Ginny gasped when she saw it. It was, in its own way, every bit as impressive as the rugged peaks she had flown over in Patagonia. Those South American mountains were hewn from ancient granite; this one was made entirely from her family’s dirty holiday clothing.
Her mind tried to make sense of it. Did they really own this many clothes? What on earth had James and Albus put on before Teddy whisked them away to the beach near Shell Cottage this morning? Winter coats? All of their play clothes were here and covered in mud and food stains. And when exactly was the last time anyone had done the washing?
It had been so long that she couldn’t remember. Before the World Cup? Scary.
She rubbed her forehead, sighed and then started to sort the huge pile with a flick of her wrist. Whites here. Robes there.
Oops. No need to wash a faded copy of the Daily Prophet.
She attempted to toss it into the bin with a sideways wrist flick, but missed.
Damn. Her mood soured as she bent to retrieve the folded paper. Merlin, she was tired. All those late nights spent writing her Quidditch columns for the Daily Prophet were catching up with her. Harry and the boys had made a holiday of the World Cup Final, as well they should. But as reporter, she hadn’t had the luxury…
The headline jumped out at her: Dumbledore’s Army Reunites at Quidditch World Cup Final.
Her eyes narrowed at the byline: Rita Skeeter. This was not going to be good.
By the fifth paragraph, she could feel the heat rise in her face. So she was an absentee mother who hexed her own husband, all whilst enjoying an undeserving “plum assignment” from the Daily Prophet!
A band of fury tightened around her temples as she fought for calm. It was ridiculous. It was malicious. It was Rita Skeeter.
She flung the newspaper away. Rita Skeeter was trolling them. Long ago, she and Harry had made a pact to never read the gossip columns because it was too upsetting — and because Mum read everything and kept them up to date on the latest crazy rumours.
It was easy to laugh off this sort of news when Mum was “reporting”, but to see all that maliciousness in black and white about the people she loved…
Against her better judgment, she snatched up the paper and quickly scanned the article. It seemed no one had been spared and no small quirk had been overlooked. So what if Luna had worn robes with all sixteen flags of the participating countries? She was just one of the many super-fans who wore crazy outfits. Ginny had seen plenty of them at all the venues.
And going after Victoire? She was an underage witch who fancied the cutest, most lovable boy attending Hogwarts. It was normal teenage behaviour to wear your heart on your sleeve and Victoire shouldn’t be held up for ridicule. In fact, she should be praised for her good taste.
Ginny raised her wand to Apparate to Shell Cottage. She wanted to know if Victoire was hurt by the article. And what about the digs at Ron and his hairline and his career choice? Fleur would know how Ron and Hermione were handling this…
She lowered her wand as a new thought struck. Harry would know as well.
Why hadn’t he told her? Why hadn’t anyone told her? She hadn’t noticed her colleagues smirking behind their hands, but then she had been so busy. And Harry hadn’t said a word at the time — not that he would bother her during the World Cup. But it was over now and…
Are cracks beginning to show in a union that the Potters are determined to promote as happy?
Teeth set, she abandoned the idea of Shell Cottage, and jerkily got on with sorting the large mountain into several smaller ones.
Just because she had to leave her family for two weeks before they joined her in Patagonia didn’t make her a bad mother or mean their marriage was in trouble.
But still, it rankled.
She lit a hot fire under the cauldron of whites and set it in motion. Then she spewed cold water from her wand over a cauldron of robes, added Fairy Liquid (Stealing stains, not children, since 1902!) and then gently set the cauldrons in motion. After turning the hourglass, she left the laundry room to get away from the rumbling of the cauldrons.
With the washing started she could now tackle the kitchen, or she could pop over to Shell Cottage, or —
Or she could write a rebuttal to Rita’s vile article. With an unnecessarily loud flash, she Summoned her Quick-Quotes Quill and began to haphazardly brainstorm a column.
An Open Letter to Rita Skeeter:
Points I want to make:
(Note to self: add appropriate greeting, reference the article and date before launching tirade)
(1) Ron and Hermione made career choices based on what was best for their family, you judgmental old harpy. No wonder you’re so bitter. You have no clue what family life is like — that it takes give and take - otherwise known as compromise. Were you ever in a family or were you spawned in an inky writer’s swamp and left to kill off the other hatchlings so that you, and only you, could wield the poisoned pen?
(2) Ron is no coward and he has a lot more hair than Dad did at that age.
(3) Luna’s twins stayed home because they were too young to make the long trip to a chaotic event they wouldn’t understand — not because there’s something wrong with them. That’s why Lily stayed with Mum and Dad.
