Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter. I own nothing except the enjoyment I derive from reading and writing about Harry and pals. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit is being made.
Author's Note: I hadn't intended to write another 'Bill and Fleur's Wedding' fic, but this idea wouldn't let me go, and who am I to look a gift muse in the mouth? :- ) A word to my wonderful beta, Jamsel. Woman, you are the reason why working with a Beta is such a rewarding experience! Thank you for pushing me, and not accepting the 'easy answer' or 'quick fix.' I must give credit to the two betas who have worked on this piece; Jamsel and Gerry. Thank you so much for your attention to detail, and for helping me to fine tune my writing into something much more than it was. This story is dedicated to my brother Jimmy, who recently carried me through a very difficult time. I love you, little bro. Thanks for lending me strength when I needed it.
If you're questioning the possibility of male Veela, let me explain my logic to you. Pureblood Veela are, of course, female creatures. We aren't sure how Veela reproduce within their own race, but it is clear that they can and do intermingle with humans. Therefore, I don't believe it's too much of a stretch to imagine that a male part-Veela/part-human is possible.
The summer breeze carries the imprint of her scent, and he closes his eyes, desperate to cling to the joy that it affords him. Within moments it vanishes, and his heart sinks from the knowledge that this is the closest he can allow himself to get to her tonight. Her mere presence is both a blessing and a curse, forcing him to grip his glass of mead ever tighter in order to rein in the maddening urge to reach out and pull her to him, to ravish her mouth and whisper sentimental words of longing and desperation into her hair.
Voldemort. Every dark and foul thing in his life can be traced back to him. His jaw clenches, and he feels the mead splash over his fingers as he swings the glass down hard. The sound of her laughter tugs at his awareness, and his eyes seek her out before he can think better of it. His breath catches in his throat for the millionth time today, for she has never been prettier, dressed in pale gold robes of the finest silk. Her hair, which usually flows freely over her shoulders, is piled high atop her head, making her seem taller, though she is still a pixie of a girl, petite and ethereal.
He wonders who she's talking to as his eyes trace the curve of her hip, the cinnamon freckles dusting her elbow. His view is obscured by the intimate tangle of guests on the dance floor, whose gaiety mocks him with every carefree smile, every familiar embrace.
His eyes narrow as he finally catches a glimpse of the object of her attention; one of Fleur's cousins, male, and Harry's green eyes are instantly aflame with hatred. The cousin is undoubtedly exuding every ounce of his unfairly inherited Veela charm, and although his Quidditch-callused hands itch to pummel the fair-haired wanker into the grass at her feet, pride blooms in his chest when he realizes that his girl won't be moved by such superficial magic.
His girl. His clever, pure-sunlight, unapologetically alive girl, whom he'd given up—pushed away, for her own safety. He shuts his eyes to the scene, willing himself to believe that he's done the right thing. They'd only been together for little more than a month. Surely the heaviness that has settled on his chest is not because he misses her desperately. He opens his eyes and bites into his tongue. The taste of blood mingles with the knowledge that he could not be more wrong.
Though her voice is light and she smiles warmly at her companion, he can see the shadow in her eyes and he knows that she feels the weight of their parting just as acutely as he does. She shakes her head, politely turning down an offer to dance, and looks his way momentarily. He can not help but feel a selfish jolt of triumph as she dismisses the boy-Veela without a backward glance and makes her way toward a small, secluded grove of trees.
Wearily, he turns his back on her slender form. I've got to walk away; I've got to keep her safe.
'Do you honestly believe that walking away will keep her safe?' asks a voice in his head that sounds like Hermione's.
I have to be brave.
But is this bravery, or cowardice?
She's better off without me.
But are you better off without her?
This is no time to be selfish!
And how exactly is leaving her unselfish?
He downs the dregs of mead left in his glass in one go and scrubs his fingers over his face. How have things gotten so fouled up so quickly? Why does his decision to end things with her seem so foolish now? His desire to protect her has not diminished; in fact, it increases exponentially with every passing day. She'd told him what she thought of his brilliant plan with just five words. "What if I don't care?"
Was he just lulling himself into a false sense of security, believing that she would be out of harm's way?
Mrs. Weasley's clock crosses his mind. All nine of its hands had pointed to 'Mortal Peril' last summer, and he hadn't been Ginny's boyfriend then. When he looked at it earlier today, he was unsurprised to discover that they all rest in that same troubling location. Yet he cannot deny that to be closely associated with him increases the likelihood of something awful happening.
He expels a frustrated sigh and stands, shrugging the kinks out of his shoulders. That's just it, everyone knows you dated her. Everyone, including Snape. Do you really think he's going to keep something like that secret from his precious master?
Just as he makes up his mind to seek out Ron and Hermione, and hopefully drown the temptation to go to her, a rustling sound in the grass draws his attention and he turns to see the boy-Veela approaching him with a self-important gait. The aura of arrogance exudes from his very skin, in a manner that even Draco Malfoy would not be capable of.
"So, zis iz 'arry Potter. But you are so thin. I was thinking zat you would be bigger." His accent is thick, and he smiles condescendingly, as though expecting Harry to feel threatened in some way. As if.
"Sorry to disappoint you," he replies dryly.
"Iz eet true zat you and Ginny were together?"
Harry tries hard not to reach for his wand and hex the bloody wanker where he stands. "I don't believe that's any of your business!"
"Of course, now zat I see you, I am thinking zat you are not man enough for a witch such as Ginny."
What?? "Oh, and I suppose you know someone who is, do you?"
