PROPOSALS AND PREPARATIONS
Arm-in-arm they walked back down the hill. When they arrived at the Burrow, Ginny went in first. When she saw her father she smiled and nodded. Harry finally understood.
"Uh, Mr. Weasley," said Harry. "Could I talk to you for a minute?"
Arthur Weasley patted his daughter's shoulder as he passed, and then led Harry back outside.
The two men walked down the dusty path, finally stopping at the empty shed that had housed the old Ford Anglia.
"Mr. Weasley," began Harry. "I have something very serious to discuss with you."
"If it's more serious than a dragon, then we better sit down," replied Mr. Weasley, and he conjured a pair of wicker chairs.
Harry took the remaining chair after Mr. Weasley had seated himself.
"I might as well get it right out there," said Harry. "I would like to have your permission to marry Ginny. There, I've said it. Before you answer, I hope you will give me a moment to explain. I love your daughter. I will do anything to protect her. I have fought a great internal battle trying to decide if she would be safer with me or away from me. I feel that our past, almost familial, connections would put your entire family at the top of Voldemort's attack list whether I'm here or not. I have trained next to Ginny. She is immensely powerful of her own right. I believe I can best protect her by proximity not by distance. I have more to teach her about closing her mind to unwanted intrusion, but she is already very strong. I know I'm not a pureblood. I know the Weasleys have been a pureblood family for centuries. I would hope you could look beyond a characteristic I could not control, and look to the way I've handled the things I can control. I recognize the clouded future Ginny and I would face, but I say again, I love Ginny and I will do anything to protect her."
Mr. Weasley looked at Harry for a long time. Finally, he scratched his chin and began his answer. "Harry, I have known how Ginny has felt about you for some time. I see her mother's steel in her decisions. She's not one to accept less than what she has set her mind to. That being said, I also see the danger in her marrying you. A father is protective of his children. Protection is a father's duty. Allowing a man to take a daughter is a difficult thing. Even though I've literally watched you grow up, I have reservations."
Harry's heart winced at the implied denial, but he remained patiently silent.
"However, those reservations do not include your lineage. You have proven your mettle as a man, many times. If you had come up short in that fundamental, my answer would have been an academic NO. I have spoken with many members of the Order of the Phoenix. To a person, they have been mightily impressed with the abilities that you not only possess, but with the abilities you train into others. Molly and I have discussed at length the pros and cons of you as a son-in-law. That may come as a surprise, but we don't make any unilateral decisions. Molly and I are partners. We respect each other. We recognize the danger that is Harry Potter."
Mr. Weasley took off his glasses and polished them on his sleeve. Harry tried to balance the things Mr. Weasley had told him. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer that seemed to be forming.
When he had finished with his glasses, Mr. Weasley continued. "I could overlook your disregard for rules, having been at odds with rules myself when I was younger. I could learn to live with the guilt being around you brings...the guilt that if I had taken your warnings about Malfoy seriously, Dumbledore might still be alive and Bill whole. I could even accept the fact that you may have led various of my children on exercises that could have cost them life or limb. I could ignore your willingness to bypass Wizard Law when you feel a higher moral calling. What I cannot overlook is the fact that you never consider the cost to those around you if you should be killed. What I cannot overlook is the fact that in looking past your own life, you have saved many of my family member's lives. What I cannot look past is the fact that without you we wouldn't have Ginny or Ron with us today. What I cannot look past is the opportunity to have you as a permanent member of this family."
It took a moment for the words to sink in. When they finally did, Harry's face broke into a huge smile.
"Welcome home Harry!" said Mr. Weasley taking Harry into a crushing hug. "Welcome home son!"
When he released Harry, Mr. Weasley motioned for him to sit back down. "There are a few things we need to discuss. Firstly, Ginny isn't of age. She has two years of school left. If Hogwarts opens this fall, Molly and I would like her to finish, at the very least, her sixth year. There is always the SEE diploma available and we feel Ginny could well pass that if necessary."
"C?" asked Harry. "I'm not familiar with that grade."
