“Bugger, bugger, bloody, buggering hell!” Ginny exclaimed as her finger was pinched between two levers. On its shiny surface the espresso machine seemed a marvel of Italian engineering. But under the surface, the bloody thing was clearly out to kill her. As if her day wasn’t terrible enough to begin with.
“Um. Excuse me?” said a voice from behind her.
“Bugger,” she said again for good measure, slowly turning about to face the customer that was apparently standing there during her entire tirade.
It was a young man, not much older than herself. Thankfully, he looked more concerned than irate.
“Please don’t tell my boss about the swearing. He was very clear on not swearing in front of customers if I want to keep this job, and I really bloody need this sodding job.” She was talking too much, dammit, but she really shouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning, and he was the first customer all day who didn’t seem inclined to yell at her.
He lifted his hands, probably to protect himself from her verbal barrage. “He won’t hear it from me, I swear. Besides, I’m a little unclear if any of that actually was swearing.”
She rolled her eyes. Americans.
“Can I help you?” she said, trying to drag together the tattered remains of her professionalism. Ha.
He dubiously eyed the still-complaining machine behind her. “Uh. Should it be doing that?”
She spun back around. “Bloody hell,” she said, grabbing a towel and trying to turn the dial near the now spitting steam. All she managed to do was scald her hand. “Ow,” she complained, sticking her hand in her mouth.
“Are you all right?” he asked, edging his way towards the small swinging gate that separated the space behind the bar from customers.
She sighed. “There’s absolutely nothing ethically wrong with beating a machine to death, is there?”
“Ethically? No. But if one is trying not to get fired...” he remarked, voice wry.
Despite herself, she huffed with amusement. This really was the most horrid day ever.
She felt her stomach drop, realizing the utter stupidity of that thought. But she couldn’t afford to let memories derail her. Everything was awful enough as it was.
Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it--
She would not bloody cry over this.
“Maybe I can help?” he asked.
The overly helpful customer was standing by the gate now, looking even more concerned.
“Do you know anything about espresso machines?” she asked.
She really shouldn’t have lied about having barista experience. That was her first mistake. Well, no. Maybe her first mistake was coming to this bloody country in the first place.
“Not a thing,” he admitted. “But I do have a phone.” He pulled it out of his pocket, and it was one of those slick ones with a touch screen the size of a plate.
She wasn’t at all sure how that was going to fix anything, but as she was currently completely out of ideas, she might as well give him a chance. She had pretty good creep radar, and he wasn’t pinging as dangerous.
“Can I?” he asked, gesturing at the gate.
He was definitely not allowed back here, strictly speaking. But what the hell, she was already going to get fired. “Sure. Knock yourself out.” She frowned. “Only not, because I’m sure the insurance doesn’t cover that.”
He huffed in amusement, stepping closer to the machine and eying it warily.
Blowing a stray strand of hair out of her face, she glanced around the thankfully empty café. Only it wasn’t quite as empty as she thought, a man lounging near the door.
She plastered a fake smile on her face. “Oh, I’m sorry. Can I help you, sir?”
“He’s with me,” her would-be-savior said, not looking up from his phone. “Just ignore him. It would be better all around.”
Ginny turned back to regard the man by the door, quickly appraising him. She could tell right off that this was a man who knew how to handle himself, even beyond the casual black dress that refused to be professional. He gave her a wolfish smile and then winked at her, of all things, despite the fact that he was clearly old enough to be her father.
“Happy to,” she said.
Only then things got even worse, yet another bloke pulling open the door and striding in. Customers were going to be the death of her. He was older than her, but not by much. Fussy suit. Flashy watch. Overly styled hair as if he really, really wanted to be taken seriously, but probably rarely was.
“Quad, venti, soy, no-foam latte,” he rattled off, more self-important than truly rushed.
Bloody, buggering hell. He was one of those.
When she didn’t immediately respond, he looked up from his phone. “Well,” he drew out, taking a painfully long moment to look her over in the most offensive way possible. “Hello.”
Her first instinct was to punch him in the face.
You need this job, she reminded herself. Besides, as far as fights go, it would hardly be fair.
Yes, there were easier ways of dealing with this than getting fired or risking life and limb on a malfunctioning machine, as painful as it would be.
She forced her shoulders to relax, tilting her head to one side. “Hi,” she said, letting a slow smile lift one corner of her mouth. “I’ll get right on that for you…” She trailed off, looking at him in askance.
“Todd,” he supplied.
Ginny smiled. “Todd.”
“Nice accent,” he said, stepping forward to lean on the counter.
She forced herself to laugh as if every other bloke in this entire godforsaken country didn’t comment on her accent. Usually shortly followed by asking if it’s Scottish or Irish, ignorant gits.
She leaned forward conspiratorially. “Since you’re so sweet, I’ll let you in on a little secret. We have some incredibly rare Himalayan beans that the owner roasted himself. Made a spectacular blend. If you were looking for something a little…” She paused, looking him over in a way that made her want to slap herself, it was so disgusting. “Adventurous.”
Todd didn’t seem to find it disgusting. Ponce.
“I’ll even throw in a free pastry,” she said, sensing this was a bloke who liked to think he was getting a deal.
“Sure,” he said, giving her what she supposed he thought was a charming smile.
“Great,” she said, and turned away to fill a to-go cup with the only warm coffee in the whole place. She also scooped up one of the sad looking scones (Mum would be horrified) and dumped it in a bag.
“That will be four dollars and fifty cents.”
Thank everything holy that he pulled out a credit card. She still fumbled a bit with the coins and bills. She swiped the card and let him sign his name on the screen.
The transaction complete, Todd was still standing expectantly.
“Thank you!” she said, standing up straight and dismissing him with a bright wave. “Have a nice day.”
He paused, looking confused, but Ginny just wiggled her fingers towards the door. “Bye!”
He turned and walked out, shooting a disgruntled look back over his shoulder, and Ginny noticed that the older gent by the door was watching her with open amusement.
“Wanker,” Ginny muttered, happy to include both the poncey customer and Mr. Creepy by the door in the insult. “Why people insist on flirting with someone who is just trying to work, I will never know.”
“Was that true?”
“What?” Ginny asked, turning back to the customer still currently trying to fix her machine with his phone. She’d kinda forgotten he was there, honestly.
“About the coffee?” he asked, glancing over at the pot.
“The Himalayan nonsense? No, not a jot of it.” She peered at the carafe. “I don’t even know what kind of coffee that is. But at the moment it’s the only coffee-making appliance that isn’t actively trying to kill me, so yeah. I lied.”
He blinked back at her as if he was having a hard time making sense of something.
“You stumped?” she asked, gesturing at his phone.
“What? Oh, no.” He held it out so she could see it. “I found the user’s manual online.”
“Brilliant!” Ginny said, snatching the phone from him. She really should try to get one of these things some day. If they weren’t so bloody expensive.
She flicked the power button off (now that she actually knew where it was), and began fiddling with the offending piece. Of course, it fell off, clattering to the floor. She dropped down with a curse, trying to reach where it rolled under the cabinet. Her knee landed in a puddle of unknown origins.
“For fuck’s sake,” she muttered.
“That one, I understood,” Mr. Loves-to-be-Helpful commented.
“Bully for you,” she said, looking up and sticking her tongue out at him.
He let out a sort of surprised laugh, leaning back against the counter, giving her more room.
Ginny turned back to her search for the hiding part and juggling the shiny phone. It was gross down here. When was the last time someone mopped?
The bloody door chose that moment to tinkle again, meaning there was yet another customer. Before she could heave back up to her feet, her companion shifted to the counter and said, “Welcome to, uh…” There was a pause where he no doubt looked up at the sign on the front window. “The Lucky Carafe. We’re having a special today on a unique Himalayan blend.”
He sounded overly enthusiastic, voice a little high like he was clearly not used to lying and getting away with it.
Ginny couldn’t help but snicker.
He had the gall to kick her in response. Well, honestly more of a nudge with his foot, but still.
She flicked his leg in retaliation—that harmless but stingy one she learned from Bill, and he glanced down at her, looking wounded. Or possibly more amused, she couldn’t quite tell. She had other things on her mind, okay?
“It comes with a free pastry!” he added a beat late, leaning into the counter with what she suspected was his version of a charming smile.
Definitely a ploy, and there was no way he was going to get away with it. He was clearly inexperienced with subterfuge, after all.
“Oh, yes. That would be great,” said the customer. A young woman, from her voice. Who then giggled, of all things.
For all the bloke didn’t work here and had only walked in fifteen minutes ago, he managed to get the girl a coffee and a pastry and even make change. But honestly, those iPad cashier things were simple enough a monkey could use them. It was the bloody espresso machine that required an advanced degree in astrophysics, apparently. Ginny glanced back down at the phone in her hand, frowning as she flipped through the diagrams.
“Thank you,” the girl said, voice clearly flirtatious.
“You’re very welcome,” he said, sounding uncomfortable again.
“Do you mind…,” she asked.
“Oh, of course,” he said, leaning over the counter.
She heard the click of what sounded like a camera phone. Had she just taken a picture with him?
When the bell jingled, Ginny got back up to her feet. “Well,” she said, “I wasn’t sure you’d be able to pull that off.”
“And why is that?” he said, having the gall to look offended.
In all the chaos, she hadn’t really looked at him yet, but now that she had the chance, she could see that he was fairly fit, if one were into tall, dark, and lanky. He was wearing glasses, the kind of thick framed deals that managed to somehow avoid going hipster. His hair was frankly a disaster, but worked for him all the same.
“Never mind,” she said. “I think I get it.”
His cheeks flushed, and that was interesting, but she had other things to worry about at the moment. Like her bloody nemesis the Machine From Hell.
She clapped her hands together. “Okay, pillock, you are going down.”
“Excuse me?” he said, taking a small step back.
“Not you,” she said. She held the phone out to him. “Hold this.” She fixed his grip so he was holding the diagram out so she could see it. “I’m going in.”
She got the renegade piece back in place, correcting a few dials and only needing to consult the diagrams once or twice.
“This and then this and then…” She stepped back, sliding a cup under the spout. A thick stream of dark, foamless espresso glided into the cup.
“Hallelujah!” she cried.
“It’s a coffee miracle,” he said.
Ginny did a little jig of celebration, turning in a circle and then spontaneously hugging the customer. She pulled back immediately. “Sorry. Right. Don’t hug strangers.”
“Uh,” he said, rubbing at the back of his head. “That’s all right.”
“Can I see that again?” she asked, pointing to the phone.
“Sure,” he said.
Grabbing a pen, she wrote down a few key instructions from the website on her arm and then handed the phone back to him.
“Okay,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “What can I make for you? A mocha? A frappe? No. Nevermind. I have no idea how to make either of those. But I can definitely do a latte.”
“Um, sure,” he said.
He moved back around to the other side of the counter while she carefully worked her way through the making of a latte. The milk probably wasn’t quite as frothy as it was supposed to be, but she was still going to call it a win.
She handed it to him with a triumphant smile. “One latte.”
He pulled out his wallet, but she waved it away.
“On the house,” she said. She gestured vaguely back towards the coffee machine. “For helping me and such.”
“I’m pretty sure giving away everything for free is not a great way to keep your job either.”
Biting her lip, she nodded. “Fair point.”
She rang him up for the latte, and after eying the cut of his clothes and remembering his slick phone, added the two sacrificial pastries to his total as well.
His eyebrow lifted, but he paid for it all the same, apparently a good sport in addition to being helpful. She wasn’t sure this city even had people like him in it.
“Well, thanks for the coffee,” he said, rather awkwardly.
It would be stupid to be sad to see him go, she supposed. It was probably just because he was one of the first nice people she’d met in this horrid shop.
“Thanks for dropping in,” she said, giving him a genuine smile.
He lifted the cup to her in salute and turned for the door.
“Wait,” Ginny said, realizing she’d never even asked. “What’s your name?”
She must be imagining that he looked slightly surprised. “Uh. Harry.”
She waited for a last name, but since he didn’t seem inclined to provide one, said, “Well, thank you, Harry. You were a knight in shining bloody armor today.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets. “You’re welcome, Ginny,” he said.
She was startled by his use of her name, but then he laughed, tapping a finger on the front of his jacket, and she realized she was wearing a nametag, of course.
“Yes, yes. You are very smart. Now bugger off, Harry. I have important barista things to do.” She looked down at the counter, wiping it with a rag even though it didn’t particularly need it. “But come back for some Himalayan beans sometime, yeah?”
She had no idea where that last bit came from, but when she worked up the nerve to look at him again, he was smiling at her, and yes, it was fairly charming, the git.
“I’ll definitely do that,” he said.
His creepy and completely unhelpful companion that she’d managed to forget all about let out a rather derisive snort, and Harry bundled him forcibly out the door with an embarrassed look on his face.
The door tinkled after them. Ginny glanced around the now-quiet space, and eyed the machine behind her. It seemed to actually be behaving.
Maybe today wouldn’t be a total disaster after all.
And it wasn’t. For at least two more minutes until she accidentally knocked a mug off the counter, shattering it into a dozen jagged pieces.
“Not a word, Sirius,” Harry said as he turned at the next corner and their destination became obvious.
Sirius controlled himself for almost three whole minutes. Surely a new record. “She’s cute.”
“Sirius,” he growled.
“What?” Innocent was not a look that worked for him.
Harry sighed. “That has nothing to do with this! I just…”
“Want some coffee?” Sirius offered. “Despite the fact that you loathe coffee?”
“I don’t loathe it.” He just didn’t particularly ever want to drink it. Or smell it. Or be anywhere near it.
“Remind me who ended up drinking that wretched latte last time?” Sirius asked with a scowl. “It had lumps in it.”
Harry snorted. “I’m sure they have other things too.”
“Yes. So here we are, heading towards a place that is in no way completely out of the way of your normal routines. For something.”
Harry glared at him. “Shouldn’t you be, I don’t know, doing your job?”
He shrugged. “I’m a multitasker.”
“Well, multitask from somewhere else.”
“You’re grouchy today,” he observed before dutifully dropping back a few steps behind him.
Harry sighed. He was grouchy today.
His morning seminar had sucked even more than usual. He’d made the mistake of actually trying to participate. But like every other time he was stupid enough to open his mouth, the professor was profuse in his overenthusiastic praise, even when Harry was pretty sure he had gotten the answer wrong. Not that it ever mattered. The other students in the seminar just rolled their eyes and no doubt felt vindicated in their opinion of Harry as a stuck-up narcissist.
Some days Harry wasn’t sure why he was still trying to finish his stupid degree. Oh, right. Because if he quit, his parents would look at him in that way they had, like they might have to swoop in and fix his entire life for him.
So yeah, he was grouchy. Had been for a while now, really. In fact, the only time he’d felt even remotely useful the last few months was helping fix an espresso machine, for god’s sake. Which was the only reason he was coming back here again, as illogical as that was.
He came to a stop in front of the Lucky Carafe, glancing in the front window. It was certainly more full than it had been the first time he came by, a few of the tables actually occupied. That was…troublesome.
Then again, for all he knew Ginny wasn’t working today, or had, as she feared, gotten fired. Not that he was here to see her, per se.
Then he saw her appear back behind the counter.
She had her hair twisted up in a bun, a few pencils haphazardly jammed into it. Her apron had a stain on the front, the sleeves of her light green shirt shoved up over her elbows. She looked a bit harried and disheveled, but somehow that worked for her.
Not that he noticed anything like that. He was just…being polite, he told himself. Checking back in to make sure she hadn’t gotten fired after all.
God, he was a disaster.
“Just give me some space, yeah?” he muttered to Sirius as they walked inside.
“You got it, boss,” he said, leaving him to it.
There were already two people in line in front of him, so he settled in to wait, pulling his baseball cap a little lower over his face.
He looked up at one point to find her watching him with a small frown. Her eyes widened as she recognized him and she gave him a bright smile that didn’t seem faked.
It was enough to make him feel like maybe this wasn’t a completely horrible idea after all.
She rather efficiently dealt with the customers in front of him, and he was glad to see that she seemed to have gotten a bit of a handle on things. And not at all disappointed that he wouldn’t have an excuse to help her out.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi,” he said back, already feeling his annoyance fading.
Rather than asking for his order right off, she crossed her arms over her chest, resting one hip against the counter. “I could have used your help earlier in the week. Nearly blew up the whole place.”
He laughed, glancing around the space. “And yet, the shop is still here. And so are you.”
She lifted one shoulder. “My boss must be really desperate.”
“You seem to have everything under control.”
“Oh, don’t fool yourself,” she said with a laugh. “I am a walking disaster on my best days.”
“Aren’t we all?” he muttered, thinking of his morning class.
She smiled. “True. So what can I get for you?”
“Oh,” he asked, honestly not having thought that far. “What do you suggest?”
She lifted a hand to the side of her mouth as if imparting a secret. “Well, definitely not the sludge in the house carafe today. Not unless you’re partial to jet fuel.”
“No,” he laughed. “Not up for being overly caffeinated at the moment.”
“What do you like? Bitter? Milky? Sweet? Poncey?”
“Not sure what the last one is.”
She tapped her chin with a finger. “What’s your position on dairy and caramel?”
“Bit of a personal question, don’t you think?” Harry said before he could help himself.
Ginny rolled her eyes, but also laughed, and for some reason that felt like a victory.
“I’m strongly in support of both of those things,” he said.
She flashed him a smile. “Great. I’ll whip something up for you.”
She moved efficiently through the space, the process only occasionally peppered with what he suspected were obscenities, though they were under her breath for the most part.
The end result was a fairly elaborate froth of milk with a lattice of caramel across the top with what looked like a light dusting of some sort of spice. Most significantly, it wasn’t in a to-go cup, but a nice ceramic mug.
He glanced up at her in askance.
She shrugged. “I’m a quick study.”
He took out his wallet, pulling out a few bills. Her fingers fumbled over the change for a moment, muttering, “Quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies,” under her breath.
“Thanks,” he said, dumping the change in the tip jar and picking up the mug.
He retreated to a table towards the back, away from the windows and pulled a book out of his backpack. He had some studying to do, and this was as good a place as any.
Across the room, Sirius pulled out a chair, dragging the legs across the floor in a way that could only be deliberate. With obscene care, he lowered himself into it, taking up a position of exaggerated repose.
For god’s sake.
Harry went back to his text, taking a wary sip of the coffee. It was the one downside of lingering in the shop. He was actually going to have to drink the horrific thing. Not only that, but he was going to have to pretend to enjoy it, he thought as he glanced up after taking his first sip, finding Ginny watching.
She lifted an eyebrow, tilting her head to one side in question. Harry forced himself to swallow the liquid down, flashing her a thumbs up.
A grin spread over her face, and he supposed her obvious pride was exchange enough for the disgusting flavor of coffee that no amount of milk and sugar was ever going to make palatable.
Still, it was probably a less painful experience than the sizable stack of work ahead of him. He glared at the book in front of him, moping up a splash of foam from the page.
His ethics professor was one of the few teachers he had that seemed to give zero allowances to Harry, fittingly enough. Consequently, it was the class he put the most effort into, general education class or not.
Still his paper on the ethics of ecology was kicking his ass. He took another big swig of the coffee, hoping to swallow it down in as few gulps as possible, and set himself to focusing on the book.
It was dense stuff, and he kept finding his attention wandering, staring out the window, glancing around at the other customers. But most often watching Ginny make coffee. She caught him at it more than once, smiling at him before turning back to her work.
By the time his coffee was nothing but stone-cold dregs, he’d only made it through half a chapter. Not a stunning amount of progress. He’d just talked himself into seriously focusing when Ginny pulled out the seat across from him and dropped into it.
He looked up at her. “Uh, hi.”
“I’m taking my five,” she said, stretching her feet out onto the neighboring chair. “Although honestly, I’m mostly just curious.”
Harry regarded her warily. “About what?”
