The first rays of the rising sun broke out over the horizon surrounding the still-sleeping town of Ottery St. Catchpole. The breaking sun cast its light on the small hills surrounding the village — and on the chimneys on the roof of a large, rather ramshackle house on the outskirts of the village. At first glance, the house looked as if it had once been a large stone pigpen, but rooms had been added here and there until it was several stories high … and so crooked that anyone seeing it for the first time would think that it was being held up by magic.
As the sun rose further, a stray beam of sunlight illuminated a small rise standing to one side of the house – a small, grassy lump of soil and rock that stood close to the edge of the gardens surrounding the house. An ancient stone bench (actually, two slabs of stone set upright with a longer slab on top of these) had been placed on the rise, allowing anyone sitting there to enjoy a view of the rising sun as it welcomed a new dawn.
On this particular day, the rising sun showed two figures on the bench. They were so still that a casual observer would have mistaken them for the concrete gnomes populating many a garden around the country. A closer look, however, would have revealed that these were definitely not gnomes.
One figure was a rather petite and slim girl, with bushy brown hair streaming over her back, wrapped in a red-and-gold Quidditch robe. Chocolate-brown eyes looked out on the rising sun, slim hands clutched tightly at the robe around her shoulders. The other was a medium-height teenaged boy with black, unruly hair, wearing glasses which reflected back the light of the rising sun. If one could look behind those glasses, one would have seen brilliant, emerald-green eyes that stared out at the lightening ground, seemingly seeing nothing but, in fact, acutely aware of their surroundings.
They’d been sitting in companionable silence in the garden for some time, waiting quietly for the dawn to break. The boy had woken up earlier and couldn’t sleep; rather than laze around for a lie-in, he had decided to step outside and enjoy the silence and calmness of the remaining night.
Silently he had crept out of his bed in the cramped bedroom, putting on a maroon sweater with a lion knitted on the front, and pausing only to grab a scarlet Quidditch robe from his trunk before stealing out of the house, and into the cool air of the night. He had been sitting on the bench for only a few minutes when he felt the presence of someone moving around in the garden.
Startled, he had looked up into a pair of sleepy brown eyes framed by bushy brown hair. The girl looked as if she were sleep-walking – except her eyes were wide open. She silently stopped beside him, and sat down on the bench, careful to keep some space between them.
No words were exchanged – nor were words needed to be said. They were friends … the best of friends, who sometimes seemed to communicate at a level where words were irrelevant.
After a while, he felt the girl shivering; her nightdress, while comfortable for sleeping in a warm and cozy bed, was decidedly not suited for a cold stone bench with a soft but cooling breeze blowing. Silently, he removed his robe and wrapped it around her, at the same time, rubbing her arms through the fabric to help her warm up – she looked up at him and smiled, stopping him from his actions.
She wrapped the robe more closely around her, and leaned gently against him. He shifted a bit, unconsciously shielding his companion from the wind, and placed an arm around her back to provide some support as she tried to slump comfortably on the backless bench.
Nothing needed to be said as they both waited for the dawn.
* * * * *
Neither one knew that someone was watching them with great interest.
She was a rather plump woman with a very pleasant demeanor at most times (only her family and their closest friends knew how swiftly that could change into a rampaging tiger when aroused) who was watching the scene from a large bedroom in an upper story. She had a wide smile on her face as she watched the two sitting on the bench. ‘How romantic,’ she sighed, and laughed softly to herself. Generations of Weasleys had sat on that same bench over the centuries, either watching the rising or the setting of the sun, or contemplating the stars and the moon on many a warm (or even cold) night … and sometimes, sometimes, letting the magic of the spot pull them into a kiss – or a promise.
In fact, her husband Arthur had proposed to her on that very same bench, one cool and breezy summer night over thirty years ago. (‘Admit it,’ she admonished herself , ‘you were just as ready to propose to him if he hadn’t made the first move. That bench really has something going for it …’)
She smiled at the memory and half-turned to call Arthur to join her. She stopped when she saw the empty bed; her husband and Percy had been called to the Ministry of Magic for some emergency or other at 3:30 in the morning. Arthur had shaken her awake to tell her that he was leaving, and had given her a kiss before Apparating out of the house.