"Not the a letter grade C Harry," explained Mr. Weasley, "...S/E/E, Sorcerer's Equivalency Examinations. Some wizard families don't let their children attend schools like Hogwarts, and after what happened to Dumbledore, I can't say I blame them. Those children take the SEE to see if they are proficient enough to retain their wands. And sad it is when they fail, but I expect great things from both you and Ginny. Ginny's extra school time will allow you to straighten out your inheritances when you become an adult. We can make wedding plans after that."
"I'll accept your terms with one caveat," said Harry, "I have to talk to Ginny first."
"Smart man," said Mr. Weasley, and he vanished the chairs and led the way back to the Burrow.
When they arrived, they found both Ginny and Mrs. Weasley waiting in tortured anticipation. Mr. Weasley nodded a slow nod and then smiled. Ginny jumped from her chair and wrapped her arms around Harry and pressed her face into his neck.
"It looks as if we are going to have another son," observed Mr. Weasley.
"Oh, Arthur! Don't they look the perfect pair," said Mrs. Weasley as she took her husband by his elbow.
"That they do," said Mr. Weasley, and he led his wife from the room.
Ginny cried on Harry's shoulder as Harry held her tightly. "Now that wasn't so hard, was it?" she asked when she had recovered herself.
"Your dad had me going for a bit," said Harry. "He sounded as if he was going to say no. He didn't actually say yes in entirety either. Your parents want you to finish your sixth year if Hogwarts reopens. If not, I get the impression that they will teach you at home and prepare you for a SEE diploma."
"What if I don't want to wait?" asked Ginny petulantly.
"You are still under age, as am I; if we pushed, they could make difficulties," observed Harry.
"We could run away," she offered.
"I don't want to be on the wrong side of your parents," reasoned Harry. "If things get as difficult as I foresee, we will need all the help we can get. Your family will be a great strength and asset."
"I suppose you're right," admitted Ginny. "But waiting will be so hard. I've had my hopes set on you since the first time I saw you at King's Cross station. I admit, initially it was infatuation and daydreams. But after you saved my life, after I saw what you were made of, it became real love. If it hadn't been real, I wouldn't have lasted through either the Cho chapter of your life or the Dean chapter of my life. Now that I've had the better part of the last year with you, I've seen what truly motivates you. Even if you are a bit slow in the nuances of personal relationships, you are definitely worth waiting for. What's a few months more-or-less?"
"I'm glad you see it that way. And I'm glad you didn't become discouraged while I chased who I really was. About the waiting...I learned from some chaps, some suits, during the time I spent at the Dursleys, that time may not be limited to..."
Harry was interrupted by a commotion at the door. Taken by surprise, both Harry and Ginny drew wands and assumed defensive positions.
Laughing loudly, Ron and Hermione banged into the room. Oblivious of Harry and Ginny's provocative posture, they crossed the room and collapsed to an overstuffed divan.
Harry and Ginny put away their wands and waited.
"You'll never guess what," giggled Hermione. Then she held up her left hand. There, sparkling in the light streaming through the window, was a diamond engagement ring.
Ginny rushed over with a squeal of excitement. "He finally plucked up the courage to ask!" she observed, "I know you've talked about it for weeks."
"Ronald came to pick me up in the village. My parents brought me that far. He cornered my dad and had a very intense conversation with him. There must have been some sort of magic in play, because my dad said Ronald could ask for my hand!"
"I used neither potion nor spell," said Ron, stung by the implication. "I used my natural suave sophistication and powers of logical reasoning to win your father to my point!"
Hermione raised one eyebrow.
"OK," admitted Ron. "I've practiced that speech because I knew you would give me grief."
"Whatever you said...I love you for it!" gushed Hermione with a smile.
Harry suddenly had a most discomforting thought. "Ah...Ginny can I talk to you in private?"
"Not until we tell them our news," and she held up her left hand.
To Harry's surprise, Ginny too wore an engagement ring.
"What!" exclaimed Hermione, and she jumped up and hugged Ginny tightly. "When did this happen?" she asked in tears of joy.
"Just a while ago. Harry went outside and had a talk with dad, it was a good thing dad said yes because but by then Harry had already asked me to marry him," explained Ginny.
"Well done mate," said Ron. "It looks like we're going to be brothers...sort of."
"The timing sounds coincidental," observed Hermione as she released Ginny. "It's possible they were asking each of us at the same instant."