“What’s his deal?” she asked, hooking a thumb over her shoulder towards Sirius. He was still lounged in a chair by the door. Rather passive aggressively, Harry thought, as if trying to say that he was worried he would die in this place, they’ve been here so long.
Ginny was still looking expectantly at Harry.
“Oh, him,” he said, thinking fast. “He’s just…”
His brain was being incredibly unhelpful. He blamed it on the sugar high.
“Your bodyguard,” Ginny supplied.
“What?” he tried to play off with a completely unsubtle laugh. “Why would you…”
She peered rather intently at him. “You’re a shite liar, Harry. Anyone ever told you that?”
For a moment he considered blustering through, but he knew a losing battle when he saw one. “Yes. He’s sort of my bodyguard,” he relented.
Clearly pleased with herself, she flashed him a triumphant smile. “Are you famous or something?”
He was still honestly surprised that she didn’t seem to know who he was. Then again, she wasn’t from this country, so maybe that wasn’t so hard to believe. He just didn’t want that to change. He liked talking to someone who didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what he should be like.
“No,” he said. “I’m not important or anything. It’s just my mom is…very overprotective. And Sirius is really more a friend of the family with no life of his own. Trying to relive his youth by following me around.”
From behind his newspaper, Sirius let out a derisive snort, but didn’t argue. Harry knew he would pay for it all the same at some point.
Ginny gave him a look like she didn’t buy that for a second, but didn’t push. “Fine,” she said. “Be mysterious.”
“Definitely what I’m going for,” he said, feeling his grumpiness fighting to come back. He flipped absently through the pages of the text.
“I’m sorry,” she said after a while. “Is this weird?”
She was watching him closely. “Me just sitting down here like this.”
“Oh,” he said. “No. It isn’t weird.”
Her lips twitched. “You’re too polite to admit otherwise though, I’m sure.”
“I’m not. You know, really all that polite.”
She leaned in, resting her elbow on the table. “You totally are. I can tell. And not just because you’re one of the only nice people I’ve met in this entire city.”
He blinked, a little caught off guard.
“God, this is weird, isn’t it?” she said. “My brother says I have impulse control problems. Well, no, he says I’m pushy, but I think it sounds better my way.”
Despite himself, Harry let out an amused huff. “How long have you been here?”
She shrugged. “A few months.”
The door opened, a pair of people walking in.
She pushed back to her feet with a weary sigh. “That’s my cue.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, picking up his books. “I should be on my way too. Got another class.”
“Fun,” she said. “Well, thanks for letting me pester you.”
“Anytime,” he found himself saying.
She gave him a warm smile. “Careful what you wish for.”
With that, she disappeared back behind the counter, flitting about to complete the new orders.
Sirius fell back in step next to him as he walked outside.
“Shut up,” Harry said preemptively, working hard not to glance back in the shop windows one last time.
But Sirius just grinned and whistled a jaunty tune.
Ginny didn’t see Harry for another week. She was half convinced he wouldn’t come by again, but that only meant that she somehow actually cared if he did and she was not going there. Especially now that she had his secret worked out.
He was just… No. Charming smile and helpfulness and all. That was never going to happen.
And yet, when he walked back in on a slow Wednesday afternoon she suspected she was more relieved than disappointed.
Probably just after a coffee, she reminded herself.
“Well, look who it is,” she said as he entered, bodyguard right on his heels as always. “The honorable Mr. Potter.”
She didn’t miss the way his smile faltered, his shoulders dropping. “Oh,” he said, clearly disappointed that she figured it out.
“Despite what you may think of my technical abilities, I do know how to use Google.”
“Of course,” he said, giving her a weak smile.
“I just put ‘hottest young bespectacled celebs’ in that little search box, and there you were. Number seven.” It hadn’t been quite that easy, but she didn’t have any intention of telling him how long she spent on it.
He actually blushed, god love him, and that was much better than that earlier look like someone kicked his puppy.
“Personally I would have put you a bit higher. At least at number three.”
“Only number three?” he asked, apparently finding his footing again.
“Full of ourselves, are we now?” she teased.
He shrugged. “Just trying to be objective.”
“Git,” she said.
“I’m going to pretend that means something nice.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever makes it go down easier, Potter.”
“All right then. What’s your last name?” he asked, pulling out his phone.
She looked at him in askance.
“Hey, you get to Google me, it’s only fair I get to Google you back.”
Her lips twitched, wondering if he realized how suggestive that sounded. Judging from the way the back of his neck reddened, she imagined so. “I’m hardly Googleable.”
“You definitely are,” he said. His posture straightened as if horrified that he actually said that out loud. “I mean, you must be, or you wouldn’t be resisting so much.”
She supposed it was only fair. “Weasley,” she said with a sigh.
He took a moment to type it in, scrolling down through the links. Then his eyes widened, so she knew he found it. It wasn’t like Weasley was the most common surname.
She hooked a finger over the edge of his phone, pulling it down so she could see it. “Oh good. At least I’m mostly dressed in that one.”
He looked up at her, blinking a few times like a dull-witted owl. “You’re a boxer?” he eventually managed to get out.
“I was a boxer. Now I’m a subpar barista.”
In the photo she was wearing the baggy shorts and an open robe over a sports bra top that was typical bout gear. Her hair was tightly pulled back in two braids. She looked fierce and unbreakable and completely, painfully foreign. She tore her eyes away from the image.
Harry was still staring rather thoughtfully at it.
“You’re wondering if I can kick your arse,” she said.
He shook his head. “Honestly, I thought you could kick my, uh, arse before I knew about this.”
She smiled. “Flatterer.”
He turned off his phone and stuck it back in his pocket. “So you don’t box anymore?”
She felt a painful squeeze across her chest. “No.”
“It’s a long story,” she said, feeling all levity quickly leaking away.
He studied her face for a moment. “God, of course. I’m sorry. This isn’t the sort of stuff you should have to share with some random customer.”
She shook her head. “You’re hardly some random customer, Harry.”
His mouth opened at that, but he didn’t get any words out like he wasn’t quite sure what was safe.
She took pity on him. “Minimally, you’ve graduated to extremely helpful, not-a-total-pain-in-the-arse regular.”
“Uh, thanks?” he said, that damn charming smile in place again.
She looked away. “So, I’ve finally mastered the frappe. Want to give it a try?”
She turned back to the espresso machine, taking a breath, wondering why everything felt so damn weird all of a sudden. Her fingers stumbled over what was by now an easy routine.
“Bugger,” she said.
“Need help?” he asked.
She turned to look at him, and he was leaning eagerly over the counter.
“Still got that user’s manual on you?” she asked.
He looked so happy to help that she didn’t even feel sorry for pretending to break the machine.
“Harry, thank god,” was how Ginny greeted him the next time he worked up the nerve to visit the shop again. Or to be more honest, worked up the nerve to deal with Sirius’s increasingly smug looks.
“Machine broken again?” he asked.
“What?” asked the frazzled-looking Ginny. “Oh, no. A completely different kind of disaster.” She pointed towards one of the back tables.
A scowling redheaded man about the same age as Harry sat there, half draped over a newspaper.
“Is he bothering you?” Harry asked. He was sure she could deal with almost anything on her own, especially now that he knew about her past career, but was still more than happy to help.
After all, he was a regular, right? That seemed to be the sort of thing a regular might do.
“Since the moment I was born,” she sighed.
He frowned. “What?”
“He’s my brother, and he’s driving me batty!” she said, nearly shouting at the end.
Her brother looked up from his newspaper. “It’s not my fault your life is so bloody boring! All you do is work and go to class. I didn’t fly all this way to sit and watch you do a shite job at being a barista.”
“No,” Ginny said, red in the face now, hands on her hips. “You came all this bloody way to spy on me for Mum!”
“Well, I can tell her that your life here sucks, that’s for certain,” he shot back.
Ginny’s hands fisted as she took a step towards him, and Harry was a little scared she might resort to physical violence. “I don’t think punching brothers, no matter how annoying, is a good way to keep a job either.”
“Oh, and how many jobs have you had to keep, Harry?” she snapped.
“Oh, god,” she said, dragging a hand over her face. “I’m sorry. I’m such an arsehole. Ron has just been getting on my last nerve.”
Harry shook his head.
She touched his arm. “Really, Harry. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” he said.
She held his gaze for a long time as if trying to make sure he meant it. As if she actually cared.
He looked back over at the brother to find him watching them with narrowed eyes.
“What did you need?” Harry asked.
Her hand dropped from his arm. “Well now I can’t very well ask you for anything.”
“Ginny,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“I just want to…send him somewhere. Somewhere that is not here. I don’t know the city all that well yet… Maybe you have some suggestions?”
“Uh, sure,” Harry said. He wasn’t exactly a local himself, but he’d been here enough years to make a stab at it.
“Bugger,” she said as a small crowd pushed into the shop. “I’ll be right back.”
Harry cautiously crossed over to Ginny’s brother. “Ron, is it?” he asks. “I’m Harry.”
Ron pushed to his feet, proving to have a few good inches on Harry. They shook hands.
“Bored, huh?” Harry asked, extricating his hand from the slightly over tight pressure of Ron’s grip.
“Out of my bloody mind,” Ron moaned, leaning his head back in exaggerated distress.
Something told Harry that Ron probably wasn’t much of an art museum, seeing-the-sights kind of person. Tapping his fingers on the back of a chair, he tried to come up with something. Well, he supposed there was always the great American pastime.
Pulling up information on his phone, Harry asked, “How do you feel about baseball?”
Ron shrugged. “More of a football bloke, myself, but if it gets me the hell out of here…” He slid Ginny a wary glance, and Harry could see that he was actually a little afraid of her.
“We’re in luck,” Harry said, thankful it was Saturday. “There’s a game today.”
“When?” Ron asked, looking hopeful.
“Now,” Harry said. “And there are still tickets.”
“Good enough for me,” Ron said, getting to his feet. “How do I get there?”
“I’ll take you,” Harry found himself offering. “Haven’t been to a game in ages.”
Ginny chose that moment to reappear. “You’re going?” she asked Ron, looking very happy at the prospect.
“Apparently we’re going to a baseball game,” Ron said, pulling on his coat.
“What?” Ginny said. She turned to look at Harry, eyes wide. “I didn’t mean you had to take him somewhere yourself! You must have more important things to do.”
He shrugged. “It’s not a big deal.”
She looked back at him as if she were completely mystified. “How are you real?” she asked.
He wasn’t at all sure how to take that.
As they moved to leave, she grabbed Ron’s arm, giving him a look that seemed very capable of killing. “Be nice to Harry. He’s the only friend I’ve made in this bloody country, so if you run him off, I’ll be pissed.”
Harry lifted an eyebrow at his elevation from regular to friend, but in no way wanted to argue against it.
She glanced at him, looking a little embarrassed, but no less resolute. “Permission to abandon him to his fate if he bothers you too much.”
“Ugh,” Ron said. “Have I mentioned today that you are by far my least favorite sister?”
“I’m your only sister, you prat,” she said.
They surprised Harry by giving each other a hug, and he wondered if insults were just a way of life between them.
“Now get out of here,” Ginny said, shoving Ron towards the door as if the hug had never happened.
She touched Harry’s arm again as he passed, and he was growing to like that far too much for comfort. “Really, Harry. Thank you.”
He smiled at her. “No problem.”
* * *
Luckily the Nationals were playing a home game today. They only missed the first three innings, which meant there was plenty of play left to keep Ron distracted.
It made Sirius twitchy when he got normal seats instead of one of the boxes, but there was far less chance of anyone noticing him in the stands. Besides, he didn’t want Ginny’s brother to think he was a… What was the word Ginny was so fond of using? A ponce.
Ron sat down and looked around. “So what exactly does one do at a baseball game?”
“Besides watching? Mostly eating and drinking.”
This seemed to pique Ron’s interest. “Brilliant. Well within my skill set.”
Harry waved over the closest vendor.
Ron raised an eyebrow at the prices, but gamely ordered a wide variety of the foods being offered.
“This is disgusting,” he announced happily around a mouthful of chili cheese dog.
They sat in silence, which seemed fine for a while, but seemed to drag on. Not that Ron seemed disturbed by it, but Harry’s knee starting bouncing up and down.
“So, are you in school?” he asked out of desperation after another five minutes of silence, only to wince. God, when had he become one of those people he hated?
Ron just shrugged. “Nah. Finished a while back. Not that I ever did anything with it, mind you. But one of my brothers has a business. I’ve been helping him out a lot lately.”
More brothers? “How many of you are there?”
“All together? Seven.”
“Seven?” Harry echoed. As an only child that sounded…like a huge amount.
“Uh, yeah,” he said, something about the question clearly making him uncomfortable. “Plus Mum and Dad. Hasn’t Ginny told you all of this?”
“Oh,” Harry said, shifting in his seat. “No. We’re not… We barely know each other. I just…came in for coffee one day.”
“Ah,” Ron said, as if this somehow finally all made sense. “She adopted you.”
He shrugged. “She does that. Not like, tuck you in bed and feed you up adopted.” He snorted as if the image itself was ridiculous. “The thing about Ginny is that she generally has no patience for people. But if for some reason she’s decides you’re worth it, she just kind of latches on. It can be bloody impossible to get rid of her. Of course, it also means she’ll burn the world down for you if she has to, so it has its benefits.”
Harry blinked. “I don’t think…”
Ron held out his bag of kettle corn. “You won’t have met her roommate Luna.”
Harry shook his head, taking a handful.
“When you do, you’ll get it.”
Harry wasn’t sure what to do with this assumption that he would somehow be part of Ginny’s life enough to meet her roommate. Then again, he was here watching a game with her brother, so this was already all surreal enough.
Around them the crowd rumbled with disapproval.
Ron glanced about. “What happened?”
Harry nodded down towards the field. “Runner called out on second.”
Ron squinted up at the jumbo screen, watching the replay.
“What?” he roared. “Are you blind or something?”
Harry looked at him with wide eyes.
Ron winced. “Sorry. Is that not the way baseball works?”
“No,” Harry said. “That’s pretty much exactly right.”
Ron grinned. “Oh, good.”
The next at bat, Ron chucked a handful of popcorn over the ledge. “Come on, you bloody tossers!” he bellowed.
Harry laughed, shouting along with him on the next play, and helping himself to a chili cheese dog.
It was probably the must fun he’d had in years.
Ginny knew baseball games tended to last forever, but she was still surprised when Ron didn’t reappear by the end of her shift. She wasn’t overly worried though; he was perfectly capable of finding his way back to her apartment.
Unless Harry was secretly a serial killer. But she felt like she would have heard about that in the news.
She ate dinner and studied for a few hours, and he still wasn’t back. In fact, it wasn’t until nearly ten that he wandered in, clearly a bit buzzed.
“I thought you weren’t coming back,” she remarked.
He glanced around the cramped apartment. “Yeah, well, it did cross my mind.”
“Too bad it didn’t stick,” she shot back.
He collapsed back on the couch next to her, crinkling her maths homework in the process.
She cursed at him, pulling the papers free.
He ignored her, tilting his head back against the back of the couch and closing his eyes. He was quiet so long she assumed he fell asleep.
“I would have expected him to be more of a twat,” Ron said after a while, eyes still closed.
“Why?” she asked, looking up from her text.
He shrugged. “Because of who he is.”
Ginny straightened up. “You knew?”
Ron’s eyes opened, spearing her with an unbelieving look. “Of course I bloody knew. Didn’t grow up in a cave now, did I?”
Her cheeks burned.
Ron, in his typical contrary way, was only perceptive when it was most inconvenient. “Christ, you didn’t?”
“Not at first,” she said. “I was a little busy trying not to get fired or deported, okay?”
“You’re bloody living in America, Gin!”
As if she weren’t mortified enough. “I had other things on my mind!”
“Yeah, well it was probably a good thing. He’s a bit shifty about it, isn’t he?”
She shrugged. “You tell me. You’ve already spent far more time with him than I ever have.”
She picked at the edge of a cushion. “I imagine it would be tough, always wondering what people are really after.”
“Yeah, well, you’ve had a bit of experience with that,” he said.
She thought of her coaches, trainers, and agents. The promotions and optics and backstabbing. The whole giant mess. Every single thing outside of the ring that she loathed so damn much. “It’s hardly the same.”
“If you say so.”
Ron’s phone buzzed. He pulled it out, snorting with amusement as he read a text.
“That isn’t Harry, is it?” she asked, trying to look at the screen.
Ron pulled it away from her. “Who else do I know in this bloody country?”
“So you’re texting buddies now?” she asked, hoping her voice wasn’t quite as shrill as it sounded in her head.
“Jealous?” Ron asked, sliding her a look that was far too knowing.
She walloped him with a pillow.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he mumbled.
* * *
Ron was out with Harry again, the third time this week, this time for lunch. They seemed to have bonded right off, and that was in no way weird. She was just thankful to have Ron out of her hair.
It wasn’t like they hadn’t invited her along each time as well, but as Ron pointed out, her entire life seemed to be work and classes. She didn’t have time for lunches or drinks at a bar.
She didn’t have time for bloody anything.
The door tinkled as it was opened, and one of these goddamned days she was going to rip the sodding thing right off the wall.
“Oi, Gin!” Ron bellowed.
Her shoulders dropped. At least it wasn’t a customer.
She stuck her head out from the back room. “What, you bloody nuisance?”
Ron hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m cooking for Potter at your place tomorrow night.”
She stepped fully out of the doorway, eyes landing on Harry standing few steps behind Ron with his hands shoved in his pockets. The black hulk of Sirius hovered, as always, just in the background.
Harry smiled at her, his glasses just the tiniest bit crooked, and, Christ, it wasn’t fair at all.
“Okay,” Ginny said, not sure if she should be thankful to Ron or just annoyed.
“He needs a bloody intervention,” Ron muttered.
Ginny looked at Harry in question.
He shrugged. “I took him to a British pub.”
“You didn’t,” Ginny said with a groan.
Ron strode up towards the counter, his face bright with joy. “It was hellish, Gin. Seriously, like the longest hour of my life. And you should see what they charge for a pint. Which you,” he waggled his finger at her, “are not even old enough to drink in this bizarro country!”
She threw her hands up in exasperation. “For the millionth time, Ron, I just turned bloody 23!”
“Impossible,” he grumbled, slapping Harry on the shoulder. “See you later, mate. Get the address from Gin. I’m for the loo.”
With that, he disappeared into the back of the shop.
Harry seemed a little lost in the wake of the whirlwind that was her brother. Unfortunately she’d had decades of experience dealing with it.
“Have fun?” Ginny asked.
“Yes,” he said, crossing over to stand by the counter. “Ron appeared to thoroughly enjoy insulting the place.”
She huffed in amusement. “I can only imagine.”
They regarded each other. An awkward silence fell between them, and she couldn’t believe she was rather hoping Ron would reappear.
“Do you need a coffee?” she asked, falling back on something comfortable.
“What?” he asked, as if the purpose of this entire shop slipped his mind.
She gestured back at the espresso machine.
“Oh,” he said, cheeks a bit warm. “No. I’ve got a class.” He glanced at his watch. “In fact, I should start heading that way.” He patted his hand on the edge of the counter. “I’ll see you later.”
He retreated, nearly tripping over a chair on his way.
“Wait!” Ginny called out. “I forgot to get you my address.”
“Oh,” Harry said, righting the chair. “You don’t have to do that.”
She frowned. “Do you not want to come? You can just tell Ron no, you know.”
“No,” he drew out. “That’s not it. I just thought it might be…weird for you?” He ran a hand through his already disastrous hair.
She considered him, tilting her head to one side. “I know Ron seems like an unmovable object most of the time, but trust me, if I didn’t want you to come, I would have said something."
His shoulders seemed to relax. “Yeah?”
She held out her hand. “Give me your phone, Harry.”
He only hesitated slightly before unlocking it and handing it over.
