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SIYE Time:14:10 on 18th May 2021


Phoenix
By Sovran

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Category: Post-HBP, December Engagement Challenge (2006-6)
Characters:None
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Fluff, Romance, Tragedy
Warnings: Death, Mild Sexual Situations, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 79
Summary: ** Winner of Best Overall & Best Adventure (Tie) in the December Engagement Challenge **

What does it take for the phoenix to rise from the ashes?
Hitcount: Story Total: 25405; Chapter Total: 9560







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On December nineteenth, Harry crouched alone in a secluded corner of platform nine and three-quarters. He wore an old pair of Ron’s jeans and Percy’s untouched jumper from his fifth year. His father’s Invisibility Cloak brushed the floor around him, concealing him from the hundreds of other witches and wizards nearby. He was thankful, not for the first time, that the cloak had been tucked into a pocket of his winter cloak when he had faced Voldemort.

The initial explosion caused by Riddle’s destruction had hurled Harry down the stairs even as it obliterated the upper storey of the Dursleys’ house. Harry’s shield had protected him from the worst of the blast, but it did not soften his landing or prevent the rest of house from collapsing around him. He distinctly remembered the snap of his wand breaking as he tumbled to a stop at the bottom of the staircase.

Harry had thought that the cataclysm was over, but the energy stored in Tom’s body had continued to erupt. Whip-like tendrils of pure magic had slashed through the house and yard randomly, destroying everything in their path. One had flashed inches away from his face as he tried desperately to find his friends. When he had recoiled from the magical tendril, he had fallen and, striking his head sharply, been knocked unconscious.

A week later, he had been released from St. Mungo’s. His broken bones had been easily mended, and the damage from his brush with raw magic could only heal with time. Ironically, he was the luckiest of those who had been in or near the house that day. Dozens of Death Eaters and Aurors had been killed outright by the effects of Voldemort’s demise. Fortunately, Tonks had taken the time to alert the rest of the Order before Apparating to the play park near Privet Drive, so she had arrived just after the disaster. The Order of the Phoenix had dug Harry out of the ruins and done what they could for the other survivors.

Ron and Hermione had been found huddled together in Harry’s broom cupboard. The cupboard had protected them from the explosion, but a strand of magic had torn through the tiny space, destroyed Ron’s shield, and slashed along their sides. Ron’s right arm and Hermione’s left had simply vanished, along with much of the flesh along the affected side of their torsos and legs. The arrival of the Order, and their proximity to Harry in the rubble, had saved his friends’ lives, but they would be confined to St. Mungo’s for months as their limbs were re-grown and their skin repaired.

Harry shook himself out of his reverie and surveyed the platform. More families had arrived, and seeing them made Harry think that perhaps it was fortunate that Ron and Hermione were hidden from the public eye.

Rufus Scrimgeour had seized upon the deaths of Voldemort and so many Aurors to promote his own position and vilify Harry in the process. After all, Harry was Dumbledore’s man, through and through, and would never be the Minister’s man.

According to the Ministry, Harry Potter had used dark magic to defeat Lord Voldemort and deliberately caused the deaths of nearly all of the Aurors sent to aid him. Not every wizard or witch believed the Minister, but enough did that only Harry’s closest friends would willingly associate with him. The Ministry’s Aurors became the fallen heroes of the day, while Harry became a monster second only to Voldemort himself. Scrimgeour had not, apparently, been quite brave enough to have Harry arrested, but the damage was bad enough even if he was technically a free wizard.

At last, the Hogwarts Express rolled into the station and came to a whistling halt at the platform. Reluctantly, Harry stood and removed the Invisibility Cloak. The crowd reacted immediately.

First, those standing closest to him saw him and recoiled from the sight of his ruined face. Voldemort’s energy had passed a few inches from his left cheek, but at that distance it still dissolved his flesh. The damage was slowly healing, but nineteen days after the battle, Harry’s melted skin, missing hair, and deformed ear were still a gruesome sight.

