Harry forced himself and Capricio out of the disturbing spectrum. Capricio took to flight, apparently in a hurry to get away from Harry and any further apparition. Harry found the old school broom he had hidden at the forest's edge, disguised his trolley, and flew with Capricio to the lake's edge. He performed the Bubble Body charm and disappeared with the dragon into the black water. Feeling ill, he flew up the drain pipe and into the castle.
When he got to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, he stopped to splash water in his face. At the sound, Myrtle slopped from a toilet and accosted Harry. "Get out of my bathr..." she began before she saw it was Harry. Her silvery eyes narrowed behind her glasses. "You!" she scolded. "You have real nerve coming in here!"
"What...?" began Harry, but his protest was cut short.
"You attacked my friend, the boy who was willing to share with me. His problems made me feel better about myself by comparison. I'm of a mind to haunt you for what you did!" Myrtle floated through several stalls and stopped facing Harry.
"I've been looking for an opportunity to talk to you about that," said Harry. He rummaged through his pockets and finally came up with Malfoy's letter. He held it up for Myrtle's inspection.
The ghost read the letter and then turned on Harry. "I don't believe this is true! You've made this up!" she wailed.
"Myrtle, I would never try to take advantage of you. I know what your life was like. I wouldn't want to spoil your death." Harry waited as Myrtle continued to wail.
Several minutes passed, and when Myrtle's cries subsided to merely annoying, Harry tried again. "Myrtle, I've always tried to treat you with respect." He decided to play his trump card. "I've seen your grave in the school cemetery. You have a great-grandfather surnamed Potter. I think we may be related!"
Myrtle's cries shut off. "Gumpaw Easy?" she asked warily.
"I'm not sure of the name," responded Harry. "I need to do a bit more research. I'd be happy to let you know what I find."
Myrtle floated to within inches of Harry. He shivered at the cold that seemed to flow from her.
"I'll give you the benefit of a doubt," said Myrtle. "Gumpaw Easy was Edvard Charlus Potter. Everyone else called him EC, but I called him Easy. But if you are even thinking of tricking me, I'll find you, and will you ever be sorry!"
"That's fair enough," said Harry. "I'll let you know what I find."
He left the bathroom and headed for the seventh floor and the Head's tower office. When he gave the password to the gargoyle, it didn't move. He had an immediate vision of facing the mirr panel at the top of the stairs and shuddered. He sent a jet of golden light scouring the castle for Minerva McGonagall. Soon the magic returned to him carrying a miniature image of McGonagall. The miniature waited with arms crossed.
Harry finally cottoned on and gave the D.A. sign.
Immediately the image began to speak. "Potter, I don't know what you're doing back at the castle, or how you got in, and it may be better if I don't know. Be warned, I changed the password at the gargoyle, but to your luck, the pass-setting on the mirr panel remains the same. Do me the kindness of letting me know when you leave."
When the tiny image gave the new password, the gargoyle stepped aside and allowed Harry access to the spiraling stair. Braving the mirr panel, Harry was soon inside the circular Head's office.
The weak sunlight filtering through the high, narrow windows was not to Harry's liking, so he lit the candles and lamps and turned Capricio free to fly.
Dumbledore was waiting expectantly. "Did your plan go as you anticipated?"
"Even better," said Harry and he told the Porcrux of Tonks' administration in the plan.
"Tonks was always one of my favorite Order members. She thinks quickly under pressure. If she were only a bit more...graceful," said Dumbledore.
Harry smiled at the memory of the troll's leg in Grimmauld Place. "She seems to be overcoming that handicap," said Harry. "Not even a bobble today."
"Very good," responded Dumbledore. "Now that you've made it here, what are your plans?"
Harry explained his goals to the Porcrux. When he came to Phineas Nigellus Black's part in the plan, Nigellus got up and left his portrait. A hue and cry went up from the other portraits. Everard and Dilys left their frames to find him.
