A/N: This story was written for the best beta in the whole world, Sherylyn. It’s set in Nova Scotia and features a character from Texas — that probably means humor only I will understand — although I hope Sherry appreciates the references to Texas and to some of our many e-mail conversations.
“Now that is an amazing Charm,” Ron said, staring at Ginny with professional interest.
“Isn’t it?” Ginny preened in front of the mirror in the foyer of Ron and Hermione’s townhouse. It was a shock to see the bright blue eyes and blonde hair of the witch she was impersonating rather than her usual red hair and dark, mother-of-two circles under her eyes. “I’ve heard of Perception Charms, of course, but I’ve never seen one that could trick a mirror.”
“The Americans aren’t telling how they come up with it,” Hermione said, waving her wand at Rose’s Gurgling Gobstones littering the sitting room floor. “It’s charm and potion based, since they needed a strand of Vicki Lynn’s hair. They must have used an ingredient from Polyjuice potion…”
“But they also needed a strand of Harry’s hair since he will be the only one who will be able to see Ginny through the Charm,” Ron reminded her.
“Right.” The colorful Gurgling Gobstones were hovering forgotten in mid-air as Hermione tried to work out how the Charm was developed. “So if they needed a hair from the person who would be able to see through the Charm, then they wouldn’t just use a concealing potion ingredient.” She chewed her lip. “Now what enhances vision?”
“Carrots?” Ron suggested with a shrug. He took out his wand and finished putting the Gurgling Gobstones in the toy basket.
Hermione came out of her reverie and laughed. “I suppose I’m not going to work it out tonight.” She shook her head. “It probably took their Experimental Charms team years to refine this. I’ve been telling Kingsley that we really need to put more money into research and development —”
“We’ll get to it,” Ron interrupted impatiently. “But we only have a few minutes before Ginny’s flight leaves for Nova Scotia and I want to make sure she’s ready.”
“I’m ready,” Ginny muttered, trying not to show her nervousness. She had never helped Harry on an Auror mission before and she didn’t want to think about the consequences if she messed up. Someone was threatening to disrupt the Commonwealth Magical Games being held in Nova Scotia this year, and Harry had been there most of the summer working on security plans and trying to find the source behind the threatening owls that were landing in every Minister for Magic’s inboxes across the globe.
“What’s the password when you see Harry?” Ron prompted.
“My, you talk funny,” Ginny replied in her best attempt at Vicki Lynn’s Texas accent. Then she closed her eyes at the thought of Harry’s face when she said that to him.
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea to spring Ginny on Harry like this,” Hermione said nervously, holding her wand over Ginny’s blonde head. Ginny could feel the waves of magic as Hermione attempted to scan through her disguise.
“What? This was your idea!” Ron protested. “Don’t back down now! The Mounties also think that Harry’s presence is doing more to impede the investigation than help it at this point. They think the perpetrators are lying low with the famous Harry Potter sticking his nose in everywhere.”
Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Perpetrators? You sound like one of those Aurors on that DMSI show on the wireless.”
“I sound like one because I am an Auror.” The color was rising in Ron’s face. “Look — Harry’s been away for almost two months, and it’s been a bloody nuisance in the department without him. I know we’re supposed to have international cooperation and all of that rubbish — but honestly, if Harry is distracted and they show their hand and a few Quidditch matches are interrupted then what’s the big deal? It’s not like this is life and death.”
“Ron!” Hermione pocketed her wand and moved in front of him. “They’ve threatened kidnap of Quidditch players and heads of state. And the spectators — what about them? The world simply doesn’t need mass Imperius Curses cast like one letter threatened.”
Ron rolled his eyes. “Believe me, Harry’s made sure that security measures are in place to prevent kidnap, and there will be enough Aurors within the stadium to detect and subdue anyone casting an Imperius Curse. What would be nice is if the per — if the villains in this piece — would make a move before the matches begin. Hence, we send out a little distraction in the form of Vicki Lynn Culpepper from Sweetwater, Texas. With Harry wrapped around her finger —”
“Why did I ever think that would work?” Hermione moaned. “The whole world knows Harry is in love with Ginny and would never look at another witch.”
Ron snorted, but didn’t say anything about wizards not being blind after marriage. Ginny thought that maybe he had learned something about tact after his years with Hermione. “Remember? Harry won’t see gorgeous Vicki Lynn Culpepper with those amazing —” He cupped his hands in front of his chest. “He’ll just see plain old Ginny.”
So much for tact.
“And he’ll be glad to see me!” Ginny stormed, even though in her heart of hearts she knew that Harry would not be happy that she was involved — especially since she was leaving James and Albus behind with her mother.
“Why did you choose Vicki Lynn Culpepper again?” Hermione asked rubbing her forehead wearily. “Americans aren’t even in the Commonwealth.”
“You are tired,” Ron said indulgently, putting his arms around her.
“Rosie was up half the night teething.” Hermione settled her head on his chest. “I think it’s her two-year molars.”
