Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Until Death Do Us Part
The day of the wedding dawned bright and glorious. Harry was awoken at what felt to him to be an ungodly hour by the chirping of birds. The sun streaming in from the cracks of the blinds in Ron’s attic bedroom pierced his skull with a fierce, unforgiving intensity. The ruddy twittering was driving him mad.
Harry had been to his first stag party the previous evening, and even the sobering charm that Mrs. Weasley had performed on them all before ushering them off to bed hadn’t stopped the pounding of his head this morning. He had a vague feeling of unease, but he wasn’t certain if it was only due to the nauseating headache.
It had been one of the strangest weeks in Harry’s life, and that was saying something. The Burrow – a hub for chaos and activity under normal circumstances – was the center of operations for the upcoming nuptials. If Mrs. Weasley had appeared frazzled to Harry over the previous years while working with the Order, it was nothing to her state while preparing this wedding.
The Delacour family had arrived two days ago with more trunks and belongings than a small army should rightfully own. The ceremony itself was to take place in the meadow where Harry had played Quidditch with Ron and his family on many occasions. Therefore, the Delacour family took over the other side of the garden, where they had erected a large tent surrounded by lush flowerbeds.
Harry had never seen anything quite like it, even at the Quidditch World Cup. The tent was more like a castle – with peaks and turrets – and bore the French flag on the top. The area surrounding the tent blossomed with an array of exotic plants and flowers, and a small fountain appeared in a newly formed pond.
If Mrs. Weasley was stressed, it was nothing compared to the state of Mrs. Delacour. Harry had yet to hear her speak in anything but a shout, and he’d noticed Mr. Delacour liberally filling her tea with some oak-matured mead on more than one occasion.
Bill and Fleur appeared oblivious to all the fuss and merely floated in and out of the chaos with the sappiest expressions upon their faces. Fleur had moved out of the Burrow, where she’d been staying, and in with her own family, leaving Ginny, Hermione and Ekaterina sharing one room. Harry supposed that Ginny liked Ekaterina better than Fleur, because the tautness in her face had lessened considerably after the French girl’s departure.
Since their blow up in the back garden nearly a week ago, the tension between Ginny and him had been so thick it could be cut with a knife. They had taken great pains either to act overly civil to one another or to avoid each other entirely. Ginny again proved her accomplished acting ability by easily pretending that nothing was wrong, treating Harry as no more and no less than Ron’s visiting friend. She was civil, polite and frustratingly distant. It was only on brief, rare occasions that Harry thought he caught a glimmer of something in her eyes, but when he looked closely, it was gone.
Harry, on the other hand, was failing miserably at playing along. He couldn’t just close off his feelings and pretend there was nothing wrong, no matter how hard he tried, and the effort was making him increasingly bad-tempered. It occurred to him that while he had failed dismally at mastering Occlumency during his fifth year, Ginny would probably be very good at it.
The presence of Jean-Luc Delacour certainly hadn’t helped matters. Suave and debonair, Jean-Luc was everything Harry wasn’t. He was only a year older, but he somehow managed to appear vastly more sophisticated. He had dark hair that he wore slicked back and robes that not only fit impeccably, but also were made of the finest material.
It gave Harry a new determination to go shopping for some Muggle clothes of his very own and in his own size for the first time in his life.
Jean-Luc had kissed Ginny’s hand when he first met her, and always seemed to know the right thing to say or had some witty response to everything said to him.
Harry felt as if he were tongue-tied in comparison.
All the women in the house were fawning over Jean-Luc, and Harry had memories of being back in fourth year and trying to compete against Cedric to get a date to the Yule Ball. The only consolation was that none of the other Weasley brothers cared much for Jean-Luc, either. Ron acted out overly exaggerated imitations of his prancing ways, and Harry suspected the twins were devising a major prank.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke, Harry thought savagely.
Despite her brothers’ obvious disapproval – or maybe because of it – Ginny appeared quite enamoured with the dashing Frenchman. Every time Harry saw her, she was with him, laughing at his stupid jokes or listening intently to whatever it was he had to say. Harry had seen her take his arm on several occasions, and he appeared to take every opportunity to place his ruddy hands upon her waist.
The monster in Harry’s chest had been roaring with such intensity that Harry was shocked no one else could hear it. He’d been in a right foul mood, and most of the Weasleys had been giving him a wide berth because of it. The only one who apparently wasn’t bothered at all by his foul disposition was Gabrielle Delacour. She’d become Harry’s shadow, following him nearly everywhere and helping him with whichever task Mrs. Weasley or Mrs. Delacour assigned to him.
Gabrielle chatted incessantly as they worked, and Harry hadn’t yet found a way to disengage himself from her presence. She followed him, laughed at nothing, and then blushed the deepest shade of Weasley red if he happened to answer one of her endless questions. He remembered when Ginny had a crush on him, back in his second year, but that had been different somehow. Ginny had never been this annoying.
