|SIYE Time:23:01 on 24th February 2018|
In the Heat of the Night
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Category: Alternate Universe
Warnings: Mild Sexual Situations
Story is Complete
Summary: The Weasleys find themselves facing imprisonment and shame after remaining loyal to a man they always trusted. Can Ginny save her parents from the horrors of Azkaban, and what will she discover about herself in the process?
Hitcount: Story Total: 6603
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Disclaimer: Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.R. Note the opinions in this story are my own and in no way represent the owners of this site. This story subject to copyright law under transformative use. No compensation is made for this work.
So, there I was, typing away happily when suddenly one of the Gods of Harry Potter Fan Fiction (the short fat one with a lazy eye) popped into my room and shot a lightning bolt at a very tender part of my body. He then proceeded to pull out his list of ‘twenty corny Fan Fiction plots that any author worth their salt should attempt’ and demanded to know why I’d completed so little of it.
Well, I tried to argue that I’d recently ticked off the Slytherin! Harry plot, and that I was working on a Super Powerful! Harry story right now, but I’d got behind because I’d been busy trying to explain to all those delusional Harry/Hermione shippers out there that JKR never said that they should have been together and that they should actually read the bloody interview she did with Emma Watson before they quote it, but they’re all mad, the lot of them!
Needless to say, this didn’t impress the GoHPFF one little bit, and he demanded I address a plot heading immediately. Using the scientific methodology I used back in my Retail Banking days to decide which loan applications to agree, I closed my eyes and stuck a pin in the list, and came up with ‘Arranged Marriage’.
So, to save my soft, fleshy bits from more lightning bolts, here’s an Arranged Marriage story. Hope you enjoy! Huge thanks to Arnel for her superior wine knowledge and correcting my many, many errors. I’m blaming my hay fever!
In the Heat of the Night
Ginny scrambled to her feet and looked up apprehensively as a square jawed woman she recognised as Amelia Bones, the current Minister for Magic, swept into the courtroom. She watched as the woman climbed the short set of stairs that led to the raised platform from where she would preside. Madam Bones sat behind her bench without fanfare, allowing the twelve selected members of the Wizengamot to retake their own seats.
“The court is now in session,” the Clerk of the Court declared pompously. “Due to the delicate nature of the evidence to be heard today, this will be a closed session with restricted access. The public will not be admitted, nor will any reporters. The jury has already been selected from twelve senior members of the Wizengamot, who have all undertaken binding oaths not to reveal any details of this hearing to anyone outside this room. Madam Bones will preside, and both Prosecution and Defence councils have already been appointed. Madam Bones, do I have your permission to proceed?”
“You do,” the woman confirmed sharply.
“Thank you, Madam. Arthur Septimus Weasley and Molly Tessa Weasley, you are accused of twenty-three separate offenses, but for expedience sake it has been agreed that these will be confined to the most serious of the crimes, namely, membership of an illegal terrorist organisation known as The Order of the Phoenix, revealing Ministry secrets to a third party, and finally, the attempted kidnapping of Harry James Potter, at the time a minor and ward of the state. How do you plead?”
Ginny looked over fretfully at the dock in which her mother and father stood, their wrists secured by chains and a look of misery on their faces. She, Ron, Bill, George and Charlie were seated behind them in a separate dock, having been spared prosecution themselves through a combination of their ages and the willingness of their parents to accept the blame.
“We plead guilty,” Arthur sighed in a broken voice.
Of course, Ginny knew this was what her father was going to say, but hearing the words made her stomach drop and tears spring to her eyes. She simply couldn’t believe this was happening.
“Very well. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have heard the defendants admit their guilt, but the matter of sentencing must still be decided. It has been decided that both the councils for the Defence and Prosecution will speak, detailing the circumstances of these crimes, and putting forward their recommendations for dealing with them. The Council for the Defence will speak first.”
A hard-faced man in purple robes stood and approached the jury.
“Esteemed members of the Wizengamot, I’m sure you are all appalled by the seriousness of the crimes committed by the Weasleys, and at the depths an old, respectable family have sunk. But as with all things, the facts are never so clear cut. There was no malice in any of Arthur and Molly’s actions, and, indeed, only the best of intentions. Sadly they, like so many others, fell under the influence of Albus Dumbledore; during his prime, one of the most respected wizards of his age, and, if I might remind you, Chief Warlock of this very body for a time. It cannot be denied that Dumbledore managed to convince many people that his actions and motivations were for the best, something we now know to be utter lies. Sadly for the Weasleys, they were one of the ones who fell under the man’s influence.”
Ginny could see many in the jury bristle at being reminded that Dumbledore had once been their chief. While it was entirely true, she wasn't sure that rubbing it in their faces would help her parents’ case.
“No, the Weasleys were unwitting pawns in Dumbledore’s complex game, but never for a moment did they believe that their actions would be in any way harmful to anyone. They genuinely believed that they were fighting evil and dealing a blow against the hated Dark Lord. That we now know that their actions could have, in fact, aided him in his dreadful plan is irrelevant. They did what they did with good hearts and pure intentions. I would also point out that their misdeeds were committed at a unique and difficult time for everyone, and such circumstances are unlikely ever to occur again. Punishing them severely now would simply serve no purpose and would just be spiteful and vindictive. They listened to the wrong person, but they did so believing that person was pure and just. Foolishness is not, I believe, a crime.”
Ginny couldn’t help but scowl at the assertion that her parents were foolish, even if she had thought similar things many times in the last few months. It was one thing to think poorly of your family in private, but to have strangers announcing their failings in public was just demeaning.
“So, in short, I must stress that the Weasleys never meant to cause harm in any of their actions. Their worst crime, that of helping in the attempted kidnaping of Harry Potter, was done so in the misbegotten belief that he was being held against his will and being mistreated. Because of the secrecy around that revered young man, they had no idea that it was in fact the Ministry that had rescued him from the abusive situation that Dumbledore himself had placed Mr Potter. They were, in their minds, performing a rescue mission. While that does nothing to excuse the shocking betrayal of the Ministry on Arthur Weasley’s part, it does go some way to explaining their motivation. The man who fed them these lies, Albus Dumbledore, is, of course, dead and beyond the hand of justice, but I maintain that he is the true perpetrator of these crimes and the person on whom most of the blame should be directed. Please, in your eagerness to see justice done, do not apportion too much blame on the shoulders of the ignorant followers of the true culprit. Thank you for your attention.”
The Defence Council returned to his seat. Ginny watched him with a sinking feeling. Placing the blame on Dumbledore was only right and proper, but would it carry any weight with the crusty, old fossils that made up the jury? Somehow, she felt they would rather make scapegoats out of her parents rather than the man they themselves once revered. Her thoughts were interrupted by the Prosecution Council standing and addressing the court.
“Esteemed members of the Wizengamot, my colleague has presented you a picture of a well-meaning, respectable family that has been led astray by the wiles of a cunning and manipulative wizard, and this is not something I would disagree with. However, I feel we must take a moment to ponder the potential implications of the Weasleys’ actions.”
The man paused for dramatic effect.
“Arthur Weasley, a man who has been in service of the Ministry since leaving school, chose to betray the very organisation that gave him work, and effectively fed and clothed his seven children. Those children were educated at Hogwarts, a Ministry owed establishment, and at least one of them has already passed into Ministry service. In short, he turned his back on the very people who gave him and his family everything they own. And for what, you may ask?”
The Prosecution Council spun on his heels and regarded the jury intently.
“He threw his lot in with Albus Dumbledore; a wizard we now know was working directly against the Ministry, who raised a private army, and who tried to use Harry Potter for his own purposes. It is that last act that I would dwell on for a moment. Mr Potter is, as you all know, a hero of our time. From the moment he was taken from his abusive Muggle relatives aged eight, he was trained and educated by the best minds in the Ministry, turning him into an intelligent, powerful young wizard dedicated to upholding justice and law. Since he turned fourteen, he has been battling the insidious forces of the Dark Lord, defeating many of their wicked schemes and bringing many Death Eaters to justice. His crowning achievement occurred just a few months ago, when he finally defeated Lord Voldemort in single combat and killed him, saving our society from evil and finally ridding us of a murderous menace that has plagued us for years!”
An involuntary round of applause broke out amongst all those assembled. Ginny noticed even Madam Bones clapped enthusiastically.
“Yet, how close did we come to losing Mr Potter before he had a chance to fulfil his destiny? We now know that Albus Dumbledore, placing his faith in a discredited prophecy that had already been examined and rejected by our Unspeakables, intended to capture young Mr Potter and brainwash him into doing his bidding. It was Dumbledore’s belief that Mr Potter had to sacrifice himself for the Dark Lord to be defeated; effectively throwing his life away for nothing. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that belief was complete and utter rubbish, and was based on ideas that had already been dealt with by the Ministry. Due to security issues, I won’t go into further detail regarding this, but I’m sure the esteemed members of the Wizengamot know what I’m referring to.”
Ginny frowned. She had no idea what the man was hinting at, but reading between the lines it appeared that Dumbledore was working from incomplete or out of date information. So much for being the greatest wizard of his age!
“Now, ponder what would have happened if Dumbledore had succeeded in his scheme to kidnap Mr Potter when he was just thirteen years old. No doubt the manipulative old wizard would have had his way, and young Mr Potter would have died, facing a terrible foe he was not yet ready to encounter. Due to unique circumstances surrounding him, we would have lost the only man capable of actually defeating Lord Voldemort and we would have been thrown to his non-existent mercies! All because Albus Dumbledore, in his staggering arrogance, thought he knew best. Such egotism is hard to comprehend, as is the unquestioning loyalty that people like the Weasleys showed to this man. They, I would remind you, were the perpetrators of the attempted kidnapping of Mr Potter: Arthur Weasley used his security access and knowledge of the Ministry to gain entry into restricted areas, his son, William, used skills learnt as a Gringotts’ curse-breaker to bypass security wards, various other offspring created diversions, while Molly Weasley herself entered the area set aside for Mr Potter’s training and attempted to abduct him. It was only by the swift and decisive actions of Mr Potter’s godfather, Sirius Black, that this hideous plot was defeated. The Weasleys then escaped and managed to hide their involvement, and continued to be members of the illegal private army that Dumbledore formed, until their role was uncovered and they were captured just a few weeks ago. These are not the acts of a group of innocents led astray by a well-meaning old man. These are major acts of treason!”
Ginny felt her stomach churn. Had her parents’ actions really nearly doomed them all and ensured Voldemort’s victory? She just couldn’t believe it. There was no way her Mum and Dad would ever do such a thing.
“It is with this in mind that I ask you to award the appropriate sentence to a couple who, if their plans had worked out, would have plunged the whole of Britain, both magical and Muggle, into a terrible darkness, which would probably have seen thousands, if not millions, killed. A signal must be sent to all those who think they know better than the elected authorities that this kind of behaviour cannot and will not be tolerated. I thank you.”
With her world reeling, Ginny stared vacantly around her. The courtroom was full of ominous muttering, and the hard expressions of the jury left her in little doubt that mercy would be a quality hard to come by.
“Now we have heard from both the Prosecution and the Defence, it is time…” Madam Bones began.
“Excuse me, Minister, but I wondered if I might be permitted to say a few words.”
Ginny looked over to see a tall, dark-haired young man rise to his feet. He’d been sitting on the far side of the court, so she hadn’t notice him before. Once she had a clear glimpse of him, however, she recognised him instantly — this was Harry Potter.
The young man was dressed immaculately in dark green robes and wore his hair down to his shoulders. Although she’d seen his picture in the papers many times, she realised they didn’t do him justice. He was one of those people you could just take one look at and know that he was powerful. His graceful movements and keen, penetrating glance spoke of a young wizard at the height of his capabilities, and he had a commanding presence. In other circumstances, Ginny thought wryly, she would have been delighted to have gotten this close to the living legend, but at that moment she could only feel bitterness towards him.
