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we can't control (watch me unfold)

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Ginny hates London.

Well, hate is probably a strong word, but seeing as how she’s here completely against her will, she isn’t feeling particularly charitable at the moment. It’s been nearly a decade since she spent any real time in England, mostly just popping in and out to see her brothers for birthdays or other inescapable holidays and events. There’s nothing wrong with London, really. It just isn’t home. Never was to begin with.  

But when your boss tells you to do promotional events leading up to your first major international showcase in years, you say, “Yes, sir,” and pack a bloody bag. These exhibition matches may finally be the step she needs to get international play. Damn well overdue in her opinion. And if letting herself get repatriated as part of the British national team is what that is going to take…well, she’ll have to find a way to deal with that.

She’s staying with her brother Ron and his wife, mostly for sanity’s sake. As barmy as her brother can be it’s at least better than lodging with the other quidditch players or staying in some sterile hotel somewhere. Besides, of all the things she actually misses about England, her brothers are at the top of her list.

She spent her morning practicing, her afternoon filled with press conferences and photo shoots and signing events—each more aggravating than the last. Dinner after that at the Burrow, and only now has she finally escaped, out at a pub with her brother and all his friends. If it weren’t the middle of the season, she would consider getting blazingly drunk, but she can’t afford that right now, so she’s left with this buzzing aggravation and energy and not a lot of options for expelling it.

A good shag would probably take the edge off.

Her eyes skim the pub, assessing the plausibility of that happening.

She knows about half of her brother’s friends from her own school days back at Hogwarts, the other half Ron met after school, through his short stint as an auror and his various jobs since. Hogwarts attendance was low during the last decade of Voldemort’s reign, most people thinking it would be safer to keep their kids local in various parochial schools. Others just got homeschooled.

Having gone to Hogwarts through those years herself, she can say with certainty that there was definitely merit to that idea. But tonight isn’t the night to relive any of that. No night is, really.

That automatically eliminates all her old schoolmates as possible candidates. Most of them are always looking to rehash the past even though it’s been over a decade now, and there’s a bloody reason she went into quidditch after the end of the war and not the Ministry. She’s paid her dues as far as she’s concerned.

Her eyes linger a moment on Neville. Unfortunately, her old boyfriend would be the worst choice. He tends to get emotionally connected, and that is not a disaster she feels like revisiting.

She recognizes some of Ron’s more recent friends, having met them at his wedding a few years back. Most of them are married as well, if she recalls, and that is yet another thing she will never even consider. Her options were dwindling by the moment.

Dean, one of Ron’s newer friends, is always an option. They’ve enjoyed a casual flirtation in the past, including one particularly memorable encounter after Ron’s wedding. But unfortunately tonight he seems rather intent on the cute bartender. And the cute bartender is definitely flirting back, his sleeves shoved back up over muscular forearms as he aimlessly wipes at the already pristine bar top.

She’s just about given up hope when reinforcements arrive. A small clutch of wizards walks in, getting roars of greeting from Ron’s mates. Aurors, Ginny automatically identifies, despite the fact that none of them are in uniform. There’s a clear type after all. Confident, fit, and generally prancing about with an enormous stick up their arse.

Strictly speaking, she doesn’t do aurors either, but of all the rules she’s willing to bend on tonight, that’s the only one with any wiggle room. Helped by the fact that at least two of them are attractive enough to catch her attention.

Ron gives one of them a hearty hug. “Mate,” he says, “didn’t think you’d make it.”

The auror gives Ron a good-natured smile that only makes him more attractive. “And risk having to deal with your sad, pathetic face the next time I saw you?” he says, patting him on the cheek.

Ron gives him a shove. “Fuck off,” he laughs.

Ron greets the rest of the new arrivals, but Ginny’s already settled on the dark-haired one as her starting point.

This would all be vastly simplified if she could just ask Ron about his mates’ availability and proclivities, but he gets a little shirty over her messing about with his friends. Though she suspects that is more about his little sister—despite the fact she is well into her 30s—having a sex life than it being with his friends.

So instead of asking Ron, she settles in and waits for the right opportunity to present itself. Her chance materializes when Mr. Dark and Handsome gets into conversation with Dean. A perfect opening.

“Hey, Dean,” she says, slipping up next to him.

“Ginny,” he says, turning and giving her a bright smile. He leans in and kisses her cheek. “How are you?”

“Good. You?”

“Alright,” he says.

She grins at him, nudging him in the arm. “More than alright to judge from the way the bartender’s been eyeing you.”

Dean’s skin darkens with a blush.

“He’s cute,” Ginny says, giving him a speculative look.

“Hands off, Weasley.”

“Is this why we’re suddenly always at this pub?” the handsome auror says, finally joining in.

Dean clears his throat, clearly happy to have an opportunity to deflect this line of questioning. “Uh, Ginny, do you know Harry?”

“No,” she says. They’ve never actually met, but this is a name she’s heard from Ron quite a lot. He was supposed to be at their wedding, if she recalls, but got dragged away on some important mission. Finally she can put a face to the name. And quite an appealing face at that.

She holds out her hand.

“Ron’s sister,” he says, firmly shaking her hand.

“Mostly I just go by Ginny,” she says.

He smiles.

His hands, she notices as she lets go, seem to be very empty of rings.

“You aren’t living in London are you?” Harry asks. “I seem to recall Ron saying something about his baby sister living abroad.”

She shakes her head. “Just popping in for a few days.”

“Bit of a quidditch phenom, our Ginny is,” Dean says.

“Yeah?” Harry asks, giving her a speculative look.

She lifts one shoulder. “Just one of many things I’m quite good at.”

Both of Harry’s eyebrows shoot up, Dean kind of coughing into his ale.

“Nice meeting you, Harry,” she says and turns and walks away.

It’s not that she’s decided against him, but that the night is young. Sometimes the anticipation is half the fun.

Over the next hour, they drift apart only to come back together time and again, and she isn’t sure that’s all coincidence.

He’s friendly enough, but not loud or boisterous like some of Ron’s other mates. He seems more likely to watch on with amusement than instigate any shenanigans. There is something in his watchful gaze that speaks to a coiled kind of awareness that makes her think he may very well go from relaxed to high alert in a matter of moments.

An auror thing, she has to assume.

He approaches her again as she sits at the bar, what appears to be a butterbeer in his hand.

“Not much of a drinker?” she asks.

“Not really,” he says, apparently unembarrassed to be drinking what is commonly held to be a kid’s drink.

She mentally ticks another mark in the pro column. She likes a guy sober enough to know what he’s about.

“Let me guess,” she says. “You’re the mum friend.”

He smiles. “We both know Ron is the mum friend.”

She laughs, glancing over at her brother who is currently welcoming his late-arriving wife with an indecent amount of joy. “Good point.”

“What about you?” he asks.

Ginny leans on the bar, tilting her head up to look at him. “Ha. I’m the friend the mum friend always has to talk out of perfectly amazing ideas.”

That seems to amuse him. “I meant, you’re not much of a drinker either.”

“I’m not?” She holds up her half-empty ale as proof.  

“You’ve been nursing the same pint for the last hour.”

“Have I?” She’s trying to decide if that’s creepy or impressive.

He shrugs. “I’m good with details. It’s part of the job.”

“Still seems a strange thing to notice.”

He shifts on his feet in a way she could almost call a squirm. “What can I say? You caught my attention.”

She gives him a slow smile, deciding to reward that by letting him off the hook. “I don’t drink much during the season. It’s important to stay fit.” She shifts on the stool, resting her elbows back on the bar, rather blatantly drawing attention to her chest.

He unabashedly takes advantage of the view, making it clear that he not only knows what she’s doing but has zero problems taking what’s offered. Another good sign.

“You seem to be doing a good job of it,” he observes. His expression makes a warm flush work its way up her chest and neck, and he smiles, something arrogant in it that should be off-putting but isn’t.

Without another word, she hops off the stool and wanders off, only now she can feel his eyes on her, even though she can never actually catch him at it.

Decision pretty much made at this point, she forces herself to mingle for another half hour before sidling up behind Harry.

He doesn’t start, so she knows she hasn’t successfully snuck up on him.

“I have a question,” she says.

“Yeah?” he asks, turning to look at her.

“How do you feel about one-night stands?”

His smile is slow and deliberate. “In general or with you specifically?”

“Me,” she says. “Guaranteed drama-free.”

He looks her up and down, and her body is already tingling in anticipation. “Your place or mine?”

“Well, considering I’m staying with Ron…”

He laughs. “Mine it is.”

“Sounds good.”

He reaches for her, but she carefully steps back out of reach. “I’d like this to be as…discreet as possible, if you don’t mind. Ron gets tetchy when I mess about with his mates.”

He looks amused. “Make a habit of it, do you?”

“So what if I do?” she asks, refusing to be shamed for this.

“Not really my business either way,” he says, and she feels herself relax.

“Bloody right there,” she says.

“Here’s what I suggest,” he says, all down to business. “I’m going to get called in for an emergency at work. You should wait fifteen minutes before claiming you’re bored or tired or whatever’s most believable. I’ll meet you around the corner in front of that trendy coffee place.”

“Impressive,” she murmurs. “Are you always this take-charge?”

“I suppose you’ll have to wait and see.”

And fuck if that isn’t more enticing than it should be.

Harry walks off to talk to Ron, his expression morphing into something convincingly harried, like a wizard who’s getting dragged back into work against his will.