Once the people around him began to recognise him, the accusations began. “Murderer!” shouted one man. “Dark Wizard!” a woman’s voice screeched. The cacophony of verbal abuse rose from more than half of the people waiting at the platform, and as students emerged from the train, their families snatched them up and hurried them away from the supposedly evil man in the corner.

Harry stood still, his shoulders hunched, and tried to ignore the taunts and accusations. His eyes scanned the doors to the train. A minute or two later, he spotted a flash of bright red in one of the doorways. He started towards it, and the crowd parted around him.

Ginny stepped off the train with her trunk and spotted him immediately. She smiled broadly and then rapidly crossed the remaining distance between them. Without speaking, she put her hands on his chest and rose up on her tiptoes to kiss his damaged cheek. She sank back down to her feet and wrapped her arms around his waist, tucking her head under his chin. Slowly and reverently, Harry put his arms around her shoulders, and they stood there together for a long moment.

“Traitor!” a woman shouted from the crowd. “He’ll kill you, too!”

Ginny pulled out of his embrace and turned to face the people around them. She took a step away from him, and Harry watched as her expression shifted from tenderness to fierce challenge. “None of you has any idea what happened that day,” she called fiercely. “Voldemort is dead! How do you think that happened?! Harry did that, and he did it for you! You don’t have to worry about Voldemort murdering your families anymore. Show some respect!”

Ginny glared around the platform, but no one was willing to say anything further. After a moment, she faced Harry again and smiled affectionately. “Take me home, Harry.”

He nodded. With a quick wave of Bill’s old wand, Harry shrank her trunk to the size of a matchbox and tucked it into his pocket. Ginny wrapped both of her arms around his left bicep. After a turn and a wave, they were standing on the front lawn of the Burrow.

Ginny kept her hands on his arm as they walked into the house. She only let him go when Mrs. Weasley bustled into the hallway from the kitchen and pulled Ginny into her own crushing embrace. “Oh, Ginny dear, it’s so good to have you home,” she said.

Mr. Weasley emerged from the sitting room and greeted his daughter also. Fred and George, who were spending the day at the Burrow in honour of the occasion, came thundering down the stairs and swept Ginny up for their own uniquely rambunctious version of a welcome.

Momentarily sidelined in the hubbub, Harry climbed the stairs to Ginny’s room. He placed the trunk at the foot of her bed and returned it to its original size, and then he went up another flight of stairs to Percy’s old room. Inside, he opened his school trunk and put his Invisibility Cloak back in its place.

Before closing the lid, he stared at the trunk’s contents for a moment. This, he thought, was all that he had left. The rucksack he had carried during the long months of the search for the Horcruxes had been left carelessly in the front yard of Privet Drive along with his Firebolt. Harry’s other possessions, including most of his clothes, had been stored in his bedroom. When the house exploded, those things were lost. All he had were the contents of his school trunk, which had been at the Burrow: a few uniforms, a few of his older textbooks, the precious photo album Hagrid had given him, and an assortment of small things that had stayed in the trunk over the years.

Hedwig had left Privet Drive at the beginning of the battle and showed up at the Burrow a few hours later. She was exhausted, and the news she had sought to convey had already been delivered, but she was alive, and she perched silently on top of the wardrobe. The familiar sight provided Harry with some slight sense of comfort.

The rest of the things in ‘his’ room had once belonged to one or another of the Weasley brothers. The wardrobe was full of old jumpers, worn shirts, and patched trousers. He certainly did not object to wearing second-hand clothes, but they seemed to be an accurate reflection of his lot in life recently.

“Harry?” Ginny called softly from the doorway. He turned to see her standing there, still smiling, even though her eyes were tinged with sad compassion. She held out her hand to him. “Dinner’s ready.”