“And since she’s not quite two years old, that proves she’s ahead of everyone else,” Ron crowed. “Just like her mother.”
Ginny refrained from pointing out that Albus, who was three months younger than Rosie, had one molar already. Ron was ridiculously competitive when it came to their children. “Hermione, Vicki Lynn Culpepper was a famous Quidditch star in America — and then played with the Kestrels for one season ten years ago, so she does know some the of British Quidditch players.”
“In the biblical sense,” Ron added, smirking.
“I read Vicki Lynn’s autobiography,” Ginny said with dignity. “Yes, she was married six times, and yes, she had a lot of boyfriends — but she wasn’t a scarlet woman like the press is always making her out to be. And she’s an Auror now, too — she went through training when she was thirty. Not the easiest thing —”
“Don’t give that piece of information away,” Ron warned. “I wasn’t going to tell you, but Vicki Lynn is going to be undercover at the games. She’s also protected by a Perception Charm.”
Hermione’s eyes widened with realization. “You should be able to see her through her disguise, Ginny since you have her strand of hair!” Then she frowned and looked at Ron again. “Why is the real Vicki Lynn going to be undercover at the games? What’s her mission?”
Ron’s mouth twitched, but his voice was serious. “I can’t tell you.”
Hermione pulled away. “I might be working half-days, but I still work for the Ministry. You can tell me.”
“No,” Ron said calmly. “I can’t tell you because I don’t know.” At her deepening scowl, he added hastily, “Harry doesn’t know either. The Canadians are in charge and they invited the Americans to get involved. I think it’s because there are going to be exhibition games of Quodpot.” He rolled his eyes. “Hamilton Dow is coordinating the whole thing so I’m sure it’s all above board and by the book.”
Hamilton Dow, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Aurors, was Harry and Ron’s first Auror instructor and one of Kingsley Shacklebolt’s best friends. He was a very competent Auror, but had little patience with rule-breaking and even less patience with Ron’s sense of humor. Auror training had not been easy for Ron.
“So there’s something else going on besides these threats?” Hermione asked as she paced around the room.
“That’s my guess.” Ron shrugged and looked at the clock. “Ginny, we have to get going. Your flight leaves in ten minutes. It was hell trying to get you on that chartered flight with all of the fans headed to the games.”
“Are you sure you feel okay about this, Ginny?” Hermione asked anxiously. “Say something else with a Texas accent.
Nonplussed at Hermione’s worry, Ginny searched her mind for something to say. “Let’s go to the airport.” She paused. “Y’all.”
Ron laughed. “That sounded authentic to me.”
“How would you know what an authentic Texas accent sounds like?” Hermione snapped. “We’re English!” She frowned at Ginny. “Shouldn’t you use the word ‘mosey’ for going places?”
Ginny giggled. “I don’t know, but most of people at the Commonwealth Games won’t know what a Texas accent sounds like either,” she soothed. Then she remembered another useful fact from Vicki Lynn’s autobiography that she had been poring over for the past week. “And if I do slip up, I can just say I’m practicing the elocution that I learned from my second husband, Professor Henry Higgins.”
“Was he before or after Randolph Mantooth, the Quodpot player?” Ron asked with interest.
“After,” Ginny said promptly. “Randolph Mantooth was her first husband. Her third was the Kestrels’ coach.”
“Ginny, you’d better go,” Hermione said, thrusting a bag into her hands. “Here. It’s for the flight. I put in a copy of This Yellow Rose Has Thorns with pertinent passages highlighted, a guidebook of Nova Scotia, and chewing gum. Oh, yes. Make sure you don’t eat any shellfish. Vicki Lynn is allergic.”
“Right,” Ron said. “I meant to tell you that if someone was trying to assassinate Vicki Lynn they would do it with lobster.”
“Thanks for the reassurance,” Ginny retorted, her heart pounding. It hadn’t occurred to her that Vicki Lynn would have enemies, but after several years as an Auror and six ex-husbands… She shuddered.
“Give Harry our love,” Hermione called as Ginny stepped into the fireplace.
“Give him your love first,” Ron advised. “Then he won’t be as likely to kill us for sending you.”
Ginny giggled and shouted ‘Heathrow’ before the flames obscured Ron and Hermione from view.
Ginny used the short, magically enhanced flight to re-read the highlighted passages of Vicki Lynn’s book and to lightly doze. There was something about being cocooned in so much magic that made every surface — even the hard edges of the stiff airline seat —comfortable. She wished she could really sleep since she had been up since dawn, preparing Albus and James for their stay at the Burrow. James seemed to understand that Mummy was going to help Daddy for a few days, but Albus was too little to understand why his mother was leaving him. She frowned and rested her head against the window, vaguely noting that Vicki Lynn must have huge hair because the magic was holding her face inches away from the glass. The higher the hair, the closer to God, Vicki Lynn had written.
Was she a bad mother for leaving her children? Albus had known something was up when she kissed him goodbye on his forehead. She could see the tears glinting in his green eyes when he had twisted in Mum’s arms trying in vain to reach for her.
