in a patient’s tongue instead of his tooth,” she laughed. “And when Ron is involved, getting anxious and upset is perfectly normal for you.  I’m not surprised you’re nervous today, dear.”

“But she has absolutely no reason to be.”  Ginny said firmly, silently willing Mrs. Granger to keep talking so they could work Hermione out of her case of nerves.

“That’s right.  We’re here, even though you’re trying to be independent and handle everything yourself, like usual.”  She sighed.  “You know, all these years you’ve tried to be so self-reliant, so strong.  We had to read between the lines of every letter you owled home while you were all at Hogwarts.  Of course, you were trying to protect us; as if we weren’t worried enough about you going away to be a witch, we had to deal with letters that obviously weren’t telling us everything.  But,” and here she looked across Hermione’s head at Ginny slyly, “in every letter she always mentioned some boy named Ron.  I never would have guessed that you and he would end up here.”

Hermione blushed and giggled, looking and sounding like herself at last.  You never guessed?  I thought Ron was the only clueless one.  You know, I did guess…but then again, I didn’t.  Being with Ron was more of a dream than anything else.”

“A dream that’s come true.”  Mrs. Granger told her softly.  “Magic, like so much else in your life.  Like you.  Look in the mirror…you’re so beautiful.”

Hermione looked, finally, and gasped a little at her reflection.

“Oh Mum,” she said softly.  “How could I have been so silly before?”  A wide, genuine smile appeared on her face.  “I’ve been looking forward to this day for such a long time.” 

“Exactly,” replied Ginny, smiling back at her friend.  “Now, come on, let’s make sure you’re all set so you can go kiss my git of a brother.”

Hermione stood up and stepped away from the dressing table, and Ginny and Mrs. Granger stepped close to her, making sure nothing was out of place, Ginny securing curls and flowers with a few concentrated flicks of her wand.

“Now, you’re ready to do your part in the ceremony, right Mum?”  Hermione asked, a hint of nervousness creeping back into her voice, and Ginny remembered the practice Mrs. Granger had been doing earlier with Ginny’s own mum.

“Oh, yes!  You know, in the beginning, I wanted you two to have a traditional Muggle ceremony.  I know you’re a witch now,” she rushed to assure Hermione, who had opened her mouth to protest, “but I just dreamed of that for you for so many years, probably because I knew that if you had a wizard ceremony, it would just be one more part of your life I was left out of.  But now, after all the work you did with Professors Lupin and McGonagall to find a way for your father and I and your grandparents to participate, I’ll be ready no matter what.  Don’t you worry about that,” she smiled at Hermione, her own brown eyes shining with pride.

Ginny replied jokingly, “Wait a second, are you sure that was the right decision?  You want to be more involved in the wizarding world?  I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea, considering my dad.  You know, if you hurry, you can still leave before he corners you and drags you off to show off his plug collection.  He’d call it the ‘new in-laws’ tour.”

Hermione and Mrs. Granger laughed, but Mrs. Granger’s giggles quickly turned into tears.

“Mum!”  Hermione cried, spinning around to face her mother.  “Why are you crying?”

“Oh, dear, my little girl is getting married!  I’m going to be an in-law!”  Mrs. Granger cried.  “I didn’t…for so long I was afraid that we would never see your wedding day.  I was so scared, so frightened...” She sniffled, gazing hard at her daughter, and Ginny had the feeling that Mrs. Granger had been trying to keep these words bottled up all day.  Ginny almost wished she hadn’t said anything, because they were words that she herself had been trying not to think. 

Mrs. Granger seemed to have the same thought.  “I’m so sorry, Hermione, I didn’t mean to say that…I just couldn’t help it.”

Ginny saw tears in Hermione’s eyes as she leaned in to wrap her arms around her mother.  “Oh, Mum…” she said quietly.

“Now, that’s enough,” Mrs. Granger said firmly through her tears.  “No more of those thoughts today.  Today is going to be the happiest day of your life.”

Hermione buried her face in Mrs. Granger’s shoulder, and they hugged tightly until there was a knock at the door.

“That better not be Ron!”  Ginny called, as Mrs. Granger and Hermione broke apart, both wiping their eyes, but looking stronger for what had passed between them.

“No, Miss, it is Winky!”  Ginny heard, as Hermione and Mrs. Granger gave each other strong smiles and grasped each other’s hands tightly.  The door swung open to reveal the tiny elf standing on the landing, wearing small light green robes.

“Miss Hermione, your Ronald is downstairs already!  Don’t worry, you is not late; those reporter-wizards are asking questions of him.  Professor Dumbledore just is asking me to tell you that it is nearly time to be getting started!”

            “Reporters?  That’s strange…but I bet Ron is loving that!  Oh!  This is actually happening!”  Hermione gasped, jumping up and down a little. “Ginny, you’re going to be my sister!” she suddenly squealed, turning and hugging her tightly.

