|SIYE Time:19:23 on 22nd March 2018|
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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Nymphadora Tonks
Warnings: Death, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Violence
Story is Complete
Summary: After four years working overseas for the shadowy Department M, a world-weary and dispirited Harry Potter returns to the land of his birth. He meets some old friends and makes some new ones, as he learns that much has changed since he left home. AU, a ‘Harry never went to Hogwarts’ story.
Hitcount: Story Total: 45489; Chapter Total: 3385
Awards: View Trophy Room
For everyone who was a bit mystified by Ginny’s behaviour in the last chapter, all is explained here. As my regular readers will know, I really don’t like portraying her as a weak or timid character… so I haven’t. Oh, and I’ve thrown in a bit of action in earlier part of the chapter to balance out all the romantic stuff. You didn’t think I was going soft in my old age, did you?
Super, wondrous and extremely fast beta work by Arnel.
Chapter 8 — Changes
“This is it,” Dora announced as they approached a rather grim and run-down looking laundromat, situated just off Lambeth Road. Peering in through the glass window, it looked like the place was deserted.
They pushed open the door and entered. From the state of the place, Harry couldn’t imagine anyone would actually want to bring their clothes here to be cleaned. Indeed, half the washing machines had makeshift signs on them declaring that they were out of order. It was an unsavoury kind of place.
“Sudsy normally hangs out round back,” Dora informed him. Leading him towards a battered wooden door at the back marked ‘private’, she opened it without so much as a knock and walked in.
“Aw, bloody hell! What do you pair want now?” Harry heard Sudsy’s whining voice complain.
“Is that anyway to greet an old friend?” Dora asked in mock surprise before her voice turned hard. “Remember, the only reason you’re not languishing in prison at the moment is because you’re useful to us. Time to start earning your keep.”
Sudsy rose from behind a small desk that he’d been sitting at and looked them in distress. “Look, I ain’t got nuffin’ useful for you, okay? I promise when I do I’ll come and find you. Fair do’s?”
“No, it isn’t,” Dora retorted. “You’ve normally got your grubby little ear to the ground. Why is it that an apparently powerful gang backed by some mysterious Muggle benefactor has moved into town and you know nothing about it? I think you’re holding out on me, Sudsy.”
“No, I ain’t! I swear it,” the man cried in alarm.
“Perhaps I should just take what information I need?” Harry said casually. “After all, Sudsy here doesn’t appear to have anything by the way of Occlumency shields.”
“You bloody stay away from me, copper!” Sudsy snarled, his hand moving towards his back pocket. He instantly froze as he found two wands pointing directly at him.
“Going for your wand? My, you are getting brave in your old age, aren’t you? Do you know what the penalty for attacking a Ministry official is, Sudsy? Are you actually looking for a stay in Azkaban?” Dora demanded.
“Just piss off, both of you!” Sudsy yelled defiantly. “I ain’t got nuffin to say to you and I ain’t gunna be a snitch for you no more. You wanna arrest me? Go ahead, pig! I ain’t got nuffin here that’ll get me more than a small fine. Do your bloody worst!”
Harry began to walk towards the man, but Dora placed a restraining hand on his arm.
“Is this the way you want it to be?” she asked Sudsy.
“Yeah, I don’t do nuffin for you anymore, got it? I don’t wanna even see your faces around this place no more,” Sudsy said firmly.
“If that’s the way you want it,” Dora said, putting her wand away. “Just remember, you’ve now forfeited our protection. If we catch you doing anything even slightly illegal, you’ll be in the slammer before you can blink. Likewise, if you get into any bother with your neighbours, don’t come running to us to help you out.”
“I won’t. Now bugger off,” Sudsy spat.
Turning, Dora left the room without a word. Harry glared at the man, but trusted his partner enough to follow her lead. Only when they were outside did he enquire what her plan was.
“Sudsy is usually a cringing little rat,” she explained. “There’s no way he would normally stand up to us like that, especially after you slapped him around last time. That means there’s someone leaning on him that he fears more than he fears us.”
“Ah, that bloody gang have got to him, haven’t they?” Harry acknowledged. “You know, we must really come up with a name for this lot. We can’t just keep calling them ‘the gang’.”
