CT: Chapter Six: Arthur’s Advice

Technically speaking Tougas was still Harry’s supervisor but they had fewer one-on-one interactions now that Harry was part of the task force. In fact, they barely saw each other. Harry suspected that Moody had something to do with this, as he tended to keep the pair of them as far apart as possible during meetings. Whatever the case, Harry was glad that he didn’t have to spend his days listening to Tougas’s nonsense. Instead he was spending his time bleary eyed as he read the never-ending pile of reports that had been gathered on the case. Even life on the illustrious task force didn’t live up to the exciting image Harry had of what an Auror did. More than once, as he read late into the night, he thought that Hermione would have been well suited to be an Auror after all; but she preferred her job, knee deep in regulations for magical creatures. She still harbored the desire to take S.P.E.W. further.

Briony had been a huge help on the case. Harry really didn’t know where he would be without her. She knew more about the case than any of the Aurors. She read every new brief that came in the minute it had, and had worked out the most efficient filing system imaginable. She also seemed to have taken it upon herself to make sure Harry was up to date. He appreciated this, but was getting extremely tired of Tougas’s comments. So were the other members of the task force. Over the previous days several of them had told him to put a sock in it.

Rubbing his tired eyes, Harry leaned back in his chair. His vision was so blurred that he didn’t think he’d be able to read another word anyway. A break was just what he needed to recall the pleasant event of Tougas being called out on his behaviour.

“Here you go.”

Harry nearly fell out of his chair as Briony’s voice broke the silence. The two front legs crashed to the ground jarringly. As he attempted to stabilize himself, Harry knocked down a scroll of parchment.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said, handing him a cup of coffee. “I just thought you could use this.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Harry took the cup as he unrolled the scroll and prepared to continue reading. It wasn’t his document after all. It contained the insignia of the Department of Mysteries. “Oh, I think this got mixed in with our papers accidentally.”

“Oh that’s mine,” Briony said quickly, snatching the parchment from his hands. She had a distinctly guilty look on her face. Harry looked at her quizzically.

“What are you doing with an Unspeakable’s report?” he asked suspiciously.

“Nothing. Just . . . research.” She would not look at him. While this was not an uncommon reaction for Briony to have while she was in his presence, there seemed to be something different about this. A guilty reaction perhaps?

“What sort of research?” Harry asked, crossing his arms. As far as he knew they weren’t following any leads that could take them to an Unspeakable. And, whatever the situation, brilliant as she was with the case, Briony was not an Auror.

She glanced around wildly, as though she was looking for something to answer her question. Harry watched her do this. He wasn’t going to make any suggestions that could help her in formulating a lie. After an extensive ten seconds, she glanced around one last time, sighed and then leaned in a little closer.

“OK. It’s not official research. I’ll tell you, but can you keep this to yourself. If anyone knew . . . especially Bredan or Moody —“ She shuddered. “ — they’d go ballistic.”

Harry shrugged noncommittally. He wasn’t going to agree to keep anything quiet for her until he had a better idea of what it was. He’d been in too many situations where he’d agreed to something and then it turned out for the worse. Several of Hagrid’s ‘pets’ came to mind.

This was good enough for Briony though. She pulled up a chair and sat down very close to Harry.

“I have a friend who is an Unspeakable. She’s the one who has been getting me this information. After reading the reports from Brazill on what they found at the Thompson abductions I began to wonder . . . My friend, the Unspeakable, had told me that their current research is focusing around emotion. Now that You-Know-Who is gone —“ She stopped here and gave Harry a shy, appreciating smile “ — they’re very interested in fear.”

“Yeah?” Harry asked, leaning back again, his arms crossed. He couldn’t prove it, knowing so little about what the Unspeakables got up to in the Department of Mysteries, but this seemed a little far-fetched. “What are they hoping to learn by studying fear?”

“Oh, all sorts,” Briony said evasively. “How people deal with it, what causes it, the chemical reactions in the body, how it affects magic.”

“What have they learned?”

“I don’t know,” Briony looked confused for a moment and her eyes seemed to lose focus. “This is the first report she’s given me . . . “ She started to read with her brow furrowed. After reaching the end she put it down, looking disappointed. “I think she’s told me all this already. Oh well . . . back to official work, I guess. It’s going to be another long night, I see.”

“Yeah. I — oh, damn.” Harry looked down at his watch and immediately jumped to his feet. He was supposed to have been at the Burrow an hour and twenty minutes ago. Ginny was going to be livid having specifically told him that morning not to be late again. In his haste to get up, Harry knocked over the untouched cup of coffee, right onto the largest pile of parchment stacked on his desk. “Damn,” he said again, checking his watch. This was the last thing he needed now.

“Just go, I’ll deal with it,” Briony replied, sounding much more relaxed. She actually smiled at him.

“Thanks,” Harry called, already halfway down the aisle.

Mere seconds later he was standing in the dark back garden at the Burrow. The house was lit up, and he thought he could hear laughter inside. Maybe that was a good sign. If Ginny were one of the ones laughing maybe she wouldn’t flay him for being late. One could only hope.

Keeping his fingers crossed, Harry entered the kitchen. It was completely empty. The dishes washing themselves in the sink were the only evidence that people had been here recently. He also discovered that he had been right. There were loud bursts of laughter coming from the sitting room. It sounded like a celebration was going on. He started towards the room to determine what had caused such a cheery environment.

“’Arry?”

Coming out of the sitting room was none other than Gabrielle Delacour, smiling coquettishly.

“Er . . . hi, Gabrielle,” he said uncomfortably. Of late she’d taken to acting like this in his presence. It had led to a great deal of awkwardness. Bearing this in mind, Harry started to lengthen his stride, in an attempt to make it to the sitting room where there were other people. She swooped down upon him though before he could accomplish this and planted a kiss on either cheek.

“Eet ‘as been too long, ‘Arry.” She didn’t remove her hands from their original position when she had kissed him.

“Gabrielle, arrêt.” Fleur said, sounding angry. Her sister backed away form Harry as they both turned to look at her. Harry felt his heart rate increase. Fleur was not alone — Ginny was there with her and they each had a sleepy toddler in their arms.

Ginny did look absolutely livid. She glanced from Gabrielle to Harry, raised an eyebrow and then swept up the stairs. Harry started to follow but Fleur stopped him.

“Eef I were you, ‘Arry. I would not go up zere. Let me talk with ‘er first. Oui?” She waited for Harry to nod and then turned back to her sister. “Attendez-moi ici. Ne bouger pas.”

The sitting room was full again. Every Weasley, minus Charlie, was crammed into the room, along with Hermione, Lupin and Tonks. Everyone was sitting except for Remus Lupin who was standing up, glass in hand, and swaying precariously. As all attention seemed to be focused on him, Harry guessed he was the reason for all the laughter but he couldn’t imagine what could be that funny.

“Harry.” Lupin called jovially stumbling over to the door where Harry was standing. He barely managed to retain his balance. He might not have made it if Harry wasn’t there. “Good to see you, mate.” He flung his arm around Harry’s shoulder, raising his half-full glass of FIrewhiskey. “We’re having a celebration here. I’m going to be a father.”

“You’re what?” Harry asked as he helped to steady the older man.

“I’m pregnant,” Tonks replied. She was watching her husband with mixed amusement and worry.

“You’re pregnant?” Harry asked, to make sure he had heard correctly. Tonks nodded and a broad smile spread across her face, illuminating it. “I found out last week, but because of the full moon . . . “

“Oh, wow. Well, congratulations.” Harry clapped Remus on the back, causing the man’s knees to buckle. It was only by grabbing the back of Remus’s blazer that Harry was able to prevent him hitting the ground. This didn’t seem to faze him at all. He slung his arm around Harry’s shoulders again, holding his glass loosely.

