Memory is such a tricky thing, especially with the passage of time. Things or events that were painful at the time they occurred have a tendency to be seen as being more wonderful with the passage of time. Or … they can become worse.
Either way, things never remain the same.
And yet … and yet … there are some things that never seem to change. Or, at the least, there are some things that one can still remember clearly — and these have no tinge of good or bad about them.
All that is there is the fact that, at one time, there was some thing.
Or … some one.
Every once in a while, someone intrudes into my memory. She would be in her twenties by now: tall, but not as tall as I am; fair complexion; dark brown eyes set wide apart in an appealing face; thick, black hair to her shoulders … a generous mouth that always seemed to be smiling.
She was very fond of dresses, but always seemed to be wearing loose shirts and pants. There was a quality about her voice and laughter that I could never place, but would always recognize.
And there were her eyes, which always seemed to tell me more than she ever would.
She was my friend.
“Was” because she left soon after our graduation … I have not seen her for some time. Memories — and a few things — are all that is left for me now.
* * * *
He didn’t know how long he stood there like a bull who’d taken a sledge hammer between the eyes, his brain cataloging those well-remembered features, and comparing them with the person in front of him, consciously noting the details that were so much like – and yet so unlike – his memories.
Her voice broke through his befuddled mind: “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you must be mistaken.”
He shook his head as gave what he hoped was a winning, reassuring smile. “My apologies … it’s just that you looked almost exactly like someone I knew years ago,” he responded, and extended his hand. “I’m Bill Weasley … I take it you’ve already met my brother and his friends?”
Mrs. Wright smiled and shook his hand, saying, “Quite all right. I’m Mrs. Wright … Nicole Amelia Wright. And this is my daughter, Carolyn, and her friend, Cindy Galloway.”
“Pleased to meet you.” He turned and shook hands with the two young girls, noting in passing that Nicole’s daughter had inherited the best features of her mother: the long, straight black hair that shone in the sunlight … the lips that were full and pale without lipstick … the straight nose … and the strong chin that …
Nicole tilted her head in a gesture so reminiscent of someone that he almost thought, for a moment, that it was Erin talking to him: “She must have been someone special.”
He smiled, at the same time hoping that he’d successfully kept the bitterness from his voice, “She is, ma’am. She is.”
Their eyes locked for a brief moment, and he blinked, staggered at the depth of sympathy he saw there, as well as the sparkling tears that seemed to have sprung out of nowhere … and he heard her soft, almost whispered voice, “I know.”
Bill stared at her as silence enveloped them, but before he could make sense of his jumbled thoughts, Ginny’s voice broke in, “There you are! Mum’s getting worried … the whole lot of you going off like that!”
She stopped as she realized the look of keen interest that Mrs. Wright, Carolyn and Cindy were giving her … and that three pairs of eyes were jumping from her to Bill to Ron and back to her. Before she could ask what everyone was looking at, Nicole stepped forward and extended her hand, “Hello. I’m Nicole Wright … and would I be correct that you’re related to Ron and … uh, Bill?”
A surprised Ginny shook hands with the older woman. “Yes I am, ma’am. How’d you know?” Before the other could answer, she shook her head and gave a small laugh, “Of course, the hair … I’m Ginny. Virginia Weasley.”
“Virginia?” Ginny looked at her in some surprise, “Not Guenevere?”
“My mistake,” Mrs. Wright replied, shaking her head. “I was just remembering a favorite movie of my late husband … It’s nothing. My apologies.”
Her statement about her husband cast a sudden pall over the group, and Carolyn held on to her mother even more tightly. Before the moment could get awkward, however, Bill spoke up, “I take it you were joining us at Florean Fortescue’s?” (A nod from Mrs. Wright confirmed his assumption.) “Well then, why don’t we all go together … and get there before the other Weasleys consume every last scoop of ice cream!”
“Yeah,” Ron said, “and we still have to celebrate Hermione’s promotion!”
“Promotion?” Bill and Nicole said simultaneously.
“Yes … meet the newest Gryffindor prefect!” Ron adopted an unctuous tone, smiling at the two younger girls. “Which means that you will have to follow her orders … bow your heads whenever she passes by … kneel when she says kneel … memorize ‘Hogwarts: A History’ …”
“Is that your favorite book? Goody! Is it true …” Ron and Harry stared at Cindy, neither one bothering to hide their looks of horror … Hermione gave them a superior, haughty look and stuck out her tongue before turning back to the bouncing Cindy.
“We’re in trouble, mate,” Ron said in a stage whisper to Harry. “Can Hogwarts stand another Hermione Granger?”
“Well … Hogwarts has survived a thousand years, Ron,” Harry said. “Another two Miones shouldn’t bother it too much …”
“Two?” Ron glanced at where Harry was looking and groaned. Carolyn was engrossed with the exchange between Hermione and Cindy … a light of interest and scholarship sparkling in her brown eyes.