Harry thanked the other portraits and then he sat down with the contents of DePais' cupboard. He sorted through the challenges, leaving back the two suspected Horcruxes and Rowena Ravenclaw's faceted jewel. Under Capricio's watch, Harry spent the night and most of the next day carefully reading Snape's and Riddle's journals, reading the parchment and books from Grimmauld Place's library, and had just begun considering the adamant crucible as the sun's rays began faltering through the window, when Nigellus was frog-marched back into his portrait by Dilys and Everard.
"I've never been treated is such a brash, disrespectful manner," spluttered Nigellus as he was forced into his ornate chair. Dilys and Everard remained standing at his sides to prevent escape.
"We found him in his portrait in the Ministry of Magic's Hall of Renowns," said Everard. "He was just sitting there in the dark."
"And well within my rights so to do," grumbled Nigellus. He attempted to rise but was forced back into his seat by Dilys Derwent.
"Headmaster Black," Harry began, "I know you are reluctant to share with me the process I have requested. Thus far, I have been judicious in application of all information you have provided me. I promise continued prudent action."
"So you say," responded Nigellus. "The information you seek is dangerous to the utmost degree. I know of no wizard who has ever attempted the application of such magic. I do not believe you are ready, or even capable, of mastering such dynamics."
Dilys produced her wand. "Do you want me to encourage him?" she asked threateningly.
"No!" said Harry quickly. "If the information is forced, it could be tainted. I need Headmaster Black to help me of his own accord."
"Wise decision Potter," said Nigellus as he smoothed the lapels of his velvet robe.
"I will not press the issue at the present time," said Harry. "But when I return with my friends, the time will necessitate the telling."
"We shall see," said Nigellus and he smiled wickedly.
Dilys and Everard returned to their frames reluctantly.
Harry turned to Dumbledore, "Albus I have done almost all the things I intended." He succeeded in keeping any trace of annoyance from his voice. He strode to the fireplace and deposited the Grimmauld Place sheets and the diaries in the flames. "There was nothing in those writings that needed to be shared with the world. I have them in my memory only as a resort when I face the writers. I still may need instruction on how to extract unwanted memories, but for now, I can control my thoughts. It is time for me to leave."
He bid goodbye to the portraits, including Phineas Nigellus Black and started to leave the office when Dumbledore called him back.
"Would you like to use the Firebolt?" queried the Porcrux.
"No, I have other transport, but I do appreciate the offer. I will be back for the remainder of my belongings after I turn seventeen." Harry bowed and left.
At the bottom of the stairs, Harry pulled out his Chocolate Frog cards and summoned Albus Dumbledore. When the wizard appeared, Harry whispered, "I need one more favor." He told Dumbledore what he desired.
"I will see to it," said the small portrait. "And I believe I see why you did not make the announcement in the office." Dumbledore smiled and was gone.
Harry made his way back to Myrtle's bathroom and retrieved the old school broom from its hiding place. He then called to Myrtle. She appeared out of a tap.
"What do you want?" she demanded.
"I just wondered if you had given thought to my words," said Harry.
"I have," said the ghost petulantly. "I have decided that you may be telling the truth. But I'm far from forgiving you for what you did to my friend."
"All I could ask for under the circumstances," concluded Harry. "I'll see you later."
He and Capricio exited after Harry had sent a jet of light to inform McGonagall of their departure. They traveled the lake and the forest in short order. Harry recovered his trolley full of items, hid the broom in a bowtruckle's tree, and summoned a thestral with a bit of meat. The skeletal horse appeared quickly, and when it was done feeding, Harry pressed it into service. Several hours later, the thestral started its descent toward the twinkling village of Ottery St.Catchpole. Skirting populated areas, the thestral landed in the front garden of a dilapidated house. Harry thanked the thestral which took off immediately. Harry turned to the ramshackle abode and smiled. He was home. He was at the Burrow.
As Harry started to lug his trolley toward the Burrow, the door burst open and a wall of Weasleys poured out of the light to meet him. Ginny was the fastest. She greeted him with a kiss and an embrace.
Harry looked up and was surprised to see George and Fred in the throng. "I thought you had apartments above your premises in Diagon Alley," said Harry in surprise.