“Perhaps after we’ve actually seen one of the bastards with our own eyes we’ll be able to come up with some snappy title,” Dora smiled, “and on that note, I think we should stake out Sudsy’s place. This gang seem pretty well informed, and the chances are they’ll come knocking on his door to find out what we wanted pretty soon.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” Harry agreed. “How do you want to do this? I still have my Invisibility Cloak and you can just pick a new face, of course.”
“Nah, I have a better idea than that,” she grinned. “First, we grab the Tonksmobile, and then we head to the nearest convenience store. We might be here a while.”
“Why is it always to the Tonksmobile?” Harry muttered in disgust.
It was past eleven at night as Harry stretched his still back as best he could in the passenger seat of Dora’s VW. The little car was currently parked just across the road from Sudsy’s laundromat and they had a perfect view of the shop front from this location.
He’d only been slightly surprised that in addition to all the other modifications the car possessed, it also had an Invisibility Charm built in. Once activated, the pair of them could sit and watch the laundromat in comparative comfort. Harry just hoped the Muggle Repelling and Avoidance Charms would prevent some lorry from ploughing into the back of them.
Dora was currently sleeping, her head lolling against the glass of the side window, while Harry maintained watch. Absently, he popped another wine gum into his mouth from the large bag on the dashboard, hoping the sugar would keep him alert. He had just winced when he realised he’d selected a green one, his least favourite flavour, when movement down the street caught his eye.
Working as a spy for the last few years had taught Harry how to observe what was around him. He was constantly amazed at just what the average person missed as they shuffled about, distracted by their hum-drum lives. It was no wonder that the magical world had remained hidden for so long, really. You could probably parade a pack of Graphorn’s down Kensington High Street and half the Muggles (and even a few witches and wizards) wouldn’t notice. Harry, however, had been trained differently. He knew when something stood out from its surroundings, much like the two men who were walking down the street towards them stood out.
Most people live in their own little bubble, and only pay minimal attention to the world around them. These two men, however, were doing anything but that. Although they were being careful not to show it, their posture was one of total alertness, like they were expecting to be attacked at any moment. Subtly, they were also keeping a keen watch on everything and everyone around them. Harry knew a fellow professional when he saw one, and these two fitted that category perfectly. He reached over and nudged Dora.
“Wa…what…” she mumbled.
“I think our expected visitors might be here,” he told her quickly.
She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked around.
“Ah, I’ve got them. Two blokes, both mid-thirties I would guess, dressed in jeans and plain jackets? Hmm, they look like they know how to handle themselves,” she noted.
“Just what I thought,” he confirmed. “Look, they’ve stopped at the laundry.”
“Oh, and the door has just magically sprung open. I wonder how that happened?” she noted smugly.
“We’ll give them a minute or two then follow, okay?” Harry said.
“Yes, Master!” Dora grinned.
When a suitable period of time elapsed, the two of them leapt from the VW Golf, much to the surprise a passing drunk to whom they appeared to have stepped out of thin air. Not wasting time on the startled man, they ran across the road and paused outside the door to the laundrette. Harry tried the door and found it was still unlocked. He pushed it open and cautiously entered. Seeing nothing, he motioned for Dora to follow him.
Moving as quietly as he could, Harry made his way to the door at the back. It was closed, but he thought he could faintly hear voices coming from the other side.
“Disillusion Charm, okay?” he whispered to Dora who nodded and cast it on herself, instantly vanishing from sight. Harry followed her example, and then gently reached for the door handle. He’d just managed to open the door a crack when a terrible screeching sound rent the air.
“Shit! An Alarm Charm,” he heard Dora curse.
Seeing nothing for it, Harry flung the door open and threw himself inside. It was just as well he hand chosen to fling himself to the floor, as a pair of Severing Charms passed inches over his head a second later.
Quickly, he took in the scene before him. The two men he had seen outside were at the back of the room with their wands pointed in his direction. Sudsy was between them, gagged and apparently tied to a chair. He already had several cuts on his face.
Harry silently cast a Stunning Spell at the left hand man, but was mortified to see him get a Shield Charm in place just in time. A red bolt of light flew over his shoulder aimed at the second man, presumably cast by Dora, but this too was deflected.
As soon as he had cast his spell, Harry’s Disillusion Charm had failed. Realising he was a sitting target, he rolled to his left and managed to take cover behind a filing cabinet. Dora stayed in the doorway began firing spells at the men from there.
The men didn’t stay in one place, either. One overturned a table and took cover behind it while the other chose Sudsy’s desk to hide behind. They then began to throw a steady barrage of offensive spells at Harry and Dora.