He took her hand and let her pull him back down towards the kitchen. On the last landing, she stopped and turned to him. With her free hand, she reached up and gently lifted his chin, encouraging him to meet her gaze. Her eyes regarded him solemnly as they searched his face. “Say something to me, Harry.”

He slowly closed his eyes, fighting the moisture he could feel gathering there, and squeezed her hand tightly. He had decided over a month ago that he would ask her a question, but now was not the time. After a minute, he opened his eyes and looked directly at her. “I’m so happy you’re here, Ginny,” he whispered. His voice was laden with emotion, and her brown eyes softened as she stroked his cheek with her thumb.

“I’m happy, too, Harry,” she said softly.

After dinner, the Weasley family sat around the table listening to Ginny talk about her term at Hogwarts. She told cheerful stories, but Harry could tell that there were many more things she could have said if she had not been committed to keeping the mood light.

A while later, Harry quietly stood from the table. Ginny smiled at him and nodded slightly as he excused himself. Pulling on Fred’s old winter cloak, he stepped out into the garden and settled onto a bench near the house.

As the silence of the night settled around him, his thoughts returned to the last few months, as they often did. He should have known, he supposed, that defeating Voldemort would not be so easy. He, Hermione, and Ron had managed to find and destroy four Horcruxes in four months. Harry had spent his money lavishly to accelerate the hunt and to support himself and his friends as they traveled. When his inheritance had run out, the three of them had lived more simply but maintained the pace of their search. Ron’s memory had sent them back to Grimmauld Place to find the real locket. Hermione’s skill at research had led them to Hufflepuff’s cup. Ravenclaw’s staff had been hidden in Hogwarts itself, which saved them some time but challenged them more than either of the other two. Nagini had died on the lawn of Privet Drive just minutes before Harry had killed Tom.

Up until the final confrontation, it had seemed so easy. They had grown confident in their skills as individuals and as a team. Harry’s strange hunches had helped them to avoid the worst of the protections around the Horcruxes, and he had begun to think that they might make it through the war intact.

Then, of course, Harry himself had triggered the cataclysm that killed Aurors and Death Eaters and maimed his two best friends.

He had spoken to them, briefly, when they were conscious. They knew what had happened, and they did not blame him. But that had never stopped Harry from blaming himself, and he had only been able to stand being in their presence for a few minutes since that day. Their ruined bodies and his own face were constant reminders of the choice he had made, the price they had all paid, and the many decisions that could never be altered.

The door to the Burrow closed noisily behind him, and Harry turned to see Fred and George crossing the garden. They took seats on the bench to either side of him.

“Evening, Harry,” George said.

Harry nodded his acknowledgement, wrapped in his silent thoughts and memories of four months that felt like four lifetimes.

“Still planning to ask our sister to marry you?” Fred asked.

Harry was vaguely surprised at the direct approach, but he realised that he should have long ago learned never to predict what one of the Weasley twins might do. He had spoken to them shortly after arriving at the Burrow from St. Mungo’s. Aside from Ron and Hermione, no one else knew of his plans yet, but somehow the twins had seemed like the right people to sound out about the idea. He had expected vehement objections, but they had simply looked at him searchingly and finally nodded in support.

Harry had almost nothing left, but he would offer Ginny what little he had. He was not sure he was worthy of her now, assuming he ever had been. After what he had done, he was not entirely certain he could ever feel worthy of even her friendship. But he would ask. He had everything to gain, and almost nothing to lose. In a stolen moment, Ginny had told him that she never wanted them to be apart again after the war, and he had agreed wholeheartedly. He did not understand how she could want a penniless, deformed mass-murderer, but she was treating him the same way she had before. Perhaps she still cared for him, after all.

“If she’ll have me,” Harry whispered.

George shook his head and grinned slightly. “You say stupid things, Harry. Always have.”

Harry shrugged.

“Look, Harry,” Fred said solemnly. “You helped us out a few years ago, and now it’s our turn. We know you’ve no money left, so why not let us pay back what you gave us?”