She had been unable to sleep since then, and had been sitting at the window of the darkened room, looking out at the stars when she saw the boy walk out to the bench. She wondered if she should go down and talk to him (‘Goodness knows, he needs someone to talk with after what happened during the year,’ she thought) but decided to wait for a little bit. It was a good thing, too; less than five minutes later, she saw the brown-haired girl stepping out of the house and walking towards the bench.
The only problem, she sighed, was that neither one of the two sitting on the bench was a Weasley. The boy was Harry Potter, better known in wizarding circles as ‘The Boy Who Lived,’ Seeker for the Gryffindor House Quidditch team, Hogwarts Champion and winner of the recent Tri-Wizard tournament — and the only person in the entire wizarding world who had come up against the Dark Lord four times – and lived to tell the tale.
And incidentally, her youngest son’s best friend.
The girl was Hermione Granger, a Muggle-born witch who was at the head of their class academically, a very bright but extremely nice young girl who was also Harry and Ron’s other best friend. She smiled as she remembered her other children calling them either “The Trio,” or the “Dream Team.”
She shivered slightly as she recalled the adventures and near-death experiences the three, especially Harry, had gone through in the past four years. To think that so much has happened to children barely in their teens! They should be enjoying themselves now, doing the things that wizarding children their age should be doing … not walking around with the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Or, perhaps, on Harry’s shoulders.
She muttered darkly to herself. She wondered what sort of Divinity there was to have placed such a burden on the young boy … parents killed when he was barely a year old by the Dark Wizard, Lord Voldemort, for reasons still unclear … Voldemort turning his wand on the baby Harry to kill him, too … the curse rebounding on the Dark Lord, and rendering You-Know-Who (even she could not say his name out loud) a mere shadow of his evil, corrupt self.
Many in the wizarding world looked up to Harry Potter as a hero, because of that first abortive encounter with the Dark Lord, which had led to over a decade of serenity and quiet after that incident … long years of peace that more than compensated for the years of terror when Voldemort was at his prime.
Very few wizards or witches, however, knew of the emerging threat of a revived Dark Lord, which had started the year that Harry Potter re-joined the wizarding world when he went to Hogwarts – an attempt by the still-weakened Voldemort to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone in Harry’s first year … the opening of Salazar Slytherin’s Chamber of Secrets in his second year … making use of the revived Tri-Wizards Tournament to trap Harry and use him in ensuring You-Know-Who’s resurrection to flesh-and-blood life.
Molly knew of these developments, in part because of her son Ron’s involvement in these adventures with Harry Potter and Hermione Granger … and also because the emerging evil had struck directly at her family in the Trio’s second year at Hogwarts. It was Harry who rescued her youngest child and only daughter, Ginny, from the Chamber of Secrets. Working with clues provided by the brainy Hermione (who had provided Harry with a vital piece of the puzzle even when Petrified and in the hospital), and the able (although reluctant) support of Ron and his Spell-o-taped wand, Harry had gone into the Chamber after Ginny – emerging triumphant, and bearing with him the sword of Godric Gryffindor.
Molly Weasley shuddered again at the memories. There were times when she wondered whether Ron’s friendship with The Boy Who Lived was a blessing — or a curse. Ron, a normal (for wizards) 16-year old boy should have been enjoying the summer with his family and what friends he would have had at that age, rather than being involved in more adventures and than most older wizards did in their whole lifetimes! He’d already been confined to the Hogwarts’ hospital wing once in his third year, when most students never even saw what the hospital looked like.
Hermione herself had been confined in the hospital in her second year; however, being Petrified, she had no knowledge or awareness of what happened until she was revived with Mandrake potion – after which Madam Pomfrey, the Hogwarts’ nurse, allowed her to go off immediately to the Great Hall for the celebratory feast.