“Shit, these two are good!” Harry heard Dora curse.
Harry could see Sudsy desperately trying to get free as spells shot past only inches away from him. He was just about to trying Summoning Sudsy out of the way, when the left hand man suddenly turned his wand on him.
“You were warned, you worthless scum!” he bellowed. “Avada Kedavra!”
The green light only took a millisecond to travel from the tip of man’s wand to Sudsy’s chest. He contorted in his seat and was then still.
“Fuck!” he heard Dora curse.
With trying to protect Sudsy no longer an issue, and their attackers clearly not afraid of using an Unforgivable in front of them, Harry decided now the gloves were off. He sprang from behind his cover and sent a powerful Blasting Curse at the desk Sudsy’s murderer was hiding behind. It exploded with a thunderous detonation.
“Oh, shit!” he heard the second man curse, and then he too let loose a Blasting Charm. Harry cast his strongest Shield Charm, but soon saw that the spell had not been directed in his direction. Instead, the man had cast the spell at the back wall of the room, which blew out sending dust and fragments into the air.
“This isn’t over!” the man yelled and threw something in their direction. Instantly, everything went black.
Harry knew exactly what had happened; the man had thrown a jar of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder at them. Fortunately, he knew a counter to this. Twirling his wand in a circular motion, he created a mini whirlwind in the middle of the room. Within seconds, every grain of power was sucked up into the swirling air, returning the room to normal.
“They’re getting away!” Dora called and Harry looked over to see the man helping his injured colleague through the hole he’d blasted in the wall. Leaping up, he ran over to the hole, but had to duck as a bright blue spell came whizzing through the gap. He cautiously peered round the shattered brickwork just in time to see the pair vanish round the corner of the alley that the hole opened out into.
“Come on,” he yelled to Dora and leapt out.
The sprinted to the corner and again cautiously looked round. The alley opened out into a comparatively busy Muggle street meaning they couldn’t just start throwing spells about.
“There! They’re heading into the passageway across the street,” Dora called, pointing across the still busy road.
As quickly as they could, Harry and Dora hurried across the street and towards the passageway. Not wanting to let them get away, Harry trusted to speed and ran straight in… only to find the passageway was in fact a small service entrance serving a large shop and it was completely empty.
“Bollocks, they must have Disapparated,” Dora cursed.
“I didn’t hear any noise,” Harry protested.
“Maybe they were really quiet,” she pointed out.
“We were right on their heels. No one is that quite. Hell, not even Dumbledore could make that little noise when he Apparated,” Harry grumbled.
“Well, perhaps they had a Portkey? Anyway, no matter how they did it, they’re gone,” Dora moaned.
Harry nodded grimly. At least now they had had their first actual sighting of these mysterious criminals and now no one could claim they didn’t exist.
The next question was how the hell do they catch the buggers?
Harry lounged restlessly on the sofa. Dora was out with Bill (again) and he had the flat all to himself. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite know what to do with himself that evening.
The last few days had been hectic. The fact that there had been a murder using an Unforgivable had sent shockwaves throughout the DMLE and Gawain Robards had again insisted that the investigation be turned over to his Aurors. Dedalus had refused, and had later been backed up by Kingsley himself who stated that due to the seriousness of the crime both departments could run separate investigations, particularly as they seemed to be approached the problem from different angles. Dora had been particularly smug at the Minister’s ruling.
Both he and Dora had submitted Pensieve memories of the incident as evidence, and the DMLE were desperately trying to identify the two men, although there was some speculation that they were both wearing Glamours to disguise themselves. Everyone agreed that the men appeared to be extremely skilled, being able to cast powerful, soundlessly spells with great accuracy. Harry remembered Sudsy’s comment about the gang being ‘like Death Eaters’ and he found himself in agreement with the dead man.
He sprawled on the couch, unable to get the events of the last few weeks out of his head. He knew he should be trying to relax and unwind, but he felt twitchy and out of sorts. Briefly, he considered going out to the pub, but he really didn’t fancy drinking alone.
A chirping sound coming from the fireplace alerted him to the fact someone was calling via the Floo. Wearily, he forced himself up and walked over to the rather ugly, modern-style fireplace that served the flat. Harry knelt down and waived his wand, indicating he accepted the call. He was surprised to see the face of a pretty young woman appear.