Mum, of all people, had been firm about Ginny getting a break from the children and seeing Harry again. “You have children for such a short time, but marriages are forever,” she had said. “Go to Harry. He needs you.”
She happened to glance at the wizard who was seated across the aisle from her. He was leering in a very creepy way. Ginny wrapped the glittery robes tighter across her magical body. She couldn’t tell if Vicki Lynn’s breasts were hanging out or not. She shot the wizard her most repressive glare and was glad to see him turn his head hastily.
Vicki Lynn probably would have preened, but Ginny was annoyed. The only person she wanted to leer at her was Harry, and Ginny was afraid that when he first saw her, he was going to feel anything but amorous. She sighed. They rarely fought, but whenever they did, it was usually about her safety or his.
She could see the wizard in the reflection from her window. He was looking at her again. She fingered her wand and wondered if it would be too much of a stretch of Vicki Lynn’s character if she used the Bat-Boogey Hex on one of her admirers.
The first thing Ginny noticed about Nova Scotia was the tang of salt in the fresh, chilly air. The second thing she noticed was how friendly everyone was — and she didn’t think it was her sexy Vicki Lynn disguise that prompted such behavior. Her middle-aged landlady, Mrs. Nickerson, spent twenty minutes showing her around her seaside cabin on Carter’s Beach, explaining that, while it wasn’t an official nudist beach, she might see a few adventurous souls sunning themselves, but not to be alarmed since they “weren’t locals.” Then she implored Ginny to treat the main house as if it was her own and reminded her that she was due at a “late supper” welcoming the Americans at Oak Island at nine o’clock sharp. Mrs. Nickerson was going to Side-along Apparate her there so she wouldn’t get lost in the dark.
Ginny couldn’t believe an innkeeper would be that interested in her guests, but Mrs. Nickerson explained that hosting the Commonwealth Games was the biggest thing to hit the province since they discovered underwater Floo Powder off of Sable Island. Every room from PEI to New Brunswick was booked, and Mrs. Nickerson was giddy with excitement. Hamilton Dow himself had arranged for Vicki Lynn’s cabin and Mrs. Nickerson was only too happy to accommodate a VIP. Finally she could shut up her rival, Mrs. Mitten, who ran the Wayward Seafarer’s Boardinghouse in Lunneburg. She had been bragging about hosting Harry Potter all summer long.
Ginny almost gasped at hearing Harry’s name. He was so close — just a quick Apparition away — if she knew how to find Lunneburg, that is.
Mrs. Nickerson grasped her arm. “I’ll take you to Oak Island now — you should get a nice view of the ghost ships heading out to look for treasure.”
Mrs. Nickerson nodded. “Oak Island is full of ghostly pirates — and ghostly treasure. The problem is they can’t find any new treasure, so they just raid each other’s ships and then dig holes all over the island trying to find new hiding places.” She shook her head. “It’s a tourist attraction and the Provincial Ministry encourages it— but if you ask me, those ghosts are drawing too much Muggle attention.”
Ginny smiled and nodded, not knowing the first thing about Canadian politics.
“I heard those Quodpot players are a rowdy bunch,” Mrs. Nickerson continued. “If you get in over your head, come straight back here.”
Her smile slipped. She knew even less about Quodpot.
The late supper at Oak Island took place in a weathered old inn with a huge porch that jutted out over the lapping waves. The waxing moon turned the water silver, while the fairy lights suspended in the air softly illuminated the partygoers milling about on the porch. At first Ginny was intimidated by all of the strange faces and accents, but then she quickly reminded herself that Vicki Lynn would never be shy. Luckily, the first person she saw once she had a fizzy drink in her hand was… Vicki Lynn.
“Hi, honey,” Vicki Lynn sidled up to her. “You’re look’n’ good.” Vicki Lynn sounded like a man.
“My, you talk funny.” Ginny replied with the password — it wasn’t part of her instructions but it seemed strangely apropos.
Vicki Lynn laughed. “That’s ‘cause I’m disguised as my fifth husband, Horace Harper. He’s a Floo Powder baron from Alberta. Bless his heart, he gave me one of the few hairs he had left on his head so I could go undercover. He was the one who pushed me into being an Auror in the first place.” She sighed. “He was too old for me, of course — more of a daddy figure than a lover — but he was just what I needed after escaping from that harem.”
“Now, how do you like bein’ Vicki Lynn Culpepper?”
“Um.” She could feel the heat rise in her face. “That’s a difficult question to answer diplomatically.”
Vicki Lynn chuckled. “My second husband would love your accent.” She looked over her shoulder. “I don’t know if you know this, but my first husband is here.”
“He is?” Ginny’s heart sank. How was she ever going to brazen this out?
“Randy is with the Quodpot players. He’s the dark, handsome, dumb-looking one.”
“Honey, he’s — as we say in Sweetwater — all hat and no cattle.”
“But he’s as sweet as they come,” Vicki Lynn assured her. “And great in bed.”
Ginny stopped giggling.