“You’re gonna have your hands full, Ron,” Harry said, laughing.
If looks could kill, Hermione and Ginny would have been weeping over Harry’s body … before Ron could say anything, however, they were in front of Florean Fortescue’s … and they were engulfed in the warm embrace of the Weasley clan and their friends.
* * * *
What was it we shared?
A lot of things that friends share: companionship, shared interests, mutual friends. But it was never simply that. There was an aspect about those days that made the time spent with Erin all the more unique.
There are times when I would be saying something, and a feeling would creep up on me: “I’ve said – or written — this before.” And it will all come back … I first shared the idea with Erin.
A writer once said, “Learning is finding out about the things you already know.” And this was what made the time with Erin so unique … a lot of things that I now am, were first shown to her.
I guess that was what made the times spent so exceptional. It wasn’t just because she was with me … we were both learning something from each other.
I never knew how much I learned until the sharing was gone …
* * * *
Carefully, he brushed away a tear that had fallen on the page he was reading and, with a quick look around the crowded and smoky tavern, drew his wand – and paused, wondering why he had even enlarged the normally pocket-sized journal to the size he was reading.
There was no need to read it – he had seared the words he’d written so long ago into his memory, in a vain effort to vent his self-recrimination in a blast of blind rage during the first lonely weeks in Cairo. He’d thought at the time that this was the easiest way to let go, to erase from his mind the memories of that special person … and the pain that she had brought to him.
No, he admitted.
That he had brought on himself.
He glanced at the mirror behind the bar of the Leaky Cauldron, checking the locations of his extended family … hands fiddling with a large mug of ale … conscious of an ache in his chest and an imagined, phantom pain on his left wrist.
Arthur and Molly were in a corner, chatting with Nicole and Cindy’s parents. The Twins were nearby with their friend Lee Jordan, apparently counting the money earned from the very first sales of Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes … or hatching some diabolical scheme to show Colin Creevey that he was courting an early grave if he continued with his attentions towards Ginny.
The latter was off to one side, chatting amiably with Colin and her classmates … directly across from her was Ron Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan, waving his long arms like a windmill, undoubtedly telling them about his encounter with a gang of toughs. Close by were Cindy and Carolyn, both of them giggling and whispering to each other … and making faces towards the center of the tavern.
He shifted, trying to spot what the two young girls were giggling about …
Of course, he thought. What else could it be?
Hermione Granger was apparently engrossed in a rather thick volume that she had propped up on a table, absently curling a strand of her hair around a finger as she read. Harry Potter was beside her, leaning back in his chair, another thick book opened in front of him.
Only, he wasn’t reading. He had tilted his head to one side, apparently engrossed in studying his best friend. She looked up and saw him staring at her … and a warm smile broke out on Harry’s face.
Hermione smiled back, and turned back to her book … neither one showing the slightest hint of discomfort at what should have been an embarrassing moment for two people who thought of each other as just the best of friends. It was as if getting caught staring at the other was … natural for both of them.
It was an endearing sight, Bill thought, remembering other times and someone else … and one, he reflected to himself, far too easy to misinterpret. Unless there was no misunderstanding or misinterpreting what his own eyes could see …
He shook his head and sighed.
He knew the feeling too well … and he knew what his youngest siblings were going through, as he caught Ron and Ginny casting glances at the pair who were lost in their own world.
Made mistakes along the way.
And the memories would have made any Dementor ecstatic at the mere mention of meeting up with him.
* * * * *
“Is it, or isn’t it?”
“What? Is it, or isn’t it … what?”
Erin … Erin … do you think that you need my opinion on this matter? Granted, I am older than you are (if a few months can qualify me as ‘older’). I am more experienced in this matter than you are. But still — why ask me?
There are many ways to look at “love.” The matter has been discussed a million ways, in the thousands of years of human existence. Ask any person, and he will give his or her opinion … and another would differ … and another … and still another.
Who really tells you if this is “it” or not?
Certainly not them.
Positively, not me.
Then — who?
Follow your heart. That’s all I can really say.
* * * *
A clatter at his elbow brought him back to the present, and he turned to look into the blue eyes of his youngest brother, who smiled and said, “You look like a man who needs a drink, Bill. Have one on me.”
“No, thanks, Ron. I already have …” His answer was cut short as he looked down at the mug he was lifting, surprised that it was empty. He stared at it blankly for a moment and then felt Ron nudging him. With a grateful smile, he picked up the mug that Ron offered, lifted it to his lips … and stopped. “On second thought, Ronald … why don’t you drink this?”
“That’s yours, Bill.”
“Fred or George didn’t happen to give you this, did they?”
