After being caught by a photographer at the River Otter pool, Ginny had the hopeful thought that perhaps it had been too dark for any clear photos to be taken. That hope proved to be short-lived two mornings later when the owls started to arrive.
Luckily, Mum was sewing with her Witches and Stitches group and didn't see the huge mound of letters the owls left behind on the kitchen table. Ginny stared at the paper mountain and tentatively reached for an envelope. The minute she touched it, the edges started to curl. She tried to throw the Howler in the fire, but it was too late.
"ABOMINATION! A TRAMP LIKE YOU SHOULD STAY AWAY FROM A HERO LIKE HARRY POTTER!"
She kicked it into the hearth and then resolutely grabbed another:
Stupid girl. If he doesn't have to pay for the milk, why would he buy the cow?
The next letter was just plain creepy:
You are a goddess. Your alabaster breasts are as exquisite as the finest statue in my collection. I must have you....
Every letter had something to say about her morals – or Harry's – or, even more unjustly, her parents' morals. There didn't seem to be one letter expressing outrage or sympathy that their privacy had been so shamefully violated.
Her heart started to pound. Where were these pictures? And why did so many people know about them? She was feverishly opening more envelopes trying to find out the extent of the damage, when she heard two identical pops behind her. Fred and George – of all people – had Apparated into the kitchen.
"What are you two doing here?" she blustered.
"The same reason all those letters are here," Fred answered grimly.
"Have you seen the papers?" George asked.
"Papers?" she said weakly. "As in, more than one?"
"Harry Potter and the Nympho Water Nymph," Fred replied, slapping a tabloid on the table.
"A Love Potion In Potter's Pool?" George chimed in, showing her the front-page photograph of their passionate kiss in the river. At least she still had her top on in that one.
She wasn't so lucky in the next paper. Nude Nympho's Last Ditch Effort Before the Wedding. There was a white blob where her breast should be – but you could tell what Harry's hand was doing.
"I was not nude!" she stammered.
"Looked like it to me and believe me – I wasn't planning on looking," Fred said, his eyes blazing.
"Imagine it," George continued. "We're eating breakfast –"
"Enjoying our tea and toast –"
"And then the owl comes with the papers. We subscribe to them all because we advertise our Saturday specials every Thursday," George explained.
"And on the front page is our sister –"
"With no clothes on –"
"Having a session –"
"In public –"
"Stop it!" Ginny yelled. "We were not in public. I did have a bathing costume on. And you have no right to lecture me –"
"No right!" Fred raged. "You're on the front page of all of these newspapers."
This was a nightmare – just like when Ron and Harry had caught her and Dean kissing. "So what are you going to do about it?" she hissed, taking out her wand. The shock was wearing off and there was no way she was going to listen to a lecture from Fred and George.
"Do about what?" Mum must have Apparated into the sitting room without them noticing. She bustled into the kitchen carrying Ginny's white wedding robes. "Fred. George. What are you doing here?" She stopped short when she saw the envelopes on the table and Ginny's wand out.
Ginny looked at her brothers, who were exchanging glances. There was no use trying to hide the newspapers and no use trying to explain away the letters.
"We came to see Ginny," Fred said carefully.
"Right." George nodded.
Mum's eyes narrowed. "Ginny, take your robes and hang them in your room. You can try them on for hemming later."
It was cowardly, but Ginny didn't want to witness the shock and disappointment in Mum's eyes when she saw those pictures. How often had she been lectured about the proper behavior for young witches? Mum was never going to understand.
Once in her room she buried her hot face in the cool silk of her beautiful robes. Those horrible headlines had made her feel so…tawdry and unworthy. Then she clenched her fists. She was not tawdry and neither were the pictures. They were rather beautiful actually – what with the silvery water and soft evening light. Her wet hair had been almost as dark as Harry's and her freckles didn't show. Of course, Harry had beautiful skin….
She shook herself out of her reverie. The headlines were ugly and not the photos. What she and Harry did was good and right and private.
Harry. He was going to be mortified – and angry.
