There had to be some sort of a mistake. He could not really be seeing what he thought he was; some sort of trickery was going on here — it had to be. Ginny wouldn’t do this. Hadn’t she said before that she could never do something like this, least of all with Dudley?
But she was. Harry was looking at the evidence right now. He’d seen that look on her face before — it was so distinctly Ginny that he knew it couldn’t be anyone else.
He could hear the ticking of the clock and new he had to do something: confront them or leave, but Harry felt like his feet had been glued to the floor. He would look away only to automatically turn his head back and stare at Ginny, his Ginny, in bed with his cousin!
With a sudden spasm he reached out and closed the door, but could still see the image of Ginny and Dudley as if there was no barrier between them.
With all the strength he could muster, Harry walked away from the door, intending on sitting down and waiting for them to — but this brought him back to the part of the flat where everything must have been initiated. Unbidden, he started to see how it must have begun: Ginny had been mad that he couldn’t make it home. She was probably ranting about how inconsiderate he was. Dudley would have taken the opportunity to enumerate his few appealing qualities. Obviously Ginny was in a state of mind to eat that up just like she’d bought everything else Dudley had said. They’d dipped into the mead. One thing led to another and then they were over on the sofa. He turned from the kitchen to the mussed up cushion.
Harry shook his head, trying to stop the running visualization, but a new image presented itself: a scene in which Ginny was lying on that sofa with Dudley instead of him. She was not only letting him touch her, she was enjoying it. He could hear her saying something she’d said often to him, that they should move somewhere more private. Dudley would have agreed straightaway, of course. Harry was biting his lip so hard he could taste blood.
He didn’t remember pulling it out, but suddenly Harry had his wand in his hand and had taken several steps toward Dudley’s room when he was again assaulted by this newest image of Ginny: she didn’t look like she was being forced into anything. It was quite the contrary, in fact.
This very thought stayed his step and Harry wasted another minute battling with himself over what he wanted to do.
He could see the door opening and Ginny emerging, arm around Dudley, both basking in the afterglow. The thought of seeing them coming out together, and like that, was too much for Harry. He turned and all but ran from the flat, slamming the door behind him and took the stairs two at a time.
It was still warm, even this late at night, but the cloud that had been hanging around all week had finally begun to divest itself of its moisture. Harry welcomed the rain as he set off down the street, unsure of where he was going, only certain that he needed to get as far away from home as he could.
He walked through crowds of people, knocking into some as he went, but not bothering to stop. More than one yelled at him as he passed without offering apologies. The rain quickly intensified, but Harry didn’t take much notice. He walked as quickly as he could with his head down and hands in his pockets. He wasn’t thinking about anything. He found it best just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Eventually he reached the Thames and couldn’t walk anymore. He stared down into the dark river, concentrating on the tapping noise the rain was making. Harry knew he couldn’t go home, and he couldn’t stay on the street all night, which left few options. In any other circumstance he wouldn’t have hesitated to drop by the Burrow, but Molly Weasley didn’t know when to leave things alone and he didn’t feel like fending off her constant demands for information, let alone consider telling her that her daughter was the reason he was there in the first place. Lupin and Tonks would be more than happy to take him in, but they had a small child now and he didn’t want to disturb them. Besides that, Tonks was hardly any better at not asking questions than Molly.
In the end Harry decided to go to Ron and Hermione’s. Hopefully they wouldn’t ask too many questions.
It was drizzling in Hogsmeade when he made his appearance. After assuring Tougas and Dawlish of who he was (being unable to produce a patronus at present) Harry didn’t so much knock on the door as bang on it. He heard a glass break and then the sound of feet hurrying to the door, along with muffled voices.
“It’s Harry,” he called.
More muffled speech and then the lock clicked and the door opened. Ron and Hermione stood side-by-side, wands held loosely at their sides. Seeing them together made him want to turn and leave.
“Mate, you’ve really got to choose better time . . . “ Ron stated but fell silent.
“Harry, what’s happened?” Hermione asked, taking his arm and pulling him in. “It isn’t anything to do with them coming here, is it?”
“Or Ginny. They didn’t do anything to her?” Ron questioned, looking anxious.
“No,” Harry replied shortly. “No, nothing like that. I just . . . sorry to drop in like this but . . . d’you think I could stay here tonight?” He couldn’t look at either of them as he asked the question, choosing instead to stare at the puddle he was creating on the floor.