“Congratulations are in order, indeed.” Arthur spoke up raising his own glass. “I’m sure you will both make your son or daughter proud.”

“Yessir.” Remus downed the remainder of his drink. He smiled comically for a minute then his expression faltered and his look of glee turned to a look of worry. “I’m going to be a father,” he responded weakly. He turned to look at Harry, grabbing a fistful of Harry’s robes. “I’m going to be a father?” He sounded panicked. Harry nodded, not knowing what else to do. Without another peep Lupin slumped to the floor.

“Remus?” Tonks called, rushing over. The others quickly followed suit.

“He’s just unconscious,” Harry told them, straightening up after checking Lupin’s pulse. He and Ron lifted Remus onto the couch, Tonks trailing closely behind.

“I can’t believe he fainted,” she said, again sounding both amused and concerned.

“I think passed out is more like,” George said, pocketing a galleon Fred had just handed him. “He did drink about half a bottle of Firewhiskey.”

“Yeah. If only he could have held out one more glass,” Fred replied, sounding disappointed.

“Fred, George,” Molly warned.

“I think he held up remarkably well,” Arthur piped up. “A lot better than I did when Molly first told me she was pregnant with Bill. I think I was gone after half a glass.”

“Lightweight,” Fred murmured, standing next to Harry.

“And he didn’t even drink it.” Bill clapped his father on the shoulder affectionately. “You and Remus are both a bunch of softies. I can’t believe I’m the only one here who didn’t lose consciousness when my wife told me she was pregnant.” His smug grin was short-lived as a loud throat clearing announced Ginny’s return.

“You may have remained conscious,” she said. “but you’re the only one who required medical attention.”

The entire room laughed.

“How was I to know it was a trick broom?” Bill shrugged. He didn’t seem at all embarrassed over the spectacular crash he had taken when trying to let off his glee about Fleur’s pregnancy by doing a loop-the-loop. Never much of a flyer, he’d rammed headlong into a large birch tree and suffered a rather severe concussion.

“And Bill was just the first. We still have Charlie, Percy, Fred, George and Ron here,” Arthur patted his youngest son on the back. Ron let out a little splutter. “That should be worth a few laughs, don’t you think, Harry?”

“Oh, I . . . dunno.” Harry had been watching Ginny, who was doing her utmost to avoid looking at him and hadn’t been listening at all. She was obviously still furious with him.

“If her reaction is to be held as any indication, we know one bloke who’s not going to have to worry about that for a long time,” Fred said. He and George exchanged evil grins before clapping Harry on the back and walking away. He took George’s empty chair next to Ron and listened to Percy lecturing Ron and Arthur on the latest happenings in International Law. It was quite as boring as his old lectures on Cauldron thickness had been.

“Intriguing,” Arthur said after a time. “I can’t imagine that Kingsley will go for that though. Much as we want to crack down on dark wizards entering this country, it would take away too many liberties of the law abiding citizens.”

“I don’t know. I think we have a pretty convincing argument, father,” Percy retorted. “If it’s true that Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy aren’t even in the country most of the time . . . With new restrictions on Apparition it would make it easier to catch them.”

“Where are you getting this information?” Harry asked. “Because none of the reports I’ve read mention anything about them being abroad.”

Percy looked affronted that he was being contradicted. “Is that really your concern?” he asked finally, apparently not able to come up with anything else.

“Yes,” Harry, Ron and Arthur all responded, making him recoil.

“He’s part of the team that’s trying to capture them, dolt,” Ron stated angrily.

“I just want to know where this is coming from. If we haven’t heard of it and there’s any validity to what you’re hearing, we might be able to get them.” Harry wanted to convey to Percy that he wasn’t giving him the third degree. For all the good it did though, he might as well not have said anything. Percy was still glaring.

“I heard it from a colleague. Will that suffice?”

“What’s their name?” Harry demanded, his voice rising as his annoyance with Percy started to increase. Again Percy took his time answering, finally doing so only after first looking at the impatient look Arthur was giving him.

“Mafalda, OK. Mafalda Hopkirk. She said she heard from a friend who knows someone on the task force who said this was true.”

Harry leaned back in his chair, sighed and took off his glasses, rubbing his tired eyes. Information filtered through that many people was probably useless. It was still interesting that Percy was hearing this though. They were not supposed to be discussing the case outside of the task force meetings. Who could possibly have mentioned something that would get passed down to someone in International Law? If they had a leak . . . It was something to bring up at the next meeting for sure.

“Speaking of the task force, how’s it going?” Arthur asked. “Is Alastor a slave driver?”

“No. He’s a lot more tolerable than Tougas,” Harry admitted. “I don’t see him more than once a day though.”

“Yes, he told me that you’re neck deep in research right now,” Arthur smiled sympathetically. “Briony’s got to be a big help there.”

“Briony?” Ron and Percy both looked at Harry suspiciously. He, however, recalled that he had been meaning to speak with Arthur for weeks about her. She seemed decent enough, but four years in the real world had made him a little wary about trusting people. A second opinion was always well worth it, especially from someone who had worked with her for close to two years.

Ignoring Ron and Percy’s continued stares, Harry broached his question.

“She has been helpful, but do you think she’s really . . . trustworthy?”

“Why, Harry? Has she done something to make you question her?” Arthur asked.

“No. Well . . . “ He thought about this evening, but decided he’d hold off on those details for now. “No, I don’t think so. I just don’t know what to think of her. She seems shy half the time, but then the other times she’s a little too inquisitive, you know?”

“I think there’s a completely innocent reason for that.” Arthur was smiling. “I think she’s a little smitten with you, Harry.”

Harry groaned. This was the very last thing he needed.

“I just thought she was shy,” he said dispiritedly.

“Well, she is that, too. She tended to keep to herself when she was in my department. She did take rather a lot of ribbing after your visit the day you came to get your Apparition test.” Arthur stopped for a minute and a small smile played across his face. “I think that she’s had a hard time of things. Being related to Dolores Umbridge —“

“Ew,” Ron said, looking at Harry apologetically. “You’ve got to work with Umbridge’s relative?”

Harry waived away Ron’s comment, waiting to hear the rest of what Arthur had to say.

“ — Being related to Dolores Umbridge hasn’t been easy for her. She’s not like her aunt, Ron. In fact, if I hadn’t happened to hear her talking about it I would never have known. I think the only concern you should have, Harry, is that she has a rather close friendship with Bredan Tougas. They spend rather a lot of time together.”

“I noticed that,” Harry said. He didn’t hold it against Briony, although he did wonder how she could spend time with that moron. Arthur’s words did make him feel a lot better though. He’d never led Harry wrong with his advice before. “She’s actually been a lifesaver. I don’t know how I would have got through the last few weeks without her. She knows the case better than anyone else on the task force.”

“And you were with her tonight? No wonder Ginny’s so pissed,” Ron said.

“Well, actually . . . “ Harry strained his memory to recall if he had even mentioned Briony to Ginny. He couldn’t recall doing so. “I don’t think I’ve mentioned her.” He wondered if he should not have said this to two of her brothers and her father. “It just, you know, never came up.”

Ron drew in a contemplative breath, Percy scowled worse than ever, and Arthur was staring intently at Harry making him wish that he had kept his mouth shut after all.

“I — I didn’t think it was a big deal. I mean, we’re just working together,” he said quickly, keen on dispelling any ideas that might have been occurring to them. “I wasn’t trying to hide anything from her — there’s nothing to hide in the first place.”

“Are you expecting us to believe that after working extremely long hours with this girl, it never once came up in your conversations with my sister?” Percy asked.