He shook his head. “I didn’t want that money then, and I don’t want it now,” Harry said.

Fred sighed. “I wish you’d stop saying that.” He looked out over the snow-shrouded garden. “We knew you would, though.”

“So we went ahead and spent some of it anyway,” George added.

“What?”

“We got you some clothes,” Fred said. “They’re in the wardrobe in your room. They should make you look more like Harry Potter and less like a Weasley with a bad hair-colouring charm.”

“Wear them tomorrow,” George suggested. “Go for a walk with Ginny. Talk to her. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

Harry shrugged. “Yeah, alright,” he agreed listlessly. He had to try.

The next morning, Harry showered and returned to his room to get dressed. Inside the wardrobe, as promised, were several pairs of fresh new jeans and a collection of shirts and jumpers. There was even a new pair of brown shoes on the floor of the wardrobe. Harry pulled on a pair of jeans and a dark green jumper, surprised at how well they fit, and went downstairs to breakfast.

The Weasleys were already at the table, and Ginny’s eyes lit up when she saw him. She openly looked him over from head to toe and raised an eyebrow approvingly. The grin she wore was one he remembered well from walks by the lake at Hogwarts during their previous lifetime together. He ducked his head and took his seat, keeping his eyes on the plate in front of him.

After breakfast, he stood up and glanced at her across the table. “Ginny . . . would you . . . would you like to go for a walk? With me?”

“I’d love to, Harry,” she said with a warm smile.

They donned their winter cloaks and stepped out into the garden. Ginny slipped her arm around his elbow, and they walked for several minutes in silence. This was the first time in months that Harry had been able to talk to her without some sort of deadline looming. They had danced at Bill and Fleur’s wedding, speaking only with their eyes, and Harry had gone to sleep that night knowing that she still understood him. Though they would not be in each others’ company, they were together, just as they had been since May. The next morning, Ginny had watched him leave the Burrow with the same blazing look he remembered from the day they had first kissed. No words had been necessary.

Later, he had stolen a few moments to see her after retrieving Ravenclaw’s staff from the depths of Hogwarts’ dungeons. Hermione had used the Invisibility Cloak to sneak into the girls’ dormitory and bring Ginny to the Room of Requirement. She and Harry had spent their time in a fierce embrace, whispering truths and hopes in each others’ ears. With Ron and Hermione fidgeting as they faced the wall in the far corner, there had not been an opportunity in those brief yet precious minutes to even properly kiss each other. Ginny had only managed to brush her lips across his cheek before he had needed to leave again.

“How are Ron and Hermione?” Ginny asked, interrupting Harry’s musing.

Harry dropped his gaze from the landscape ahead of him to his feet. It was so hard to see them, to see the price of the choice he had made. If he stayed with them long enough, he could almost imagine the faces of the Aurors that had not survived at all. “They’re awake for most of the day now, and your mum had them moved into the same room. They can’t move much at all, but they can keep each other company.”

Ginny knew what had happened to them. The last time he had seen her before picking her up from Kings Cross had been when she had come to St. Mungo’s to visit Harry the day after Voldemort’s defeat. He had confessed everything to her, sparing no detail or consequence. He had fully expected her to leave his room and never return, but instead she had held his hand and told him how proud she was of him.

Ginny laughed lightly. “So, what you’re telling me is that they’re spending their days rowing about nothing and everything.”

He could not help the small smile that crept onto his face. “They like it that way. They always have.”

Ginny nodded and grinned. “So, did I miss the Event?”

Harry snorted. “Yeah. I caught them snogging in the kitchen of our tent one night, about six weeks ago. They said it was the first time, and from the look on Ron’s face, I believed them.”

She turned to look up at him, and her brown eyes were deep and dark. “Funny, isn’t it, how things change so much and yet still remain the same?”

Unsure of what she meant, Harry nodded. They reached the pond at the back of the garden, and Harry stopped for a moment, looking out over the silver and white beauty of the winter landscape. He took a deep breath.