"I suppose that means we share a wedding day?" asked Harry sardonically.
Ginny and Hermione looked at each other as though it was a plausible idea.
"I was kidding!" said Harry quickly. "Ginny and I have to wait until she is of age. We wouldn't want to hold you two back."
"We've made no specific plans as of yet," said Hermione. "We'll have to see how things come together."
"Great! Good!" said Harry impatiently. "Ginny, can we talk?" He motioned to the door.
Ginny took his hand and they left the house for the sunshine outside.
"I know what you're going to ask," said Ginny preemptively. "You really did give me this ring!"
"That's not the ring I gave you," said Harry as he looked at the ring on Ginny's hand.
"It is so! I just improved it a bit." She held up her hand so Harry could examine the ring more closely.
"It looks like the basic design I made. What do you mean you improved it?" he asked skeptically.
"I added these fine gold arches. Ronald said I would get in trouble for doing magic away from school. I told him to stop being such a big girls blouse. I've done magic at home since before I started at Hogwarts."
Harry marveled at the diameter of the gold wire. They were formed in a latticed spiral and were so thin that they split the sunlight like a diamond. "How...?" he started to ask.
"Like I told you before...a girl has to have her secrets," she said with a smile.
"But altering gold...I know how hard..." he blundered.
"Do you honestly think you are the only one who can practice difficult magic?" Although her tone was even, Harry detected a bit of menace.
"No...not at all!" said Harry quickly. "I have known how strong you are since your first year at Hogwarts, and I have known how magically powerful you are since our first D.A. practice. I don't doubt you. I just stand amazed at your abilities."
"Look who's talking," said Ginny with a smile. "I've seen you do things that my father can't do. I just decided to attempt a few of your tricks on my own. Although it would be easier if you actually taught them to me." She let her indictment stand.
"I get your point, and I haven't forgotten my promise to teach you how to more fully close your mind." Harry paused in thought. "What about underage magic? Doesn't the Ministry come nosing?"
"I learned by watching Fred and George to keep the magic small. Since this is a wizard home, I don't think the Ministry fusses too much. You know...the investigation, the paperwork, all the questioning...I don't think they exactly look for work; if you know what I mean. I've even heard Bill and Charlie talk about the magic they got away with. I know George and Fred both performed spells to improve their Wildfire Whiz-Bang fireworks. How did you intend teaching me here at the Burrow if you haven't thought this through?" Ginny crossed her arms and looked at Harry.
Harry considered the look on Ginny's face and then he smiled. "We will be great together. I can't wait to learn from you!"
"How about teaching me?" she asked, all animosity forgotten. "I have time right now. Teach me to close my mind completely to Voldemort."
Harry took her to the shady side of the house as the day had begun to show signs of being a warm one. For three hours he showed Ginny exactly how to control her thoughts and emotions. She learned quickly, and soon Harry could not withdraw any credible information from her mind.
"You mastered that incredibly quickly!" said Harry in admiration. "It took me hours and hours to get as good as you are right now!"
"You taught me the basics at Hogwarts," she explained. "I've had a week to explore the process on my own. Let me show you something."
She put her hand lightly on his arm. Immediately he was filled with a peace similar to the Imperious Curse without the compelling background.
"How did you do that?" he asked.
"Remember when I said I practiced magic before I went to Hogwarts? Well that is part of what I learned. I can encourage feelings if I touch someone." She dropped her touch and added quickly, "I've never done it to you. I wanted your feelings for me to be totally sincere."
Harry whistled a long note. "I am so glad we are on the same side. We really can learn from each other. I need to introduce you to a witch named Wendelin."
He had just started to explain about Wendelin when he saw a quick motion in the trees. "What's that?" he asked in concern.
Tuning his glasses, he could see the shimmering outline of a disillusioned rider on a broom flying toward them fast.
"Watch out!" he said. "We've got company!"
Once again they drew their wands and formed up back-to-back. The rider didn't deviate course. He flew straight for the Burrow. Harry was about to knock him from the air, when he went into a precipitous dive at tremendous speed. Harry was sure the rider was going to get plowed, but at the very last instant, he pulled up and landed gently next to the stone out house.
Charlie Weasley appeared from beneath a disillusionment charm and saluted Harry and Ginny.