She gave him a smile. “I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?” Harry asked, sounding alarmed.
In the back room, it only took her a few minutes to make the needed modifications to his phone, but she lingered another few just to make him squirm.
“All set,” she said as she reappeared, handing it back to him.
He looked dubiously down at his phone, like he immediately wanted to figure out what she’d done but wasn’t sure if that would be rude.
“Feel free to bring someone so you aren’t outnumbered,” she said. “You might want backup.”
Harry frowned. “That in no way sounds ominous.”
She laughed, touching his arm. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
* * *
Harry only made it halfway down the block before he gave in. Pulling out his phone, he tried to figure out exactly what Ginny had done to it. His screen was still unchanged, luckily.
He clicked on contacts, and sure enough there was a new one. Ginny Weasley now had a home address, but also a phone number, and that was interesting. Best of all, she’d added a picture. He clicked it, and he had to bite back a laugh. It was a close up of her face, tongue sticking out and eyes squeezed shut.
It was only then that he noticed she also added something to the ‘company’ line. It said: my favourite barista of all time in the entire universe.
Not giving himself time to think, Harry hit the message button.
To be fair, he typed, the baristas on Mars could be unexpectedly amazing.
He was only another half a block away when his phone buzzed with her response.
Nah. We both know I’d kick their little green arses.
Harry bit back a smile. What if they have six arms? Might make a frappe a lot faster.
Low blow, Potter. Where is your sense of loyalty?
I apologize profusely.
I’ll consider forgiving you. But you should know that I have become weirdly addicted to your chocolate and peanut butter candy monstrosities. I’m just saying.
He laughed. I will keep that in mind.
See you tomorrow night?
Harry started walking again, a smile on his face.
Sirius fell into step next to him, giving his shoulder a little obnoxious nudge, but Harry was too happy to care.
“So which of these people are you trying to date?” Hermione asked.
Harry looked up from the map on his phone to glance at his roommate. “Who says I’m trying to date any of them?”
Hermione sighed, shoving a strand of dark frizzy hair back under her burgundy hat. “I thought you said you respected my intelligence.”
Harry rolled his eyes. He did respect her intelligence. Much the way one respected the business end of a gun. He’d known her since he was eleven and his family finally stopped moving around to follow his father’s job. They’d settled in Hermione’s town for the long term. Other friends had come and gone over the years, but Hermione stuck tight from the first, for better or worse.
The worse being that she sometimes knew him far too well for his comfort. It was hard to have any secrets at all from her.
“Is it this Ron you’ve been talking about all week?” she asked.
“Hermione,” Harry complained.
“What?” she asked. “I just want to know what I’m walking into. After all, you’re the one dragging me along.”
“Yes, for moral support, not an inquisition,” Harry said. And not at all because he was having a bit of a hard time trusting his own judgment.
Her eyes lit up with triumph. “And why would you need moral support if you aren’t trying to date one of them?”
For god’s sake. He should have ventured out alone and left her to her torts or tarts or whatever it was she spent all her time studying these days. “I’m not trying to date Ron,” he admitted.
“So it’s one of the others.”
He dug his fingers up under his glasses. “Please, just try not to embarrass me, will you?”
She snorted. “We both know you are more than capable of taking care of that all by yourself.”
A few steps back, Sirius let out a completely unsubtle laugh.
“I hate both of you.”
At the end of the next block, they turned into a rather shoddy-looking building that might have at one time served as a warehouse. Sirius stayed in the lobby after a bitchy comment about the lack of an elevator. Harry knew he was probably just going to spend the next half hour finding all the access points. Why he’d rather look like a drama queen than competent at his job, Harry would never understand.
Hermione followed Harry into the stairwell. Up on the fourth floor, they stepped out into a dank landing. Harry pointed to the door at the end on the left. “There.”
He came to stop in front of the door, double-checking the number in his phone even though he had it memorized at this point. They were still a few minutes early, and wasn’t that even worse than being late?
“Are we going to stand in the hallway all night?” Hermione asked, sounding far too amused for Harry’s taste.
He tentatively knocked at the door. It was opened by a vaguely vacant-looking blond woman. “Hello,” she said.
“Hi,” Harry said.
She smiled pleasantly at them, but didn’t invite them in or say anything further.
Harry glanced back at Hermione. “Um,” he said. “Is this where Ginny lives?”
“Oh, yes,” she nodded. “You are definitely in the right place.”
She still continued to stand in the doorway regarding them.
“Luna,” a voice called from inside. “Let them in!”
She leaned back to address someone inside. “I was simply waiting for him to make up his mind. He seems uncertain if he really wants to be here.”
Behind him, Hermione let out a sound halfway between a cough and a laugh.
Harry took a breath. “Uh. I’d really like to come in, if that is okay.”
Luna smiled at him, pulling the door open. “Yes, of course.”
Hermione went in first, shooting Harry a look that seemed to demand to know what he’d gotten her into as she went past.
The apartment was cramped, to say the least. There was a kitchen off to one side, a worn table filling most of the open space, with a couch at one end sitting in front of a tall accordion type screen that blocked half the room off and obscured the only windows in the space.
A series of loud curses poured out from the kitchen side, many of which Harry was by now familiar with. “That would be Ron,” Harry said.
“Harry, mate. You made it,” Ron said, giving him a hearty slap on the shoulder. He turned to regard Hermione. “And you must be the roommate. Hermione. Am I completely butchering that?”
“No, that was fine,” she said, holding out her hand.
“Oh, good,” he said, giving her hand a shake. “I’m Ron. You ever had shepherd’s pie?”
“I think maybe…” she started to say.
He was still shaking her hand up and down. “Was it in England? Because if it wasn’t in England, it doesn’t count.”
“Then apparently not.”
He finally let go of her hand. “Well then, you’re in for a treat. Beer?”
“No, thank you,” Hermione said, looking more than a little wary.
Ron didn’t push, just shrugged his shoulders in a way that seemed to say suit yourself!
“I’ll take one,” Harry said.
Ron snorted as if Harry wanting to get sloshed was a given. Harry tried to surreptitiously glance around the space, wondering where Ginny was.
“Gin should be here soon,” Ron said, handing him a beer.
“Oh,” Harry said, refusing to meet Hermione’s eye. “Okay.”
“Cheers,” Ron said, clinking his bottle against Harry’s.
Harry and Hermione spent the next twenty minutes listening to Ron’s stream of commentary as he put the finishing touches on their dinner. Harry was honestly a bit too distracted to pay it much attention.
“I’m not sure that’s the way that works,” Hermione said warily at one point.
Ron let out a laugh. “I think I bloody well know how to use an oven!”
Before Hermione could respond, the door slammed open, Ginny sweeping into the apartment in a whirlwind.
“Sorry!” she said, pulling off layers and dropping a backpack by the door. “I thought that bloody class was never going to end!”
Harry had never seen Ginny outside of work before, not realizing until now that she was clearly always wearing a uniform of sorts. Tonight her hair was down around her shoulders, and she was wearing a T-shirt that read ‘FIGHT ME’ over a worn pair of jeans that looked like they were probably passed down from one of her many older brothers. She looked a little rumpled and comfortable, and Harry felt his stomach make a traitorous flip.
“Harry,” she said, face lighting up with a bright smile. “You made it.”
“Hey,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets lest he do something utterly stupid.
Behind him, he heard Hermione give off a little, “Ah.”
Ginny’s eyes moved past Harry to settle on her, her smile seeming to dim a bit.
“Ginny,” Harry said, turning to Hermione and giving her a stern look of warning when he found her smiling like Christmas come early. “This is my roommate Hermione.”
Hermione stepped forward and shook Ginny’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Ginny said.
“Oh, you have no idea yet,” Hermione said. “After all, I’ve known Harry since he was eleven and have all the embarrassing stories.”
“Oh, really?” Ginny said, sounding intrigued.
Harry grimaced, realizing bringing Hermione along probably wasn’t the smartest move. “I don’t think that’s a war you want to start while Ron is here.”
He no doubt would have even more ridiculous stories than even Hermione.
“Good point,” Ginny said, biting down on her lip. Then her face cleared, something seeming to occur to her. “But he won’t be here forever!”
Harry smiled. “It’s too bad there isn’t some sort of magical technology that can connect people across vast oceans.”
“Okay, prat. You’ve made you’re point.”
“If you’re going to be calling me names, I’m not sure I want to give this to you,” he said, gesturing at the brown bag he’d left on the table.
“Oooooh. For me?” She snatched up the bag, wrenching it open and pulling out the tub of dark chocolate peanut butter cups.
Harry shrugged. “Need to keep my favorite barista happy.”
She laughed. “All is forgiven,” she said, and then gave him a firm hug that ended before he could figure out what to do with his hands. “Excuse me a minute. I need to hide these from Luna.”
She disappeared behind the tall screen at the back of the living area, which Harry belatedly realized must be where she was sleeping. The one other door must lead to bathroom, with Luna’s space in the loft above.
Hermione was giving him a smug look. “Barista? Does she know you--.”
He stepped on her foot as Ginny reappeared, Hermione giving out a yelp.
Ginny looked between them, but didn’t ask. “Ron hasn’t burned the place down yet?”
“I’m not the one who bloody burns things down!” he bellowed, which was hardly necessary, considering the size of the space.
“That only happened once,” Ginny informed them, eyes wide with faux innocence.
“Now there is a story that might be worth letting Hermione humiliate me for,” Harry commented.
“Exactly how humiliated?” Ginny asked. “Because I might be willing to trade.”
“Come on, sit down and eat before it gets cold,” Ron said.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Yes, mum.”
The table only had three chairs, one of them obviously a desk chair dragged in from somewhere else. Two people would have to sit on the couch to eat.
“Sorry,” Ginny said, cheeks a bit warm. “We don’t have dinner parties all that often.”
“It’s fine,” Harry said.
Ginny sat down on the couch, leaving Harry and Hermione eying the last seat at the table next to Ron. Harry gestured for Hermione to take it, and other than letting out a soft, derisive snort, she took it gracefully.
Harry lowered himself onto the couch next to Ginny, balancing the plate Ron handed him on his knees as best he could.
It looked like a mess of meat and vegetables with something like mashed potatoes smeared across the top, but it tasted amazing.
“Okay,” Harry said. “I can see why you didn’t like the pub.”
From next to him, Ginny let out a soft snort. “Yes, this is Ron’s one redeeming quality. I haven’t eaten so well since I left home.”
“Still trying to discover your one redeeming quality,” Ron shot back.
Ron and Ginny comfortably razzed each other, as they ate their way through the meal. Luna occasionally peppered the conversation with seemingly bizarre but somehow completely on point comments, like maybe she was used to the way Ron and Ginny worked.
“So,” Harry said during a lull, tilting his head towards Ginny. “You’re in school?”
She pulled a face. “It’s ridiculous, I know. To be twenty-three and just starting.”
Harry shook his head. “Not more ridiculous than having spent six years in college with nothing to show for it.”
Her eyebrows lifted. “Taking our time, are we?”
He shrugged. “I took a year off, and spent another couple part time, but yeah…I’m not exactly setting any speed records.”
Harry glared at her. “Doesn’t help, living with Hermione. She’s already in her last year of law school at Howard.”
“Yeah, Luna’s in grad school too. Motivated roommates are the worst.”
“Oh?” Hermione asked, looking at Luna. “What are you studying?”
Hermione frowned. “Cryptozoology.”
“Yeah,” Ron said with a smile. “You know, Nessie, Yeti, and the like.”
“But those aren’t real,” Hermione said.
Luna didn’t seem offended. “We have explored less than 5% of the oceans, which cover 70% of the surface of the planet. We have no idea what is real.”
Hermione’s mouth opened, but she apparently didn’t have an argument ready to counter that.
Harry glanced at Ginny, and she caught his eye, hiding a smile behind her hand.
“So where are you going to school, Ginny?” Hermione asked, clearly trying to redirect the conversation.
“Oh,” she said, her cheeks a little warm. “I’m just going to community college. Need to get residency before I can even consider Uni. Those out-of-state fees are a bloody nightmare.”
“Only because you are for some reason dissatisfied with your own state,” Ron said around a mouthful of dinner. “No offense, but America’s a barmy place.”
“Oh, really?” Hermione said from next to him, very nearly hostile. “And why is that?”
Ron didn’t seem put off, leaning into her and jabbing his fork towards her. “Well, for starters every thing is bloody expensive and it’s like no one here has even heard of public transit.”
Considering Hermione herself liked to complain about both of those things on a regular basis, Harry was interested to hear what she was going to say.
“Cities are expensive,” Hermione said. “I doubt London is any cheaper.”
“Probably not,” Ron conceded. “But at least we don’t have to wait until 21 to have an ale to deal with it!”
“What, and letting twelve-year-olds get drunk is better?”
The conversation spiraled quickly into a full blow argument from there, Luna still eating serenely as if this was something completely normal. Ginny and Harry each made an attempt or two to derail it before they gave it up as a lost cause.
Harry leaned slightly towards Ginny, his voice lowering. “Is it just me, or are they enjoying this?”
Ginny took Harry’s empty bottle. “This might require more beer,” she said.
* * *
Harry and Hermione spilled out onto the sidewalk near midnight. He felt a bit buzzed, from the beer no doubt, but also from hours of laughter and loud voices and a lot of food.
“Did we have a fun evening?” Sirius asked as he materialized behind them.
“Actually, yes,” Hermione said.
Harry slid her a look. “No need to sound so surprised.”
“Oh, please. Don’t pretend you weren’t terrified it would be awkward and weird.”
“I’m pretty sure we hit both of those more than once.”
She laughed, linking her arm through his. “Let’s walk for a bit, okay?”
“Sure,” Harry said.
For all he enjoyed himself, it was nice to have a bit of quiet, just the rumble of traffic and the soft sound of Hermione humming slightly under her breath.
“For the record,” Hermione said after a few blocks, “I like her.”
“Who?” Harry said, feigning as much nonchalance as he could muster.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Ginny, obviously.”
Harry shoved his hands in his pockets, feeling prickled and weirdly on display.
“Actually, you were right earlier,” he said. “I do want to date Ron.”
“What?” Hermione said.
He nodded. “Just trying to throw you off the scent.”
She stopped walking. “Really?”
Harry paused, looking back at her. There was something a bit strange in her expression.
“No,” he admitted, frowning at her unexpected reaction. “Not really. I was just kidding.”
She finally gathered her composure. “Oh. Well, it doesn’t matter to me.”
“It doesn’t?” he asked.
She sniffed, starting to walk down the sidewalk again at a fast clip. “Ron Weasley is loud and obnoxious and completely ridiculous,” she said, voice growing almost shrill at the end.
“Yes,” Harry agreed, catching up with her. “He certainly is all of those things.”
They walked in silence for a while, both of them lost in their thoughts.
Hermione let out a sigh lined with frustration. “He doesn’t even live in this country.”
Harry felt his amusement fade. “Just as well. He probably snores. And leaves the seat up.”
She let out a huff. “Eats cereal in his underwear.”
“Never pays his bills on time.”
“Chews on the end of his pens,” she said like this was a horror to end all horrors.
“Kicks puppies for absolutely no reason whatsoever,” he said, getting into it now.
She hooked her arm through his elbow. “He would not,” she said, voice quiet.
“Yeah,” he agreed, squeezing her hand. “He wouldn’t.”
“Ugh,” she said. “Weasleys.”
The dart shot forward in a gentle arc, landing with a solid thunk just to the left of the middle ring.
“Oh-ho!” Ron crowed, arms pinwheeling as he did a little victory dance. “Close, but so damn far away!”
Harry scowled as Ron did a spin towards the board, collected the darts with overly zealous glee. “I’m just letting you win as a going-away present.”
Ron scoffed. “Whatever helps you sleep at night, mate.” He held up the darts, waggling them at him. “Best three out of five?”
Harry shook his head. “I think I’ll pony up my end of the bargain and let Hermione play the next round.”
Ron turned to Hermione. “You up for it, love?”
Hermione rolled her eyes, pushing up off her stool. “I think I can handle a simple game.”
Ron grinned. “Just make sure the pointed end is that way, yeah?”
Harry left them to it, winding his way through low-lit tables filled with people who didn’t give him a first look, let alone a second. The bar was in a part of town where he’d never really spent any time before. It was worn and a little grungy, but felt comfortable.
Sirius had the night off, meaning Cedric was standing near the door, managing to be even less inconspicuous than a forty-something walking mid-life crisis. Harry could only be thankful Cedric was low-ranking enough to rarely pull duty outside babysitting Harry’s apartment while he slept.
Cedric caught his eye, lifting an eyebrow in question.
Harry shook his head and turned for the bar.
When he got to there, he saw that Ginny had finally arrived. Like usual, she’d been stuck at one of her late evening classes, swearing she wouldn’t miss Ron’s last night out for anything. She was leaning over the bar, trying and failing to catch the bartender’s attention.
Harry smiled as she blew her hair out of her face, her nose scrunched up in annoyance.
Before Harry could cross the last distance, a guy walked up behind her, his hand on the back of her seat. He leaned in very close, saying something to her.
Harry felt his shoulders bunch up.
Ginny spun in her chair, making the guy take a step back to avoid getting nailed in the shins. She gestured at her shirt, saying something the guy clearly did not enjoy hearing. He did move off, however, and it was only then that Harry could see the source of the guy’s scowl.
“Nice shirt,” Harry said, stepping up next to her.
Ginny grinned, glancing down at the giant pink sparkly words spelling out NOPE across her chest. “I find it saves me a lot of time when I’m out at places like this.”
Harry snorted, watching as Ginny finally caught the bartender’s attention and placed her order.
“Make it a pitcher,” Harry said, putting his card down on the bar with a click.
Ginny looked up at him in question.
He lifted his hands in front of him. “Don’t worry. I’m not trying to buy you a drink. I just lost.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder towards the dartboards.
“Ah. Poor thing,” she said, patting his shoulder.
While they waited for the pitcher, Harry sat on the stool next to her. Ginny leaned back on the bar, her attention caught by something near the entrance. He followed her line of sight and realized she was looking at Cedric.
“He yours?” she asked.
“Mine?” Harry asked.
She nudged his leg with her foot. “You know what I mean.”
“Why? Want me to introduce you?”
She tapped her thin thoughtfully. “He is cute.”
Harry snorted at the understatement. Cedric was pretty much universally admired as a god among mere mortals. “I always wonder how he’s supposed to do his job when people are hitting on him constantly.”
She laughed. “Yeah, he doesn’t exactly blend in.”
“At least he takes the attention away from me.”
She spun back around until she was facing Harry, leaning her elbow on the bar. “Nice try,” she said.
“What?” he asked, a bit thrown by the sudden weight of her attention.
She tilted her head to one side. “Fishing for compliments.”
He widened his eyes in mock horror. “I would never.”
“Good,” she said, poking him in the chest. “Because I am not here to inflate your ego.”
He defended himself from her merciless assault, brushing away her hand. “My ego is fine just the way it is, thank you very much.”
Her lips twisted, giving him a look that made him feel a little tingly. “I suppose I’ll have to take your word for that.”
Thankfully at that moment the bartender reappeared with a pitcher and a stack of glasses. Harry nodded to keep his tab open. It was going to be a long night if Ron had anything to say about it.
“Beer?” Harry offered, holding up a pint glass.
“Yeah,” she said.
He focused on the beer, spending an inordinately long time pouring the two drinks.
“Uh oh,” Ginny said from next to him.
“What?” he asked, handing her a beer. He automatically looked over towards Cedric, but Ginny was gesturing back towards the dartboards where Ron and Hermione were still playing.
Harry could tell Hermione was getting good and indignant about something, but Ron seemed to be taking her anger in stride, a smile on his face of all things, like having Hermione rant was endearing or something.
He laughed outright at something Hermione said, and Harry knew that was a mistake. Only Hermione didn’t explode, instead she sort of blinked at him in surprise, even going so far as to give him a reluctant smile.