They didn’t speak for a minute. Harry was sure they were exchanging a look, wondering what had happened.
“Of course. You’re always welcome here, but what’s wrong with your flat?” Hermione asked.
Harry forced himself to raise his head but said nothing.
“I think its best we don’t ask,” Ron said. “Why don’t you go make up the spare room?” He gave Hermione a little nudge, but kept his eyes locked with Harry’s.
Hermione made a noise like she was going to protest but decided against it. She disappeared up the stairs. Ron continued to watch Harry for a minute before walking over to a cupboard, pulling out two glasses and a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhisky. He poured a generous measure into one glass and handed it to Harry. He raised his own glass in a silent toast before downing it. Harry stared at his for a second longer before pouring it down his throat, welcoming the searing and burning sensation.
When the last ounce disappeared, Ron offered a refill but Harry shook his head. Ron took the glass and put it in the sink. That done, he turned and gave Harry a pat on the shoulder wearing an expression saying ‘it’ll all be OK.’ Harry looked away first.
Hermione was back shortly.
“D’you want some tea or something to eat?” she asked.
“No,” he replied quietly.
“OK . . . “ She and Ron exchanged another look, filled with concern. “Everything’s ready then. Come on.”
Hermione led him up the stairs and into the tiny bedroom they had set up for guests. It, like Ron and Hermione’s own room, offered a view of Hogwarts, barely discernible without the light of the moon.
“I’ve made everything up for you. Clean sheets and all,” Hermione said, somewhat nervously.
“Thanks.” Harry tried to smile, but he seemed to have forgotten how.
“What happened to make you come here?” she asked again. “Not that we don’t like having you, but . . . “
“Can this wait?” he asked, staring out the window. Hermione came to join him, putting a comforting hand on his back.
“Sure,” she said. “You’re soaked right through. Maybe I should get you some of Ron’s —“
“I’m fine,” Harry stated, shrugging her off. Hermione backed away.
“Well at least let me . . . “ She pointed her wand at Harry and a stream of hot air issued forth, drying his clothes.
“Thanks.” He felt the bottom of his shirt as though it belonged to someone else. He didn’t turn from the window to face Hermione.
“You’re welcome,” she said and he could hear her backing out of the room. “Goodnight, Harry.”
After staring out the window for some time Harry made his way over to the bed, knowing he needed to sleep, but doubting it would come. He kicked off his trainers and lay back, fully clothed. He’d been able to keep his mind blank for a while but as soon as he lay back the images started to play again and he couldn’t get them to stop, whether he opened or closed his eyes. He couldn’t tell te real from the imagined anymore.
Ginny and Dudley in bed together: kissing, touching and . . . other things. He ground his knuckles into his eyes to try and stop it but to no avail.
How could they — how could she? Harry wasn’t entirely surprised that Dudley would try something like this, but Ginny? After everything they’d been through? She’d just moved in. Perhaps her reasons weren’t what he thought they were. Maybe that hesitation in her voice when she talked about how things had changed had nothing to do with their relationship after all. This big conversation she wanted to have: was it some confession about how she’d been spending her time while he was working?
Swallowing the desire to shout and the urge to break something, Harry got up and started pacing around the room, trying to make sense out of what he had seen, but none came.
* * *
Ginny knew the minute Briony’s face appeared in the fire that Harry was yet again going to have to work. She debated about lying and saying that he wasn’t there but that would cause more harm than good. She watched as he got ready to leave again, trying to stem the bitter feelings that welled up. She knew he felt guilty but couldn’t help it.
Dudley made his appearance four hours after Harry left, when Ginny was busy cooking. He seemed rather happier than he had lately, asking where Harry had gone.
“Work,” she said, not looking at him. “He should be back for dinner though.”
“Doubt it,” Dudley muttered.
He faltered for a second and then smiled again. “He’s not been here a lot lately, has he? It doesn’t really take a genius to figure out he’ll probably miss tonight, too.”
There really wasn’t any arguing with that, though Ginny would never tell Dudley. This comment though, along with the way he kept looking at her was really making her regret inviting him to stay for dinner.