It was as if he were assigned Colin Creevey as a Potions partner, only with more giggling. The only slight positive to the whole situation was that Fleur had stopped pushing Harry to entertain Gabrielle. It was as if ever since Harry and Ginny’s shouting match in the back garden, Fleur had a new pet project. She purposely arranged tasks and insisted that both he and Ginny needed to work on them together.
Harry would have been eternally grateful to her if the circumstances been different, but spending time with Ginny while she was acting coolly polite and detached was nearly driving him to distraction.
Hence the reason he’d imbibed so much at the stag party the previous evening.
It had started innocently enough. Charlie had gathered all the Weasley brothers (minus Percy), Harry, Jean-Luc, Mr. Weasley and Mr. Delacour, and they had Apparated to a private room at the Leaky Cauldron. Remus, Mad-Eye Moody, Kingsley Shaklebolt and several other members of the Order had met them there, along with some of Bill’s co-workers and old friends.
Harry had taken a seat with Ron in a corner, somewhat distanced from the rest of the crowd. He’d been happy enough with his cold Butterbeer when Charlie approached their table with a bottle of Firewhiskey and added a shot to his and Ron’s drinks. Harry hadn’t yet tried the legendary drink and was quite keen to oblige. It burned going down, and he spluttered and coughed until he got used to it.
He’d only intended on trying it and leaving it at that, but he’d ended up taking a fair share of ribbing over being the only bloke there still underage. He felt he had something to prove, particularly to Jean-Lucifer, whom the alcohol didn’t appear to be affecting at all.
He had soon found it very difficult to string words together clearly – more difficult even than he normally did – and he wasn’t quite certain how he’d got back to the Burrow at the end of the night.
Which was how he’d ended up lying here on the camp bed in Ron’s sickeningly orange room, trying to decide if he had the energy to cast a Reducto spell on the sun.
"Bloody hell," Ron groaned from beneath the covers on his bed.
Harry tried to sit up but ended up falling back onto his pillow and swearing. "I am never drinking Firewhiskey again as long as I live," he moaned. "Whose brilliant idea was that, anyway?"
"I think it was yours, mate," Ron replied, and his voice sounded abnormally loud in the stillness of the room.
"Good morning, boys," Hermione’s voice trilled as she pushed open the door and entered Ron’s room, grinning merrily. Both boys cringed and pulled away.
"Oh, it’s a perfect day for a wedding. Mrs. Weasley has breakfast ready. Come on, get up. The guests will be arriving soon, and you need to be dressed in order to greet them."
"Hermione," Ron groaned, rolling over and pulling the covers up over his head. "It’s only the crack of dawn."
"Nonsense," Hermione said, pulling the covers off him completely and then turning and doing the same to Harry. "It’s almost ten o’clock. Everyone else is up and has been for quite some time. Ginny, Fleur and Gabrielle have already left to have their hair done."
"Left where?" Harry asked, suddenly interested. He grabbed his blanket back from Hermione to cover his bare chest.
"Oh. They Apparated to some cousin of Fleur’s in London. Ron, your mother is going to be up here in a minute if you don’t get up," Hermione said.
"My head," Ron moaned.
"Oh!" Hermione said, starting. She pulled two phials from the pocket of her dressing gown. "Here. Your mum said to give these to you to help clear your heads."
Harry took the phial eagerly and downed the contents, wincing at the taste. His mind cleared instantly, and the throbbing in his temples receded.
"Why didn’t you say that bit first?" he asked irritably. Now that he could think, he realized he still had that distinctly uneasy feeling. He suspected it had something to do with his hangover, along with his apprehension over having to spend the day watching Jean-Luc fawning over Ginny. Still, the prickling on the back of his neck caused him some concern. He’d have to remain alert. He wasn’t about to let anything spoil this wedding for the Weasleys.
Several hours later, Harry found himself dressed in his stylish gray dress robes and helping Ron and the twins escort guests to their seats out in the meadow. Rows and rows of white chairs were set up in a semicircle around a white gazebo adorned with more white roses than Harry had ever seen. Aunt Petunia would have been beside herself at the lushness of the blooms.
Viktor Krum’s arrival caused Ron’s eyes to narrow and his ears to grow red, despite the fact that Viktor arrived with a stunning blonde beauty on his arm. Harry hurried over to greet them and escort them to their seats before Ron could make a scene. Viktor did ask about Hermione, but Harry chose not to mention that fact to Ron.
When the wedding began, Harry went to take a seat towards the back of all the rows, but Ron grabbed him and dragged him to sit with him and Hermione in one of the rows reserved for all the Weasleys. Harry felt oddly touched.