(4) Harry and Viktor Krum did not gang up against Cedric in the maze as implied. And a hug between friends is just that — a hug — nothing sexual about it. But since you don’t have any friends you wouldn’t know.
(5) And speaking of things you wouldn’t know about. Femme fatale. Really? Do you know what that means? It means fatal woman. Harry is alive and well and Hermione never broke his heart because she is his good and loyal friend. Do you think I could be friendly with Hermione if she ever broke Harry’s heart? How could I be friendly with anyone who hurt Harry? And speaking of hurting Harry, that cut on his cheek was caused by — Oh, never mind. I’m not going to tell you.
(6) Note to self: do not mention Lily. Rita seems to have forgotten about her.
(7) Harry has the same glasses because when he got new frames — Lily — er — some small child — didn’t recognize him, so he decided to stick with the familiar. Not that he cares about how his style comes across to you. (FYI, acid green is not the new black).
(8) Greying temples are distinguished — and manly — and hot! And no, I won’t say more because you’d immediately start speculating about our sex life. You’d invent a role-playing game between the stern Auror and his sexy bad-girl captive — not that there’s anything wrong with that. In your hands you would make such a scenario sound sick and perverse, not fun and funny and exciting all at once.
(9) Hannah wanted to improve herself and learn something new for the benefit of others — unlike you, you desiccated crone. You heartless cipher of —
Ginny blinked away her writer’s haze, and read over what she had just written with growing dissatisfaction. She really needed to up her game with better insults. Already she could hear her editor chiding: Clichéd and derivative. Imagery needs freshening. Tell us something new about Rita Skeeter.
She laughed at herself as she lifted the heavy, wet clothes from the cauldrons to wicker baskets. A rebuttal article to a Rita Skeeter column would never see the light of day, since she had a loyal following amongst the subscribers. Innuendo and sensationalism had been paying the bills at the Daily Prophet for decades and one protest column wasn’t going to change that. She shouldn’t waste her time thinking of new ways to say Rita Skeeter is dead wrong about everything.
Out in their green, slightly overgrown garden, she pegged each garment with a methodical swipe of her wand. It soothed her like nothing else could. What was once dirty and rumpled and unsightly was now clean and restored and dancing merrily in the summer breeze. The mountain was gone.
Of course, tomorrow another pile would be there to replace the vanished mountain, but for now she was caught up with the washing.
“Woot!” She pumped her hand toward the bright blue sky in the old Harpies’ victory salute. The boys always liked it when she did that after they tidied their bedrooms or put their Quidditch equipment away. She smiled as she thought of how Lily tried to imitate them.
Then her heart ached with longing to see her youngest. It had been a long two weeks without her.
She looked at her watch. Lily would be napping, so now wasn’t the time to collect her from Mum’s. It was too early to coax the boys out of the water and away from Teddy. She chewed her lip. She could clean some more while the clothes were drying or —
Or — she could pop in on Fleur and see how Victoire was holding up.
With a wave of her wand, she found herself in the very tidy front garden of Shell Cottage. The brass handle on the front door gleamed with polish. Obviously a trip to the World Cup hadn’t lowered Fleur’s housekeeping standards one bit.
“Ginny? Why are you ‘ere?”
“I hope I’m not interrupting.” Ginny indicated the mixing bowl Fleur was carrying. “I pegged the washing and decided to take a break whilst it was drying.”
“No, it is good. Come into the kitchen. I’m late with the ze bread because Victoire wanted to make ze picnic for ze beach and she is slow with ze cooking charms.”
“Picnic? Did Victoire go with Teddy and the boys?”
Fleur shrugged. “She said that there will be many at ze beach. Girlfriends. Her cousins.”
“Her cousins’ minder?” Ginny smiled.
Fleur nodded and turned the dough out on to a wooden board. “Victoire, she looks at Teddy. Teddy, he looks at Victoire. But nothing more. It is a happy, innocent time.”
“But what about that Rita Skeeter article?” Ginny blurted. “All those vile insinuations! ‘Lurking in dark corners!’ Was Victoire upset?”
Fleur calmly divided the dough into loaf pans and then covered them with a snowy cloth. Only after she had brushed the wooden board clean of flour, did she answer Ginny. “I did not allow Victoire to be upset. She has done nothing to be ashamed.”
Ginny rather doubted Fleur could keep Victoire from feeling upset by not allowing it, but she was glad that they shared the same view of Rita’s article. “I hate that woman. I wish there was something I could do to stop her.”
Fleur shrugged. “If it was not Rita Skeeter, it would be some other reporter.” Then she looked keenly at Ginny. “And were you not upset by her insults? She said you were not a good writer. That you did not deserve such a cherry assignment.”