“Ginny, I . . .” His voice trailed off. He could not do it. Not now. Not like this, his mind told him.

“What is it, Harry?” she asked softly.

He scrambled for something else to say. Finally, he settled on the truth. A different truth. “I’m so glad you’re safe, Ginny,” he choked out. “Thank you for staying safe.”

She leaned over to rest her head on his arm. “Even if I didn’t always like it, it was what you needed me to do. I understood that, Harry.”

“I wish . . .” he began. “I wish we could have had it both ways.”

“So do I. We couldn’t, though, and it worked out the way it was.”

Harry took a deep breath, fighting the sudden moisture in his eyes. “Ginny, if you had been there . . .” He swallowed heavily. “If you’d been there, I don’t think I could have done it.”

Her hands tightened on his arm, and she sniffed quietly. “I know, Harry. I’m glad I wasn’t there.”

Harry nodded, slowly, and they continued their walk.

The next afternoon, the twins came by and cornered Harry in his room.

“Well?” Fred asked.

Harry sighed deeply. “It wasn’t the right time,” he explained.

“Wasn’t the right time?” George echoed.

“It just didn’t . . . feel right.”

Fred frowned. “How can it not feel right?”

“Have you ever done this, Fred?” Harry asked.

“Well, no . . .”

“Then trust me, okay? It didn’t feel right.”

George cocked his head to one side and looked at Harry flatly. “You still want to, though, don’t you?”

Harry’s eyes lost focus as he remembered the sight of Ginny by the frozen pond, so vivid and beautiful against the stark landscape. “Oh, yes. More than ever.”

“Well, when are you going to do it, then?” Fred asked.

Harry shrugged. The twins backed over to the far wall and whispered to each other behind their hands. After a minute of rapid conversation, Fred Apparated away with a raucous pop.

“Well, Harry,” George said, rubbing his hands together. “We’re going to give you another chance.”

“You’re what?”

“As of right about . . .” George looked down at his wrist, miming checking a watch that he did not wear, “ . . . now, you have a reservation for dinner tonight. You and Ginny, at our place in Diagon Alley. Food will be provided, atmosphere will be perfect, and company will be absent. Please keep your clothes present, though . . . otherwise we’d never be able to clean the place well enough to want to keep living in it.”

Harry’s mind wandered for a moment, but he forced himself to focus on George’s offer. “You’re giving us a date?”

“That’s right.”

“But . . .”

“No buts,” George insisted. “We want you to be happy, and we want Ginny to be happy. Going out together will make you both happy, so that’s what’s going to happen. If it ‘feels right,’ then that’s even better. Try to let it feel right, alright?”

At seven o’clock that evening, Harry met Ginny in the sitting room of the Burrow. He was again wearing some of the clothes the twins had given him. She wore a simple green winter dress, and Harry thought she had never looked lovelier.

“You’re beautiful,” he said, awed.

She lowered her eyes demurely. “Thank you. You’re pretty handsome yourself.”

He Apparated them both to the twins’ flat in Diagon Alley. They arrived in the living room, where a small table had been set up with two chairs. The rest of the furniture had been removed.

As promised, the table was laden with a warm and welcoming meal for two. Harry was not sure what to call the pasta dish that awaited them, but it smelled wonderful. It was accompanied by a light salad, fresh rolls, and a small glass of white wine for each of them.

“This is wonderful,” Ginny said. “What are they up to?”

Harry shrugged, fighting the urge to look away from her, and pulled out her chair. As soon as she sat down, two candles in the middle of the table lit themselves, and soft music drifted around the room from an unseen source.

They ate their meal with few words, savouring the food and frequently smiling across the table at each other. Harry almost forgot who he was for a few minutes, and once again he thought that perhaps he was living someone else’s life. The incredible woman across the table could not be smiling at him like that, with love and admiration in her eyes. He could not possibly be allowed to kiss those soft lips or caress that cascade of fiery hair.