He honestly didn’t remember much of the ceremony after Ginny walked down the aisle. Gabrielle had walked down first, wearing gold dress robes with a bit of a ruffle and lacing up the front. The sleeves rested on her shoulders, and she wore a gold shawl draped across the top. Her golden curls were piled heavily atop her head, and even Harry had to admit she looked thoroughly charming.
Ginny followed next, and Harry felt his mouth go dry. He couldn’t even manage to swallow. The gold robes, while pretty on Gabrielle, looked stunning on Ginny. They appeared to hug every curve, and Harry would have been hard pressed to drag his eyes away if Voldemort had chosen that moment to attack. Her hair was curled softly and piled into an intricate pattern of plaits atop her head with thin wisps surrounding her face. She’d tied the shawl more closely around her than Gabrielle had done, but even with it there Harry could tell the sleeves on the robes bared her shoulders completely.
She was stunning, and he was lost.
The ceremony commenced, and he supposed Bill and Fleur had said their I do’s at some point. Honestly, however, Harry hadn’t been aware of anything else but the shine of the sun on Ginny’s fiery hair, and the pink lipstick she wore on her softly smiling lips. He watched several times in fascination as Ginny’s small tongue darted out to moisten them, making the lipstick shine.
Before he knew what was happening, Bill and Fleur were kissing one another, and small white doves flew from all the trees surrounding the gazebo.
"Now, let’s get this party started," Fred said, slapping George on the back.
"Right, brother mine. We promised to dance with each and every one of Fleur’s friends. I, for one, took that promise as a personal oath," George replied.
Harry rolled his eyes and followed them to the area where tents had been set up holding tables of food and drink. He took a seat with Ron and Hermione and wasn’t surprised to find Gabrielle at his elbow almost instantly.
"Oh, there iz an empty zeat right next to me, ‘Arry," the young girl said eagerly, patting the chair beside her.
Gritting his teeth and ignoring Ron’s snigger, Harry sat down. Ron and Hermione sat across from him, looking extremely cozy. Fred and George were up and already instructing the band by the dance floor in the middle of the tent.
Bill and Fleur were seated at a table for two at the front of the tent, with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and Mr. and Mr.s Delacour occupying a table to their right. Harry sat with the other Weasley siblings and Gabrielle at a table on the left of the happy couple. Harry looked up in time to see Ginny and Jean-Luc taking the remaining seats at his table.
Harry’s eyes locked on Ginny’s for a moment as she sat down, and he was unable to pull them away. She was wearing make-up on her eyes that made them look kind of smoky and unbelievably sexy. He didn’t remember ever seeing her wearing more than lipstick at school.
"Let me pour you zome of zis wine, Ginny," Jean-Luc said, and it sounded like he was caressing her name.
Harry’s beast snarled crossly.
"Thank you, Jean-Luc," Ginny replied sweetly.
Scowling, Harry took a liberal drink of his own wine.
Despite all the delectable food that was offered, the dinner dragged excruciatingly slow for Harry. Between Gabrielle’s hints about how much she wanted to dance and Jean-Luc’s constant attentiveness to Ginny, Harry was ready to leap on his Firebolt and dive bomb the whole affair.
The only upside was the wine that had made him pleasantly warm. He’d quickly forgotten his promise of just that morning never to imbibe again. Even a hangover would feel better than the way he felt at the moment.
When he finished his dessert, he thought he’d managed to make it through the evening. He’d planned on slipping away from the festivities quietly and making it an early night. They were leaving for Godric’s Hollow in the morning, and he wanted to be well rested.
That plan changed when Jean-Luc asked Ginny to dance. She nodded brightly and turned around. Looking directly into Harry’s eyes with something he thought looked like a challenge, she allowed the shawl that she’d been wearing to drop from her shoulders.
Harry gulped as his mouth went dry. He felt as if all the air in his lungs had been forced out of him. The neckline of Ginny’s dress suddenly appeared much lower than the modest cut of Gabrielle’s, and Ginny’s bosom looked as if it were barely being contained. Her robes no longer looked as if they had been made for a little girl at all.
Harry’s jaw dropped open, and he wasn’t even been aware of it until Hermione elbowed him sharply in the ribs. Ginny’s eyes sparkled with triumph.
Jean-Luc, of course, handled the situation with much more grace than Harry had managed. He leaned over and whispered something in Ginny’s ear, causing her to blush and look toward her feet. In doing so, she missed the appreciative look the Frenchman cast down her cleavage.
Harry didn’t miss it, however, and jumped to his feet.
Once again, it was Hermione who held him back. "Don’t make a scene, Harry," she hissed.
Harry glared at her. "Did you see where he was looking?" he demanded crossly.
"Yes. The same place you were looking. Honestly, Harry. It’s called a push-up bra," Hermione said, her cheeks turning pink.