“Mr Potter, while this is not normal court procedure, I feel it would be churlish of me to deny your request,” Bones agreed, “especially as the case involves you so intimately.”
“Thank you, Minister,” he replied, nodding graciously. “Members of the Wizengamot, no one is more contemptuous of Albus Dumbledore than I. It was he, after all, who condemned me to grow up with my hated Aunt and Uncle against my parents’ wishes, who allowed the wrongful imprisonment of my godfather despite knowing full well of his innocence, and, of course, his intention that I should be sacrificed like a pawn on some giant chessboard. The man personified the arrogance and abuse of power that sometimes occurs with wizards of his status. I despise him and everything he stood for.”
Ginny happened to glance at her parents as Potter spoke and noticed them both glaring at the young wizard angrily.
“However, both Dumbledore and Voldemort are gone and we now find ourselves with the chance to rebuild our world to higher standards. We have the opportunity to create a society where the prejudices of the past can be banished, and where we have free and fair dialogue. The future is in our hands and I would beg everyone here not to waste this chance by clinging onto outmoded traditions and ideas. With this in mind, I would state firmly that I don’t believe that one of the first acts of the new Ministry should be to take revenge on those who wronged them in the past. I have never met the Weasleys, other than that brief encounter years ago, but from the little I have heard about them they sound like decent people. Yes, they were led astray and could have brought disaster down around our ears, but I don’t believe that was their fault. Our society has for too long clung to medieval ideas and principals that have no place in the modern world. By placing their faith in Dumbledore, the Weasleys were just following the ideal of some all-powerful, Merlin-like wizard who would protect and guide us. This idea is as out of date as the ones about blood purity that caused the last war. Before we punish the Weasleys for believing what they did, we should take a good, long look at ourselves and our own beliefs. That is why I say we should let the past be the past, and show mercy to this couple. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say my piece.”
Potter began to retake his seat, but Madam Bones signalled that he should remain standing.
“Mr Potter… Harry… while I cannot refute your words in any way, crimes have been committed and the law cannot be ignored. By their own admission, the Weasleys have committed grave transgressions and these cannot remain unanswered, I’m afraid.”
Potter looked frustrated by the Minister’s words, and Ginny was filled with the conviction that he genuinely didn’t want to see her parents punished. Her earlier bitterness began to dissolve.
“It occurs to me, however, that we are in a fairly unique situation here,” Bones continued thoughtfully. “Although the Weasleys have committed crimes against the state and the Ministry, their greatest transgressions have been directed against yourself, Mr Potter. Wizarding society owes an enormous debt of gratitude to you and I feel we have the opportunity here to start repaying that debt a little. I propose, with the jury’s agreement, to amend this case from a public to a civil one. That is, the Ministry will withdraw its action against the Weasleys, leaving only a civil case to be answered for their actions against you. They have already admitted their guilt, so it would just leave retribution and compensation in your hands.”
“So, I would be able to decide their punishment?” Potter asked.
“Indeed, within certain guidelines,” Bones confirmed.
At this point, Ginny noticed an older man was sitting next to Potter desperately trying to gain his attention. Potter just shrugged off the man’s hand and exchanged a few whispered words with him. Potter then shrugged, and looked back at the Minister.
“Thank you for your kind offer, which, with the jury’s agreement, I would like to accept,” Potter announced.
“What say you, members of the jury?” Bones called out. “Are you in agreement?”
“Aye!” came the almost immediate agreement of the jury, which Ginny couldn’t help but feel was a little strange, almost… rehearsed.
“Very well, Mr Potter, the hearing has now altered from a public to a civil case. In view of this, an ancient and well-establish tariff detailing appropriate levels of punishment or compensation for the crimes committed now comes into force. Clerk of the Court; I believe you prepared a copy of the tariff in case of this very eventuality?”
“Wait a minute,” Potter exclaimed. “What do you mean, a tariff? Can’t I just specify a punishment for them?”
“Oh, I’m afraid not,” Bones replied calmly. “The guidelines for just such contingencies as this were set down centuries ago and cannot be ignored. By agreeing to accept the action yourself, you have entered into a magic contract that must be honoured. I did say that justice must be seen to be done, did I not, Harry?”
“I…” Potter spluttered angrily. “Very well! I assume from what you said that I have a choice of punishments that can be applied.”
“Indeed,” Bones smiled. “Clerk of the Court, if you will.”
The man rose again and came over to face Arthur and Molly Weasley. He unrolled a scroll and began to read from it.
“By your own admission, you Arthur Septimus Weasley and Molly Tessa Weasley, admit your guilt in attempting to abduct Harry James Potter, and therefore must provide him satisfaction in accordance with ancient laws set out covering such crimes. One of the following must be paid to Mr Potter in compensation within seven days, otherwise a punitive prison sentence will apply. The payments deemed acceptable in these circumstances are to be one of the following: one, a payment of seventy-five thousand Galleons is to be paid directly to him, in a single payment to be delivered within seven days. Two, goods and services to the value of seventy-five thousand Galleons can be made, although the value of said goods will need to be independently established by a third party, normally the goblins of Gringotts. Three, a suitable female family member may be offered in marriage to Mr Potter, by mutual agreement.”
“Seventy-five thousand Galleons!” Arthur Weasley cried. “I don’t have that sort of money! What happens if I can’t pay?”
The Clerk glanced at his scroll. “Then you will both be sentenced to imprisonment at Azkaban for five years.”
Ginny nearly screamed out loud. Azkaban? For five years? That was horrific! The place might not be guarded by Dementors anymore, but the very rock the place was made from was soaked in Dark magic. The horror of the place soon imprinted itself on its inmates and none had escaped with their sanity intact. In fact, very few lasted more than a few years into their sentences, anyway. Her mother would be especially vulnerable, being highly-strung and emotional. She’d nearly had a breakdown when Fred had been killed; she wouldn’t last five minutes in that hellhole, let alone five years.
“This is ridiculous,” Potter cried out. “It’s exactly these antiquated laws that I was talking about! I don’t want or need the Weasleys to pay anything like that amount. A few hundred Galleons would satisfy me.”
“I’m sorry, Harry. These levels of compensation have long been established and cannot be ignored. We would have an uprising amongst the pureblood families if we attempted to,” Bones said apologetically.
“Well… maybe if we sold our home…” Arthur began desperately.
“Ah, I’m afraid that won’t do,” the Clerk smiled evilly. “Just in case these circumstances arose, I took the liberty of arranging a full valuation of the Weasley family property and assets. Your house, being held together mainly by a hodgepodge of spells and charms, is, I’m afraid, virtually worthless. The land itself has more value, but only a few thousand Galleons. In fact, we value the total family assets at being around twenty-seven thousand Galleons, and that was being optimistic.”
“But… but… maybe we can borrow the money?” Arthur cried.
“Mr Weasley, who on earth would lend you, a disgraced, jobless man with very limited security to offer such an amount? And no, before you ask, Mr Potter is not permitted to front the money, either, or any of his friends or acquaintances. This payment is meant to be punitive, and must be raised from your own means.”
“Then I have no means of paying any of the forms of compensation listed,” Arthur said in a crushed voice. Beside him, Molly Weasley broke down into tears.
“Very well,” Madam Bones said grimly. “In the circumstances, I have no alternative other than to sentence you both to…”
“WAIT!” Ginny screamed, leaping from her seat. All eyes in the court turned on her and she swallowed nervously.
“Well?” Bones demanded archly.
Taking a deep breath, Ginny did the only thing she could think of to keep her parents out of Azkaban.
“I hereby offer myself to Harry Potter as a wife, in settlement of the debt.”
There was a gasp around the room, and Ginny dimly heard her mother screaming ‘no!’ from nearby. In truth, she could barely believe those words had come out of her own mouth, and she felt herself trembling.
In absolute silence, Harry Potter rose from his seat and walked towards her. He stopped just a few feet away from her and looked directly into her eyes. She’d read many times in the papers that Potter had mesmerising green eyes that could melt the heart of any witch who looked into them, but the gaze that Potter gave her was hard and uncompromising. It felt like he was looking directly into her soul and judging her. Time seemed to drag as he held her entrapped in that steely gaze.
Potter’s words caught Ginny completely by surprise, and the court immediately exploded in noise. She felt her legs give way and she sat back down heavily on the bench, with her brothers all grabbing at her demanding to know what she had done. Conscious thought began to slip away, and she fell into a state of near shock.
“What the bloody hell were you thinking of?”
Harry paused to let his godfather catch up. The moment after he’d uttered those two fateful words, he’d turned and strode out of the court room. Sirius had been right on his heels, and looked absolutely furious.
“I didn’t have a choice. You heard; those two would have been thrown in Azkaban if I hadn’t accepted,” Harry said flatly. “Besides, I just had this… feeling that it was the right thing to do.”
“Feeling?” Sirius repeated in disbelief. “Have you lost your senses? What makes you think those bastards didn’t deserve to rot in Azkaban. Dumbledore certainly didn’t give two shits that I was thrown in there, did he? And those red-haired morons were just his lapdogs, remember. You should have demanded a longer bloody sentence, not looked for ways for them to escape justice.”
“Sirius,” Harry said reproachfully, before starting to walk in the direction of the lifts again.
“No, I’m deadly serious,” the older man spat. “You do know that Amelia played you in there, don’t you?”
“How so?” Harry asked wearily.
“Despite everything, there are still plenty of people out there who still think Albus bloody Dumbledore was a saint, or something. The Weasleys are a well-respected, pureblood family and punishing them for just following Dumbledore’s orders was always going to be as popular as a vomit flavoured Bertie Bott’s! By getting you agree to transfer the case to a civil prosecution, you let the Ministry off the hook and agreed to take any bad press on your own shoulders.”
Harry sighed; he’d never been much good at looking at the political implications of things.
“I suppose that’s the one good thing about all this. By accepting that little bitch as your wife, you’ve let the rest of the buggers off the hook. But tell me, Harry, do you know exactly what you’ve let yourself in for? You do realise that you haven’t any choice now, you’ve got to marry the Weasley girl.”
“She’s quite pretty,” Harry shrugged. “You’re always telling me that I need to find myself a girlfriend.”
“Girlfriend, Harry! Girlfriend!” Black shouted. “I didn’t tell you to go out and agree to marry the first slapper you ran into!”
“Look, I’ll just give it my best shot, and it turns out that… umm, what was her name?”
“Ginevra Weasley,” Sirius said acidly.
“Err, yeah, if Ginevra Weasley turns out to be awful, I’ll just divorce her,” Harry said in a reasonable voice.
“Good Godric, Harry! Haven’t you learnt anything in all this time? Tell me, how many divorced couples have you heard of in the Wizarding world?”
“Well… oh, there was that bloke over in the Magical Research Department who was on his second wife.”
“Maycock? His first wife died, Harry. That’s one of the few circumstances where someone is permitted to remarry. I remember a case when a petition to annul a marriage was turned down by the courts even after the wife had tried to poison her husband! In short, you blithering idiot, there’s no such thing as divorce in the Wizarding word!”
“Really?” Harry said in a sick voice.
“Yes, really,” Sirius nodded grimly. “You’ve just agreed to marry a complete stranger, whose parents tried to hand you over to Dumbledore, and you’re stuck with her until one of you pegs out!”
“Oh,” was all Harry could think to say.
He’d not wanted the imprisonment of the Weasleys on his conscience, but it looked like his good intentions had backfired on him. Just once in his life, couldn’t something good happen to him?
“Well, that went better than I expected.”
Ginny stirred from her haze and saw Percy standing a few feet away, wearing immaculate Ministry robes and his usual pompous expression. He’d not been included in any of the charges made against the Weasley family, so had been observing the events from off to one side.
“That went well?” Bill yelled. “Ginny had to sell herself to that bastard, Potter, or didn’t you notice, you idiot?”
“Harry Potter is a highly respected Ministry official,” Percy sniffed. “He’s likely to be a hugely influential political figure in the coming years, and is very well-to-do. Frankly, I don’t think young Ginevra could find a better husband.”