She joins Ron after Harry leaves, standing quietly in the group, a slight frown on her face.

“What’s up with you?” Ron eventually asks, giving her a leery glance.

She rubs at her temples. “Nothing. Just a stupid headache. Those press meetings are a bloody nightmare.”

“Well,” he says, “if you didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to practice and actually slept in a bit like normal people…”

“I’m too tired to even tell you to go fuck yourself,” she says, leaning against his arm.

Ron lets out a bark of laughter. “Now I know you’re exhausted.”

Hermione is frowning at her. “Why don’t you head back to the flat? Get an early night.”

Ginny pulls a face. “Ugh. You’re making me feel like an old lady.”

“Well, if it complains like an old lady and goes to sleep early like an old lady…” Ron says.

She pokes her tongue out at him. “This old lady is going home.”

His brow furrows. “You’re gonna get back okay on your own?”

Ginny rolls her eyes. “Yes, Ronald,” she says, pressing a kiss to his cheek. As much of a pain in the arse as he is, she really misses him.

Stopping to say goodbye to a few more people on her way out, she finally heads out into the dark street. She strolls around the corner, not wanting to look too eager or anything, and Harry is waiting in front of the closed coffee shop.

“Fancy meeting you here,” she says.

He turns, smiling at her, and her stomach makes a nice little lurch. Yes, this is exactly what she needs.

“Come here often?” he asks, reaching for her arm.

She lets him pull her close this time, but not without making a face at the horrid pickup line. “Are you trying to make me change my mind?”

He’s taller than she first realized, or maybe that’s just having him this close, the broadness of his shoulders seeming to dwarf her. His eyes, she realizes, are actually a deep green behind the lenses of his glasses.

“Definitely don’t want you to change your mind,” he says, ducking his head towards hers.

She lifts up, meeting him halfway, knowing it’s best this way, to at least get some small inkling of what she’s getting herself into before she walks into some bloke’s flat.

You can tell a lot about a wizard from the way he kisses, and Harry’s approach can be best described as assertive, walking that perfect line between wet blanket and bluntly aggressive. He doesn’t hesitate to deepen the kiss, his thumb firm against her chin as he feels her out, like she’s being analyzed just as closely. She adds methodical and thoughtful to the list she’s building in her head.

She gives him a few moments to work it out before she deliberately takes control of the kiss just to see how he’ll react, and he lets her without resistance, making a low sound in his throat like maybe it does things for him and that’s promising as hell, because it is definitely doing things for her.

She pulls back just far enough to speak. “Is your place far?”

“Bit of a stretch,” he says, voice low and rough, and fuck, she is not feeling particularly patient at the moment. “Mind if I take us there?”

As she’s already plastered up against him, she only needs to wrap her arms firmly around his waist. “By all means.”

His body barely shifts before she feels the telltale squeeze and pull of apparition. It doesn’t last more than a few seconds, the two of them appearing on a dark sidewalk without a sound.

Christ, if he’s even half as skilled in the bedroom, she is in for a fantastic night.

She glances around to orient herself. They are in a quiet side street, but craning her neck, she can make out the nearest cross street.

“Barnaby Square is just three blocks up that way,” he says with a jut of his chin, helping her make a very clear mental map of where she is.

“Nice,” she says.

“Come on,” he says, talking her arm and leading her towards a doorway. “Put your wand here.”

She gives him a look, but complies. Aurors are known for being paranoid as hell, after all. Quickly glancing up and down the street, he pulls out his own wand, wordlessly casting a spell.

A faint blue pulse envelops her body, tingling against her skin. She recognizes an entrance ward when she tastes one, even if this is not one she’s all that familiar with.  He probably could have gotten her though it without keying her wand, but this way she can leave anytime she likes and that is definitely a bonus.

“You really don’t like unannounced visitors, do you?” she teases, flexing her fingers against the residual magic and stowing her wand.

He shrugs. “I like my privacy.”

Somehow, she thinks that’s a bit of an understatement.

On the other side of the door, he leads her up a narrow staircase to yet another door.

“I just need to adjust a few of the wards, if you don’t mind,” he says, all business. “Feel free to wander about.”

Ginny nods, shrugging off her robes and hanging them by the door before taking in her surroundings.

The place is sparse, but comfortable-looking and quite large. There are a few dishes on the coffee table in front of what looks like one of the Muggle telly-things, but nothing overly manky. She wanders back through an open door, finding herself in his bedroom, and takes the moment of privacy to cast a few necessary charms on herself. Once completed, she looks around. He’s got a large bed that’s neatly made, which is in strange contrast to the pair of trainers abandoned in the middle of the floor and a pile of folded laundry waiting to be put away.

The closet is open, and she steps in front of it, reaching out to touch the heavy wool of an auror uniform hanging inside. There’s a thick band on the arm with the seal of the Ministry, run through by a color-coded line.

Grey.

She knows enough from Ron’s time in auror training what that thin stripe of grey represents—the elite guard. The aurors who investigate the most heinous of crimes, the ones who go after the darkest of wizards—legendary in equal measure for their abilities and their ruthlessness.

“Snooping?” Harry asks.

She looks over her shoulder to find him leaning against the doorjamb, his arms crossed over his chest. Lounging there, he looks more like a harmless muggle than a well-trained enforcer, likely one of the most dangerous wizards she’s been in close proximity to in nearly a decade. But she supposes that incongruity works to his advantage.

“Just getting the lay of the land,” she says easily. “Making sure you aren’t some dark wizard.”

It’s a joke, because he’s Ron’s mate, and Ron may be a lot of things, but he’s also a pretty great judge of character. That definitely has its uses.

Harry smiles, crossing over to stand behind her, hands trailing down her arms. “Bit late to be wondering that, don’t you think?”

“I’m pretty sure I could take you,” she says, even though those robes say differently.

He wraps an arm across her stomach, slowly drawing her back against his chest.

“Final verdict?” he asks against her ear, and she realizes how careful he’s been, giving her a lot of outs. It’s kind of stupidly cute.

She deliberately presses back against him, and it’s nice to see that he’s clearly been anticipating this just as much as she has. “Definitely willing to take the risk.”

“Good,” he says, hands dragging down over her hips and thighs before he pulls her around to kiss her.

This time there is no careful exploration, but a mindless slide of lips and tongues and a dizzying punch of adrenaline that has Ginny feeling a heady mix of liquid warmth and buzzing impatience.

They each peel their own clothing off at their own pace. This is one of her favorite parts of going home with someone. There’s something about the uncertainty of it all that appeals to her, like opening up a present on Christmas morning.

Gradually as more and more pieces of clothing hit the floor, Ginny realizes Father Christmas has been very good to her this particular evening. Not just how fit he is, but also how skilled.

Most guys go straight for the predictable places, but he really takes his time, like every part of her body is equally important. She would have contented herself with a quick shag, the mood she’s been in, but he seems more in it for the marathon than a sprint, and that is definitely fine with her.

By the time they are both fully divested of clothes, Ginny has grown impatient with the things she can comfortably do while standing. She pushes him back onto the bed, not immediately climbing up to join him. Instead she stands at the foot of the bed and takes her time looking him over.

She doubts he’s used to this kind of scrutiny to judge from his expression, not to mention the faint flush working its way up his neck. It’s nice to see this break in his otherwise very sure and steady composure that seems to say he has everything perfectly under his control. To his credit, he doesn’t squirm, reclining back on one elbow and letting her take her fill.

She leans a knee on the edge of the bed, pulling herself up. “You seem to be doing a good job as well,” she says.

“Am I?” he asks, eyebrows lifting.

She slides her hand up his calf. “Staying fit.”

He’s far from the most built guy she’s ever seen, lacking both the broadness and muscly bulk of many of her quidditch teammates. But he is lean and fit and clearly doesn’t depend just on his wand to get the job done.

He seems amused now. “I try,” he says, that confident smirk back on his face.

“Well,” she says, hand sliding higher. “Some of that is hard work, I imagine, but other things you’re just born with.”

He lets out an unsteady breath as her hand wraps around him. Despite the way his hands clench in the quilt, he doesn’t rush her, letting her thoroughly explore his body at her own pace even as his eyes follow her every move. She drags it out a bit, teasing, just to see the limits of his patience, but he apparently has a steely sort of self-control that she’s really looking forward to seeing snap.

She takes pity on him when he starts to mutter a bit under his breath, bracing her knees on either side of his hips. He slides his hands up the back of her thighs.

“You took care of the charms?” he asks, voice rough.

“Yup,” she says.

“Good,” he says and tugs her down against him, their bodies sliding along each other, warm and slick.

She can’t help but groan at how good it feels, but he’s hardly quiet in his appreciation either.

“Fuck, you’re beautiful,” he says, and she’s heard that before, guys willing to say a lot in the throes of passion, but Harry’s eyes are focused intently on her and she has the stupid thought that he’s completely sincere. She can feel a flush working its way up her chest.

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” she says.

She’s well past patience for teasing herself, not wasting any time guiding him inside of her, feeling her body stretch to accommodate him, and fuck, yes, this is exactly what she’s needed.  

He curses as she slides down onto him, his hands digging into her hips, pressing firmly upwards. But rather than immediately rushing on with it, he lets her set a slow, writhing pace that works for her. He’s considerate enough to ask what she likes (“Here?” “Merlin, yes.”) and makes sure she comes first without her even having to demand it, seeming to take great pride in it. Only then does he flip her under him and very thoroughly fuck her into the mattress, and Merlin, is this something they train at the auror academy? Maybe she’d been rash, generally avoiding aurors.