“Yes. To be fair, we haven’t seen each other much lately anyway.” This statement, intended to make things better, actually made them worse, at least in terms of Percy’s reaction. Arthur, perhaps seeing Harry blunder his way through this conversation, was trying to conceal a smile. Ron looked uncertain.

“Come with me,” he said standing up and heading into the kitchen. Harry followed.

Fleur and Gabrielle were still there, conversing heatedly in French. Ron barely spared them a glance as he kept his pace right outside into the chill February air. Once the door had closed he turned to face Harry.

“So what’s going on?” he demanded.

“Nothing, Ron. Like I said —“

“I know what you said, Harry. I was there. I also know that you and Ginny have been touchy for ages. It seems pretty coincidental that you’re spending all this time with some other girl and conveniently you’ve forgotten to mention it. It seems kind of fishy if you ask me.”

“It isn’t,” Harry said responding with a forced calm, quite unlike the building fury in Ron’s voice.

“You sure? Because if you’re doing anything that will hurt her — I swear- best mate or not —“

“Look, I’ll go in there and tell her about Briony right this second —“

“That won’t be necessary.”

Both Harry and Ron turned to see Ginny come outside. The look she was currently fixing Harry with made him feel colder than the chilly evening had done. “I’ll take it from here, Ron.”

Ron didn’t protest at all as he turned and reentered the house. Harry dearly wished he was following.

“So . . . “ he said, “I guess you heard that . . . about Briony I mean.”

Ginny said nothing.

“It really isn’t anything to be concerned about, Gin. Like I told Ron, it just never entered my mind. Its not like we’ve spent loads of time discussing work lately anyway.”

Still Ginny said nothing. She had turned her back and was staring over at the frozen garden. Harry watched her at it for some time before he had another go at getting her to speak to him.

“With work taking up so much time lately I haven’t been thinking about anything other than this damned case.”

Ginny continued to stare in the opposite direction, but she seemed to still be quite angry. Harry tentatively reached out and touched her shoulder, hoping she would turn around and look at him. It was so much easier to gauge her fury when he could see her expression. She did turn around but before he could so much as register her expression she had a vice-like grip on his arm and had twisted them both into blackness.

* * *

In the angry state she was in, Ginny felt it was lucky se hadn’t splinched herself or Harry. They landed hard in the dark alley just outside his flat. As soon as she got her bearings she marched off briskly. If they didn’t get someplace where they could talk she just might explode.

Harry kept step with her all the way. Once they were in the flat he threw his wand on the table, then he turned to watch her with a fearful and expectant look in his eyes. Ordinarily this would have amused her but today Ginny was much too angry.

“So,” she said in a voice of forced calm, folding her arms across her chest. “You were so eager to explain a few minutes ago, now here’s your chance.”

Harry launched into a long explanation riddled with apologies regarding his supposed oversight about this Briony person. Nothing he was saying calmed her at all. It had never been like Harry to forget things this important. Perhaps Percy’s suspicions were bang on. Having this thought made Ginny want to use her wand but she restrained herself. She listened with growing impatience.

“She’s friends with Tougas,” Harry said as if that settled the matter. “Combine that with the fact she’s related to Umbrige — even if you and I weren’t together . . . “ Harry trailed of with a small shudder.

“And Gabrielle? You two looked rather cozy.”

“I . . . wh — Gin, she’s fifteen,” Harry said indignantly. “I can’t believe you could even think that I would . . . she’s just a kid.”

“I don’t know what to think lately. For all I know you’ve got a wife and kid on the mainland.” She said it out of anger, but it was perfectly true. Over the last month in particular, ever since he had started on that stupid task force, Harry had been around less and less, and even when he was physically there he was buried in work — in itself an odd occurrence. This was starting to annoy her to no end. Six months ago Ginny would have never believed she could ever be suspicious of Harry.

“You’re one to talk,” he shot back. “You’ve been stomping around here for months now, insisting everything’s fine. Yet every time someone’s looked at you funny you’ve either run off or started yelling at us. What’s up with that then?”

Ginny should have known he was going to bring up that stupid attempt at asking her to move in. He had said he understood when they talked but apparently he had not. She supposed she shouldn’t be all that surprised given how he didn’t seem to understand the simple fact of why she’d been so frustrated lately. She rolled her eyes.

“If you’d been spending more time here than with Briony —“ she put particular emphasis on this name, feeling the sneer in her voice “- maybe you would have figured that out on your own.”

“I’ve been trying,” Harry said, frustration evident in his voice as well. “But you get like this every time I try to talk to you.”

“Like what exactly?” She narrowed here eyes, not at all liking the tone Harry was taking.

“All defensive — why won’t you just tell me what’s wrong?”

“You, you, you. Why is it always about you? There are two of us in this relationship, you know. Or have you forgotten that, caught up as you are with all your fan girls like Briony. Maybe the papers have it backwards. I’m not the one all about town — you are.’”

“I don’t think of you like that,” Harry said softly, sounding hurt, ignoring the rest of her comment.

“Oh, but wait, I forgot . . . I’m not really your girlfriend anyway. I guess I shouldn’t let this all bother me.” Recalling the accusations that had been floating around over the last few months did nothing to assuage her anger.

“Rita Skeeter again, Gin?” Harry asked exasperatedly. “I thought you were over that.”

“I am,” she said defiantly.

“Doesn’t sound like it. This is exactly the sort of behaviour that I was talking about before. You never used to be like this. Its almost as odd as you and Dudley —“

“Me and Dudley?”

“Yeah. Why, after so many years of complaints about him, did you suddenly force him down my throat?” Ginny thought, judging by the speed with which he asked the question, that Harry had been wanting to ask it for some time.

“I don’t see you complaining.”

How many times was he going to drone on about this? She’d told him numerous times that she just thought Harry should take some time to get to know his cousin before it was too late. If they were going to hate each other so be it; however she was not going to allow them to go on loathing each other on principle alone. She’d clearly made the right decision. Over the last month Harry and Dudley had been getting on quite well. So much so that Harry had even agreed to let Dudley stay on as his flatmate for the foreseeable future.

“You were right about that,” Harry conceded, “but you can’t tell me you foresaw it.”

“It doesn’t take unparalleled genius to realize that making negative assumptions about each other doesn’t make for a healthy relationship.”

Harry folded his arms and stared at the floor in silence. He had lost the ability to verbalize his thoughts. In a happier time this would have amused Ginny greatly, now it just made her want to hex him. Instead she stood there, impatiently tapping her foot, waiting for him to regain his use of speech. When he did he only dug himself a deeper hole.

“Is there something with you today?” Harry asked again. “Is it -?”

“Is it what?” She fired the question at him, and watched him recoil, feeling little emotion.

“Nothing — never mind — forget it.” Ginny had an idea of what he might have wanted to ask.

“What were you going to ask? Whether it was that time of the month?” The way he shifted uncomfortably told her she was not far off the mark. “Merlin, Harry . . . why is it that both you and my brothers think that every time a woman is angry it is because of feminine problems?”

“So what is it? You can’t really expect me to believe you’re angry about a coworker and Gabrielle Delacour, Gin. We both know this goes back months.”

“You’re right. I’m not mad about them, just about the fact that you’ve been lying to me about them for who knows how long.”

“I haven’t been . . .” Harry started to say through clenched teeth. “And anyway, you’re the one who keeps saying you’re fine only to blow up again.” He watched her closely for a time, obviously coming to his own conclusions about what was bothering her. She watched him at it, seeing his thoughts displayed in his facial expression long before Harry said anything. Nevertheless, she liked them no more when he actually spoke his words. “Maybe those stories aren’t as far —fetched as I thought them. Did Rita Skeeter really have a clue? Are you really out there with other blokes?” From the way he was speaking, Ginny registered that he wanted an answer to the question about as much as she did about that Briony person. The fact he was even considering the idea based on information he got from Rita Skeeter though . . . that was intolerable. She reacted instinctively, punching him hard in the arm.