“You bastard!” George yelled, lunging at his brother.
“BOYS! Stop it,” Molly yelled, stepping between them, before she turned and pulled Ginny into a hug. “Oh, my angel! Don’t worry; we’ll find a way of getting you out of this mess.”
“I hardly think so, Mother,” Percy sniffed. “As soon as Potter agreed to the marriage, a magical contract was created, which must be honoured. Besides, in case it’s escaped your notice, unless Ginevra does go through, you and Father will be thrown in Azkaban. That was a selfless thing you did, Ginevra.”
“Thank you, Percy,” Ginny mumbled. “So, what happens now?”
“I expect you’ll receive a summons to meet with Mr Potter’s legal representatives shortly. In fact, I expect that a meeting will be arranged as soon as possible, as the marriage must take place within a month at the latest. Terms will be agreed, and the marriage contract drafted. I would strongly recommend that nothing is signed until our own legal representatives look over it,” Percy explained.
“This is ridiculous!” Molly exclaimed. “If that arrogant young fool, Potter, thinks we’re just going to hand over our only daughter, he has another thing coming!”
“Ginevra suggested it, remember?” Percy pointed out mildly. “Besides, I rather think Potter was being merciful. He could well have insisted on a prison sentence for the pair of you, you know. Trust me, Mother, Azkaban is not a place you ever want to set foot in.”
“Hush now, Molly,” Arthur said soothingly. “The important thing is that we’re all free for the moment. Let’s head back to the Burrow and see if we can’t make sense of this whole mess.”
Molly nodded, and let herself be led away by her husband. Ginny followed on, flanked by her brothers. Only now was it beginning to sink in what she’d agreed to. She was going to have to marry a man she’d only ever seen in flesh from across a courtroom, who happened to be one of the most powerful and controversial wizards in the world.
Apprehension didn’t begin to describe what she was feeling at that moment.
“I suggest we give them another ten minutes, and if they haven’t appeared by then we’ll need to inform the Ministry.”
Harry looked up at Mr Griffiths, one of the senior partners at Broadbent, Griffiths and Slater, the firm of solicitors that handled all of their legal affairs. The man always did seem to revel in the misfortune of others a little too much for Harry’s taste.
“I’m sure they’ve just been delayed,” Sirius argued, placing his empty cup on the desk in front of him and then glancing at his watch, “after all, they’re only… err… twenty minutes late.”
“Nevertheless, I must recommend that to ensure you are compliant with Ministry regulations you inform them of the Weasleys’ non-appearance. We wouldn’t want Mr Potter here to get into any trouble himself, now, would we?” Griffiths smiled in a particularly unpleasant way.
“Maybe we should…” Harry began when a loud disturbance from the outer office interrupted him. A moment later, the door opened and Mr Griffiths’ prim secretary stuck her head in.
“The Weasleys are here, Mr Griffiths,” she announced. “There’s rather a lot of them.”
Through the open door, Harry could hear the sounds of a full-blown argument.
“Tell them that only Mr and Mrs Weasley and their daughter will be permitted to attend this meeting,” Mr Griffiths said firmly.
“Right away, sir,” the secretary confirmed with a rather triumphant smile. She vanished, closing the door behind her, and there were sounds of more shouting soon after. A few minutes later, Arthur and Molly Weasley entered with their young daughter trailing behind them. The door was rather firmly shut behind Miss Weasley.
This at least gave Harry the chance to have his first proper look at the woman he was being forced to marry. She certainly hadn’t dressed up for the occasion, and was wearing patched jeans and a worn-looking checked blouse. She was, however, far prettier than Harry had first thought. Her long, fiery hair was the most striking feature about her, and it hung partway down her back. Some people might have commented her nose was rather long, but he thought it suited her slim features, and the speckling of freckles across it were delightful. Her figure was neat with enough curves to arise his interest. If nothing else, he would be marrying a very attractive girl.
As if she’d felt his eyes on her, Miss Weasley suddenly looked directly at him. Their eyes locked briefly, just as they had done in the courtroom, before she looked away with a slight blush. The young woman slid into the last available seat and looked at the solicitor expectantly.
“Please accept my apologised for being late,” Arthur Weasley began. “I’m afraid most of my sons insisted on accompanying us and all the squabbling rather delayed us.”
“We shouldn’t have come here at all,” Molly Weasley said irritably. “This whole thing is ridiculous! If you think we’re just going to give away our only daughter to that… that… young rogue, you are very much mistaken!”
“Am I to understand that you’d prefer to accept the prison sentence?” Griffiths asked mildly.
“No!” Arthur Weasley said quickly. “It’s just… there has to be another way than this, hasn’t there?”
“No, Mr Weasley, there is not,” Griffiths said firmly. “Miss Weasley entered into a binding legal agreement with Mr Potter, and breech of that agreement will result in not only you, but your daughter serving gaol time. This is not negotiable.”
“Mr Potter, surely we can come to some arrangement? Ginny didn’t understand what she was getting herself into,” Mr Weasley begged.
“Mr Potter has no further say in the matter,” Griffiths interrupted. “Once the agreement is made, he is as bound by it as Miss Weasley.”
“But Ginny had no idea what she was doing!” Mrs Weasley wailed.
“Yes, I did,” Ginny Weasley said angrily, speaking for the first time. “Can’t you two understand that if I hadn’t suggested this that you’d be in Azkaban by now? I knew that this was the only option left!”
“But you’re throwing your life away!” Mrs Weasley protested.
“Maybe you should have thought of that before you tried to kidnap my godson,” Sirius pointed out angrily.
“We were only trying to do what was best for him!” Molly yelled back. “The Ministry was just turning him into a mindless solider, ready to follow their orders blindly!”
“Better that than an unwitting sacrifice as Dumbledore had planned,” Sirius shot back.
“Please! Can you all show some decorum, please?” Griffiths said forcibly. “Now, Mr and Mrs Weasley, while I do fully understand your concerns, they are doing nothing to help the situation. The agreement has been made, and unless you want you and your daughter to be imprisoned in Azkaban, it needs to be followed through. No amount of complaining or pleading will get around that fact.”
Mr Weasley just sighed heavily, while his wife glared at the solicitor as if he’d arranged the whole thing.
“Now, if we can perhaps move on?” Griffiths continued. “A marriage contact will need to be drawn up and a date for the wedding set. I assume a standard wedding agreement will be satisfactory? Yes? Good. Now, as for a date, as you know the wedding will need to occur within thirty days of the court hearing, which means it must occur and be consummated by the twenty-eighth. I would, however, urge you not to leave it to the last minute to allow time in case any… complications arise.”
“Wait a minute,” Harry interrupted. “You said the marriage has to be consummated within that time? Does that mean what I think it means?”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know,” Molly Weasley spat.
“Yes, Mr Potter, I suspect it does,” Griffiths confirmed, ignoring the Weasley matriarch. “Sexual intercourse must occur between you and Miss Weasley for the marriage to be fully legal. Indeed, the pair of you will need to present yourselves to a legal representative after the wedding so that fact can be verified. I would, of course, be happy to perform that service.”
“Verified? How would you do that?” Harry asked in alarm.
“Don’t worry, my boy; there’s a spell to do that,” Sirius explained.
Harry glanced over at Ginny Weasley, who was looking pale and distressed. Clearly, this information was something of a shock to her, too.
“Look on the bright side,” Sirius added. “In medieval times you’d have had to have several witnesses join you in your bedchamber just to verify you’d done the deed. Just be glad you won’t be performing in front of an audience.”
“Yeah, thanks for that, Sirius,” Harry muttered sarcastically before he turned to the Weasleys. “Do you have any preference for date or location?”
“How about never?” Molly Weasley snapped.
“Molly, you’re really not helping things,” Arthur Weasley said in a tired voice. “What do you think, sweetie? Have you any preference?”
“I… I always imagined I would get married at the Burrow,” Ginny said quietly. “As for a date, I think I need a few weeks to get my head around all this.”
“You and me both,” Harry agreed.
“Oh, don’t act like you’re hard done by,” Mrs Weasley raged. “You’ve managed to trap my daughter into marrying you! I bet you can’t wait to despoil her, can you, you brute?”
“Harry didn’t trap anyone into anything,” Sirius yelled. “If anything, it’s the other way round. You do remember it was your daughter who first suggested this, don’t you? Miss Weasley over there has just managed to snag herself one of the most eligible bachelors in the world! Have you any idea of the number of marriage proposals he’s received in the last few months?”
“Sirius, please!” Harry practically begged. “Mrs Weasley, please believe me, it was not my intention to force your daughter into marriage. I’d never even met her before yesterday! More to the point, this antiquated law that forces you to provide me with a wife is exactly the sort of ridiculous, pure-blood, out-of-date, mindless rubbish that I spoke out about in the court. The idea that I should have to marry a girl I’d never spoken to in my life as settlement of a debt seems ludicrous to me. Now, if you can think of a way that gets us out of this without us all ending up in Azkaban, then I’m all ears. If not, then I think we should agree a date and just get on with it.”
Harry noticed that the Weasley girl was staring at him curiously. He returned her gaze with what he hoped was an apologetic smile.
“How about the twentieth?” Ginny Weasley eventually suggested.
“That’s fine with me,” Harry agreed.
“Excellent, then the wedding is set for the twentieth and will be held at the Weasley home in Devon. Splendid,” Mr Griffiths said, scribbling down the details on a scroll.
“Can I suggest one thing in the meantime?” Harry added. “Miss Weasley and I have barely said two words to each other, and yet we now have a date when we’re supposed to marry. I think it would be a good thing if we could arrange a few meetings in the meantime, just so we can get to know each other a bit.”
“That’s actually a good idea,” Ginny Weasley nodded.
“Not without a chaperone!” Molly Weasley. “I want to be present at any meeting.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Sirius noted acidly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mrs Weasley asked in a dangerous voice.
“It means, that I very much doubt you’d allow these two to actually get to know each other. I expect you’d be too busy accusing my godson of trapping your daughter and complaining endlessly about the whole thing. These two need time to talk without constant interruptions.”
“How dare you!” Mrs Weasley yelled, rising to her feet.
“Molly, please!” Arthur Weasley said in a firm voice, pulling his wife back down into her chair. “I think perhaps I’d be the best choice as chaperone, if that’s agreeable.”
“Fine by me,” Harry said. “I’m going to be away for a couple of days, so can I suggest a meeting on Saturday? Perhaps the three of us could have dinner somewhere?”
“Yes, that would be fine,” Ginny agreed, although she sounded far from enthusiastic.
“Right, well, that’s agreed then,” Harry confirmed.
They all lapsed into silence as Mr Griffiths continued preparing the paperwork.
“Umm, a table has been booked in the name of Potter, I believe,” Ginny’s father said nervously.
The receptionist looked down at a large book and almost immediate found what she was looking for.
“Ah, yes, table seventeen. Just go down here and turn left at the end. Mr Potter is already here, and I’m sure you’ll see him immediately,” she said politely.
Thanking the young woman, the two Weasleys began to follow her direction. Ginny looked around with interest, having never been in a Muggle restaurant before, and she hadn’t quite known what to expect. The place was much larger than she envisaged, and a lot busier, too. She was very glad that Potter had indicated to dress casually on his invite, as this place seem very relaxed and family friendly.
As she walked passed the first few tables, mouth-watering smells began to assault her senses. Ever since her father had been suspended by the Ministry a few months ago, things had been very tight in the Weasley household and their normal lavish meals had shrunken considerably. At present, they were surviving on the income from George’s shop, and whatever Bill, Charlie and even Percy could send home. The one good thing about this whole mess was that it had forced George back to work finally after Fred’s death. Ron was also helping out at the shop, and she’d even pitched in on occasions. Still, a good meal would be very welcome about now.
They turned where they had been instructed and immediately saw Potter sitting at a table, nursing a beer. When he saw them, he stood and waved them forward.