Harry shook his head. “Weasleys,” he muttered under his breath.
“Pardon?” Ginny asked.
He looked at her. “No. Nothing. Sorry.”
“If you say so,” she said, giving him a skeptical look.
Harry took a long draught of his beer, thankful when she didn’t push.
She leaned back against the bar, a soft smile on her face as she watched Ron. “It’s nice to see him like this.”
She rubbed at her forehead. “It’s hard to explain, I guess. He’s just...different back home.”
“Quieter, I guess.”
Harry rolled his glass between his hands, thinking about all the hours he’d spent with Ron the last couple of weeks. “I can’t quite imagine him quiet.”
She lifted one shoulder. “Yeah, well. Youngest brother. It can be hard to get a word in. Or pretty much do anything at all that at least one other person hasn’t already done and done better.”
She almost made being the spoiled only child sound preferable. “Aren’t you the youngest?”
“Yeah, but I’m a girl. Everything I do is awesome.” She winked at him.
“Clearly,” Harry said, smiling into his beer. Then he remembered something Ron mentioned. “What about coming here?”
She winced. “Yeah. That not so much. They support it, in their way. But they don’t really understand it. Ron especially, in the beginning.”
“But he does now?”
Ron landed another dart, doing a little victory dance while Hermione crossed her arms over her chest in disgust.
“I think maybe, yeah.” She glanced up at him. “Now if only he could convince my mum.”
“Oi,” Ron bellowed across the bar, “are we drinking or what?”
A few cheers resounded in agreement throughout the room.
Harry pushed off the stool. “I suppose it’s time to be a good sport and bring Ron his winnings.”
“If we must,” Ginny said. “Besides, it’s time someone put Ron back in his place.”
“Can’t say I’d mind seeing that.”
Ginny laughed and led the way back to the dartboard.
* * *
Harry had always considered himself a rather competitive person, but watching the Weasley siblings try to crush each other at darts was something else entirely. He tried to imagine what it must be like with the other five brothers around.
They ended up playing girls versus boys, with Harry and Hermione more or less just hanging on for the ride.
“How are classes?” Ginny asked him as she handed the darts over to Hermione for her turn.
He shrugged. “Fine.”
“Yeah?” she asked like she didn’t believe that for a moment. She’d just spent the last half hour abusing her own professors after all. “I’m the only one suffering then, huh?”
“Well, to be honest, one of my professors is horrible. He just bullies and picks on everyone constantly.”
“Just get through the semester, Harry,” Hermione said, and at this point it was like a mantra she’d said it so many times.
You’ve been doing so well, she liked to say.
“Screw that,” Ron said. “Tell him off.”
“What?” Harry asked.
Ron stuck his tongue out slightly as he aimed a dart. “What is he going to do? You’re Harry Potter!”
Harry felt his heartbeat speed up. “You don’t think that’d be, I dunno, unethical?”
He shrugged. “If you’re stuck with the attention, might as well use it for some good, right?”
Hermione, predictably, looked absolutely scandalized. Harry found himself looking to Ginny, curious to hear what she would say.
She shrugged. “Ron has a point. Though you might want to hold off for a few more weeks if you can manage it.”
Harry huffed. “Probably a good idea.”
“Harry, be serious,” Hermione said, dart game completely forgotten. “You can’t just go off yelling at people.”
“Why not?” Ron asked.
“He just…can’t,” Hermione insisted.
Harry felt his mood sinking. “I think what Hermione is trying to say is that my judgment is massively impaired and not at all to be trusted.”
She turned to him, looking wounded. “That’s…not what I meant.”
Only she totally did, and they both knew it.
Ginny was watching him with an expression he really didn’t have any interest in deciphering.
Harry cleared his throat. “My turn?” he asked, holding a hand out for the darts.
“Yeah,” Hermione said, handing them over.
They played in silence for a while, Harry in no better a mood than Hermione while Ron and Ginny shared totally unsubtle looks.
As the game progressed, Harry became aware of two guys at a nearby table watching them. At first he assumed they were checking out Ginny and Hermione, but then he noticed Cedric move around the room, setting up camp closer to them.
“Oi, Potter,” Ron said. “It’s your turn.”
“Right,” he said, trying to ignore the looky loos and focus back on having a good time.
That all went to hell when the guys got up and moved closer, watching the game and whispering to each other.
Across the room, Cedric perked up, watching intently. Harry shook his head. He could handle this.
Harry still managed to botch up his next few throws. He was handing off the darts to Hermione when they finally worked up the nerve to say something.
“Hey, aren’t you…” one of them said.
Harry braced himself, feeling his smile slip.
Before he managed a response, Ginny reappeared from somewhere, when Harry hadn’t even noticed her slipping away. She wandered out into the middle of the circle, letting out an overly loud laugh and latching onto Harry’s arm.
“I told you, Liam!” she said, voice somehow more deeply accented than usual. “Just put on some specs and boom! We won’t have to pay for drinks this entire bloody trip!”
Harry opened his mouth to ask her what she was talking about, but her fingers dug into his arm, and he snapped it back shut.
She turned towards the two guys, weaving a little on her feet like she’d been drinking far more than he knew she had. “Want a picture with…uh…Harry?” She saluted them with her glass, a few drops splashing over the edge. “Only cost you a pitcher!”
Ron stepped forward, giving her a stern look. “You already buggered that up, you sot.”
“Did I?” Ginny asked, blinking.
“You called him Liam.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, putting a finger to her lips as if thinking very hard.
Ron sighed. “Yes.”
“Fuck,” Ginny said with real feeling.
One of the guys snorted, giving Harry a dismissive glance. “I told you it wasn’t him.”
“Yeah,” the other agreed. “Doesn’t look anything like him, really. Isn’t tall enough. And I’m pretty sure he isn’t that dark.”
“Oh,” Ginny said, something a little sharp under the saccharine sweetness of her tone. “Have you met him?”
“Sure,” the blond one said with a casual shrug. “A couple of times.”
“Really,” Ron said, looking like he was working hard not to laugh.
The other one nodded. “He’s a total dick.”
There was a long pause, Ron frowning, but then Ginny started laughing, loud and hard. “That’s funny,” she said, slapping the guy on the arm hard enough that he winced. “Do you think—oh!”
She seemed to trip, pitching forward, her entire drink dumping down the guy’s front.
“Son of a bitch,” the guy said, jumping back.
“My beer,” Ginny wailed mournfully.
“What the hell is your problem?” he demanded, uselessly slapping at his liquid-soaked shirt.
“Hey,” Ginny said, pushing at him. “You bumped me, you lush.” The words were slurred enough to almost be unintelligible.
“You are completely out of your mind.”
“Say that to my face, arsehole!” Ginny said, getting good and riled.
For a moment he looked enraged, Harry tensing and stepping closer. Hermione grabbed his arm. “Don’t,” she said under her breath.
Ginny must have looked drunk and confused enough that the beer-covered guy thought better of it. After another dramatic sigh, he muttered, “Fuck it,” and walked off.
The moment he was out of sight, Ginny’s expression cleared, her posture straightening. “Wankers.”
“Christ, Gin,” Ron said. “If you miss fighting so badly, you could just get back in the ring.”
She flipped her hair back over her shoulder. “And if you miss trying to tell me what to do so badly, you could just move to America.”
“Don’t tempt me,” he muttered.
Hermione was still staring at Ginny in horror. Ginny just lifted her chin, looking over at Harry.
“You really didn’t have to do that,” he said.
Her jaw tightened. “They were arseholes. I have a problem with letting people getting away with being arseholes.”
“People have said worse about me,” he said, trying to brush it off. Because the unfortunate truth was that he didn’t have the luxury of wandering around picking fights.
No matter how much he would love to.
“They were ruining your night,” she said.
She nodded. “You get all frowny when people recognize you. And tense.”
Harry deliberately relaxed his shoulders, not realizing he’d tightened them in the first place.
“She’s not wrong,” Ron commented.
Even Hermione didn’t argue, going back over to the board to retrieve the darts.
Ginny lowered herself into a seat next to Harry, letting out a sigh. “Look, I’m sorry. I know that probably wasn’t terribly politic.”
“I don’t really give a shit about politic,” he said. No matter how much he should. He smiled at her. “I’m more worried about the waste of perfectly good beer.”
Ginny dismissed his concern with a wave of her hand. “It wasn’t my beer. I grabbed it off a table back there.”
A laugh burst out of him, and he wondered how she could keep doing this, catching him completely off-guard. “You know,” he said, “you’re a little bit scary.”
She slid him a look. “I guess you should just stay on my good side then.”
“Like letting you win at darts?” he teased.
She scoffed. “As if you could beat me.”
“Okay, Weasley,” he said, pushing to his feet. “Now it’s on.”
“Is it?” she asked, looking delighted and in no way cowed. Not that he would expect any less from her.
“Yup,” he said, nodding. “I’m pretty much going to destroy you.”
Her grin was nearly blinding. “Well,” she drawled. “Miracles happen.”
For a moment, he allowed himself to believe in the possibility.
Ginny wasn’t sure what made her look up, but as she did, her eye was caught by the unmistakable skulking form of Sirius across the street. It only took her a moment longer to find Harry a few steps away, head lowered as he walked down the street like he was scared of making eye contact with anyone.
She frowned, wondering what was making him look that way. No one on the street seemed to be paying him any attention.
For a moment, she considered calling out to him, despite the distance and the scene it would probably cause. She bit down on her tongue, her arm remaining down by her side, letting him just walk on by.
She’d barely seen or heard from him since Ron left the week before. Not that she thought he was avoiding her or anything. There was just no longer any particular reason for him to come around, she supposed. She saw in the paper that he’d gone on some trip with his mum. But still…
Then she noticed the cup in his hand. That was one step too far. She pulled out her phone and started typing.
You’re cheating on me.
On the sidewalk across the street, Harry paused, reaching into his pocket for his phone. It was hard to make out his expression across the distance, but she liked to think he smiled, until he read the message and frowned down at it in confusion.
Seeing other baristas on the sly, she added.
Harry’s posture seemed to relax. He tucked his cup into the crook of his arm and rather awkwardly started typing. Which wasn’t charming, dammit.
Her phone buzzed.
I would never, he replied.
She lifted an eyebrow at the blatant lie. Oh really? Then what is that cup you’re holding, hmmm?
Harry’s head lifted with a jerk, almost comically scanning around. Ginny wasn’t surprised that Sirius had already spotted her, giving Harry a nudge in the right direction.
Harry’s eyes landed on her, a smile brightening his face.
That’s better, she thought. She didn’t allow herself to smile back, just stood and watched him decide what to do next. It didn’t take him long, doing an about step for the nearest crosswalk.
Ginny moved a bit more out of the way of the bustling crowd on the sidewalk, leaning against the arm of a bench to wait.
“Hi,” he said as he came up to her.
“Caught red-handed,” she said, giving him a stern gaze.
He didn’t seem particularly put off, lifting the cup with a smile. “It’s chai,” he said like that excused anything.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Oh, I see how it is. Trading me in for a more upscale, exotic model, huh?”
“You’re the foreigner,” he pointed out. “Far more exotic than tea I grew up drinking in my grandmother’s kitchen.”
It was getting hard to keep a straight face. “So you’re just xenophobic. Have a problem with immigrants. I get it.” After all, his father’s family must have been in the country for at least two whole generations.
He let out an exaggerated sigh. “How many peanut butter cups is this going to cost me?”
“Oh, there aren’t enough in the world.” She couldn’t hold back her smile anymore. “Luckily today all it is going to cost you is your time.”
“Yeah?” he asked, looking intrigued.
“Yeah,” she said. “You get to walk me the last five minutes to my destination. If you aren’t too busy hanging out with your new barista, that is.”
“I’m not too busy,” he said in a rush.
She glanced back at Sirius as they started up the path. “Afternoon, creep-o.”
He gave her a jaunty little salute.
Harry glanced towards the crowded grassy mall. “Are you doing the touristy thing?”
She shook her head. “Extra credit project for my American history class. I have to visit the exhibit.”
He chucked his cup in a garbage bin. “How is your history class? Does it still suck?”
“Oh, no,” she said, grabbing his arm and leaning her head back with exaggerated joy. “It’s amazing.”
“Really?” he asked, clearly surprised by her change in opinion. She’d been more than happy to complain about the tedious online class to anyone willing to listen.
“Well, the professor is still a pompous windbag,” she admitted. “He is completely in love with Thomas Jefferson.”
Harry snorted. “And that’s amazing?”
“No. That sucks. But there’s this bloke in the discussion boards who has started trolling the professor with lines from Hamilton. And the professor just has no idea. It’s brilliant.”
“I may have also started mentioning Sally Hemings any time it is at all possible in all of my comments.”
Harry lifted his eyebrows. “I imagine he loves that.”
Her face scrunched up. “Not so much.”
“Hence the need for extra credit.”
“Hence the need for extra credit,” she agreed with a sigh. “But it’s still totally worth it.”
His arm squeezed her hand against his side, so she decided there was no harm in leaving it there as they walked the last little bit up the museum.
“Well, this is me,” she said, gesturing up the stairs swarming with tour groups.
“I haven’t been in ages,” he said.
“Well, you’re more than welcome to tag along,” she said graciously. “I’ll even let your write my paper for me.”
“As tempting as that is, I’m already late,” he said, his head jerking back in the other direction.
“You’d probably be too much of a distraction anyway.”
And there was that smile again. It quickly disappeared though as people around them started noticing him. He did that thing again, where he ducked his chin back into his coat.
Ginny felt the absurd urge to yell at everyone to sod off. To stop staring at him like this was a bloody petting zoo.
Appearances and all, she remembered Harry saying.
She bit down on her lip and held her peace.
“Well,” Harry said, taking a step back as if needing to flee.
“Look,” she said, reaching out and touching his arm, keeping him there. “I know you have a new barista in your life…”
“Ginny,” he said with a startled laugh, and yes, that was much better.
“But if you do drop by the shop and don’t see me there, it isn’t because I was fired.”
“Yeah?” he asked.
“It’s midterms, so I took some shifts off. I will be living in the library.”
“Oh. Okay.” He looked down at his toes for a long moment. “Maybe I could give you a call later this week?” He glanced up at her. “You know, make sure you’re surviving.”
She bit her lip. “That would be nice,” she said. “Besides which, I promised Ron I would make sure you didn’t mope too much.”
His eyebrows lifted. “And why am I moping?”
“Nice try,” she said. “I imagine you miss him almost as much as he misses you. Won’t stop talking about you. It’s annoying.”
He shrugged. “I did promise to skype a football game with him tomorrow.”
She tilted her head to the side. “You know that means soccer, not your American weak-arse version of rugby, right?”
He winced. “Yes, I had figured that out. But try not to disparage our sports while standing on the steps of our history museum, yeah?”
“I apologize profusely,” she said, lifting her arms in the air. “All hail the great America!”
People were staring in earnest now, but at her and not Harry.
She waggled her fingers at him. “Have fun on your date with my brother.”
He rolled his eyes.
“It’s okay. You can just admit it. You like him better than me.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets, taking a few steps back. “I’ll plead the fifth on that one,” he said with a particularly cheeky smile.
She frowned. “What the hell does that mean?”
He quirked his head to one side, clearly laughing at her now. “It means you really need that extra credit for your American history class.”
“Sod off, Potter,” she said.
He gave her a wide grin before turning on his heel and walking away.
She watched his progress until he disappeared into the crowd of people, feeling all giddy and smiley and utterly and completed charmed.
“Fuck,” she said.
A woman nearby shot her a scandalized look.
“Oh, sod off,” she muttered, turning and lightly running up the steps.
She knew a losing battle when she saw one.
Harry looked up from the essay he wasn’t writing to glance at his phone sitting on the coffee table. He considered it for a long moment before dragging his eyes back to his laptop.
It’d been three days since he ran into Ginny on the Mall. Meaning it was probably time to follow up on his impulsive promise to call her.
When Ron left, he hadn’t asked Harry to keep an eye on her. Mostly because Ginny was clearly more capable than the rest of them combined. It might have been a nice excuse though, because the only other reason to call her was one he wasn’t at all sure Ron would approve of.
Then again, the last thing Ron did before he left was slap Harry on the shoulder and say, “Good luck, mate,” like he was certain Harry would need it.
Closing his laptop, Harry picked up his phone. He was just keeping his word. Checking in.
He looked up to find Hermione watching him from the other side of the room, her brow furrowed.
“Yeah?” he asked.
“What’s going on?”
He looked around at the stack of papers and books fanned out around his chair. He couldn’t see anything particularly egregious. “What do you mean?”
“You have that look,” she said, sounding wary.
Harry sighed internally, preparing himself for the lecture her tone promised was inevitable. “And which look is that, pray tell?”
She didn’t seem to appreciate his flippancy. “Like you’re about to jump off a cliff without bothering to see what’s at the bottom.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Don’t be dramatic.”
“Don’t be naïve,” she shot back.
Harry felt his temper spike. “And what exactly am I being naïve about?”
Her eyes darted to the phone in his hand. “You have to be smart about this.”
Harry clenched his jaw. “You said you liked her.”
Hermione sniffed, her lips tightening primly. “Yes, well, that was before.”
Hypothetically meaning, before Ginny showed herself willing to make a scene in public, before she proved too volatile for Hermione’s taste. Too much of a risk.
But Harry suspected this was about something else entirely.
“You mean before Ron up and left?” he goaded before he could stop himself.
Hermione paled, and Harry immediately regretted his words. Still, she was being completely unreasonable, and he was tired of her taking her bad mood out on him.
“That has nothing to do with this,” she said.
He snorted. “Say it a few more times. Maybe you’ll believe it.”
Hermione pushed to her feet, gathering her books in jerky motions.
Harry sighed. “Hermione.”
“You may not like it,” she bit out, “but it matters. How people perceive you matters. You can’t escape that.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Jesus. That reality had been his life for years.
“No. Sometimes I don’t think you do.” She turned and crossed over to her room, shutting the door firmly behind her.
“Shit,” Harry muttered, leaning his head back against the couch.
He’d been an asshole. He would have to apologize. But for now he’d really rather wallow in indignation, because Hermione was wrong too.
Harry looked down at his phone. He would prove it.
He typed out a quick message. How’s studying going?
It didn’t take long for Ginny to respond. I hate everyone and everything.
He huffed, knowing the feeling. That well, huh?
I am going to fail and they will take my student visa away and I will get deported and have to live on Ron’s couch and honestly death would be preferable.
He blinked down at that, wondering exactly how much coffee she had drunk. Another text came through before he could answer.
How are you?
Forget me, he wrote. When was the last time you took a break? Or ate? Or slept?
I’m not sure what those things are.
Harry gnawed at his lip, fingers tapping against his thigh. Refusing to give it too much thought, he typed in another message.
I’m bringing over a pizza.
This time there was a rather disconcertingly long pause as Ginny formulated her response, three little dots floating in their bubble for what felt like ages. He had pretty much just invited himself over, after all.
Only then the response came through.
One of these days I’m going to discover something deplorable about you, Harry Potter. But today is not that day.
He smiled down at the phone, feeling warmth spread across his chest.
Unless you put anchovies on that pizza, she followed up with. Then you’re dead to me.
He laughed. No anchovies, I promise. But I think our friendship may depend on how you feel about pineapple.
At the risk of alienating you, I have to admit that I am pro-fruit on pizza.
Sacrilegious, he replied. But then, I’ve always preferred my pizza blasphemous.
Heathen. Now stop teasing me and get off your arse and bring me a pizza.
He glanced at the clock. Be there in 40 minutes.
You’re the best.
He smiled. Don’t I know it.
* * *
It took him more like an hour to get the pizzas and make it across town, but mostly because he refused to buy anything less than the absolute best pizza in town. So that meant a trek out to Il Canale.
Pizza was not a joke.