"What the bloody hell has Ginny done to herself?" Ron demanded, finally finding his voice after Ginny and Jean-Luc had walked onto the dance floor. "That…that doesn’t look like my baby sister, and I don’t want all these blokes looking at that."
"Would you lower your voice," Hermione snapped. "Ginny wanted something to make her dress robes look less childlike, so I told her what to get. It’s a Muggle thing, and it’s designed to take what you’ve got and…push it all up a bit."
"A bit?" Ron demanded furiously.
"Never mind your sister, Ron. She can take care of herself. Besides, she’s only dancing amidst the presence of her entire family. Speaking of dancing, I believe you promised me one," Hermione said, raising an eyebrow.
Ron gulped but held out his hand and escorted her onto the floor, still throwing murderous glances towards Ginny and Jean-Luc.
Scowling, Harry turned on his heel and stormed away from the table. While Charlie was watching Ginny closely, Ekaterina was smiling knowingly at Harry, and he couldn’t stand it. He saw Remus standing with Tonks near one of the bars and walked over to join them.
"Wotcher, Harry," Tonks said. She was wearing bright fuchsia robes with a hair color to match. Harry was happy to see that both her Metamorphmagus abilities as well as her relationship with Remus appeared to be back on track. The couple was nearly beaming. Despite the sting he felt from the mess his own relationship with Ginny had become, he was pleased the fates appeared to be smiling on his former professor.
"Hi, Tonks. Hello, Remus," Harry said, shaking the older man’s hand.
"What’s the matter, kid? You look like you just lost your best friend," Tonks said with concern.
Harry shrugged. "I’m all right."
Remus’s eyes scanned the dance floor and came to rest on the glittering figure in gold with the fiery red hair. "Ah. I see," he said, before handing Harry a shot of Firewhiskey.
Harry raised his eyebrow.
"Sirius always said it helped to take the edge off," Remus said, raising his own glass. He and Harry clinked their glasses together before tipping back the shots.
"How are things going at headquarters?" Harry asked once his eyes had stopped streaming.
He noticed the furtive glance that passed between the two Order members before Tonks answered. "Busy. There has been a lot happening."
"Like what?" Harry demanded. "I know someone’s staying there that you’re protecting."
The last statement was merely a shot in the dark, but it appeared to hit its mark. "Not here, Harry," Remus said, speaking in a low voice. "We can talk about it another time in a more secure location."
As he spoke with Remus and Tonks, Harry’s eyes kept glancing surreptitiously at the dance floor. He watched as Ginny danced with several partners in addition to Jean-Luc, although he appeared at her side more often than not. She looked as if she were having the time of her life. He hadn’t known she could dance so well. If it weren’t for the fact that Jean-Luc was out there with her, he would have enjoyed watching her.
The monster in his chest was screaming at him to go out there and ask her to dance, but he held back. He couldn’t do that. If he went near her now, he’d be lost, and he knew it. It was better for her and all involved if he kept his distance and allowed her to move on with her life.
He just wished it didn’t have to hurt so much.
As Tonks turned to speak with someone from the Ministry, Remus leaned over to speak softly in Harry’s ear. "If she won’t leave your thoughts even when you try to keep her away, perhaps the answer lies in keeping her closer to your heart."
Harry sighed, still staring at Ginny as she danced. "I wish it were that simple."
"Sometimes it is," Remus said mildly.
"It’s too dangerous right now, and I don’t want to see her hurt," Harry replied, the standard answer suddenly sounding weak even to his own ears.
‘Ah, I see. That old mistress Nobility appears to run strong in your family, Harry. Your father went through a stage of wanting to protect your mother, too. He didn’t want her involved in the Order or fighting Voldemort, but he finally came around and allowed her to be herself. He realized that he fell in love with that feisty, stand-up-for-what-she-believed-in girl, and then he asked her to change. That wasn’t really fair to either of them," Remus said, taking another drink.
"Is that what I’m doing?" Harry asked, shocked. He’d never quite looked at it that way. Of course his parents had both been involved in the fight against Voldemort. The prophecy had said they’d defied him three times. His mother was in the Order, the same as his father, yet he’d still tried to protect her when Voldemort had first arrived at Godric’s Hollow. How had he reconciled the two such opposing desires?
"It would be highly unfair if Ginny locks away her true personality in order to support your quest, only to have you fall out of love with her because she’s no longer the same girl with whom you fell in love in the first place," Remus said.
"That would never happen," Harry stated firmly.
"I feel like a hypocrite giving you this advice, Harry, considering my actions of the past year," Remus said, wincing. "But take it from a man who knows where you’re coming from, you’re much stronger and a more able wizard with her than without her."