As seven o’clock approached with no word from Harry, Ginny began to hope that no news was good news. If he wasn’t able to make it he would have contacted her beforehand since he hadn’t maybe they were rounding up the last Death Eaters. When Harry Flooed she hoped it was to say he was on his way. Instead he was telling her he was going to be late again. Thereafter she didn’t have as much enthusiasm for cooking as she’d had all afternoon.
“Where’s Harry?” Dudley asked unconvincingly, coming into the kitchen a few minutes after the call. She could already see that he was feeling triumphant over having accurately predicted what would happen.
“Work,” she said, laying two plates on the table.
“He’s sure been working a lot lately,” he said. “Are you sure its actually work and not a ready made excuse. You did say it was that Briony who Flooed, right? D’you think maybe the two of them -”
“Harry wouldn’t do that, just like I never would,” Ginny stated. She wasn’t sure why she added the last part, except that it might come up.
“No, I know you wouldn’t. You’re too perfect for that. Harry’s been taking you for granted a lot lately. If I were him, I’d —“
“Don’t start,” Ginny said warningly.
Dudley stopped and then smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.”
“Try,” she replied tersely, turning back to the chicken she was coating.
“Sorry,” Dudley hovered for a minute. “D’you need a hand with anything? I’m loads better at magic now.”
Ginny decided to heed Harry’s warning and so accepted Dudley’s offer of help only to keep an eye on him. She needn’t have worried though, for he was on his best behaviour, laughing and joking with her.
By the time dinner was ready, Ginny was feeling quite relaxed and almost as happy as she would have been if Harry had been there.
“Oh no, the drinks,” she said, hastily getting up.
“I’ve got them.” Dudley made quite the production of getting the bottle.
“No alcohol for me,” she said when he brought out the mead. He looked slightly disappointed, but instead pulled out a Butterbeer. She’d never been concerned about it before, but now she had to be careful. The Butterbeer didn’t look like it had any alcohol though, so she nodded.
Dudley turned his back to her as he searched for a bottle opener, refusing Ginny’s offer to open it. Apparently his new magical abilities didn’t extend to bottle opening. She watched the empty fireplace while she waited, hoping to see Harry emerge.
Ginny took the open bottle and sipped it. She’d been steering clear of anything stronger than Gillywater for months. Butterbeer tasted better than she remembered.
“So,” Dudley said, sipping his own goblet of mead. “Harry still hasn’t figured out what’s wrong with you?”
“He’s got other things on his mind,” she said defensively, wishing she’d lied when Dudley had asked for confirmation earlier that morning. “Besides, until I tell him, I’ve decided to think that it’s not quite real.”
Dudley sipped his mead without saying anything. Ginny took that time to swig some more of her own drink and to eat a mouthful of food. The idea of how Harry was going to react was starting to make her feel a little queasy and she pushed away her plate, taking another swig of her drink, noticing how her hands were shaking. She was really going to do it. She was going to tell Harry about something that was going to change their lives.
Her hands were shaking so bad now that she spilled a good portion of her drink on herself and the table, dropping the bottle right into the pool of Butterbeer.
“Oh no,” she said, feeling a little jittery as she raised her wand to clean the mess. It fell out of her hand as well.
“Are you OK?” Dudley asked, watching her with concern as she bent to retrieve her wand.
“Y- yeah. I just think I need to lie down,” she said, standing up with heavy support from the table. If the sofa had been any farther away she might not have made it. A leaden feeling was seeping into her limbs and her eyes were closed more often than they were open.
She must have dozed off and slept right through Harry’s arrival because the next thing she knew he was leaning over her and asking if she was OK.
“Fine,” she said running a hand through his hair. “Just glad you’re back.”
He smiled broadly at her, and she was sure that meant they’d been successful. She still felt really woozy and so her attempts to sit up failed, but he leaned down and kissed her.
She was surprised he didn’t bring up anything about their talk, but he seemed more concerned with kissing her and letting his hands explore her body. It felt weird, like the Butterbeer had affected her nerves or something. Being touched like this usually excited her, but now . . .
“I want you, Ginny,” he said, his hand sliding under her shirt. She shivered.
“Not here,” she replied. “More private.”
He looked confused for a second before he smiled again, picked her up and raced into the bedroom.
Even there she still felt strange. It wasn’t a feeling she could pin down, just this time with Harry it was different. She had to close her eyes and look away, thinking about other times they’d been together. She’d never had to do that either. He always insisted she keep her eyes open until the very end.