Ginny swung the door open a few moments after he kicked the door a few times with his foot as he balanced the boxes.
“Oh, thank god,” she said upon seeing him. Or more likely, the pizza.
Harry blinked at the effusive greeting. “Hi.”
She waved him inside, shutting the door after him. The apartment was messier than it had been last time he was here. The table was covered in papers and books and pens and various detritus.
“How’s it going?” he asked even though he was pretty sure he already knew the answer.
“Fine,” she said.
She looked a bit manic, to be honest. She was wearing an overly large sweatshirt and leggings, her hair pulled back in a messy bun. It was her eyes that were worrisome. She looked exhausted and painfully alert at the same time. He wondered just how many all-nighters she had already pulled.
Well. First things first. He would get her to eat.
“It’s best when it’s hot,” he said.
“No argument here.” She lifted the top of the first box, giving him a look of surprise. “Cheese?”
It was margherita, to be precise, but he didn’t think that was a particularly important distinction at the moment. “I can be a bit of a purist about some things.”
“So noted,” she said, and lifted the top on the other. This one was covered with meat and veggies. “God, this smells amazing.”
He moved to put the boxes on the table, but Ginny let out a sound like a wounded cat. “No, not there! I have a careful system.”
He gave her a look of disbelief. It honestly looked more like a haphazard pile than anything.
She gestured towards the couch. “Just…go over there. I’ll grab some plates.”
While she clanked around in the kitchen, mumbling something under her breath that for once didn’t sound like curses, Harry sat down on the couch. He had to move a stack of textbooks out of the way, being careful not to mess up their ‘order’.
Ginny collapsed back next to him, holding out a plate to him. She picked up a slice, folding it carefully in half and taking a large bite. Her eyes widened.
“Oh my god,” she garbled around a full mouth.
Harry smiled. “I know, right?”
But even the amazingness that was pizza didn’t seem to distract Ginny for long. Between bites her eyes kept drifting back to the table, like she was running through a list in her head.
“Ginny,” Harry said, keeping his voice soft.
She still kind of jerked around like a startled bunny. “What? Yes?”
He tilted his head towards the table. “It’ll keep.”
She shook her head, looking embarrassed, like she’d been hoping she wasn’t that obvious. “It’s just…a lot,” she said, her fingers picking apart her crust. “So much rides on how I do.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, because clearly it did. “Good thing pizza is brain food.”
She gave him a skeptical look. “According to who?”
“Uh…” he said, scrunching up his face. “Science?”
She let out a huff of amusement, rolling her eyes at him. But she also leaned back against the couch, finally seeming to relax slightly.
She picked up a second piece. “I still can’t believe you did this.”
He shrugged. “I was going to take a break soon anyway. I’ve been writing papers all afternoon.”
She didn’t look convinced. “You have a bit of a hero complex there, don’t you?”
He shifted in his seat. “I just…like being useful, I guess.”
Her eyes traveled over his face like she was looking for some sort of clue. “Don’t get much of a chance these days?”
He hefted a smile on his face like it wasn’t a big deal. “Not really.”
“Here,” she said, shoving a stack of flashcards at him. “Be useful.”
He frowned down at the words scribbled on the cards. Or at least what he assumed had to be words. “What class is this?”
He pulled a face. “Couldn’t get out of that?”
“Didn’t really try,” she said. “It’s for my major.”
“Oh. I guess I never did ask what you were majoring in.”
She laughed. “It was kind of a relief. Haven’t you noticed that every conversation at this point in our life is like, where are you going to school? What are you majoring in? Like those are the most important benchmarks in existence.”
“I never thought about it,” Harry admitted.
“Yes, well, that’s me. Noticing things I probably shouldn’t.” She turned until she was facing him, crossing her legs in front of her. “Okay, you first.”
“Your major,” she prompted.
She looked like she was doing her best to keep her face neutral. “Ah,” she said very noncommittally.
“I know,” he said. “Boring.”
Her eyebrows lifted. “If you think so, why are you doing it?”
He shrugged. “It was sort of…expected, I guess.” Honestly, he didn’t particularly want to talk about it. “What about you?”
She looked like she might push, but didn’t. “Sports medicine.”
“Yeah?” Harry said. He assumed this had to do with her boxing career, but she’d always been a bit squirrely when it came to that.
“Yeah,” she said, and sure enough she didn’t looking anymore inclined to discuss it than he was to discuss his major.
“Well, now that that’s out of the way,” he said. He held up a flashcard. “Impress me. Microvilli. If I am at all saying that right.”
She scrunched up her face. “Uh… Fingerlike extensions of the plasma membrane of apical epithelial cells. They increase surface area, aid in absorption, and exist on every moist epithelia, but are most dense in the small intestine and kidneys. And…they’re non-motile!”
Harry blinked back at her. “Well, consider me impressed. I mean, I have no idea what any of that meant, but it sounded impressive.”
“Yes, well,” she said, clearly trying to brush it off, “I’ll proofread your paper in exchange later and then I can be suitably impressed.”
“You mean suitably bored.”
She nudged his arm. “You said it, not me.”
He helped her with the cards for another twenty minutes or so even though it was clear she already knew it all by heart. She was ruthlessly hard on herself when she made the tiniest mistake.
“You seem to have this well in hand,” Harry said, hoping to make her feel even a little bit better.
She shot him a dangerous look. “Don’t jinx me, Potter.”
He lifted his hands. “Noted.”
Pulling her text back into her lap, she started making another stack of cards.
“Well,” he said, shifting to get up.
“What, you’re going?” she said.
He shrugged. “I really didn’t mean to just show up and take up all your time.”
Her fingers toyed with the edge of the pages. “You don’t have to go on my behalf. I mean, I know this is probably boring as hell.”
“It’s not,” he said, not wanting her to think he didn’t want to be here. “Boring.”
“Yeah?” she said, her expression lightening. She looked almost hopeful.
“I did bring some work with me,” Harry found himself admitting.
“Then you should stay,” she said. “It’s nice to have company.”
“Great,” he said, sitting back down.
She watched him over the edge of her textbook as he pulled out a notebook and a few books. She flashed him a smile when he got settled. They worked quietly for another half hour. He thought it would be weird, but it was strangely nice.
He glanced up at her from time to time, and it quickly became clear that she was fading. At one point she shook her head as if catching herself falling asleep. Frowning, she groped for a cup of what had to be cold coffee and swigged it down in one go.
She winced, glancing around like she needed to wash the taste out of her mouth. Her eyes landed on the pizza boxes on the floor near Harry’s feet.
“Pizza hog,” she accused.
Before he could offer to pass it to her, she leaned across him, groping for a slice.
Harry leaned back, pulling his book out of her way. She couldn’t quite reach, stretching out further, her hand slipping off the edge of the couch. She gave a small squeak of surprise. Harry scrambled to grab for her, wrapping his arm around her waist and just barely keeping her from landing face first on the ground.
For a moment they both froze, startled by the suddenness of her near fall. Then Ginny started to laugh, a deep belly laugh that shook her whole body. “My life for a pizza!” she exclaimed, and reached out for a slice, apparently trusting him to keep her from falling.
“Not quite sure it’s that good,” he said.
“Mission accomplished,” she said, reaching back and tapping his arm. “Now pull me back up.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he muttered, heaving her back up.
She landed back on her knees next to him, her hand on his shoulder and his arm still circled around her waist. They sat there for a long moment just looking at each other.
“Okay?” Harry asked, his voice soft.
She nodded, her fingers pressing into his shoulder. “My hero,” she said.
He smiled, his arm tightening around her waist. “For the rescue or for the pizza?”
“Oh, definitely the pizza,” she said, and then she shoved the slice in her mouth.
He laughed, pushing her back towards her end of the couch.
She finished the slice with almost indecent pleasure, sucking each of her fingers clean in turn. “Seriously,” she said. “I don’t think pizza has ever tasted quite this good.”
She leaned back against the arm of the couch, snuggling down to get comfortable. After a few more minutes of shifting around, she shoved her bare toes up under his leg. It wasn’t exactly a large couch.
He glanced over at her, but she just lifted an eyebrow at him in challenge. She looked so much more relaxed than she had when he got here. And while he knew it probably had more to do with having food in her stomach than him, it was still nice to see.
He opened his text on his lap and tried his best to read. He was missing something in his essay, he was sure of it.
Every once in a while, Ginny would wiggle her toes. At first he thought she was doing it unconsciously, but after a while it became clear she was just trying to mess with him.
Harry put his hand on her ankle. “Quit it.”
She stuck her tongue out at him, but complied, resting her head against the back of the couch.
He didn’t move his hand away.
He tried to concentrate on the words in front of him, but all he could really think about was the feel of Ginny’s skin under his hand. He caught himself rubbing his thumb across the small bone of her ankle. He considered asking her what it was called, but didn’t particularly want to draw attention to it.
Ginny let out a long sigh, snuggling further down into the couch.
Harry had to acknowledge that sitting here eating pizza in this cramped apartment listening to sound of Ginny turning pages occasionally was the most right he had felt in a long while.
“I was thinking,” Harry said after a few more pages. “Once your midterms are done and you have more time… Maybe we could go to dinner. Or something.”
Ginny didn’t reply right away, and Harry forced himself to look up at her.
She was fast asleep.
He blew out a breath, letting his head fall back against the couch. Typical.
He looked up to find Luna standing over them.
“I switched her coffee to decaf when I knew you were coming over. I assumed you would be distracting enough that she wouldn’t notice.”
“Oh,” Harry said, feeling caught off guard. “Uh, glad I could be of help.”
Luna frowned down at Ginny. “Do you think you could move her to her bed? You are much stronger than I am.”
“Sure,” Harry agreed.
Luna picked up the book Ginny had draped across her chest.
Harry shifted, sliding an arm under her legs and one behind her back.
“Wha?” Ginny said, not quite opening her eyes.
“Time for bed,” Harry said quietly.
“Mm, finally,” she mumbled, and pressed her face into his neck.
Harry tried to ignore the prickle of sensation that rushed across his skin at the contact.
Behind the screen, Ginny’s sleeping space was even more cramped than he assumed it would be from the outside, a small bed against the windows filling almost the entire space. The only other piece of furniture was a dresser with clothes spilling out of it and a haphazard stack of worn books and magazines piled on top. The bed was perfectly made, despite Harry almost tripping over a pair of sneakers left out on the floor.
Luna pulled back the covers, and Harry lowered her down. Ginny immediately rolled over, curling up on her side.
Luna fussed a bit, pulling the covers up over Ginny.
Harry followed her out, glancing back at the edge of the screen. “Night, Gin,” he whispered.
She didn’t stir.
Luna watched Harry as he collected his things. He tried to ignore it, the way she seemed to be analyzing him with her unblinking gaze.
Harry hefted his bag over his shoulder.
Luna opened the door for him and Harry stepped out into the hall.
“Well, goodnight,” he said, giving her a little wave that he immediately regretted the awkwardness of.
Instead of responding, Luna tilted her head to the side and said, “I think she would have said yes.”
Harry looked up at her in surprise, trying not to be embarrassed as he realized she had heard his rather pathetic attempt to ask Ginny out. “I hope you’re right.”
Luna lifted one shoulder. “I usually am.”
With that, she closed the door in his face.
Harry stared back at the door, utterly bemused. He thought he was starting to see what Ginny liked about Luna.
Harry’s phone was ringing. Which was weird. No one ever called him anymore, after all. Except his parents, and his one technology-phobic aunt who never called him anyway. None of whom he particularly wanted to talk to at the moment.
Still, he forced himself to look at the ID, surprised to see it say ‘Ginny Weasley.’
He scrambled to answer before it went to voicemail. “Hello?”
There was a long, staticky pause. “Harry?” Ginny eventually said, voice a bit loud like she was yelling at him on speaker.
“Ginny?” he asked.
“Oh, hi!” she said, voice getting closer. “You picked up. I was just formulating my voicemail.” There was a sound like something clanking in a sink. “So…yeah. Don’t need that anymore. No worries!”
She sounded very hyped. “Ginny?”
“Exactly how much coffee have you had?” he asked. She was still in the midst of her Week From Hell, as she had started calling it, after all.
“Uh,” she said as if she had to think about it, and that couldn’t be good. “Just one shot of espresso for every hour until my last essay is due.”
Harry winced. “Which is how many exactly?”
“Three,” she said. “The same amount of days I imagine I’m going to sleep once they finally wear off. But that’s not why I called.”
“Okay,” he said. “Need another pizza fix?”
“I wish,” she muttered. “But I can’t afford to be distracted by you again. Or let Luna drug me.”
He laughed. “She hardly drugged you.”
“Oh, you know Luna so well, do you?”
He paused, considering that, and it suddenly didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that Luna had done more than just switch her to decaf.
But Ginny had already moved on. “I called because Luna and I are going to a warehouse party this weekend in celebration of me being done being a crazy person.”
“Yeah?” Harry said.
“Yes. And I want you to come.”
“Oh,” Harry said, and he couldn’t help but wonder if Luna had told her about his failed offer of dinner. He wasn’t sure which way he preferred, to be honest. Of course, it wasn’t clear if this was a ‘Hey, come along with us, friend!’ or a ‘Come with me’ , but it was more than possible he was overthinking it.
“I haven’t told you the best part,” Ginny said, and Harry realized he missed his brief window to respond to her request. Well, demand, really, but he wasn’t all that picky.
“What’s the best part?” he asked, playing along.
“Costumes,” she said, almost singing the word.
He pulled a face. “Is that supposed to be a selling point?”
She laughed. “Think about it, Potter. Masks . No one having any idea who you are.”
Yes, well, she would still know, and he had a vested interest in not looking like a complete fool in front of her. “We are talking about dancing here, right?”
“Please?” she asked. “Let me do something nice for you for once.”
“Yes, of course,” he found himself agreeing, because apparently saying no to Ginny Weasley wasn’t something he was capable of. “I’m in.”
She let out a high-pitched sound of delight. “Awesome. I will be sure to text you the details when I’m conscious again.”
He laughed. It was probably a good thing midterms were usually only a week long. She was going to kill herself otherwise.
“All right,” Ginny said, voice bright and happy. “I’m off to kick this last essay’s arse.”
“History?” Harry asked.
“Yeah,” she confirmed.
“Try not to pick a fight with your professor,” Harry said.
She laughed. “What would be the fun in that?”
* * *
Saturday night at nine, Harry found himself walking down the street in stolen graduation robes of Hermione’s and a cheap plastic mask. He expected to be uncomfortable and embarrassed, but it was actually surprisingly fun to wander around like this. With his face hidden, he still drew attention (it wasn’t Halloween for another few weeks yet), but only because he was rather shoddily dressed as Darth Vader.
Two random people gave him high fives.
It was kind of…liberating.
By the time he got to Ginny’s building, he was pretty fond of the idea of costumes, though he was wishing he’d put slightly more effort into his. Now dancing, on the other hand, was still something he was trying not to think about.
Ginny pulled open the door to the apartment. Before Harry’s greeting made it out of his mouth, his brain registered what she was wearing.
It was a short, form-fitting dress of white sequins. The edges were trimmed with fluffy white fur and had a neckline that the word ‘plunged’ was surely invented just to describe. On her stomach was a sparkly red mouth with teeth and huge eyes like a monstrous face.
“That had better be you, Harry,” she said, “or this is about to get really awkward.”
“What?” he said distractedly, looking up at her face.
Her hair was pulled to the sides of her head in buns wrapped in white fur. Thick silver glitter like a mask sparkled around her eyes, and her lips were painted a shockingly dark red. When he continued to just stare, she tilted her head to the side in question.
“Oh,” he said, belatedly realizing he still hadn’t really answered her. He pushed up his mask. “Yeah. It’s me.”
She smiled, her eyes warm and posture relaxed in a way he hadn’t seen since before her midterms started. “Ah, there you are. No glasses?”
He shrugged. “Contacts. Hard to fit glasses under the mask.”
She nodded, her eyes sweeping down his body. “Darth Vader, huh? Nice. And even more appropriate than you know.”
“What?” Harry asked again, wondering when exactly he had become this dull-witted.
She laughed, grabbing his arm and pulling him inside.
“You remember Luna,” she prompted.
He turned, realizing Ginny wasn’t in fact the only person here. “Uh, yeah. Of course,” he said, smiling at Luna.
It was actually a little hard to look at her straight on. She was wearing some sort of strange glasses that appeared to spin. Her costume consisted of a short white lab coat and a pair of garishly patterned knee high socks with high platform shoes.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Quite well,” Luna replied, adjusting one of the yellow barrettes on her high ponytails that looked suspiciously like sharks.
“Good,” he said.
“I’m Eugenie Clark,” she supplied when he just continued to stare in confusion.
“Oh,” Harry said.
Ginny put a hand on his shoulder, lifting up to whisper in his ear. “Famous cryptozoologist and underwater diver. Just go with it.”
“Very cool,” Harry said to Luna.
Luna smiled broadly at him and disappeared back upstairs.
“And this is Dean and Seamus,” Ginny said, threading her arm through his and leading him towards two guys lounging on the couch. “This is Harry.”
“O-ho!” the shorter, stockier of the two said, pushing to his feet. “Excellent choice. Gotta love the classics.”
Now Harry could see that he was dressed as Poe Dameron.
“Seamus,” he introduced himself, giving Harry’s hand a firm shake. “Just glad you didn’t choose that douche wad Kylo Ren.”
The darker one laughed, standing up and shaking Harry’s hand as well. “I’m Dean,” he said.
This one was taller than Harry by a head, and his costume also clear: Finn. Which made Ginny’s comment about the appropriateness of Darth Vader make more sense. They were apparently a walking Star Wars convention. Of course, the detail of their costumes put his own shoddily slapped-together one to shame.
“Hey,” Dean said as he let go of Harry’s hand. “Aren’t you…”
“Uh, yeah,” Harry said, bracing himself.
But Dean only smiled. “Cool.”
“Dean and Seamus just moved in next door,” Ginny said.
“Yeah?” Harry said, looking back down at her and very pleased that she was still holding his arm.
“Dean’s been going to art school here,” she informed him.
Seamus nodded. “I finally found a job so I could move down as well. Long-distance sucks, let me tell you.”
“I can only imagine,” Harry said.
Dean wrapped an arm around Seamus’ waist. “So, are we going to this party or what?”
“We sure as hell are,” Ginny said, bouncing a bit on her toes. “Luna! Let’s go!”
There was a flurry of preparations, people pulling together the last parts of their costumes.
“Hold this for me?” Ginny asked, offering Hary her phone with what looked like her ID and folded cash rubber banded to it. “I don’t exactly have anywhere to put it.”
Harry’s eyes dropped down the The Dress again, as his brain had apparently begun thinking of it. “No, you wouldn’t, would you?”
Her grin spread. “Tonight isn’t really about being practical.”
“So noted,” he said, taking her phone and slipping it the back pocket of his jeans.
They abandoned the apartment, their voices echoing as the clamored down the stairs and out onto the street.
“Is it close enough to walk?” Harry asked as Ginny fell into step next to him.
“Yes,” Ginny drew out. “More or less. Though let’s be real. We’re really all just too broke to uber.” She glanced up at him. “Hope you don’t mind.”
“Not a bit,” he said, content to walk with her. Especially if it put off dancing.
She wound her arm through his, giving it a squeeze. “Good.”
Dean and Seamus led them all down the sidewalk, making loud conversations and bad jokes, which Harry did not at all mind, especially considering that from time to time Ginny would turn her face into his shoulder with a groan.
Luna just looked back at them and smiled, managing to look serene and knowing at the same time.
“No Sirius?” Ginny asked after a while.
It felt ridiculous to try to talk to her with his mask on, so he shoved it back up on his head. “He’s off tonight.”
“Ooh. Cedric?” she asked, waggling her eyebrows.
He laughed. “Sorry. Not your lucky night.”