            “Come on, Mi -” Winky said from behind Hermione, but her last word cut off abruptly, as if her voice was a charmed recording that had been suddenly silenced.

            Ginny made to pull back from Hermione’s embrace, about to ask Winky if everything was okay, but suddenly found that she couldn’t move her hands from where they were resting on Hermione’s shoulders, Hermione’s hands pressed tight against her upper arms, holding her close.  Ginny’s whole body appeared to be completely stiff, and she tugged, hard, trying to will her legs to move, but she was stuck. 

She could feel Hermione struggling almost imperceptibly against their invisible bonds, but also failing to break free.  Over Hermione’s shoulder Mrs. Granger stood, also frozen in place, and behind her Ginny could see Winky, her mouth half-open and her wand dangling in one immobile hand. 

Ginny’s eyes, the only part of her body that seemed to be able to move freely, darted helplessly to Hermione’s face, just inches away from her own.  Hermione’s brown eyes locked with Ginny’s, and she could tell the other girl felt just as confused as to what was happening.  They stood there, locked in place, for what felt like hours, not knowing what to do.

Ginny could tell Hermione was thinking furiously – her eyes were darting back and forth as if trying spot a way out, and Ginny tried to puzzle her way through what was happening as well.

‘What’s going on?’  Ginny thought furiously.  If this was Fred and George’s doing with some kind of new Wheezes invention, they were going to pay…even they should know that nerves would be stretched too tight for a practical joke on a day like today.  It would be just like them to think it would be funny to make Hermione late for the wedding, too.

As Ginny finished that thought, she cursed herself for being so naïve.  What had Harry told her just this morning?  That this wedding had moved them all permanently past the darkness?  He was wrong it seemed, for from outside she suddenly heard the word “Nooooo!” screamed in anguish in a voice she would know anywhere.

She saw Hermione’s eyes spring open, terror-stricken, and Ginny felt her own heart leap in her chest.

            ‘Ron!’ cried Ginny silently.

***

            “Not a word, Harry.”

            “About what?” Harry asked in his most innocent voice, trying hard not to ruin it by laughing.  Ron was ahead of him as they made their way down the stairs, but Harry could see his ears turning pink again even from above.

            “You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Ron shot back.  “I’ve got some dirt on you too, you know…and Ginny is never more than an Apparition away…”

            Knowing Ron too well to take him seriously, Harry finally gave in to his laughter as they walked into the kitchen.  “Ron, you’re mental.  I bet Hermione would think you throwing up is cute or something equally disgusting.”  Even the murderous look Ron gave him couldn’t stop Harry’s laughter.  “Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.”

            The kitchen was empty.  Harry had expected it to be as crowded as it had been when he had followed Ron up the stairs at a dead run, and he stopped for a moment to take it in.  This room was the first place where Harry had felt like he was at home, and it had always been the center of the Weasley house for him, constantly filled with food and laughter, and too many people with red hair.  Now, all the noise in the room was coming into it through the back door, which was open to the summer breeze.  Mixed with the sunlight that poured in and lit up the room were the sounds of music and many voices murmuring excitedly.

Ron had stopped as well, but unlike Harry, he stood staring out the door at the backyard.  He took a deep breath, let it out, and then turned to look at Harry.  Giving him a smile that only wavered slightly, he announced, “Well, here goes!” and stepped outside, Harry following.  Almost at once, everyone in the backyard turned to look at them.  But that wasn’t exactly right, Harry realized with relief; for once everyone was staring at Ron and not him.  He glanced over at Ron, glad to see that he was still smiling, although he was turning a bit pale again.

“Come on,” Harry said, “this way.”  He began to steer Ron over to Dumbledore, but they had barely made it ten steps away from the kitchen door when a flurry of running feet and flashing light bulbs came their way, along with shouts of “Mr. Weasley!  Sarah Poloutey from Witch’s Weekly…”  “Oh, Mr. Weasley, a few questions?”  Harry sighed. 

Mr. Weasley strode up from behind the mob of reporters, looking slightly harried.  “Oh, boys, here you are.  These witches and wizards were hoping to ask you a few questions…I didn’t think it would hurt; what do you think?

“Oh, um, sure, Dad.  We have time for one or two questions, right?  Okay, who’s first?” Ron asked the four witches, as another witch and a wizard snapped pictures, suddenly sounding like himself again.

Harry covered his smirk with one hand and turned away, pretending to be very interested in the calisthenics Dumbledore appeared to be engaging in across the garden, which must have been some strange Mugwump pre-ceremony meditation of sorts.  He knew he should tell Ron that they needed to get up there, but he didn’t have the heart.  Ron still loved being in the newspaper, and what harm could it do to let him answer a few questions?  They still had a few minutes to toss the reporters out before the ceremony started.  Plus, the more excited the reporters got him, the less time he had to focus on being nervous.  Of course, a nervous Ron was more entertaining any day, but having him calm and happy was probably for the best.  At least if anything happened – Harry stopped himself before he could finish the thought. He was supposed to stop thinking like that. And anyway, there was nothing to worry about.