“Bill!” Ron exclaimed in a reproachful voice. “Would I do something like that to my oldest brother?”
The two locked eyes briefly; with a resigned air, Ron called over Tom the bartender and asked for two mugs of ale. Bill raised an eyebrow at this but merely smiled and said, “I may not be a Cindy Galloway, brother … but I did watch the lot of you growing up.”
Ron snickered at that, remembering the incident in the ice cream parlor when Fred, in a gesture of “friendship,” offered Carolyn a Canary Cream. The little girl had been so grateful (apparently, all the walking and excitement of the day had worked up quite an appetite), but Cindy grabbed the pastry from her just before she could bite on it.
The sudden move surprised them all, especially Fred who stood, mouth agape – which gave Cindy the chance to shove the Canary Cream into his open mouth … and he promptly turned into a six-foot canary with a red-feathered crown.
The shrieks of surprise from Carolyn and her mother were met by a roar of laughter from the others; within seconds, Fred had popped back to his normal self, only this time with a face as red as his hair, sputtering at the surprise attack.
“My cousin told me all about you,” was the smug reply from a laughing Cindy. “She told me never to accept anything from you or your brothers … not unless I’m prepared to feed it to Mrs. Norris first.”
Fred had taken it well, even treating the two girls to Florean’s special four-scoop ice cream cones (each scoop changing colors and flavors with each lick), and promising not to use either one as a test subject in the future.
“You’re gonna have a problem with those two, Ron,” Bill said with a snicker.
Ron sputtered. “Why,” he asked in an aggrieved tone, “does everyone think that I’ll have anything to do with them when they get to Hogwarts? For all I know, they may end up in Slytherin or Ravenclaw …”
He stopped at the look of amusement in Bill’s eyes, realizing that he was being too defensive, was protesting too much … he broke away from Bill’s gaze (and an eyebrow that was almost to Bill’s hairline), and glanced at the mirror behind the bar.
And suddenly blurted out, “Do you believe in platonic love?”
* * * *
Erin … Erin … don’t try to treat love as an examination you can prepare for. Whatever preparation one makes cannot take into account everything that may happen. And never try to reduce love to an intellectual exercise. In the end, feeling — an intangible something — actually defines it for us.
Treat love as an adventure, as a cliché would go. Nobody wants to be hurt … no one walks in with eyes closed … everyone wants to be sure of oneself. But how can we ever be sure, unless one has tried?
Love is one of those intangible, undeniable things that happen — unavoidable, except by choice.
But then … who does not make the choice to try?
* * * *
“Are you talking about Harry or about yourself?”
Ron’s head snapped up to stare at him through the mirror’s reflection, his face confused. Bill considered apologizing for a moment, to say that he’d probably misunderstood or was thinking about something else … but no, he thought. Best to have this out … best for him to do his older brother act now when an opportunity presented itself, rather than ignore it and let someone else (like Percy!) try to do it for him …
He stared back at Ron in the mirror, blue eyes locking with blues, and said, “You were asking about platonic love, weren’t you?”
Bill watched in amusement as Ron’s face turned white, and then red … Ron broke away from his steady gaze to glance in the mirror at his best friends … before looking back and locking stares with his older brother.
For a long moment, they locked eyes as they played a game from their younger days … daring the other to break away and admit defeat. But the game was interrupted by Tom’s clatter as he set down their order of ale and a plate of nibbles in front of them. “Sorry, Bill,” he puffed, “couldn’t give you a room or table yet … the place is just too crowded right now.”
“No problem, Tom,” Bill said with a smile at the old man. “We can hold off for a while longer.”
With a nod, the bartender left them and Bill lifted his drink in a toast.
“Here’s to love in all its forms,” he said, and took a deep gulp of his drink. He watched as Ron pondered the toast and, reluctantly, lifted his own drink in a responding toast, and drank … eyes again focused on the mirror and his friends.
“Speaking from experience, are we?” Ron asked in a mocking voice. He was about to comment further when he stopped, surprised at the blazing eyes Bill directed at him. He tried to work his suddenly dry throat, apologize for the tactless remark (one never joked with a Gringotts’ curse-breaker) … and started breathing again only when Bill shook his head and smiled back (a forced, bitter smile).
“Yes I am, Ron,” Bill replied. “Speaking from experience, that is.”
“Anyone I know?” Ron asked in a bantering tone. “Like … umm, who was it that Nicole reminded you of?”
Bill ignored the question as he raised his ale in a silent toast to the two people he could see in the mirror, engrossed in their own world and each other, before looking back at his youngest brother.
“So, who were you talking about, Ron? Are you asking about yourself … or are you asking about Harry?”
Ron flushed as he replied, “I don’t know, Bill. Honestly … I don’t know.”