“Darn.” She looked behind them. “So, what, someone is following us?”
She kept glancing around, clearly trying to figure out who was with his detail. After a while she gave up. “Well, I hope they brought their dancing shoes.”
Harry glanced down at her worn white canvas sneakers with glittering sequins glued on them. His attention wandered a moment, but in his defense, her skirt was really short.
“I’m a yeti, in case you didn’t realize.”
Harry wrenched his eyes back up to her face. “Oh,” he said, horrified to feel his face heat up. Just another reason he should probably just wear a mask all the time. “Of course.”
“I almost dressed up as your mum,” she said, sliding him a wry glance.
“Thank you for not doing that,” Harry said with a wince. That was disturbing on too many levels to even contemplate.
She squeezed his arm. “She’s kind of a big deal.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’d noticed.”
They walked for what felt like at least a mile before Harry detected the first signs of a party. There was a crowd gathered at the entrance to a warehouse down the middle of the next block, and Ginny pulled him to a stop with a reluctant sigh.
“Probably time for the mask,” she said. “Even if it seems like a crime.”
He lifted an eyebrow at her in question.
She shrugged, reaching up for his mask. “Covering all of this up.”
He touched her arms, his hands rubbing gently at her skin. “I thought you weren’t here to inflate my ego.”
She smiled. “Momentary weakness.”
She pulled his mask down, settling it in place, her fingers brushing against his jaw. They stood there for a long moment, his hands still on her arms as she fiddled with his mask.
“Save it for the dance floor!” Seamus shouted.
Ginny flushed, stepping back away and laughing. “You’ll find it hard to dance if I break your legs, arsehole!”
Not looking up at Harry again, she still took his hand and pulled him along towards the crowd.
* * *
“Drink?” Seamus offered, pulling a flask from his pocket.
“Oh,” Harry said. “No. I’m fine.”
Dean took the flask, taking a long draw. “Just to get the juices flowing.”
They stood to the edge of the dance floor, leaning against one of the large industrial pillars holding up the roof. A DJ was set up at one end, huge speakers blaring out dance music. Strobes and smoke machines and a wide array of lights filled the enormous space.
Ginny was already out there dancing with Luna. Harry had claimed a need to fortify himself first. But honestly, he didn’t think alcohol was going to make any of this more bearable. So instead he watched her dance with Luna, hands lifted in the pulsing light, seeming to lose herself in the music. He was beginning to realize that Ginny Weasley didn’t do anything halfway. She worked hard. She studied hard. And apparently she partied hard, for all that she had refused any drinks as well.
He smiled, happy to see her clearly so relaxed and having fun. It felt like ever since he met her he’d only seen her at work or running to and from class or stressing over grades. Here all of that seemed forgotten.
The lights hit her costume like a disco ball, the black lights turning it a deep purple.
“Okay,” Dean announced. “I am ready for this.”
Seamus grinned, jumping up and down a few times and shaking his hands like he was about to head into a bout in the ring. “Let’s do it.”
They glanced at Harry. “You coming?”
“Um,” Harry said. “In a bit.”
“Suit yourself,” Dean said, leading Seamus out into the crowd.
From behind the safety of his mask, Harry was able to watch everything going on around him. Other than the occasional person dancing by, no one paid him any attention. It was strangely relaxing. It was a bit less so when he lost sight of Ginny in the crowd as more and more people appeared.
A hand slid into the crook of his arm. “Okay. Enough standing around.”
Harry turned to find Ginny looking up at him. Her face was flushed, a fine sheen of sweat on her neck and chest.
“Dance with me,” she said.
“I don’t really--” he started to say.
She took his hands, pulling him towards the dance floor. “I’ll teach you.”
He didn’t resist, letting her pull him into the middle of the crowd. Having found a spot she liked, she turned to him, her body beginning to move with the beat. Harry tried his best, but knew he just looked like someone standing around bobbing their head. It was awful.
Ginny put her hands on his shoulders, lifting up so she could speak into his ear. “Stop thinking so much and just bloody dance with me, Harry.”
She lowered herself back down, but didn’t step away from him, her body very near his as she began to move. Her hand was still on his arm, and he forced himself to move, his hand brushing her hip as he copied her movements.
She gave him an encouraging smile, doing a ridiculous little shimmy that made him laugh. Maybe he could do this, he thought.
After a while, the beat began to morph into something else, a weird sort of aural dissonance that echoed through the space before smoothing out.
“Oh!” Ginny shouted, beaming up at him. “I love this song!”
So did everyone else apparently, as the dance floor felt much more crowded, everyone pressing closer together. Everyone was just bouncing and jumping and writhing to the pulsing music, including Ginny.
Her enthusiasm was infectious, and before long he completely forgot his embarrassment.
There was something almost hypnotic about it, the flashing light, the music so loud that it risked overloading his brain. No one knew who he was but Ginny, and she had a way of never making him feel ridiculous.
The crowd surged, pushing them closer together. She touched him often, nothing coy or obscene, just a hand on his arm as if she wanted to know that he was still near, that he was still having a good time. Her body occasionally brushed up against his as the music pulsed around them.
After a while he forgot the crowd and even the music, everything focusing down on her. They couldn’t talk or even see each other, so everything was gesture and movement, and soon they were completely wound up in each other’s space.
Harry felt breathless, like a tight pressure across his chest that he knew had nothing to do with being winded, with the exertion of dancing. No, it was something fuzzy and hot, something that had been building for a long while. The music, the anonymity, that just all made it feel…possible. He could be anyone. They could be anyone.
He pushed up his mask, his hand on her hip urging Ginny closer.
She looked up at him, smiling and relaxed and happy, her hand touching his chest.
His feet stopped moving, his body stilling, just standing there staring down at her.
“Harry?” she asked, her fingers pressing in and head tilting in question.
She looked concerned and amused and painfully beautiful and just, fuck it , he thought and leaned in and kissed her.
It felt a bit like liberation, or what he imagined jumping out of an airplane might feel like, that first moment of pressing his lips to hers. But followed quickly by the resultant terror. Did he just mess this up? Was she going to be okay with this? But before doubt could translate to his muscles, Ginny was grabbing him and kissing him back, like maybe she’d just been waiting for him to make up his mind.
Her lips parted under his, drawing him further in, effectively shutting off every part of Harry’s brain that wasn’t connected directly to her, and it was such a relief to stop thinking for a while, to just do , to just be. Just Harry, kissing someone who made him feel like anything was possible.
Ginny Weasley kissed like a dare. There was nothing passive or uncertain, each touch like a competition, a challenge to see if he could keep up, and it was electric, it was so fucking right, and it sparked something in Harry he wasn’t quite prepared to feel. She kissed like a challenge, and he gladly met each one, pressing back with his own dare.
Nothing else mattered in that moment as he wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her flush up against him. Her fingers threaded up into his hair, doing her part to get as close to him as she could. And, fuck, she felt amazing, her body against his, her mouth opening wider, demanding more as his hands wandered her back, her sides, her hips. None of it was enough.
“WOO-HOO!” someone shouted as they slammed into Harry’s back from behind, an elbow jabbing into his ribs.
Harry stumbled, nearly knocking Ginny down, losing his grip on her, and the entire party seemed to rush back in a moment, the nearly deafening music, the press of bodies all around them.
“Sorry, dude,” the guy bellowed before bouncing off in another direction.
Harry steadied Ginny, his attacker already forgotten. “Are you okay?” he shouted, pulling her back towards him.
“Ugh,” Ginny said, face scrunched up.
“What?” Harry asked, feeling something heavy like dread settle in his stomach.
She curled into him, lifting her mouth near his ear so he could hear her. “You’re even better at that than I thought you’d be.”
A rush of relief and something far more pleasant flooded his body as her fingers played with the neck of his costume, her breath warm against his neck. He wound his arm back around her waist, pulling her closer.
“Thought about it a lot, have you?” he teased.
Her hand slid down the front of his chest, nails dragging down the zipper of his robe. “You haven’t?”
“I definitely have,” he admitted, feeling heat prickle his entire body as her fingers dragged across his stomach.
She tilted her head to the side, looking up at him. Her lipstick was just a smeared memory at this point, and he didn’t care if he was the one wearing most of it.
“It’s the accent, isn’t it?” she asked. “You’ve got a thing for it.”
He let out a startled laugh, and he really shouldn’t be surprised that she was making something as potentially awkward as this easy. Fun.
He cradled her neck with his hand, dragging his thumb down her throat, feeling her swallow under his palm. “It’s not the accent.”
“Why?” she asked. “Is there something wrong with my accent?”
He urged her face towards his, resting his forehead against hers. “No.”
Her hands flexed against his shoulders, her lower lip drawing between her teeth.
He blew out a heavy breath, his entire body tingling. “I’d really like to kiss you again.” Well, honestly, he wanted to do a hell of a lot more than that.
Ginny looked past him for a moment as if considering something before reaching up and touching his face, her thumb brushing the corner of his mouth.
“Hold that thought,” she said, pressing a quick kiss to his lips before pulling away, weaving her way between dancers.
Harry felt a beat of panic as he lost sight of her. With her gone, it became instantly clear that he was standing in the middle of a dance floor like a giant lump. A few people were staring at him, and he dragged his mask back down over his face.
Thankfully Ginny reappeared at his side quickly, grabbing his hand and not stopping, pulling him along behind. She had a determined look on her face, so he didn’t bother to ask where they were going.
They wound past a makeshift bar and into a dark hallway where people were lined up for bathrooms. Staircases led up and away from time to time, but Ginny ignored all of them. Reaching a T-shaped corridor, she looked down both halls.
The music was fading into the distance, so he could hear Ginny breathe, “Finally,” under her breath as they made their way towards a partially burned-out neon sign for the exit.
They exited out the back, finding themselves in a dank alleyway. The silence out here was deafening, his ears seeming to buzz with the pressing quiet. Ginny again looked both directions before leading him off to the left. It was fairly dark, the narrow alley spotted here and there with parked cars and large shipping containers.
She led him around the edge of one until they were enclosed on three sides by walls and containers. She turned back to look at him, the two of them spending a long moment just regarding each other.
She tugged slightly on his hand, bringing him closer and placing it on her hip. “I think we were right about here,” she said, sliding her own hands up his chest.
Harry’s entire body was still humming with awareness. He stepped closer until she was standing up against the wall, his arm wrapping around her. “I actually think it was more like this,” he said, tipping her face up to his.
“Good point,” she breathed before pressing her lips to his.
Kissing Ginny was no less amazing the second time. The party was little more than a distant, deep vibrating bassline emanating from the building behind them, meaning that now he could also hear her: the soft sounds in her throat as the kiss deepened, the rasp of her breathing, the rustle of cloth rubbing together.
His hands roamed her body, discovering curves and planes, the firmness of her muscles, each touch answered in kind as her fingers fumbled to reach him. His hands dragged up her sides, the sequins rough under his palms.
She let out a sound of frustration. “I’m finding your costume very inconvenient.”
“Hmm,” he said, fingers dipping into the hollow of her throat and trailing downwards. Her skin was pale and warm and sprinkled with faint freckles that he leaned forward to taste with his tongue. “I find yours very accommodating.”
“Do you?” she said, voice breathless as she pressed into his touch.
“Yes,” he said, fingers slipping beneath the neckline of her dress between the gentle swell of her breasts.
He was momentarily distracted from the soft flush working its way up her chest by what he didn’t find as his fingers slid across the smooth skin.
He looked up at her, finding her watching him with her lips slightly parted, her shoulders lifting with the soft swell of her breathing.
“Are you not wearing anything under this?” he asked.
She leaned into his ear, fingernails dragging up his thighs. “I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.”
He groaned, feeling himself harden at the thought. He didn’t need any more encouragement than that. Sliding his hand under the tight fabric of the dress, the soft fur tickled the back of his wrist as he confirmed that she did not, in fact, have anything on under the dress. He palmed the gentle curve of her breast, rewarded by a sound deep in Ginny’s throat.
She was small and fit and any last threads of caution he might have been clinging to evaporate completely. Her head fell back to the wall, her eyes steady on him as his hand moved across her skin. His thumb circled her nipple, and she bit her lip, her back arching slightly as she pushed back into the touch.
Grabbing for his hips, she pulled him tight against her, his thigh pressing between her legs. He lowered his face to her neck, moving his mouth across her shoulder, tongue tracing her collarbone. All the while Ginny’s fingers tangled in his hair, urging him on as his hands continued to firmly knead her breast.
The sleeve of her dress began to slip, and he nudged it slightly, helping it on its way, just wanting it out of his way. It fell halfway down her arm, and yes, that was much, much better.
“Harry,” Ginny said, her hand covering his. “Wait.”
It instantly brought him back to his surroundings. “God, I’m sorry,” he said, trying to pull back, never meaning to take it too far.
She shook her head, her fingers pressing into the back of his hand, holding him against her. “I don’t want you to stop. I just think maybe we should go somewhere else.”
He studied her face, wanting more than anything to believe that she was saying what he thought she was saying. He cleared his throat. “You mean like…my apartment?”
She nodded, shoulders lowering as if she was relieved that they were on the same page. “Exactly like your apartment.”
His entire body seemed to scream in agreement, because clearly this was the best idea he’d ever had. “Okay,” he managed to say.
“Great,” she said.
He lifted his chin back towards the warehouse. “What about…”
“Oh,” she said, her cheeks flushing slightly. “Um. Dean and Seamus said they would make sure Luna got home.”
Meaning she must have taken care of that before they even left the warehouse. He leaned into her, nuzzling against her neck. “Not leaving anything to chance?”
“No,” she said, her hand squeezing his. “I want this.”
Jesus, he thought, pulling back to look at her, still wondering how this could possibly be happening. “Me too.”
She gave him a smile that seemed maybe the tiniest bit relieved. “Good.”
The idea that he ever could have left her in doubt of just how much he wanted this burned away any caution he may have been trying to cling to. Cradling her face, he kissed her, urging her mouth open under his, wanting her to know exactly how much he wants her, how much he wants this. Her tongue slid against his in answer, and all plans seemed to fall to the wayside.
A door somewhere slammed open with an impossibly loud clang, both of them jumping in surprise.
Ginny pressed her face into his neck, letting out a breathless laugh. “Christ, that scared me.”
Harry rubbed her back, looking up at the sound of voices coming towards them.
“Come on,” he said, reluctantly stepping away from her and pulling his mask back in place.
Ginny took a moment to adjust her dress, and Harry did his best to distract himself from how disheveled she looked, how much he just wanted to touch her again, by focusing on getting them both to his apartment as fast as humanly possible. It wasn’t exactly close, unfortunately. Of course, even a single flight of stairs felt like too long to wait at this point.
He felt her hand slip into his. He looked down at her, squeezing her fingers.
“Ready?” she asked, smiling up at him.
He nodded. Together they made their way down the alley, away from the voices and towards the closest cross street. It was late enough that not many cars were about in this part of town.
At the end of the alley, Ginny paused, glancing at a convenience store down the street. “Do you have anything back at your place?”
“What?” he asked.
She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Oh, right,” he said, his brain still a little fuzzy. “I don’t think I do.” That seemed like a stupendous oversight at the moment, but he told himself there was no way to foresee this turn of events.
She glanced down at her tight dress. “I’m not exactly carrying either.”
He let out a huff, his hands itching to wrap around her waist. “I suppose it is a night for being practical after all,” he said.
She gave him a cheeky grin, sticking her tongue out at him.
He looked over at the store. “I can go…”
She laughed. “Yes, because CCTV footage of you buying condoms wouldn’t be at all of interest to anyone. I can take care of it.”
She paused, looking him over as if considering something. Then she pushed him back against the nearest wall in the shadow between two streetlights. Lifting his mask up, she kissed him breathless. He forgot everything like the public street, the agent no doubt very nearby observing.
Her hand flattened against the front of his jeans, hidden by the folds of his costume.
“Fuck,” he said, the friction of her palm feeling so damn good.
“I thought of just asking you, but I wasn’t sure I could trust you to be objective.” Her hand tightened, fingers gripping firmly.
Grabbing her shoulders, he switched their positions so she was pressed back against the wall. “Far be it from me to get in the way of science,” he said, kissing her.
She moaned against his mouth as he pressed into her hand, and if that wasn’t the sexiest thing he’d ever heard, he didn’t know what was. His hands itched to touch her again, slide under her dress.
“At this rate,” he said, “we are never making it back to my apartment.”
“Good point,” she said. Pulling up the back of his robes, her hand slid into his pocket, pulling out her phone. “Don’t go anywhere.”
“Not a chance,” he promised.
Her nails raked up him one last time and then she was ducking out from beneath his arms, pausing at the edge of the sidewalk to look for traffic before darting across the street.
Harry leaned his forehead against the wall and took a deep breath, incredibly thankful for the billowing folds of his costume. He pulled his mask back on, glancing down the street.
Less than twenty yards back towards the club stood a slight figure that for all the world looked like they were just out having a smoke. Harry could only be intensely pleased that Sirius was not on duty tonight. At least Dora had some semblance of discretion, even if this was going to get really awkward in few minutes.
Harry glanced up, keeping one eye on Ginny’s progress in the store as he pulled out his phone, opening an app. By the time he was done, Ginny was darting back across the street with a small brown paper bag in one hand.
“I should have given you some money.”
“I’ve got this,” she said, tucking herself up close to his body.
“Cold?” he asked, which was a stupid question. It was October and she was wearing very little in terms of clothing.
She looked up at him with a smile. “I have faith in your ability to keep me warm.”
“I’ll do my best,” he murmured, wrapping his arms around her.
He was still doing what he could to keep her warm when a car pulled up the curb with an impatient honk.
“This is us,” Harry said, pulling his mask back down.
They climbed into the backseat. “Hi,” Ginny said brightly. “Thanks for picking us up.”
The driver gave them cursory nods, eyes lingering briefly on Harry’s mask. Only then Dora pulled open the front door and slid into the passenger seat.
“Shotgun,” she said, voice as bright and fake as her bubblegum pink hair.
Ginny only looked confused for a moment. “Younger, cooler version of Sirius?”
Dora laughed. “Got that right.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry said, hating to put her through something like this.
Ginny just shook her head. “It’s fine.” She scooted a little further across the seat, putting on her seatbelt.
He wanted her closer, but didn’t really particularly trust himself either. As the car pulled away from the curb, Ginny lifted her feet up into his lap, leaning back against the window.
He looked over at her in question, but she just smiled at him, her feet pressing into his thigh. He touched her ankles, not intending anything more than that, just some small contact to tide him over, but her skin was soft and warm, and one of his hands moved higher, discovering the curve of her calf, the hollow behind her knee.
The ride wasn’t really that long, but felt endless as Ginny watched him in the dim light of the back seat, and his hand roamed the smooth skin of her legs. He grew bolder and bolder as the ride stretched on, teasing with the indecently high hem of her dress.
She didn’t pull back or put her hand on his to stop him, just stared back at him with something like a challenge in her gaze, like she really wanted to know how far he would take it.
Who gives a shit who is watching? she seemed to ask.
This, he thought, was what had drawn him to her from the first and simultaneously terrified him. The way she somehow made him forget all reason. Made him feel like…himself again.
She bit down on her lip when his thumb disappeared up under the edge of the fabric, her toes digging into his leg.
Dear god, Harry thought, how long could one car ride last?
The driver cleared his throat, and it was only then that Harry realized they had pulled up in front of his apartment building.
Harry pulled his hand back, Ginny swinging her feet to the ground.
“Thanks,” she said to the driver and then clambered out. Harry followed after her.
Dora waited for them on the curb, eyes carefully averted.
“So how does this work?” Ginny asked. She looked at Dora. “Do you come all the way up into the apartment?”
Dora pulled the door open, giving Ginny a neutral smile. “I just make sure he’s in for the night.”
Ginny’s eyebrow popped up at that, and Harry took her arm, leading her inside. “Night, Dora.”