Ginny stowed her wand and ran to greet her older brother. Charlie swept Ginny from her feet and swung her in the air. "My not-so-little baby sister!" he said in a happy voice.
"Charlie! I'm so glad to see you," she gushed.
Charlie unlocked the out house door with his wand and stowed, what Harry recognized as a Firebolt, inside. Then he crooked his elbow in Ginny's and walked up to Harry.
"Harry Potter!" said Charlie jovially. "I didn't expect to see you here until the wedding day."
"My plans changed a bit," said Harry. "But I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention I'm here, to anyone outside the family."
"And he means family," injected Ginny as she held her hand under Charlie's nose.
"What's this! My little sister engaged?" Charlie looked around smiling. "But who could put up with a stubborn little ginger like you?"
"Me," said Harry, "and I'm glad to have the chance."
"Well done Harry!" said Charlie. "Welcome to the Weasley menagerie." He slapped Harry on the back. "Now if you don't mind, it's a long way from Romania on a broom and I'm about done in. I need some of mom's coddling."
He headed for the house, but before he disappeared inside, he turned back to Harry and Ginny. "All jokes aside, congratulations! I really mean it!"
Ginny watched him go with love in her eyes. "I really miss him. He doesn't come home much. He's practically married to those blasted dragons."
"Speaking of dragons, I want to introduce Capricio to Charlie," said Harry.
"Good idea, that," said Ginny. "If anyone can help with Capricio, it's Charlie."
Ginny sighed. "It'll be good to have the family together. Well, most of the family," she added.
"Percy?" asked Harry.
"We don't expect to see Percy," she said sadly. "He sent back the invitation unopened."
"He won't be here," said Harry.
"How can you know that for sure?" she asked, irritation seeping into her voice.
"Ah...you just told me he returned the invitation unopened," said Harry too quickly.
Ginny narrowed her eyes at Harry. "Is there something you're not telling me?"
Harry looked at the ground. "A fellow has to have his secrets too. Try to enjoy the wedding without dwelling too much on Percy."
Ginny was about to question Harry when Mrs. Weasley stuck her head out the window and called them to meal.
The lunch was marvelous. Harry didn't say much, he just reveled in the glow of the machinations of a happy family.
When the meal was over, Charlie turned to Harry, "I understand you are a pretty good seeker. Did you bring a broom?"
"Yes," said Harry cautiously, wondering what he was getting into.
"I didn't think I'd get back on a broom for a week the way I felt, but mum's got me back on an even pitch. Let's have a go at a round of "Race 'n Chase," challenged Charlie.
"I'd like to see that," said Mr. Weasley. "It's been a long time since I've seen Charlie fly at speed."
"Don't encourage him!" scolded Mrs. Weasley. "He takes enough risks with those dragons. I don't want him coming home and getting messed up."
"I've never gotten messed up flying," said Charlie in a hurt tone. "It was always the crashing that messed me up!" He slapped Harry on the back. "Come on!"
"I'll need my broomstick," Harry had begun to say when Ginny handed it to him.
"I knew you wouldn't say no," she said. Everyone laughed.
They all went outside and Charlie retrieved his broom from the shed.
"What are the boundaries, and do we fly the same direction?" asked Harry.
Charlie looked around. "No higher than the trees. One complete circuit of the grounds. Same direction. That keeps the likelihood of a headlong crash to a minimum."
Harry looked at the two brooms. They were identical. Charlie caught him looking.
"I need a fast broom to work among the dragons. Some of them are wretchedly swift. You ready?"
"Great! Mum, can I borrow your scarf?" asked Charlie. Mrs. Weasley took the scarf from her hair and handed it to Charlie. He levitated it into a stationary position in the air.
"First one 'round that gets the scarf," he said "Ron, you start us."
Harry lined up next to Charlie. He found he was actually nervous. Charlie's reputation as a seeker was still legend even though it had been years since he had attended Hogwarts.
"Go!" yelled Ron, breaking Harry's contemplation.