Harry sipped his wine, mulling over Remus’s words. Hadn’t he said himself that he’d never felt stronger than that brief time he and Ginny were together? Hadn’t his own parents decided that living and loving were worth all the risk?
"Come on, Harry. Let’s dust off your dancing shoes," Tonks said, grabbing his hand and dragging him onto the floor. He danced with Tonks, Mrs. Weasley, Hermione and even Fleur before insisting he needed a break.
A disturbance near the entrance of the tent caught his attention, and he walked over to investigate. Fred and George stood there with arms akimbo, glaring at Percy, who was standing at the entrance, looking extremely uncomfortable. With him stood the Minister of Magic, dressed in his finery and bearing gifts. Harry was reminded of a similar scene this past Christmas.
"What are you doing here, Percy?" Ron demanded, storming across the tent and stopping within inches of his elder brother.
"I was invited," Percy said, lifting his nose and adjusting his glasses.
"Yeah, and you didn’t reply," Fred spat.
"Mum had a good cry over it, as I recall," George said.
"Unfortunately, my busy schedule didn’t allow my prompt response, and I do apologize for my ill manners," Percy said stiffly. "I’ve come to deliver a gift to my eldest brother, so if you’ll excuse me..."
"Mr. Potter," Rufus Scrimgeour said before Harry could slip away. "I wondered if we might have a word while Percy here discusses a private matter with his family."
"Harry is family," Ron snarled. "More so than this sod," he said, jerking his head in Percy’s direction.
"Percy? Is that you?" Mrs. Weasley cried, interrupting them all. "Oh! You did come; I knew you would. Come over and see the newlyweds. Bill will be so happy to see you."
As Mrs. Weasley led Percy away, Scrimgeour stared pointedly at Harry. "A word, Mr. Potter?"
Harry crossed his arms across his chest but didn’t move away from Ron and the twins. "We have to stop meeting like this, Minister. I suppose old habits are hard to break."
A flicker of annoyance crossed Scrimgeour’s face. "Things are dismal, as I’m certain you are aware. Now that some time has passed since Albus Dumbledore’s death, I’m wondering if you’ve taken the time to reconsider my proposition?"
"About Ministry protection, Harry. I’m certain you’ve read the reports of Muggle casualties. Just last week there was another attack in Diagon Alley, where several shops were destroyed."
"I’m aware of them. What are you doing about them?" Harry asked.
"The Ministry is doing everything within its power—"
"Released Stan Shunpike yet?"
"That is not going to get us anywhere," Rufus Scrimgeour said, his voice rising slightly.
"No, what’s not getting us anywhere is your refusal to accept that I’m not going to be your poster boy," Harry said, snarling. "If you want my approval for the way things are being done at the Ministry, then earn it. Start doing what needs to be done. Skip these useless handbooks on how to protect yourself and start teaching people something useful. Teach them how to cast a Patronus, or how to deflect the Inferi. Stop terrorizing people you know are innocent just to make it look like you’re doing something.
"You can start with questioning those former suspected Death Eaters who claimed to be under the Imperius. Hell, any Death Eater worth his salt knows to claim he was acting under the Imperius, and you’ll release him. The fact that Stan Shunpike never thought to claim it should tell you he’s no Death Eater."
"This is getting us nowhere," Scrimgeour said irritably.
"No, and I can see from your refusal to accept some cold hard truths that it’s not going to. You might have once wanted to help people when you first became an Auror, but now you’re just like Fudge, more concerned with politics and public perceptions. That isn’t the kind of leader we need in this climate, Minister. So, you go right ahead and do what you’ve got to do, while I’m going to go and actually get something done," Harry said, fuming.
"Exactly what is it you think you’re going to be doing?" Scrimgeour asked suspiciously.
"Oh, a little of this, a little of that," Harry replied, shrugging his shoulders.
"You know what Albus Dumbledore was doing before he died, and I intend to find out," Scrimgeour accused, his eyes narrowing dangerously.
"As I said," Harry replied with dead calm, "you do what you have to do. Right now, I have a wedding to enjoy, and your presence is neither needed nor wanted here." With that, Harry walked away from a spluttering and very angry Minister of Magic, Ron following closely in his wake. Harry was amused to see Fred and George remain behind to escort Scrimgeour from the tent.
"Whoa, Harry," Ron said, grinning appreciatively. "You just dismissed the Minister of Magic. I’m glad Hermione didn’t hear that, though. She would have started hyperventilating."
Harry smiled. "Are you two having a good time?"
"Yeah, we are," Ron said, watching Hermione chatting with Vkctor Krum.
Harry tensed, waiting for the explosion. "Ron."
"She came here with me. She wants to be with me," Ron said firmly, keeping his eyes fixed on Hermione as she walked across the dance floor.