“Harry, is that you?” the woman called.
“Yeah. Hello, Ginny,” he replied, trying to hide his surprise.
“Yes, hello. I hope I wasn’t disturbing you or anything,” she said nervously.
“No, not at all. I was just sitting around doing nothing. What can I do for you? Is this about the job at Grimmauld Place?” he asked.
“Oh, no, nothing to do with that,” she confirmed. “Actually, I was wondering if I could take you up on that offer of a drink, if you’re not doing anything, that is.”
Harry blinked. When he’d made the offer he hadn’t expected in a million years for the pretty redhead to actually take him up on it.
“Umm, no; I’ve got nothing on. Yeah, I’d love to go out for a drink with you,” he replied.
“Great!” Ginny exclaimed, actually sounding rather relieved.
“Do you want to come through?” Harry asked.
“No, I need to get ready first. You know us girls; we need to throw a bit of slap on our faces before we can be seen in public. Can I meet you somewhere?” she asked.
“How about that pub we had lunch at last week?” he suggested.
“That sounds great,” she smiled. “Shall we say about an hour, then?”
“I’ll see you there,” Harry confirmed.
“I’m looking forward to it. Bye for now.”
The Floo went dead, but Harry continued to kneel in front of it, somewhat bewildered. He’d honestly never thought in his wildest dreams that Bill’s sister would have the slightest interest in meeting him again. Still, it just showed what he knew, he supposed.
Eventually, he stood and decided a quick shower was in order before he met up with Ginny. It had been a long day and the last thing he wanted to do was turn up stinking. He stripped off his clothes and headed to the bathroom.
After a quick, but refreshing shower, he dabbed a bit of after shave on his cheeks (but only a dab) and went into his room to find something suitable to wear. His fingers were just reaching for a smart shirt when he paused. Ginny had seen him at his scuzzy worst at lunch the other day, and that seemingly hadn’t put her off. What would it look like if he suddenly turned up looking completely different? He grown accustomed to his new look and, frankly, he’d always been a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. Besides, hadn’t Dora said something about Ginny normally dressing like that?
Deciding that if the redhead didn’t like it, it was tough, Harry grabbed a clean pair of black jeans and a Sisters of Mercy t-shirt. Seeing he had a few minutes before he had to go out, he went back into the living room and switched on Dora’s CD player. He found a copy of ‘Floodland’ and a few moments later the chiming opening cords of ‘Dominion/Mother Russia’ started blaring out.
He’d spent the last four years of his life being something he wasn’t, he decided, it was time to just be himself.
Ha rry sat at a small table from where he could keep a watch on the front entrance of the ‘The Lord Clyde’. It was a beautiful summer evening and the landlord had decided to wedge open the double doors which allowed in a gentle breeze to blissfully cool the air in the otherwise stifling pub. The sun was setting outside and it sent rays of golden light in through the windows, bathing the whole place in an ethereal glow.
Sipping his ice-cold pint of Carlsberg Export, Harry felt glad that he’d made the effort to go out. It was far too nice an evening to be stuck in Dora’s flat. With Bill a frequent visitor, he was beginning to feel less and less comfortable living there. The sooner 12 Grimmauld Place was made safe, the better.
Through the open doors, Harry could see into the square that the pub was situated in. In the centre of the square was an area of grass on which several Chestnut trees grew, their leaves hypnotically shimmering in the breeze. As was common for any green area in London in nice weather, numerous people were stretched out on the grass enjoying the last rays of the sun.
He was about to take another sip of his lager when suddenly an angel walked in through the door. At least, he assumed it must be an angel due to the fiery halo that surrounded her head, but when she took a few steps forward Harry saw that it was in fact Ginny Weasley, her hair loose around her shoulders and the sunset framing her in the doorway perfectly. She caught sight of him and began to walk in his direction.
For a moment, Harry couldn’t believe it was the same girl he had met the previous week. Gone was the plain, grey business suit and in its place she was wearing a pair of faded, skin-tight jeans and a black crop top. She accessorised the outfit with a silver necklace and a number of bangles that hung loosely around her wrists. She’d also applied some tasteful makeup (or ‘slap’ as she’d referred to it earlier) and her lips shone a shade of dark pink while her large eyes were further emphasised by dark eyeliner. But it was her hair that made the most difference, he felt. Seeing it hanging loose around her shoulders made her look almost a different person.