Ginny squared her shoulders and stormed out of her room. She was going to do something – anything – to defend herself. As she was halfway down the stairs, she was shocked to hear Mum scolding Fred and George. "These are the times when a family sticks together. Think of how Ginny must feel – and Harry." Her voice got dangerously low. "What did you say to Harry?"
"I don't remember, Mum," said Fred. "I was too distracted by Ron having the vapors and Harry vowing to find the photographer."
"You talked him out of it, didn't you?"
"We offered to help," said George grimly.
"I don't think that's the right approach," Mum said tightly. "I'm going to your father at the Ministry straight away and…."
Dad. Ginny cringed. What was her father going to think of those photos? Mum seemed to be taking it fairly well, but Dad….
"Ginny, we know you're on the stairs," Fred called.
Ginny scowled at him when she walked into the kitchen.
"Wipe that expression off your face, Ginny," Fred said. "You don't want the rags getting a photo of you looking like that."
Her wand was out in a flash.
"Enough, Fred," Mum said, taking out her wand and Vanishing the pile of letters. "I think both of you owe Ginny an apology."
Fred looked at George and ducked his head. "Right. Sorry."
"It was just a shock, you know?" George added.
Ginny pocketed her wand.
"Not everyday you see something like that in the paper," Fred explained.
"That's not true!" Ginny's anger at the injustice of it all rose up all over again. "The papers are full of photos like that. It's because it's me and Harry that you're so upset."
"Right," George said quietly. "We don't like to see –"
She was hurt – terribly hurt – and not just because of the papers. "You lot acted like I dishonored the Weasley name or something. But if either one of you had been caught with a girl in that position, all of your friends would have said 'good for you' or 'nice going.'"
Fred opened his mouth to say something, but Mum interrupted.
"Ginny," Mum said, "this isn't about Fred and George. They have apologized and they have to go back to the shop."
"Right," George said. "We're gone." He hesitated and looked Ginny in the eye. "We're not angry at you – or Harry –"
"– Even though he's a randy git," interjected Fred. George elbowed him.
"We're just…angry," George finished lamely.
Ginny crossed her arms in front of herself. "That makes three of us."
Once her mother left to meet with her father, Ginny retrieved the letters and the newspapers from her mother's underwear drawer. For years, Mum had Vanished things to the same spot since none of her brothers would be caught dead going through Mum's unmentionables.
Even though she knew it wasn't good for her state of mind, she read every article that accompanied the pictures. Each columnist concocted a different explanation as to why Ginny and Harry would be kissing passionately during a swim in the river. One attributed it to a Love Potion she was feeding him on a daily basis. Another felt that Harry was obviously 'sublimating the inadequacy he felt as a has-been hero into dangerous romantic liaisons.' And one went so far as to suggest that Harry was only marrying Ginny because of their kinky sex life and that someday – when he came to his senses – he would leave her for a worthier witch.
Not one columnist seemed to understand that kissing and touching your fiancé three weeks before the wedding was a sign of love and not just lust.
Ginny spent the rest of the afternoon weeding the garden. Normally she hated this chore, but today she found it liberating to hack and dig and – on occasion – hex the choking weeds that marred the beauty of the flowers.
She didn't realize how hot and tired and discouraged she was until she looked up to see Dad with a concerned smile on his face and two glasses of lemonade in his hands.
"Time for a break, I think," he said, handing her a cool glass, the ice clinking merrily.
"Thanks." She felt a little teary at this unexpected kindness.
He took out his wand and conjured two canvas chairs and a large umbrella that hovered in the air. "Ah. It's quite cool in the shade." He settled in one of the chairs and motioned for her to sit in the other.
She sank into it and braced herself for a lecture. But Dad wasn't talking. He was drinking his lemonade and looking around the garden. A curious gnome peeked his head out from the glossy green leaves of the Rhododendron shrub and Dad chuckled softly to himself.
It really was a beautiful day, Ginny realized. The blue sky was dotted with puffy white clouds. The flowerbeds were a riot of purples, reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks, and the still air was heavy with the scent of grass and earth and blossoms.