He could hear that slight measure of uncertainty still in Ron’s voice. Deciding to tease a bit, he asked sharply, "Did you get a nice look at her bum?"
Ron jumped. "What? I- I- I didn’t."
Harry couldn’t hold the stern face any longer. "You did so! I just watched you. You can’t take the mickey out of me anymore about Ginny unless you want to get it back about Hermione. She’s the closest thing I’ve got to a sister, you know."
"Sod off. Don’t let her hear you say that, either, or she’ll cry all over you. We all know how well you handle crying girls," Ron said, elbowing Harry in the ribs.
Harry shoved Ron’s shoulder. "Git."
"Would you like to dance, ‘Arry?" Gabrielle asked. She’d walked up behind them without his noticing.
Harry groaned inwardly, while Ron sniggered.
"I’d be honored, Gabrielle," he said gallantly, causing the young girl to beam. He glared at Ron as he led Gabrielle onto the dance floor. As the music played, he caught sight of Ginny, once again dancing with Jean-Luc, and had to grit his teeth in frustration. He tried to steer Gabrielle away from where Ginny and Jean-Luc were dancing, finding it unbearable to watch her. Somehow, however, every few steps Gabrielle managed to maneuver them nearly next to the chatting couple. He knew he was the one who was supposed to be leading, but he’d never quite got the hang of the steps.
Just as they came alongside Ginny and Jean-Luc, the music changed into a slower song, and the couples surrounding them pulled each other closer.
"I zink it iz time to switch partners," Gabrielle said, shocking both Harry and Jean-Luc. She let go of Harry and wrapped her arms around her cousin. She said something in French as the two began to dance.
Harry and Ginny were left staring at one another.
"So, are you going to ask me to dance, or what?" Ginny asked, raising a finely arched eyebrow. Harry could read the challenge in her eyes. She was daring him to walk away.
Damn it all to hell, but he couldn’t do it.
"Would you care to dance with me, Ginny?" he asked hoarsely, licking his suddenly dry lips. A thin sheen of sweat formed on his upper lip as got a better look at the neckline of Ginny’s dress. His eyes wouldn’t behave and kept trying to look down.
Ginny’s eyes softened as she put her small, warm hand within his own. He wrapped his other arm around her waist and pulled her firmly against him, inhaling the sweet, flowery scent he remembered so well.
He forgot about his feet and counting the steps and simply allowed himself to be swept away in the moment, loving having her body pressed against his. He ran his hand along the silky material of the dress robes on her back and hissed involuntarily when he reached the bare skin near her shoulders.
"You look lovely," he whispered.
"Merlin’s Beard, Harry. Was that a compliment?" she asked, laughter dancing in her eyes.
His eyes dipped to the cleavage that seemed to be fighting its constraints, and he swallowed heavily. He could now feel the sweat rolling down his back. "I suppose it was."
Ginny smiled gently and leaned in to rest her head on Harry’s shoulder. He shut his eyes and placed his cheek against the softness of her hair. He had no idea how long they stood there, simply swaying to the music; he just knew this was where he wanted to be. When Ginny finally looked up and into his eyes, he was mesmerized by the play of lights on her face. He leaned over slowly and her lips parted, but before he kissed her he glanced around the room.
He suddenly realized they were the only ones still on the dance floor. The band had taken a break, and there were several people watching with watery eyes as the two of them swayed back and forth to phantom music.
Harry pulled back sharply, his eyes darting wildly. Ginny giggled and hid her face against his arm. Grabbing her hand, he pulled her off the dance floor, stopping only to grab a glass of wine for each of them, and outside of the tent into the warm summer air. The meadow was lit with hundreds of floating candles, and several other guests had come outside to enjoy the slight breeze.
Harry kept ahold of Ginny’s hand as they walked across the meadow and stopped by the pond that the Weasley children often used as a swimming hole. Ginny leaned her back against a big old oak tree and placed both glasses on the ground.
"Are you going to finish what you started, Harry?" she asked.
Harry knew she meant the almost-kiss on the dance floor, but his head kept screaming that she was talking about so much more. If he did it, if he leaned over and kissed her now, he didn’t think his resolve was strong enough to let him walk away again.
"Ginny," he whispered, his eyes once again displaying a will of their own and dipping to the ample display of cleavage.
"Harry!" Ginny said, stamping her foot. "My eyes are up this way."
"Sorry," Harry mumbled, heat rising to his cheeks.
Ginny folded her arms across her chest crossly. "You should be."
"You were the one who put it on to make…those…pop out at me," Harry said, waving his hand in the direction of her chest. "You must have wanted them to be noticed. You can’t get angry with me for noticing."
"I did want you to notice…but I wanted you to notice the whole package," Ginny replied, stamping her foot again. "I wore make-up and stockings on my legs. I have a new hair style…not just the boobs."