Inside, the small lobby was empty. He crossed over to the elevator and pushed the call button.
“Oh,” Ginny said as the elevator doors slid open. “An elevator that actually works. Fancy.”
He smiled, his hand resting against the small of her back as they went inside.
The elevator doors closed, and Ginny stepped towards him as if to start back up right where they’d left off.
“Gin,” he said, gesturing towards the camera.
She glanced up at it. “Oh. Of course.”
After a moment she turned away from him, only to step back up against him, her hand caught between their bodies. Hidden from the camera, but no less effective. Harry’s head dropped back to the wall, biting back a groan and very very thankful that his face was covered.
“I just hope this elevator moves faster than he drove,” Ginny observed.
Harry didn’t particularly trust himself to speak.
The door dinged open, and he wasted no time propelling her out into the hall.
Ginny leaned back against his door as he fumbled for his keys, her fingers already trying to get at the zipper of his billowing costume.
The door finally, finally opened. He stepped inside the dark apartment, listening intently for a moment for any sign that Hermione was awake. Finding it dark and quiet, he swung the door closed behind them.
He wrenched his mask free, dropping it to the floor. Ginny made quick work of his robe, adding it to the growing pile once she got it free.
“Much better,” she said, hands pulling the hem of his shirt out of his jeans.
He made a sound of agreement, pulling her tight against him, reacquainting himself with her spectacular dress. “Would you like a tour of the apartment?”
“Hmmm,” was all she managed in response, kicking off her shoes as her hand slid up under the back of his shirt.
Without the shoes, the not insignificant difference in their heights was even greater. But there were easy ways to work around that. Grabbing her thighs, he lifted her up, her legs wrapping around his waist, and yes, that was better. Leaning into her, he pressed her back against the door, both of them groaning at the contact.
“This is the front door,” he managed to get out.
“Best door ever,” she murmured.
He lingered there kissing her as long as he dared before pushing off the door. He carried her through the rest of the common area.
“The kitchen. The family room,” he rattled off as they passed by.
Ginny seemed much more interested in taking advantage of her position, her mouth open against his neck, tongue warm and slick against his pulse.
He stumbled, lowering her to the back of the couch. “The couch,” he said.
Hooking her feet behind his legs for leverage, she grabbed at the hem of his shirt, clearly trying to get it out of her way. He dragged it up and over his head, dropping it to the floor.
She leaned back, taking a long moment just to look at him in the dim streetlight coming in through the windows, Harry feeling warmth spreading up the back of his neck.
“Ginny?” he said.
She spread her hand across his chest, other hand still firmly closed around the paper bag. “Bloody hell, Harry,” she said, her nails scraping gently across his stomach. He sucked in a breath at the sensation. “What else have you been hiding?”
He huffed under his breath. “I’ll leave that for you to discover yourself.”
She gave him a wicked smile, her fingers dragging down to hook over the waist of his jeans. “Very much looking forward to that. But for now…”
She leaned forward to press her mouth to his skin, moving leisurely across his chest while Harry concentrated on not letting her fall. Her tongue flicked over his nipple, and he nearly toppled her over the edge of the couch, giving up entirely on the idea of a bed.
They started slipping back, and she nipped at his skin. “Bedroom.”
He lowered her to her feet, her body dragging down his. He kissed her, walking backwards with her still tucked in close to his body because somehow the idea of letting go of her for even a moment was beyond him. By some small miracle they made it without bumping into anything too badly.
“And this,” he said in the doorway, groping back for the light switch. A pool of soft yellow light from his bedside table lamp fell across the bed. “Is my room.”
“Nice,” she said, lifting her head from his collarbone just long enough to toss the paper bag she still somehow had the presence of mind to still be holding onto the bed. Her now-free hands immediately set to work at his belt. Harry awkwardly tried to kick off his shoes and close the door at the same time, nearly knocking them both to the ground.
Ginny just laughed and in no way made the task any easier, her hands doing their best to distract him. By some miracle he eventually managed to get his shoes and socks off without falling on his ass, kicking them into the corner.
Divested of his jeans, he sat down on the edge of the bed, Ginny climbing on top of his lap. “Finally,” she said as she settled on top of him.
“Mmm,” he agreed, pulling her down for a kiss. It seemed like hours since he’d first kissed her, since they’d started the endless journey to this spot. Now they didn’t have to think about anything but this, the taste of each other, the press of her body wrapped around his. They both seemed to settle into a slower, more lingering pace in response.
Not that it lasted.
He ran his hands up her thighs, the hem of her dress climbing higher and higher. She hummed in approval, pulling his lower lip into her mouth, nipping at it with her teeth.
Trying to get his hands on her again, he struggled with the tight fabric that was keeping her skin from him. For all that he loved this dress, he was ready for it to be gone. He found the zipper on one side, carefully pulling it down. This gave him somewhat better access, something that delighted both of them, but it honestly wasn’t enough. Reaching for the hem of the dress to pull it up, his hands brushed against her hips.
She tensed, noticeably enough that Harry paused. “Ginny?”
Catching his hands, she held her dress in place. “Just…wait a second.”
He pulled his hands back to her knees. “Okay.”
“I…” she tried to say. She seemed to be incapable of words, gnawing on her lip and looking embarrassed.
“Hey,” he said, taking a breath and trying to tamp down the urgent demands of his body. “If you’ve changed your mind, we can stop.”
She shook her head. “No. No. I have definitely not changed my mind. I just…” She seemed to finally find her footing, that much more familiar glint back in her eye. “If I promise to tell you later, can you just not ask me about it now?”
He frowned. “Ask you about what?”
With a breath, she reached for the bottom of her dress, pulling it up over her head. She was left in nothing but a scant pair of underwear. Harry was distracted enough that he forgot about her request for a while, leaning forward to press his lips to her sternum, tracing his tongue down the curve of her breast. Taking her nipple into his mouth, he rolled his tongue around it. She squirmed against him, her breath catching in her throat, and he gladly gave all of his attention to discovering exactly what she liked, what made her pull back and what made her press into him. What made her open and loud and impatient.
“Fuck, yes,” she said, her fingers tight against his scalp.
Her hips rolled forward against him urgently, and god, there was no way anything had ever felt this good before. He grabbed her thighs, dragging her harder against him, wanting more, wanting everything , and it was only then that he noticed, only then that the feel of them under his fingers somehow managed to penetrate the haze—the puckered skin of intertwining scars across one of her hips. They didn’t look that old.
“Ginny,” he said, hands instantly gentling, ghosting over the damage.
She sighed, squeezing her eyes shut. “I’m okay,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about hurting me or anything.”
Her entire body was tight again, pulling back into herself like she was bracing herself for him to break his promise. Sure enough, Harry felt a million questions burning in his throat. He forced himself to swallow them back, instead wrapping his arms under her thighs and standing up.
She let out a slight squeak of surprise, grabbing at his shoulders.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
He laid her back on the bed, following down after her. “Not asking,” he said.
He kissed her deeply, wanting her here again, with him, open and challenging and loud. She sighed, her hands kneading down his back, pulling him closer. The contact of that much skin on skin seared all the last lingering questions from his mind, because all there was was Ginny, hot and soft and insistent under him.
He kissed his way down her throat, her chest, as he hooked his fingers under the elastic of her underwear. She lifted her hips, helping him pull them down and off her legs.
“Can I ask one thing?” Harry said, hand on her knee.
He didn’t miss the slight stiffening of her body, as if bracing herself. “What?”
His hand slid up the smooth skin of her thigh, nudging her legs apart. “What works for you?”
“Ungh,” she said rather inarticulately as his fingers eased inside of her. “Whatever you’re doing seems to be working just fine.”
“Good to know.” Her knees fell further apart, giving him better access. “Tell me if that changes?”
“God, yes,” she breathed, her hands reaching for him, pulling his mouth back to hers.
She was in no way quiet about what she liked or didn’t, and he happily returned the favor. It wasn’t long at all before both of them were nearly ragged with need. He pressed close, rocking against her.
She grabbed his hips, fingers digging in. “Harry,” she said, voice hitching. “I would really like you to be inside of me now.”
“God, yes,” he agreed.
She groped up above her head for the paper bag now lost somewhere in the covers.
She rolled him to his back, foil packet between her teeth as she pulled his boxers down.
Harry bit down on his lip and watched as she unrolled the condom. Not quick and efficient, but slow and methodical. She seemed to be enjoying taking her time, watching him squirm. He supposed it was only fair, he thought, squeezing his eyes shut and just hanging on for the ride.
“Ready?” she asked after what felt like hours.
Her hands were doing such magical things, he could barely answer her coherently. “Yes.”
“Mind if I’m on top?” she asked.
“Not at all,” he said, aware of how tight his voice sounded.
She straddled his hips, holding him firmly as she slowly lowered herself on to him. Slowly being the key word. Slow, slow, slow, and oh, fuck, she was going to kill him, the way she pushed and retreated, figuring out how they fit together, while he just held on and tried not to lose his mind.
After an eternity, she finally settled, taking him all of the way in. They both sighed with relief. Then she shifted slightly, Harry more than ready to press up into her, but a look of discomfort crossed her face. He forced himself to remain still and quiet no matter how much he wanted to ask if she was okay.
She pulled her leg forward a bit, her expression easing. She experimentally rolled her hips, and Harry bit back a groan. She did it again, letting out her own sound of approval.
“Good?” he asked.
She licked her lips, nodding as she squeezed her muscles, tightening around him. “You?”
A sound that really couldn’t be described as anything other than a moan escaped his lips. “So very, very good,” he managed to say.
She grinned, leaning down to kiss him. His hands found her breasts, kneading gently, and she groaned against his mouth, rocking back against him. He met her readily, cautiously at first, but quickly forgetting everything as the two of them fumbled their way into a rhythm that worked for both of them. They drew it out as best they could, considering how fucking ready for this he was. How ready he had been for what felt like hours.
Weeks, maybe, if he could stand to be that honest.
She lifted her hands to the headboard, gaining even better leverage, and Harry vaguely heard himself making almost embarrassing sounds of approval.
His fingers dug into her thighs as the pressure built and built, his muscles burning with effort.
“Ginny,” he ground out, wanting her to know that he was close.
Ginny let out a low groan, grabbing his hand and pressing his fingers between their bodies. He happily took the hint, and she ground down against him, her movements beginning to get frantic, panting under her breath how close she was.
Everything seemed to grey out, Harry squeezing his eyes shut. At some point he heard her cry out, eventually brushing his hand aside, and he allowed himself to give in to it as well, his hips flexing as he lifted up into her again and again, letting out a curse as the unbearable pressure finally, finally gave way.
It took a long while for him to become aware of Ginny’s head lowered into the hollow of his shoulder, the way her hips still gently rolled them both through the aftershocks, drawing it out, and god, it felt spectacularly endless. Eventually stilling, she rested there a long moment before rolling off him to one side.
She spread her arms wide, one of them across his stomach as she worked on catching her breath. “Well,” she said. “That was…”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed, his own breathing labored. As soon as he felt capable of it, he made quick work of the condom. Well, as quick as his fumbling fingers and still-trembling muscles could manage.
Settling back down next to her, they lay quietly for a while, her hand absently sliding across the skin of his chest, his own playing with her hipbone. His whole body was relaxed, everything seeming to float.
“I suppose that old Kevin Bacon movie had it right.”
“What?” Harry asked, brain still sluggish.
Ginny propped herself up on one elbow, looking down at him. “Dancing really does lead to sex.”
He reached up, fingers running along a strand of hair that had escaped her rather elaborate buns. “Was that your plan all along?”
She shrugged. “Well, that and the dress.”
He reached for her, pleased when she rolled up against him without hesitation. “Sneaky,” he said, pressing a kiss to her forehead as she snuggled into him.
They dozed together until the cold of the room began to settle in.
“Do you mind if I pop in the shower?” she asked. “I can only imagine I look like a spangly owl.”
He glanced at the smudged glitter around her eyes, noting some of it had ended up lots of other places as well. “A bit, yeah.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she leaned over and gave his chest a playful bite.
“Ow,” he complained, doing his best to look put out when it barely hurt at all.
“Oh,” she said, “I am so sorry.” She kissed the spot, her mouth opening wider and her tongue sliding across the skin.
“Ginny,” he said, feeling his body straining fruitlessly to respond.
She settled her body down the full length of his, kissing him very thoroughly.
“And now,” she said, voice low and fingers dragging across his still tingling lips, “this spangled owl is going to take a shower.”
“Ungh,” he said as she rolled off him, leaving him wishing her back almost immediately.
He watched her cross the room. “There’s clean towels in the cupboard over the toilet,” he said.
“Great,” she said with a smile before disappearing inside.
Harry collapsed back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. “Great,” he repeated to the empty room with a smile.
Ginny closed the door behind her, blinking against the bright light of the loo. She leaned back against it for a moment, letting her eyes adjust.
It was surprisingly clean. Not like, sterile hospital tidy or anything. There was a pile of clothes in one corner and a mangled tube of toothpaste on the back of the sink. But it did generally look like the surfaces had been washed not too long ago. One never knew what to expect. After all, some of her own brothers were dedicated slobs.
She crossed over to the sink, looking at her face in the mirror. She did look like a smudged owl, but a satisfied one at least. Turning the tap, she waited for warm water before thoroughly scrubbing her face. Or at least as well as she could without makeup remover.
As she straightened up, she winced, feeling the tightness in her hip that would no doubt blossom into outright pain before long.
“Sorry, Harry,” she murmured before pulling open the medicine cabinet in search of painkillers. There were a few prescription bottles that she refused to look at closely, bypassing them for a more familiar looking bottle.
Downing a few with a handful of water, Ginny turned her attention to the shower, grabbing a towel while she waited for it to heat up.
The water pressure was glorious, much better than at her place. She lingered far longer than she probably should, letting the hot water ease the tightness in her joints, but being careful not to get her hair wet. The last thing she wanted to deal with was finding a hair dryer or getting home with wet hair.
Feeling pink and flushed by the heat, but also deeply relaxed and more than a little sleepy, Ginny wrapped herself in a towel.
Harry was sitting on the edge of bed when she opened the door. He’d pulled on his pants, but not much else.
“Hey,” he said, smiling at her in a way that was endearingly bashful.
“That’s an impressive water heater you’ve got. I could have stayed in there all night.”
He pushed to his feet. “Glad I could impress.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” she said, winding her arms around his waist. “You definitely did.”
Catching her chin with his fingers, he lifted her face to his, leaning down and kissing her. It was sweet and slow, and seemed to demand nothing of her, not a kiss of need, but almost…affection. Her treacherous body rather gleefully responded, and, Christ, she was in so much trouble.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, his fingers brushing her cheek. He moved past her to take his turn in the loo.
Ginny glanced around the room, giving it more attention than she had when she first arrived. There was little more than the bed, a dresser, and a desk. She ran her fingers along the edge of the bookcase across the back of his desk, skimming the mostly academic titles. A messenger bag was on the floor, a few papers sticking out of it. There were a few framed photos tucked back in the corner of the desk. One of him with his parents when he was much younger, and another of him and Hermione with another boy she didn’t recognize.
Behind her, she heard the shower turn on, and hoped she hadn’t used up all the hot water.
Harry had apparently gone through and picked up all their things while she was in the bathroom. Her dress was carefully draped over the back of the desk chair, her shoes and knickers stacked neatly on the seat. She stared at them for a long moment, trying to identify the specific origin of the tightness in her chest.
Then she forced herself to reach for the dress, pulling it over her head. She was slipping on her shoes and considering the best way to get back home when the door to the bathroom opened.
“What are you doing?”
She didn’t look up, doing up the last laces on her shoes. “Just getting out of your hair.”
“It’s late,” he said, something a little strange in his voice.
She forced herself to look up at him. He was frowning, one hand tight on the edge of the towel where it wrapped around his waist, and that was an image she could have lived without seeing. There was still a little bit of water trailing down his neck.
“Not that late,” she said, tearing her eyes away. She stood, picking up her own damp towel off the arm of the chair and folding it carefully. “I imagine the party is still going strong.”
“Oh. Are you going back there?”
“What? No.” The only interesting part of the evening was standing in this room.
“You could just stay.”
She looked at him in surprise, noting that he looked caught off guard as well. It was one thing to go home with someone, it was quite another to settle in for the night.
“I mean, if you would be comfortable with that,” he amended.
“Would you be comfortable with that?” They’d rather spectacularly gone from zero to, well, a zillion in just a matter of hours.
His eyes darted to the side, like maybe he was thinking about that too. “Yeah,” he said, sounding a little surprised.
“Really?” she asked.
In the face of her skepticism, he only seemed more sure, crossing the room to stand in front of her.
He reached for the towel in her hands, pausing a moment to let her resist, she supposed, before he pulled it from her fingers. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m sure.”
Having him this close in her space was making it devilishly hard to think clearly. It was only a few hours. What would be the harm, really?
“Yeah,” she said, apparently forgetting every single reason this was a terrible idea. “I’ll text Luna and let her know I’m okay.”
She could already imagine Luna’s reaction. Dean and Seamus bumping fists and crowing about how they knew it . Still, it wouldn’t do to let Luna worry.
Harry smiled, his hand trailing down her arm. “And I’ll get you something to sleep in.”
“Great,” she said, telling herself that her skin was not tingling.
* * *
Ginny’s phone buzzed, a quiet alarm growing louder by the moment as she tried to orient herself, her hand groping for the phone. She finally silenced it, recognizing where she was and the heavy weight of someone’s arm slung across her waist.
Harry’s apartment. Right.
Sliding out from under his arm, she swung her feet over the side of the bed, doing her best not to disturb him.
“Where’re you going?” he asked groggily, his hand groping the now-empty side of the bed.
“I have the early shift,” she said, keeping her voice soft.
He lifted his head, glancing blearily at the clock like it was taking his brain a while to make sense of the numbers. She wondered for a moment if he was always like this in the morning, cute and befuddled, before ruthlessly shoving the thought away.
“Just go back to sleep,” she said, crossing over to the loo.
“It’s fine,” he said, pushing himself up against the headboard. “The shop opens this early?”
“Not quite this early, but I didn’t think it would do to show up in a crinkled costume or your old T-shirt,” she said, plucking at the white shirt that fell midway down her thighs.
He shrugged, his eyes traveling down her body. “Might be festive.”
“Git,” she said back over her shoulder as she closed the door behind her.
When she got back out, Harry was still sitting up in bed, one hand dragging through his hair as he yawned. One would think he’d have the decency to at least put on a shirt.
“How often do you have the early shift?”
“Twice a week,” she said.
He pulled a face. Yup. Definitely not a morning person.
She shrugged. “At least starting early means I get to finish early.”
She scrunched her eyes up, trying to remember the vagaries of her schedule. “One, I think.”
“Can I drop by?”
“Oh,” she said, thrown by the offer. “Um…”
“Right,” he said, not quite hiding his wince. “You’ll probably be exhausted.”
“Well, that’s why god invented coffee, isn’t it?” she asked, attention still on gathering up her things.
There was a long awkward pause, and god, she was usually better at the graceful exit than this. She sat down on the chair, pulling her dress into her lap, picking at a stray sequin. It would certainly be one of the most unique of her walks of shame.
“Do you not want me to stop by the shop anymore?” he asked.
“Of course not.” She smiled at him. “I’d never get between you and your fix.”
Only he was still watching her with bleary confusion, his brow furrowed. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Ginny,” he pressed.
Dealing with this head on was probably better anyway, she told herself. “I guess I wasn’t entirely clear if this was a one-off.”
He seemed to sit with that for a moment. “Do you want it to be a one-off?”
“Do you?” she shot back, feeling a little needled and wishing she’d never been weak enough to spend the night. Somehow it felt like all of this would be so much easier if she didn’t have to sit here in his T-shirt with him looking rumpled and sleepy. She crossed her arms over her chest.