“Git,” she said angrily before leaving the flat completely. It would be very dangerous for her to stay — dangerous for Harry that was.

It hadn’t been that long since she’d left home with Harry, but it seemed that the party had ended. The Burrow was completely silent with only a small light shining from the kitchen window. There was no one in the kitchen when Ginny entered. She was both relieved and annoyed at this. She didn’t have anyone she could vent to. Then again anyone here that she could talk to had likely heard it all before. She found relief overwhelming her. She’d have some time to think things over.

Still feeling the blood pounding in her temples, Ginny stood at the window facing the back yard, thinking. She really didn’t want to believe that Harry was doing the sorts of things that Percy thought he was. Before today it had been something to laugh at, despite Rita Skeeter’s published rubbish. But it had never been like Harry to keep things from her. This was a most unwelcome turn of events, to put it mildly.

“Ginny? What are you doing here?”

“Hi, dad,” she said, turning away from the window for the first time. Her father was standing at the bottom of the stairs in his dressing gown.

“We thought you were staying at Harry’s tonight.”

“Not bloody likely,” she muttered, not meeting her father’s eyes as they opened wide at her words.

“Something troubling you, Ginny? Are you and Harry having a row?”

“Yes.” She said it louder than she had meant to, thinking about the conversation she’d just had with Harry and feeling her anger start to rise again.

“Ah. Would you like to talk about it?”

“No,” she said stubbornly and resumed pacing. Ginny saw her father continue to watch her for a few seconds and then he proceeded to the cupboard, grabbed several cups and began to make tea, asking Ginny if she wanted one, which she refused. As Arthur made to leave the room Ginny suddenly burst out, “you know, it wouldn’t be so bad if he would just stop acting like he doesn’t know what’s wrong. I mean . . . who wouldn’t have a problem with their boyfriend spending all this time with other girls?”

“Very few, I’d imagine,” Arthur said quietly. He looked down at his tea. “Are you sure that’s all that’s bothering you, sweetie?”

“Is that all — isn’t that enough?” Ginny asked furiously. “Dad, he’s never done this before. He’s never kept anything from me. Well . . . “ She trailed off, recalling that her statement was not entirely true. Harry had, of course, kept the truth about hunting down Hrocruxes from her for a long time. But there was a huge difference between what he had done then and this situation. With Voldemort it had been a matter of life and death. “He’s been lying to me about this Briony girl. If there was really nothing to hide, why would he do that?”

Arthur let out a soft laugh, causing Ginny to stop pacing and stare at her father. He found this funny? Realizing his mistake, her father stopped laughing and stared down into his cup as he spoke.

“It is distressing that he has been keeping things from you. But you’ve been upset with him for a long time already. This cannot stem all from the last four weeks, or be all about a girl you have no reason to worry about.”

“I thought you were supposed to be on my side.” Ginny was still fixing her father with an angry expression. So much for support!

“I am, but . . . you do tend to be like your mother, sweetie, shooting first and asking questions later.” He smiled at her and gestured for them to both sit down. At first Ginny thought of refusing, but she gave in and took the chair across the table. She watched her father for a moment as he took a sip of his tea and then examined his hands. He looked like he was thinking of how best to phrase his words. He looked around the kitchen wistfully.

“It seems like just yesterday that your mother and I were moving in here with Bill and Charlie. They were just toddlers then. And now look.” He smiled weakly. “Forgive me for sounding like your mother here, but you all grew up so fast.”

“Not from where I’m sitting,” she responded dully, not feeling up to taking a stroll down memory lane with her father.

“No. I suppose time does tend to travel much slower when you’re young.” Arthur gazed out the dark window, recalling something that he did not vocalize. Ginny watched him, her impatience increasing. She very much wanted to tell him to get on with it, but held her tongue. It was a rare thing for her father to reflect on their childhood. When he did she and her brothers had learned long ago that it was generally much quicker to let him go at his own pace than to try hurrying him along.

“You, most of all, seemed to grow up far too fast. I think that had a lot to do with being the youngest. You always wanted to do what your brothers were doing.” He paused again and sipped some more tea in silent contemplation, the corners of his mouth upturned though the amusement did not reach his eyes. “I think that Harry had a lot to do with it, too. And I’m not just talking about these last five years.”

Again Ginny thought of interrupting, but know that anything she’d say would cause her anger to increase. Given her father’s current reflective state she once again was able to reign in her fit of fury, shrugging noncommittally instead.

“Can you tolerate the ramblings of your old dad a little longer, Ginny?” he asked quietly, sounding more serious than was customary.

“Yeah, I suppose,” she responded. It was only under the gravest situations that she had seen her father with such a serious face.

“Promise you won’t explode? I don’t think I’m quite as brave as Harry when it comes to your temper.” Again his smile was only cursory.

Ginny nodded, not able to return her father’s smile this time.

“I don’t think your childhood could have passed any faster if Molly and I used a time turner. One day you were this tiny little bundle of blankets, and the next you were off to Hogwarts. Your mother and I barely had a chance to adjust to your going off to school when — well I’m sure you remember that first year better than anyone. If Harry hadn’t been there . . . “ Arthur and Ginny both shuddered in unison. Whenever possible Ginny and her family avoided any mention of the events of the first year she spent at Hogwarts. She shifted uncomfortably as she allowed herself to contemplate her father’s words. It was perfectly true that she might not be sitting here today if it hadn’t been for Harry. But . . . even so, that was almost ten years ago. Grateful as she was, that did not give Harry a free pass to go and do whatever the hell he wanted.

“You two were both so young then, but if you ask me —“ Arthur looked around the room and then leaned in conspiratorially “ — I think it was after that when your mother started trying to marry you and Harry off.” His expression here was unreadable. Ginny’s anger was almost entirely gone- replaced by concern over the sadness in her father’s tone and expression.

“You know I wondered why she suddenly became so willing to listen to my immature prattle about Harry,” she replied, simply to break the silence.

“Quite.”

“But dad, I don’t get what you’re trying to get at. What does what Harry did at twelve have to do with the moronic way he’s been acting at twenty-one?”

Arthur sighed and took her hand in both of his. “I think that sometimes we need to be reminded of the good things, no? We can tend to focus on the negative.”

“But —“

“For example, I can choose to keep thinking of you as that little six year old who came to me crying when Fred . . . or George — whichever — transfigured your teddy bear into a spider -”

“ That was Ron.”

“Oh. Well . . . the point is — you’re not my little girl anymore. I could refuse to acknowledge that you are an adult. I could continue to think that no man would ever be good enough for you. Instead, I choose to believe that if you have to be with someone, at least it is someone that is decent and makes you happy. Harry makes you happy, doesn’t he?”

“I used to think so.” Ginny didn’t look at her father as she spoke. She kept her gaze trained on the table. “But then again I used to think I could trust him, too. Now . . . I don’t know.”

“Do you really think — deep down — that Harry has given you reason to doubt him? Is it not more likely that you are just frustrated at the way most people react to you?” When Ginny changed a glance at her father she saw that he had an eyebrow raised awaiting an answer to his question. She sighed heavily knowing he was at least partly right, though she really didn’t want to admit it.

“Harry’s a decent man, Ginny. I think you need to stop being so hard on him. He doesn’t have control over what’s written about the two of you.” Arthur stood up as he spoke.

“I know,” Ginny said softly. “But he doesn’t exactly discourage it either by not arguing anything. Its hard to just sit back and know people are thinking those things . . . “

“Relationships are hard, no matter who you are. I cannot pretend to understand the added stress the two of you have to endure. All I think you need to worry about is whether you still love each other. Do you think Harry still loves you?”