             “Well, I always knew Hermione was the one for me,” Ron was telling the reporter from Weddings for Witches.  “Even when we were all back at Hogwarts.  But, of course, we had much more important things to do back then.”

Harry snorted at how pompous Ron sounded, and then his smile faded.  He missed Percy.  He should have been here today.  And Snape, even, although if anyone had told Harry ten years ago that he would be missing Snape’s presence at Ron and Hermione’s wedding, he would have tried to have them committed to St. Mungos.  But Snape had proved himself a true ally, and too many allies had died.  Like…Hagrid.  Harry missed Hagrid everyday, and it hurt knowing how thrilled he would have been to see Hermione and Ron getting married.  Harry hoped that he was watching right now.  While riding on the back of a dragon.

            Smiling at that thought, Harry adjusted his glasses and glanced around the garden, resigned to a long wait.  Most of the guests were sitting down, watching Ron as he answered the reporters’ questions, and laughing too; everyone knew Ron’s fancy for attention.

            “But weren’t Miss Granger and Mr. Potter romantically involved while at Hogwarts?” one of the witches asked, her quill scribbling on the parchment suspended in front of her.

            Harry sighed.  Couldn’t they think of any new questions after all these years?  Thankful Ron had never believed those ridiculous rumors, Harry chose to ignore the temptation to turn around and give the woman a rude answer.  Still looking deliberately away, he spotted Mr. Granger standing at the edge of the nearest flowerbeds, waiting, Harry supposed, for Hermione to come downstairs. He looked just as nervous as Ron had just been, and also distinctly out of place in his black suit among the bright wizards’ robes.

“No,” Ron replied in a short voice.  “Okay, last question, and then it’s time for me to get married.”

            “Ah, yes, Mister Weasley.  Final question,” the fourth of the witches spoke up.  Harry thought he recognized her voice; it was distinctively low-pitched. She must have interviewed him after a match or something.  “How exactly does it feel to betray your pure Wizard blood by marrying a Mudblood?  Are you enjoying polluting the wizarding world?”

 ‘Wha -?’ Ron asked, startled.

Harry whipped around, suddenly certain of where he had heard the voice before.  It was a voice he had not heard in five years, and they had all assumed its owner dead.

Desperately, he lunged for his wand, but too late.  Suddenly, the reporters and photographers threw their cameras and quills on the ground, pointed their wands around the garden and whispered a spell he didn’t recognize.  The incantation cut straight through Harry and his words died in his throat.  As they stopped speaking, the air became deathly still and Harry found himself unable to move, his mouth gaping open and his hand halfway to his wand.

Even worse, he began to recognize the face of the witch who had just spoken. She turned her wand on herself, muttered Finite Incantatem, and her face and body began to change.  Her eyes became thin and pale, her body lightened as she grew at least a foot, and long brown hair shrunk and turned what must once have been pale blond, but was now a light and sickly gray.  Even her robes changed from purple to severe black and Harry found himself looking straight at the owner of that unmistakable voice, Lucius Malfoy.

As Harry watched, Malfoy’s mouth began to move, but Harry couldn’t hear what he was saying over the blood pounding in his ears.  Harry realized with a desperate feeling in the pit of his stomach that he had forgotten Moody’s first rule after constant vigilancealways trust your instincts.  ‘You idiot,’ Harry yelled frantically at himself, struggling hard.  ‘What were you thinking?  Why weren’t you ready for this?’  He closed his eyes, trying to escape not only the sight of Malfoy’s smug smirk as he gave orders to the Death Eaters the other reporters had revealed themselves to be, but also the evil glint in his eyes.

Harry took a deep breath, trying to force himself to calm down.  ‘Use your anger.  Use your fear,’ Harry told himself; trying to remember Moody’s training, training he hadn’t had to use in nearly five years.  ‘Don’t let them overwhelm you so that you are unable to act.  Now, break free.  Do it.’  Forcefully, Harry tried to move his arms, then his legs, but he was stuck.  He would have to find another way out of this, and quickly.  Harry forced his eyes open, only to see Malfoy swaggering around the garden, taunting Ron, Mr. Weasley, Sirius, McGonagall…all frozen in place, eyes flashing furiously.  He wrenched his eyes away from the sight and frantically sought out Dumbledore.  His heart sank as he saw that the old headmaster’s eyes were not even open.  Heart sinking, Harry realized that he must have been meditating when the spell hit.  Would he be able to stop Malfoy anyway?  Harry didn’t have time to wait and see.  No one was moving at all except the Death Eaters, and Harry couldn’t bear to see the looks of glee on their faces. Malfoy was walking back towards Ron, sneering and arrogantly pushing his hair back as he spoke.  Harry forced himself to listen.  He needed to find a way out of this.