Harry stared back at her. “I did do something wrong.”
He shook his head, looking like he was silently cursing himself. “I just…I shouldn’t have kissed you.”
She reeled back in the chair, because, god, this was even worse.
“No, shit,” he said, climbing out of the bed. “That’s not at all what I meant. I just mean, I did it all out of order.”
Her thoughts flitted over the sequence of the night’s events. “I’m pretty sure we got the order just right, Harry.”
He squatted down in front of her, taking her hands in his. “Look. I hate coffee.”
“What?” she asked, feeling completely lost.
He nodded. “Can’t stand the stuff.”
She frowned. He’d been coming to the shop for coffee for months . “But why would you…”
He just stared back at her, like he was waiting for her to put the pieces together.
“Oh,” she said, her heart pounding away in her chest in a way that was not at all helpful. “You were coming to see me?”
He smiled, a bit tentative and self-deprecating. “I was trying to find a way to ask you out without being a creepy customer, or just tell you how amazing I think you are, but I’m a disaster so I put it off over and over again until out of desperation I just kissed you. And then I let you think this was some sort of…booty call or something.”
“Booty call?” she echoed.
He lowered his face to her hands with a groan. “Oh my god, just stop.”
She couldn’t help but laugh, sliding her hands into his hair.
He looked up at her, so painfully earnest. “I don’t want this to be a one-off,” he said, his fingers tightening around hers. “I really, really don’t.”
Ginny took a few careful breaths, forcing herself to really think about it. To be honest about how she ended up here. If it was really just about sex like she told herself over and over again that it was.
“Ginny?” Harry asked, starting to look uncertain in a way that made her chest squeeze uncomfortably.
“Me either,” she admitted in a rush, which she realized now was why she was doing such a shite job at this. It was never a good idea to lie to yourself when it came to sex.
He rewarded her with a brilliant smile that was a little hard to look at straight on. “Really?”
She leaned forward, taking his face in her hands. “Really,” she said. “You’re pretty bloody amazing too.”
His lips quirked. “It’s the accent, isn’t it?”
A huff of laughter escaped her. “No, it definitely isn’t.”
He slid his hands around her waist, pulling her up against him. “Why? What’s wrong with my accent?”
“It’s horrid,” she said, wrapping her legs around his waist. “You’re really lucky I’m willing to overlook it.”
“I am,” he agreed. “I really, really am.”
He kissed her, just something simple and gentle, but Ginny still felt every nerve in her body scream awake. Forget coffee, all she needed was Harry Potter first thing in the morning. She pulled him closer, deepening the kiss.
He made a sound at the back of his throat, hands sliding up her back, warm and firm against her skin.
“Oh god,” she said. “I’m going to be late for work, aren’t I?”
“Very probably,” Harry said, pulling his shirt up and over her head.
Harry looked up from the bowl of cereal he wasn’t eating as someone knocked at the front door. He heaved himself to his feet, more hung over from lack of sleep than anything.
Whoever was at the door knocked again, a quick, irritating staccato.
“I’m coming!” Harry said.
He pulled the door open to find a far too chipper-looking Sirius on the other side.
“So,” he drawled, leaning against the jamb. “Have a nice night?”
Coy wasn’t exactly a subtle look on him. Dora must have filled him in. Or more likely he’d read the log and filled in for himself.
“You have a little glitter right here,” Sirius said, pointing to his cheek.
“It is way too early to deal with you,” Harry complained, crossing back over to the kitchen and leaving the door open behind him.
Sirius practically bounded into the apartment, swinging the door shut behind him. “It’s nearly eleven,” he said in a singsong voice.
Harry ignored him, retaking his seat at the kitchen table, pulling his bowl towards him.
Sirius sat down across from him. “Can I?” he said, gesturing at Harry’s laptop.
Harry shrugged. “Knock yourself out.” Literally would be the most helpful.
For a while Sirius was intent on something. Harry was just glad to have anything keep him occupied so he could be left in silence over his soggy cereal. He had much most pleasant thoughts to linger over than Sirius, after all. He stared off for a moment, derailed by a particular memory.
“Ah, here we are. That didn’t take long.”
“What?” Harry asked, not exactly pleased to have his thoughts disrupted.
Sirius rotated the laptop around so Harry could see the screen. He had some sort of trashy gossip website open.
Celebrity rehab! Who’s preggers now? You won’t believe this photo!
“Why are you--” Harry started to ask.
Sirius clicked one of the links.
It was a photo, one clearly taken with a phone, tilted to the side and slightly blurry. Someone in a shitty Darth Vader costume. In the next, the mask was pushed back, Harry’s face clearly visible.
Sirius paused dramatically before advancing to the next photo, but Harry already knew what it would be.
In this one, Harry’s face was still recognizable. It was Ginny’s face that was hidden, mostly because Harry was very enthusiastically kissing her. But nothing hid the way her body was pulled tight against his, his arms cradling her, one hand very low on her hips, the other across her back.
There were more, each equally damning. Harry looked away, having seen more than enough.
“Incidentally,” Sirius said, “your mother would like to see you at your earliest convenience.”
Harry lowered his head to the table, feeling the high he’d been riding all morning disappear in a moment. “Bugger.”
Sirius patted him on the shoulder.
* * *
Harry didn’t linger out of petulance, necessarily, but he did take a long leisurely shower before letting Sirius bundle him into a waiting black SUV. After all, it felt far too much like being called into the principal’s office for his liking. He was 24 years old, dammit.
Unsurprisingly, his dad was the only person in the residence when he got there.
“Nice of you to join us,” he said, taking an unsubtle glance at the clock.
Sirius snorted and made himself comfortable on the other side of the room, picking up a newspaper as if that could somehow make him disappear. But Harry was more than used to being surrounded by people he was supposed to pretend weren’t there.
James looked Harry critically over. “You eating enough?”
“God, yes,” Harry breathed out. “I am capable of basic human functions.”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “We are well aware. After all, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
He just rolled his eyes, holding his arm out to Harry. “Get over here, kiddo.”
He gave him a hug, rubbing obnoxiously at Harry’s hair before pushing him down on one of the stools at the kitchen island. It was, predictably, covered with food. His parents never could pass up an opportunity to stuff him with food.
They sat quietly, putting together sandwiches, occasionally talking about inconsequential things or mocking each other’s condiment choices. But there was also a file folder on the counter that Harry was sure was full of the photographs he was here to get reamed about.
“Hey,” his dad said, catching him looking. “This will blow over.”
His mom chose that moment to burst into the room like a tornado. “For god’s sake, Harry, all I asked was for you to stay out of the media for just a few more weeks until after the election. The so-called moral majority is breathing down my neck. This is really the last thing I needed!”
“Lil,” James said. “Mom mode, remember?”
She paused, taking a deep breath. “Yes, right. I’m sorry.” She bundled Harry into a hug. A deep, enveloping hug that Harry had a hard time resisting, despite his general level of annoyance.
She pulled back, hands framing his face. “How are you? We don’t see you around here enough these days.”
“Mom,” he said, brushing her hands away.
His dad laughed. “Only one kind of guilt at a time.”
She let out breath, sitting down at the island and grabbing a cracker like she hadn’t seen food in a week. Hypocrites. Harry shoved the uneaten half of his sandwich towards her.
“I’m kinda surprised we’re not meeting in the Oval,” Harry said, still feeling prickled by the entire thing.
“Harry,” she said around a mouthful of sandwich, her expression dangerous.
“Yes, I remember this bit,” he said. “I must not at any time forget that I don’t actually have the right to a life.”
“No one said you don’t have a right to a life! But since when did you start clubbing? And doing…that with random people where anyone can see you?”
“More importantly,” Dad said before Harry could let his temper get away with him, “exactly how attractive was she? It’s hard to tell from the angle.”
“James,” Lily said. “You are not helping.”
He gave her a contrite look only to lean around her to look at Sirius. Sirius gave him two thumbs up.
“For god’s sake,” Harry muttered, hating everyone around him at the moment.
“Excuse me?” she said.
James got up, pulling out the photos. “She’s clearly just some…club bunny. Probably looking for a little attention. Canoodle with Harry Potter, get her picture in the papers. She’ll disappear soon enough, like so much fluff.”
Harry frowned, not at all pleased to hear his father talk about Ginny like that.
His dad didn’t seem to notice. “Harry’s too smart to fall into that kind of a trap. I mean, look at what’s she’s wearing.” He looked down at the photo again, tilting his head to the side. “Or not wearing. Clearly she’s, well…nothing to be taken seriously.”
“And that’s not a problem?” Lily asked, her tone dangerous.
James shot her his trademark carefree grin that tended to get him out of any and all trouble. Somehow that particular gene skipped Harry entirely.
“Come on, Lil,” he said. “Harry’s had his fun. He’ll move on. I mean, I’m sure he’d rather be around someone he could actually have a conversation with. She,” he said, jabbing his finger at Ginny’s face, “clearly can’t even string a sentence together.”
Lily’s eyes had narrowed, but Harry was too incensed to notice.
“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he snapped, getting to his feet. “She is smart and funny and couldn’t give less of a crap about who I am and I’m lucky she’s even willing to have anything to do with me, and oh, god,” he said, dropping back to his seat as his father absolutely beamed at him. “I cannot believe I just fell for that.”
His dad laughed. “I can’t either. I raised you better.”
“James, be serious,” Lily said.
He walked over behind her, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Why don’t we forget about the rabid press and pernicious political foes for a moment and rejoice in the fact that our only son is clearly besotted with someone who’s done nothing wrong other than make him happy?”
She turned to look at Harry. “So this wasn’t just some random...?”
“God, no ,” Harry said. “But even if it was, that’s my right, isn’t it? To go out, to have fun?”
“Yes,” she said, voice strained. “Of course. I just…”
“Don’t want anyone to take advantage of me.” Again, is the unspoken. “Yes. I know.”
She reached out and touched his hand. “You have such a good heart. I’d hate to see it…”
He pulled back. Sometimes she needed to be reminded that being the so-called leader of the free world didn’t mean she got to control everything.
“This is not the kind of stuff you can protect me from,” he said.
She sighed, leaning back in her chair. “I know, I know.”
Getting up to his feet, Harry walked over to look down at the photos in the file. He felt violated that something so personal was being bandied about on the internet, but he was more worried about Ginny.
“Do they know who she is?” he asked.
Lily shook her head. “It doesn’t appear so.”
Harry sighed. “At least there’s that.”
Then she shot Sirius a completely unsubtle look.
“No, no, no,” Harry said. “There will be no vetting or background checks. She’s my girlfriend, not a military invasion.”
“Your girlfriend?” James said, eyebrows lifting.
Harry pinched his nose. “Yeah. Maybe. If I can convince her not to run the other way after she sees this,” he said, flipping the file shut on the pictures.
“Well, if she does,” Lily said, “she doesn’t deserve you.”
“Mom,” he sighed.
“I’m serious,” she said, voice fierce. “It would be her loss.”
“I’ll do my best to stay out of the press, okay?” he said. “And if you want me to do an event… Something wholesome or whatnot…”
“You don’t have to.”
“Really,” Harry said. “I don’t mind. Obviously I want you to win. And not just because that guy is a total jackass. If I can help fix any of this…”
She crossed over to him, pulling him down to press a kiss to his forehead. “Thank you. I’ll see what we can fit in.”
“Great. So can I go now?”
She looked like she wanted to resist, to keep him here, but eventually nodded. “Yes. Of course.”
“I’ll come by and visit again soon,” he promised. He paused, looking at the file for a long moment before scooping it up.
No one argued with him.
He was near the door when Lily said, “Can I ask her name?”
He turned around, his eyes narrowing.
“Not to vet her,” she said, hands lifting. “Just so I can…know.”
“Ginny,” he said. “Her name is Ginny.”
And for a moment there, he thought maybe she could have been more than just a girl who used to make him coffee.
* * *
Ginny glanced very covertly at the clock.
“It’s two minutes later than the last time you checked,” Hannah said with her usual good cheer.
Maybe not so covertly, Ginny thought.
Hannah smiled at her, but didn’t pry. The door jingled, both of them looking up to see one of their more aggravating regulars walk in.
Ginny sighed. Typical.
“I’ve got it,” Hannah said, squeezing her arm. For all Hannah was one of the kindest people Ginny knew, she also managed difficult customers with an underlying steel that was something to behold.
Ginny left her to it, going into the back to get caught up with the clean-out. It was grueling, but sometimes menial labor was easier than smiling at people as if she actually cared. She was just thoroughly exhausted at this point and in a bit more pain than she expected.
Not that it hadn’t been worth it.
Ginny smiled as she rubbed a cloth across the counter.
“What are you still doing here?” Romilda asked as she predictably waltzed in twenty minutes late for her shift.
“Oh,” Ginny said, glancing up to see that was nearly two. “I guess I lost track of time.”
Romilda snorted. “You look like crap.”
“Thank you,” Ginny said. “I try my best.”
She gathered up her things as Romilda clocked in. Glancing at her phone, she saw that there weren’t any messages. There was no point in feeling disappointed. Or so she told herself.
Ginny went out into the main part of the store to say goodbye to Hannah. And no, she wasn’t lingering.
Sighing, she lifted her bag up on her shoulder and moved to leave. Just as she was at the door, Harry blew in, nearly knocking her over.
“Ginny,” he said in a rush.
“Hey,” she said, feeling a swell of relief. She smiled at him, but he looked so grim that it didn’t stick. “What’s wrong?”
He winced, giving her a look full of guilt and self-recrimination.
“Ginny,” he said, voice low.
Of course. Idiot .
She shook her head, adjusting the bag on her shoulder. “You really didn’t have to come all this way to deliver a brush off, Harry. I’m a big girl.”
“What?” he said, eyes widening. “Ginny, no. No. I’m not…” He glanced around. “Could we just sit for a second?”
Honestly, she would prefer to just walk out the door.
“Please,” he said, all genuine and pleading, and how was that fair?
She sighed, leading him back into the corner, as far away as she could get from Romilda’s overly-curious ears. There was nothing that girl loved more than drama, especially at someone else’s expense.
She sat, Harry taking the seat next to her. She looked expectantly at him.
He didn’t say anything right away, and she had no intention of helping him on his way. She could feel the pressure of a headache building behind her eyes.
“Um. Look. I have to show you something, and I’m not sure…” He trailed off, as if that wasn’t a completely unhelpful sentence.
“Harry,” Ginny said, knowing she sounds annoyed. “I’m exhausted and I’ve just spent the last eight hours being pleasant to people. Just spit it out.”
He sat up a bit at her tone. After a moment, he blew out a breath and put an official-looking file on the table.
She opened it. Of all the things she was expecting, pictures of the two of them snogging was not at the top of her list. She quickly flipped through them, making sure that they were all from inside the club, meaning anything truly damning wasn’t in them. She was certainly doubly glad she had suggested a change of venue when she did though.
“They’re up on the internet,” Harry said.
Ginny nodded, closing the file. Her eyes lingered on the circle with an eagle that she realized was the seal of the President of the United States. Glancing out the window, she saw a dark black SUV still sitting across the street, and realized why he was late.
Harry was still sitting at the table looking like a kicked puppy.
“Well,” she said, pushing back to her feet. “Okay.”
Moving behind the counter, she made a drink. As much as she would love a triple espresso to help her focus, she had already exceeded her dosage today.
When she returned, she put the cup down on the table in front of Harry. He frowned down at it, like he was wondering if she could have forgotten so soon.
“It’s hot chocolate,” she explained, sliding back into her seat. “My mum’s secret recipe. Always made me feel better.” She shrugged. “You look like you could use it.”
He looked really confused. “Are you trying to…comfort me?”
“Is that not what I’m supposed to do right now?” she asked. Honestly, she was not exactly experienced with this kind of thing.
Harry opened his mouth, only to close it again, his eyes traveling over her face. “You aren’t mad?”
Her brow furrowed. “Why would I be mad?”
He gestured inarticulately at the folder.
“Well, sure. Becoming an internet star was not exactly at the top of my list of career goals. But it’s not that big of a deal,” she said. She frowned as thought about it. “Unless it is for your mum. Is this going to be a problem for her?”
Harry shook his head. “Forget my mom, Ginny. She has a fleet of people whose job is to spin stuff like this.”
Well, that was good at least. “Okay. Then what’s the problem?”
He was still frowning at her. “You’re just…not reacting at all the way I expected you to.”
She shrugged. “We’re only kissing. Last time I checked, that isn’t illegal.” She turned to look at him. “But we are never making a sex tape. Got that?”
He let out a breathy laugh like he was having a really hard time digesting everything.
“I’ve known who you are for a while now, Harry. I had plenty of time to run the other way.”
He nudged the cup aside, reaching across the table for her hands. “I don’t want you to,” he said. “Run the other way.”
“Good,” she said, squeezing his hands. “Because I wasn’t planning on it.”
His shoulders were still tight. “I just… I also don’t want you to regret it.”
“I don’t really do regrets.” Not when everything could be taken away in a moment. She knew that far too well.
“That must be nice,” Harry said, and she wondered how much time he spent beating himself up over things out of his control.
“It was a car accident.”
“What?” he asked, clearly thrown by her abrupt change in topics.
She glanced down at her hip to remind him of her scars. “A drunk driver of all things. Such a cliché. Not that I remember it. One moment everything was fine and the next…”
Harry’s hands tightened around hers, his expression painful to look at.
“It shattered my pelvis. The doctors kept telling me I was lucky to be alive, with that much blood loss and all.”
“Ginny,” he said, sounding horrified, pulling himself closer around the edge of the table as if trying to somehow keep her here, to save her from something that happened a long time ago.
She smiled at him, her thumb rubbing against the back of his hand. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not that fragile. Okay?”
He shifted his chair closer to her, his hand reaching up to cradle her cheek. “Okay.”
She smiled, leaning her face into the touch. “Now drink your chocolate.”
He dutifully picked it up, looking wary, and it made her smile, thinking of how many of her questionable drinks he had choked down just so he could have an excuse to be around her.
He took a sip, his eyebrows popping up. “That’s good.”
She smiled. “I know. I’m a bloody professional.”
He laughed, shaking his head and looking up at her with an indecent amount of affection. “God, I’d really like to kiss you.”
She bit her lip, feeling her stomach do a little flip. “Well, if you’re worried about being a creepy customer, my shift ended a while ago.”
He smiled, shaking his head. “I just… I promised my mom I would be more…circumspect. At least until the election.”
She told herself she wasn’t disappointed. “Oh. Of course. How much longer is that?”
“Four weeks,” he said like it was an eternity.
She nodded, leaning back away from him a bit, just to show she could be a team player. “Piece of cake.”
“Yeah?” he said, not sounding as certain.
“Sure,” she said, giving him a cheeky smile and sliding her leg against his under the table where probably no one could see it. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
His eyes widened, his hand touching her knee, thumb sliding against her skin. “Don’t jinx me, Weasley.”
“I’d never,” she promised, messily making a cross over her chest that only seemed to distract Harry further. So far being circumspect was not looking so good. She glanced out the window. “Think your minions would be willing to give us a lift back to my place?”
He swallowed. “I’m sure they would. But you must be exhausted. We don’t need to...”
She leaned an elbow on the table. “Honestly, I was thinking more along the lines of you watching Netflix while I fall asleep on you.”
He smiled, his fingers brushing her arm and raising a wave of goosebumps in their wake. “I think I could handle that. But only if you finally let me ask you out on an actual date once you wake up.”
Her shoulder nudged his. “Feeling brave, are we?”
“Yes,” he said. “I am.”
She felt her face flush, of all things, feeling very tingly in response to the way he was looking at her. “Lucky me.”
He watched her for a long moment, seeming to struggle with something before he muttered, “Oh, fuck it,” and then leaned in and kissed her.
She laughed against his lips and then kissed him back, thinking circumspection might take a little practice.
But boy would they have fun trying.