“We usually have a reunion when I’m in between husbands,” Vicki Lynn continued, thoughtfully.
“What? No, no way am I —”
“Oh, honey.” Vicki Lynn put a hand on her arm. “Don’t worry about scorchin’ the sheets with mah ex. I’ll catch up with Randy later. Just Confund him if he bothers you. No one would be able to tell the difference.”
Some of the tension in Ginny’s shoulders eased.
“I don’t know why Randy would bother chasin’ you anyway. With your robes all buttoned up you look like a preacher’s kid.”
“I was tired of wizards not meeting my eyes when they talk to me,” Ginny snapped.
“They get to the eyes eventually,” Vicki Lynn answered, unperturbed by Ginny’s bad mood. “I paid good money for those boobs, which is why I don’t keep them all bundled up.”
Ginny gaped at her. “Good money?”
“Sure. Every five years or so I go to my Healer in Dallas and ask him to upgrade me. It’s part of my personal beauty regime.”
A headache was beginning to form behind her eyes. How could she ever act like this woman?
“Oh, don’t look now, but I believe the very famous, very married Harry Potter has joined the party.”
“Vicki,” Ginny said urgently.
“Horace, then. Are you and Harry working together? Is there something else I should know about this mission?”
Vicki Lynn smiled mysteriously. “You dance with them what brung you.” At Ginny’s frown, she explained, “You’re workin’ with that nice husband of yours — and I’m… not.” Then without another word, she turned and headed toward the bar.
Left alone, Ginny clutched her fizzy drink and looked around for Harry, but it was hard to see around the brawny Quodpot players who were loudly talking about the different types of exploding Quaffles and how the new ones didn’t fly apart the same way as the old ones.
Randy caught her eye and winked. Ginny gulped and turned to flee from the porch. Maybe she could hide behind one of the wooden sailor figurines in the lobby until dinner was served.
As she stepped through the French doors, she bumped into a chest of red serge.
It was Hamilton Dow in all of his square-jawed, broad-shouldered glory. Ginny looked up at him, not quite sure if she should reveal her true identity.
“Ms. Culpepper. Did you just arrive from England? I’m glad you were in time to be part of our welcoming dinner.” He smiled and indicated the person standing behind him. “I take it you know Harry Potter?”
Harry was staring at her, shock in his green eyes.
Ginny held out her hand. “I believe we first saw each other at King’s Cross a long time ago. But maybe you don’t remember?”
He took her hand and then his eyes narrowed. She could barely feel him through the magic of the Perception Charm, and he probably noticed the same thing. It seemed so unfair that their first meeting after two months would be like this.
“I probably remember it differently than you,” Harry said in a careful voice.
“My, you talk funny.” She finally remembered to say the password.
Harry’s eyes widened as he realized that not only was she in Nova Scotia with him, but she was the new contact he had been waiting for.
Hamilton Dow smiled down on the two of them. “How nice to have a reunion after all of this time.”
Harry dropped her hand and turned on him furiously. “Why wasn’t I told about this?”
“You were told about this,” Hamilton Dow replied, straightening to his full height. “This is Vicki Lynn Culpepper, your new partner.”
“No, it’s not,” Harry said in a low, dangerous voice. “This is my wife who should be safely at home and not mixed up in this mission.”
“This was decided at higher levels,” Hamilton Dow answered calmly. “If you had accepted the position as head of the Auror Department like Kingsley wanted, then you could have argued for a different partner.”
Ginny’s stomach did a little flip. Kingsley still wanted Harry to take the position. Maybe now Harry would see the up side to administration. He hated to be in the dark about anything — and in this mission they had kept him firmly out of the loop.
Harry seemed to understand that as well. His hands clenched spasmodically and then he looked at Ginny. “We’re leaving.”
“Harry! We have to stay for the dinner! It would be rude.”
“Hang dinner,” he growled, grabbing her arm and Disapparating.
They landed in a small, sparsely furnished bedroom. On the wall over the bed there was a picture of a sailing ship struggling in a storm. Ginny’s eyes latched on to the sickening motion of the green waves, since that situation didn’t seem as dire as Harry pacing in agitation behind her.
“I can’t believe they pulled something like this!” he raged. “That’s the thanks I get for coordinating all these security measures — they send you. What a slap in the face.”
Ginny felt like she had been slapped in the face. “Wait a minute.” She whirled around. “Aren’t you the least bit happy to see me?”
“No.” A muscle worked in his jaw. “Not like this. You’re not part of my work.”
“I’m part of your life!” she screeched. “When Ron asked me if I was interested in helping you, of course I said yes.”
He stopped pacing. “Ron sent you? Hermione knows about this?”
“Of course.” She folded her arms in front of herself and noticed with irritation that Vicki Lynn’s ‘upgrades’ made that gesture uncomfortable. “They cast the charm — which you or I or Vicki Lynn can break.” She gave him a hard stare. “Do you want to do that now? Mess up whatever plans are in motion?”