"We do," said Fred. "But we try to spend some time back here at the good ol Burrow," said George. "And with the wedding, we have tried to help as much as possible," said Fred. "We'll be leaving for London shortly but we'll be back," they said in unison.
Mr. And Mrs. Weasley had finally made it to Harry when he recognized that Ron was missing.
"Where's Ron," he asked craning his neck to see the front door.
"Probably sulking," said Ginny irritably. "He's been hard to be around because of his moodiness this last week. But he'll be glad to see you."
"Here, Harry let us help with that," said George. He and Fred took the trolley and whisked it to the front door. Harry followed, hand-in-hand with Ginny.
"You're here earlier than we had expected," noted Mr. Weasley. "When I got Dumbledore's message about your arrival, I was pleasantly surprised."
"I don't want to be a burden," said Harry quickly. "If I can leave my things here, I can find lodgings in Diagon Alley."
"Perish the thought!" exclaimed Mrs. Weasley. "You'll be staying here with us until the wedding. If I don't miss my guess, you had something to do with Dobby coming to help us. How else can we repay you?"
Harry reddened and allowed Mrs Weasley to usher him into the Burrow.
When he walked through the door, a colourful missile wrapped around his knees.
"Oh, Harry Potter! Dobby has been hoping and hoping he would see Harry Potter soon!" The elf brushed at the tears in his bright green eyes.
"I'm happy to see you too," said Harry as he hugged the elf. "Has everything been going all right for the wedding?"
"It is not as Dobby expected, but Dobby has a full report for Harry Potter, oh come and see!" gushed the elf.
"Maybe tomorrow, Dobby," corrected Mrs. Weasley. "Harry needs to eat and rest."
Dobby bowed wordlessly and went back to his tireless tasks.
At the mention of food, Harry suddenly realized it had been over a day since he and Capricio had last eaten. His concern immediately went to the dragon hidden in his pocket.
"Uh, Mr. Weasley," he said hesitantly. "Could we have a little talk outside?"
Ginny and Mrs. Weasley exchanged significant glances.
"Certainly Harry," said Mr. Weasley, and he led Harry back outside into a glorious star-stretched night.
The pair walked up the sloping hill toward the paddock at the summit. Finally Harry broke the silence. "Mr. Weasley I have a very serious question to ask you."
"No more than I expected," responded Arthur Weasley.
Harry wrinkled his brow. "How could you..." then deciding not to pursue the question, he began again. "Good. I'm glad you have some inkling of the dilemma I'm in. I don't want to cause your family any trouble..."
"Oh, I don't think you will cause us any trouble," said Mr. Weasley with a chuckle.
"With you working for the Ministry and all, I didn't want to put you in a bad position," explained Harry.
"Well, I know that Rufus Scrimgeour doesn't think much of you, but I don't see how that could effect what we have to discuss," said Mr. Weasley.
"Well, it could be viewed as a serious breach of wizarding law, and I don't want to jeopardize your job..."
Arthur Weasley stopped in his tracks. "Just what are we talking about?" he asked, suddenly suspicious.
In answer, Harry reached into his pocket and withdrew Capricio. Mr. Weasley looked at Harry in stunned silence.
Regaining his wits, he asked Harry, "That's not real, is it?"
As if in answer, Capricio snapped at Mr. Weasley.
Mr. Weasley sat down on a stone fence. "I see your problem, although it's not the one I expected. Let me think this through." With that, Mr. Weasley started pacing the field next to the fence.
Harry gave him room to think. When the lucerne was well packed down from pacing, Mr. Weasley turned to Harry.
"There is a fine point in the law enacted by the 1709 Warlock's Convention...dragon breeding was outlawed...no breeding pairs in private ownership...but the actual wording doesn't precisely preclude owning a single dragon. I know it's a fine point, especially given the general opinion about dragons, but it is an arguable point. And with Charlie due here tomorrow, we can get some cover from his occupation at the dragon preserve. Still, it might be best if he stays here in the paddock tonight. Molly might have the jim-jams with a dragon under the same roof as her family. I hope you see my point."