“Mr Weasley, Ginevra, I’m very pleased you could make it,” he said, offering his hand.
Ginny shook his hand, while taking the opportunity to examine him more closely. He was dressed in a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up, untucked from his jeans which were faded and rather form-fitting. He looked relaxed and content, which was more than she could say about this meeting. What if it turned out they hated each other?
“Thank you for inviting us,” Arthur replied formally. “I must say, I was very surprised to be invited to a Mugg… err, that is, a restaurant of this kind.”
“It’s alright, Mr Weasley, I’ve placed Anti-Eavesdropping Charms on the table. You can talk quite normally. Please, take a seat, both of you.”
They seated themselves opposite Potter.
“Actually, this is one of my favourite places to eat,” he explained. “I can’t stand fancy restaurants with their fussy food. This place is friendly, has quick service and does a cracking rib-eye steak. I can highly recommend any of the steaks, actually.”
“Ah, yes, you rather caught me on the hop by coming to a Muggle establishment,” Arthur said reluctantly. “I didn’t get the chance to convert any money, you see, and…”
“Mr Weasley, you’re both here at my invitation,” Potter said quickly. “This is my treat. Please, order whatever you want and let me worry about the bill. You would like some drinks to start with?”
For a second, Arthur Weasley looked completely panicked. Ginny realised that her father wouldn’t have a clue what to drink in a Muggle establishment.
“Or we could just order a bottle of wine to drink with the meal?” Potter suggested quickly.
“Umm, yes, that seems like a good idea,” Arthur agreed quickly.
“No problem, they have a very nice Merlot here,” he revealed, before gesturing at the menus. “Anyway, pick whatever you like.”
Ginny picked up her menu and her eyes immediately went to the steak section. The sirloin with garlic butter sounded to die for, of course Potter’s favourite the rib-eye sounded good, too. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her father trailing his finger down the menu, examining each item. Unfortunately, he seemed to be looking exclusively at the prices, and his finger hovered over a basic, not to mention inexpensive, pasta dish. Apparently, the Weasley pride was reasserting itself and he clearly didn’t want to be thought of as taking advantage of Potter’s generosity. Ginny, however, was too bloody hungry to worry about pride.
“Are you sure it’s alright to order anything on the menu, Mr Potter?” she asked hesitantly.
“Yes, absolutely,” Potter assured her. “This place is really reasonable and, besides, I doubt the pair of you could eat half as much as my godfather between you. I swear that man is capable of inhaling steaks!”
“Thank you,” Ginny said politely. “I’d very much like the sirloin, if I may, medium-rare.”
“Good choice,” Potter beamed. “Oh, and by the way, call me Harry. I rather think we should be calling each other by our first names in the circumstances, don’t you?”
“Harry,” she repeated. “You should call me Ginny, then. I’ve never really cared for my given name; it’s a bit fussy, don’t you think?”
“It’s a noble and ancient name,” Arthur Weasley said disapprovingly, “and I hardly think it’s polite to pick one of the most expensive items on the menu, my girl.”
“Mr Weasley, really, I purposely selected this place because it’s great value for money. I thought you’d appreciate it more than some fancy French place, anyway. Ginny can order whatever she wants and it really is no bother,” Harry told him in a conciliatory tone.
“Oh, I suppose you thought us bumbling oafs would be lost in a posh restaurant, did you? I would hate for us country-bumpkins to embarrass you, Mr Potter!” Arthur snapped angrily. “But let me tell you something; we may not be rich or powerful, but the Weasleys have never needed charity! So, if you think you’re doing us a favour by flashing your money about, then think again! The same goes for you so generously agreeing to marry my daughter. I don’t need to sell-off my precious little girl just to get us out of a hole. Frankly, Potter, you can take your charity and stick it!”
“Actually, Weasley, it wasn’t charity I was showing you, it was mercy! And let me tell you, that’s exactly what you need right now,” Potter snarled back.
“Stop it!” Ginny yelled, loud enough that several people on other tables looked round. “Look, Dad, Harry was just trying to be nice. He wasn’t being condescending, or anything. Good Godric, you’d have been miserable in some posh restaurant, anyway! Stop trying to pick fights with him.”
“Ginny, I still have my pride, you know,” Arthur told her firmly. “The Ministry might have taken everything else away from me, but I still have that. I will not be patronized or belittled, and you, my girl, shouldn’t be so swayed by some flash young wizard with a few Galleons to rub together.”
“I’m not being ‘swayed’ as you so nicely put it,” Ginny growled angrily. “I was just pointing out that Harry was behaving like a gentleman and you were acting like a plonker!”
“Ginny! How dare you talk to me like that!” Arthur growled, his bald patch glowing red with anger.
“Maybe she’s just annoyed that she’s undertaken a huge sacrifice for you, and all you do is treat her like she’s some silly little girl who didn’t know what she was getting herself into,” Harry interrupted irritably. “You should remember that you’d be in Azkaban right now if not for her actions.”
“You stay out of this, you pompous arse!” Arthur raged.
“Dad! Do you actually want to end up in that hellhole?” Ginny growled. “Do you want Mum to go there? She’s last five minutes there, the way she is! For Merlin’s sake, keep a lid on your temper.”
With enormous effort, Arthur Weasley settled back in his seat and kept his mouth shut. The look he was giving her, however, left Ginny in no doubt that he would be having words with her when they got home.
“Are you ready to order yet?”
Ginny looked up to see a young, attractive waitress hovering by the table. The fact that the girl was smiling broadly at Harry irritated her. She might have only just met him, but this girl didn’t know that, did she?
“I think so,” Harry replied, smiling back politely. “I’ll have the rib-eye and my friend here will have the sirloin, both medium-rare, please. Arthur?”
“I’ll have the pasta dish, thank you,” the man replied stiffly.
Harry looked like he was going to question Arthur’s choice for a moment, but then obviously decided it wasn’t worth it. “We’d also like a bottle of the Mellotte Merlot 1994, please,” he added instead.
“Certainly, I’ll be back with your drinks in just a moment,” the girl informed him, and hurried away, shaking her backside a little too obviously, in Ginny’s opinion.
An awkward silence descended for a moment, before Harry turned to her.
“So, Ginny, tell me a bit about yourself,” he asked with a pleasant smile.
“Well, I…” Ginny began.
“Trying to worm your way into my daughter’s affections already, are you, Potter?” Arthur interrupted. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing to my family? Have you the slightest idea how it makes me feel to know I have to hand her over to the likes of you, just so I don’t end up imprisoned by the very people I have given loyal service to for nearly thirty years? Do you?”
“No, I don’t know what it’s like,” Harry admitted. “Likewise, I have no idea what I could do to change this situation. I asked you once before and never got a straight answer, so, tell me, what I am supposed to do to prevent you going to Azkaban without marrying your daughter? Hmm? Because I’d really like to know.”
Arthur glared at the young man with loathing. Ginny could barely believe her father’s attitude. The only person he’d ever displayed this level of dislike for had been Lucius Malfoy, and he was a bloody Death Eater! Come to think of it, she was fairly certain Potter had been instrumental in Malfoy’s arrest.
Fortunately, whatever harsh words that were going to be exchanged were curtailed by the arrival of the flirty waitress bringing their wine. She deposited the bottle and three glasses on the table, before informing Harry that he had just to call if he needed anything. The two Weasleys she virtually ignored.
“Well, I can see what kind of a husband you’ll make for my daughter,” Arthur said stiffly as soon as the waitress was out of earshot. “I doubt sacred marriage vows mean much to you, do they?”
“Bloody hell, I never even looked at the girl twice!” Harry moaned. “Why are you so intent on blaming me for everything?”
“I don’t know, maybe because I would never have been arrested if it wasn’t for you? Maybe I would still have my job if it wasn’t for you? Oh, and I wouldn’t have to face the horror of handing over Ginny to some stuck-up, homicidal maniac if it wasn’t for you!”
“I never forced you to try and kidnap me!” Harry retorted angrily. “None of what you talk about was caused by me, you idiot. If you want to blame anyone, perhaps you should blame that meddling idiot, Albus Dumbledore. If you hadn’t been so bloody quick to blindly do everything he said, perhaps you wouldn’t be neck deep in shit, just like you are now!”
“Albus Dumbledore was worth a thousand of you! How dare you insult his memory? Come on, Ginny, we’re leaving!” Arthur proclaimed, rising to his feet.
“Sit down, Dad,” Ginny said wearily.
“What?” Arthur spluttered, obviously a little taken aback.
“Harry’s right. He isn’t the reason any of those things happened. You and Mum broke the law, and now we’re all paying the penalty for it,” Ginny said, not looking into her father’s eyes.
“We were trying to save him!” Arthur hissed. “The Ministry was trying to turn him into some sort of killing machine, which they appear to have succeeded in doing admirably! Potter was being brainwashed and warped into exactly what that corrupt fool Cornelius Fudge wanted.”
“Fudge didn’t even know I was being trained by the Ministry, at least not until the very end of his career. My training was done by the Unspeakables, and only they and a handful of Department of Magical Law Enforcement personal even knew of the program,” Harry said coldly. “Oh, and they didn’t turn me into some cold-blooded murder, as you seem to think. They just gave me the skills to be able to defeat Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Even then I only killed when was absolutely necessary. I captured ten times the number of Death Eaters I killed, perhaps more. So if you’re going to slander me, at least get your bloody facts right, Weasley.”
“You still would have been better off under Dumbledore’s wing,” Arthur insisted. “He would have ensure that you at least had a decent childhood.”
“What, by shoving me with my magic-hating Muggle aunt and uncle, who despised my parents and loathed the sight of me? They had a very nice four bedroom house, you know. Of course, they made me sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. I was doing household chores by the age of five, and regularly getting beaten up by my oaf of a cousin by six. They virtually starved me half the time, too. So, if that was Dumbledore’s idea of a decent childhood I’ll pass, thank you very much,” Harry snorted. “Besides, we know it was the old bastard’s plan for me to die fighting Voldemort. How can you sit there and say I would have been better under his care with a straight face?”
Arthur’s rebuttal was silenced by the waitress returning with their food. Perhaps sensing the tension around the table, she didn’t linger to flirt this time. In a frosty silence, they began to eat, with Arthur positively stabbing his pasta, his eyes never leaving his plate.
Trying to ignore her frustration, Ginny also started to eat. She had to admit, her steak was delicious and the garlic butter was just heavenly. It had been a while since she’d eaten and she made the most of it. Eventually, with most of her meal consumed, the ominous silence began to tell on her. She looked up at Potter.
“This is an excellent steak, Harry. Thank you very much for the meal,” she said politely.
Potter looked up at her, and a small smile appeared on his face. “I’ve never had a bad meal here,” he confided. “It really is one of my favourite places to eat.”
“It was a good choice,” she agreed, noting her father’s glare out of the corner of her eye.
“Yes, well, it must be nice to be able to eat out all the time,” Arthur began. “Of course, when I actually had a job…”
“SHUT UP!” Ginny yelled at her father, her frustration finally boiling up. “Will you please just shut the bloody hell up? I’m sick of hearing your constant stream of complaints! Harry’s right; nothing you’ve been moaning about has been his fault. The Weasley family is in the situation it is in now simply because we blindly followed Dumbledore and, yes, I admit I thought he could do no wrong for a while, too. But we were mistaken, Dad, and the truth has come out. We need to stop pretending like we were in the right and admit we should have questioned his commands more. You’ve always told me this family marches to its own drum, but we seem to have forgotten that when it comes to Dumbledore.”
“Ginny, I…” Arthur spluttered.
“And more to the point, you’ve ruined this evening with your constant arguing,” Ginny ploughed on, not giving him the chance to speak. “Tonight was a chance for me to get to know the man I have to marry in just a few weeks, but thanks to you we’ve barely had the chance to say two words to each other. You need to stop complaining about the injustice of it all, and start facing facts. This marriage has got to happen whether you like it or not, and I, for one, would like it to go ahead as smoothly and painlessly as possible. This dinner wasn’t about you and your grievances, Dad, it was supposed to be about me and Harry actually finding out a bit about each other, but you’ve just hijacked that.”