“I think so,” Ginny said slowly. She’d never really given this question any thought. She’d been so quick to jump on Percy’s words, without really considering what it would mean if they were true.

“Are you willing to give that up?”

Ginny turned over her father’s question. The answer, she realized quickly, was no. “But if Percy is right —“ she thought out loud.

“Ginevra Molly Weasley,” Arthur sighed in an exhausted sort of way. “What have I told you about listening to Percy? We all know that he’s never regained his sense when it comes to Harry.”

Yes she did know that. For several years, ever since he’d reconciled with the family shortly after Voldemort’s death, Percy had spent his time telling them that Harry was dangerous. His reasons for continuing to uphold the views of Umbridge and Fudge were as mysterious as the idea that Harry could be dangerous.

“I don’t think you should worry about what your brother has to say. Just worry about whether you and Harry still care for each other. If you do, then don’t worry about all those outside influences.”

“That’s easier said than done,” Ginny replied, but she was nodding her head in agreement.

“After everything you two have been through this should be a walk in the park.” After giving Ginny a kiss on the forehead, Arthur headed up to bed, leaving her alone to think.

Much as Ginny hated to admit it, her father had a point. She and Harry had been through far worse than this, why was it upsetting her so? She didn’t really believe that Harry was being unfaithful to her, yet . . . Ginny couldn’t quite put her finger on why she was so touchy lately. It couldn’t really be that she was mad at him because the Prophet considered her little more than his ‘adornment’, could it? She wasn’t that girl.

She sighed and slowly made her way to bed. Perhaps a good night’s sleep and some contemplation of her father’s words would lead her to a miraculous understanding of her own behaviour.

* * *

They tried to make their way through the milling crowds as quickly as they could but everyone was trying to get into the stadium with the same rapidity so things were slow going. Harry, in particular, was quite keen to get out of the crowd. The last thing he wanted was to have someone recognize him. That always led to problems. Despite Ginny seeming like she was in a much better mood than she’d been lately, Harry didn’t think it would be wise to be late again.

Finally Harry, Ron, Hermione and Dudley were able to push their way through the crowd and they made it to the changing room where they met Jordana Makarios.

“Ah, Potter, there you are. Weasley, Granger.” She nodded in Ron’s direction and gave Dudley a once over. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“No. This is my cousin, Dudley.” Harry introduced Jordana. “This is his first Quidditch game.”

“You’re joking?” she asked in a loud and disbelieving voice. “With your seeking skills and Weasley’s talent as a Chaser . . . “ She shook her head before addressing Dudley. ”You poor deprived man. Here let me tell you a few things so you’ll better appreciate tonight’s game.” She motioned for Harry, Ron, Hermione and Dudley to follow her into the changing rooms. There she introduced Dudley to the other players on the team all clad in their dark green robes with the signature gold talon emblazoned on the front.

Ginny came over, gave Ron and Hermione quick hugs, and she kissed Harry. She slid her arm around his waist and he put his around her shoulder then they turned to watch her teammate’s reactions to Dudley.

When Jordana passed on the information that Dudley had never seen a game of Quidditch before they all had similar reactions of shock and pity. Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione watched this scene for a few minutes. Dudley was listening raptly to everything that the seven women were telling him. For once he was paying attention.

“He seems to be enjoying himself,” Ginny said after a few minutes had passed.

“Yeah, he does,” Harry admitted, turning to stare down at her. “I’m glad you suggested bringing him. If he’s that interested in talking about Quidditch, he’s going to go mad when he actually sees you play. What was it you guys won by last year when you played Wimbourne?”

“Two hundred points,” Ginny said.

“Wasn’t it more like two-sixty?” Ron piped up immediately, a large grin spreading across his face. “That was fun to watch that was. Deflated Mr. ‘I only need one name’ Laslowe’s head a bit, letting in all those easy goals. And d’you remember Flint’s —“

“He did no such thing,” said Gwenog in a scandalized voice. “We were just that good.” She’d come over to the group, closely followed by Dudley, who was swallowing a little too often as he watched her walk. Harry looked at Ginny to see if she had also noticed this, but she was adjusting her robes and hadn’t been watching.

“Hermione,” Gwenog said with her usual pretentious air. She and Hermione had never got on well, not since the first time they had met at Horace Slughorn’s Christmas party. “Weasley.” She greeted Ron with a smirk on her face.

“Jones,” Ron replied back just as smugly. “What d’you reckon your chances are against the Cannons this year? Now Lexington’s left the team they’ve —“

“Ha — Lexington was the best Chaser they ever had,” she responded. “The Cannons have got no chance. If they do better than their pitiful 3-15 this year that will be a miracle.”

“I think they’ll make it all the way to the semi-finals this year,” Ron said. Harry and Ginny stared at each other. Harry knew Ginny was thinking the same thing he was. This conversation had to be taking its usual turn. No one in their right mind could honestly believe the Chudley Cannons would ever make it to a finals game in this lifetime.

Gwenog opened her mouth to retort but Hermione spoke up, her tone icy.

“Exciting as that prospect is, we really should get to our seats. If we don’t we’re going to miss the start of your sister’s game.”

This was Hermione’s warning that she’d had all she could take of Gwenog Jones. Ron glanced from her to the Quidditch captain and nodded his head.

“Good luck,” he mumbled to her and Ginny before following Hermione out the door.

Gwenog followed slightly behind them with Dudley and they stopped by the exit, talking quietly.

“Knock ‘em dead,” Harry said, leaning down and giving Ginny a kiss.

“Oh we will,” she responded with that famous evil Weasley grin on her face. “See you after the game. The Leaky Cauldron, right?”

Harry nodded, waved to the rest of the team, collected Dudley and they started to walk to their seats.

“That Gwendolyn, she’s a looker,” Dudley said when they were out of earshot.

“Gwenog.”

“Whatever.”

The game was so near to starting that most of the crowd had gone to their seats making it easier for Harry and Dudley to navigate through the crowds. Dudley wasn’t quite as successful at skirting around people as Harry had become which resulted in them being stopped a few times by late arrivals to the match. The last time it was by two girls who could have been around Ginny’s age. They were rather giggly and got on Harry’s nerves within two seconds of meeting them — most particularly because he could hear the opening sounds of the match.

“We’ve really got to go,” he said finally and pushed his way between them. He was about halfway down the stairs to their seats in the family section when he realized Dudley was not with him. Turning back, Harry saw his cousin was still back with those two girls.

“Ugh,” he said in disgust and frustration as he turned around. He marched back up the stairs, pushed his way between the two girls again, who giggled and fluttered their eyelashes at him. Harry ignored this, instead grabbing Dudley’s arm and pulling him down the stairs.

“What was all that about?” Dudley asked in an irritated tone.

“We’re here to watch a Quidditch match, not pick up girls,” Harry replied as they entered their row and made their way to sit beside Hermione, Ron and his parents.

“Who says we can’t do both?”

“Me.”

Dudley fixed him with a sulky look. “Where is it down in the rulebook that you can’t mix sports with some ‘other’ fun, eh?” He asked this in an undertone so Arthur and Molly could not hear it.

This was a conversation that Harry really did not want to have with Dudley. The less he knew about his cousin’s sexual activities the better. Therefore he tried another tactic in the hopes of getting off this topic as soon as humanly possible.

“Nothing. Look . . . you don’t want those girls anyway. They probably wouldn’t have given you a second glance if I wasn’t there.”

“So what?” Dudley said. “I don’t want to marry them. I want to f-“

“I don’t care.” Harry stuck up his hand quickly, cutting off his cousin’s statement. Out of the corner of his eye Harry could see Dudley watching him. He kept his gaze fixed on the pitch where the announcer was going through his usual long-winded speech about Quidditch sponsorship.