He looked up at the ceiling and let out a long breath. “I hate this. I really hate this. It brings everything back. I think I know what’s going on and then someone else — someone with more authority or power or knowledge — changes the rules.”
She knew what he was talking about — and she remembered that year, too. “Well, I hate being left out! I hate not being a part of your life, Harry.”
“You are part of my life,” he said quietly. “The best part — not this part.”
Her heart turned over at the weariness in his voice. “Harry, if you never want to be in this position again — then you have to be the authority,” Ginny said. “You should take that administrative position.”
He sighed and then looked at her, doubt in his eyes. “Dumbledore warned me about power — how it can be misused.”
She ached to hug him. “You would never misuse your power as head of the Aurors. Professor Dumbledore was talking about the Elder Wand. You would do a lot of good for the Ministry, Harry. Since you’ve coordinated all the security forces here at the games, then you obviously have a flair for organization and administration.”
“I would be home more,” he conceded. “Nights and weekends.”
He was really thinking about it! Ginny’s hopes soared. “We’ve missed you,” she whispered. “I’ve missed you.”
His face softened and he opened his arms. She fell into his embrace, only to be frustrated all over again. She couldn’t feel a thing.
“It’s like you’re wrapped in cotton wool,” he marveled, looking down at her.
It was more than a little ironic that he said that, considering how he had always tried to protect her. “Well, you got your wish.”
Before he could answer there was a sharp rap on the door. “Mr. Potter! Open up. Briney says you have a woman in your room.”
Harry groaned. “The landlady, Mrs. Mitten, is a stickler for morals and proper behavior. No witches, alcohol or playing the wireless in her boardinghouse.”
Ginny’s eyes widened. “What are you allowed to do?”
“Cards — but no gambling — droughts and chess.”
She giggled. Poor Harry — even if she hadn’t done anything exciting all summer, at least she could have a glass of wine with dinner. “Do you want me to leave?”
“No. You’ve already been seen.” He went to open the door. “Briney is the house-elf and he knows all.”
Mrs. Mitten was a short, stout witch whose pleasant face contorted in shock when she saw Ginny/Vicki. “Mr. Potter, I can’t believe it.”
“It’s not what you think —” Harry began.
“You’re a married man.” Poor Mrs. Mitten sounded close to tears. “I saw a picture of your wife and children in Hello There magazine not too long ago. She’s a lovely girl — think about her.”
Harry spared Ginny a quick, amused glance. “I know. She is.”
“I’m a woman of the world,” Mrs. Mitten continued, after taking a deep breath. “I’ve seen this happen with other sailors. You’ve been away — she might have put on a few pounds since she’s had the babies.”
Ginny opened her mouth to protest that she had lost all of her baby weight this summer, but Mrs. Mitten wasn’t done with her lecture.
“But your children, Mr. Potter. Think about them, even if you don’t feel the same way about your wife.”
“I feel —” Harry stopped in mid-sentence, now looking angry rather than amused. “It’s none of your business how I feel about Ginny — and may I remind you that I’m not a wayward sailor. I’m in charge of security. Ms. Culpepper is here to help me — to help Canada — host these games. I’m sorry about breaking the rules but time was of the essence and we needed a private place for discussion.”
It was a convincing performance and Mrs. Mitten had the grace to look abashed.
“Now I’ll take Ms. Culpepper to her hotel,” Harry said.
Mrs. Mitten shook her head. “I’ll take her. I know where she’s staying. Alda Nickerson doesn’t understand that this is a delicate government matter and she might not approve of a strange wizard showing up so late at night.”
Harry hesitated and then grudgingly nodded. “I’ll see you in the morning, Gi — Vicki.”
Mrs. Mitten heaved a relieved sigh. “At least you’re thinking about your wife now, Mr. Potter.”
“Oh, I am,” he replied without a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
Ginny thought she would lie awake worrying about how she was going to pull off her Vicki Lynn impersonation and mollify Harry, but the soothing sound of the waves lulled her to sleep.
She woke to a gray, misty morning. There was a pot of coffee on the bedside table and a note from Mrs. Nickerson. Come to the main house for pancakes.
Pancakes for breakfast. She had read about them and had always wondered what they were like. She scrambled out of bed and hurried to dress, hoping Vicki Lynn’s wardrobe ran to something warmer and more casual than what she was wearing yesterday.
Vicki Lynn’s glitzy wardrobe disappointed, but the thick, not-very-sweet, breakfast pancakes — studded with blueberries and covered in maple syrup — did not.
Mrs. Nickerson beamed as she ate with relish. “I was afraid you would be on some sort of a diet.”
“Oh, no,” Ginny said airily. “I’m on hol — I mean — I’m on vacation. Calories don’t count then, now do they?”
Mrs. Nickerson laughed and hurried to answer the knock on the door. It must be Harry, Ginny thought. Maybe she could ply him with pancakes and he would be in a better mood.
“Um.” Mrs. Nickerson’s eyes shone with excitement. “Harry Potter is here to see you!”
