Winky understands love. She understands giving your all, devoting your whole being to someone else. She understands that love hurts, that it pinches and tears and burns and kicks you when you’re down. Yes, she understands what love looks like and, more than anything, what life looks like when love is gone.
Which is why Valentine’s Day at Hogwarts never fails to puzzle her. Singing cupids and candy hearts, what these have to do with love is one thing she doesn’t understand. Perhaps she is a cynic, perhaps the Crouches’’ rejection left something in her broken beyond repair. But every young couple that passes her by twists something deep in her gut, and she finds herself dreading the day every year when February looms.
This year is no different than the last, or the one before that. It’s been years since Voldemort’s defeat, and the castle has returned to a fragile equilibrium. The students walking the halls hand-in-hand today have eyes unclouded by the fear that haunts Winky’s dreams, and maybe that more than anything is what motivates her scorn. Not knowing war, not knowing death, not knowing fear or pain, how can they know love?
Winky is old enough now that they have her on light duty, her afternoons free to do with what she will. So it’s only a short time after noon when she steps out of the kitchens, her feet leading her almost without thought down the side alleys and small passageways of the school. Today of all days she wants to avoid the crowded halls and bustling chambers.
Until, that is, a familiar voice catches her ear — what is he doing here? Last she heard, he was rooting out rogue wizards in the far north — or was it subduing vampire colonies in Romania? She isn’t really sure; after all, Winky likes to think she has better things to do with her time than try to track the whereabouts of an aging Harry Potter.
But when she hears his voice in Hogwarts of all places, she gives in to her curiosity without a second thought. Stepping into the shadow, she waits as Harry wanders around the corner, his voice bright with laughter.
“Oh, come on, Ginny, I did tell you that you would be surprised.”
“Surprised doesn’t even begin to cover it! What are we doing here?” Harry has his wife’s hand in his own, and Ginny, for all her eye-rolling, seems amused.
“We’re dropping in for a visit. What do you think we’re doing?” Harry responds breezily.
Ginny meets this comment with another eye-roll. “A visit? Since when is that allowed?”
Her bemusement doesn’t appear to deter Harry in the slightest, Winky notices; if anything, his smile grows wider. “I didn’t know you were such a rule-follower, Ginny.”
“Oh, you know perfectly well what I mean. WE could hardly be here if McGonagall didn’t want us to be.” Harry’s face sobers as she speaks, and he stops in the middle of the hall. Winky doesn’t understand what could have caused the sudden change in him, and neither does Ginny, if her face is anything to judge by. “Harry?”
“It’s just — it’s been twenty years that he’s gone now, Ginny.” As soon as he says it, Winky realizes it’s true. She wonders when she stopped counting, when she stopped living with that internal clock beating its rhythm in the back of her brain. “It’s been twenty years, and I’ve been — I can’t help but think about them. All the ones that didn’t make it through, and I just thought maybe I needed to come back, you know?
A heavy silence settles in the hall, and Winky begins to regret her eavesdropping. Some things, she thinks, are not meant to be overheard. She’s just beginning to wonder if she can leave without being noticed when Ginny speaks again.
“I know.” She takes a deep breath. “You know, Fred’s favorite day was Valentine’s Day.” Harry snorts, and Winky isn’t sure if the noise he makes is a laugh or a sob or maybe something in between. “It was, I’m serious. He thought it was absurd, of course, but maybe that’s why he loved it. He once told me that love was like candy floss: it’s saccharine sweet, and it gets stuck in your teeth, and maybe it’s not actually very good or you. But maybe we need it anyways.”
Winky doesn’t stick around to hear Harry’s reply; it’s clear she’s stuck around too long as it is. But she worries that thought over the rest of the day, rolling it back and forth in her brain. Love is like candy floss. What a strange thing to say. Winky can’t understand it. But then again, maybe Winky’s never really understood love at all.