Charlie was gone like a shot. Harry sped after him, keeping low to the ground. He had learned a trick or two in his battles with Capricio and V, and he intended to use those tricks. The two riders were coloured blurs among the trees. There was no reason to worry about muggles spotting them; firstly because the trees ringed the entire Weasley property, and secondly, because no muggle would have been able to tell what the fast-moving blurs were. Harry caught Charlie up by using the shortest arc possible, but his speed made the outward pressure incredible. Charlie seemed surprised to see Harry pull up to his side. As if he had learned from Harry's tactics, Charlie sped up and tightened his arc. The wind whipped their robes. Harry was instantly thankful he had on glasses. He knew a single butterfly at these speeds would be a catastrophe. The two riders pushed the air side by side. Sometimes Charlie was ahead by an inch, sometimes Harry had the fractional advantage. When Harry finally saw the floating scarf, he was two inches ahead of Charlie. He stretched out his hand. In the final instant, something small and incredibly fast zoomed past the two riders and snatched the scarf from the air. Harry pulled his broom to an eye-popping stop. There on the ground was Capricio, curled in Mrs. Weasley's scarf, looking innocently up at Harry.
"Stand back!" commanded Charlie, as he approached the dragon.
"Wait!" said Harry, not sure what Charlie was about. Harry clicked his tongue and Capricio flew to his shoulder.
Charlie stopped in amazement. He looked at Harry for a moment with his mouth open. "Harry stand very still. I can get it off you."
Harry laughed. "No worries. Capricio and I are friends." Harry heard Ron harrumph somewhere behind him.
Charlie's mouth dropped open again. Ginny reached over and with one finger closed it.
"A SpindleFly!" said Charlie in awe. "Harry, that's a SpindleFly!"
"You're bonkers," said Ron. "That's a dragon."
"I know it's a dragon!" said Charlie. "But it's a SpindleFly. They have been extinct for centuries. They only exist in books!" he said reverently.
"Well you are very close about them existing only in books. Capricio and I met over a book." Harry stroked the wyvern.
"Can...can I touch him?" asked Charlie in awe.
"That's up to Capricio, he's very much his own dragon," explained Harry.
Charlie approached slowly, speaking softly to the dragon. "If even half of the legends about your kind are true, you are a most magnificent creature."
Capricio allowed Charlie to touch him.
"How long have you known him?" asked Charlie as he lightly touched Capricio's neck ruff.
"About a year," said Harry. "But I must not know him completely. I've never seen him attain the kind of speed he just showed."
"You have allowed him to fly free?" questioned Charlie.
"Yes," said Harry, "But I've never seen the speed..."
"And he comes back?" asked Charlie incredulously.
"Always. We have an understanding," explained Harry.
"SpindleFlys are the perfect dragon," said Charlie softly. "The fastest of their kind so it was said. They would soar to great heights, tuck their wings and dive...I think we just witnessed something that hasn't been seen in possibly a thousand years...an actual SpindleFly dive!"
Capricio looked at Charlie. Harry felt the weight lift a fraction of a second before the wyvern launched. At only two feet apart, Charlie didn't have a chance to react. In less than an eye-blink, the dragon was sitting on Charlie's shoulder, sniffing his ear.
Harry could see the fine hair on the back of Charlie's neck rise. "Just relax," said Harry. "He's getting the size of you."
Harry was enjoying the spectacle until he caught sight of the look of barely contained panic on Mrs. Weasley's face.
Capricio paused, worked his way down Charlie's sleeve and sniffed his callused hands. He then crawled into Charlie's robe pocket. Moments later he emerged tugging a package wrapped in oilcloth.
"I forgot that was in there," said Charlie. He untied the string securing the oilcloth and fed the contents to Capricio.
"Dragon treats?" asked Harry.
"Yes but how did you know?" Charlie looked at Harry anew. "We have to talk!"
Mrs. Weasley relaxed significantly as the dragon ate the treat. "He's just like one of my boys," she commented. "Not happy 'till they're fed up."
"Could I have a moment alone with Harry?" asked Charlie. Ginny complained, but finally joined the others as they went back into the house.
When they were alone, Charlie turned to Harry. "How much do you know about SpindleFlys?"
"Until a minute ago, I didn't even know that is what he is. I know what we have learned together. We have trained in combat..."
Charlie interrupted Harry, "You have fought against this wyvern?"
"Yes, we have learned much together. Combat is one of those lessons..."
"Hold out your hands!" commanded Charlie.