            “…the perfect moment!”  Lucius was snarling.  “Every last one of the Lord’s enemies together in one place.  Foolishly without any protection at all, as I knew you would be!  So secure, so smug, in your peace.  Not worrying about what happens to those who get foolish and complacent.  Not paying attention to us, the loyal followers of the most powerful wizard of all time!  Believing yourselves totally victorious.  You were wrong.  We are still here, and there will always be those who understand and embrace the truth of Lord Voldemort’s vision!  We will cleanse the wizarding world of all its impurities.  Beginning here,” he looked around the garden disdainfully, “where there is so much filth. 

Harry felt bile rise up in his throat, and his hands ached to turn into fists.  The sick bastard - this was all a sport for him, like it always had been.  It made him even sicker to realize that Malfoy was right – they had been foolish and complacent today.  And now, Malfoy would torture and murder all those who Harry cared about, all to fulfill a sick philosophy.  At least Hermione and Ginny were inside, upstairs.  They wouldn’t have to see this; Harry could be thankful for that.

“This time, we will not fail.  There will be a Dark Mark flying here tonight…and the entire world will know that even though Lord Voldemort is gone, his ideals will never die.”

“I will begin,” he paused, seeming to relish his truly captive audience, “with you, boy.” Malfoy turned his cold eyes on Ron, and smiled thinly. 

Harry narrowed his eyes.  Ron?  Why not him?

As if he could hear his thoughts, Malfoy turned to look at him.  Harry Potter. I know exactly what you’re thinking - why not me?  The great Harry Potter?”  He began to mimic Harry in a high-pitched voice, pacing in front of him and Ron.  “It was I who killed Voldemort!  Me, the famous Harry Potter!”  He stopped in front of Harry, a disgusted look on his face.  “Yes, it was you,” he spat.  “And for that, you will watch every single person and filthy creature here be tortured and killed, before you die a more painful death than you could ever imagine.  There will be no duel here today, no time for your pitiful heroics.” He walked back to stand in front of Ron, twirling his wand in his fingers, and Harry felt another surge of disgust as he realized how fully Malfoy was enjoying this.  He brought his wand close to Ron’s face.  “You will die first, and you will finally pay for murdering my son.” 

“My Lord,” The other Death Eaters had returned, and one had stepped forward to speak to Malfoy.  “The area is secure.  Everyone is frozen, and the wards are in place.”

“Good.”  Malfoy replied shortly.  “Watch, and you will be able to have your own fun when I am done.”

Suddenly, ropes shot out of the end of his wand, which bound themselves around Ron’s body and over his mouth.  “I will unfreeze you, of course,” Malfoy said with a feral smile, “the better to see you suffer.”

Harry wanted to look away, to scream, to jump on Malfoy and attack him.  Not being able to do anything but feebly struggle against his invisible bonds was tearing him apart inside, the happiness and release he had felt not even an hour earlier rapidly overwhelmed by despair that he fought hard to keep at bay.  Not Ron.  Not everyone. Not again, and all because of him.  Again.  Harry would have screamed; as it was, all he could do was squeeze his eyes shut tight.  But he opened them quickly, to be ready should an opportunity arise, and to bear witness to Ron’s torture.  Again.

Almost lazily, clearly enjoying every second, Malfoy murmured the unfreezing spell.  Harry tensed at once, hoping it would work on everyone and not just Ron, but it was only Ron who suddenly sagged, held up by only the ropes bound around his body.  Everyone else remained where they were, a gross parody of the individuality, strength, and intelligence that each of them possessed.

The lone woman stepped forward to take Ron’s wand out of his belt, and Ron struggled hard as she took it away.  “Hmm…something you’d like to say, boy?” she purred at him, and Ron looked at her with revulsion written all over his face. He twisted his head around furiously, and Harry realized he was looking for Hermione – Ron hadn’t been able to see the house from the direction he had been facing and didn’t know if she was outside or not.

“Ah, yes,” Malfoy cut in.  “Worried about the brats upstairs?  Your pathetic sister and your Mudblood bride?  We know they’re there.  Along with her Muggle mother…I have long waited to meet her in particular.  I am anxious to find the mud in the Mudblood.  There’s nothing you can do to save them.”  He removed the bond around Ron’s mouth with a flick of his wand.  “Just know that they’ll be taken care of next.  Oh yes, will they be taken care of.” 

“No!” the scream was torn from Ron’s lips as he began to struggle against his bonds again.  Harry’s chest constricted, and he fought down the helplessness that threatened to overwhelm him. 

But Malfoy just smiled.  “Ah, yes, Mr. Weasley, please do scream.  It makes it all so much more pleasant.”

//
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