Harry, on the other hand, had been in the hospital wing at least once for every year he had been in Hogwarts. The Weasley twins, Fred and George, often teased him about naming the Hogwarts’ hospital “The Harry Potter Hospital Wing” in his honor.
There was no doubt that Harry had been very lucky. Molly wondered, however, whether Harry’s luck will one day run out – and drag one or both of his friends down with him. Deep down, she hoped that it would not be Ron … losing a child was something she could barely comprehend – or even contemplate.
‘What am I thinking about?’ she said to herself savagely. ‘First, it isn’t Harry’s fault at all. More importantly, I … no, we owe him a life. The family owes him Ginny’s life! If it were not for Harry …’
She turned away from the window, tears prickling at her eyes, to look at a picture on her bedside drawer. It had been taken soon after she had given birth to Ginny; she saw a younger self with a baby Ginny in her arms, waving at the camera.
Arthur and Molly had both resigned themselves to a household full of boys, a round half-dozen of them. While she was happy with it, Molly had been secretly hoping for a girl … someone to whom she could pass on her precious hope chest (it had been passed down from eldest daughter to eldest daughter in her household for centuries, slowly accumulating a wealth of tapestries, photographs and memories that she had been loath to let go, even when money was tight), a daughter to whom she would teach all the secrets of her own fabulous cooking and the running of a household …
But there were moments like this, sitting in the dark with Arthur out on another midnight emergency for the Ministry of Magic, when she wondered whether her deep-seated desire to have a daughter was an indulgence it would have been better to forego.
There were already six little Weasleys when Ginny came along – money was already very tight, with Arthur not getting the promotions he deserved because of his over-fondness for Muggles. And yet, Molly had so wanted a daughter that she had thrown caution to the winds, and made one more try with Arthur …
She smiled with nostalgia as she remembered waking up in St. Mungo’s, and the medi-witch excitedly telling her, “It’s a girl!” … the goofy, happy grin on Arthur’s face as he kissed her (‘Thank God,’ she thought, ‘that Arthur had wanted a girl as much as I did!’) … the day she brought Ginny home from the hospital … the wondering look in the eyes of her eldest son Bill as he contemplated this new addition to the family. The other boys were really too young then to understand … but Bill … Molly remembered the way Bill had held the Ginny in his arms, as if he was cradling a basket full of spun glass …
Molly sniffed a little at the memory. She missed Bill, who had been working for some time as a curse-breaker at Gringott’s in Egypt. Her eldest had an unusually well-developed sense of responsibility even as a boy; it was Bill that she had turned to in order to keep her rowdy brood in line, Bill who had watched over his younger brothers as she went about her daily chores … and Bill who had taken over much of the caring for the baby girl that she loved.
As the boys grew older, however, it seemed that it was only Bill who maintained his unrestrained and open affection for the youngest Weasley. Not that the others had no use for little Ginny … it was just that whatever love and affection they had for her was overshadowed by their own personalities.
Charlie, for example, had been as unrestrained and affectionate towards Ginny as Bill had ever been; he was just too obsessed with Dragons and Quidditch to give Ginny the care and concern that Bill gave without reservation. Percy … Percy’s sense of responsibility was firmly focused on his “career” (a game plan which will culminate in becoming the youngest ever Minister of Magic). Percy, therefore, tended to treat Ginny as if she were a subordinate, rather than his youngest sister.
The Twins … were as they had always been: inveterate jokers, quick with a pun or a joke (sometimes to the point of utter disrespect), and, too often, a reckless tactlessness that often got them into trouble … and, too often, inadvertently embarrassing Ginny.
And Ron … Ron had been the most insecure of the brothers – probably because it was so difficult to find his own place in the sun, given that he had five brothers who had the opportunity to do everything before he did it. That same insecurity led to a confused relationship with his youngest sibling: alternately affectionate and caring, teasing and embarrassing, tactless and bossy – which wasn’t helped by having a hair-trigger temper too easy to rouse.