Arthur Weasley stared sullenly as his daughter, but obviously couldn’t think of anything to say to dispute her words. Ginny noticed Potter looking at her with something approaching admiration on his face, a fact that rather pleased her. He obviously didn’t have too much of a problem with a woman who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.
“Harry,” she said, turning to face him. “Perhaps we could try this again? Next time, however, I think we should do without a chaperone.”
“Your mother will never agree to that!” Arthur blurted in horror.
“Dad, in case you’ve forgotten, I am of age! I don’t need a bloody babysitter following me around,” Ginny snapped.
“Perhaps your father could initially accompany you, and then we’ll just go off somewhere and he can wait for us in a pub or something,” Harry suggested. “I’m sure that would ease your mother’s worries, and your father would be there waiting for you.”
Arthur looked deeply upset with the plan, but did curtly nod his agreement.
“Good,” Ginny said approvingly. “That was a really good idea, Harry.”
“Thanks, so where shall we meet next time?” he asked.
An idea suddenly hit her.
“Fancy a trip to the seaside?” she grinned.
Harry stood and looked down the Victorian promenade with a smile. The early evening sun still carried quite a bit of heat, but mercifully most of the holiday makers had already left, leaving the golden sands occupied by only a few families.
“I haven’t been here since I was a little kid,” Ginny told him as she leaned against a metal railing and looked out to sea. “For a while, our family always came here during the summer, but after Fred and George started getting a bit creative with their magic, Dad decided it was too risky. It’s a shame, I have great memories of this place.”
“I’ve never been to Weymouth before,” Harry admitted. “The few holidays that I was permitted tended to be taken overseas where there was no chance I would be recognised. I never got to have a traditional British seaside holiday.”
“I have to admit, we probably only came here because it was cheap. Still, I always remember having loads of fun here, even if I was just the tag-along little girl trailing after her big brothers. Fred once tried to bury me in the sand up to my neck, until Bill caught him doing it and smacked him over the head with a plastic spade! I still giggle when I remember Bill chasing him up the beach, dodging around people as they ran. Poor Mum nearly had a melt-down.”
“It must have been great having a big family,” Harry said wistfully.
As he leaned on the thick metal railing, he watched a small boy go charging towards the sea, only to turn tail and run back as the tide came back in. He was screaming with delight every time the waves lapped at his ankles. Pensively, he wondered if he would ever have kids. It was not something he’d ever actively considered before, but now, with his prospect wife standing barely a foot away, the issue suddenly seemed important. Would Ginny want children? Had he sacrificed his chance at fatherhood just to keep a couple of ungrateful Dumbledore worshipers out of prison?
“What are you thinking about?” Ginny asked.
“Oh, ah, the future, I guess,” Harry replied a little evasively. “Just a week ago I thought I knew what my future held, but now everything has changed. I’m sure you think the same.”
“Yeah, I can’t believe how my world has changed in such a short time,” she admitted.
“What do you want to do with your life?” he asked suddenly. “I mean, did you have a career in mind?”
“Actually, I really wanted to play Quidditch,” Ginny told him with a sad smile.
“Really? Were you good enough to play professionally?” he asked, hoping he didn’t sound condescending.
“I was Captain of the Gryffindor Team back at Hogwarts. Being a Captain is normally enough to get you a trial with a half-decent team, at least. Unfortunately, with all the publicity surrounding the court hearing, the name Weasley is mud and I was turned down by everyone, even the Chudley Cannons.”
“See, there’s a positive side to everything,” he joked, and was gratified when she snorted with laughter.
“Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter now, even if I had a shot at getting into a team I couldn’t have taken it up now, could I?” Ginny said forlornly after a moment.
“Why?” he asked in puzzlement.
“Well… it’s not normal for proper pureblood wives to go out to work, is it? Let alone play something as crude and undignified as Quidditch,” she said with a note of bitterness.
“Shame, it would have been great being married to a professional Quidditch player. I would have had an excuse to see all the games. Still, if that’s what you want,” Harry pondered.
“Wait, what do you mean, what I want? Wouldn’t you expect me to stay home and be a lady of leisure? That’s what Mum said you’d want.”
“Eh? Why would I want that?” he asked, genuinely puzzled. “If you want to play Quidditch then go for it. That goes for any other career you want to follow. A lady of leisure? Where did you Mum get that crap from?”
“Umm, I think she just assumed that as you’d been raised by a Black that you’d be very traditional in your outlook,” Ginny admitted.
“Ha! Sirius is about as untraditional as you can get! Hell, he’d be green with envy if he thought I was getting hitched to a professional Quidditch player. No, if that’s what you want, then I’m not going to stand in your way. Maybe after all this fuss has died down a few teams will give you a chance. I’m sure by next season they’ll have forgotten the name Weasley was ever even in the news. Besides, you’ll be a Potter by then.”
“Yeah… I guess you’re right,” Ginny said slowly, looking at him funnily.
“Look, whatever preconceptions you have of me, let me say that I despise all that stuck-up, stuffy, pureblood rubbish, okay? Until I was eight I was raised a Muggle, and after that I never really had what could be called a normal upbringing, by any standards. I take people as I find them, and I try to respect their beliefs, as much as I can, anyway. I have no idea how this marriage is going to work, but I do know that if we’re going to stand any chance of not ending up hating each other we need to work together and listen to what the other person wants. I hope you’ll tell me if I’m doing something that annoys you, and I hope you’ll accept anything I say in the same spirit. This won’t be easy on either of us, but I’ve heard of arranged marriages that work out okay, and I hope ours will, too.”
“Yeah, the same goes for me,” she said, looking out to sea with an unreadable expression on her face.
“Ginny, in the very short time I’ve know you, I’ve come to respect you,” Harry began carefully. “You showed incredible courage that day in court, agreeing to marry a complete stranger just to keep your parents out of Azkaban. Since then, you haven’t moaned or cried about the situation, you’ve just got on with things and tried to make the best of it. Oh, I was pretty impressed when you put your dad in his place the other night, too,” he grinned. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that although neither of us planned this, I figure I could have done a hell of a lot worse for a wife than you, and I really hope we can be happy together. If it ends up that we can’t stand each other, I’m not going to insist that we stay together. We might not be able to divorce, but I won’t keep you trapped, I promise.”
Ginny looked up at him and smiled.
“I think I rather like you, too, Potter. I was so used to hearing my parents talking about what a damaged person you must be after all those years of being under the Ministry’s thumb that I was expecting the worst. You actually seem like a decent bloke, Harry. In fact, I’m sorry we never got a chance to meet under normal circumstances. I think we’d have really hit it off.”
“I agree,” he nodded.
“You’re very sweet in saying that if the marriage doesn’t work you’ll let me go my own way, but I really don’t think it works like that. A married woman living on her own would instantly be looked down upon, and I’d have fingers pointed at me wherever I went. Besides, I’d never be able to remarry or have children… no, I’m like you; I want to try and give this marriage a go. At least if it all turns to crap afterwards we can say we gave it our best shot.”
“It’s a deal,” Harry said extending his hand. Ginny shook it with a grin on her face.
“Say, wanna go halves on a bag of chips? Nothing tastes like seaside fish and chips,” she said brightly.
“Sounds good to me,” he agreed.
Feeling a bit more positive, Harry let himself be led across the road, to where a conveniently sited fish and chip shop was located.
Unenthusiastically, Ginny trudged through the back door of the Burrow and into the kitchen. Home life had become increasingly awkward in the last week or so, mainly due to the fractious relationship she currently had with her mother.
Since their rather pleasant trip to the seaside, she’d spent quite a lot of time with Harry as they desperately tried to get to know one another before they were thrown together for life. On the whole, things were going rather well, she thought, all things considered. Harry was undoubtedly a handsome young man, and she was pleasantly surprised to find that he was also personable and intelligent. They’d also discovered that they shared a rather wicked sense of humour, something that definitely gave her hope. Of course, the massive elephant in the room that remained undiscussed was the fact that in just over two weeks’ time they would have to make their wedding vows and consummate the marriage shortly afterwards. It was the latter part that really made her nervous.
But, unfortunately, the closer she became to Harry, the more she seemed to irritate her mother. Molly had taken it on herself to arrange the wedding entirely by herself, but Ginny wasn’t absolutely sure that her mum had actually done anything. Molly seemed to be clinging onto the desperate hope that some miraculous solution would present itself at the eleventh hour and the wedding wouldn’t need to go ahead. Ginny’s requests for updates regarding the arrangements were normally dismissed or ignored completely, something that annoyed her no end. No doubt tonight would end up in another argument.
Knowing there was no point putting off the inevitable, Ginny pushed open the door and stepped inside. Her mother was standing waiting by the table.
“Hi, Mum,” she began as pleasantly as she could. “How was your…”
She stopped short as she caught site of a dark skinned young man sitting at the table, nursing a cup of tea. This was all she needed!
“Dean,” she said shortly and quickly walked by, intent on reaching the safety of her bedroom as soon as possible.
“Ginny, aren’t you going to stay and greet our guest?” her mother said firmly.
“Why should I?” she replied coldly. “He’s not here to see me, is he?”
“Actually, I am,” Dean said quickly.
“I’ll just leave you two alone to talk, shall I?” Molly said with a happy smile, before she darted into the living room, shutting the door behind her.
“What do you want, Dean?” Ginny asked harshly, folding her arms in front of her.
Dean was something of an annoyance to her. She’d dated him for a few months during her fifth year at Hogwarts, until his condescending attitude and smothering behaviour caused her to dump him. Against her better judgement, she’d briefly taken him back in her sixth year, only to break it off after only a few weeks. Dean belonged to another era, where men were the breadwinners and woman stayed at home and pumped out babies. He’d even tried to convince her that she shouldn’t play Quidditch as it was ‘too rough’, the sexist moron. Unfortunately, Dean was a good friend of her brother Ron, so he was frequently around. Her seventh and last year at school had been great purely because she hadn’t had to put up with Dean’s whining all the time.
“Ginny, I heard about your problems and I want to help,” Dean began eagerly, rising to his feet and approaching her. “I can’t believe that bastard Potter bloke is actually forcing you to marry him! There should be a law against it, or something.”
“It’s the law that requires me to marry him in the first place,” she snapped. “And for your information, he’d not forcing me to do it, in fact it was my idea. My parents will be thrown in Azkaban if we don’t do this.”
“Yeah, your mum was saying,” he mumbled, suddenly sounding a lot less confident. “Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the problem and I want to offer you a way out of marrying Potter.”
“Oh?” Ginny said, curious despite herself.
“Yeah,” Dean beamed, before suddenly dropping to one knee and proffering a small box at her from somewhere. He opened the box to reveal a small, shiny ring. “Marry me instead, Ginny!”
Ginny stood and stared at him in amazement for a moment, before she exploded.
“You bloody idiot!” she yelled, “didn’t I just tell you that my parents would be arrested and imprisoned if I didn’t marry Harry? How the hell do you think marrying you would prevent that?”
“Well, they can’t very well imprison your parents for you not marrying Potter if you’re already married, can they?” Dean reasoned. “It would be illegal for you to marry him in that case, and they can hardly stich up your mum and dad for that, can they?”
“YOU CRETIN!” she shrieked, enraged at the boy’s stupidity. “When Harry and I agreed to this, we created a magically binding contract, which was the only reason Mum and Dad were allowed to walk out of the courtroom. If I break that contract, not only will they be re-arrested, but I’ll probably be imprisoned, too!”
“Oh, I… well, let’s just run away together! We can hide somewhere they’ll never find us. Your parents can come, too! We could go to America, or somewhere,” he suggested brightly.