“I guess you wouldn’t care about a bloke’s needs though, seeing as yours are being so adequately filled,” Dudley said after a minute.

“He’d better not be referring to what I think he is,” Ron said angrily, leaning across Hermione and looking daggers at Dudley. Harry didn’t answer because he was too busy punching Dudley hard in the arm.

Dudley massaged the spot where Harry had hit him, but he didn’t comment. He’d been distracted by the appearance of fifteen brooms. Harry turned his attention to the pitch as well and easily spotted Ginny — the only red head among a mass of blonde and brunette. She had her broom in hand and was waiting for the whistle like her teammates. At the appearance of the two Quidditch teams the crowd had started to whoop and cheer. Harry joined in, but felt a longing to be on that pitch with the other players as they made ready to begin the game.

A nudge in his right side caused Harry to turn his head slowly to face Hermione.

“What?”

“Give these to Dudley,” Ron said holding out his old battered pair of omnioculars. He sounded as though he was regretting offering them though. Harry took them from Ron and quickly examined the pair. He’d long ago lost his. It was hardly surprising given the rapid escape he’d made from Privet Drive, and the less than stable state in which he’d left Grimmauld Place after the last meeting with Voldemort. Holding this pair made him recall the Quidditch world cup — seven years ago.

Giving his head a shake, Harry handed the omnioculars to Dudley, explaining and quickly demonstrating how to use the various dials.

“Cool.” Dudley pressed the omnioculars to his eyes and began to fiddle with the dials as the players and referee took to the air for a quick fly around the pitch before the match began. As they did this the announcer called out the name of each player.

“On the Holyhead Harpies please welcome Jones, Weasley, King, Dylan, Howard, Abdullah, and Keddle.” The crowd of green and gold supporters screamed their glee. “And playing for the Wasps there’s Flint, Smythe, Barrie, Laslowe, Darlington, Hooper and Wentworth.” The Wasps supporters cheered loudly as the fourteen players took their positions and the referee released the four balls.

“And they’re off,” cried the announcer. Harry forgot about Dudley almost at once as he felt himself get sucked into the game. He watched the six Chasers swooping around in the air, throwing the Quaffle to each other with such speed that it was a mere blur.

“And that’s Jones off up the pitch with Quaffle in had. Looking good —“ the announcer said as Gwenog got closer to the Wasps goal. Laslowe was hovering, ready to block. At first Harry thought that he’d intimidated her from trying to score because she simply flew over the goal hoops, but next second Ginny had appeared out of nowhere, flying below the Keeper. She caught the Quaffle as it was thrown at her and before the Keeper had registered and reacted she’d scored.

“Yeah,” Ron and Harry both shouted loudly.

“Excellent first goal for the Harpies,” the announcer said cheerfully. “Perfectly executed Porskoff Ploy by Jones and Weasley.” He had to shout to be heard over the cheers from the green and gold clad fans.

“Yeah. And that’s how you do that,” Ron said loudly, obviously proud that his sister had scored the first goal of the season, and in such a spectacular way.

“Nice early goal for the Chasers thanks to captain Jones and Weasley — who just gave us a taste of why she got such a juicy contract.” This statement was accompanied by more cheers from the Harpies supporters.

“What’s that?” Dudley asked, lowering the omnioculars and pointing at something in the distance. Harry looked there too and spotted a glint of gold. No — it couldn’t be — not this early in the game. He took the omnioculars from Dudley and zoomed in. Sure enough, the snitch was hovering at ground level right under the Harpies goal. Neither Seeker had seen it.

“The snitch,” he called, pointing. “Its just sitting there. C’mon Keddle.” But she didn’t so much as turn in that direction. After an agonizing thirty seconds the little golden ball disappeared. Harry sat back in his seat, feeling frustrated. He could have caught that in about two seconds. What had Keddle been thinking hovering over on the other side of the pitch? Thankfully Wentworth hadn’t seen it either.

“She must be off her game tonight,” Ron said turning his attention to the furious battle going on above. None of the Chasers on either team seemed able to keep the Quaffle in their possession for more than a few seconds.

“Flint . . . Jones . . . Smythe . . . King . . . Barrie . . . Weasley . . . “ the announcer called out their names as the Quaffle sped out of each player’s hands.

Things went on in this vein for five furious minutes, until Keddle and her counterpart Wentworth both spotted the snitch and dove right through all six Chasers for it. At the same time Abdullah and Hooper, a beater from each team aimed the two Bludgers at each Seeker, causing them to swerve out of the way. The snitch veered off to the left, much more in Keddle’s favour.

“Go, go, go,” Harry shouted excitedly, seeing her inching ever closer to that tiny golden ball. If she could catch it now the Harpies would win 160-0. Unfortunately just at that time Hooper hit another Bludger at her. Keddle swerved ever so slightly, putting herself just out of reach of the snitch. She’d probably been close enough to feel the fluttering wings. In the split second she’d lost by swerving the snitch disappeared.

The Harpies supporters all groaned.

“What’d she do that for?” Harry asked furiously. “She’d have ended the game.” He shook his head as he watched Wentworth crash into Keddle and then they both slammed hard into the ground.

“Oh that had to hurt,” Dudley said, lowering the omnioculars again as two mediwizards were dispatched to attend to the dazed looking Seekers.

“That was nothing,” Harry said in an off-hand way. “She’s lucky that Bludger didn’t hit her in the back of the head. Its no picnic having a cracked skull, I can tell you.”

“You’ve had? What — you used to play Quidditch?” Dudley asked suspiciously.

“Yeah. I played Seeker, same as her.”

“Yeah right.”

“He did. And he was really good,” Hermione said, smiling broadly, leaning across Harry. “He only ever lost two matches, you know. And —“ she winked at Harry here. “- he was the youngest Seeker in a century.”

Dudley still looked like he didn’t want to believe what he was being told. Harry, feeling a little embarrassed by Hermione’s praise, nodded when Dudley looked at him for confirmation.

“If he hadn’t decided to become an Auror I’m sure he would have joined the pros, just like Ginny.”

“The game’s started again,” Harry said, anxious to turn the talk away from himself. Dudley spared Harry one last sideways glance before he once again buried himself behind the omnioculars.

The Harpies Chasers had apparently been taking the time out to talk tactics, for when play resumed they had the Quaffle and immediately went into the Hawkeshead attack formation. This succeeded and Ginny was able to streak past Laslowe again and score the second goal of the game.

Flint, in particular, seemed annoyed at this and called his own time out. When play resumed the Wasps Chasers began to become more vicious. Three times they nearly knocked the Harpies Chasers out of the air succeeding in nothing but getting the Harpies some penalty shots — all of which were put away easily, bringing the lead to 50-0.

It was thanks to a couple of excellent plays by Darlington and Hooper, the Wasps beaters, that the score evened out at 50-50 after an hour of play. It was easy to see that all fourteen players were getting tired, and it was starting to get dark. Keddle needed to get the snitch, and soon.

Harry no sooner had this thought then he saw the two Seekers make the sixth dive of the game.

“I don’t think either of them is feinting this time,” he called loudly, standing up in his chair. He didn’t need Dudley’s shout of ‘there’s the snitch’ to know he was right. He’d seen the streak of gold as it raced from around the top of the Wasps goal towards the ground.

“Come on, come on, come on,” he chanted, keeping his fingers crossed and his eyes focused on the snitch which was now speeding along a foot above the pitch, Keddle and Wentworth just metres from it.

What happened next caused the game to end in total confusion.

