Thank you to Aggiebell for waving her beta wand over this for me.
Ginny held her husband's hand tightly, hiding her face in her woollen scarf to escape the chill of the snow-heavy air. She was being jostled from every direction, people rudely clipping her shoulder and moving on without another word.
She had to admit that she found shopping for Christmas presents in a Muggle town centre a little frightening.
Harry was in his element, tugging her along with him through the crowds, seemingly unfazed by the crush of humanity around them. Ginny knew he revelled in the fact that nobody — other than women of a certain age — paid him the slightest bit of notice in the Muggle world. He was just a young man with untameable black hair and gorgeous eyes, and if he got noticed for his appearance, he didn't seem to care. What bothered him was being noticed for who he was and what he'd done.
'Why do we have to go to Argus, Harry? Can't we get tree lights in the village?' Ginny turned her body in towards Harry's, her free hand wrapping around his arm.
'Argos,' Harry corrected, absently. 'And no, they don't have Muggle fairy lights in the village, not the ones I - we want, anyway.' He squeezed her hand. 'Thank you for coming with me.'
Ginny glared at the woman that had just bashed her with a bag, then grinned at Harry. 'My pleasure. Though it's getting harder and harder not to hex anyone that bumps into me.'
He returned the grin and pulled her out of the flow of people to stand by a shopfront. 'Please try not to. I've only been an Auror for six months, and I'd hate to lose my job because I didn't stop my wife bat-bogeying a bunch of Muggles.' He dropped her hands, only to slide his own up to cradle her face. 'Would a kiss cheer you up?'
Ginny pressed her lips to his in answer, tangling a hand in Harry's hair. The kiss was short but incredibly sweet, and she wrapped her arms around his waist and let her head rest on his shoulder. Harry's arms enfolded her and they stood in one another's embrace for several long minutes, warm, happy and content.
'Harry?' a gruff voice exclaimed.
Startled, Ginny looked up from Harry's chest and heard him gasp.
A tall, broad man was standing there staring at them in disbelief, his dark blond hair dusted with snow. His little piggy eyes were wide open in shock, though they were so squinty it was hard to actually tell. 'It is you.'
Harry's mouth was opening and closing, but he didn't seem to be able to get any words out, so Ginny decided to speak for him.
'Who are you?'
The man looked briefly at the floor, shamefaced. 'Dudley Dursley,' he admitted, rather sheepishly. 'Harry is my…'
'Cousin. Yes, I know. Not that you ever really acknowledged him as such.' She gave Dursley what Harry called her "death stare", and was inordinately pleased to see him blush. 'What do you want?'
'Ginny,' Harry said, softly. 'It's alright, honest.' He gave her the little smile that meant he was nervous and upset, and turned to face his cousin. 'Long time, no see, Dudley. How have you been?'
Dudley shrugged. 'Oh, you know. Working.' He shoved his hands into his pockets, the very picture of awkwardness, and then started talking in a sudden spurt of words. 'Listen, I'm sorry. I know Mum and Dad treated you like crap. I treated you like crap. I don't blame you for hating us, I…'
'I don't hate any of you, Dudley. I can't say I like your mum and dad all that much, but I don't hate them. And you were just a kid.' It was Harry's turn to shrug. 'You acted the way Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon expected you to. It was all you knew.'
Dudley actually rocked backwards, looking physically stunned. 'I… uh… I thought…' He visibly pulled himself together. 'You're a better man than me. I don't think I could feel that way.' He looked at the floor again, flushing crimson. 'D'you… I mean, do you want to go and get a pint, or something?'
'Gin?' Harry raised his eyebrows at her.
She nodded, taking his hand. 'I could do with a drink, actually.'
'Uh — OK, then. There's a place 'round the corner that's pretty quiet, if that's alright?' At Harry and Ginny's nods, he led them down an alleyway and into a little pub that was almost completely empty.
As they settled into a booth, Dudley remained standing. 'Well, what can I get you, um, Ginny, is it?'
Ginny looked desperately at Harry for help. She had no clue about Muggle drinks, and it was unlikely that a Muggle pub would have pumpkin juice.
'Orange juice for both of us, please, Dudley, that'd be great.' Harry started unwinding his scarf from around his neck. 'Thanks.'
'No problem.' Dudley headed for the bar, a surprising amount of grace in his step, considering his large frame.
'He's the last person I expected to run into today,' Harry said, thoughtfully. 'He's… different. Grown up a bit.'
'About bloody time, if you ask me,' Ginny huffed, as Dudley returned with three glasses full of juice. She couldn't help but resent the man — he'd helped to make Harry's early years loveless, and she didn't care that he'd apparently had a change of heart when Harry had finally left the Dursleys for good. The fact remained that Dudley had made it his childhood mission to make Harry as miserable as possible, and she struggled to forgive him for that.