“Hello, Vicki,” Harry said, looking slightly embarrassed at the landlady’s enthusiasm.
He smirked at her accent, but he didn’t comment on it. “The first exhibition Quodpot game is being played in an hour. I’d like you to fill me in on the details, if you don’t mind.”
Ginny didn’t know the first thing about Quodpot. “It’s what I’m here for,” she answered cheerfully.
The fog had burned away by the time Harry and Ginny joined the crowd at Rossignol Stadium. The newly built venue was located in the middle of a fragrant pine forest with a blue lake shimmering in the distance. It was a lovely setting. Ginny felt her spirits rise as they always did when she saw a Pitch. One benefit of this mission that hadn’t occurred to her was that she was going to be able to watch a lot of Quidditch.
She turned to Harry, but he wasn’t sitting in anticipation of watching top athletes at their game. He was scanning the crowd and the skies.
“You look as nervous as a Kneazle in a room full of rockers.”
He pulled his gaze away from the crowd and stared at her. Then his mouth twitched. “You did not just say that.”
She giggled. “Honey, I did.”
He laughed. “You’re going to keep this Texas accent once we’re home, aren’t you?”
“Just when I think you need to lighten up.” She grinned.
“Lighten up? I’m working!”
“Oh?” She sat up straight. “What exactly are you supposed to be doing at this moment?” She tossed her hair and then remembered that Vicki Lynn’s hair didn’t move. “And don’t tell me you can’t say, because I’m officially your partner. Hamilton Dow said so.”
Harry ground his teeth and then looked around. They were in one of the VIP boxes, so it was unlikely anyone would overhear them. “I talked to Hamilton this morning. He wants me to follow up on the security measures I’ve put in place and he wants me to be seen — with you — for the next three days until the games are over.”
“Oh?” She couldn’t keep the smile off of her face. She was part of the plan and Harry couldn’t do a thing about it.
“You are the diversion so that Vicki Lynn can do her job and I’m the public face of security.” He looked glum. “My job is to answer questions from the press and to tell all the Aurors what to do.”
“Just like you were the real head of an Auror Department.”
He sighed. “Yes.”
“So Kingsley and Hamilton Dow are giving you a taste of what a promotion would be like.”
Harry stared out over the Pitch. “Yes, I suppose so.” He sounded thoughtful now, rather than trapped and defensive like he had last night.
She wanted to take his arm and put her head on his shoulder, but she couldn’t do that as Vicki Lynn Culpepper. “I’m glad I have a chance to see you in action as head Auror.”
He turned to her and laughed self-consciously at her proud tone. “There hasn’t been much action so far.”
“Isn’t that what you want, though? Absolutely nothing to happen?”
“Right.” He smiled warmly at her. “Competent Auror work is not like wireless shows or crime novels.”
She smiled back and then got distracted by the look in his eyes. He wanted to kiss her. Behind the stifling cocoon of magic her heart beat rapidly. It was killing her not to touch him. They had always had a very physical relationship. Harry rarely said anything about his feelings, which is why Ginny wasn’t surprised at his reaction to Mrs. Mitten’s accusations, but he always showed his affection. He was constantly holding her hand or touching her hair or unexpectedly dropping kisses on her head when she was busy doing something else.
But now — now, when they had to pretend to be friends and business associates for three whole days — she realized how much she missed it.
She heard his breath catch — he must have correctly read her face. “Three days,” he said, his eyes darkening. “I can hardly wait.”
She blushed so deeply she could feel the warmth from her face spread all through her body until her toes were tingling. It was ridiculous to have that sort of reaction. They had two children together, for Merlin’s sake. Sex wasn’t this unknown, forbidden thing anymore.
Her eyes strayed to his mouth and her mind conjured all sorts of erotic images. No children to interrupt and so much time. Lots and lots of — She swallowed and looked to the Pitch, startled to see that the Quodpot match had already begun.
With the help of her program, Ginny was able to follow what was going on. The object of the game, throwing the Quaffle into the pot before it exploded, seemed straightforward enough, but it didn’t prepare them for the first “miss” of the day. They watched in disbelief as a Quaffle suddenly exploded in a player’s hands. “What kind of mad game is this?” Ginny muttered as the player’s teammates put out the flames.
“I thought you were ambassador of Quodpot,” Harry said sarcastically. “Isn’t eyebrow singing part of the appeal?”
“Sure enough. It’s a man’s game — none of this sissified Quidditch multi-tasking,” she drawled. “That’s why they play it in Texas.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Next you’ll be talking about God’s country.”
“Texas is God’s country,” Vicki Lynn said the next day as she and Ginny watched a broom race over the Bay of Fundy. While Harry was still in Halifax reviewing day one of the games, Ginny was letting herself be seen with her “fifth husband.” It gave her a chance to ask Vicki some questions about Texas and it deflected some of the gossip that was beginning to surround Harry. It was fine for Harry to seem distracted, but he didn’t want anyone to think he was anything but happily married. “I tell you, Texas has everything,” Vicki Lynn boasted. “The best food, the finest fashions, the purest Floo Powder. This stuff they’re squeezing out of the sands of Alberta might as well be baby powder for all the umph it’s got.”