"I do," said Harry. "And to avoid the chance of either catastrophe or offense, I think it might be better if I stay out here with him tonight."
"I don't know Harry. Molly will never hear of it! You're here. She'll want to coddle you. You know how she is!" Mr. Weasley slapped Harry on the back. "But I'll see what I can do."
"I do know how Mrs. Weasley has looked after me," responded Harry. "She has always made me feel like one of the family, and I appreciate that. But nothing says I can't slip out here after everyone has gone to bed."
"That's no good, Harry. What if she checked on you during the night. She's famous for doing that," said Mr. Weasley. "If she found you gone from your bed, she would raise the roof. No...it's better that we square with her at least. Let's go back and face the music. And Harry, thanks for telling me this. I hope you know you can come to me with anything."
Harry warmed inside at the sound of Mr. Weasley's care and concern.
"You go ahead," said Harry. "I want to talk to Capricio."
Mr. Weasley nodded and started slowly back to the Burrow.
Harry prepared a meal for Capricio and explained that he would try to be back in several hours. Capricio complained.
"Come on Cap, these are my oldest friends. They're more like family than friends. What harm could I come to here? I'll be back as quickly as I can. I know we are both tired." Harry stroked the dragon as he spoke. Finally acquiescing, Capricio flew to a gnarled oak tree and watched Harry make his way back to the Burrow.
Harry tried to catch up Mr. Weasley but was unable to do so. He saw the light flood the yard as Mr. Weasley entered the front door. As he approached, he saw through the window as Ginny rushed to her father in apparent excitement. A few words were exchanged and Ginny left, her head bowed. Harry wondered what it could mean.
When he got to the door, his knock was answered by Ron. "Do you have him?" was the first thing out of Ron's mouth.
"No. He's at the paddock. He'll spend the night there. We'll talk to Charlie tomorrow," explained Harry.
"Good, I was concerned about a dragon sleeping in a wooden house," said Ron. "Well come in out of the night." He stepped to the side and allowed Harry's entry.
Ginny hurried over, a smile on her face; but Harry could have sworn her eyes were bright with concealed tears.
"What?" he asked in concern.
"It's been almost a week," she said. "I've missed you. Come and eat, and then you can tell us all about your time at your aunt and uncle's place."
Harry could smell Mrs. Weasley's cooking and his stomach complained loudly about being ignored.
"Sorry," said Harry of his grumbling stomach.
"No need for sorry," said Ginny. "I'm excited to see what you think of the food." She laughed a little girl laugh and pulled Harry to the table.
Harry felt very self-conscious. His was the only plate at the table. Ginny served him rich ham-and-bean soup and a tall glass of ice-cold milk. She seemed to note his distress and quickly brought an additional plate, placing a single buttered roll on it for herself. She watched with a smile playing across her face as Harry attacked the meal.
"Your mum's a great cook," said Harry between mouthfuls.
"Actually...I made this," said Ginny meekly. "I watched what you did in the Room of Requirement and I just couldn't have you the better cook. Mum's been coaching me this entire week. I'm getting better."
"If you get any better than this..."
"Yes," said Ginny in anticipation. "Then what?"
"If you get any better, I'll be taking lessons from you," said Harry.
"Just like the D.A., it helps loads to have a good teacher. I know you learned what you know on your own. While you're here, I'd like to show you what I know." Ginny's smile pleased Harry more than the delicious food.
Ron came over and sat down. "You here to stay mate?" he asked.
"Until the wedding," answered Harry between mouthfuls. "As soon as that's done, we go back to Hogwarts to challenge the," and he whispered, "Horcruxes."
"Everyone starts to arrive tomorrow," offered Ron. "Hermione will be here. Charlie will be flying in from Romania. Bill flies in tomorrow evening from Egypt, and we expect Fleur's family day-after tomorrow. Fred and George are here now, but they're going back to their shop and won't be back until the day of the wedding. Something about making the right decorations for Bill and Fleur's honeymoon broom." Ron snickered.