Wentworth, having a slight weight advantage over Keddle, rammed into her as he stretched out his hand to grab the snitch. Keddle, who also had her arm outstretched in anticipation of catching the tiny golden ball, lurched forward on her broom as she was thrust sideways. Wentworth’s hand closed over the sleeve of her robes instead and the two were forced to roll over, causing them both to fall off their brooms and land on the ground, owing to their close proximity to the pitch.

Keddle shook Wentworth off as she got to her feet. She reached into her sleeve, pulled out the snitch, and held it up.

“Well . . . I’ll be damned. That’s a new use of the Plumpton pass,” the announcer said. “Using another player’s offense to her advantage. This is an interesting twist to the game. Will Seeker Keddle’s scoop count as Wentworth was the one to physically grab the snitch? Seeker Wentworth seems to be contesting Keddle’s capture. What is the referee’s call?”

“He’d better allow that,” Harry said. “That may not have been textbook, but that was definitely a Plumpton pass.”

As they waited for the referee to make his decision, Harry checked the scoreboard. In the time they’d been watching the drama with the Seekers, the Harpies Chasers had managed another three goals. The scoreboard read 80-50 — but quite suddenly it changed to 230-50.

“Yes, it was a good catch. The referee rules that it was in her sleeve and therefore the Wasps Seeker touching it does not count. The Holyhead Harpies have an outstanding victory over the Wimbourne Wasps,” the announcer called.

Harry looked up and saw the seven green clad players taking a victory lap around the stadium. He took the omnioculars back from Dudley again and focused them on Ginny. She was glistening with sweat and clutching her right arm to her, but she was smiling broadly. He couldn’t help smiling himself as he pressed the replay button and saw that she had scored two of the last three goals. He winced as he saw a bludger connect with her wrist on that last throw. He’d had his arm broken by a bludger before too. It was no laughing matter. Thankfully mending bones was a much simpler procedure than regrowing them.

“You do think she’s all right?” Molly asked nervously as the six of them stood up and began making their way out of the stands.

“Oh, sure, Molly. Bones can be mended in a minute,” Harry said, confidently.

Molly didn’t seem convinced. She muttered all the way up the stairs about dangerous sports. It was only as they reached the exit from the stadium that Molly broke off her string of worries and turned to Hermione.

“Fleur left those samples, are you still up for it tonight?”

“Of course.” Hermione sounded excited. “I’ve been waiting forever for those. Flowers,” she said simply to Ron when he looked lost. “You’re welcome to come too.”

“I would, but — well, I told Ginny we’d meet her at the Leaky Caldron. We can’t both of us not show up, can we?”

Hermione eyed him shrewdly for a minute. Then she smiled. “Ronald, you can’t skive off everything to do with this wedding, you know.” She stood on tiptoe to give him a kiss. “I’ll see you at home.” A second later she, Arthur and Molly had twisted on the spot and Disapparated.

“Where’d they go?” Dudley asked in alarm.

“To the Burrow,” Ron replied, looking confused at Dudley’s reaction. Harry felt rather shocked. How was it that after four years in the magical world, Dudley had never seen anyone Disapparate?

“No. I mean — they were just here and now they’re not.”

“They Disapparated. Witches and wizards can travel by disappearing and reappearing in another place just by thinking about it,” Harry said. He looked at the lines forming in front of the three fireplaces. “And that’s exactly what we’re going to have to do if we want to get out of here today. Dudley, take my arm.”

“Wha — no way! I’m not going to let you disintegrate me.” He said this in such a loud voice that passersby turned to stare. When they saw Harry many of them did the familiar flick up to where his scar resided, now faded but still slightly visible.

“Its fine.” Not willing to wait for Dudley any longer, Harry grabbed his cousin’s arm and twisted into compression and darkness.

Next second air came flooding back into his lungs. They were in the small lane that stood between The Leaky Cauldron and the entrance to Diagon Alley. It was nearly pitch dark so Harry lit his wand. Dudley was leaning against the pub wall and clutching at his chest. His eyes were bulging.

A popping sound announced Ron’s arrival.

“Never . . . again,” Dudley gasped. “That was the most horrible —“

“You’re fine; its just shock. Most people don’t like the sensation the first time. Let’s just go in and get a table.” Harry led the way into the pub.

The bar was packed, as was usual after a Quidditch match. It took a little time, but finally Harry, Ron and Dudley found a table. They had barely sat down when a waitress sidled over to them.

“What can I get you, loves?” she asked in a bored voice, not looking at them, and blowing a bubble with the gum she was chewing.

“I’ll have a Firewhiskey,” Ron said, watching the girl write down his order.

“I’ll have the same,” Dudley agreed, also watching her.

“So that’s two Firewhiskeys, anything for you love?” she asked, looking at Harry for the first time. With that same familiar flick to his scar she stopped snapping her gum and stared with her mouth open.

“I’ll have a Butterbeer, thanks,” Harry said, looking away from her. She was pretty enough with her long blonde hair, blue eyes, and curvy figure, but her relentless gum snapping was annoying him.

“Sure thing. I’ll be right back,” she said, no trace of boredom in her voice now. She winked at Harry suggestively before she walked away. Harry could do nothing but roll his eyes. The seductive way she swung her hips did nothing for him either. He knew her type all-too-well. If he wasn’t “Harry Potter!” she wouldn’t care two bits about him — just like those two girls back at the Quidditch game.

Both Dudley and Ron turned to watch the witch walk back to the bar where Tom, the toothless owner of The Leaky Cauldron, was busy filling orders and chatting with customers.

“There’s another one I wouldn’t mind some alone time with,” Dudley said, watching her lasciviously. “She’s got some moves, that one.” He turned back to look at Harry with a dumbfounded expression. “I think that was meant for you! And you’re not going for it?” He shook his head in disbelief.

“She annoys me. And anyway, I already have a girlfriend —“

“- Who just happens to be my sister,” Ron said, trying to sound fierce, but he was still watching their waitress as she came back. “Although I do have to admit myself that this one’s definitely —“

“Hermione,” Harry called, holding up his hand as though waving to someone right behind Ron, who had gone ashen. Harry lowered his hand, smiling evilly. “Gotcha,” he said.

Ron turned round in his seat and glanced around the whole pub before he turned to face Harry, still off-colour.

“Bloody hell, Harry. That was not funny.” He remained quiet for a few seconds. Then, leaning in, he said softly, “don’t tell her, will you?”

The concern in his voice made both Harry and Dudley laugh. Ron even joined in after a few minutes.

“So how long is Ginny supposed to be?” Dudley asked a few minutes later after their drinks arrived. He’d taken a sip of his Firewhiskey a moment before and his eyes were still watering.

“About an hour, I expect,” Harry said. He had to remind himself it was a perfectly innocent question. Even though Dudley had been on his best behaviour over the last weeks when it came to Ginny, his previous behaviour still kept Harry on his toes. While Ginny was more than capable of handling herself with the likes of Dudley, he’d rather not allow a situation to develop where she’d need to do anything. “She has to get that wrist fixed up and then they have their usual post-match press conference. It shouldn’t be too much longer before she gets here.”

They spent a few minutes getting into an animated discussion on the match. Harry was just discoursing on the faults he’d seen in Keddle’s performance when he heard someone speak his name. Turning around he saw the last two people he’d expected to see: Briony and Tougas.

“Hi,” he said. “What are you doing here?” He shot a nervous glance over at Ron, who hadn’t taken the news about Briony very well at all. Unsure of whether it was wise or not, he made introductions. Briony shook hands all around, but Tougas kept his arms folded across his chest, giving Ron and Dudley a curt nod and ignoring Harry all together.

“So what did you think of the match today?” Briony asked shooting Tougas a warning look.

“You were there?” Ron asked, watching her intently.

“Yes,” she answered shyly, blushing at his penetrating gaze.