Molly Weasley heaved another deep sigh (she was having one of those days again, she knew. But there was nothing to do now but to let it all out …)
Still … no matter the jokes played on her by her older brothers, no matter the endless teasing they had given her during her formative years … there was no denying the love and affection the brothers had for their youngest sibling. ‘Even if,’ she thought to herself, ‘one had to dig deep for it.’
As had happened the day they learned that Ginny had disappeared, kidnapped by the unknown horror that lived within Salazar Slytherin’s Chamber of Secrets.
She could recall with vivid and horrible detail that day … Arthur, shaken and very, very pale, Apparating at The Burrow, and leading her to the couch to tell her what had happened … her fainting when told of what was contained in the owl that Percy had sent to his father … the slow flight to Hogwarts on their ancient broomsticks as both she and Arthur were too distraught to try Apparating to Hogsmeade … the slow walk to McGonagall’s office, avoiding the sympathetic looks from students and teachers … again, breaking down inside McGonagall’s office when she saw Albus Dumbledore looking shell-shocked himself, but trying to hold out some hope that she knew in her heart was false …
And that incredible moment when the door to the office opened and Fawkes the phoenix flew in, leading Harry, Ron and a shaken and crying Ginny into the room.
Ginny was extremely pale and thin, having been held in the Chamber for almost a day without food or water. The front of her robes were wet from the river of tears she had been shedding since Harry woke her up from her enchanted sleep, after burying the basilik’s fang in Tom Riddle’s enchanted diary, thus breaking the spell that had held her for so long.
Ron, caked in mud and dust from trying to move rocks and stones around the ruined tunnel to make an opening into the Chamber of Secrets, also pale and shaken from the ordeal … but not as much as Harry.
And Harry Potter, barely thirteen years old, covered in slime and the blood of the basilisk, clutching in one hand the ruined diary of the young Voldemort (or Tom Riddle as he was then known), a jewel-encrusted sword and the school’s Sorting Hat tucked in his belt, exhausted but still half-dragging, half-carrying a still-sobbing Ginny Weasley.
Molly could remember every detail of the incredible story that Harry told them all that night. Later that evening, she and Arthur had related the story to the rest of the family: Bill and Charlie, who had Apparated in from Egypt and Romania, fully expecting never to see their beloved sister again; Percy, Fred and George who had opted out of the celebratory feast in the Great Hall to be with their sister as she slept in the hospital wing. Only Ron wasn’t there – he had been with Harry and Hermione during the feast, a celebration that he so richly deserved, having shared the dangers of the Chamber with Harry.
As Molly ended the narrative, she could see the looks being exchanged by the brothers, and the glances they were giving their sleeping sister. Without a word being spoken, they had all reached a silent agreement: there was now a new member of their family, and they would be extending the same love and protection they had always given their sister, to Harry Potter.
And, to Hermione Granger.
Molly remembered with fondness the family’s trip to Egypt that same summer, helped by the incredible luck of Arthur’s winning the annual Daily Prophet’s Grand Prize Galleon Draw. It had given all of them a chance to recuperate, to mend the pains and memories of the previous year, especially the guilt felt by Percy, the twins, and Ron for their constant teasing of Ginny during the school year, and not paying enough attention to her to prevent her from being enchanted by the diary of the twice-be-damned Tom Riddle.
It was during one dinner in Cairo that Ginny, who had studiously avoided discussing the Chamber of Secrets all the time, suddenly asked Ron how he and Harry were able to find her in the nick of time. Although she had been in McGonagall’s office when the tale was first told, little had penetrated her numbed brain. Later, of course, she had been under a Dreamless Potion when the story was told to the rest of the family.
Molly could still hear Ron’s voice in her mind: “I don’t mind telling you, Ginny, that if Harry hadn’t found that page in Hermione’s hand when we visited her in the hospital, we wouldn’t have known where to start.
“That was the key, Ginny,” Ron continued. “When Harry and I read it, everything fell into place. What Aragog had told us about a girl being killed by the basilisk in the girl’s bathroom on the first floor, the fact that Moaning Myrtle had died in that same bathroom, and so on. We knew that the entrance could only be through Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom … something which we confirmed when we asked Myrtle how she had died.”
