Enough of the tears and the angst, the sleepless night and argument-filled days, and a fickle public who thought I still owed them something. Enough!
I got the fact that people were mourning and needed time to get their lives back in order. What I didn’t get was that they expected me to wait, like a dog tied up outside a shop, until they were ready to move on. If I meant something to them, and with Ginny at least I thought I did, then why couldn’t I be part of the healing process?
Ron had been no help either. Offered the opportunity to run away to Australia with Hermione, he’d grabbed it with both hands. Not that I blamed him; after all, who would want to stay around whilst the Weasley family imploded?
At least Ron had had the decency to say goodbye and look embarrassed.
“We’ll be back soon, mate,” he said as he and Hermione waited for their Portkey to activate. “Just… well, stick with it. It will get better, I promise you. She will let you back in.”
And with that he gave me a hug, not the one-armed semi-embarrassed man-hug he normally did, but a full-blooded, no-hold-barred hug that said more than his words ever could. Once he’d released me, I looked over to Hermione, gave her a weak smile and, without waiting for her response, I left.
I did give it time. I waited another month, but things still didn’t improve. I began to realise just how much the Weasley family depended on Molly. I think she could have coped with the death of Fred, but what troubled her the most was the fact that she’d killed Bellatrix. No matter how many times she was told that the bitch deserved it and, if she hadn’t intervened, her daughter would be dead, she still couldn’t get over the fact that she had killed another human being and had felt no shame in doing it.
I tried to let Ginny know what was going on, and I think on some level she understood, but on another level… well, let’s just say she didn’t rate me as highly as her family. I think that’s what worried me the most, the fact that she didn’t see me as… well, future family. From my point of view, she was it. There would be no other girl in my life, unless they were daughters that we had together, but there was a gap between how she saw me and her family, and that was the proverbial straw as far as I was concerned.
And so I left.
I didn’t just disappear without letting people know I was going. I may be stupid but not that stupid. I left a note with Kingsley, one with Professor McGonagall and one with Mr Weasley. I went to Gringotts to get out some money but found them unwilling to release any money to me.
“There are still matters arising from your last visit, Mr Potter,” they had said with a grin. “I am sure that an agreement will be reached with the Ministry by the end of the year, but in the meantime, we are unable to help you with your request. May I suggest a Muggle bank account?”
I managed to get one the local shops to change the bit of Wizarding money I had for sterling and off I went, full of indignation, and no idea where I was going and what I was going to do.
I decided that I was going to leave Britain for a while; you know, let everybody, including myself, calm down a bit. I’d go places where my scar meant nothing and where I could get used to being a real person again. Plus, I could get a bit of a tan as well. So, no rainy Wednesday in Falmouth for me I was off sur le continent.
So the easy place to go was France, and rather than waste the shrapnel in my pockets on travelling rather than on food, I Confunded both the cab driver and the bloke in the ticket office at Waterloo. Okay, so I’d gone from being Undesirable Numero Uno to a petty thief, but it was a downgrade I could cope with. I think my first foray into criminality meant that someone else got charged twice on their credit card, but I didn’t give a monkey’s. My opinion of banks was pretty low and so I didn’t care what trouble it caused them.
It didn’t take long and within an hour I was in France away from the mess that was magical Britain. I won’t bore you with the details of my journey through France, but needless to say there were a few scrapes along the way. Nothing I couldn’t handle, though. I began to understand why a lot of magic users thought Muggles beneath them when they were so easy to trick using magic.
I ended up on the south coast of France and spent a number of days enjoying the sun, sea and sand. And the fact that the women went topless. I know, big shock, the Champion of the Light has male hormones. In my defence, they didn’t seem bothered by the fact that everyone could see what they had to offer and so I felt no shame in enjoying the view. As it was so warm, I didn’t need anywhere particular to stay and slept out under the stars. I wandered into the odd campsite to use the showers, the toilets and stuff when I needed to do, otherwise I was pretty self-sufficient. I’d picked up enough French along the way and although pretty basic, was good enough to get along. It was a tourist area and, as a Brit, as long as I was prepared to have a go, they were happy. They saved all the grief for the Parisians who marched around as if they owned the place. And considering the jewellery they wore and the cars they drove, they probably did.
However, my French, or rather my lack of it, was eventually my downfall. No, I wasn’t caught out on a swindle of some Muggle or nicking a meal; I failed to read the sign properly. I’d wandered onto a beach that I had not been to before, and just as I was coming to realise that very few people were wearing anything at all, a very angry middle-aged woman — with an all-over tan — started to shout at me. At first, I didn’t realise it was me she was shouting at, but when two other people joined in, I had no doubt that I was the object of their wrath.