She presses her nails into his biceps, the muscles tight as he braces himself above her. His breathing hitches, and she swivels her hips, trying to push him over the edge, wanting to see it, feel it, hear it, and his groan turns into a half-garbled curse as his rhythm falters.

He drops down to his forearms, and Ginny wraps her legs around his waist as he finally starts to lose control, deeper and harder, and that’s enough to get her there again too, the spike of pleasure sneaking up on her but no less potent for it. He roughly slides a hand under her hips, lifting her up and finishing with a few last deep, erratic thrusts. He isn’t quiet about it either, and she definitely likes that.  

He drops her hips back to the bed, his head lowering to her shoulder as his back heaves with his breathing.

He squeezes her hip and then carefully rolls off her, spreading out on the bed next to her.

“Well,” she says, arching her back contentedly and wondering how long it’s going to take her legs to recover well enough to bear any weight. “That certainly wasn’t a huge waste of time.”

He huffs under his breath, his fingers brushing her arm and leaving a shivery trail of sensation. “No. It definitely wasn’t.”

She gives herself five whole minutes to luxuriate before starting to make her exit. She would like to linger in hopes of another round, but it’s late and she’s exhausted and more than content enough.

She rolls off the bed, summoning her clothing and heading for the attached bath.

By the time she comes back out, Harry hasn’t moved, still splayed back on the bed, a sheet carelessly half-pulled up over him but still revealing far more than it hides. That’s almost tempting enough to make her delay. But rules are rules, and she has no intention of dragging this out and risking it getting weird.

She sits on the edge of the bed next to him.

“Heading home?” he asks, eyeing her.

“Yup,” she says, twisting her hair back up into a ponytail.

Something seems to slide behind his eyes, and for a moment she wonders if he’s going to ask her to stay or offer to see her back to Ron’s or something similarly ridiculous. She lifts one eyebrow at him, not particularly wanting to end the night with a row about how perfectly capable she is of taking care of herself. She’s been doing it long enough.

“Okay,” he settles on saying, apparently smart enough to bite back whatever chivalric bollocks is troubling him.

She leans down, pressing a careless kiss to his lips and indulging herself in trailing her fingers down over his impressive torso one last time.

“Thank you for this,” she says. “I really needed it.”

“No problem,” he says, hand lazily sliding down over her hip. “Thanks for suggesting it.”  

She laughs and lets him pull her down for another kiss, this one anything but careless, rather deep and lingering. She pulls back before she can get lost in it, shifting up off the bed.

“See you around, Harry.”

She leaves.

*    *    *

Ron gives her a suspicious look over the breakfast table the next morning, but doesn’t ask why she came in so late or what happened to her supposed headache and early bedtime.

Ginny just gives him a smug grin over her coffee and doesn’t even pretend she isn’t in a much better mood.

Her last two days in England pass in a blur of visits to her parents and yet more publicity events and meetings. The night before she leaves, Ron has some mates around to the flat to see her off, including Harry. She’s a little unprepared for the thrill she gets just seeing him. Then again, it was a particularly good shag.

But just a one-time thing.

Inevitably, she ends up in a small circle of people including Harry.

“Back to Germany tomorrow?” Neville asks, turning to her with a smile.

“Yup.”

Lavender frowns. “I thought you were in Bulgaria.”

Only for about two minutes. “No,” Ginny says. “It wasn’t a good fit.”

Ron snorts into his ale. “Has problems with authority, was the official line if I recall.”

That is always the ‘official’ line. But that is not something she has any interest in getting into with Ron. Today or ever, honestly. Let him thinks she’s a hopeless vagabond. It’s easier.

“I don’t have a problem with authority,” she says. “I have a problem with incompetent people trying to tell me what to do.”

Ron rolls his eyes.  

“But you were in Bulgaria,” Lavender presses.

Demelza laughs. “I think what Lav really wants to know is if you got to shag Viktor Krum.”

Ginny pulls a face. “Hard pass.”

Lavender sniffs. “Weren’t his type then, were you?” she says, something a bit catty in her tone.

Merlin save her from Viktor Krum fangirls.

“You mean pliant and barely of age?” Ginny says easily. “No, I’m not. But mostly he wasn’t my type.”

“And what is your type?” Harry asks, words perfectly casual as he speaks over the rim of his glass.

For a moment she can’t help but think of the other uses that mouth has been put to.

She meets his gaze. “Convenient and very thorough.”

Everyone around them laughs, Ron covering his face with a groan of complaint, but Harry just holds her gaze, a flush of heat working its way up her chest in response.

She excuses herself to help Hermione with something in the kitchen, feeling his eyes following her.

“What exactly are you planning?” Hermione asks, looking suspicious.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says airily.  

Hermione snorts. “Like I don’t know what a Weasley with an ill-advised plan looks like after all this time.”

Ginny laughs, bumping her with her hip. “All my plans are brilliant.”

Hermione shoves a plate of samosas at her. “Keep telling yourself that.”

Ginny dutifully circles about, offering food. Once her plate is empty, she deposits it on the coffee table and heads out of the sitting room. It’s time to see just how amazing her plans are.

She glances back over her shoulder to find Harry already watching her. She lifts an eyebrow at him and slips down the hallway towards the loo.

He doesn’t waste time following her, clearly knowing what she has in mind as he follows her into the loo without question.

“One time encore,” she says as he fucks her against the door.

“Definitely,” he agrees, grunting a bit at the effort of holding her in place.

Her head thumps back against the wood, his teeth nipping at the exposed skin of her neck. She curses long and hard and hopes his privacy charms are as good as he claims as a truly spectacular orgasm overtakes her. He isn’t long to follow, making a less-than-graceful descent as his legs give out.  

They slump back down to the floor, Ginny still wrapped around him. He’s got one arm tight around her waist, the other braced behind him. She takes a moment to admire the firm muscles of his shoulder and arms. Yes, she definitely was rash to swear off aurors.

“You really know how to make a guy work for it,” he says, clearly out of breath.

Ginny’s whole body feels sated and relaxed, and it’s too bad she can’t bottle this shite up and take it with her. “Is that a complaint?” she asks, rolling her hips.

He makes a low sound, shaking his head. “Definitely a compliment,” he says, pulling her tight against him.

She’s just begun to hope there might be a round two in the cards when someone bangs on the door. “Is someone passed out in there or something? I’ve got to pee!”

So much for that.

“Well this is about to get awkward,” she says as she reluctantly climbs up off of him, straightening her clothes and casting a few quick charms to clean up. In hindsight, her plan perhaps could have better been described as an impulse considering she didn’t think past getting Harry on his own.

Having similarly put himself back to rights, Harry pulls a silvery cloak out of his pocket, something far too big to have fit in there without a rather impressive extension charm.

“Always have an escape plan,” he says, pulling it over his head and disappearing from sight.

“Hmm,” she says, more impressed than she would like. “Bloody aurors.”

The door shakes as someone bangs on it again.

“Hold on to your knickers!” Ginny yells, pulling the door open.

In the doorway, she feels the barest sensation of Harry slipping past her, a ghostly hand patting her on the arse.

“Wanker,” she mutters, dearly hoping the smile on her face isn’t as stupid as it feels.

They probably won’t see each other again. But then again, they aren’t meant to.

She departs the next morning, leaving behind all thoughts of London and conveniently talented aurors.

Chapter Text

2.

“Potter!”

Harry grimaces, reluctantly coming a stop. He’d had hopes of getting out of the office without having to deal with his cranky boss.

Five days of barely any sleep and a clusterfuck of a case have left him with little patience, and this may just be the day he finally tells his boss to shove his head up his arse. Getting the man to like him seems an impossible task at this point anyway. Most days he’d settle for being tolerated.

Stepping into Gerhardt's office, Harry somehow manages to find a final well of patience to draw upon. The thing is, despite the endless aggravations, he likes his job. Loves it, really. He is really sodding good at it, he feels like he’s actually making an impact, fixing things, and if he didn’t do it...well, he probably wouldn’t be able to sleep at night leaving it in the hands of others.

Ron is quick to tell him that makes him a prat, thinking he’s the only thing keeping the world safe or some bollocks. But Ron was able to walk away from the aurors. Maybe that was Hermione. Maybe that was his giant, supportive family. Harry doesn’t know. They’re just…different people. If Ron can sleep at night, more power to him.

Harry has seen way too much to ever be able to go back to living a life of blissful ignorance. As if he ever had a life of blissful ignorance in the first place. But he’s also never made the mistaken assumption that a war ending means people stop doing evil shite.

People are fucked up, war or no, and that’s the truth that keeps him here. That, and the fact that he is goddamned good at it.

And so he looks his livid boss in the face and doesn’t tell him to go fuck himself, instead promising to have his report on his desk first thing in the morning. A report that will detail the painful incompetence of a few of his peers. He may hold his tongue around his boss, but no one else is going to get that treatment. He doesn’t particularly care how unpopular it makes him.

His new partner is another question. In Harry’s experience, there are two kinds of people who aspire to become grey stripes—those who like power and those who distrust power. The former are dangerous as hell and have no place being here, in Harry’s opinion. But the latter are the ones who burn out and walk away, the ones who get ruined by the work. Then again, the work ruins everyone eventually. You care too much, you go crazy. You care too little, you become the thing you hunt.