Harry did so a bit self-consciously. His hands still bore the blueish tint of a curse interrupted, as well as healed burns, jagged battle scars, and half-healed bruises from V's training. Charlie turned them over and examined them. He stopped at two thin gold scars on the back of Harry's hand.
"No way this can be possible!" said Charlie shaking his head. "You have bonding marks!"
"We, that is Capricio and I, have entered into two agreements. I trust Capricio explicitly to live up to his bargain." Harry stroked Capricio.
"You can communicate with him?" asked Charlie enthralled.
"We understand each other, sometimes without even talking," explained Harry.
"I think that's what just happened, your intense desire to get to the scarf first summoned the wyvern. He understood what you wanted. Harry I can't tell you how singular this is. This dragon is possibly the rarest creature on the earth! Entire wizard family fortunes were expended trying to acquire a SpindleFly! You've probably heard it said the you can't train a dragon...you are looking at the absolute, the only exception!"
"He seems to have taken to you too," said Harry. Capricio had pushed his way into the robes at the crook of Charlie's elbow. "When he does that he's ready for a nap."
"Achieving the altitude for the dive he just performed is a draining feat, he may sleep for some time," said Charlie, cradling the dragon. "A...Harry, have you ever seen him...change?"
"Yes. He can go from this miniature to over sixty feet tall in the blink of an eye," said Harry, as he smiled at remembered antics.
Charlie sat down on the ground, stunned.
"The only thing I haven't figured out is why he dislikes Ron. From the first moment they met it has not been good," said Harry.
"This species is reputed to form bonds that last a lifetime," explained Charlie. "They make up their minds very quickly and it is almost impossible to alter their initial impression. If Ron got off on the wrong foot, Capricio may never really like him."
"Well, Ron was hiding something from me when he first met Capricio. I found out what was going on, I'm past it; but you're right, Capricio doesn't seem inclined to forget the past." Harry saw the dragon's eyelids slip shut. "He's out," said Harry. "He seems to like you."
"I hope that's the case," said Charlie sincerely. "I'd not like to be on the bad side of a SpindleFly dive. You'd never see it, or hear it, until it took you."
Harry removed Capricio from Charlie's sleeve and put the wyvern in his lined pocket. "Thanks for the information about Capricio. It's good to know more about a friend."
"You are honestly the only person I've ever heard call a dragon a friend. When this wedding is over, I'd like to have a serious talk with you about Capricio."
Harry nodded and followed Charlie into the Burrow.
As they entered, Charlie turned to Harry, "By the way, you're the better man on a broom too."
Harry was smiling at the compliment when Ginny took him by the arm.
"I know you were tired last night," said Ginny. "And you've been a bit busy this morning," she smiled the words. "But Dobby has been beside himself wanting to show you around the Burrow."
Harry remembered his promise to Dobby and immediately summoned the house elf.
Dobby appeared with a small pop.
"You said you wanted to give me your report," said Harry.
The words were barely out of Harry's mouth when the elf gave a little jump and clapped his hands with glee. "Oh yes, Harry Potter. Dobby is ever so happy here. Hogwarts is a good place for a house elf. There is always fires to be made, food to be cooked, rooms to be cleaned, and laundry to be done...but here, here Dobby gets to decorate!"
The elf grabbed Harry by the hand and led him through the Burrow. Dobby was right, Harry hadn't noticed it in the rush since he'd arrived, but the Burrow had definitely been spruced up! Intricately woven evergreen boughs framed the windows and doors. Pine needles festooned window sills, bunched chains of pine cones transitioned walls to ceilings, and mats of juniper had been placed in front of every door.
Harry wasn't quite sure what to make of the change. "Interesting," he finally said.
"Oh thank you Harry Potter!" said the elf, taking Harry's noncommittal comment as praise. "The Wheezys is going to entertain the Delacour family. And the Delacours is having a grandmother who is a Veela! Dobby is very excited to make her feel at home. Dobby knows Veela. They is most comfortable in the forest. Dobby is going to make the Wheezy home as much like a forest as possible. It is most satisfying work!"
Harry looked more closely. Cabinets had been veneered in bark, live flowers were everywhere, and Harry thought he could hear a stream running somewhere behind him in the kitchen. "Well done Dobby!" said Harry. "Can we help?"