Ron turned away from Bill but kept his eyes away from the mirror and the sight that he knew would be there. “I don’t know, Bill,” he repeated in a quiet, meandering voice. “There are times like this morning … when I think of her as a girlfriend … and then I see how she looks at Harry and wonder whether it’s love or envy that I feel … other times, I think that it’s just a crush on her … you know, something that will get blown away when I go back to school and see Lavender or Parvati or Padma … or maybe it’s just because I’m so used to having her around, you know … teasing her, fighting with her … maybe it’s just because I’m comfortable with her … or maybe I’m just scared to try it with other girls so I may as well fall in love with her …”
“Or maybe you’re just in love with love.”
Ron glared at his brother, fully expecting to see the mocking tone and manner that he’d come to expect from the Twins whenever the subject came up … and was again startled by the look of utter seriousness on his eldest brother’s face.
He sighed. “Maybe … but how do you know? How do you know if what you feel for your best friend is the real thing or not?”
“I assume that the ‘best friend’ we’re talking about is Hermione?”
Ron had been about to gulp down his drink when Bill’s insinuation made its way through his bemused brain – and he suddenly sprayed ale over the bar top as the liquid went the wrong way down his throat. He gasped, trying to say something in response, but was stopped as he nearly choked … and Bill, laughing, was pounding his back as he coughed and sputtered …
He looked around and caught sight of everyone looking at him, and he flushed. ‘Great, Ron!’ he thought to himself, ‘Make a prat of yourself in front of a live audience … better straighten Bill out, else I won’t be hearing the end of this!’
“Who else, Bill? What do you think of me … a … a …”
“Just checking,” Bill said, a wide, wide grin splitting his tanned, handsome face with the dragon’s fang dangling from one ear. “So, it is Hermione, I presume?”
“Keep it down, will you!” Ron hissed, looking around nervously. “If Fred and George hear about this … they’re liable to do something that will embarrass me ‘til the day I die!”
“You really think you can keep that away from them?” Bill replied with deep amusement. “Knowing those two, they’re probably cooking up some scheme or another to bring you and Hermione together … although, given the success those two have with their jokes, they’re far more liable to bring you and Harry together.”
An image of Harry, messy hair, round glasses and knobby knees, walking into the sunset with a tall, red-haired, freckled, long-nosed wizard, holding hands and whispering sweet nothings to each other came into his mind … and Ron shuddered so badly that his drink spilled out of his shaking hand.
“Now that’s something that could make a guy sick,” he said, as he tried to push the appalling thought away – and nearly choked at Bill’s reply:
“Oh, I don’t know … depends on the wizard, I think.”
Ron’ eyes widened in shock, staring at his brother as the latter batted his lashes with a simpering smile, and the thought popped into his mind, “Is Bill … ?”
“Sorry, Ron, I don’t swing that way,” Bill said with a laugh. Ron heaved a sigh of relief … he didn’t know how he would deal with such a revelation … and felt momentary gratitude to his older brother for taking his mind off his troubles. It was at that moment that he happened to glance at the mirror again … and felt his relief slowly ebb away again.
His friends were leaning back in their chairs, smiling at each other in a way that he could only envy … and again, he felt a tinge of resentment that they seemed to be sharing something which he was not a part of. Mentally, he started counting off all the incidents which he should have been part of but had missed out on … starting with Harry’s first Quidditch game and the time when he’d stood frozen in the stands, silently urging Hermione on in her rescue mission … realizing only after it was all over that he’d been standing there like a dodo, rather than doing something to help …
“Hi, Bill … Ron.” The brothers turned as Ginny stood beside Bill, and felt their lower jaws drop to the floor as she grabbed a mug and proceeded to take a huge gulp of the ale – after which she nearly fell down, coughing as the liquor burned down her throat. A horrified Ron checked the mug she’d grabbed, and sighed with relief when he saw that she had grabbed, out of pure serendipity, Bill’s mug – not the one that the Twins had given him to offer Bill.
His relief swiftly turned to anger, however, and he glared at his sister: “What was that all about? You’re not allowed to drink liquor …”
“Oh, blow it out, brother-o-mine!” Ginny responded through her coughing fit. She looked up, face red and eyes tearing up, “And I suppose you’re drinking sarsaparilla or something?”
“Thought so,” Ginny replied triumphantly. She was about to grab Bill’s mug for another swig when Bill stopped her.
“I think you’d do better with some butterbeer, Ginny,” Bill said. The eldest and youngest Weasley locked eyes for a moment, and Bill waved to old Tom. “On the other hand, a small gillywater won’t hurt … a medicinal dose, I think.”
Ron was about to ask why when he glanced in the mirror … and dropped all protest.