Harry mopped up the last of the meal with a huge slice of homemade bread, then he turned to Ginny. "Capricio will stay in the paddock tonight and I plan on staying with him. Your dad agrees it better. He's sure your mum won't approve of a dragon under her roof."
"Then I'll stay there with you," said Ginny.
"No you won't!" said Ron forcefully. "You'll stay in the house. I'll go with Harry."
"Since when do you give me orders?" asked Ginny menacingly. "And since when do you even like Capricio?"
"It's not about like," said Ron. "It's about propriety."
Ginny stood up from the table, murder in her eye. Ron didn't flinch.
"Go ask mum 'n dad if you don't believe me," said Ron.
Ginny turned on her heel and marched off in search of her parents. She returned minutes later, defeated but defiant.
"Go ahead and spend the night in the dark," she said. "See if I care!" Then she threw an armload of blankets at Harry and Ron and fled up the stairs.
"Sisters," said Ron, as if that explained everything.
They made preparations for the night outdoors, said goodnight to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and trudged up to the paddock with their bedding.
When Capricio saw them, he flew to Harry's shoulder and pointedly ignored Ron.
Ron caught the snub. "I actually like it better this way," he said as he wormed into the bedding.
Harry said good night to Capricio and worked into his own blankets. Even though the ground was hard, within minutes all three were asleep.
Harry awoke early, as was his ritual. He listened to Ron snore as he searched his bedding for Capricio. His search became near panic as he turned the blankets inside-out and couldn't find the dragon. He finally located the wyvern in the hollow of a nearby oak tree. It had caught, and was eating, a large brown stoat. Trying to ignore the crunching of bones, Harry walked over to Capricio. "You'll have to be a bit careful around here. The Weasleys have chickens and other animals they raise. You can't go eating them. It will probably be better if you let me prepare your food for the duration of our stay at the Burrow."
Capricio gave Harry a piercing stare.
"OK," said Harry. "At least let me show you what you can't eat. I can't have you snacking on Hedwig or on Hermione's cat Crookshanks, and, although Ron probably wouldn't mind, I don't think it would go over too well if you started eating the Weasley's garden gnomes."
"I wouldn't mind what?" sounded a voice from behind Harry.
Ron was up and stretching his long arms toward the morning sky.
"I was just telling Capricio that you probably wouldn't mind if he ate your gnomes...no more de-gnoming the back garden." Harry smiled at the memory of his last attempt at ridding the Weasley's vegetable patch of the tiny nuisances.
"It wouldn't fuss me terribly," admitted Ron
"I have some amazing things to tell you about the last week..." started Harry, but Ron cut him off.
"Don't start yet," said Ron. "If you tell me now, you'll just have to retell it to Ginny and Hermione. Might as well wait. Besides I have a few things to talk to you about before we go back to the Burrow."
Harry looked down the hill at the slap-dash house and wondered what Ron had to say that couldn't be said in front of his family.
Ron plunged in as if he had rehearsed his speech. "Harry I need your advice. You've lived among the muggles...and I was wondering...I wondered if you know...is it possible that you have heard how..."
"Spit it out mate," said Harry impatiently.
"Iwaswonderingifyouknowhowtoaskamuggleifyoucouldmarryhisdaughter." Ron said very quickly.
Harry resisted the urge to laugh, assuming it would make the situation much worse. "I can't say I know the proper way," responded Harry. "I'd dare guess you would just talk with him and lay out your plans and why you think it's a good idea to let you marry his daughter. Some muggles are very protective of their daughters. Why is this important to you?"
"The thought has me tied up in knots. Bill told what he went through. He had to get the nod from Fleur's mother and grandmother. It sounded like a regular trial."
"I still don't...oh! Hermione!" exclaimed Harry, finally putting all the pieces together.
"Yes. Hermione. She's going to be here today. If I'm not going back to Hogwarts, I need to get started on my life. I don't want to start it without Hermione. I just don't know how to approach her father." Ron looked at his oversized feet.
"Well how is it done in the wizard world?" asked Harry enthralled at the prospect of his friends taking such a significant step.