"Oh no, Harry Potter! Dobby wants to accomplish this on his own. Harry Potter should rest!" Dobby bowed, and with a pop, was off to continue his work somewhere in the Burrow.
"Is he serious?" Harry asked Mrs. Weasley.
"Not only is he serious, he is absolutely correct," she said. "I checked Lockhart's book Interspecies Entertaining Tonight and found Dobby to be spot on. When we received the invitation list, and saw that Fleur's grandmother would be attending, I was ever so worried. I've never had a Veela in the house. Lockhart lays it all out in a chapter called Vexless Veela Visits. With Dobby's help, we'll have the house in order. Bill will be here later today to suggest any finishing touches. I'm all of a dither!"
"Why the fuss over just one guest?" asked Harry.
"Well," said Arthur Weasley, "do you recall the Quidditch World Cup match? Remember when the Romanian's Veela mascots got riled?"
Harry did recall. "They turned into sort of angry bird women," he said.
"Exactly!" said Mr. Weasley. "Not the sort of incident you want at a wedding."
Harry saw the point. "Can I help?" he asked.
"Well, not with Dobby," said Mr. Weasley, "but you could help me and the others outside with the bowery. The ceremony will be held in the copse of pine trees half way up the hill, but we need a bowery to keep the guests out of the sun."
"I'd be glad to help," said Harry. "When?"
"Right now, as a matter of fact," said Mr. Weasley. "I've taken the entire week off from work to help prepare. We were pleased when the Delacours agreed to have the ceremony here. And I have to admit to a little curiosity about Fleur's grandmother. It should be a grand time. Let's get cracking."
Mr. Weasley led Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Charlie, and Ron through the back garden and up the hill. He allowed Hermione, Ron and Charlie to use magic to procure and levitate pine boughs from deep within the copse of trees. He directed Ginny and Harry in hand-placing pine boughs in the latticework that framed the bowery. After several hours of hard work, a beautiful, shaded bowery graced the hillside.
"Thank you lot," said Mr. Weasley when the task was completed. "You've earned a bit of a rest. I'll go help Molly." He left them to talk on the hill.
"That was a bit of a chore, doing without magic," said Ginny. "I can't wait until I can do magic..."
"..legally," injected Ron. "We all know what you get away with. Mum and dad treat you special because you're the baby girl of the family."
"Mum and dad treat me special because I am special," responded Ginny with a bit of challenge in her voice.
Harry diffused the situation by laughing. "I love this family. I can't wait to be a part of the Weasleys. Who's up for a quick game of Quidditch before supper?"
They all accepted the challenge. Charlie summoned brooms, and they divided into teams. Harry and Charlie gave off their racing brooms to even the teams. They had a great time zooming around the paddock, and even Hermione, the least skilled rider, enjoyed her go on the Firebolt.
The sun was lowering in the sky when Bill arrived. Harry saw him first. Like Charlie, he came in disillusioned. They all landed and traded hugs. Bill shook Harry's hand. Harry noticed his scars were almost healed. He was told of both Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny's engagements. He hugged everyone again.
"I looks as if Fleur and I started something," he observed wryly.
"If that's the case," said Ginny. "Thank you! I wasn't sure if these two were ever going to catch the drift!" She punched Harry in the shoulder. "Would you like to have a quick go with us at Quidditch? You make the teams even."
"Maybe tomorrow," said Bill. "I'm beat from my flight. I did see the bowery on my way in. Did you lot build it?"
"Dad directed. We were the house elves," said Ron. "But I think it turned out OK."
"It's more than OK, it's perfect. Fleur will love it," said Bill. "She's surprised me. When I first met her I thought she was all silk and lace, but there's another side to her. She's drawn to the outdoors, and she has a will of iron."
Harry smiled inwardly. He understood Bill's praise for Fleur.
"Let's head back to the Burrow. You're probably starved," observed Ginny.
They all agreed and as they made their way back down the hill, Charlie put a stout arm around Bill and pulled him close.
"I've missed you," said Charlie. "We don't get together often enough. I can't believe you went back to work so quickly after you got out of hospital."