"I can’t help it; I like the boobs. I like the whole thing. That dress is snug in places where school robes just aren’t," Harry said earnestly.
Ginny’s anger began to melt, and her shoulders started to shake with laughter. "How much of that wine have you had to drink, Harry?"
Harry grinned sheepishly. "Enough not to care what I’m saying."
Ginny wrapped her arms around his neck and began playing with the bit of hair at the nape of his neck. "So, you like the robes, then?" she whispered, sending a shiver of pleasure up his spine.
"I like the robes," he groaned before crushing her body to him and kissing her firmly. It was some time later before they came up for air, both panting heavily.
"I missed that," Harry said.
"Me, too," Ginny replied. "What happens now, Harry?"
"No clue," Harry responded truthfully. "I really don’t think there is a person under that tent that doesn’t know exactly how much I care about you…except maybe Jean-Lucifer…so what’s the point in denying it?"
"Jean-Lucifer!" Ginny gasped, giggling. "He’s an idiot."
"Yeah. I think so, too," Harry responded, thrilled to hear it. He took her in his arms and kissed her again.
When they broke apart, Ginny brushed the fringe from his forehead and rested her own against his. "We’ll work it out, Harry, and we’ll work it out together. For tonight, let’s just enjoy the rest of the wedding, yeah?"
"Yes. I’m finally going to take Hermione’s advice and go back inside that tent, dance with my girlfriend, and even snog a bit if the mood hits me."
"Hermione told you that?"
"Can you believe it? She practically insisted, but I was too busy being noble to listen," Harry said, smirking. "Who’d have thought all it would take was some gold dress robes and a push-up bra."
"The dress robes were more an act of rebellion, really," Ginny said, sighing. She held tightly to Harry’s hand as they walked back towards the tent, as if afraid to let him go. "They can stuff me into it, despite the fact that it’s designed for someone who is eleven, but the fact remains that I’m not eleven. I’m not a little girl anymore, and my body is going to burst out of it."
"It’s bursting just fine," Harry said cheekily.
Ginny smacked him on the arm. "Prat. It’s only an illusion, you know. Once the bra comes off, everything settles right back down where it was."
Harry grinned. "That’s okay. I always looked; I just didn’t get caught as much."
Ginny giggled and hugged him around the waist. He wrapped his arm around her, and they entered the tent. Jean-Luc immediately made a beeline towards them.
"Zere you are, Ginny. I have been looking everywhere for you," he said, looking slightly irritated.
"No time to chat now, Jean-Luc," Harry said, handing him their empty glasses. "I promised my girlfriend the next dance."
He swung Ginny onto the dance floor, completely ignoring the stunned expression on the Frenchman’s face.
Ginny laughed fully, and Harry realized for the first time that he hadn’t heard that real laugh of Ginny’s since he’d arrived at the Burrow. It was like music to his ears. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Gabrielle watching them with a sad smile. When she noticed Harry watching her, she raised her chin and smiled bravely. Harry smiled back, mouthing the words, ‘Thank you.’ She truly had given him the shove he needed. Gabrielle straightened her posture and winked before blending into the crowd.
They danced to several more songs, completely oblivious to the fond stares they were receiving from some of the other guests and ignoring anyone – the twins in particular – who tried to interrupt them. As the night began to wear down, some of the guests began to depart, leaving more empty space on the dance floor.
When some loud bangs were heard from outside the tent, Harry thought Fred and George had ignored their mother’s warnings about not bringing any Weasley Whiz Bangs to the affair. It was only after the screaming started that he realized something was terribly wrong.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he spun toward the entrance. Ginny was right beside him with her wand already drawn.
"Stay beside me," he hissed, beginning to walk towards the tent opening. He cursed himself for becoming so involved in the drama of his personal life that he’d completely ignored that feeling of unease that had plagued him this morning.
His eyes scanned the room quickly, but he couldn’t see Ron or Hermione anywhere. As he reached the tent’s entrance, he immediately knew what was happening, despite the fact that several members of the Order were glancing around wildly with their wands drawn, searching for the cause of the disturbance.
There had been many wards placed around the Burrow, not only to protect the Weasleys, but also due to the fact that Harry had been staying there. Additional wards had been placed in preparation for this wedding, and while they kept the Death Eaters outside the perimeter, they had no effect on Dementors.
Harry could already hear his mother’s distant screaming in his head as he strode outside the tent.
"Anyone who can cast a Patronus, do it now," he bellowed. "We’ve got Dementors coming from that direction," he said, raising his wand towards the other side of the meadow. "Expecto Patronum."
Prongs leapt from his wand and charged toward the tree line. Immediately, he could see several other Patronuses following in that direction, as well. Ginny’s tiger erupted from her wand a moment later.