“Hi, Harry,” she smiled as she approached the table. “I’m glad you could make it at such short notice.”
“Not at all,” he replied, hurriedly standing up to greet her and nearly knocking his pint over in the process. “You look great! Can I get you a drink?”
For a second, she eyed his frosty pint longingly. “Oh, something cold, please. A nice cider would be great if they do it here.”
“One ice-cold cider coming right up,” he promised and hurried over to the bar. Fortunately, the pub was still not too busy yet and he was able to get served immediately. He returned to his seat a few minutes later clutching a pint glass half-full of ice and an open bottle of Bulmers cider.
“Thanks,” Ginny said gratefully as he put the glass and bottle on the table in front of her. “It’s still very warm out there. I’m really thirsty.”
Harry watched as she poured the golden liquid over the ice, tilting the glass to prevent it foaming up. He noted her nails had been painted a bright shade of red and he could faintly smell her perfume. Her scent was light and flowery, and made his head swim.
“You look sensational,” he complimented her after she’d taken her first drink. He watched as she licked her lips, noting how moist and inviting they were.
“Thank you,” Ginny replied with a faint blush. “At least I’m not dressed like a complete stiff this time.”
“Oh, I thought you looked very smart in that business suit. It looked good on you,” Harry told her.
“I hate wearing it,” she frowned. “The only reason I had it on that day was I’d just finished a job in a Muggle area. When we do those sorts of jobs we try and dress like Muggle estate agents, then no one thinks twice when they see us wandering around examining properties and making notes. Of course, my darling brother only told me we were meeting you and Tonks for lunch minutes before we had to leave, otherwise I would have nipped home and changed.”
“Funny, I thought the same thing. I really didn’t think I was dressed appropriately,” he grinned ruefully.
“Merlin, no!” Ginny exclaimed. “You looked… fantastic. I was mortified; there I was, dressed in some stuffy suit and you were sitting there just looking so cool. I felt like crawling into a hole and dying.”
Suddenly, Ginny’s behaviour at lunch that day became understandable. Bill and Dora had been dressed in a similar manner to him, and poor Ginny must have felt completely out of place.
“Look, I’m really sorry about how I behaved last time,” she continued. “I’m not normally so shy meeting new people, but I… well, you’ve always been a bit of a hero to me. I used to love hearing the story of the Boy Who Lived when I was a little girl and, what with my parents both being in the Order, I used to hear a lot of stories about you. I was a bit star struck for a moment.”
“Look, Ginny…” Harry started, hoping to cut the girl off from whatever fawning speech she was going to make.
“I know that it was you who defeated the Dark Lord, too,” she blurted.
Harry looked at her in surprise. Of course, Order of the Phoenix members would have known exactly what happened that day, but they were supposed to keep quiet about it. Then again, it seemed like everyone seemed to know about it these days.
“Please don’t be angry,” Ginny begged. “My parents didn’t tell me, it’s just my brother George invented these things called Extendable Ears, he runs a joke shop you see, and we were listening in to a meeting of the Order shortly after You Know Who died and, well, I heard everything. I promise that I’ve not told another living soul!”
“It’s alright, Ginny,” Harry sighed. “It seems lately that more and more people are discovering the truth. I just ask that you don’t spread the information around or treat me any differently because of it.”
“Yeah, Tonks said you hate anyone fawning over you,” she smiled. “Actually, you surprised me at lunch the other day. You were just so nice and down to earth. Tonks told me you were like that, but I’m not sure I quite believed her. It was really good to find out she was telling the truth.”
“I just hate people sucking up to me. I’m really not anything special; I just did what needed to be done. Most people would have done the same thing in my situation,” Harry said adamantly.
“Actually, I don’t think they would,” Ginny replied, equally firmly. “Maybe you were a bit cut off from the general population, but I can tell you a lot of people were very scared back then. I heard about loads of families that simply fled to the continent rather than risk facing the Death Eaters. I heard my dad say loads of times that if everyone had just stood up to You Know Who and his lackeys, they wouldn’t have stood a chance. But they didn’t. Most of them ran and hid. You were the one who stood and fought, and you should be proud of that fact, not just dismiss it!”
Harry looked at the girl in surprise. She had a fire in her eyes and her voice had taken on a steely edge. Ginny Weasley was apparently a lot different than his first impressions of her suggested.
“I’d just like to put it all behind me,” he said cautiously. “Can we talk about something else?”