«I’m sorry, » I said in my stuttering French, «I don’t know what I’ve done wrong. »
They ignored my apology and carried on. I was rescued, for want of a better word, by a couple who explained to me very patiently, in English, that I was on a nudist beach and that single men were not encouraged. Especially single men who were still clothed.
“So what are my options? It doesn’t seem to me that these people are simply going to allow me to walk away.”
“First,” said the woman, “you take your shorts off.”
“I give you a hug, as does my husband, and you spend the rest of the day with us.”
“I sense that there is a catch here.”
“No catch,” said the woman with a smile, “we’re just hoping that, over the course of the day, you will find this friendly enough to spend a night with us.”
I didn’t say anything. Years of dealing with Dudley’s bullying had taught me the important thing was to get out of your current predicament before wondering about your next step. So with a smile I took off my shorts and undies, stuffed them in my bag, and gave the couple the hugs they’d asked for.
The rest of the day was embarrassing, to say the least. I’m not a prude, but (and you knew there was a but didn’t you?) applying sun cream to my nether regions whilst two strangers are watching you is unnerving, to say the least. Thankfully, my body did not respond in any way to anything I did or anything I saw on the beach. I’d like to think it’s because I was such an open-minded person, but in truth I was terrified. The couple were perfectly nice and didn’t try and talk to me about what they had planned for the end of the day. They fed me, they bought me ice cream, they even gave me tips on how to stop myself from getting sun burnt. Finally, at about 4 o’clock, they began to pack up and wondered where this left me.
“Harry,” the woman said with a smile, “we are going back to our chalet. We have — er — things to do before the evening meal.” I didn’t return her smile. “You are welcome to join us but I don’t think, sadly, that you will. It doesn’t matter, it isn’t for everyone. But we would like to invite you to join us for our evening meal at 7 o’clock at the restaurant on Rue Saint Jacques. You can’t miss it, it’s the only one. And afterwards, you are more than welcome to stay in our spare room.”
The meal was nice and, much to my relief, I slept in my own bed that night. Before I left in the morning, they gave me the name of a bloke to talk to who hired out deck chairs and sun loungers to people and said goodbye. I do see them from time to time and we all nod and wave, but their life is their own and I tread a different path.
Life progressed and so did the summer and come the autumn I was out of work. Thankfully, I’d spent a fair amount of my summer fixing broken chairs and this soon progressed into a useful side line. Of course magic was involved, and the simpler the object the easier it was to repair. Electrical stuff was a real pain and it took me a long time to work out how to modify Reparo to work on electrical goods without destroying them, but eventually, after much trial and error, I succeeded.
And so, by the time spring arrived, I was the proud possessor of a chalet with a small workshop attached. I’d built up a reasonable reputation and, for the simple lifestyle I’d adopted, I was earning more than enough.
With the arrival of spring, the tourists returned and so did long days spent on the beach. I rose early and went for a swim and then, after a leisurely breakfast, I worked until midday, by which time it became too hot to work. Mad dogs and all that, but English or not, I wasn’t going to be doing much during the midday sun.
So the afternoon was spent on the beach, the nudist beach. It wasn’t that I preferred being naked; I reasoned that sooner or later someone from the UK would come looking for me and a wizard or witch on a nudist beach was… well, nigh unthinkable.
And so it was, that on one very hot July afternoon as I lay on my beach mat, a shadow crossed my naked body and a tell-tale perfume reacquainted itself with my senses.
‘Potter!’ she hissed.
‘Weasley?’ I squinted at her as she had her back to the sun.
‘What in,’ she lowered her voice to a sharp whisper, ‘Merlin’s name are you doing on this… this… beach?’
‘The human body is a wonderful thing.’ I refrained from smirking. She was angry enough without me winding her up further. There is nothing more conservative than a pureblood out of their depths in the Muggle world and she was in danger of drowning.
‘A perverts’ paradise, more like.’
Whilst I knew that certain types of people came here for all the wrong reasons and certain parts of the sand dunes were to be avoided at all cost, I wasn’t about to admit that to someone who had been brought up in such a conservative society as Wizarding Britain.
Before I had time to think of a suitable reply she continued.
‘The looks I’ve got from everyone since I’ve been here...’
‘That might have something to do with the clothes you are wearing.’
‘What’s wrong with them?’
‘Nothing, it’s just that you are wearing them.’
‘Well, I’m not taking my clothes off.’
‘Your choice, but if you don’t, you’ll have to leave. They are very strict about that.’
‘Well, come on, get your clothes on, we’re leaving.’
‘Correction, you’re leaving, I’m staying.’
‘You can’t possibly expect me to… well, disrobe.’
‘I don’t expect you to do anything, Ginny. What you do is your own choice, but if you don’t leave, that woman over there is going to ask the police to remove you.’
She turned and watched the woman I’d pointed out walk towards her.
‘She doesn’t look very happy.’