Hermione was leaning back, for all the world like someone exhausted from reading and was now resting her eyes – but instead of closing them, however, her eyes were resting on the napping Harry Potter. A small smile was playing on her face, and Ron felt, again, a small thrill in his spine as he realized just how much his friend had changed from their first encounter …
But her smile … affectionate, caring, loving … it was a smile directed at Harry, not at him, and he again felt an ache in the region of his chest. As if she had felt his eyes on her, she suddenly looked up and met his eyes … and turned away, embarrassed at being caught staring at Harry.
He swallowed … and almost gagged as he felt warm ale flowing down his throat. He didn’t realize that he’d lifted his mug as he stared in the mirror at his friends, and understood that what he saw was the impetus which drove Ginny to take a nip from Bill’s mug …
His eyes shifted away from his friends, and saw Bill’s sympathetic eyes on his … knew that Bill saw the same thing he saw and realized, in that instant, what Bill went through with the mysterious person he had mistaken Nicole Amelia Wright for …
* * * *
I knew what I was to Erin — sometime father, sometime brother, at all times, a friend. Someone she could lean on, someone she could cry on, a friend to whom she could talk to about any subject under the sun, the moon or the stars … and be assured of a serious face.
Until one of us started laughing.
Someone who was there.
Just … there.
But, not someone who would court her.
Not someone who would fall in love with her.
But I did. I had been, for some time. Yet, I could never bring myself to tell that to her. Or even to hint that much.
I guess … although Erin sometimes teased me for being “inhuman”… I knew I had my own faults. Especially those of fear … and indecision.
I wouldn’t even admit it to myself for some time.
I had tried to rationalize it away … I told myself that she was a very lovable person — anyone could fall in love with her.
Yes, I know — just look at me.
It was only because I was close to her … I was her sounding board for problems … she trusted me more than anybody else …
I kept telling myself, “I love Erin, yes … but I am not in love with her!”
Which was a lot of bull.
Something within me always refused to agree.
I finally had to accept it.
I had been a blind fool … to have let my rationalizations as well as my fear of losing Erin — to overshadow my true feelings. Be what it may … there was no way I could go back to the past with her. It was over … finished. She was with someone else …
* * * *
Bill was a good listener, Ron and Ginny reflected much later. It was as if the sight of a comfortable Harry and Hermione together, sharing a moment in which it seemed there was no one else in the world but themselves, opened the floodgates of their roiling emotions and thoughts.
Bill listened as they’d poured out everything that had gone through their minds that day … starting with the moment Ron opened the door only for Harry and Hermione to fall into the house … their talk among the trees as the sun was climbing into the sky … Ginny finally opening up about her gratitude and debt to Harry after what had happened in the Chamber of Secrets (with Ron quietly cursing under his breath at the missed opportunity for Ginny to open up) … to the spectacle of Hermione on top of Harry as they Floo’ed in earlier that day (for which Bill had given a resounding and appreciative laugh) … Ginny’s frustration and regrets at having frozen during the fight – and the moments after … Ron’s feelings and emotions when Bill had stopped him from going to Hermione … and finally, Ron’s thoughts, revelations and realizations in the minutes before his encounter with the thugs and the two young girls …
The only distraction, Ron thought, was that Bill kept twisting that dammed copper bracelet on his wrist. At first glance, it was nothing out of the ordinary … a dark metallic bracelet of no remarkable design, and looking much like the copper bracelet that Seamus Finnegan had shown them once, claiming that his Muggle Dad wore one for his health(of all things!), and which he had sent to Seamus in the dark days before Harry destroyed the basilisk and Tom Riddle.
The only thing different about the bracelet that Bill was wearing were the words etched on it … Ron could make out the letters, “Cor …” something, followed by some numbers, which he quickly assumed was the mysterious Erin’s full name. He’d been so engrossed in his story, and trying to make out the name on the bracelet that he didn’t realize that his story had ended … and that Bill was asking him a question.
“So what do you want to do about it, Ron?”
“Huh?” He’d looked at Bill in surprise … Bill, with a sigh, repeated his question — and Ron had to face the question that he’d been asking himself since early that morning: ‘What the hell do I want to do about it?’
“Why not just tell her?”
Ron looked at his brother in horror, “Tell her what, Bill? Tell her that I think I like you and I would like to rock your socks? Tell her that, hey, I just realized you’re a girl, after four years of thinking of you as just another one of the guys? Tell her I’ve had this crush on you since our first year, only you were too bossy and such a know-it-all that you were a nightmare to be with …”
“Why not tell her the truth? That you like her a lot, and that you want to be more than ‘just friends’ with her?”
“And if she laughs in my face? If she tells me that she likes me as a brother and as a friend … but she cannot think of me as being anything more than a friend? What if she turns me down, Bill?”
“Then at least everything is clear … no expectations, no recriminations, no regrets. Better to know what the score is, rather than brood and imagine things that may or may not be … and ruin a friendship with your best friend.”