It’s a fine line to walk, one that he isn’t sure his new partner will manage. The only certain thing is that the guy is a bulldog. Then train him, his boss insists.  

Harry would rather just work on his own. Just like he has ever since his first partner washed up.

Like Ron, his old partner has a wife and a family. Harry thinks that’s part of the problem. This job has to be your life. Trying for anything else is sabotage—for the relationship and the job. Which is why Harry spends half the night writing up a report and nursing his superficial wounds, and there is no one to inconvenience with that, no one to complain or wheedle.

He sends the report off to the office and falls into bed sometime around three in the morning.

Needless to say, he’s a little annoyed when someone bangs on his door shortly after nine.

He blearily opens the door.

“Oh, good,” Ron says, pushing past him into the apartment. “You’re back.”

“Just barely,” Harry says.

“Good mission?”

“Shite mission.”

“Ah, well, just like normal then,” he says, not put off by Harry’s abysmal mood. “And now I’m gonna need you to get dressed.”

Harry flops back on the couch, absently scratching at his chest, but making no move to put on any clothes. “And why would I do that on my day off?”

“Because we are going out. Bloke’s day. Glorious fun.”

Harry groans, pulling a throw pillow over his face.

“Come on, mate,” Ron says. “You look like you could use some fun.”

“Really, Ron,” he tries to put off.

He honestly isn’t sure why Ron puts up with him, why he insists on still being his mate. It’s what Weasleys do though—adopt strays.

Ron pulls the pillow off his face. “I’ve got an extra ticket to an exhibition match. A little quidditch and ale and yelling at the referees will do you good.”

This catches his attention far more than it should. “Your sister’s match?” he asks before he can stop himself.

Ron looks at him like he’s thick. “Yeah. Of course. How do you think I got the tickets? She finally got that exhibition spot she’s been harping on about. That’s why she was here last month. Trying to make a good impression for once.”

She certainly did that.

Harry never really intended to spend another moment even thinking about Ginny Weasley, beyond the occasional stray thought at opportune moments—what he thinks about when he’s alone in his room really shouldn’t count. It’s not like he had a particularly long dry spell before Ginny Weasley walked her rather stunning arse into their local pub or anything. Or that there’s been no one since. She just seems to have…lingered.

“Hermione doesn’t want to go?” he asks.

Ron shakes his head. “She hates quidditch. I mean, she’ll go if I ask, bless her. But she won’t be any fun .”

So Harry finds himself agreeing to go along and tells himself it has nothing to do with a certain fiery-haired chaser. Maybe he’s slightly curious to see how much he’s obviously built her up in his mind.

Ron’s brothers are all at the match along with a motley collection of friends. They cram into a nosebleed section together, loud and raucous with laughter and abuse. There is plenty of ale and a careless energy to the stadium that really does go a long way to lifting Harry’s mood. Before he knows it, he’s laughing and giving as good he gets.

As for the match itself, Harry thinks it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Ginny is spectacular. She flies like she shags—daring and impressively competent and always ready to take control of everything around her. What’s more surprising is that someone this good isn’t already taking the international leagues by storm.

He follows quidditch somewhat, when he has the time, but doesn’t pay much attention to the continental leagues. He knew Ron had a sister that played, but not much beyond that.

“She’s good, right?” Ron shouts at him after Ginny scores for the sixth time.

“Yeah,” Harry agrees. She’s very good.

A couple of Ron’s brothers get shitfaced, but that just makes it all even more fun, watching Ron frown over them and stop them from devolving into fisticuffs. George in particular is stumbling fairly badly by the end of the match, a grinning Bill supporting him as they head down to the player’s level to loiter about and wait for their sister.

Ginny eventually comes out, hair still damp from a shower, uniform swapped for a trim tracksuit. “You made it!” she says, hugging them all.

They give her shite about her goals that were blocked, conveniently forgetting about the eight goals she did make against a fairly dominant keeper. Ginny takes it all with belligerent good humor, razzing them back with ease.

Before Harry can wonder how awkward this might be, Ginny is turning to look at him.

“Harry,” she says, stretching up to press a chaste kiss to his cheek, the floral scent of her hair wafting over him. “Nice to see you again.”

He relaxes a bit at this easy greeting, smiling at her as she steps back away. “You too. Great match.”

“Thanks.” She turns to Ron. “Couldn’t get Hermione to come, huh?”

Ron waves a hand dismissively. “Knew Harry would appreciate it more. He’s a bit of a fan, when he can find the time for it.”

“Oh, is he?” she asks, sliding him a look.

“Yeah,” Ron says, clearly unaware of the undercurrents. “He played back in his school days, apparently.” He looks to him as if for confirmation.

“Uh, yeah. A bit,” Harry admits. What little time he had for things like that growing up, and nothing as official as a school team. More like pick up games in an abandoned field between moving safe houses.

“Beater, was it?” Ron asks.

Before Harry can answer, Ginny shakes her head, eyes skimming down his body. “Seeker,” she guesses.

“Got it in one,” he says, trying to ignore the spike in his blood pressure. It’s honestly ridiculous that she can affect him this much by just standing there. He must be losing his mind, or just be harder up than he thought.

Ron gets pulled into an argument with one of his brothers then, leaving him on his own with Ginny. It’s only when she catches him at it that he realizes he’s staring, his eyes trailing over her body as he vividly recalls their last encounter.

Ginny leans into him, rather blatantly brushing up against his arm. “So, huge quidditch fan, any interest in a tour of the stadium?”

It’s not her home pitch or anything, so he doubts that’s what this is really about.

“Absolutely,” he finds himself saying before he can consider that this isn’t the best idea. Her brothers are all right there, not to mention they both agreed the last time would be it.

She gives him a brilliant smile though, and he’s a bit disgruntled to realize that he’s in no way built her up in his memory. She’s every bit as enticing and gorgeous as he remembers.

Well, he tells himself, this can be the last time.

He might wonder at his powers of self-delusion if she weren’t already leading him to a door, flashing her player badge at a bored-looking guard. He lets them through without comment. On the other side of the door stretches a long, nondescript hallway. They don’t pass anyone other than one of Ginny’s teammates who gives them both a knowing smile.

Turning into a doorway, he follows her through a locker room still populated with various people, none paying them particular mind. She gestures for him to precede her into a dressing room, drawing the curtain around behind them.

“For a tour, this one is rather lacking,” he says, not sparing a glance for the small alcove, his attention still riveted to her.

“Is it?” she asks, fingers tugging the zipper on her sweatshirt down, baring a swath of toned sternum and the valley between her breasts.

Christ.

“I stand corrected,” he says, watching her approach, unable to stop himself from moistening his lips in anticipation, his brain already firing in a million different directions. “Best tour ever.”

She grins, stepping up against him and winding her arms around his neck. “I wish I’d known you were here earlier.”

“Yeah?” he asks, letting his hands slide down her sides to settle on her hips.

She seems to melt into him, and it takes a lot for Harry to stop himself dragging her hard up against him, or twisting around to press her against the wall behind him.

“Yeah,” she says, fingers trailing down the front of his shirt. “I’ve already partaken of my post-game rituals on my own. Twice.”

Her tone leaves little doubt exactly what kind of rituals those are.

“That is a shame,” he says, the mental image conjured by her words both painfully tantalizing and disappointing if it means she’s isn’t up for this, because, embarrassingly enough, he already is.

Her hands drag his shirt up out of his trousers, fingers sliding under the fabric. He sucks in a breath at the sensation of her nails raking faintly across his stomach. Her actions seem to signal that there is still a chance of something at least.  

“Nothing gets me going faster than playing quidditch,” she says, fingers now intent on popping open the buttons on his shirt, leaning forward to press her mouth to his chest.

“Winning quidditch, I imagine,” he says, heat flushing up his skin in reaction to her attentions.

Her teeth nip at his skin, just past playful in the best possible way. “What about you?” she asks. “What gets you going?”

Apparently just being within 100 yards of her to judge from his current state. “Watching you win quidditch does it pretty well for me too.”

“So it does,” she says, hand pressing against the front of his trousers.

He makes a rough sound at the back of his throat, leaning forward and finally catching that sassy, irresistible mouth with his own, everything narrowing down on the feel of her hand, her fingers teasing as she works at the opening of his trousers, all the while her lips and tongue warm and instant against his own.

He spreads his hands down over her arse, pulling her tight against him, rewarded with a deep groan from Ginny in response. She eventually pushes him impatiently back, giving herself room to pull open his belt and trousers.

“I always assumed Ron was bragging,” he says, taking advantage of her gaping top to brush his thumbs along the underside of her breasts, teasing gently. Her fingers fumble in their work, her teeth biting down on her lower lip. “But I think he was actually selling you short.”

“Well, you’d know, Mr. Big Quidditch Fan,” she says, pulling him free, fingers firm as they wrap around him.

He tangles his hand in her hair, as much to feel it as hold himself steady. “I promise I don’t have a poster of you hidden in my room.”

“Would you like one?” she asks, pushing him back against the wall, giving herself access to drag her mouth down over his chest as her hand settles into a smooth rhythm.

“Wouldn’t say no to that,” he somehow manages as she works her way lower and lower and her intent becomes clear.

She sinks down to her knees. “What would you say no to?”