She would have relaxed completely except for the fact that Dad was wearing his somber business robes, which meant that he was home from work during a weekday, which meant a crisis – which meant….
"Did your mother ever mention the old caretaker at Hogwarts? Apollyon Pringle?"
"Er…." A trip down memory lane with Dad was not what she had been expecting. "Yes." Ginny frowned. "Something about how he hexed you when you and Mum were out after curfew?"
Dad smiled and looked off into the middle distance. "Yes. It was our seventh year and we were very much in love and we were having trouble finding some privacy in that blasted castle."
Ginny smiled for the first time that day. For all of its nooks and crannies and secret passages, there really wasn't a lot of privacy at Hogwarts – what with Peeves and Mrs. Norris and Filch and the portraits.
"So we went out on to the grounds," Dad continued. The lines in his face relaxed. "To watch the stars and see if we could spot the Giant Squid running into the Forbidden Forest."
"The Giant Squid runs through the Forbidden Forest?"
"Eh?" Dad looked surprised at having his story interrupted.
"I never heard that the Giant Squid left the lake."
"Oh." He laughed. "It was all silliness, of course. A few witches in Hufflepuff were sad that the Giant Squid didn't have a lady friend, so someone made up the story that the Giant Squid was in love with one of the Giant Spiders in the Forest and –"
She giggled. "Squids and spiders don't mix!"
"They have all those appendages," Dad replied, waving that complication away. "Of course, the Squid-spider pairing didn't last and the alleged love interest for the Squid changed every year."
"One year, two blokes in Slytherin took up a collection to buy the Squid passage on the train to see his love in Loch Ness." He grinned. "I believe they bought a case of Firewhisky with the proceeds."
"First-years have always been gullible, haven't they?" Ginny remarked.
"So it seems," he agreed. "Anyway, Ginny." He cleared his throat. "Your mother and I got caught – out of bounds – past curfew – and –" He colored. "Partially clothed."
"Dad –" She really don't want to think about her parents this way.
"I was so angry with myself for getting Molly into that embarrassing situation, that I was happy to take the punishment. Luckily the Fat Lady was the only one who knew we came in so late, so there weren't any ugly rumors around Hogwarts about us."
"But –" Ginny frowned. "Mum always laughs about it – I think it was the only time she ever got in trouble."
"We can laugh because that was thirty years ago," Dad replied. "And yes, that was the only time your mum got into trouble. I can vouch for her there. She was a good girl – but she was passionate." He smiled at her. "A bit like you."
"I'm not good," she answered bitterly. "At least the papers say so."
"Got a look at them, did you?" he asked. "I told Molly that she should find a new Vanishing spot."
Ginny could feel the beginnings of a headache. "I'm so…." She didn't know how to put into words the anger and embarrassment and the shame she felt.
"Sweetheart," he patted her shoulder. "You're getting married in three weeks time to a bloke who loves you dearly. And he's very upset with himself because he feels he let you down."
"Let me down?" She sat up straight. "Harry had nothing to do with that photographer skulking in the bushes."
"No, of course not." Dad replied, taking her empty glass out of her hand. "But he tried to settle things in his own way." He paused and gave Ginny a sidelong glance. "We – er – talked him out of it."
Her heart twisted at the thought of Harry taking this on himself. "Of course, there isn't anything he could do without getting more negative publicity," she murmured.
"Right." Dad sighed. "Just remember that he tried to fight for his lady's honor."
The colors of the flowers ran together as tears filled her eyes.
"However, as I told Harry, until you're married, you're still my daughter and my responsibility."
Ginny looked up in surprise.
"You broke no rules, but this photographer bloke did," he said grimly. "We could tell by the angle of the photos that he was on our land – so we're suing for trespass and breaking Boundary Charms and violation of privacy and a few more laws Percy and I could think of."
Her mouth dropped open.
"It's not enough recompense for what you've been through – and I know it's not as macho as a duel, but in this case it's more effective." His blue eyes were warm behind his glasses.