"Gringotts needs me, and they keep me dead busy," explained Bill. "If my Goblin-in-Charge had his way, Fleur and I would spend our honeymoon in an Egyptian crypt breaking curses!"
"How romantic!" teased Ginny.
"I said if he had his way," said Bill. "Fleur's family is sending us on a month-long fly of the world. There's so much to see!"
"Congratulations!" said Charlie. "You were getting pasty spending all your time inside those dark tombs."
The two older Weasleys jostled each other goodnaturedly all the way back to the Burrow. Ginny had been right about the meal. Mrs. Weasley was just setting the last plate at the crowded table when they came in.
Harry marveled at the transformation that had occurred inside the Burrow since they had left. Fabric on chairs mimicked leaves and branches, one wall projected a mural of a verdant meadow, and Harry was sure he could feel a gentle summer breeze inside the house.
"Wow!" said Bill as they entered.
Mrs. Weasley stopped what she was doing and rushed to Bill's outstretched arms. "Oh Bill!" she cried. "I was so worried when you decided to go back to work. I wanted you to stay close to the healers, but you look wonderful!"
"Fleur's uncle on her mother's side knows a fair amount of old remedies from Cosmas and Damian," explained Bill. "He traveled with me to Egypt and stayed as close to me as a mummy's wrappings. His treatments helped tremendously!"
"I'm just glad to have you safely back home," gushed Mrs. Weasley. "Sit down and eat!" she commanded.
They all sat down. Harry was impressed once again by the hubbub around the table. His head spun just trying to keep abreast of all the different conversations. When they finished, Dobby came in quietly and removed all the dishes.
"Dobby!" said Harry. "You have done wonders with the Burrow. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was outside."
"Harry Potter is too kind," said the elf. "But Dobby is happy here at the Wheezys."
Dobby went back to his work. Harry joined the others in the front room. He sat close to Ginny, feeling her warmth next to him gave him great comfort. He listened attentively as Charlie talked about his work with dragons in Romania. He sat astounded as Bill related curses he had encountered. He smiled as he noticed the look of pride in Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's faces as they listened to their sons' recounted tales. Ginny, Ron and Hermione told of adventures they had had with Harry.
The night wore on pleasantly. For the first time in his life, Harry felt a part of a family. When it was finally time for bed, rooms were apportioned. Bill was assigned Percy's old room, Charlie was to sleep in Fred and George's room, Harry was given over to Ron.
Harry bid a discreet goodnight to Ginny and joined Ron,
As they made their way up the crooked stair, Ron suddenly stopped. "Do you have it with you?" he demanded.
"Yes, but he's sleeping," responded Harry.
"It's sleeping now. What if it gets peckish during the night? I'm not in the mood to become a shiskabob," said Ron.
Unwilling to let an argument taint an otherwise perfect evening, Harry gathered his things from the cot set up in Ron's room and went down to where Charlie was sleeping. He knocked softly on the door. Charlie opened it and invited Harry in. Harry explained his dilemma.
"I understand completely," said Charlie. "Take Fred's bunk, there's plenty of room."
Harry took the bed, and within minutes was asleep. Two hours later he was shaken from a deep sleep by Mrs. Weasley's scream from above.
Charlie was first from the room. He was joined on the stair by Bill, Mr. Weasley, and Ginny. Harry brought up the rear as they thundered up toward Ron's room.
Ron was sitting up in his bed, white as a sheet. Mrs. Weasley was standing in the doorway sobbing.
"Harry's been taken!" she sobbed over and over.
Harry elbowed his way to the front. "I'm right here! I'm OK!" he said quickly.
Mrs. Weasley collapsed into her husband's arms.
"Back to bed everyone," said Arthur Weasley as he calmed his sobbing wife. "False alarm. But as a future note, if you plan on changing rooms, let Molly know. That will save us all a fright." He looked at Harry.
"Sorry," was all Harry could say under the accusing gaze. He realized he had, on his own, ruined a perfect evening.
Ginny caught Harry before he went back into the room with Charlie. "It's not your fault," she said.
Harry nodded and kissed her. "Thanks, I needed that," he said, but in his heart, he knew it was his fault.
His last thought before he drifted off to an uncomfortable sleep was of the dragon on the nightstand... "all that and Capricio didn't even wake up!"