Harry knew he was staring, but he did not care, and Ginny did not seem to mind. They sipped their wine slowly after they finished eating, and Harry finally found some shred of his courage.

“Would you like to dance?” he asked.

She nodded, and before he knew what was happening, she was in his arms and they were swaying gently to the music. Gradually, she shifted closer to him, until her body pressed against his and she rested her head on his shoulder. Her hands were warm and soft on the back of his neck, and her waist felt delicate and precious as his arms encircled her.

“I’m so glad it’s finally over,” she whispered against his chest.

In that moment, everything changed. He wore borrowed clothes in a borrowed place. They had eaten a borrowed meal, and they danced to borrowed music. Even Ginny’s affection might have been borrowed from the man he had once been. Borrowed time from a borrowed life.

He felt himself freeze, and Ginny raised her head to look at him as they stopped moving. “What’s wrong, Harry?”

“Nothing,” he lied. “It’s just . . . well, it’s getting rather late, and I don’t want your family to worry.”

“Oh,” she replied, blinking rapidly. “Well, then I . . . I suppose we should be getting back.”

“I wish we didn’t have to go yet,” Harry said.

Her eyes betrayed her confusion, but Harry was amazed to see that they still held affection, also. “I do, too,” she whispered.

They Apparated back to the Burrow, and Harry walked her to the door of her room. Her family was conspicuously absent, and Harry silently thanked them for that.

“I had a wonderful evening, Harry,” Ginny said. “Thank you.”

Harry kept his eyes on the shoes he was wearing. “Thank your brothers.”

Ginny tilted his head up and shook her head slowly. “That’s not what I meant.” She looked deeply into his eyes for a moment, then reached up and kissed his left cheek. “Goodnight, Harry.”

“Goodnight, Ginny.”

He stayed until she had closed the door behind her, and then he went up to his room. It was not yet nine o’clock, but he sat alone on his bed for the rest of the evening before falling into a fitful sleep.

On the morning of December twenty-third, the twins caught him alone in his room again.

“Alright, Harry,” Fred said. “You’ve told us twice now, and we finally believe you. We can’t just create the right time and place for you. Right?”

Suspicious, Harry nodded.

“Well, then, we’re not going to try anymore,” George said. “We’ll let you find the moment for yourself.”

“But there is one thing we can do without interfering with that,” Fred added. “We’re going to do it, and then you’re on your own. Ready?”

Harry eyed them both slightly askance for a moment. “What do you mean?”

“You’ll see,” George said mysteriously, pulling Harry to his feet.

As Harry stumbled for balance, George turned sharply. Harry felt the bizarre squeezing of Side-along Apparition even as he started to protest. He was still stumbling when they arrived at their destination, but the twins held him steady. Looking around, Harry found himself in front of a small shop on a side street of Diagon Alley. He had seen the tiny lane before but had never explored it.

Fred pushed open the door of the shop, and George pulled Harry inside. The interior was brightly lit, and the walls were lined with glass cases. A tall, thin man in very formal robes stood behind one of the cases.

Immediately, Harry stepped back from the man and dragged the twins with him. Never taking his eyes off the stranger, he whispered urgently to Fred. “Who’s that?”

“The proprietor,” Fred answered. “Don’t worry, we know him, and he’s got no problem with you. The shop is closed to other customers for the next hour.”

Harry nodded briefly before taking a few cautious steps forward. The man behind the counter looked at him with a calm, professional expression.

“Good morning, Mr. Potter. I am Thomas Banks. I believe you’ll find what you’re looking for in this display.” He swept his hand over the top of the case in front of him.

“What I’m looking for?” Harry asked, momentarily bemused.

“Have a look, Harry,” Fred said.

He stepped forward to peer into the display. Inside was a collection of dazzling engagement rings. Some were made of gold, and others were made of platinum. The precious metals cradled diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds of various sizes and shapes. Some of the gemstones were the size of Harry’s thumbnail, while others were brilliant sparkles no larger than the head of a pin.