‘She’s not. They take their privacy very seriously here. They have enough trouble with people trying to take pictures; they have a zero-tolerance policy here. The choice is leave or, as you so nicely put it, disrobe.’
‘And you’re staying?’
‘I’ll get you for this Potter, big time.’
And with that she put her bag down on the sand and kicked her sandals off. Taking off her sun hat, she pulled her top over her head, revealing a well-worn bra and a lot of very pale skin. I glanced away and saw that the woman who had come to throw Ginny off the beach had stopped walking towards her and was instead watching intently, her hands on her hips. The sight reminded me of Ginny’s mother, although a woman less likely to be pleased at her daughter stripping in public I couldn’t imagine.
Her skirt followed her top at which point she sat down and glared at me.
‘Stop staring, Potter.’
I laughed. I had been staring, but if she thought I’d stop just when she was about to lose her underwear she was mistaken.
‘Ginny,’ I said, hoping the use of her first name would help calm her down, ‘you are about to get completely naked in front of a beach full of strangers and it’s not like it’s all new to me, is it?’
She didn’t reply. Instead she gave me a stare worthy of a basilisk and mouthed some rather unpleasant words whilst waving two fingers at me. Bra and knickers were removed and soon all her discarded items were in her bag. She pulled out her towel and laid it on the sand.
‘I hope you’re happy, Potter. I’m going to burn so badly here, and if I do, you will suffer a lifetime of pain.’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said as I pulled out a bottle of suntan lotion, ‘help is at hand.’
She took the bottle from me and looked at the label.
‘Not strong enough. I don’t know why I bothered to come looking for you. You’ve been a pig to find and when I do find you all you do is humiliate me.’
‘Not so, Ginny.’
She made to disagree with me but I put my hand up to silence her.
‘Let’s get this stuff on you before you burn. With your skin, you don’t have much time. You do your front, I’ll do your back.’ I leant in and whispered, ‘and whilst I’m at it, I can cast a few sneaky sun-block charms. We can argue all we want once I know you aren’t going to burn.’
She sat in silence as she applied the lotion. I was a model of restraint as she only had to slap my hands away from her front three times during the whole time.
‘Now a few words of caution before you start on me again. This stuff is waterproof, but some will come off in the sea. And you will need to reapply every couple of hours or so. The charms I applied will help you tan quicker so by day three or so you’ll stop looking so pale.’
‘Day three? You’ll be lucky if I’m still here by three o’clock!’
I shrugged my shoulders. ‘Your choice.’
She was angry with me, very angry, but I’d found a sanctuary from all that pissed me off about Britain and I wasn’t about to give it up easily.
We talked. Not about anything of consequence, because discussing a Wizarding war surrounded by Muggles — clothed or naked — is not really a good plan. We ate bread and cheese and drank a lot of water and a little less wine. The wine relaxed us both enough to ensure that there would be no resumption of hostilities that afternoon. We both dozed for a while and at five we left the beach and walked back towards my chalet.
Fortified by her rest and being clothed once again, Ginny became more hostile. It didn’t help that I kept my replies monosyllabic and noncommittal. As she grew angrier, she became more physical in her abuse. Eventually enough was enough and I grabbed her arm to stop her.
‘Ginny,’ I said in a low voice, ‘enough. I don’t care how angry you are, but we are not going to discuss this in front of all these Muggles, do you hear me?’
‘This isn’t about magic, Harry, it’s about you and me.’
‘Yes, oh,” she hissed, finally realising that she had to lower her voice in a Muggle area. It’s not about the buggering boy-who-lived, it’s about Harry bloody Potter, the git-who-lived.’
“You mean, it’s not about Ginny “I’ve not finished weeping yet” Weasley?’
If we hadn’t been in such a public place, she would have slapped me. If we had been behind closed doors, she would have cursed me and kneed me in the balls to add insult to injury. Instead, she gave me a look that told me that if I lived to see another day, I’d be bloody lucky.
It did have the effect of shutting her up and I took advantage of that to lead us away from the chalet and towards the restaurant. They knew me there, so they’d be tolerant if things got heated and it was noisy enough for us to have a private conversation. We took our seats and I motioned the waiter over.
‘What do you want for entrées, Ginny?’
I laughed and ordered our food. I played safe, sticking to things I knew she’d eat; after all, a hungry Weasley is an angry Weasley and Ginny was angry enough to start with, without further provocation.
The meal passed amicably enough as Ginny asked me about the area, its people and what I did for a living. She laughed and joked with me as we walked back to the chalet and if I’d been a little more naïve, I would have thought that she had forgotten that she was angry with me and started to remember the good times we’d had.
Thankfully, I was neither that naive or that stupid. No sooner had the front door closed before she let fly.