“Which best friend are you talking about, Bill? Harry or Hermione?”
Blue eyes clashed with blues, but Ron couldn’t sustain the game; in truth, his heart wasn’t in it because he recognized the truth in his brother’s statement. But a stubborn streak in him refused to accept, and he cast about for something else to say …
“I don’t envy you, Ron.” He snapped around to stare at Ginny, who’d been so quiet the last few minutes that he’d totally forgotten about her. She sat on her bar stool beside Bill, absently swirling her glass of gillywater with a finger, and staring down into its depths. She looked into his eyes and continued, “At least I have nothing to lose with Harry … he will always think of me as your sister, he will always think of me as that silly little girl who’s had a crush on him since first year …”
“And the person he saved from the Chamber of Secrets,” Ron reminded.
Ginny smiled, wistfully. “Yes, there is that. But don’t you see, Ron? I owe him a debt … he doesn’t owe me anything. And … knowing Harry, he wouldn’t know what to do with a wizard’s debt if it bites him on the … ah … elbow!
“I’ll have an easier time than you, Ron … I can go on with my life, make myself stop asking ‘What if,’ learn to stop blushing when Harry speaks to me, and give him all the friendship and support he needs, if ever he realizes that I’m there.”
Ron looked at his sister in surprise, realizing that she was maturing fast, and learning to accept things that could never be. While he felt relief that his sister was learning to accept reality, he couldn’t help but feel a tinge of regret that Harry and Ginny would never really hit it off.
It would have been the perfect solution, he thought. Harry and Ginny, him and Hermione … One Big Happy Weasley Family, with their homes adjoining each other, their children playing together as close friends first and cousins second, Ginny and Hermione exchanging recipes and household tips …
And that, he realized, again, was another aspect he’d overlooked. He could easily imagine his best friends and himself as a member of one big happy family – but he could not imagine Hermione playing the “traditional” role of a housewife and mother that his own Mum had filled. She was simply too headstrong, too independent-minded (and too bossy by nature) to fill a traditional role in a traditional household …
She made a perfect complement to Harry, he realized … something that had been proven too many times in their shared past. But the stubborn part of his nature held on … in constant conflict with his essentially giving and sacrificial nature. He’d given up too many things when he was growing up to let something wonderful slip away without a struggle – no matter what his eyes, and the eyes of everyone else told them … no matter what today and so many other incidents in their time together showed him …
“Who’s Corinne?” he asked, absently. Bill raised an eyebrow at this, knowing full well that he was trying to divert the discussion, but wondering where that question came from. Ron gestured at his bracelet; glancing at it, Bill gave a bitter smile and twisted it around to let them read the inscription written there: “1 Corinthians 13: 4-8.”
Ron looked at him, confused … he’d thought that it was a gift from Erin (which he’d assumed was a nickname for Corinne) but the words held no meaning for him. He repeated them aloud, and was startled to hear an unfamiliar voice speak up behind him:
“It’s from the Bible, first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses four to eight.” The siblings turned around, surprised, to see their new friend Amelia Wright standing there behind them.
“I’m sorry,” she said in apology. “I couldn’t help but overhear … my sister and brother practically dinned that verse into my ears when I was growing up, and I was surprised that it was also familiar in your world.”
Bill looked at her curiously, for there was something in the timbre of her voice that he caught, but couldn’t place – and he felt something breaking off within him, like an iceberg calving off a glacier as a sudden thought struck him. His brother and sister, however, were pressing Amelia to explain what the verse meant, and she answered, her eyes were locked with Bill’s:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Nicole paused for a moment, and said, softly, “My brother and sister always changed that last line to, “Love is never lost.”
Silence descended on the four: Ron and Ginny looking within themselves as they pondered the words written by a wise man centuries before the foundation of Hogwarts, speaking about a universal truth that few seemed to understand, two millennia or more since he’d first penned them, while Bill and Nicole locked eyes, something unspoken moving between them …
The moment was broken, however, by sounds much like the popping of corks from champagne bottles – three loud pops which made heads turn all over the tavern to locate the source of the noise.
In the middle of the room, three teenaged wizards slowly put down their mugs and stared at each other. They looked like refugees from the early seventies – all three in robes of psychedelic colors that would have shamed Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors into a closet, wearing peace symbols on chains around their necks, all wearing round sunglasses made popular by a wizard turned muggle entertainer named John Lennon – two with enormous Afro hairdos that made them look like cherry-flavored lollipops, the other a thin black boy in the same enormous Afro hairdo but with black hair and tiny ribbons here and there.
The latter spoke first, in a voice surprisingly like that of Lee Jordan: “Now what the hell did you two morons think you were doing?”
One of the cherry lollipops responded in the voice of George Weasley: “What do you mean we, pale-face?”