“Shh.” Ginny giggled. “You’re supposed to be a Floo Powder baron, remember?”
“Horace knows my feelings on the subject.” Vicki Lynn shrugged.
“So, do you have pancakes for breakfast in Texas?” Ginny asked. “I think I made a mistake this morning when I asked Mrs. Nickerson for the recipe. She was surprised since she thought they ate pancakes for breakfast in Texas.”
“Lord yes, we have pancakes for breakfast in Texas. And sometimes biscuits and gravy.”
“Oh!” Nothing sounded more revolting than gravy paired with something sweet like biscuits. Did they dip the biscuits in the gravy? “Sorry,” Ginny said, not wanting to get into it. “Food is really turning out to be a stumbling block. Last night, at the lobster supper, I was the only one having a steak and I almost asked if they had any brown sauce. Luckily, I caught myself and asked for barbeque sauce.”
“What kind of barbeque sauce did they give you?” Vicki Lynn asked with keen interest.
“Er — I don’t know.” Ginny frowned in thought. “It was kind of a sweet tasting and tomato-like.”
“Honey, that’s ketchup — or Memphis barbeque sauce, which is just as bad. Texas barbeque sauce is peppery, not sweet.” She peered at Ginny. “I hope you didn’t defile your steak with that stuff?”
Ginny squirmed. “Um —”
“Hi, Vicki.” Harry smiled at her and nodded at Vicki Lynn. “Horace.”
“Call her Vicki Lynn, not plain ol’ Vicki,” the real Vicki Lynn insisted. “Texans are generous with everything — including names.”
Harry laughed. “Okay. By the way, we caught the bloke behind the Imperius threat.”
“Oh?” Ginny bounced in her seat, glad Harry had had success. “Who was it?”
“The Hermit of Lake Rossignol. Seems he took umbrage at having a magical stadium built on ’his’ land.”
“What made him think he could cast a mass Imperius Curse?” Ginny asked.
He laughed. “He’s completely barmy. He claimed he had already cast it on the trees surrounding his hut, since he claimed they never moved once he told them to stay put.”
Vicki Lynn cackled. “Crazy as a peach orchard boar.”
Before Ginny could ask her to explain that phrase, the crowd roared. It seemed the race was over and New Zealand had won another gold medal. Their rivals, the Aussies, were booing, but the Kiwis were too increduosly happy to care.
Vicki Lynn smiled. “I can’t wait until the championship Quidditch match between New Zealand and Australia, they’re really going to mix it up.”
“Just as long as they don’t burn down the stadium afterward,” Harry said.
“We always burn down the stadium at the end of Quodpot season,” Vicki Lynn informed them.
On the third day of the games, Ginny Confunded Randy twice before lunch. Harry had been watching her cast that spell on all sorts of admirers, but he was finally moved to comment on it. “You really miss your Bat-Boogey Hex, don’t you?”
“I do!” Ginny giggled as they walked to the final Quodpot match of the games. “The Confundus Charm is very efficient, but there’s something about seeing all of those wings flapping…”
He grinned down at her. “After tonight you’ll be able to hex away all you want.”
“After tonight I won’t be harassed by any wizards.”
She practically skipped in anticipation. “I won’t be hexing you.”
“Harry.” Hamilton Dow Apparated in front of them. “We got the big one.”
Ginny had no idea what they were talking about, but judging by the way Harry’s eyes flashed, it seemed that whatever all the Aurors had been worried about was finally coming to pass.
Harry looked over his shoulder at Ginny. “I’ll meet you in the stadium later.”
It was the first time Ginny had been left out since she had come to Nova Scotia, but she found that she didn’t mind. She obviously wasn’t cut out to be an Auror. Trying to keep track of all of these people and probe into their motives and possible movements didn’t interest her at all. She was tired of “constant vigilance” and she was tired of being Vicki Lynn Culpepper from the Greatest Place on Earth. Then, without breaking stride, she cast another backwards Confundus Charm. She had felt the bloke’s breath on her neck.
Ginny watched the Quodpot match with interest. Ole Miss lost to the Razorbacks, which seemed to be just as big of an upset as the final victory of the Kiwis over the Aussies in Quidditch later on that afternoon. Ginny watched both matches by herself, since Harry never returned.
After the medal ceremony, she Apparated back to Carter’s Beach. Mrs. Nickerson served “hodge podge” (New vegetables from the garden — small white potatoes, tender green beans and sweet carrots covered in cream) with slices of fried ham. When Mrs. Nickerson asked if they had hodge podge in Texas, Ginny answered sourly that the vegetables were too small for Texas.
The blueberry crumble dented her bad mood, though, and it finally faded away as she took a peaceful walk on the solitary beach. Somehow, after feeling the white, powdery sand under her feet and looking at the silvery blue ocean and the pink streaks in the darkening sky, it was hard to stay disappointed and anxious. The games had gone well — Harry’s efforts had been successful. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t been part of the excitement. The ocean continued its whispering. The sun found its rest. There really were larger forces at work and it was silly to think any one person could control it all.