She had been expecting a lecture, and instead she received understanding and a chance for justice. Overwhelmed, she tried to express her gratitude. "That sounds…."
"I haven't always been able to protect you," he continued with a rueful smile. "But I want you to know that I will always be on your side." His voice was thick with emotion. "And while you may cease to be my responsibility when you marry, you will never stop being my daughter…." He swallowed and looked at the sky. "Not for a minute."
He loved her so much – with a love she had taken for granted since she was a little girl. She rushed to hug him. "Oh, Daddy." Then she cried into his shoulder as he awkwardly hugged her back, still holding the empty lemonade glasses in his hands.
Dinner that evening was unusually subdued, considering most of the family was there. By some unspoken understanding, her family had always gathered to eat after a crisis. Sometimes, as in the case when Dad had almost died from the snakebite, the meal was quiet since their feelings ran too deep for words. For happier events, such as the time Harry was acquitted in front of the Wizengamot, there would be much loud talking and laughter. And then there were those horribly awkward meals when no one knew what to say – such as the day when Percy moved out of the Burrow.
This was one of those awkward times.
Harry had given her one quick, pained glance before he took his place at the table. He kept rubbing his arm like it was hurting. Ron had a cut on his cheekbone, George was limping and Fred had tentacles on his neck. However, no one mentioned these mysterious injuries during the steady stream of innocuous conversation that dominated dinner.
Percy talked about the election and the new Minister for Magic, Aurora Greengrass. Ron complained about the new head of the Aurors – Hamilton Dow – who had big plans to expand the department and improve training. Mum talked about the quilt her Witches and Stitches group was making for Bill and Fleur's baby.
When Fred and George launched into a description of their hottest seller, the "Spinning Quill" which would allow the user to counter any argument or accusation with clever obfuscation and changing of the subject, Ginny realized it was her chance to clear the air.
"I need one of those," Ginny remarked. "So I can write to the editors of those papers."
"No, you don't," George said. "Dad and Percy have it all taken care of."
"I know." She shot Percy a grateful look and then glanced at Harry. He was looking depressed. "Nothing else happened today, did it?" she asked suspiciously, looking around the table.
Everyone shifted uncomfortably in their seats and no one answered her.
"What?" She looked to Harry. He was sulking, all right.
"I don't know what happened today since I was trapped in Fred and George's storeroom," he spat out, shooting murderous glances at her brothers.
"Trapped in –"
"It's not like it sounds, Ginny," Ron spoke up hastily.
"Stupid git was going to bring on more bad press," George said, looking with disgust at Harry.
"And he wouldn't listen to reason," Fred continued.
There were two ruddy patches on Harry's cheeks as he crossed his arms over his chest. He was getting angry all over again.
"So we had to – er –" Ron quailed under Harry's stare.
"Took three of us to do the Full-Body Bind," Fred said, shaking his head.
"That's only because you fight dirty," Harry bit out.
Ginny hid a smile. It would take more than three wizards to subdue Harry, but he wouldn't have had the heart to inflict his nastier hexes on her brothers – a fact that had probably irked him all day.
"Yeah, well. A wizard's got to do, what a wizard's got to do," Fred said, looking pleased at being accused of fighting dirty.
"He was almost out of the Bind by the time we got back," George informed her.
"And into the Patented Day Dream Charms." Fred shuddered.
George shook his head. "Harry, I worry about these murderous tendencies of yours."
Harry's eyes narrowed.
"It would be worse than homicide to kill one of us now," Fred pointed out.
"It would be fratricide." George nodded.
"That's enough, boys," Dad said.
Ginny stood up. "I think I get the picture. Harry, do you want to go for a walk?"
Harry shot one last filthy look at Fred, George and Ron, and stood up.
They were almost to the door when Fred called out, "Keep your clothes on this time."
Harry gave her parents a furtive glance to make sure they weren't looking and then stuck out his middle finger over his shoulder, which made Fred and George laugh harder.
Ginny laughed, too. It couldn't be that much of a crisis if Fred and George could laugh about it now.