My nose was thankful for my quick casting as her signature curse hit the shield. Her follow- up was quick, but so was mine, and after five minutes we were both breathing heavily. A lot of the living room was in pieces, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed.
‘Is this where you fall into my arms, your anger spent?’
‘In your damn dreams.’ She raised her wand again, but this time I was ready.
‘And now that I have your wand, Miss—’
I didn’t get the chance to continue as a small but very powerful fist made contact with my jaw and her equally petite knee made contact with a particularly male part of my anatomy and I slumped to the ground, my world filled with pain.
‘Ginny I’ve-not-finished-weeping-yet Weasley? What the hell do you mean by that?’
I didn’t bother to explain, mainly because I could barely speak. I had expected her to kick me in the ribs and storm out, but she didn’t. It might have been easier if she had, as I could at least attend to my own needs. But she’d only just started.
‘Do you realise what sort of a year I’d had? Did you think that life was a picnic at Hogwarts?’
I wanted to tell her that I’d heard exactly what life was like at Hogwarts from Neville because he’d bothered to tell me, but I didn’t. See above for the exact reason why.
‘And I have no idea what’s happening with you, couldn’t you at least sent a message to Bill or...’
I tuned the rest of that out because I didn’t know why we hadn’t done that. Perhaps a letter via the Post Office would have been possible. Okay, Ginny, I’ll give you that one.
I knew that this one was coming and to be honest it’s the one that had come to piss me off the most. Did that mean I didn’t care about Fred? Of course not! George and I spent many an evening in The Tup pub in Marylebone. It was used by money lenders in the past and still had the wooden cubicles built to enable business to be conducted in private. A few charms and George and I could say or do what we wanted to.
We talked and drank until the landlord kicked us out. After a few weeks we became included in the lock-ins and often stumbled back to Ninety-Three at the early hours of the morning. George cried a lot and so did I, but as time went on, we talked more and cried less. We still drank like fish, but the worst had gone; George would never be the same without Fred, but he would go on. Things were fine until Angelina turned up and we started all over again. I invited Ginny along too but she wasn’t interested. I stopped going out with George when the evening started to become a snogfest for the two of them. I didn’t resent them for it, they made each other happy, and there was preciously little of that around as it was. So I was back to those sullen evenings at The Burrow. And trying to work out why Ginny wouldn’t talk to me.
‘And you didn’t notice, even when Mum...’
Molly. I had no idea what to say to her. If Arthur couldn’t get through to her, how was I supposed to help? I wanted to yell that the ‘See You Next Tuesday’ Bellatrix deserved everything she got and that Neville, for one, wasn’t shedding any tears over the bitch’s death.
Eventually, Ginny ran out of steam and slumped to the floor and cried. After a few minutes, I managed to get her onto my bed and she fell asleep and, after putting the room and myself back together, I joined her.
To say the following morning was tense was an understatement. I awoke to an empty bed and to the smell of coffee being brewed.
‘Don’t you have any tea bags in this place?’
‘Nah. I tried the muck they had at the local supermarket, but you needed half the box to make a decent cuppa so I switched to coffee. Goes better with a French breakfast than tea anyway.’
‘And what is a French breakfast?’
‘Croissant, toast, whatever. ‘
‘But not a typical Brit fry-up as beloved by Hogwarts and my mum?’
‘Nope, but a couple of croissants and jam will pile enough calories into you.’
I joined Ginny at the breakfast table, drinking coffee and eating toast. We both avoided the events of the previous day and instead she asked me what I had planned for the day.
‘Open up the workshop, take in some new orders, repair a few things, eat lunch, then head to the beach.’
‘The same one as yesterday?’
‘I hate you, you know that?’
‘Yeah, I got the message yesterday.’
I waited a moment to see if she was going to reply and then, when she didn’t, I tried to bring up yesterday.
‘Ginny, about yesterday...’
‘Don’t you have a job to go to?’
She stood up and took her plate to the sink.
‘Do you have any money?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ I said without thinking, ‘how much do you need?’
‘I need some clothes, so what do I need? Pounds and ounces? Franks?’
‘Here, take this card. The number is the same as you dial to get into the Ministry but you leave out the second four.’
‘That’s it? I don’t speak French.’
‘That’s your problem.’
‘Thank you. Nice to know you haven’t lost your charm.’
‘Just concentrate hard, you’ll be amazed how much you understand.’
She looked at me as if I was mad.
‘You’re taking the piss, aren’t you?’
‘Trust me, it works.’
Trust. That was a little thin on the ground at the moment, but my body still ached from her assault yesterday, so the supply of the milk of human kindness was a bit curdled.
‘Fine,’ she snarled and flounced out, slamming the door with venom as she did so.
‘Fine,’ I muttered to myself and got on with my day.
It was nearly noon before she came back, arms laden with bags of clothes and food.