“Plum assignment,” Ginny said with a slight smile. Then she shrugged as she realized something. “You know, I suppose it doesn’t bother me because I know that the readers can decide for themselves if Rita is right or not. My writing is out in the open to be judged.”
Fleur nodded. “That is so. Usually Rita Skeeter does not make that mistake. For example, she says I am not intelligent because she cannot say that I am ugly. If she said that I am ugly, everyone would know she is wrong. But how many people can know if I am intelligent? I have no career but chatelaine of Shell Cottage.”
“Of course you’re intelligent!” Ginny said fiercely. “You represented Beauxbatons in the Tri-Wizard Challenge. You emigrated from a foreign country and worked for Gringotts. You learned another language. And running a household is no easy task—“
Fleur gave her a quick, floury hug. “Ah, you are as fierce as my Bill. But it is all water under ze bridge now, yes?”
Ginny laughed, warmed by the unexpected hug. “But I like holding a grudge. It makes the world clearer.”
Fleur nodded solemnly. “I am sure I don’t understand ze office politics, but for peace of mind it is best to forget, no?”
“True.” Ginny sighed and wished she wasn’t so petty. Revenge seemed more attractive than peace of mind right at the moment. She looked at her watch. “I should go. The clothes will be dry by now. Tell Victoire and Bill hello for me.”
With that, she Apparated back to her own garden and began to fold the clothes. Her little talk with Fleur had calmed her enough so that she easily ticked off a long list of household chores before she collected James and Albus at the beach.
“How was your day?” Ginny asked Teddy as he used his wand to rinse the sand from Albus’s feet.
“Brilliant.” He grinned. “James swam all the way out to the Merpeople’s Rock, and Al learned the crawl today.”
Albus nodded happily. “I’m going to race James next time.”
“Thank you for watching the boys, Teddy. I got so much done today. Now, I want to pay you for your time.”
His grin faded. “Oh, don’t do that. After I spent too much of my pocket money on souvenirs, Harry bought my meals. He said I could pay him back by minding the boys.”
Ginny wanted to protest, but this was obviously one of those masculine independence things.
“And Teddy ate a lot in Patagonia,” James piped up. “I’ve never seen anyone eat six kabobs in one go. I hope I can eat that much when I’m grown up.”
Ginny laughed. “With your lineage, I don’t think that will be a problem.”
“Don’t forget your shells,” Teddy reminded them.
“Victoire helped us find them,” Albus said. “She knows all the good spots.”
“Well, she did grew up around here,” Ginny said. “She’s the expert.” She glanced at Teddy. Although his hair was slightly more turquoise, he seemed unaffected by the mention of Victoire’s name.
“She’s almost as good a swimmer as Teddy,” James added.
“No, she’s a better swimmer,” Teddy said. “I have longer arms, that’s why I won the race. I was only inches ahead of her.”
“That’s a gallant thing to say, Teddy.”
His hair warmed to a green-blue shade. “It’s just the truth. Nothing else.”
“Why does Teddy get a Galleon for saying something nice?” James asked. “I don’t get it.”
“He’s not getting a Galleon. I said ‘gallant’ and it means — well, never mind.” Ginny broke off when she saw Teddy was looking more and more uncomfortable. “We’ll talk about this later. I have your dinner all ready. Spaghetti Bolognese. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
By the time she had Side-Along Apparated them home (one at a time), Mum had already arrived with Lily. She spent the next hour dishing up the spaghetti for the boys, reuniting with Lily and hearing Mum’s indignant opinion of Rita Skeeter’s article. (“Your father wouldn’t let me cancel our subscription because then we couldn’t read your articles, dear.”) By the time Mum left, Harry was home and Ginny gratefully left him with the boys so she could put Lily down for the night.
But Lily wouldn’t submit to sleep without a fight. She lingered in her bath. She demanded one story after another and Ginny couldn’t help but give in. She had missed those big brown eyes and that rosebud smile and the way she wriggled her whole body when she was happy.
When her throat was hoarse from reading, Ginny finally got firm. “That’s enough reading for tonight, Lily.”
“Lily want Mummy.” She held out two plump hands in appeal.
“All right, I’ll lie down and cuddle with you until you go to sleep. But just for tonight, mind.”
Lily snuggled up next to her with a happy sigh. Ginny stroked her hair and thought how good it felt to lie down. It had been a busy day. But now, with a sweet-smelling toddler lying so trustfully next to her, it all seemed worth it.
Ginny woke up with a start. For one disoriented moment she wondered where she was and then she realized that she must have fallen asleep with Lily. She eased herself out of the low bed, wincing at the pins and needles sensation of the blood returning to her arm.
Once she slipped out of Lily’s room, she realized that the whole house was dark. How long had she slept?