Before he can respond, she takes him into her mouth, his head dropping back against the wall.

“Fuck,” he says, completely uncaring of the rumble of voices and lockers slamming shut just on the other side of the thin curtain. Of course, it’s hard to care about anything other than the feel of her mouth, the slick slide of her tongue as she pushes him to the edge only to pull back again and again, teasing just enough to remind him who is in charge at the moment.

She drags it out until he finally can’t stand it anymore, winding his hands in her hair, wanting to show her exactly what he wants. She laughs—the soft rumble of it only pushing him further—and finally relents, teeth gently grazing before giving him what he needs without any further prompting.

He curses, hands tugging gently but insistently at her hair, giving her a chance to back away, but she only impatiently bats him away and increases her attentions, pulling him closer, deeper, and he’s completely lost.

Some part of his brain knows he is far from quiet, the various people nearby completely fading from his mind in the face of the sharp pleasure she elicits. He’s weak and shaky by the time she finally pulls back.

Quidditch is definitely not the only thing she excels at.

She pushes slowly to her feet, licking her way up his chest, but he’s still just trying to keep his legs under him, one arm braced out against the wall.

She presses closer, her breasts firm and tantalizing against the skin of his chest, her face near his neck. “Just a little something for you to think about every time you look at my poster,” she murmurs. She grazes his earlobe with her teeth and then she’s zipping up her top and disappearing out into the locker room without saying goodbye, the curtain left hanging open behind her.

In a daze, Harry watches her leave, belatedly scrambling to turn his back so he can right his clothing. His fingers fumble enough that it takes longer than it should, his brain still struggling to process exactly what just happened.

He carefully doesn’t make eye contact with anyone as he finally crosses the locker room to leave. Remembering the look on Ginny’s face as she walked away, he has the sneaking suspicion that she likes seeing him back-footed, that part of her pleasure in this entire thing was showing just how much this happened on her own terms.

He feels like he should be annoyed by that, but he’d be lying if he said it didn’t do surprising things for him. He shakes his head, deciding Ginny Weasley might just be a mystery he never unravels. That’s probably a big part of her allure.

Yeah right, he thinks with a laugh.

Back up in the main level, he locates Ron and his brothers. There’s no sign of Ginny. He isn’t sure if he should be disappointed or relieved. There’s no telling what she might do.

“Where’d you bugger off to?” Ron asks.

Harry waves vaguely behind him. “Loo,” he lies.

Ron seems to take him at his word. He gives Harry a quick once over, smiling brightly at him. “I told you a match was a good idea. You seem more relaxed already.”

Harry doesn’t even bother risking a reply to that.

One week later, a cardboard tube arrives at his flat. Inside is a poster of Ginny laid out low over her broom, round, tight arse lifted in the air as she dives.

In case you ever find yourself in need of a hand, the inscription says, a pair of deep red lips pressed over her signature. The poster Ginny winks at him.

He quickly loses count of how often he wanks off while she watches.

*     *     *

Harry throws a tennis ball at his office wall, absently reaching out and catching it before throwing it again. It makes a satisfying thunk as it hits Felix Jugson’s picture square in the face. The at-large murderer scowls at Harry, but can’t walk out of frame. It’s a hollow sort of satisfaction, knowing the real Felix Jugson is more than likely still walking around free somewhere.

Harry throws the ball again, hitting each of the other pictures taped to his wall in turn—a handful of unsolved cold cases, including two war criminals still evading him after all these years. Part of climbing the ranks of the auror department was just so he would have access to this, the last high-level targets, the worst of the worst of Voldemort’s cronies.

Harry’s eyes narrow, taking in the familiar images and pages taped all over the wall. If there is an answer here, he hasn’t found it. But that doesn’t stop him trying. Thunk, thunk, thunk. The other aurors sharing walls with his office have long since given up complaining about the noise, instead layering on muffling wards. They all have their processes after all.

Harry leans back in his chair with a groan, letting his head fall back as he switches to tossing the ball at the ceiling. He hates office days. Almost as much as he hates loose ends.

This is only his second year with the grey stripes. The missions are far more complicated and intense than anything in his other previous roles. They often run far longer too. But there are fewer of them. Meaning downtime.

Technically, this time is supposed to be used to finish reports and tabulate the much-censored, abbreviated versions that go to the Wizengamot to become part of the permanent record. Even worse though, are the requisition forms, which are the opposite of abbreviated. Those damn bean counters want to know to the knut how much they spend and exactly how and why. Everything has to be justified and accounted for.

It is by far Harry’s least favorite thing.

Hence the cold cases and game of catch.

“They said this about you.”

Harry doesn’t startle at the unexpected voice, smoothly reaching out to grab the tennis ball as it bounces back towards him. “Did they?”

“That you’re obsessive.”  

Harry swings his feet down, finally looking back over his shoulder at his new partner. “Yeah, well, if you’re doing this job, you’d better well be obsessive.”

Hyrum Rosier doesn’t look particularly impressed by this nugget of wisdom, his arms crossed over his wide chest, dark eyes impassive. Despite his size, he’s young to even be here, only a few years out of the academy. It took Harry more than a decade to climb to this level, and he’d been particularly motivated. Then again, Harry was an unknown nobody with only a handful of ministry figures willing to vouch for him when he’d applied to the auror academy. All in all, it probably took him longer than most and left him with much more to prove.

Rosier’s rapid rise through the ranks could mean he is exceptionally talented or dedicated. Then again, he’s also a son of one of the richest, most powerful families in England, and that still means far more than people like to pretend it does.

Harry still hasn’t quite worked out where Rosier falls, not helped by the fact that he was assigned as Harry’s partner without any say from him. But he tries not to take that out on him. Much.

“I thought that one was closed,” Rosier says, gesturing at the picture of Langston Nott tacked next to his bookcase. Member of the Azkaban Thirteen. Killed while trying to evade recapture.

“Yeah,” Harry says. “It is.”

“More a reminder then?” he asks.

Once again, this is either a stupidly lucky guess, or Rosier knows far more than he’s letting on. It could be either, and that only annoys Harry more.

“You could say that,” he says, refusing to throw him a bone.  

Part of that is general peevishness, but also because he doesn’t really want to get into the fact that something has always bothered him about that particular case. Maybe just that it was the last case he worked with his partner of seven years. The one that made Byron walk away from the job.

Rosier doesn’t say anything else, but doesn’t leave either, even when Harry goes back to tossing the ball against the wall. He’s either just as bored as Harry or is trying to force him into confidences through uncomfortable silence.

Harry smiles grimly to himself. He’ll have a long wait.

Sure enough, Rosier breaks first. “We’re supposed to be partners, aren’t we?”

It’s a low blow, or maybe that’s just Harry’s conscience belatedly kicking in. He sighs, throwing the ball particularly hard so it flies past his shoulder and towards the door where Rosier stands.

There’s no satisfying yelp and the ball doesn’t come back.

“What exactly is this thing?”

Harry turns, and the tennis ball is floating in front of Rosier as he stares at it with suspicion. He’s not surprised the wizard used his wand rather than just catching it with his hand.

Purebloods, Harry thinks with disgust. “It’s a tennis ball. A game played with rackets.”

Rosier only looks more confused.

“Here, partner,” Harry says, grabbing a cigar box of scribbled receipts and tossing it to Rosier. “You can fill out the requisitions forms. Big team help.”  

This time Rosier catches the box, letting the ball fall to the ground and bounce into a dark corner. He scowls, clearly no more eager for the thankless task.

Harry finds himself bending. He’s never been much of a teacher, used to being the youngest around at any given time, but he supposes it’s time he at least tried.

Opening a drawer, Harry pulls out a random file from his so-called ‘obsession drawer’, glancing cursorily at it before flipping it to Rosier. “And when you’re done with that, look these over and let me know if anything stands out to you. What your overall impressions are. We can go over it together when you’re done.”

It happens to be a file on the Azkaban Thirteen. An old closed case by everyone’s standards but Harry’s. The escapees have all been caught. But no one has been able to explain how they escaped in the first place. Probably little more than an academic exercise, but a second pair of eyes never hurts. Besides, it will keep him busy.  

This seems to be far more what Rosier was looking for. He nods. “Sure thing.”

Harry dismisses him with a wave, and goes back to bouncing the ball and staring at the pictures for another hour, but nothing comes to him. Eventually he gets up and goes home, running by a nearby market when he remembers how empty his kitchen is.

He’s only a block from his place when a flash of copper hair in the crowd drags him out of his thoughts. It’s barely a glimpse, but it catches his attention, instantly dragging up memories of convenient alcoves and teasing fingers, a quiet laugh and warm eyes full of promise. Without conscious thought, his pace speeds up as if chasing another chance to catch a glimpse.

A group of blokes leave the sidewalk to cross the street, and he has a clear view of the woman now, walking away from his street. Despite not having seen her in weeks, something about the figure is very familiar.

“Ginny?” he calls out before he can stop himself.

He tells himself he’s barmy. She doesn’t even live in London. What are the chances it could actually be her? It’s just wishful thinking because a shag would really improve his mood at the moment.

Only the figure stops, turning back to look at him, and it is her. Even if she looks quite different than he’s used to, her hair pulled up in some complicated twist and her robes rather severe and business like.

Definitely her though, as she walks back towards him, the two of them meeting at the corner. “Hey,” she says, giving him a slow, slightly predatory smile.