‘I hope you had a lot in the bank because I spent a lot.’
I did but, still.
‘I didn’t count. As long as they took the card, I kept spending.’
She deposited the bags on the kitchen table and, after rummaging in them, flung some receipts at me.
‘For Pete’s sake, Ginny, are you mad?’
‘Sorry, it was, what’s the word? Ah yes, Retail Therapy. Which is the spare room?’
‘The one next to the bathroom.’
‘Good,’ and, after grabbing every bag other than those containing food, she stormed off into her bedroom, slamming the door with what was becoming her trademark savagery.
So there I was, sharing my abode with the only woman I had ever loved, but, not content with having driven me mad back in Blighty, the harridan had decided to come here and even up the score.
The week didn’t get any better as I took a crash course in how nasty her temper could be. I reported my card as lost when she announced that she wasn’t giving it back. She worked her way through the cash I had secreted away in various places, but I’d figured she’d do that so that was no loss. But when she’d deliberately destroyed a CD player someone had asked me to repair, I decided enough was enough.
I had two choices: either confront her or leave.
I rose early, making us both breakfast and made sure that, whatever her attitude throughout the day, I treated her with kindness. In the evening, I took her to the best restaurant I could afford (and that served Weasley-sized portions) and for a while I thought she had calmed down enough for us to talk.
I was wrong.
The argument lasted a full half an hour and ended with the trademark slamming of the door and more swear words than even Noel & Liam could handle.
So the following morning found me sitting at the kitchen table waiting for her to get up. When she finally stumbled out of her room, my greeting was met with a scowl.
‘Sit,’ I commanded as she made to help herself to coffee.
She ignored me and filled her mug to the brim. After dropping several cubes of sugar in, she turned to face me.
‘Now, what do you want?’
If she was going to do it this way, fine, it didn’t bother me.
‘These,‘ holding up a bunch of keys, ‘are the keys to the chalet, the lockup and several other doors which are scattered around the place. This,’ I continued, holding up a note book, ‘are the records of all work that is outstanding. Try not to destroy anything else. There’s other paperwork, but I’m sure, given your skills, it won’t take you long to find it. And this,’ I continued, ‘is all the cash you haven’t nicked from me yet.’
‘Why are you telling me this?’
‘Because this place is now yours, I’m leaving. The rent is due on the last Friday of the month, but I’m two months ahead. The lease is due for renewal at the end of the season, which is in September.’
‘Have fun and, Ginny—?’
‘Yes, don’t bother trying to find me, I don’t want to be found, especially by you.’
And then she stated to cry. Not the sad ‘sorry to see you go’ sort of tears, but the full flood of someone having a breakdown. Perhaps she was having a breakdown, it would explain a lot.
‘Ginny,’ I said, guilt getting the better of me and stopping me from doing what I really wanted to do which was leaving her to sort out the mess she’d created.
That only made her cry more.
I took a few steps closer and she shot across the room and clung to me as if her life depended on it. Perhaps it did.
‘I’m sorry,’ she began to mumble through her tears. Over and over again she mumbled it, clinging to me, her body shaking with her grief.
I’ve never been good with weeping females and, as much as I’d loved Ginny, I still couldn’t cope with her in this state. And then she began to kiss me, which confused me even more.
‘Stay,’ she urged as she planted hot wet kisses on my cheeks and on my lips. I mumbled a reply which was a cross between ‘no way, you mad bitch’ and ‘at last she wants me.’
‘Stay,’ she urged again, this time using her hands to rub against parts that only people who are more than just friends should touch. I have to confess, as the blood rushed from my brain to respond to her touch, that I was a lost cause by then. Because, however much the sensible part of me kept shouting to ‘back off’ and that ‘this wasn’t going to solve anything’, I had spent the best part of a month trying not to stare at her body when we were on the beach. The prospect of she and I having sex was too good to pass up. Yes, I am a bloke and if a beautiful girl is offering it, I’m not going to say ‘no’ (members of Slytherin house excluded, terms and conditions apply. See in store for details).
It didn’t take long before we were tumbling onto my bed, my shorts around my ankles and her top rucked up around her neck. It wasn’t sensual and, given her mental state, there was only borderline consent, but she made all the moves and I followed. Her language was appalling and she proved far too fond of biting and scratching for my liking. However, the idea that we were going to do what we’d always told ourselves we were going to wait until we were married to do overrode everything. We kept going far longer than I needed or wanted to and we only stopped when she fell off the bed.
And then she began to cry again.
I picked her up, laid her on the bed and snuggled up behind her. And there we lay until she’d cried herself to sleep. As we lay there, I wondered what it was that had broken her. She was ill, of that there was no doubt, and it would appear that she had been ill for some time. Was it that something had happened to her at Hogwarts? Or was the whole thing, starting with her first year, just too much to bear? Had Fred’s death been the final straw?