“You’d make us fugitives, exiled from our homeland and forever looking over our shoulders? Is that your wonderful scheme?” Ginny snarled. “Well, Dean, I’m afraid you’ve overlooked one massive flaw in your master plan.”
“What’s that?” he asked nervously, still down on one knee.
“The fact that I can’t bloody stand you and I’d rather marry Harry Potter than you any day of the week! At least he wants me to have a career, not just stay at home and wash your dirty y-fronts like you do!” she bellowed.
“But… Ginny…” he spluttered.
“Can’t you get it through your thick head? I don’t like you anymore, Dean, and I wish I’d never gone out with you! If I see you coming in the street, I instantly dart into a shop to avoid you. If Ron mentions you’re coming over to visit, I go to one of my friend’s houses instead. I am not interested in you at all, and wouldn’t marry you if the choice was that or going to Azkaban. Got it?”
“But your mum said…” Dean gasped.
“Oh, my mum says a lot of things, but, trust me, you can’t believe they’re all true! Now get off your knees, put that bloody stupid ring away, and piss off!”
Dean rose to his feet, the look of surprise on his face morphing into one of anger.
“I see,” he said coldly. “I guess what people are saying it true.”
“Oh, and what are they saying?” she sneered.
“That this was all a scheme for you to trap yourself a wealthy husband. I wouldn’t have believed it of you, Ginny, but I guess being piss-poor gets old after a while, doesn’t it?”
Her wand was in her hand before he’d finished the sentence.
“Get out now, you bastard, before I do something that will get me thrown in Azkaban!”
Dean closed the box and put it back into his pocket. Without another word he stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him. Ginny took a few moments to compose herself, before she strode towards the living room door.
“MOTHER!” she bellowed as she marched purposefully forward.
She flung open the door and found her mum standing to one side, her face pale and her eyes betraying her nervousness.
“Will you explain to me what that was meant to achieve?” Ginny demanded angrily. “Are you trying to get yourself thrown in prison?”
“Of course not!” Molly protested.
“Then why did you invite that idiot Thomas over here? Did you seriously think for one moment that I would accept his ridiculous offer? Have you totally lost it?”
“No, I… look, Ginny, I know you and Dean haven’t got along lately…” Molly began.
“Lately? The only time I did get along with him was for about three months when I was fifteen! When I see him now all it does is remind me what a fool I was for ever going out with him. So, I’ll ask again; what were you trying to achieve here?”
Her mother looked at her with a determined expression on her face.
“I was trying to make you realise what you’re giving up, Ginny. Dean might not be the one for you, but at least you had the choice whether to go out with him or not. By marrying this Potter fellow you’re throwing away any chance of finding happiness,” she said firmly.
“I see, and you think that by getting a boy I can’t stand to deliver some half-arsed marriage proposal I’ll suddenly see what I a fool I’ve been, eh?”
“Well, I must confess I had no idea that Dean was going to do that,” Molly admitted, “but it does prove my point. There are hundreds of good, decent young men out there, all of whom would love to date a wonderful young woman like you. You’re throwing away your chance of ever finding the right boy for you!”
“Tell me, Mum, if our positions were reversed, what would you do to keep me out of Azkaban?” Ginny asked in a determined voice.
“Why, anything! I know what you’re saying, but that isn’t the point. I’m your mother and it’s my job to protect you.”
“And why do you think that I’d ever find true happiness if I knew that my parents ended up in that shithole and I knew there was something I could have done to prevent it? I’d never be able to live with myself,” Ginny said. “Besides, you make it sound like marriage to Harry would mean that I would never be happy again. He’s not a bad bloke, Mum, and he’s already told me that he’ll support me in any career choice that I make.”
“Humph,” Molly snorted, “he says that now…”
“Yes, and I believe him! He’s not some stuck-up, traditional pure-blood, you know. Hell, Dean always made it clear that he thought I should act more ladylike, while Harry seems to realise that the world has moved on and modern witches don’t just stay home and pump out babies.”
“Ginny! I take offense at that!” Molly said, looking outraged.
“It wasn’t a criticism of you! If you’re happy being a housewitch, then great! But that was never going to be my goal, was it?”
“Do you really think that Potter will allow you to do whatever you want?” Molly retorted, changing tack. “Oh, he’ll say what you want to hear now, but you wait until that ring is on your finger. You’ll be locked away in some fancy mansion somewhere, a virtual prisoner, I bet. Dumbledore never trusted that young man, you know!”
“Ah, and now we get right down to it, don’t we?” Ginny snapped. “You’ll never accept that I have to marry Harry simply because he was at odds with Albus Dumbledore! Mum, when are you going to let go of this ridiculous hero worship you have of the man? Honestly, it’s getting really old. Tell, me; apart from defeating Grindelwald, which he kept putting off while thousands of people were being killed, what has Dumbledore ever achieved?”
“You’re the one being ridiculous now!” Molly yelled. “Albus’ achievements are legendary.”
“Okay, apart from purely academic achievements, what did he do?” Ginny pressed. “Oh, he formed the Order of the Phoenix and fought the Death Eaters, but not very well, eh? How many Death Eaters did the Order capture, only for them to immediately escape so they could kill again? From what I understand, the whole country was on its knees before Harry defeated Voldemort as a baby.”
“Yes, well, it was a Dark time, but that doesn’t mean…”
“And Dumbledore certainly didn’t defeat Voldemort the second time round either, did he? Again, that was Harry who did it. Dumbledore just urged restraint and as a result got a load of people killed! Tell me, how many witches and wizards deserted the Order towards the end? There was only about a dozen of you left!”
“More’s the pity! We might have been able to do some real good if those fly-by-nights hadn’t fled like the cowards they were!” Molly growled.
“Funny, as I understand it most of those who left joined the fight on the Ministry’s side; the true Ministry, that is, not that sham Voldemort set up. The one Percy stayed loyal to, and Harry led into battle. The ones who finally defeated the Dark Lord and his followers during the final fight. They don’t sound like cowards to me, more like sensible people who realised they would never win with Dumbledore in charge.”
“There’s more important things than just winning, my girl, like HOW you win!” Molly said passionately. “How many died in that final battle, eh? Even if those Death Eaters were evil villains, they were still human beings. Do you know what it does to your soul when you murder someone, Ginny? Do you? That’s why Albus never wanted us to kill; he was worried about our immortal souls!”
“No-one on the Ministry side murdered anyone, Mum,” Ginny said angrily. “It was a war and they were fighting evil! That’s not murder; it’s self-defence.”
“Rubbish! Killing is still killing, no matter how you justify it. Tell me, Ginny, how many has Potter killed? How much blood has he got on his hands? And it will be those blood-stained hands pawing at you on your wedding night, remember!”
Ginny sighed wearily. “We’re never going to agree about this, Mum. One person’s hero is another person’s mass-murderer, I understand that, but killing someone who’s sole aim is to murder and destroy innocents… I can’t criticise that. Harry hasn’t talked much about the war, and I get the feeling he’s not keen to do so. But I do get the impression that he hated taking life, but because he knew the lives of every Muggle, Muggleborn, or just anyone who disagreed with Voldemort, was at risk if he didn’t, he did the deed. He had the courage to perform the unpleasant tasks that Dumbledore couldn’t. If it had been left up to your precious Albus, I doubt either of us would be here having this conversation now.”
“You don’t know that! For all you know, a lot more people could be alive. My precious Freddy might still be here!” Molly wailed.
“So, Fred’s death was Harry’s fault, is that what you’re saying?” Ginny asked coldly.
“I…” Molly began angrily, but then seemed to stop herself. “I’m not saying it’s his fault directly, but…”
“Oh, Mum! Stop trying to find scapegoats for Fred’s death,” she said in a disappointed voice. “People get killed in wars and, despite what you say, the fight against Voldemort was a war. Fred chose to fight, and he chose whom to fight with. The only people I blame for his death are the followers of the Dark Lord, and for that reason I’m thankful to anyone who took some of the evil bastards down.”
Molly looked at her daughter with an unreadable expression on her face. For the first time in her life, Ginny had the feeling that her mother finally understood that she was her own person, and wasn’t just a carbon copy with the same ideas and beliefs. She felt a momentary pang of sadness at the distance that had suddenly sprung up between them, but realised it was necessary.
“Mum, please tell me honestly,” Ginny said softly. “Have you actually arranged anything for the wedding?”
Molly looked at her sadly. “No, to be truthful, I haven’t. I still keep hoping that we’ll find a way to get you out of it. To start making plans almost feels like I’m accepting the whole thing.”
“Well, we’re fast running out of time, and if you’re not going to do it, then I’ll have to,” Ginny said firmly.
“No, I… I said I would and I promise I’ll get right down to it in the morning,” her mother promised in a defeated voice.
“Perhaps we could do it together?” Ginny suggested.
“I’d like that,” Molly replied, a little wistfully.
And that, Ginny realised, was the most she could hope for.
Ginny peeked down the stairs into the kitchen and groaned at the scenes of chaos down there. The wedding was already turning into a disaster and it was not as a result of anything her mother had done.
“Come back here, Ginny, we’re not finished yet,” a soft, but slightly annoyed voice called.
Turning her back on the pandemonium downstairs, Ginny headed back into her bedroom where her bridesmaid, Luna, was standing with a hairbrush in one hand and a cross expression on her face.
“Sorry, Luna, I just wanted to see what all the commotion was,” Ginny confessed and sat back down in the chair situated in front of her blond-haired friend.
“We’ll never have you ready in time if you’re going to keep leaping up at the slightest noise, Ginny,” Luna scolded her, and immediately began to resume work on her hair.
“I’m not sure it matters. This whole thing is turning into a complete disaster, anyway,” she replied forlornly.
“I thought this was going to be a small, simple ceremony,” Luna noted as she dragged the brush through Ginny’s hair. “Why are all these people here?”
“It was meant to be a small ceremony,” Ginny moaned, “but then the Ministry had to get involved. Harry and I had agreed that it was going to be a modest little event, and he was only going to invite half-a-dozen guests. We had it all planned out, and then two weeks ago, we get an official letter informing us that the actual ceremony will be performed by a Ministry approved official, and listing another twenty people who would be attending! Then, three days ago, we get another letter stating the Minister for Magic herself would be coming, and bringing her security staff with her. Poor Mum’s barely slept the last few nights getting everything ready.”
“What about your intended? What does he think of all this?” Luna asked.
“I think he’s as annoyed about the whole thing as we are. Unfortunately, it appears Madam Bones was one of the main instigators of the program that took Harry away from his relatives and trained him, so he doesn’t feel like he can refuse her. Oh, and get this, apparently Susan Bones, the Minister’s niece, briefly had a ‘thing’ with Harry, whatever that means. I’m going to have one of my future husband’s ex’s glaring at me from the front row!”
“I remember Susan from school. I thought she was quite nice,” Luna said dreamily.
“Yeah, I always thought she was a decent sort, too. It does make me wonder how many other young witches Harry’s had a ‘thing’ with, though,” Ginny said bitterly.
Luna stopped what she was doing and came round to look directly at her.
“Does it bother you? You’ve had a few boyfriends yourself, you know.”
“Yeah, but… he’s Harry friggin Potter, isn’t he? He’s probably had girls throwing themselves at him most of his life.”
“Are you jealous?” Luna asked in surprise. “I thought you were only marrying him to keep your parents out of prison.”
“I am… but, well… I really like him, Luna. He’s kind, thoughtful and really handsome. I know we’re being thrown at each other like this, but I’d really like to try and make a go of the marriage. The trouble is I know virtually nothing about his past. Oh, I don’t mean all the stuff that was in the papers and the stuff in those books that were written about him, but about the personal stuff. We’ve barely had time to learn what each other’s favourite colours are, let alone about each other’s personal history. What if he’s a lot more experienced than me? He’s soon going to get fed-up with some unsophisticated little country witch who doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing in bed.”
“Have you talked to him about this?” Luna demanded.