As she followed her own footsteps back to her cabin, Harry Apparated in front of her.
He was smiling as he raised his wand at her. “Finite Incantatem.”
She felt the magic fall away, and then Harry was kissing her — conjuring a sweeter, more profound magic than anything an Experimental Charms team could come up with.
He didn’t need to tell her that everything had gone well, nor did he need to tell her that he was going to take the promotion after they had a little holiday in Nova Scotia. He told her everything with the way he kissed her and the way his hands roamed under her clothes and how eagerly he tumbled with her into bed. He did, however, manage to tell a startled Mrs. Nickerson that Vicki Lynn Culpepper had checked out and Mr. and Mrs. Potter were checking in.
It had all worked out so nicely, Ginny thought as they took a last walk on the beach two days later. Mrs. Nickerson was delighted to have hosted the reunion of Mr. and Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Mitten proudly thought she was responsible for their reconciliation.
Vicki Lynn had averted the Quodpot Quaffle sabotage that would have killed everyone in the stadium during the last match if it had exploded as planned. The perpetrators tried to make it look like it was part of an American sporting rivalry when it was really masterminded by one of the jealous Commonwealth Ministers who had wanted the games to take place in his country. Luckily, Canada’s reputation as a peaceful nation was upheld. Even though she hadn’t lured Harry Potter away from his wife, Vicki Lynn’s reputation as a femme fatale was still intact after she announced the she had snagged her seventh husband, Hamilton Dow.
Just like the Mounties, Vicki Lynn always got her man.
“I’m fixin’ to buy a weddin’ dress as soon as I can fly to Dallas,” Vicki Lynn told Ginny. “I hope you can scoot on over with Harry and be our witnesses when we tie the knot.”
Ginny thought that Vicki Lynn’s wedding would be a lot of fun, since she had had so much practice arranging them.
Harry was open to the idea, but only if they could bring James and Albus. After his reunion with Ginny, he was now eager to see his children again.
“I wonder if Vicki Lynn will have children,” Ginny mused as she nudged a sand dollar with her toe.
“I doubt it,” Harry answered, squeezing her hand. “I don’t think she would be able to provide a very stable life for them.”
“That’s true,” she said, shying away from a new wave of cold water lapping at her feet. “After all of those husbands, it seems like the only constant love in her life has been Texas.”
“What about Randy?”
“He’s too dumb.”
He laughed and they continued to walk.
“Have you ever felt like that about a place?” she asked, looking at the beauty spread around her. “You know, to think it’s the best place in the whole world, the only place that you could ever love? I love England, but I don’t know if I’m that single-minded about it.”
“I used to feel that way about Hogwarts,” Harry said, stopping to take her other hand so he could face her. “But I realize now that it’s not a place, but a person that I feel that single-minded about.”
“Oh.” Their stint of just talking and not touching had really affected Harry. Tears sprang to her eyes. “I’m your Texas, then?”
He laughed and kissed her. That was answer enough.
Forty Weeks Later:
“I don’t know if it’s the pain potion talking,” Ginny said, feeling a giddy rush of love as she touched her newborn daughter’s cheek, “but I don’t think we’ve been generous enough with one name. Maybe we should call her Lily Lynn.”
Harry laughed and took the baby from her so she could sleep. “I think you’ve lightened up enough with that pain potion.”
A/N: I hope that lightened up your birthday, Sherry! Thank you for showing your Texas-size generosity over the years. You’re a wonderful beta and friend. Feel free to Texas-pick me. I haven’t been there in twenty years.
Another wonderful beta and friend is tdu000 who worked me into her schedule since I sprung this on her at the last minute.
DMSI: Atlantis (Dark Magic Scene Investigation) is the hottest show on the wireless. You should give it a listen.
All the places mentioned in Nova Scotia are real. Carter’s Beach is the “secret” beach around here. There are no road signs for it and once you’re there, you have to practically fall down a cliff to reach it. It’s truly a magical place. Lake Rossignol is a huge lake in middle of a huge forest. You wouldn’t need many anti-Muggle charms to build a Quidditch Pitch there.
This summer Halifax withdrew their bid to host the Commonwealth Games since it was going to cost too much to build the venues. It was fun to bring the magical version to the province.
Hodge Podge is a South Shore dish. It’s so hick, no one in Cape Breton has heard of it. (And that’s saying something!)
There’s no need to debate barbeque — everyone knows the best barbeque is from Kansas City.
After JKR wrote Harry’s Wizard of the Month entry, Sherry and I giggled over the fact that several fans had worked out Lily’s conception to follow Harry’s promotion as head of the Auror Department. This was my ingenious explanation for that chapter in his life. Hermione is also tired because she’s in her first stage of pregnancy with Hugo.
And finally — I used “fixin’” and “scoot” in a fan fic, Sherry. It felt good. :)