Hours, it felt like. She yawned and decided to have a quick shower in the dark so as not to disturb Harry. After all of that housework she felt grubby.
She peeled off her wrinkled robes, stepped into the shower and felt unexpected grit under her feet. Ah. Sand from the beach. Thank you, Harry, she thought silently. He really had started noticing things since he had the full care of the boys for two weeks. Maybe it hadn’t been such a bad thing that she had been gone for all of that time.
The warm water sluiced over her and her thoughts slowed and settled until her mind felt like a still pool. There was nothing to think about but water and the dark and drying her hair and — no pyjamas on the door hook.
Ah well. She wrapped a towel around herself and tiptoed to the bed. She used to sleep sans clothes before James was born.
Harry was lying on his side facing away from her. She eased the covers aside, slipped in next to him, and settled on her back. He was so warm and cosy next to her. She closed her eyes, relaxed, and imagined that still pool — for all of ten seconds.
Lips nuzzled her neck. Ripples of delicious sensation made her shiver. “Harry?”
“What are you doing?”
“I think something.”
“Something,” he agreed. She felt a warm hand on her stomach. “Love what you’re wearing.”
She giggled and then hitched in a breath as his hand skated delicately upward.
“And you smell good, too,” he said as he trailed kisses over her jaw line.
“It’s just soap.”
“Soap. Beautiful.” His lips found hers and there was no more talking — just a slow, familiar reunion.
“That was nice,” she murmured when she found the strength to stir again and find the bedding that had fallen on the floor.
“Nice?” He pulled the duvet over her. “That doesn’t sound very exciting. Maybe we should play stern Auror and sexy bad-girl captive next time.”
She groaned. “You found my notes.”
“I found your notes. Very entertaining.”
“I was really angry this afternoon when I found her column stuck in the dirty wash. Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
“Well. Uh. I didn’t want to tell you at the time because you were so busy.” He took her hand and squeezed it. “And by the time we got home, I had put it out of my mind. It was a one-day wonder at the Cup and nothing else.”
“So what did everyone say when that column came out?” She turned toward him. “How are Ron and Hermione? Skeeter was pretty rough on them.”
“Rough on them? How about cracks in our marriage and your plum assignments and my inability to deflect a hex?”
“Oh, Harry.” She drew herself on one elbow. “You can deflect a hex.”
“Not when my darling daughter grabs a prototype joke wand.”
She traced around his eye. “Does it still hurt?”
“Just my pride.”
She kissed the sore spot. “Poor Harry.”
“So what did everyone do about Rita’s column? I mean, what was said?”
“Oh, at first we took turns reading out the ridiculous bits and coming up with even worse exaggerations. Hermione is not content with the Ministry, she wants world domination — that sort of thing. Then we played a game where we went around the room and everyone had to invent a new insult to call Rita Skeeter with no repeats. And no profanity, of course.”
Ginny smiled. “Hermione’s rule.”
“Right. Although I don’t think anyone came up with ‘desiccated crone’. Well done.”
“I wish I could have been there. It sounds… therapeutic. Immature, but therapeutic.”
“It was.” He gathered her in his arms. “I wish you could have been there with me, too. It was weird to be… I dunno… alone in a crowd.”
She knew what he meant. She had been alone at the World Cup, but she had been doing her job. It wasn’t the same as enduring a social occasion without a partner. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It gave me yet another reason to appreciate you.”
“So why is Teddy getting Galleons for saying nice things about Victoire?”
“Oh! I never had a chance to explain it to James. I told Teddy he was gallant to admit Victoire was the better swimmer and James thought I said Galleons.”
“Well, if she’s the better swimmer, then Teddy was just telling the truth.”
“But not every bloke would say such a thing. Male pride and all of that. And Victoire wasn’t around to hear it, so it wasn’t flattery. Teddy must really admire her.” She smiled. “He learned that from his godfather. You always told me I was the better Quidditch player.”
“You are. And you’re a better Quidditch writer, too. No matter what Rita Skeeter says.”
“So we’ve refuted all of her lies. You can dodge a hex. I can write a Quidditch column — and there are no cracks in our marriage.”
“Only if you try to escape your stern Auror.”
“You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?”
“Never.” He kissed her. “But when the time comes to role-play, I’ll give you a head start.”
“Like I’d need a head start,” she scoffed. “And I don’t want to escape.”
He yawned. “Good. I’m too tired to chase you.”
In less than a minute, Ginny heard the even sounds of his breathing as he slept. She curled up next to him and felt nothing but contentment. Rita Skeeter’s career had been spent making mountains out of molehills, and in her anger she had forgotten that. They didn’t have to prove anything. They knew that truth and that was all that mattered.