“No, not really,” Ginny admitted. “I’ve been too embarrassed to. I mean, I barely know the bloke.”
“Well, it seems to me that’s something you’re going to have to do,” Luna said firmly. “As you said, you don’t know him, so the only way you’re going to find anything out about him is by asking.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I just wish we had more time to get to know each other,” she lamented.
“What, and give him a chance to find out how messy and bad-tempered you are? That wouldn’t be a good idea,” Luna said cheekily.
Ginny laughed. “You’re right again. Thanks, Luna, you’re a great friend.”
Impulsively, Luna threw her arms around her and gave her a hug. “It will be alright, Ginny, I’m sure it will.”
“I hope that’s true,” she sighed. “Now, I’d better think about getting that bloody dress on. We’ve only got half-an-hour before I’m due downstairs.”
“Of course,” Luna smirked impishly. “Now, do you want to wear underwear with the dress, or would it save time later if you don’t bother?”
It was just lucky for the blonde girl that Ginny didn’t have anything heavy to hand to throw at her.
The time seemed to blur to Ginny, and before she knew what was happening it was time for the wedding to begin. She headed downstairs to find Ministry security personnel running around in a near state of panic. One idiot even demanded to know who she was, before the fact that she was wearing a wedding dress registered. She and Luna were then bustled outside in preparation of the ceremony beginning. A moment later, her harassed-looking father hurried up to her.
“Are you alright, pumpkin?” he asked worriedly. “I’ve barely had a chance to speak to you today.”
“Yeah, I’m fine, Dad,” she assured him. “I’ll just be glad when this is all over.”
“You know, it’s not too late to back out,” he said, dropping his voice. “Your mother and I are quite prepared to accept the consequences if you can’t go through with this.”
“I’ll be breaking the contract, remember?” Ginny reminded him in a weary voice. “I’d be thrown in Azkaban right next to the pair of you.”
“Actually, I was thinking. Maybe we could…” he began, before he was cut off by the sound of loud music blaring out at a rather excessive volume. It was time to enter the large tent in which the ceremony was to take place.
Whatever Arthur Weasley’s last minute idea was, it was too late now. Ginny offered her arm to her father, and he took it with mute acceptance. With Luna holding her train behind her, Ginny steeled herself and began to walk forward in what she hoped was a stately manner. Inside, her heart was beating rapidly and she suddenly realised that she could really use the loo, but there was no going back now.
She entered the tent to find everyone looking expectant, apparently awaiting her arrival. A few flashbulbs went off immediately, reminding her that the press had been given unrestricted access during the whole thing. Another of Madam Bones’ little additions, Harry had noted sourly. Looking around, Ginny realised she knew who very few of the people attending her wedding actually were, although she did spot with relief a cluster of redheads towards the front.
As she neared the makeshift altar, her eyes fell upon her groom for the first time that day. Harry was immaculately dressed in cream robes, accented with silver piping. His godfather was standing resolutely by his side, and offered Ginny a quick wink and a smile, but she only had eyes for Harry. He looked so dashing and handsome she could hardly believe this man would shortly become her husband. Perhaps for the first time, she realised that she was falling for him, and that she really did want this wedding to take place. Had that been an unconscious factor when she’d volunteered herself back in the courtroom less than a month ago? Was there such a thing as love at first sight?
Harry himself was smiling at her encouragingly, his green eyes practically twinkling at her. As soon as she reached his side, he leaned over any whispered to her.
“You look beautiful,” he said simply.
It was something that any bride might reasonably expect her soon-to-be husband to say to her, but for some reason Ginny hadn’t been expecting it, at all. Her face involuntarily broke into a wide smile, and her already-rapid heartrate began to increase.
Feeling as if she was in a dream, she barely took any notice of the actual ceremony. The Ministry official had, fortunately, gone through the whole thing with them thoroughly just the day before, and his little prompts were enough for her to say all the right words at the correct time. She didn’t even register they were approaching the end until Harry took her trembling hand and gently slid a simple but elegant gold ring on her finger.
“You may now kiss the bride,” the official announced.
Nervously, Harry reached over and lifted her veil and folded it carefully behind her head. Ginny could feel her whole body shaking and she had a sudden desperate fear that she might throw up. Harry’s head was coming closer, his lips parted slightly in anticipation…
Unable to stand it anymore, Ginny lunged forwards and slammed her lips against his. She felt him jump in surprise, before his arms snaked around her back, pulling her close. Dimly, she heard cheering and clapping, but it could have been coming from a hundred miles away. All she was aware of was that she was being held in his strong arms and his moist lips were on hers.
All too soon, the kiss was over and he pulled away. For a second, he looked at her in confusion and surprise, before a massive grin appeared on his face. She couldn’t help but laugh, partly at his stunned expression, but mostly in relief. They had done it.
“Congratulations!” Harry’s godfather cried happily, slapping him on the back and giving Ginny a quick peck on the cheek. Harry was busy shaking hands with her father, who looked bemused by the whole thing. As she looked around for the rest of her family, Ginny noticed Madam Bones sitting in the front row with a rather pleased expression on her face. Beside her, as Ginny had feared, her niece was sitting glaring with a look that could kill at twenty paces.
Vowing to ask Harry about Susan’s reaction later, Ginny sought out her family and was unsurprised to see her mother in tears. Her brothers looked more stoic, but Percy actually looked delighted with the whole thing. Ron, however, was glaring at Harry with an expression not dissimilar to Susan Bones’.
Before she had a chance to speak to them, Ginny found herself being led outside. The reception was being held outdoors, primarily because they hadn’t enough room to accommodate all the unexpected guests any other way. Fortunately, the day had turned out exceptionally warm and sunny, otherwise who knows what they would have done. A head table had been set up on a raised dais, and she was gently led towards it. Again, she felt like she was in some kind of dream where time had no meaning. Indeed, it felt like she had barely taken her seat next to Harry before the wedding feast was being served.
The next two hours flew by. Various speeches were made and numerous people all came up to congratulate her, but little of it registered in her brain. Harry frequently touched her arm and enquired if she was alright, and it was all she could do to nod and assure him she was fine. In truth, all she could think about was that in just a few hours she and Harry would have to consummate the marriage. Honestly, she didn’t know what to think about that. Was she terrified? Excited? Ready to run? She simply didn’t know. Instead, she picked at her food but actually ate very little, such were the butterflies in her stomach.
It was with some surprise that she saw the first of the guests starting to leave. She had no idea that so much time had passed and that the wedding was nearly done.
“We should go and get changed,” Harry told her quietly.
Looking at him, she could only mutely nod again. They were going to spend the night in an expensive Muggle hotel in London, before presenting themselves at the Solicitors office in the morning. A honeymoon had been booked, apparently, but Harry had refused to give her any details about it, merely stating that it was to be a ‘surprise’.
With Luna mercifully at her side once again, she stumbled towards the house. Halfway there, she was intercepted by her mother, who seemed strangely excited.
“Oh, Ginny! We’ve just been given some wonderful news,” she gushed. “Your father has been given his old job back! Madam Bones just told him. I mean, it will be a demotion, but you know how happy he was in Misuse of Muggle Artefacts. Oh, I’m so relieved. I had no idea how we were going to make ends meet, especially after this expensive wedding.”
“Harry would have helped pay for it, you know,” Ginny pointed out, although she too was relieved at the news.
“Nonsense, it was the responsibility of the bride’s parents and no one was going to say we Weasleys don’t do the right thing. Oh, there’s Percy! I must give him the news; he’ll be so happy!”
Molly Weasley hustled off, leaving Ginny thinking that if the Weasleys genuinely had done the right thing in the first place, this wedding probably wouldn’t have occurred. Pondering that thought, she headed into the house to change.
“It looks really good, doesn’t it?” Harry said, gesturing around the hotel room. He’d just tipped the doorman who had deposited their bags in the bedroom, and was now examining the room eagerly.
“Yeah, it’s really impressive,” she agreed, although her mouth felt dry and the words were forced.
Harry looked at her carefully, before he came over and took her hand, leading her to a small table situated by the large window. He sat her down in one of the chairs, before opening the window. The sun was just starting to dip below the horizon and the first stars could be dimly seen in the sky. The sunset was reflected in the waters of the Thames which flowed nearby, and in the glass windows of the surrounding buildings.
“How do you think the day went?” he asked, sitting down next to her.
“Good,” she replied shortly. “I think it went well.”
“Look, Ginny, I don’t know how you’re feeling right now,” he continued, “but if you’re a nervous as I am right now…”
“What have you got to be nervous about?” she snapped, more harshly than she intended. “All you’ve got to do is jump on and bang away for a few minutes. You’ve probably done it to hundreds of witches before, already. Was that why Susan Bones was glaring at me all the way through the ceremony? Because she won’t get a good seeing-to tonight?”
“Ginny… I’ve never done anything like that with Susan!” he protested. “We only were together for a few weeks one summer before Madam Bones put a stop to it. I got the impression she didn’t really want me anywhere near her niece.”
“Susan was the one that got away, then?” Ginny retorted sarcastically.
“I’ve never been with a woman,” Harry said quietly.
Ginny glared at him angrily. “You expect me to believe that? You, the bloody Boy Who Live and the Chosen One, defeater of the Dark Lord and all-round hero, has never taken advantage of his fame? Yeah, right!”
“When do you think I’d have had the time, eh?” he replied angrily. “I’ve spent nearly all my life hidden away, constantly training. I had the first proper holiday of my entire life earlier this year when Sirius took me away after the final battle, and that was mainly so I could recover from my wounds, not so I could chase skirt! The only girl I’ve ever even kissed was Susan, and that was probably down to her being the only girl my own age who I encountered during training. I was fighting Death Eaters when I was fourteen, not taking girls to a dance! What about you, though? I bet you had plenty of boyfriends at Hogwarts; how far do you let them get with you?”
“Nowhere!” she yelled back at him. “I’m a bloody virgin, okay?”
“Well, that makes two of us,” he retorted.
Their anger seemed to slip away at the shared confession and they looked at each other awkwardly.
“I’m sorry,” Ginny said after a while. “I’m just really nervous and I don’t know what to expect. I almost wish you had done it before, so at least one of us would know what we were doing.”
“Well, Sirius did give me a lot of advice,” Harry admitted sheepishly. “A LOT of advice. He even started drawing diagrams at one point…”
They both burst out laughing, a welcome release of tension.
“I know what we need!” Harry suddenly announced and leapt up and ran into the other room. He emerged a moment later with an ice bucket containing a bottle.
“A complimentary bottle of champagne, courtesy of the hotel. I think we need a drink,” he announced.
Filling a couple of glasses, he handed one to her.
“Trying to get me drunk, Mr Potter?” she asked with forced humour.
“No, but I did think it would help relax us both… Mrs Potter,” he said, adding the last bit nervously.
“Mrs Potter,” she repeated in wonder, before taking a sip of her drink. The bubbles instantly went up her nose.
“Look, Ginny, I have a bit of a confession to make,” Harry began, pausing only to take a sip of his own drink. “When you leapt up and offered yourself to be my wife in settlement of your parents’ debts, all I could think about was how beautiful you were. I really wasn’t joking when I said that I’d had very little female contact up to this point, and the idea that such a gorgeous young witch such as you could be my wife… I… think that’s why I said yes. Not because I wanted to save your parents, although that was an important reason, but because I wanted you. Now, after getting to know you a bit, I want you even more. Buggering hell, Ginny, I’m practically shaking with desire here. I want you so badly it hurts.”
Ginny gawked at him in shock. “You… you think that… about me?”
“I do,” he replied, looking her straight in the eye. “Ginny, I have no idea how you feel about me…”
“I want you, too,” she blurted out before he could say anything else.