As the tale ended, Molly caught the glances and looks being exchanged by the older brothers with their father, and then herself. Again without words, a silent agreement was reached: Hermione was now a member of their family, and would be given the same affection, protection and respect that they were giving to Harry and Ginny.
Molly knew that it was for this reason that the older brothers and Arthur had scrimped every stray Knut they could get their hands on, as well as Arthur practically twisting and threatening to break arms and legs in the Ministry, in order to get the prized seats for the Quidditch World Cup.
It was worth it, they all thought. It was an opportunity for the whole family to gather – and for Bill and Charley to get to know the newest members of the family … the members to whom they owed their sister’s life.
Molly glanced out the window and saw that the day was well and truly started, with the sun finally breaking out on the horizon, lighting even the corners of her darkened room. She should go down to start breakfast for her family, but hesitated for a moment. She knew that the moment Harry and Hermione heard her clattering around the kitchen, the two of them would be in there trying to help out … even though there was not that much help needed in her magic-run kitchen.
She was loath to see them doing chores around the house; they were family, after all, but she knew that there was little she could do to stop them. Hermione had been too well brought up by her Muggle parents to impose herself on a household where she was, after all, a guest. Harry, on the other hand, would also feel uncomfortable doing nothing to help in a household where he truly felt he belonged.
Molly decided to give the two a few more minutes of leisure, and walked to the window to see what they were doing. Glancing outside, she smiled at what she saw …
Harry still had his arm around Hermione’s back, supporting her, while Hermione’s head with its bushy brown hair was also resting on Harry’s shoulder, leaning back against Harry. She also had one arm around Harry’s waist, as if she was supporting him. Harry, however, appeared to be resting his cheek on top of her head – seemingly relaxed and contented just sitting there with his best friend.
Molly studied them closely, and was surprised as a wave of mingled disappointment and hope passed through her mind.
It should have been a most romantic pose for the two young people. And yet, Molly could not feel any sense, or aura, of romance emanating from the two. It just seemed to be a very … comfortable, contented … even warm pose for the two. Nothing more, nothing less.
Nothing romantic … nothing sensual about it.
They were two people sharing a moment of comfort together.
Best friends, definitely. More than best friends … and Molly realized that only time will tell.
Molly felt a slight ray of hope beating in her heart. The more she got to know those two, the more she hoped – and yes, she admitted to herself, prayed and prayed hard – that they would become really, truly, members of her family.
Hermione’s coolness and logic were the perfect balance to Ron’s impulsive nature and fiery temper. Her intelligence also was not to be sneezed at; at the same time, Molly dismissed Ron’s oft-said complaints about Hermione’s bossy nature and tendency to run to the library whenever confronted with a problem. He needed someone like that to keep him focused on the important things … he still hadn’t realized that being born a wizard to an ancient and honorable wizarding family was never enough.
Nothing would ever replace knowledge and understanding of how the wizarding world and magic operated. Being born to a wizarding family meant only a longer exposure to magic, and perhaps, the confidence to do magic instinctively and without fear of the consequences. But all that that would make you is just an average wizard.
But combining one’s innate talents and confidence with knowledge and understanding would make one a truly outstanding wizard. Hermione had that and more; Molly knew that it was only through her sheer persistence and bossiness that Harry and Ron were getting better than average grades in school.
She sighed, again. At least, Harry seemed to be “getting it” (in the quaint language that her children used.) He seemed to understand the need for knowledge of magic to supplement his own innate skills, sharpening the latter into a powerful combination of inner magic and knowledge.
Ron, though … ‘it would be better if someone keeps his long nose to the grindstone,’ Molly thought. ‘Otherwise … he may fall flat on his face and break that nose – or something else more important!’
Harry, on the other hand, had been gaining both the confidence and knowledge he needed to become an extraordinary wizard. Again, he may have the blood of wizards running through his veins, but his constant companionship with Hermione had helped sharpen his skills … to the point that he was able to defeat Voldemort in a wizard’s duel.