“We were just talking about it. Why don’t you two join us?” Ron ignored the furious glare Harry was fixing him with. He didn’t stop watching Briony. This had to do with the discussion he and Harry had the other evening, Harry was sure of it.

Tougas looked as impressed as Harry felt as he and Briony sat down. She, however, seemed perfectly comfortable as she smiled at Harry and Ron. It was only as she looked at Dudley that her smile faltered a little, and it was hardly surprising why.

Dudley was watching her closely with a frown on his face. He seemed disappointed that it had not been the waitress that had joined them. Rolling his eyes again, he elbowed his cousin in the side and gave him a warning look. He at least had the sense to look down. Harry gave Briony an apologetic smile which she returned.

“So, what did you two think of the game?” Ron asked, keeping tabs on the exchange between Harry and Briony.

“Oh, I enjoyed it. I haven’t been to a game since Hogwarts,” Briony said. “And I’ve never been to a professional game. They’re rather good, aren’t they? Especially Ginny.”

Ron continued to watch Briony for another minute. Harry was sure he was checking to see if her compliment had been sincere. He must have decided that she was telling the truth because his face broke into a wide grin.

“Yeah. I think that was probably her best performance to date.”

“You weren’t kidding when you said she was good, Harry,” Briony commented. Tougas snorted. When they all turned to look at him he shook his head and went back to staring at them insolently.

“They were smart to sign her,” Ron nodded, warming up to Briony with all the praise she was lavishing on his sister.

Tougas snorted again.

“You disagree?” Ron asked, now fixing Tougas with his disapproving stare.

“Ignore him. Bredan’s just upset that his Quidditch team lost,” Briony said, earning her own annoyed look from Tougas.

“You support the Wasps?” Ron asked, adding this to his list of reasons for disliking Tougas. He started to grin. “They’ve become almost as bad as the Cannons.”

Tougas leaned back in his chair, a smug look on his face.

“My support is based on their performance, not on my relationship with the team members. It’s a hell of a lot easier to support someone you’re related to or sleeping with.”

“Bredan,” Briony said sharply, turning to glare at him. Harry and Ron exchanged looks. Ron’s eyes were narrowed and he seemed to be itching to grab his wand. Harry couldn’t blame him at all. Tougas could push even the most patient person’s buttons.

“I think that we should go.” Briony stood up and motioned for Tougas to follow her, which he seemed all-too-ready to do. As they started to say their goodbyes the door of the pub opened and a large cheer went up from a group of green clad people at a nearby table. Harry turned to see Ginny smile and wave at them as she scanned the pub for himself, Ron and Dudley. When she spotted them she quickly made her way over. It was only as she covered the last few feet that she noticed Tougas and Briony.

“Hello?” she said, smiling at them uncertainly.

It was only as Ginny laid eyes on Briony that Harry realized there could be a problem. She’d never met Briony, and after her reaction a few days back he could not guess how she would handle this meeting. It was only very reluctantly that he made the introductions.

“Its nice to meet you,” Briony said, taking Ginny’s proffered hand. “C- can I just tell you that I think Harry underestimated how good you are at Quidditch.”

“Thank you.” Ginny looked from her to Harry as though she wanted to be angry, but was holding back for the moment. She glanced at Ron who ever so slightly shook his head. After receiving this confirmation she turned back to Briony, still smiling a little too heartily. “I can’t say I’ve heard quite so much about you, but I’ve heard rather a lot about you. Tougas, right?” she asked, shaking his hand.

“Yeah,” he said, letting go quickly. He rapidly turned to look at Briony. “We were leaving?”

“Yes. See you at work, Harry.”

“Yeah.” Harry was watching Ginny as she followed Tougas and Briony’s paths out the door.

“That was a little unexpected. You didn’t tell me they were going to be here,” she said as the door closed on them.

“I had no idea. Honestly,” Harry said.

“It doesn’t matter. She seems all right. Not at all like I pictured her.” She leaned up and kissed Harry deeply, earning some whooping and cheering from the Harpies supporters. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

“Hey,” Ron called. “I am still here, you know.”

“So go home,” Ginny said, not looking at him. “I’m sure Hermione’s waiting for you.” She didn’t wait for Ron to respond. She grabbed Harry’s hand and led him out of the pub, with Dudley following them. “Grab my shoulder,” she told Dudley. He did so reluctantly with a nervous glance at Harry. He closed his eyes and scrunched up his face as she twisted. Before three seconds passed they were back in the alley by Harry’s flat.

As all three of them approached the door to the flat, Harry pointed his wand at it and with a click it swung open. He ushered Dudley in first and followed behind Ginny.

The minute the door closed she turned around and kissed him again, fisting her hands in his hair and pressing against him. Pleasant as this was, Harry pulled away.

“Gin, Dudley’s here,” he said, a little breathlessly. He looked around to se if his cousin was watching. Dudley, however, could be heard in the kitchen on the other side of the wall.

“Who cares,” she replied, continuing to kiss him. She pushed Harry backwards around the wall, past the kitchen, and into the bedroom where she kicked the door closed. After some hastily muttered spells she let her wand fall to the floor and she resumed kissing him.

Shocked though he was at her sudden passion, Harry was kissing her back with abandon, pressing her against the door. They stopped kissing only long enough for her to pull his t-shirt over his head and then push him back onto the bed, climbing on as well and hovering over him, her long hair acting as curtains around their faces. He could see her desire for him in the shade of brown her eyes had darkened to.

Harry reached up and lightly brushed his fingers over her lips before moving them down her chin, her neck and eventually to the buttons on her shirt, which he started undoing slowly.

“That was a hell of a game,” he said casually, watching her close her eyes as she tried to keep her breathing under control. She wasn’t having much success though, he could feel her heart rate starting to increase as he peeled away her blouse. “Those last two goals in particular —“

“Oh God, Harry, shut up,” she said breathlessly and she bent down and started kissing him again.

Some time later they lay together, quietly, letting their heart rates return to normal.

“its been too long since we’ve done that,” Ginny said, adjusting her head on Harry’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” he agreed, keeping his eyes closed as he absent-mindedly stroked her hair.

They lay there like that for another minute before Ginny spoke again.

“You know I love you, right?” She pulled away from him and propped herself up on her elbow. Harry opened his eyes and saw her staring down at him intently.

“Of course,” he said. “Why are you —“

“Good. Because I know I’ve been a bit of a bitch lately, and — I want you to know that it has nothing to do with you.” She started running her fingers through his hair.

“OK,” Harry said slowly. “If there’s something bothering you though — I want you to talk to me, OK?”

Ginny breathed out and lay back down.

“I will,” she said, carelessly running a finger over Harry’s bare chest. “But I don’t think I’ll need to now I’ve got my head on straight again. I can’t believe after everything else — you know — Voldemort — and all that, I let stupid Rita Skeeter mess me up. I can’t believe I almost screwed things up between us. I guess we have my dad to thank for making me see reason.”

“Yeah. Maybe when we’re thanking him, we’ll leave this part out though, eh?”

Ginny laughed. She snuggled closer to Harry, kissed him softly on the shoulder and said goodnight.

Wrapping his arm around her a little tigher than he would usually have done, Harry said goodnight too, but it was a long time after she fell asleep that he followed suit. Her causal mention of Voldemort had made his blood run cold. Recalling the road they had both take to get here made Harry feel that much worse about all the time they had spend fighting lately. If anything ever happened to cause Ginny harm . . .

It took a lot of time for him to remember that Voldemort was dead, Ginny wasn’t in any danger anymore.

Sighing, Harry removed his glasses and placed them on the bedside table. Then he leaned over and kissed Ginny’s forehead lightly.

“I love you, too,” he said, before allowing himself to get some sleep.

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