Dudley settled himself into the support of the leather bench seat, and toyed nervously with the glass in front of him, turning it back and forth on the cardboard beermat it sat upon. 'So. What have you been up to? I heard you killed the bloke that was after you?'
Harry made a subtle movement with his hand, and Ginny knew he was casting a Muffilato charm around them. 'Yeah. Yeah, I did, though technically he killed himself. We, well, we lost a lot of good people. But we won.' He sipped at his juice. 'How about you? And Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon? I never did find out what happened to you that year.'
Dudley ignored the question. 'Three years ago, right? You were what, seventeen? Eighteen?'
'Seventeen,' Harry confirmed quietly.
'Seventeen,' Dudley echoed, shaking his head. 'I reckon you must be pretty good at all that magic stuff, then, if you can kill someone like him at seventeen.'
A faint blush stained Harry's cheeks, and he screwed his face up. 'Don't get any grand ideas about me, Dudley. I'm nothing special. I just have a talent for making good friends. With people like Ginny and her family around me, there was no way I could ever have lost.'
'Ginny your girlfriend? She looks like those twins, the ones that gave me the sweets.'
Ginny brought her left hand out from under the table and placed it on top of Harry's, angling her fingers in such a way that her wedding ring was obvious. 'I'm Harry's wife. And Fred… Fred and George…' She broke off, her throat thick with the threat of tears. Even three years on, the grief she felt over Fred was still fresh, and it struck at the most unexpected times.
Harry turned his hand over to link his fingers with hers. 'The twins are Ginny's brothers. Fred — Fred died in the final battle.' His thumb rubbed the back of her hand, and she leaned in against him, close enough that their heads were touching.
'He… he died? But he was just a kid.'
'Lots of kids died, Dudley,' Harry said softly. 'Too many.'
An awkward silence settled over the table, and Ginny bowed her head, not wanting Dudley to see the tears that had welled up in her eyes. Some illogical part of her brain was screaming that Dudley wasn't entitled to see her grief, grief that belonged to a world he knew nothing about, a world that he had mocked for years. He could never understand the sheer horror and terror that had gripped Wizarding Britain for so long, and he didn't deserve to see her cry.
Dudley surprised her by reaching across the table and gripping both of their hands with his meaty fingers. 'I'm sorry.' He sounded sincere, and when Ginny looked up, she saw that his face was solemn and sympathetic. 'I wish… I wish things had been different.'
Taking a deep breath, Dudley looked briefly away from them, and then touched his finger to Ginny's wedding ring. 'So, you're married? How long?'
'We got married this September first. If I'd had my way, I'd have married Ginny three years ago, but she had school to finish, and I was in Auror training, so we waited until I qualified,' Harry said.
'Auror?' Dudley asked, raising his eyebrow. 'What's an Auror?'
'Er, well, I guess an Auror is kind of a Wizarding policeman. The closest thing in the Muggle world would be a CID officer. We go after Dark wizards.'
Dudley chuckled. 'I'd've thought you'd be fed up of that, seems like that's all you did in school. Guess you must be good at it.' He turned to Ginny. 'How about you? Do you work?'
'I'm a professional Quidditch player,' Ginny replied, not feeling inclined to explain exactly what that was.
'Qudditch. That game you lot play on broomsticks, right? I saw a book about it once, in Harry's room. It looks like a laugh.'
Ginny was vaguely impressed by the fact that Dudley knew what Quidditch was, but worked hard not to show it. 'I enjoy it. I get paid to do what I love, and there aren't many people that can say that about their jobs.'
Dudley snorted. 'Tell me about it. I work part-time in a videogame store at the minute, which I always thought would be the best job in the world, but it really isn't. I'm studying to be a P.E. teacher, but it's going to take five years 'til I qualify. Be worth it, though, I'm half way there now.'
Harry grinned at his cousin. 'You're going to be a P.E. teacher? I'd never have thought that, Dudley. Good on you, mate.'
The other man blushed and returned the grin. 'I couldn't stay a lazy slob forever, could I? I've always liked sports and stuff, but I was too fat to play. Been on a diet, though, and I go to the gym most days, so it's mostly muscle now. I don't want to end up like Dad.'
'What do you mean? Is he alright?' Harry had genuine concern in his voice, and Ginny felt her heart swell with admiration for her husband — how could he find it within himself to be worried about the git?
Dudley obviously thought the same too, and his face registered his surprise. 'He's alright, I guess. Over-weight, high blood pressure, dodgy ticker, but still working at Grunnings. He's been told to lose weight, but Mum keeps on cooking those fry-ups he loves, and he keeps eating them. I just don't want to reach fifty and be fat and miserable like him.' His face clouded over for a moment, and then he squared his shoulders and caught Harry's gaze. 'I don't want to be a child abuser like him, either.'