"Well I played dad up about how he asked mum's father for permission. It turns out they eloped. They were both of age and they just went and got married. Mind you, it has placed a strain on family reunions. Mum's side is barely over the view that dad stole mum from them."
"I had never considered that," replied Harry.
"Maybe you should..." began Ron.
"What do you mean?" Harry shot back.
"Never mind," said Ron. "We were talking about me and Hermione. Anyway what would I have to offer a muggle father? I don't have a way to earn a single galleon, and if Hermione and I were married, it would separate her from the muggle world. Not to mention that Weasleys have made pureblood marriages for the last thirteen generations. I would be the break in that tradition. My own parents might be against it. I don't know what to do."
"You have a lot to offer. As far as how to earn a galleon, remember, you are the king of unicorn jumpers! I don't think you'll have a problem with your parents. I've never seen a single indication of prejudice against muggles. They liked my mother. They like Hermione. They like me and I'm half-blood. Your dad is always trying to see that our laws protect muggles...no, I don't think you'll have a problem with your parents. Hermione's parents may be a different story. Have you met them?"
"Only once, at Flourish and Blotts just before our second year," answered Ron. "I don't think my family made a very good impression on them. Remember...dad got in a knock-down-drag-out with Lucius Malfoy.
"Oh I remember that," said Harry as he recalled the fight in the book shop.
"Anyway, I want to do this more than I've wanted to do anything in my life. If I wait, someone else will snap up Hermione. I don't want to make the same mistake I made at the Yule Ball our fourth year. All I'd need is for Victor Krum to come sniffing around. I wouldn't stand a chance against someone like him."
"Do you love her?" asked Harry pointedly.
"Yes! And she says she loves me too," said Ron. "But I see the practicalities of marriage, aside from asking her dad. A place to live, a job, food, the entire scheme of life."
"Now I see why you had been moping about for a week," said Harry.
"Who says I've been moping about?" demanded Ron defensively.
"Ginny," said Harry, "and I wouldn't cross swords with her either if I were you."
"I've learned to watch out for my little sister," said Ron, and Harry wondered at the odd inflection in his voice.
"I know what I'd do if I was in your shoes," said Harry. "I'd ask your dad straight out. I wish I had a dad to ask those kinds of questions."
Harry's comment put a damper on the conversation, and they gathered their blankets and headed back to the Burrow in silence.
When they arrived at the door, Ron blurted out, "I think you're right. I'll talk to dad."
"You go do that," said Harry. "I'll go show Capricio what not to eat."
Ron took Harry's bedding and went inside. Harry called Capricio, and when the dragon arrived, he took him around the gardens pointing out chickens, pigs and piglets, gnomes, and cats.
"Don't eat any of them," he said warningly. "If we are to be welcome guests, we need to play nicely."
Capricio signaled his willingness to comply.
"OK you can fly free. Just don't leave the area. Keep your eyes open for trouble. I'll get you at lunch time, or when Charlie gets here; which ever comes first."
Capricio took to wing and quickly disappeared into the trees.
As Harry turned back to the Burrow, he saw Ginny come out to feed the chickens. Unobserved, he watched as she strawed the ground with grain. Her hair, blazing brightly in the morning sun, surrounded her with an angel's halo. Harry caught his breath as he realized he loved Ginny as deeply as Ron loved Hermione.
Suddenly a host of incidents flashed through his mind. Ginny's reaction to the D.A. ring, her tears and laughter, her moodiness, the times she left him to think, the way she held his hand, her tenderness when he was in turmoil, the honesty in her kisses...it all came to point in a single thought..."I have the same problem as Ron...only I have to talk to Mr. Weasley!"
Harry watched Ginny for a long time before she caught him looking. She threw her last handful of grain and crossed to him smiling. Her smile was the final affirmation of what he had to do.
"How long have you been watching?" she asked in mock horror.
"Long enough, but not nearly long enough," said Harry enigmatically. "Do you have time to go for a walk?"
Ginny smiled. "Like I've heard you say...I've nothing but time. Where do you want to go?"
"Anywhere, as long as it's together," said Harry as he took Ginny's hand and pulled her close.