I was pretty certain that it didn’t relate to something that had happened at Hogwarts. Neville and Hannah had been at pains to stress that none of the girls had experienced any form of sexual assault. Torture yes, but not rape — as if one were better than the other. Had she been too exposed to the Cruciatus Curse? It had not been their view either. Although Ginny was a ringleader, Snape had done his best to shield her by taking charge of as many of her punishments as he could without arousing suspicion.
So that left only one thing; the strong, sexy woman who had snogged me in front of the whole of Gryffindor had been slowly dying inside ever since the Chamber.
The next few days were difficult to say the least. Ginny would switch between being fine one moment and in tears the next. And when she was reduced to tears she’d been just as unpredictable in her behaviour. Sometimes she wanted to be left alone and she’d take herself off to bed and often sleep through until the following day. Other times she’d rant and rail at me, shouting that I had no idea what she was going through and how dare I think so. And occasionally she’d pull me into bed and we’d make love. And through it all I had no idea how to respond; I just hoped I was getting it right.
Despite a lot of tears and tantrums, Ginny eventually began to reach some sort of equilibrium and we began to talk.
‘What about the Chamber? Is that still a problem, Ginny?’
‘It is, but only in the sense that I get the occasional nightmare about it. Nothing compared to the summer afterwards, but not enough to cause this. Tom is gone, and you got rid of him. He’s not coming back. Ever.’
‘Okay, what about Fred?’
And that was all it took, she was in floods of tears again.
‘But,’ she managed to say, ‘I know George is coping.’
The tears continued, but so did she.
‘All those nights in the pub, he couldn’t thank you enough.’
‘Well, Angie helped too.’
A brief smile appeared.
‘Yeah, didn’t think you were his type.’
Despite the fact that she was still crying, I managed a laugh.
‘Yeah, I love red hair, but not that much.’
She pressed on.
‘But that’s what’s so stupid. We all miss him, George most of all, but he’s getting to grips with things. Me, I’m just...’
Whatever she thought she was, was lost in floods of tears and that was it for the night.
Each day she cried a little less and we talked a little more, but it all came back to Fred’s death. Her response to it was out of all proportion given the time that had elapsed since and her normal strength of character. Even she called it irrational.
One evening when her tears had led us to the bedroom, we lay in each other’s arms and talked about the future.
‘Do you want children, Harry?’
‘Of course. More than two, but not too many.’
‘No, three would be good.’
‘Boys or girls?’
‘I’d be happy either way, but I think for your sake there better be at least one girl.’
‘For my sake?’
‘You didn’t think I’d want anyone else, did you?’
She didn’t say anything, but her silence told me all I needed to know. Neither of us spoke for a while; instead we were both content just to hold each other. Eventually, she broke the silence.
‘Don’t leave me.’
‘I’m not going anywhere, Ginny.’
She shifted in my arms so that she was looking at me.
‘Marry me, Harry.’
I said ‘yes’, of course. What was I supposed to say? Yes, I wanted to marry her, but I didn’t think that now was the right time. But I also knew that now was not the time to attempt to persuade her that she needed to get better first. I just hoped that I wasn’t going to be the new Mr Rochester. I’d had enough heartbreak in my life without becoming a parody of a gloomy gothic novel.
‘When?’ I asked, hoping that she was thinking long-term.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
She kissed me gently, pulling me tightly to her.
‘Thank you,’ she whispered as she wrapped her arms around me.
Neither of us mentioned the M word for a while until one afternoon Ginny arrived home and began ordering me about.
‘Get off your arse, Potter, you’re going to make an honest woman of me today.’
‘We getting married, and we have fifteen minutes to get to La Marie. Here, catch.’
She threw a small box at me.
‘Don’t lose them.’
I didn’t bother asking what they were; you don’t get married without rings and these were ours.
‘I’ve taken care of everything, so let’s go get married.’
So we did. It was short and it was sweet. But not as sweet as the night we spent together. Gone, it appeared, were the black clouds of depression and the tear-filled girl of recent weeks. As we dozed in each other’s arms, I found myself smiling.
Goodbye, Edward Rochester.
Our joy lasted until seven o’clock the following morning.
‘Monsieur Potter! ‘Arry Potter! Open up!’
I sat bolt upright. Who could it possibly be banging on my door at this time of the day? Worse still, who was it that knew my real name? I grabbed my wand and pulled on my shorts. I turned to Ginny, but she was already dressing, her wand clenched between her teeth.
I opened the door to find a pleasant-looking middle-aged man and a few friends on the doorstep.
‘Ah, Monsieur Potter. A very good morning to you.’
He was dressed as a Muggle, but the wand he held told me that this wasn’t a social call. Ginny sidled up alongside me, out of sight of the man in front of me.