When it was over he rolled away muttering, ‘so bloody good.”
She must have misheard though, Harry had never said that in all the times they’d been together.
Still woozy and feeling like her limbs were full of lead, Ginny allowed herself to drift off to sleep. When she woke it was dark and she could hear Harry breathing beside her. She reached out to touch his hair, the best way to wake him by far. It wasn’t Harry’s messy mop that she felt, but rather short and slick hair. She withdrew her hand quickly and reached over to turn on the lamp, but it wasn’t there. She looked around in the pitch dark, trying to find her bearings. She hadn’t been that out of it, had she?
A light snapped on and Ginny, after taking a second to adjust, saw she wasn’t in her room at all.
“Hi, Ginny.” A clammy hand reached out and touched her cheek. Immediately her eyes turned in the direction of the voice and she saw, not Harry, but a naked Dudley. Emitting a soft cry, he scrambled out of his reach and fell out of the bed, only then noting that she, too, was devoid of clothing.
“No,” she said softly, shaking her head as she picked up her panties and bra, beginning to suspect what had happened. “No, no, no.”
She crouched as low down as she could, hiding her nakedness as she searched for her clothes.
“D’you want a hand?” Dudley asked, leaning on his elbow and watching her with an amused expression.
“Stay the hell away from me,” she said, having found her two remaining garments, one of which contained her wand. She kept it trained on him, trying to keep it steady as she bunched her clothes to cover her and backed out of the room.
The bathroom was closer so she locked herself in, dropping her clothes immediately as though they were contaminated. She could hear Dudley moving around in the other room. Once before he’d made it in when she had locked the door. Her hands were shaking so much that it took three attempts to cast the Imperturbable Charm she hoped would keep Dudley out.
She stopped at the mirror and looked at herself. How had this happened? One minute she was with Harry and the next . . . She had been with Harry, hadn’t she?
Foggy, disconnected images came back to her and as they did one thing came to her clearly: things had felt different because they were. She couldn’t explain how she had been seeing Harry when in reality it was Dudley. She should have known something was wrong, though. It had felt different. And, Harry had never called her Ginny in those intimate moments.
She barely made it to the toilet before the meager dinner she should have shared with Harry came up along with the rest of her stomach contents. It took a long time for Ginny to regain enough breath to sit up. She was sweaty and clammy, yet shivery and worse yet, she couldn’t stop seeing those foggy, fragmented images. It was making her skin crawl.
Clutching her wand tightly Ginny turned on the shower as hot as she could stand it and stepped in. She frantically scrubbed herself, hoping that once she was clean it would help get the pictures from her mind, but it did not. Instead, she rubbed her skin raw, which still did not help. The harder she scrubbed the more ingrained everything seemed to be. She only stopped when her skin began to bleed.
Ginny peered around the curtain, her wand at the ready, but the door was still shut. She looked down at the clothes she had dropped on entering. Tentatively she reached out to put them on, but dropped them at once. She stared for a full minute before scooping them up, throwing them into the tub.
“Incendio,” she said, watching the flames lick the clothes, wrapping herself in Harry’s bathrobe as she did so.
The flames had gone out by the time she had the nerve to step into the hall. With one hand clutching the bathrobe close to her and the other holding so tightly to her wand that her fingers ached, she stepped out. Her senses were heightened as she relinquished her sanctuary.
Dudley’s bedroom door was open, the bed empty. Realizing that her back was exposed, she spun around, wand ahead of her.
There was no one there.
Slowly she advanced into the sitting room and found it and the kitchen empty as well, but this is where things had started.
Ginny retreated at once into the bedroom she shared with Harry. She locked the door and placed the same Imperturbable Charm around it. Keeping her wand near her, she curled up into a ball, trying to stop herself from shivering.
The rain was starting to ease now. Ginny looked at the clock.
Where was Harry?
She clutched the robe closer to her, shutting her eyes tight. Nothing would be all right until Harry came back safely.
A sudden thought occurred to Ginny. What if Harry had already been back? What if he’d seen something and misunderstood?
“No,” she said in a croaky voice, clutching the pillow. It couldn’t be. Harry would never believe she’d done this willingly, not after everything they’d been through together.
What if he had though? What if he had seen something, and then run off to do something stupid?