“Oh, of course. Sorry,” she apologised quickly.
“No, really, it’s okay,” he assured her. “So, please don’t think I’m being cheesy here, but how come a beautiful girl like you is single?”
Ginny pulled a face.
“Hmm, I am getting a faint whiff of gorgonzola here,” she chuckled.
“Okay, that was a corny line, but I am interest to know. You’re obviously smart, attractive, successful… why are you single at the moment?” Harry asked.
“I could ask you the same thing,” she retorted before a resigned expression came onto her face. “I guess if I don’t tell you, Tonks will. She’s very protective of you, you know.”
“She’s like a big sister to me,” Harry smiled.
“Yeah, I got that,” Ginny smirked before turning serious. “The truth is, I had a pretty bad breakup a few years ago and it kind of coloured my perceptions a bit. You know how you think you know someone, and then it turns out you were completely wrong? Have you ever had that happen to you?”
“A few times,” he admitted. “A few times I’ve thought I knew myself but I was proved wrong.”
She looked at him sadly. “That can happen, too,” she sympathised. “Well, let me explain. When I went to Hogwarts, I had the normal number of boyfriends, I guess, but no one I was ever really serious about. Then, just after I joined the Harpies, I ran into an old boyfriend called Michael. I’d gone out with him in my fourth year but dumped him because I thought he was too immature and sulky. When I met him again, it really seemed like he’d grown up. He was handsome, charming and considerate. Long story short, we hooked up again and for a while I was blissfully happy. I was doing my dream job, I had a great boyfriend, and all was right with the world, basically.”
“Why do I sense something bad is about to happen in this story?” Harry said seriously.
“You’re way ahead of me,” she smiled ruefully. “Anyway, things were getting serious with Michael and he started dropping hints about getting engaged. Personally, I thought we were a bit young, but I was head over heels for him and my parents thought the world of him, too. Only my brothers were a bit unsure about him, which proves I should listen to them more than I do. Anyway, things were going great until I received that injury I told you and Tonks about and suddenly my Quidditch career was over, just like that.”
“That must have been a terrible blow,” Harry said sympathetically.
“Oh, was it ever, but then things got worse. Completely out of the blue, I get a letter from Michael saying he’s been thinking about our relationship and decided we should breakup. I mean, one second he’s taking marriage and the next second he’s just dumped me,” Ginny said irritably.
“His timing could have been better,” Harry winced.
“As it turns out, his timing was spot on,” she told him in a hard voice. “Anyway, not happy with being dumped via owl post, I go over to his house and he’s really cold and dismissive, claiming things were never that serious between us and he only mentioned getting engaged because he thought it was what I wanted to hear. Needless to say, I hexed his arse good! The bastard reported me to the Ministry, too!”
“You’re right; he was a bastard,” Harry agreed.
“Oh, I haven’t gotten to the good bit yet!” she said bitterly. “In a way, it was good that I was so angry at him, so at least I didn’t just spend my time moping round. I got my arse in gear, took an apprenticeship at Gringotts and got on with my life. It was during my second year with the bank that I did something a bit naughty. Michael had always bragged about how wealthy his family were and how if I became a big Quidditch star our incomes wouldn’t be mismatched. I’d just heard that he’d gotten engaged to some wealthy German heiress and I kind of wondered just how wealthy Michael’s family were, so I snuck a look at his financial records. Guess what I found?”
“Oh, don’t tell me; he was piss poor?” Harry suggested.
“Damn right! His family barely had a Knut to their name. More to the point, they’d been like that for a while, certainly when I was seeing him. They had debts up to their ears and had their creditors circling like vultures. Of course, it all made sense to me then. Michael had realised I stood a chance of becoming a well-paid, professional Quidditch player and latched onto me early. When that fell through, he dropped me like a stone so he could get his claws into some other girl who might have some cash to bail out him and his family. Basically, he’d used me and I was too stupid to see it at the time.”
“I’m really sorry for you, but I wouldn’t blame yourself too much. You get people like him everywhere and sometimes they’re hard to spot,” Harry told her kindly.
“Yeah, I don’t doubt you, but you never think that kind of thing will happen to you, do you? I was convinced Michael genuinely cared for me, but all I was to him was a potential goldmine. Bastard,” she spat and took a long pull on her cider. “You can understand that having something like that happen can knock a girl’s confidence a bit. Basically, since then I’ve only ever gone out with a couple of blokes and never more than once. I just keep thinking; what are they after, you know?”