"What's wrong, Harry?" Ron's words cut through Harry's anger momentarily, but he is glad to see his best mate. Ron would be able to see through this poncy bastard in a heartbeat, and then he could help Harry pummel him.
Harry starts to tell him exactly what's wrong, but the Veela opens his mouth before he can do it. "Merde! Anuzzer one! 'Ow many bruzzers does Ginny 'ave?"
This piques Ron's interest in a way that pleases Harry immensely. "What's it to you, mate?" Ron's nostrils are flared, and Harry can see his hand slipping beneath his dark blue robes to reach for his wand.
Before things escalate further, Hermione strides toward them purposefully, delicately gripping the bottom of her dress robes. "Lower your voices," she says in a harsh whisper, eyeing the three of them. "Who's he?" she asks of Ron, nodding to the Veela.
"Gervaise," says the blond in an ostentatious tone and he waves a hand at Ron and Harry dismissively.
"What did you just call us?" demands Ron, and Hermione places a restraining hand on his arm.
"It's his name." Her voice is calm, placating, and it works, much to Harry's chagrin. He felt better when Ron's anger was just as potent as his own.
The Veela has apparently had enough of "'Arry and another of Ginny's bruzzers" and walks off, flipping his stupid hair back off of his perfectly stupid unblemished brow.
Ron allows Hermione to pull him away, and calls to Harry to follow. Harry is only half-listening now, though. His eyes are drawn to the thicket of trees where Ginny stands and his feet take him there before he realizes what's happening.
She's facing away from him, but he sees her back straighten in acknowledgement of his approach. Her hypnotic scent, sweet like summer honeysuckle, envelops him finally and he closes his eyes, breathing deeply. He opens his eyes in time to see her turn to face him. Nonsensical words are on his tongue but they stay there, unspoken as he drinks her in. This is as close as he's been to her since returning to the Burrow and it overwhelms him.
Ginny steps closer still. He is no longer breathing. He knows he should turn and walk away but he can't. He is transfixed by her, by the defiance in her stance, and the slight pout of her lips that beckons to be kissed.
He looks into her eyes and he can read everything there. The determination to remain strong, the loneliness that threatens to engulf her, the desire to lash out at him and tell him how incredibly stupid he is. Suddenly it seems so simple, and he sinks to his knees in front of her, crushing her to him and burying his face in her silky robes. Her stomach trembles against his cheek, and he feels her fingers moving in his hair, her warm touch slowly caressing away the anxieties that have mounted in him over the last month.
The bliss that steals over him is like a healing balm when she dips her knees and slides down, tucking herself into his embrace and pressing her lips to every inch of his face that she can reach. "Harry," she murmurs against his chin, and he finds himself smiling, an act that feels foreign to him.
"Make me laugh," he pleads quietly, his lips brushing her temple.
She pulls back and stares at him for a moment, and he watches a myriad of emotions cross her face before she speaks. "You're a giant prat."
The blunt truthfulness of it is what gets him, and he does laugh.
His levity is short-lived, however, and he pulls back to tell her that he will be gone in the morning, that he doesn't know when he'll see her again. He opens his mouth, hoping to find the words to explain, but she silences him with a finger to his lips.
"I know this doesn't change things, not really. You're still going off to do what you have to do, and I'm still staying behind. But don't think for one moment that I will ever walk away from you, Harry."
He kisses her then, unable to resist her lips any longer. She sighs into his mouth and tugs on his hair in that way that he loves. Home. The darkness that has clung to his heart like an impenetrable mist dissolves as he realizes that she needs this just as much as he does. That somehow, he has become her home as well.
"Walk with me?" he asks as he pulls back from her for a much needed gulp of air. She nods and places her hand in his. He reminisces momentarily about their first kiss and the walk they'd taken afterward, and marvels at how long ago it seems. It amazes him how quickly she had become a vital part of him. He wonders what it might mean.
"Let's not talk about tomorrow, alright?" she says with a small smile, and he returns it in agreement. They slowly travel the perimeter of the garden, talking, laughing, and kissing. She tells him of her unending wedding preparations with Fleur, and he notes that she no longer wrinkles her nose when mentioning the witch's name.
"I suppose you've stopped calling her Phlegm, now she's your sister." Harry sniggers at the mischievous look she gives him.
"Ha! When has a sibling ever kept me from speaking my mind?" Her devious look fades into one of calm resignation. "No, I'll not call her Phlegm. Well, unless she's being really obnoxious. Then she'll deserve it." He laughs outright.
Ginny looks up at him then, and the mood shifts. "I can't fault her for standing by Bill, now can I? It seems we finally have something in common." He doesn't know why, but this makes him feel lighter somehow. "Besides," she continues, "though I hate to admit it, they're going to have beautiful babies. And just think of the things that Aunt Ginny can teach them!"
Harry pulls her back into his embrace and kisses her reverently. How on earth had he thought that he could survive without this? He looks down at her and his hand itches to free her hair of its pins. Instead, he wraps a curled lock around his finger, enjoying its silky feel. "Aunt Ginny is amazing," he says quietly and she blushes for him in a way that she hasn't done in years. His mouth seeks hers once again and he repeats that word in his mind, as time ceases to have meaning.
When he leaves the following morning, she is there to bid him goodbye. She kisses him fiercely and raises her head proudly when he turns to see her one last time before he Disapparates. Her blazing look is the last thing he sees before he goes, and it warms him from within.
The road ahead does not appear to be any easier, but he feels re-energized somehow, as though the mere idea of her gives him strength. And that's it, he supposes. She does make him stronger, in the best possible way.