They walked to the dilapidated wooden bench in the orchard where the family knew not to bother them. Ginny took out her wand and tried a new Transfiguration sequence she had read about in Witch Weekly. The splintery bench morphed into a squishy settee in a bilious shade of chartreuse.
"I like the style," Ginny said, sinking into the soft cushions. "But the color needs work."
Harry sat down, too, but didn't say anything.
"You're brooding," she said after several minutes of silence.
"Yes, I'm brooding." He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, so she could only see the broad expanse of his back and shoulders.
"I didn't have an easy day, either, Harry."
He sighed and bowed his head. "I know."
She was about to tell him off for being so self-absorbed when he turned around. "It's just –"
There was that pain in his eyes again. "As much as I hated the photographs in the paper, I hated the articles more."
She winced as she remembered the accusations and insinuations about what kind of person she was.
"I hated them because they weren't true and I hated them because it reminded me of that helpless feeling I had when everyone thought I was making up Voldemort's return."
She put her hand on his arm. "I remember."
"That was just me then." He turned toward her. "But all that mean-spiritedness was directed toward you – just because you care for me."
"Because I love you, Harry," she corrected him. "That's what those columnists don't understand." She took his face in both of her hands. "They don't understand love and they don't care – because sex sells and love doesn't."
He rested his forehead on hers. "I know."
She put her arms around his neck and he pulled her close.
"I couldn't do anything for you today," he said into her neck.
"But you are now." She hugged him as he stroked her hair.
They sat in a loose embrace for a long time, watching the sunset.
"I think it's going to rain tomorrow," Ginny remarked, hooking one leg over Harry's. The sunset was a lurid orange and purple with shots of hot pink.
Harry glanced at the sunset. "Looks like it."
"Um...." Ginny hesitated.
"What?" he asked, brushing his lips against her hair.
"How did Ron take all of this?" she blurted. "I mean. That time when I was kissing Dean in the corridor, Ron was so angry and you…." She frowned. "What did you think of me then?" She pulled away. "You didn't agree with Ron, did you?"
Harry stared at her blankly. "I've told you this before. That's when I knew how I felt about you."
"No, but did you agree with Ron that I was some sort of a scarlet woman?" She could feel the heat rise in her face. It was ancient history and she was being unreasonable bringing it up now – but she had to know.
"I agreed with him that you shouldn't be dating Dean," he said shortly. "But I've never –"
"Sorry," she said, instantly contrite. "I'm just feel a little paranoid after reading all those articles – like everyone is sitting in judgment."
"Well, I'm not."
"I know." She didn't know what else to say – since she had been rather insulting to Harry by implication. She stared at him helplessly.
"Ginny." He sighed. "I like the way you are. I like that you jump me whenever you have the chance."
She could feel her shoulders drop and her sense of humor return. "Good. I think I'll jump you now."
He laughed – the first time all evening. "All of you Weasleys fight dirty."
"So we do." She kissed him, feeling her spirits lift now that he was laughing. She had had a terrible day, but they were together and her family understood what it was she felt for Harry. So what if the tabloids wanted to drag her through the mud? She wasn't going to hide away or feel ashamed. "Why wasn't I in your daydream?"
"You were," he said, nuzzling her neck. "You were the lady I was taking back to my pirate ship after the fight with your evil brothers."
She giggled, feeling bold and confident again. "Was my bodice ripped and was my bosom heaving?"
He was catching her playful mood. "I hadn't finished the daydream before they let me out of the storeroom." His eyes questioned her before he unfastened the first clasp on her robes. "I think the heaving bosom part was next."
"Was I fighting you?" she asked as the cool evening air and his touch sent shivery sensations all over her exposed flesh.
"No, you were most cooperative." He grinned up at her.
She looked down at the top of his head and ran her fingers through his soft hair. She loved the way his mouth felt against her skin.
"And all of your brothers were chained in the brig," he added, his eyes sparkling mischievously.
Laughing and those jolts of sensation didn't go together. "You're ruining the moment."