‘Mr Potter, please tell your wife to put her wand away, my colleagues have her covered.’
I glanced over my shoulder and standing behind Ginny were two women, wands pointed at the back of her head.
‘Please, Mr Potter, ‘Arry, let us go inside as discuss this like the civilised people we are.’
‘Who are you?
‘Le Ministère de la Magie, Bureau des Aurors.’
I let them in, not that I had much choice. They took our wands and so Ginny put the coffee on. One of the Aurors produced a bag of croissants.
‘You see, we are az civilised az we claim, non?’ she declared as she placed them on a plate with a smile.
‘So,’ I asked, ‘why are you here?’
I could see Ginny’s eyes flicking from person to person, looking for a way out, but eventually she shrugged her shoulders and helped herself to a croissant.
‘Your Ministry issued a warrant for your arrest. Mrs Potter, too, but ‘as she is named as Miss Weasley, we could leave her here. You, my friend… well, you must come with us.’
‘What have I done? Don’t tell me that some bloody pureblood has managed to get the Wizengamot to charge me with the murder of Voldemort.’
‘No, my friend, even zey would not be zat stupid. You ‘ave, zey claim, both breached ze 1999 Act of Rebuilding in zat you failed to comply with the provisions of ze Act and carry out the duly-authorised instructions of lze Ministry. Or zum nonsense like zat.’
‘Clear as mud! What the hell does that actually mean?’
‘Unfortunately, Mr Potter, I do not know. All I know iz zat I ‘ave to take you to Paris. Mrs Potter does not have to come wiv us, but if she chooses to do so, we will accommodate ‘er az well.’
‘What about my work? I have customers who are expecting things to be repaired.’
‘Do not worry. We will take care of zat. Everyone will get zeir things back good az new. And we will take care of your books work and your rent. Like I zaid, we are civilised people. It is our way of saying Chapeaux! to you for deposing of zat idiot, Jedusor.’
‘One more question; how did you find me after all this time?’
‘Your marriage. All marriages of witches and wizards are registered at our Ministry. If you’d stayed single, we would never ‘ave found you. I am sorry, but zat is ze way of things, n’est pas?’
I looked over at Ginny, expecting her to burst into tears, but she remained resolute.
‘I’m not,’ I said, to Ginny more than the Auror. She rewarded me with a smile which I returned. Me and you against the world then, girl?
They let us finish our coffee, pack our bags and then we were gone. Our first stop was Paris, but no sooner than we had landed then another Portkey took us to London.
‘We’ll take them from here, Jules.’
I didn’t recognise the man who met us. He was about ten years older than me and his calm demeanour suggested that he was an experienced operator. The lead French Auror handed our wands over to him and then turned to face me.
‘I regret that our meeting ‘as been under these difficult circumstances. On behalf of myself, my colleagues and ze French Ministry, may I apologise for our role in zis sorry affair and promise zat should you return to la Belle France, our welcome will be wizout equal.’
He kissed me on both cheeks before he and his team disappeared, leaving Ginny and me to face our foe.
‘Chief Auror Reginald Baggott,’ he said with a smile and offered his hand to me. I declined to shake it.
‘Ah, well, yes,’ he said, flustered. ‘Never mind, er, this way. Miss Weasley, too.’
‘There is no Miss Weasley, only my wife, Mrs Potter.’
‘Mmm, that remains to be seen. Follow me, if you please.’
I made to walk in exactly the opposite direction, but I found my way blocked by six other Aurors. Ginny too was similarly surrounded. So we followed him, walking side by side as we did so.
‘Harry,’ whispered Ginny, ‘I...’
‘Don’t worry, Ginny, they won’t do anything stupid, I’m Harry Potter after all.’
Turned out I was wrong. They would and they had.
We were led to a meeting of the Wizengamot and I had a brief flashback to my last two visits here. I scanned the crowd, but Umbridge was nowhere to be seen.
‘Ginevra Molly Weasley,’
‘Potter!’ interrupted Ginny, ‘We’re married.’
‘Miss Weasley, you are charged with breaching the 1999 Act of Rebuilding in that you failed to comply with the provisions of said Act and carry out the duly-authorised instructions of the Ministry. How do you plead?’
Her response was short and to the point.
‘The defendant will apologise to the court or be removed.’
She took a deep breath and was about to unload on them when I managed to catch her eye. I shook my head slowly. Whatever this was, we needed to face it together.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, obviously not in the least bit sorry.
‘How do you plead?’
‘Not guilty. But what is it I am supposed to have done?’
‘Do you deny that you remain unwed despite instructions from the Ministry?
‘I’m married to Harry. Wait a minute, what instructions?’
‘Your marriage to Mr Potter has been declared invalid. The French were unable to provide all the required paperwork.’