“Pick one,” George instructed. “We can afford anything in this shop, and so could you if you’d let us pay you back properly.”

Stunned, Harry stared at the rings in the case. Against his will, he compared them, thinking about how each one would look on Ginny’s delicate left hand. Some were clearly too large and would look ridiculous on her. Some were far too small to express what he wanted to say. A few were so heavily encrusted with gems that he could not imagine Ginny wearing them. His eye was drawn to plain bands with only one or perhaps three stones.

He was starting to really scrutinize those simple rings when he suddenly realized what he was doing. Straightening, he turned to face the twins behind him. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” he asked.

They nodded, and Harry politely excused himself from the jeweller’s attention. The three young men gathered in a corner of the shop.

“Fred, George . . . this is amazing. You really shouldn’t do this.”

“We already told you . . .” Fred began.

Harry held up his hand. “I know. And I truly appreciate it, but . . .”

He tried desperately to find a way to explain what he felt. At last, he put into words the fear that had been plaguing him ever since he woke up in St. Mungo’s.

“Look,” he said. “A lot of things have changed. I still want to marry Ginny. I still . . .” he took a breath and met George’s eyes squarely. “I still love her. I always will. But I have to ask her as myself. I have to make sure that she loves me the way I am and that she wants to marry me the way I am. Not the way someone else can make me seem to be.

“I need for her to love me as I am today,” he repeated. “Trying to pretend I’m the person I was before won’t work. I don’t have nice clothes. I can’t afford fancy dinners. And I can’t offer her an engagement ring like these. Do you see?”

The twins stared at him for nearly a minute without speaking. At last, Fred sighed. “Bloody hell. You just don’t do anything by halves, do you?”

Harry furrowed his brow, not understanding, but George spoke before he could question Fred. “Alright, Harry. If that’s the way it has to be for you, then that’s how it’ll be. We just wanted to help, you know? You’ve done a lot for our whole family, and we wanted to return the favour.”

“You have, George,” Harry said. “Honestly.” A thought came to him, and he smiled crookedly. “Do you really want to do something extravagant like this for me?” The twins nodded. “Well then, when Ron and Hermione get out of St. Mungo’s, bring Ron here and make him the exact same offer you made me. Make sure you’ve got a camera set up first. Alright?”

The brothers blinked at him for a moment, and then their grins returned in full force. “Alright, Harry. You’re the boss,” Fred said.

Harry walked back over to the counter, leaving the twins to wait for him by the door. “Mr. Banks, I’m sorry, but I won’t be buying anything from you.”

“Do not concern yourself, Mr. Potter,” the tall man said. “I have seen hundreds of young men in this shop, and few of them were as earnest as you clearly are in your intentions.” He waved his hand over the case of rings again. “This is not the best way for every man or for every woman. It is far more important to do the thing properly than to do it conveniently.”

“Thank you, Mr. Banks,” Harry said. “The Weasleys here will be bringing in another of their brothers for a purchase, and I hope that will make up for the waste of your time today.”

Banks chuckled and leaned towards Harry across the counter. “Don’t worry, Mr. Potter,” he whispered. “These two Weasleys have already purchased their own engagement rings from me, so my time has hardly been wasted.”

“Really?” Harry asked, incredulous.

“Oh yes,” he answered. “For themselves and their ladies, it seems that expense was quite the rule of the day.”

Harry stifled a laugh with his hand. He was somehow sure that Angelina and Katie had no idea what was coming. “Thank you for that tidbit, Mr. Banks.”

“My pleasure, Mr. Potter. Have a good Christmas.”

Harry walked back towards the door, but he stopped when the proprietor spoke again. “Oh, and Mr. Potter? You have my thanks, even if much of the world is too blind to understand why.”

Stunned, Harry nodded. “You’re welcome, Mr. Banks,” he said quietly.
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