"Are you certain, Harry?" Kingsley Shacklebolt asked, trying to herd some of the screaming guests away from the tent and back to the Apparition point. In their panic, some of the guests were running right toward the Dementors.
"I’m certain," Harry replied grimly.
"How do you know? I don’t see any of them." Kingsley said.
"Trust him," Ginny replied, looking pale and strained. "He’s right. I can hear it now, too."
Sirius’s voice entered Harry’s mind, growing clearer by the second.
"There," he said, pointed at a spot in the trees. Several of the hooded, black-cloaked figures were emerging onto the meadow, and their numbers appeared to be growing at an alarming rate.
Harry cast another Patronus and shouted at Mrs. Weasley, who had just emerged from the tent, her face a mixture of fear and rage. "Mrs. Weasley, get anyone who can’t cast a Patronus back to the Apparition point and get them out of here. Arrange some portkeys to go to headquarters for anyone who can’t Apparate. Who is the new Secret Keeper?"
"Minerva," Mrs. Weasley said. She appeared slightly stunned, and Harry’s heart lurched in sympathy. She’d worked so hard for this wedding.
"But, Harry, we can’t send them there; it’s supposed to be secret," she said nervously.
"As long as it’s under the Fidelius Charm no one can tell its location, anyway. Besides, it’s my house, and I like the idea of it being used as a place to house refugees," Harry said, directing Prongs towards another Dementor.
"Mrs. Weasley, there’s no time. We have to get everyone out of here." Harry suspected that Mrs. Weasley’s arguments had more to do with whoever the Order was hiding at Grimmauld Place, rather than a concern for headquarters. In normal circumstances, she most likely would have demanded the evacuees be sent there.
"You’re right; I’m on it. Ginny, you come with me," Mrs. Weasley said, squaring her shoulders.
"No, Mum," Ginny said. Her voice trembled slightly, but her eyes were firm.
"Ginny, this is no time to argue," Mrs. Weasley said, grabbing her daughter by the arm.
Ginny pulled away from her grasp. "Exactly. I can cast a Patronus, Mum. I’m needed here."
Mrs. Weasley’s resolve wavered. She looked indecisive for a moment before a Dementor appeared directly beside her.
"Expecto Patronum," Ginny bellowed, and her tiger mowed down her mother’s attacker. "Go now, Mum."
Mrs. Weasley looked one more time at Ginny and Harry with despairing eyes before turning and hurrying toward the house.
A loud, clanging sound filled the night air, reverberating across the open meadow.
"What was that?" Harry shouted, glancing around wildly.
"I think it’s the wards coming down," Ginny replied grimly.
"Great. Have they started clearing any of those people out yet?" Harry shouted over the noise of the battle now taking place.
Ginny looked over towards the direction of the house, squinting her eyes to see. "Some. A lot of people have had a bit to drink so they’re arguing. Some are just panicking. I can see Mum and Professor McGonagall trying to move everyone. The crowd has thinned some, but not a lot."
Flames could now be seen around the perimeter, and the scent of smoke was rapidly filling the air. Harry stared around hopelessly. He could see various Order members on the front line, trying to hold back the Dementors. Several of the soul-sucking demons had breached the line and were moving toward the tent. He could see the Death Eaters, as well. Their masked shapes were creeping from the shadows and casting spells to weaken the wards, Harry assumed.
Squinting his eyes to try and see through the smoke, he could tell that even the Patronuses were weakening the wards. It wouldn’t hold much longer. The members of the Order looked tired and drained.
He could see Fleur, her beautiful white wedding robes streaked with dirt and Auntie Muriels’s tiara askew on her head, standing firm and firing off her butterfly Patronus as she covered Bill. Bill was hunched down and waving his wand in intricate patterns. Harry assumed he was attempting to strengthen the wards.
Staring desperately at the chaos around him, it occurred to Harry that he still hadn’t seen either Ron or Hermion,e and the feeling of hopelessness began to build in his chest.
Where are they? And how am I going to stop this from happening?
A/N: Hi, everyone. I had loads of fun with this chapter, and I’m pleased with the way it turned out, so I hope you are, as well. It’s been an exciting week for me. My good friend, Muggle Momma, designed and launched my very own website. I’m so excited about it, and hope you’ll all go over and take a look. Please sign the guestbook if you do, and there is also a mailing list if you’d like to be informed of chapter news: http://www.melindaleo.com/index.html .
My thanks and appreciation goes to Mistral, as always. She completely fixes these chapters up, and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
I also have to thank my third and final pre-beta, GhostWriter. He gives me a nice male prospective on things, and also, being an editor by trade, knocks down my word count and makes me get to the point. I call him a slave driver – and I’m only half-joking – because he usually starts asking me for the next chapter as soon as he’s seen one. You can thank him for keeping this story moving.