“Hey,” he says, not even bothering to be annoyed by how thrilled he is to see her. But he also has no intention of letting her put him on his back foot so easily again. If she can treat this so casually, he can too. “Were you coming to see me?”

“I was,” she says, clearly not interested in playing coy. Harry doubts she’s ever been coy a day in her life. “I’m in town for a few days and thought I might drop by. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” he says. He cants his head towards his flat. “Want to come up?”

“I definitely do.”

They cross over to the entrance in silence, Harry gesturing for her go first. She gives him a look that makes it clear she knows this is more for his benefit than any fit of gentlemanly behavior.

“So,” he says as he thoroughly enjoys watching the sight of her legs as she climbs the stairs ahead of him, her robes hitched a little higher than strictly necessary for the task. “Do you have another match? Or just visiting family?”

“Neither,” she says. “I’m in town for…business.”

“Yeah?”

Reaching the landing, she looks back at him. “I can’t really talk about it.”

That just piques his interest more, but he doesn’t push. “Sure.”

Reaching across her to open the door, she doesn’t move back away, letting him rather thoroughly invade her space.

“Such manners,” she says as she slips inside the open door.

Following her in, he lifts his grocery bag. “I’ll just put these away.”

“Sure,” she says.

Harry stows his milk in the icebox, making sure the cooling charms are still holding.

Ginny watches him from the doorway. “So I know we said this would only be a one time thing…”

Deciding the rest wouldn’t spoil, Harry drops the bag on the counter. “Three times ago, by my count.”

She lifts an eyebrow at him. “Keeping track are we?”

He shrugs, refusing to feel embarrassed. He knows they’ve both enjoyed their times together. The very fact that she is here again seems to confirm it. “What can I say? They were pretty memorable.”

She smiles. “And here I thought you just had a mind for details.”

Harry can’t help but laugh, and he’s amazed how quickly the annoyances of the day have dropped away. Apparently the possibility of really good sex can do that.

Ginny takes a step towards him. “I thought I would drop by and see if there was any chance you’d be interested in…upgrading.”

The anticipatory buzz dulls enough for him to frown slightly at her, a hard pit forming in his stomach. “Meaning what, exactly?”

She laughs. “Merlin, the look on your face. I’m not asking you for a relationship, Harry. I don’t really do relationships.”

He lets out a breath. “Me either,” he says, deciding it’s best to be upfront about it. He’s been sucked down that path twice before, and neither left him eager to give it another go.

She doesn’t seem put out by that. “Well isn’t that convenient.”

He watches her step closer, the anticipation growing again. “So what exactly are you proposing?”

Her head tilts to the side. “Look. We’re both busy people with rather consuming jobs. And it seems to me we have a certain rare...compatibility.”

That certainly was one way to put it.

“It just seems a shame to waste that,” she continues. 

“It certainly would be,” he agrees, gratified to hear that she thought their times together were something out of the ordinary as well.

“I’m glad we’re in agreement,” she says, and he wonders if he imagines that she looks a little relieved. It’s even more alluring somehow, this idea that there is so much more lurking under her brash exterior. “I thought we should take advantage of it. Whenever we like. Call it…recreational sex.”

“Recreational sex,” he repeats, amused. “So pretty much what we’ve already been doing.”

“Yes, only with a few rules in place. You know, just to keep things…” She waves a hand.

“Convenient and thorough?” he guesses.

She laughs, nodding. “Yes. Exactly.”

“What kind of rules?” he asks.

She doesn’t even hesitate, clearly having thought this through ahead of time, and he can’t help but notice that the prim business look is really working for her, or for him, he supposes. He’s never had a librarian thing, but for her, he thinks he could develop one.

“I was thinking, one of us shows up, and it’s a simple yes or no. No explanations needed. I don’t expect you to be exclusive, and if I start to get in the way of something or you’re not into it anymore, just tell me and I’ll do the same. No bad feelings. No drama. We’ll just be done.”

“Sounds simple,” he says. Almost too good to be true, honestly.

It’s not often that an attractive, sexually adventurous quidditch star offers to have no strings attached sex at his convenience. He would have to be a fool to pass that up, even if part of him wonders if he’d be quite so willing to agree if there weren’t something about her.

The truth is he likes her. She’s interesting. A bit of a puzzle. And she clearly doesn’t want more from him than he’s able to offer. It seems a nice middle ground between meaningless hookups and entangling himself in a relationship.

“Simple is the whole point,” she says.

“Just to clarify,” he says, needing to be completely clear, “this isn’t going to be wining and dining, spilling all our secrets to each other, me having to tell you where I am and what I’m doing all the time kind of thing, right?”

She pulls a face. “Merlin, no. That sounds rubbish.”

“Okay then,” he says, ignoring any niggling doubt telling him this isn’t the best idea, because his body is too busy sitting up and screaming what an amazingly awesome idea this is. “I’m pretty sure I can live with that arrangement.”

“Good, because you owe me.”

He laughs, finally letting himself pull her up against him. “I definitely do.”

“Is that a yes?” she asks.

“Yes,” he says, fingers pressing through the heavy material of her robes in search of her body underneath as he leans down to kiss her.

They don’t make it to the bedroom this time. But that’s just as well because beds are overrated. Harry very carefully makes her come twice, once with his hands and once with his mouth.

“Just to make sure things stay even,” he tells her.

“Such a gentleman,” she says once she recovers enough to speak.

“I try,” he says, looking up at her sitting on the edge of his kitchen table, legs wide with her business robes nothing but a forgotten mess on his floor. Her hair is still twisted up, other than a single strand that trails down to brush against her collarbone, and fuck, a damn poster has nothing on her.  

“Do you mind?” he asks, gesturing towards her hair.

“Oh, sure,” she says, reaching to pull the clasp out of her hair.

“No,” he says, reaching up to stop her. “Let me.”

She drops her arms. “Okay.”  

Urging her down off the edge of the table, he turns her around so her back is to him, fingers carefully pulling the clasp free. There’s a charm there too, clearly, and he neutralizes it with a wordless spell.

She shivers as the fiery mass brushes down her bare shoulders, falling nearly to the middle of her back. It’s hugely impractical considering her job, but damn if it isn’t gorgeous, the deep color contrasting against her pale skin.

“Enjoying the view?” she asks, leaning forward on her arms and only improving it.

“Immensely,” he says, hands trailing down her back and over her hips.

The vast majority of his brain is tied up in the very impatient demands of his body at having been denied so long, but that dry, assessing auror part of his brain passively identifies the decade old telltale scars of a particularly nasty curse curving across her lower back. For all the shite he’s seen in his job, this curse is one of the worst—painful as hell, but also meant to deliberately leave a mark. He’s rarely come across it since the peace was established. His fingers tighten on her hip, and he reminds himself that they all had their own war.

“You gonna stand there all day looking?” she asks, wiggling her hips in invitation.

“Impatient, are you?” he says, finally reaching to undo his belt.

“Merlin, yes. I’ve been purposely putting this off until my negotiations were complete. I’ve been in town for days.”

“Have you,” he asks, kicking his feet free of his pants. “And you were thinking about this the whole time?”

She makes an impatient sound of agreement, her legs rubbing together. “Being unsatisfied makes me cranky and sharp. Perfect for arguing with arseholes looking for any way to take advantage.”

He presses his hand against her shoulder, urging her to lean further down over the table, his other hand sliding between her legs.

She makes a low sound of appreciation that makes him suspect he’s made her lose her train of thought. He feels a rush of pleasure and satisfaction at the break in her composure.

“I imagine you showed them,” he says, urging her legs further apart.

She blows out a heavy breath, bracing herself on her forearms, her pert arse lifting in the air as she presses impatiently back against him.

“You know I did,” she says, voice wavering. “Now please stop playing and get on with it.”

He doesn’t need any more invitation than that, sliding into her firmly from behind, both of them groaning in appreciation.

His hand skims up her back, burying in her hair while the other holds tight to her waist as he idly flexes his hips, taking his time enjoying the nearly painful expectation, the slow drag of her body tight around him.

“Pull harder,” she says.

He pauses in his motions, just the slightest hesitation before twisting his hand in her hair. She arches her back as it pulls against her scalp, pressing back against him, taking him in deeper.

“Like this?” he asks, voice rough and uneven, because as much as she seems to like it, he’s surprised to find that he likes it too.

“Yes,” she says, rocking her hips. “Now stop messing about.”

He widens his stance and does as he’s told, fist tightening in her hair. She rather loudly vocalizes her approval, the table threatening to skid across the floor in reaction to his enthusiasm. He impatiently casts a spell on it as Ginny laughs.

It turns into a gasp as he gains better leverage. She curses as he settles into a hard rhythm he has no hope of maintaining for long, but fuck does it feel amazing. He closes his eyes, his hand pressing up and down the curve of her back.

He holds on as long as he can manage, pressure building until it’s nearly painful, and then she does something with her hips and it all gives way in a blinding moment of shattering relief. He erratically drives through the pleasure as everything but the feel of it seems to disappear entirely.

He collapses down over her, loosening his hold on her hair to brace himself as best he can on one shaking arm, the other wrapping around her waist as he fights to catch his breath.

Fuck, he thinks, completely overwhelmed. His body feels boneless, all of the annoyances and aggravations of the day so very far away. Just what he needed, really. 