Molly had also learned of Harry’s mastery of the Patronious Charm when Remus Lupin had passed by The Burrow on a mission for Dumbledore. She herself, in spite of the centuries of wizard blood in her veins, had never been able to conjure up a Patronious as easily as she had heard Harry did – and at only fourteen, at that!
Arthur could – but it often took too much out of him. Again, it was totally different from what she heard Harry could do – apparently, he could conjure up a powerful Patronious whenever needed, without the drain on his inner strength that made it so difficult for many wizards or witches to make effective use of the charm.
But it was Harry’s innate gentleness and caring nature that had always touched her heart, from the moment she first met him on Platform 9 and ¾ over four years before. It was just the gentleness and caring that Ginny needed to build up her confidence and self-esteem; although her brothers loved her and protected her, their constant teasing and jokes (especially from the twins) had not done much to build her confidence up.
She knew that it was this lack of confidence that had pushed Ginny into confiding all her thoughts and secrets to that infernal diary in the first place! When she had asked Ginny much later why she hadn’t asked for a diary in the first place, Ginny had stammered for a while before admitting that she had felt that they didn’t have enough money to buy her one – on top of all the course books required by that stupid git Lockhart, and everything else …
Molly squirmed again in embarrassment at that talk with her youngest child. For lack of a few silver Sickles, a life was almost lost.
But with Harry … with Harry’s kindness and gentle nature, Ginny would have been protected from all that. Ginny would have been covered with a loving protection from someone who, having experienced so little of it from others during his formative years, would understand how it felt – and would have an abundance of it to give in return.
Molly thought of her two daughters – the real one, and the “adopted” one – and considered how they had dealt with their relative insecurities. Hermione had covered it up with her bossy nature and know-it-all, smarty pants attitude … Ginny, on the other hand, had nothing like that to fall back on, and allowed her insecurities to lead her to the diary from hell.
And yet, when she realized what was happening, she had instinctively tried to turn to Harry for help. Ginny had confessed to her mother, months afterward, that she had tried to tell Harry about what was happening, and her fears that she was losing her sanity. It was the constant teasing of her brothers, however, that prevented her from doing so … that, and the fear that Harry would only have laughed at her, in much the same way that her brothers often laughed at her.
Ginny admitted to her mother that, deep down, she knew that Harry wouldn’t laugh at her … but she just couldn’t be sure of it. Which had led to the unfortunate set of circumstances … even to the point of stealing the diary from Harry’s dorm, rather than take the risk that he would get a chance to read what she had written. In the end, Tom Riddle had gotten more and more control over her … leading her, finally, to the Chamber of Secrets, and the certain death that awaited her there.
Until Harry and Ron came to the rescue.
Molly Weasley shook her head, and sighed. She looked out the window again, and watched Harry and Hermione as they sat together in comfortable silence watching the sun rise.
‘It could still go either way,’ she thought. ‘What makes them so perfect for Ron and Ginny also makes them so perfect for each other. I only hope that they both recognize what they have … what they found in each other … and grow stronger together.
‘If they go with each other, I can only hope that they can bring Ron and Ginny with them. If Harry goes with Ginny, and Ron goes with Hermione …’ she sighed. ‘I hope that they will still have that same closeness and comfort they have with each other. They both need it … all four of them need it.’
With that thought, Molly Weasley stood up and started to prepare herself for the day ahead. She took one final look around the room, and her eyes rested on the photograph of herself and the baby that was Ginny in her arms.
‘Whichever way they go … whoever they go with … we still owe Harry and Hermione a life. We still owe Ginny’s life to the two of them.’
She took one final look at Harry and Hermione, still sitting on the ancient stone bench, watching the sunrise in comfortable silence.
‘Either way, I’m happy that both of them are here with us.’
Looking out at the sky now turning blue with the ever rising sun, she murmured a small, heartfelt prayer. “Thank you, Lord for the two of them. Thank you.”
She stepped out of the room to prepare breakfast for her family – the family that included two people who were still not aware that someone had been watching them the whole time.