The other lollipop piped up, “Yeah, what do you mean we?”
The Lee Jordan-turned-seventies-hippie snarled, “Who else can it be but you two?”
The second lollipop snarled back, “Don’t look at us, mate! We haven’t even thought of something like this!”
“Don’t give me that! You’re the only ones around who would do something like this!” Lee-the-hippie screamed back. “Do something before I hex you into next week!”
The bickering trio suddenly stopped as they heard giggles coming from different parts of the tavern … the giggles soon turning into a roar of laughter as people realized that the tables had been turned on the greatest jokesters in Hogwarts since the days of the legendary Marauders. The three hippies looked around them and at each other … and soon, all three were clutching their stomachs as laughter overtook them … Colin Creevey’s camera flashed, and the three refugees from another era obligingly struck poses with various wizards and witches, with Colin’s camera flashing again and again to record the event for posterity …
Bill was wiping the tears from his eyes when he suddenly turned to Nicole: “Why do I have the feeling that you know something about this?”
Ron and Ginny stared in surprise; Nicole, however, tried to keep a straight face as she responded, “Don’t look at me! Cindy and Carolyn asked me to order three butterbeers to be sent over to them … I don’t know what they did with it!”
Bill, Ron and Ginny turned around in time to see the two young girls giving each other high fives when the Twins’ backs were turned, broad grins on their faces and both with tears falling down their cheeks from their laughter.
Ginny turned to Ron with a smile, “You’re gonna have a lot of trouble with those two, Ronnie!”
Before Ron could snarl back a response, Tom the bartender bustled up, tears also streaming from his eyes, and told them that a room was available and lunch would be served there for them. Turning to Ginny, he said, “Ask your friend with the camera to send me a full set of pictures, Virginia … this will be the talk of the tavern for months to come!”
As the four stood up, Bill turned to Ron and Ginny: “You two go on ahead. I think Nicole and I have to talk.”
The two looked from him to Nicole Wright, who nodded and asked them to bring Carolyn in with them. As they walked away, she turned to Bill Weasley and said: “Yes. I’m Erin’s sister.”
* * * *
What could I do about it?
I resolved to break off her enchantment for me … to fight off that feeling I had for her. I hoped that the passage of time would disprove me … that my feelings for Erin were only an illusion … only an obsession … just another infatuation.
And yet … something within me always refused to let her know. I knew there would be no satisfactory explanation I could give her for saying “good bye” … to turn my back on the friendship we had before. She knew me too well to accept anything I would tell her. I didn’t want her to know … or even suspect … what I truly felt for her.
And … yes … I was a coward to myself. Seeing her would only open up too many things I wanted to avoid. More, I was so afraid that doing so would only hurt both of us … in truth, I knew I would hurt myself more than it would hurt her … and I didn’t want that.
I just wanted to go …
And I did.
* * * *
“But you’re a … a …”
“Squib,” Nicole completed. “Don’t be bothered by it … I’ve had years to live with the fact.”
“I was going to say ‘Muggle,’ but all right.” Bill paused, unsure of where to go with this.
“Remus and Erin tried their best to make me feel no different from them, but …” and she sighed. “It was difficult growing up … seeing them do things that I couldn’t do, having your parents and relatives trying everything they can to scare the magic out of me. They finally gave up when there was no Hogwarts letter the summer of my eleventh birthday.”
Bill didn’t reply; what can one say? He’d met his share of Muggles … sometimes pitied them but always understood them, realizing that their not knowing about the magical world was best … but what about those who knew about magic – and didn’t have one iota of magic in their blood?
Nicole continued, “Which was why they kept on drumming that verse into my mind – they kept telling me that it didn’t matter that I was non-magical, that I was still their youngest and they still loved me …”
“It must have been … difficult,” Bill said, awkwardly.
Nicole smiled at him and shook her head. “She remembers you with fondness, you know. She told me that you were her best friend in the world … that you were the brother and friend that she felt she … lost …”
“Lost?” Bill’s brain was in a jumble; too much information to absorb, and he was having a difficult time doing his best to stop himself from blurting out the question he truly wanted to ask. “I thought you said …”
He suddenly stared at Nicole, and whispered, “Is Remus Lupin your brother? Is that why …”
He fell silent. He had always known that Erin was related to Remus, one-fourth of the legendary Marauders that had included James Potter and the escaped murderer Sirius Black. And last year … he’d been shocked to learn that Remus Lupin, who had taught Defense Against the Dark Arts in Ron’s third year, was actually a werewolf … but his mind hadn’t connected the fact that Erin and Remus were brother and sister … and he wondered at the pain and torture that Nicole had gone through: brother a werewolf, she herself a Squib, and a sister who …
“She’s doing quite well,” Nicole said, almost as if reading his mind. “She went to North Carolina in the United States with Richard. She and Remus were very excited when I told her that Carolyn was accepted at Hogwarts …”
Bill turned away, not knowing how to react to the news. Much as he was glad to learn something of an old flame, he could once more feel the shame, embarrassment and painful regrets of those days. He looked at the journal he still held, recalling Erin’s last letter to him …
* * * *
Dear Bill …
You told me once, back when we first became friends, that:
“Sometimes, the love you hold for a person can never be realized in the usual ways. At the moment of realization, it begins to change … away from selfishness to one of truly caring without the need for any actual ‘return.’