He thinks he must zone out entirely for a while, brought back by Ginny shifting slightly under him.

“I think I’m going to like this arrangement,” he says against her back.

“Good,” she says, patting his thigh absently. “Now get off me, you giant lump, and help me find my knickers. I have a portkey to catch.”

“Done with me already?” he asks, reluctantly rolling off her.

She turns, giving him a slow smile full of promise. “For now at least.”

Then she lifts up, pressing a lingering kiss to his lips. He drags her against him, relishing the feel of her body along the length of his as he intently kisses her back.

As Harry watches her leave, far less prim than when she arrived, he has no doubt that this is going to be the most brilliantly stupid idea he’s ever agreed to. And that was really saying something.

Chapter Text

3.

It’s a dreary as hell day.

Grey. Cold. Windy. Rainy. The occasional rumble of thunder. But honestly, nothing that would put off an official match. And yet, here Ginny is, sitting in her hotel room in Budapest after a long boring day of, well, sitting in her sodding hotel room.

It’s even a pretty nice hotel room. That doesn’t make up for the fact that she should be practicing. Or checking out the city.

Their seeker, fucking prima donna that he is, had whinged his way out of practice, claiming the risk of lightning and their upcoming match tomorrow as reason enough to cancel practice. The team management, of course, fell at his feet. Anything to keep the seeker happy.

Some days she really fucking hates seekers.

She is bored out of her mind, filled with too much unspent energy, and she can’t even set foot outside the hotel thanks to curfew. Like a freaking teenager.

It’s a fairly common practice, hotel-enforced curfews the evening before a match. Mostly because some idiot at some point was stupid enough to go out and get pissed and either not show up at the game while they’re on a bender, or be so hungover as to be useless. Of course, there’s also been the occasional instance of more nefarious interferences, such as a player disappearing the night before a match only to reappear two weeks later out of a vanishing cabinet in Bruges.

Ginny’s match tomorrow is hardly important enough to involve sabotage, but rules are rules, and she’s been known to follow them. At least when breaking them pretty much guarantees she’ll get fired. Or traded. Again.

So here she sits, obedient to a fault and fucking hating everything.

It’s near seven when someone knocks on her door. She almost doesn’t answer it, not particularly in the mood for asinine team bonding or, worse, a lecture from the team manager. Still, she’s trying to play nice, just long enough for her contract to cleanly change hands on her own terms for once.

She’s so close.

Climbing off her bed, she crosses to the door, pulling it open. It isn’t the team manager. In fact it isn’t anyone from her team, but rather Harry standing there, hair slightly damp from the drizzle outside.

She doesn’t ask how he knew she was here or how he got past their rather impressive team security, just opens the door wider and says, “Fuck yes.”   

There’s the briefest flash of relief on his face as if he wasn’t quite sure what his reception would be, like maybe tracking her down in a foreign country while she’s working isn’t really within the scope of their arrangement. Her enthusiastic agreement must override that though, because he doesn’t waste time stepping inside, closing the door behind him.

“I take back everything bad I ever thought about seekers,” she says.

“What?” he asks, clearly confused.

“Forget it,” she says, pulling her shirt up and over her head, completely ready to get started.

He apparently is too, immediately kicking off his shoes and dropping his sodden cloak to the floor. “Already forgotten,” he says, reaching for her.

They barely say another word until they are both naked, the two of them tumbling back on the ridiculously large bed.

“I wasn’t sure if you like to keep your edge for matches,” he says against her breast.

“Screw that,” she says, fingers winding into his hair, encouraging his tongue to be put to much better uses than talking. “It’s another bloody exhibition match.”

“So noted,” he says and then proceeds to very thoroughly fuck her like he’s been itching for this just as much as she has. Merlin she loves that he’s never hesitant with her, never treats her like a fragile thing, but not like a disposable thing either.

He has the remarkable ability of making her feel like the most entrancing thing he’s ever seen. Not to mention making her come with focused determination.  

Despite taking their time, all too soon for her taste he’s swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, clearly trying to build up enough energy to get dressed and leave. Or maybe just the will.

She props herself up on her elbow, giving his back a speculative look. “You’re an auror.”

“Caught on to that, did you?”

She rolls her eyes, pressing on with her original point. “You blokes have been known to keep some of those really impressive stamina potions on hand, right? Just in case of emergencies?”

He pauses, looking back over his shoulder at her. “Yes,” he draws out, like he’s perfectly aware where she’s going with this.

They’re mostly used for long-term stakeouts or replenishing magic during particularly onerous battles, she knows. But she’s also heard rumors of more interesting effects on the male body in particular.

She licks her lips. “You ever used one…recreationally?”

“Once,” he admits.

“And?” she asks, very curious.

“And the aftereffects are bloody awful.”

She slides her hand across the rumpled bed sheets. “And the short term payoff?”

He eyes her, giving off the air of having an internal debate with himself. “You’d have to make it worth my suffering,” he says, but he’s already rolling back onto the bed.  

She can’t hope to spend a night alone in this hotel room and not lose her shite. She needs this. “You doubt I could?”

“Maybe just a partial dose,” he relents, pulling her towards him. “Four hours?”

“Make it six,” she says, and rolls over on top of him, nibbling at his collarbone before moving lower.  

His hands slide into her hair, letting off a small sound that seems eager and resigned all at once. “I think I’ll manage this round all on my own.”

Ginny decides to take that as a compliment.

*     *     *

“Are you in town on business?” Ginny asks much later as they wait between rounds, because even with the potion he demands a little bit of downtime. As does her own body.

Plus, she’s hungry. Hard not to be after that much sex. Hence the room service spread out between them on the bed.

Harry shrugs, reaching for another chip, coating it in an indecent amount of curry sauce. She’s just thankful he’s not some health food weirdo. “Found myself with some free time on my hands.”

“Yeah?” she asks, because there is clearly a story to be had and the burger she’s eating only requires so much attention.

“What can I say? They get a bit shirty when you don’t use your leave for a while.”

He’s being just cagey enough that her curiosity is piqued. “How long is ‘a while’ exactly?”

His eyes scrunch up as if trying to remember. “Say...three years?”  

She laughs. “That’s a long ‘while’. Now I know why you’re here. You totally got kicked out.”

He winces. “Kinda.”

“Busted,” she sing-songs, licking her fingers clean as she finishes her burger.

Harry waves a fork around like a wand. “Don’t show your face here for at least a week, Potter, or I’ll put your sorry arse on the Ministry Citizen’s Safety Brigade Committee,” he says, voice dropping deep and grumpy in imitation of his boss.

“Fate worse than death!” Ginny says, dramatically lifting her hand to to forehead.

Harry looks like it really is. “You have no idea.”

“Having leave is that terrible, is it?” Most people speak of it as a perk. Fancy hols off to warmer climes and all that.

He shrugs. “I like my work.”

She nods, knowing the feeling. “Me too.”

He smiles at her. “Sometimes we just have to humor our bosses, right?”

“Something like that.” Stomach sated, she reaches out, fingers trailing over his rapidly recovering interest. The potion is even more impressive than she imagined. “Though I’m not sure this is what they had in mind when they told you to rest up.”

“Sod them,” he says, shoving the food aside and crawling over to her.

*     *    *

By midnight, Ginny’s begun to lose count of how many rounds they’ve gone. Harry’s mood begins to shift as the hours bleed by though, like the potion is making him jumpy, so she decides a little relaxation break is in order.

“Come on,” she says, leading him into the bathroom. It’s got one of those enormous walk-in showers that doubles as a steam room. She gestures at the bench and he lowers himself onto it.

Closing the glass door, she fiddles with the knobs and soon the space is fit to burst with eucalyptus-scented hot steam.

Ginny leans back on the bench, eyes closing as she enjoys the press of warmth.

“Fuck, they need one of these in the auror training halls,” Harry says, apparently similarly appreciative.

“They’re the best,” she agrees, feeling her entire body relax.

Harry’s blissed out state doesn’t last all that long though, Ginny cracking her eyes open to see him push to his feet, pacing the space like a caged animal.

She watches him walk, enjoying the view through the slowly thinning steam, deciding she should distract him for a bit. With something other than sex.  

“So. Tell me. What do you have against relationships anyway?” she asks, more matter-of-fact and curious than truly caring. He’s an attractive, sexually talented, decent guy as far as she can tell.

He stops pacing, turning to look at her, but appearing no less agitated. “Asking someone to sit behind and wait.” His voice is casual, almost uninterested.

She isn’t fooled. “Been burned before, have you?”

His expression gives it away, a flash of regret and annoyance and pain there before he shrugs. “My job’s dangerous. It’s a lot to ask of someone.”

Ginny hums under her breath, knowing a weak justification when she hears one. Anyone getting into something with an auror, especially a grey stripe, would have to be naive as hell or just flat-out stupid not to know what they were signing up for.

“Sounds like a cop-out if you ask me,” she says, voice purposely dismissive, and she has no idea what’s gotten into her, the way she is deliberately poking at him, hoping for a reaction. She’s not the one on a potion.

Sure enough, he spins to look at her, something hard in his expression, and she feels a thrill of adrenaline, realizing this is what she was hoping for. Crossing over to her, he tugs her to her feet.

For a moment, she thinks she’s made him angry, but then he’s turning her around, pressing her flush against the cool tiles of the shower wall. Ginny sucks in a breath at the contact, the shocking cold of it on her flushed skin. His warm body more than makes up for it as he crowds against her back.  