His eyes widened and he looked at her in disbelief for a moment. Then, with a tilt of his glass, he finished his drink and placed it on the table. Slowly and deliberately, he came over and knelt beside her chair. He was tall enough that he only had to stretch up slightly to kiss her…
She had no idea how they ended up on the bed, or how that managed to disrobe. The next thing her brain registered was them grappling on the silk sheets, their lips desperately locked together and their hands frantically running over each other’s flesh. She cried out in pain once as he entered her, but thereafter the only sounds that came from her mouth were exclamations of pleasure…
Ginny awoke to find the light streaming in through the open window. It took her a moment to remember where she was, and she gently turned to see Harry lying beside her, still fast asleep.
With a small snort of disbelief, she lowered her head back onto the pillow. No wonder he was still asleep, with all the effort he’d put into their activities the previous night. A smile came unbidden to her lips as she thought of their wondrous wedding night. In the end, they’d made love three times, and each time had been passionate and fulfilling. The night had been hot, and even the breeze coming in through the window had done little to cool them down, but it hadn’t mattered. All they had been concerned with had been each other, and their desire to create as much pleasure for the other as they could. In heat of the moment, Harry had even whispered into her ear that he loved her as they lay, gasping for breath from their exertions, and she’d replied in kind. Now, looking at his lean, naked body as it lay sprawled out on the bed, she knew that she’d meant it.
Wondering what the time was, she glanced over at the alarm clock situated on the bedside table, and received a nasty shock.
“Oh, bugger!” she said loudly. “Harry, wake up! We have to be at the Solicitor’s in half-an-hour.”
Harry, to his credit, awoke quickly and came to his senses far more rapidly than Ginny ever would have.
“Bollocks, I forgot to set the alarm last night,” he admitted, peering over her to look at the clock.
“Well, we did have better things to do,” she admitted.
He stopped and looked at her, and Ginny could see the fire behind his eyes. He grabbed her and began to kiss her passionately.
“Harry, as much as I want to carry on from last night, not turning up at the Solicitor’s will cause a whole heap of trouble,” she said after she managed to push him off for a moment.
“Says the girl from the family that never seem to turn up for anything on time,” Harry noted sourly.
“Hey, you’re not the one who will end up in Azkaban if you don’t prove that the marriage was consummated,” she pointed out.
“Not much doubt about that, is there?” he grinned.
“Yes, but unless you’re really a pervert who was secretly recording the whole thing, I need to present myself to your creepy lawyer so he cast whatever spell it is that shows I’ve been thoroughly rogered last night.”
“Okay, point taken,” he laughed, before he looked at her seriously. “Ginny, last night was magical. If I ever doubted it before, I’m certain now. I’ve fallen in love with you.”
She leaned over and kissed him again.
“The feeling is mutual,” she told him shyly. “I love you, too.”
His smile nearly split his face. “Hey, do you wanna share a shower? Just to save time, of course.”
Laughing, Ginny rolled off the bed and ran into the bathroom, with Harry hot on her heels. She very much doubted they would save any time this way.
“Okay, you can open your eyes now,” Harry said.
Ginny opened her eyelids and looked around. They stood on a path leading up to a two-story villa with a balcony. Most of the building was covered with ivy, but it looked in excellent condition nevertheless. In front of the villa was situated a large swimming pool which looked very inviting in the sweltering heat. Turning her head, she saw another path that led down to the sea, which was sparkling in the sun. The golden sand at the water’s edge was deserted, and the only signs of life that she could see were a number of boats passing by some distance away.
“Where are we?” she asked.
“Greece. This small island belongs to my godfather’s family, and he lent it to us as a wedding present. The mainland is less than a mile away, on the other side of the island. We can get their either by Apparating or there’s a small boat docked nearby. Otherwise, I’ve been promised that the kitchen is fully stocked, so if we want we can just stay here soaking up the sun.”
“It’s brilliant!” Ginny exclaimed and ran towards the house.
They spent the next forty minutes exploring the villa thoroughly, and were delighted to find that Sirius had prepared the place well. Fresh linen was in the airing cupboards, the bathroom was fully equipped, and the kitchen contained more food and drink than they could ever hope to consume. Deciding a dip in the pool was the first order of business, they changed into their swimwear and spent the next hour or so splashing around. Only hunger forced them out, and they retired to the villa to prepare lunch.
“Ginny, I don’t want to put a dampener on our honeymoon so early, but there is something I want to talk to you about,” Harry said as they were preparing a salad.
“Oh?” she said, noting his sudden seriousness.
“It occurs to me that you don’t know a lot about my history, and what really went on during the war,” he began. “Up to now, I’ve been forbidden from telling you anything due to Ministry regulations, but you’re my wife now, and I can tell you everything, providing you take a vow of secrecy. The questions is, do you really want to know what happened during the war? You might end up hearing some stuff that won’t put Albus Dumbledore, and by extension, your parents, in a good light.”
Ginny gulped. “Well, this is a sudden change of mood,” she noted, but her mind was whirring. She had complained to Luna just the day before that she knew so little of Harry’s history, but now, when she was given the chance, did she really want to know?
“Look, you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Harry continued, “but I thought I should give you the option.”
“I want to know everything,” Ginny said suddenly, surprising even herself. “I should know what my husband went through.”
“Okay,” he replied, looking both apprehensive and relieved. “When do you want me to tell you all this?”
“You can start during lunch,” Ginny said firmly. Once she’d made up her mind about something she liked to get on with it.
“Very well,” he agreed, placing a bottle of salad dressing on the table. “Have you ever heard of something called a Horcrux?”
Ginny sat herself at the table and shook her head. Somehow, she didn’t think this would be good.
“Anyone home?” Ginny called as she poked her head into the kitchen of the Burrow.
“Ginny! We’re through here,” she heard her mother’s voice call.
Closing the backdoor behind her, she entered and looked around. It was hard to believe it was only a fortnight ago that she’d last been here. It seemed like a lifetime ago, now. She’d promised her family that she’d pop back and tell them all about the honeymoon, but she was now beginning to regret not insisting her new husband come, too. Taking a deep breath, she headed into the living room, and was surprised to see most of her family there, minus Percy.
“Ginny, my darling, you’re back,” her mother cried, hurrying over to give her a hug.
“Hi, Mum,” Ginny greeted her. “Hi, everyone. I wasn’t expecting such a large welcoming committee.”
“We all wanted to be here for you,” Bill explained.
“How are you, Ginny?” her father asked in a worried voice. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m good,” she told him, frowning at the odd tension that seemed to fill the room. “The honeymoon was fantastic.”
She couldn’t fail to notice the worried looks that her family shared.
“Umm, that’s nice, dear,” her mother said. “Sit yourself now and I’ll get you a nice cup of tea.”
“Thanks,” Ginny replied. She sat herself in the last remaining chair available, and shifted uneasily as her father and brothers all watched her intently. No one, however, spoke a word.
“Here you are, dear,” Molly said kindly as she came back in holding a cup of tea. “I’m sure you’re thirsty.”
“Yeah, I am. Thanks, Mum,” she said taking the offered cup. If anything, the assembled Weasley male’s seemed to be watching her even closer now. Nervously, she took a sip of her tea.
“So, Potter behaved himself, did he?” Charlie asked in a flat tone.
A surge of anger hit Ginny and she put the cup down.
“Yes, Charlie, my HUSBAND behaved himself during our honeymoon, not that it’s anything to bloody do with you,” she snapped.
“Easy, Ginny-girl,” her father said softly. “We just wanted to make sure there was no… unpleasantness.”
“No, I tell you what you’re doing. Once again, you don’t believe that I’m capable of looking after myself and were prying into my affairs. Good Godric, Dad, what did you think was going to happen? Harry’s my husband now, what on earth did you think he was going to try and do to me?”
“Ginny, we still have grave doubts about the man you married,” Arthur replied. “I didn’t want to say too much before, but Dumbledore was extremely worried about what the Ministry was doing to that boy. The way he talks now it’s clear that he’s completely indoctrinated into their way of thinking. Albus said this would happen unless we could get him out from under their thumb. Mores the pity that we never succeeded.”
“What are you talking about?” Ginny gasped. “Harry’s his own person. He’s not some Ministry puppet; you only had to see the way Madam Bones had to resort to trying to manoeuvre him to see he doesn’t blindly follow them! He’s a kind, thoughtful man, and I can’t believe you’re trying to slander him!”
“Ginny, just think for a moment. I know he’s a handsome young man, and clearly he’s been able to turn your head, but he’s also extremely dangerous,” her mother insisted.
“Yeah, to Dark wizards!” Ginny spat. “This is why Percy isn’t here, isn’t it? You just wanted to get together and spout a load of rubbish about Harry and you knew Percy wouldn’t stand for it.”
“Why can’t you see Potter for who he really is?” Bill shouted angrily.
“Why can’t you?” Ginny nearly screamed. “Honestly, what has he ever done that’s so terrible? To most people, he’s a national hero, but just because he didn’t worship Albus bloody Dumbledore, you think he’s the next Voldemort, or something.”
“Ginny, don’t be ridiculous,” Molly said furiously. “He’s obviously filled your head full of nonsense. Well, you won’t have to listen to it anymore. You’ve done your wifely duty, so you don’t have to see him anymore. I’ve got your room upstairs all prepared…”
“Are you seriously thinking that I’m coming back here to live?” Ginny gasped. “I’m a married woman now, and Harry and I are looking forward to getting our own place together.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Bill insisted. “You might be married, but he can’t force you to live with him.”
“He’s not forcing me; I want to live with him! I love him!”
A sudden silence descended on the room. The Weasleys all looked like they’d been slapped in the face.
“Ginny, you can’t mean that!” Ron gasped.
“I can and I do!” she snapped.
“I knew it! He’s probably been feeding her Love Potions or something!” Molly cried. “Give me a minute, I’m sure I can knock up an antidote in no time!”
“Stop it!” Ginny yelled. “Harry hasn’t been slipping me Potions, or cast some spell on me! He’s a wonderful man, and I’ve fallen for him. Perhaps if you lot weren’t so stuck in the past, you might actually understand what sort of person he is, too!”
“What’s that meant to mean?” George demanded.
“I mean, you’re all still going round treating the word of Albus Dumbledore as that of God! He was a deeply flawed man, and he even admitted so on his deathbed.”
“I know some people would have you believe so…” he father began.
“No, it’s bloody true!” Ginny yelled in frustration. “Harry and I talked a great deal during the last fortnight, and he told me everything that happened during the war. I had to take a binding oath that I can’t disclose it to anyone, but, trust me, I’ve finally come to realise how close Dumbledore was to leading us to ruin.”
“I don’t believe it,” Molly barked.
Ginny looked at the faces of her family… and she knew she was wasting her breath. Their beliefs were too ingrained and too much a part of them.
“I’m wasting my time here, aren’t I?” she said sadly. “You lot will never admit that Dumbledore was anything less than perfect, because doing so would mean admitting you were all wrong, and your pride won’t let you do that, will it? I’ll just say one more thing, and I hope this sinks in. Albus Dumbledore was, in his own way, as dangerous to the Wizarding world as Voldemort was. With his Victorian values and sense of his own importance, he would never let our society progress and move forward, because simply he was incapable of moving forward himself. So strong was the belief he had that only he knew what was best for everyone, that he couldn’t see the stupid mistakes he was making. And by keeping insisting that he was always right, you’re dragging us all back to the Dark Ages.”
She stood and began to walk out the door.
“Ginny, where are you going?” her mother cried in distress.
“I’m going home, to my husband,” she said firmly. “Oh, by the way, I have a trial with the Holyhead Harpies next week. I was going to tell you about it before you started all laying into Harry. It appears that they were quite happy to give a try-out to someone called Potter, but not someone called Weasley. Perhaps you all ought to think exactly why that is. Oh, by the way, Dad; the reason you got your job back was because Harry begged Madam Bones to allow you to return. You might want to think about that, too.”
Without another word, Ginny walked out of the Burrow without a backward glance. Now was not the time to be looking back, she realised, but forward. It was time to make a new life for herself, one not stymied by the past.
It was time to find a new home… with Harry.
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