‘We have a marriage license,’ I said, not liking the way that this was going. If we hadn’t got married, then we wouldn’t have been caught, and now they were saying we weren’t married in their eyes.
‘I’m sure you do, Mr Potter, but not a valid one.’
‘The French Ministry seemed happy with it.’
‘Well, that’s the French for you. We have higher standards.’
‘Their standards were high enough to rebuff all attempts by Voldemort to get them to cow-tow to him.’
‘The defendant will be silent!’
Things had started badly, and unfortunately for us they got worse. In an effort to kick start Wizarding society a number of controversial laws were passed, the worst of which was the 1999 Rebuilding Act. The most onerous clause was the requirement was for everyone over the age of 17 to marry within two years of hitting that age. If you were over 17 at the time the Act passed, you had the reminder of the time period left to comply. So as I was 18 years and one month, at the time I had 11 months left. My marriage to Ginny wasn’t in time for me but it was for her. Whatever small hopes I had that our marriage would be accepted were dashed when I found out that our partners were chosen for us. In attempt to mix up everyone’s blood lines, some Civil Servant had proposed that purebloods had to marry Muggle-borns and, where possible, so did Half-Bloods like me.
“We thought that you’d be happy to marry Miss Granger.”
I didn’t reply. For once I was glad that Ron had run away to Australia and not returned. I’ve no idea who he had been supposed to marry, but last I heard, he and Hermione had tied the knot and were applying to become Australian citizens.
We were tried and found guilty. Hermione being nowhere to be found, I was shipped off to Azkaban until they could work out what to do with me. Ginny wasn’t so lucky, her marriage to Denis Creevey was set for a week’s time. I don’t blame Denis; after all, he lost as much as anyone in the war, but he looked like he’d won the lottery when he came to visit her cell.
“No hard feelings, Harry?”
I won’t repeat what I said, but I knew that after I was let out, Ginny and I were running away, over his dead body if needed.
In the end, it was Fleur that came to our rescue. If this tale were fiction, she would have used her Veela charm to seduce our guards and help us fight our way to freedom. The truth was more prosaic. When all around her were losing their heads, she kept hers. She took the time to wade through the Act and ask Ginny a few personal, but pertinent questions.
Civil servants being what they are, they had failed to spot the obvious flaw in their legislation; it only applied to British citizens. And Ginny, it turned out, was pregnant. Pregnant with a child conceived in France and they, the French, were doing their best to cause a diplomatic incident over one of their (alleged — and unborn) citizens being treated in such as way. It was flaky at best, but wars have been fought over less and an increase of diplomatic tension with an ally who had helped with the post-war reconstruction made those in power at the Ministry nervous.
It was the day before Ginny was to be married when the French Ambassador came to see me. She was very pretty and it was very funny to see how the Aurors reacted to her beauty more than her official status.
“Monsieur Potter, I am happy to see you, even if it is under such trying circumstances.” Her English was flawless, her robes of the finest quality and the power she radiated cowed even me.
“I am sorry that we have taken so long to get to this point, but your English bureaucracy is stodgier than your food. Still, Monsieur Potier, you and your wife, the beautiful Genevieve, are free to return to your home in the South of France.”
I think she enjoyed the stunned look on my face.
“Here are your passports.”
I took the proffered documents from her and looked inside. Henri and Genevieve Potier. We were French, but free. That might sound a little churlish, but if you’re brought up on certain stereotypes, the French are more likely to surrender than fight. But fight they had for Ginny and me and that’s all that counted.
“And M. Potier, I would advise you not to return to the beach. You are very well known in France now and, well, I think you can work out the rest.”
Ginny and I live in the Alps, away from the public gaze and people in general. Our three children, Isabelle, Jules and petit Henri are all at Beauxbatons and life is good. We live a comfortable lifestyle, travelling a lot, but we haven’t been back to Britain since our enforced repatriation. I know things have changed over there and Kingsley finally had the sense to realise that he was out of his depth. We are French now and we feel no need to visit. Our family can Floo to France if they want to see us, all except Ron and Hermione, of course, but we still get to see them for time to time.
I’d like to say that all is sweetness and light, but Ginny still has bad days. We’ve talked a lot and she’s had counselling, but there is something wrong deep within that no one appears able to shift. My guess is that Tom did some damage so deep down that nothing is going to budge it, no matter how hard we try. So I make sure that she knows she is loved, and I’m always there no matter how badly she treats me. Her arms bear the scars of her inner pain and as much as I ask her she won’t let a Healer remove them.
“They are who I am, Henri. They stay, or I go.”
So they stay and I deal with it by calling them her tiger stripes. And my love for her is as fierce as any tiger.
A/N:Many thanks to Sherry for making the time to beta this, I don't know what I'd do without you.