“I can imagine. Actually, I’m quite flattered that you chose to take me up on my offer of a drink in the circumstances,” he smiled.
“Well, that was a combination of things, really,” she admitted. “Mostly, it was due to Tonks. I knew her from when I was little and she’s always been great to me. She told me that if there was one bloke in the world I could trust, it was you. That and the fact that I harboured a crush on you ever since I saw you that time back at Grimmauld Place.”
“You’re kidding, aren’t you?” he laughed. “I was a spotty, skinny kid with glasses. How on earth could any girl find that attractive?”
“You weren’t that spotty or skinny, as I recall,” she smirked. “In fact, I seem to remember you as being really cute. You had that sticky-up hair and such a serious expression on your face. I was only eleven years old and I was smitten. Shame you never once looked in my direction.”
“Sorry, Grimmauld Place was pretty busy back in those days. People were forever coming in and out and my godfather always told me to keep myself out of the way. I’m sure if I had noticed you I would have come over to talk. I didn’t have too much interaction with kids my own age back then,” he lamented.
“Yeah, Tonks told me about that,” Ginny nodded.
“What else has Tonks been telling you about me?” Harry challenged in mild exasperation. “You seem remarkably well informed about me.”
“We have chatted quite a lot, I must admit,” she explained. “With me sharing a flat with Bill, I have been seeing a lot of her lately. For some reason, she seemed quiet keen on trying to hook us up.”
“I guess I did have a bit of a hand in getting her and your bother together. I suppose she’s trying to repay the favour,” Harry mused.
“I’m not complaining,” Ginny grinned. “So, what about you? Why hasn’t a handsome hunk of man-flesh like you got a girlfriend?”
“Man-flesh?” Harry protested.
“Answer the question,” Ginny laughed.
“Well, what has my darling almost-sister told you about what I’ve been doing these last few years?” he asked.
“Umm, well, nothing too specific,” she replied. “I gather you’ve been doing some sort of secret job that’s been pretty dangerous at times. Tonks said that it meant you were very rarely in one place for any length of time and you had a hard time forming steady relationships.”
“That’s an understatement.” He winced. “Look, you’ve been up-front with me, so I’ll do the same for you. This last four years have been pretty bad ones for me. I was doing a job that required me to do some pretty unpleasant things and there are times where I’ve felt like I’ve been losing myself. It all came to a head a few months ago when I disobeyed a direct order and nearly got myself and a few other people killed. Looking back, I see now that I made some very bad choices in my life, and that also extends to my personal relationships. After the war, I had lost so much that I just felt the need to run away, and in hindsight, that was the very worst thing I could have done. I should have stayed and looked after what little family I had left.”
“Hindsight is always twenty-twenty,” Ginny said supportively.
“Isn’t that the truth? Anyway, I can’t say that I’ve had much time for any kind of relationship in recent years, and the major one I did have was probably a bad mistake. She was married, you see,” he explained sadly.
“Ah,” Ginny said shortly.
“Yeah, I know. You don’t need to tell me how stupid that was. Her husband was a wealthy and powerful politician who was rarely home. She was lonely, I was lonely; you can see how these things happen?”
“Did you love her?” Ginny asked in a quiet voice.
Harry thought for a second. “No, I didn’t, but I think I needed her, if you get my drift.”
“I think so,” Ginny nodded. “Sometimes you just need to be with someone, don’t you?”
“Exactly. The trouble was that relationship was like a placebo. I could kid myself that everything was alright, that I had someone who cared about me, but it was a lie. The people who really cared about me were back here in Britain and I’d run away from them. I see that now, and I’m trying to make it up to them,” he explained. Truthfully, he hadn’t thought about it in those exact terms until he’d started talking about it with Ginny.
“I’m certainly not going to criticise you. I’ve made enough mistakes in my own life to do that,” she snorted “I’m glad things are getting better for you, though.”
“Thanks. Do you know, you’re a really easy person to talk to? I’d never normally have shared half this stuff with anyone,” he said smiling at her.
“Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you,” she grinned back. For a second, their eyes locked and Harry felt a deep stirring within him, something he’d not felt for years.
“Enough serious stuff,” Ginny decided suddenly. “So, what’s your favourite Quidditch team?”
Harry smile widened. Coming out tonight was looking like being a very good move indeed.
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