They meandered aimlessly through the sweet smelling summer grass, sending up clouds of fritillaries in the early morning light. Ginny laughed when a single butterfly landed on Harry's glasses and pumped its wings in imitation of a fireplace bellows.
Harry stared in awe at Ginny.
"What?" she asked selfconsciously.
"I just marvel at the effect your laughter has on me," said Harry softly.
Ginny pulled Harry to a seat next to her atop a rounded rock. At their feet, a small stream was obscured by a carpet of deepest blue forget-me-nots. Harry's thoughts ran for a moment before he captured them.
The look on his face caught Ginny's attention. "What?" she coaxed.
"Nothing," responded Harry. "Sometimes my mind runs away..."
"What were you thinking?" asked Ginny as she looked into Harry's eyes.
"I'm almost embarrassed to tell you," said Harry, but he went on. "The forget-me-nots. When I saw them I was flooded by things I've read...myosotis scorpioides...the true forget-me-not...fidelity...the legends of the forget-me-nots...it all comes tumbling out of my mind and I have to stuff it back in place. It's inconvenient when all I want to do is tell you how I feel."
"Then tell me," said Ginny almost breathlessly.
Harry reached down and picked one of the tiny flowers and offered it to Ginny.
"I love you. I can't get you out of my mind. I want to be with you forever. Would you..." Harry stumbled. "...would you ever consider marrying me?"
"Oh yes! Yes! A thousand times yes!" said Ginny instantly. "You have no idea how long I've wanted you to ask me that question." A single tear slipped from the corner of Ginny's eye and splashed the tiny blossom in her fingers.
Ginny threw her arms around Harry's neck and cried into his shoulder. He pulled her close and raptured in the moment.
It could have been ten minutes, or ten hours, or ten days; Harry wasn't sure of time, he was only sure of one thing...being with Ginny was absolutely the right thing to do.
As they held each other in the meadow, Harry's mind raced with the feelings, the responsibilities, the plans, and finally the challenges, they had just set for themselves.
"Ginny," he started tentatively, "we probably should make some plans."
"That's already done," said Ginny slyly. "I've just been waiting for you to catch me up."
"What do you mean it's already done?" asked Harry.
"Hermione and I have been planning for ages. We just weren't sure whether you or Ron would get around to asking first. It's not really a competition...but I win!" she said and then she giggled.
"I still have to ask your father, as Ron pointed out this morning," said Harry solemnly.
"You and Ron discussed this?" asked Ginny in shock.
"Not exactly this," explained Harry. "Ron is just concerned about the Granger's reaction to having their daughter marry into the wizarding world. Ron's worried he will come up short in their balance. I never considered the challenges until Ron outlined his concerns."
"Challenges? Mum and dad will be thrilled to have the famous Harry Potter as a son-in-law," opined Ginny.
"Drop the famous and do you really think so? Your parents have always treated me like a normal person. I can't say the same for most people I meet. But my worry is that the Weasley family has been pureblood for so many generations, how will they react to me wanting to marry their only daughter? I'm only a halfblood."
"I'll make you this promise, you are of age in about a month, I'll be of age in less than ten months, if my parents give you any static; which they won't, we'll run away when I'm of age."
"It's not just age," said Harry seriously. "Your parents know that Voldemort is hunting me. They have to be concerned about how that could endanger you."
"Are you trying to worm your way out of a proposal?" asked Ginny.
"Absolutely not!" said Harry in surprise. "I just want you to go into this with your eyes wide open. We may have a long, dangerous slog."
"I've known since the very first time I saw you what I was setting myself up for. I'm not out looking for a fight with Voldemort, but I see what he has done to my family. Besides, how many girls can say their fiance has saved them from the most evil being in the world? I'll be up to anything Voldemort can throw at me if I have you watching my back."
"I feel the same way," said Harry. "Together we will be stronger."
He stood up and pulled Ginny to her feet.
"What's your hurry," asked Ginny.
"I need to talk to your dad before I lose my nerve," said Harry with a smile and a wink.