“Love is never lost.”
I remember laughing at you… teasing you for being an incurable romantic, in a time when romance — like chivalry — was dead and gone with the dodoes.
I now know it can be. I have come to realize that the love shared in that kind of friendship can be as precious as other relationships. It can also have as much meaning … and maybe more, much more.
Because it is founded on friendship.
And respect for each other.
I can understand it all now, my friend.
And … I am very sorry for laughing at you.
Be around for a while longer.
Please, my friend?
* * * *
He could remember laughing, bitter tears falling down his face, as he read the letter – and tore it to shreds. He could recall with clarity throwing the copper bracelet she enclosed with the letter into the fireplace of his Head Boy’s dormitory … and, hours later, streaming still-bitter tears, reassembling the letter with Spell-o-tape … crawling to and pulling out the copper bracelet from the fire and performing a charm to remove the damage done by the fire.
But he never backed down from his resolution: he cut himself off from Erin and Richard, preferring to throw himself into his books, OWLs and NEWT preparations, fully focused on ensuring that he got top marks – and his choice of career after graduation. Erin had tried to reach him … but after pointedly ignoring her every time they chanced to meet in the corridors of Hogwarts, she returned his denial of their friendship in full measure …
No more talks, no more walks … no more letters or notes, from the time he learned that she and Richard were an item … all that he had left of his friendship with Erin were his memories … the journal he put together during those first lonely weeks in Cairo … and the copper bracelet he still wore as a reminder to himself of the pain and loss that he caused himself.
And all for what, he asked himself yet again. Because he could not accept that his best friend was in love with his other best friend? Because he chose to ignore what he could see with his own eyes – that, no matter how close he and Erin were, she and Richard seemed to communicate on a totally different level – one where nothing needed to be said, nothing had to be written but they each acted as if the other was sharing the same brain?
Because he felt betrayed by his best friends him because they fell in love with each other?
Or were they already in love with each other from the very beginning, while he … was simply in love with love?
“… She wants to know if you have finally forgiven her.”
His eyes, his brain, his mind flew back to the present, and he looked in utter shock at Nicole. “Forgive her? I have nothing to forgive her for … I should be the one to ask for forgiveness from her!”
“But you never told her, Bill. You never told her how you felt about her …”
His eyes locked with hers, and he asked the question that he knew the answer to: “Would it have changed anything, Nicole?”
She broke away from his blazing eyes and whispered, “No. She had given her heart to Richard, as he had … but at least everything would have been clear to both of you. There would have been no expectations, no recriminations, no regrets.”
“And I wouldn’t have lost a friend.”
“You never lost her, Bill.” He looked at her, puzzled, and she continued. “She always felt she lost you …”
He opened his mouth to protest, but stopped … and nodded. Yes, he thought, that was the way Erin was … she would think that she was to blame, that it was her fault for not understanding him or not realizing his feelings sooner … but knowing, in the end, that there was nothing she could do about it.
She would have accepted the cards that Destiny dealt her, and would leave him alone to sort it out. How could she have known, he wondered, that it would take him years to finally sort it all out?
He felt a hand tapping his shoulder, and turned to look into the emerald-green eyes of his brother’s best friend. “Aren’t you joining us, Bill? Nicole?”
He took a deep breath. “In a minute, Harry. Why don’t you and Hermione go on ahead? We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Harry looked at them for a moment, and turned away to walk towards Hermione, once again burdened with the day’s shopping – and Hermione’s books. He watched them for a moment and whispered to himself, “And history repeats itself.”
“I hope not.”
He turned back to Nicole and smiled. “It won’t. I think I can promise that.”
He drew his wand and waved it over his journal, reducing it back to its small, pocket-sized form. As he was about to tuck it away, Nicole stopped him, holding the hand and the journal. Before he could react, she had reached up and given him a kiss on the corner of his lips.
“Erin would have wanted to give you that,” she said, and handed him a small card. “As well as this.”
He glanced at the card … and the words broke off the iceberg that surrounded his heart: “I have been, and always will be, your friend.”
Underneath the words were an address in North Carolina, and he smiled at Nicole as he tucked the card into his journal, which he carefully placed in its customary location – in the pocket just over his heart.