“I don’t hear you complaining,” he says.

“I’m definitely not,” she says, breath catching in her throat as arousal curls in her stomach.

“No?” he says, pressing her more firmly against the tile, rubbing up against her.

“No,” she says.

His fingers wind into her hair, tugging her head to the side. He licks and nips his way across her shoulder, lingering in a stinging bite to the tender skin at the base of her neck.

She gasps.

“Too much?” he asks, voice rough like he’s on the edge of losing it. But she can also feel it, the coiled energy of his body, the way he’s capable of holding himself back, even in his current state. She wonders how often he actually lets go.

She thinks maybe she’d like to see that.

“No,” she challenges, pushing back against him. “Not enough.”

He nearly growls, reaching for her hands, fingers wrapping tight around her wrists. He pulls them up, pinning them above her head. His fingers tighten to the point of pain as he starts to thrust against the curve of her bum, his breath heavy against her ear. “Fuck, you feel so good.”

She can barely think for the warring sensations, the slick slide of him against her, the cold tile against her breasts, the stinging pain of his grip, the trickle of hot water down over her back and thighs in the oppressively steamy air. Harry isn’t the only one moaning with pleasure.

By the time he finds his release, crying out hoarsely against her shoulder, she’s aching with need. She tugs against his hands, needing to touch herself, but he doesn’t let go.

“Dammit, Harry, I need to—”

“No,” he says, refusing to budge, and for a moment Ginny feels a beat of panic, but before she can even open her mouth to say anything, his grip softens, his hand sliding down her arms. “Let me. Let me take care of you.”  

His body is still taut with tension, his breathing rough. She pushes back against him, and he steps away, giving her enough room to turn around. She looks up at his face, the flush in his cheeks, the strange intensity in his eyes that sends a thrill down her spine.

“Please,” he says.

She nods.

In one smooth movement, he sets her down on the bench, kneeling in front of her and lifting her legs over his shoulders.

She leans back with a groan, one hand splayed against the tiles as the other buries in his hair. She holds him close as he licks into her, suckling and swirling and— “Oh my fucking god.”

His only response is to redouble his efforts, his fingers pressing painfully into her hips as he holds her against his mouth.

It’s aggressive and insistent and exactly what she needs.

She twists her fingers in his hair and rides out the surge of pleasure that seems to go on and on.

“Enough,” she finally says when she can’t take it anymore, pushing him back away with her foot.

He sits back on the tiles, and Ginny fights for her breath in the heavy air. So much for relaxation.

By the time the steam has dissipated, Harry seems much calmer, and she doesn’t know if that’s the potion wearing off or they’ve just finally taken the edge off.

Either way, he’s watching her with a guarded expression.

“I think I like this side of you,” she says, knowing they’ve crossed some lines only ever flirted with before.

“Yeah?” he asks, still cautious.

She nudges him with her toes. “Yes.”

He captures her foot, sliding his hand up the back of her calf. “Good to know.”

After rinsing off in the shower, they dry off and collapse back on the bed.

Even though sleepovers aren’t really part of the deal, she doesn’t kick him out, mostly because she feels bad about how terrible he’s going to feel. Not to mention that after she sucks him off one last time somewhere around 3am, he kind of passes out, so it’s not like asking him to leave is really an option. If this is the typical fallout for taking the potion, she can’t imagine it would be all that safe in the field.

Fortunately he doesn’t snore. It’s a big bed too, so there’s more than enough room no matter how much he’s trying to imitate a giant, immoveable starfish. She drapes a blanket over him and rolls over and goes to sleep.

When her alarm goes off the next morning, he barely stirs.

She leaves him sleeping in her bed, an envelope with a ticket to that evening’s match and a glass of water waiting on the table next to him. Merlin knows he’ll probably be dehydrated at the very least. On second thought, she leaves a pain potion as well, if the after effects are anything like a hangover.

It’s not the most comfortable match, her body feeling more than a little overextended, but that doesn’t stop her from making nearly a dozen goals. Which is all for naught when the fucking seeker can’t even manage to get his precious delicate hands on the snitch.

Useless.

The only upside is that Harry is waiting patiently by the sidelines when she touches down. His glasses are glazed over with a smoky tint, as if the light is bothersome.

“You don’t look so good,” she says, noting the grey pallor to his skin.  

“Somehow, you still do,” he says, sounding disgruntled.

She smirks, pleased to know his interest hasn’t waned. “Is the pain bad?” she asks, laying a sympathetic hand on his arm.

“Worth it,” he mutters, his fingers catching hers.

“Yeah?” she asks, stepping up against him. “Want to help me with some post-game rituals?”

He winces. “No,” he says, and she thinks it’s a testament to how awful he must feel that he’s turning her down. His arm wraps around her waist. “But I’ll watch.”

She has to admit his request takes her by surprise. It feels like so few things do these days. “I suppose that can be arranged.”

He lifts an eyebrow at her, and she realizes he was only kidding. “Yeah?” he says, sounding intrigued.

Hell, why not? “Yeah.”

She leads him back through the facilities and into one of the private shower stalls, conjuring a chair.

“Sit down before you fall down,” she tells him.

Harry dutifully complies, collapsing back with what looks like real relief.

“If you fall asleep, I’m going to take it real personal,” she says.

He laughs under his breath. “I may feel like death, but there is no chance of that, I promise you.”   

She starts with taking her hair out of the tight braid she always keeps it in during matches. She knows he has a thing for her hair. He watches on with interest as she peels off her game leathers, chucking them in a pile in the corner to be dealt with later. She’s frankly too exhausted to turn this into a striptease. Her rituals are for herself, not him.

Deciding to ignore him for the most part, she steps under the spray, the warm water coursing over her hair and down her body. Lathering up some soap, she scrubs away the dirt and sweat of the game, not particularly caring if it looks enticing or not. It’s only once she’s clean and the pounding heat of the water against her back has eased some of the lingering tension there, that her hands start to linger wherever they feel good.

She darts a look at Harry, and he seems pretty damn entranced considering she hasn’t been trying all that hard. She would think he’s just zoned out, staring off in space if not for the intense sort of concentration on his face like he’s doing his absolute best not to miss the tiniest detail.

“Ever done this before?” she asks as her hands slide over her breasts.

He shakes his head, eyes still glued to her hands. “Thought about it, sure,” he admits. “But watched someone? No.”

“Well,” she says, “always nice to be a bloke’s first.”

She doesn’t tell him that she hasn’t either. She plans on just ignoring him, doing whatever she would do on her own, but having him watch does things to her she doesn’t expect. Her body is already humming from her goals, from the adrenaline rush of the match, but having him here makes her feel…reckless.

She slides her hand between her legs, finding herself surprisingly slick. “Merlin,” she breathes. Widening her stance, she keeps her touch gentle and teasing.

Harry curses under his breath.

She looks straight at him, biting down on her lip as she slips a finger inside herself.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he says, shifting as if to get up. “I’m pretty sure I can manage.”

God, part of her really does want him to come over here, but she also wants to see this through. It’s her time to be in charge.

“No,” she says, hands not pausing in their motions. “You missed your chance. You only get to watch.”

He makes a sound like a low whine of complaint, but complies. There’s something about a bloke of his size and skill sitting placidly at her command that makes everything go warm and liquid. He doesn’t get up and leave either, instead settling deeper down in the chair, the heel of his hand absently rubbing up and down the seam of his trousers. She isn’t even sure he’s aware he’s doing it.

“Feel free to join in,” she says.

He looks stupidly hopeful. “But you said—”

“You have two perfectly good hands,” she reminds him.

He looks comically shocked by the idea, considering.

“Oh, I see,” she says, licking her lips. “Willing to watch but not willing to pay in kind.”

His eyes glint like he knows perfectly well that he’s being manipulated. Still, he drags his shirt partially up, revealing his stomach and the thin trail of hair above his low-slung trousers, and Ginny feels her heartbeat spike.

Unbuttoning his trousers, he pulls himself free, almost shy, one hand wrapping around the base, pulling slowly up.

Something about her expression must encourage him, because he stops looking hesitant, eyes darkening as his movements become more sure.

And yes, that is hot as hell to watch.

She stares right at him, imagining her fingers are his, that it is his mouth between her legs. She really was going to drag this out as long as she could, but it feels far too good.

Harry bites his lip, fist pumping, and god he makes quite the picture, his trousers tugged open, his shirt shoved carelessly up, glasses slipping down his nose.

She drops her head back, mouth opening. “Fuck, yes,” she says, her eyes trying to drift shut, but she doesn’t want to look away from him.

Eventually she can’t help it, her own movements verging on frantic. She can hear him grunt, the sound of skin sliding along skin only helping her on her way, culminating in a sharp, bright burst of pleasure that steals her breath.

Ginny leans back in the shower, the water coursing over her face and down her chest as her hands finally drop away.

“Christ,” Harry says when she finally reemerges from the spray of water.

Ginny opens her eyes, taking him in. He looks thoroughly debauched, his arms hanging listlessly by his sides like he doesn’t have the energy to lift them, but his eyes still intent on her.

She smiles, more pleased by his expression than she expects to be.

“Why do I get the feeling you are going to be the death of me, Weasley?”

She leans back against the tiles, her own body feeling limp and content. “Oh, but what a way to go, yeah?”

He doesn’t disagree, still smiling as his eyes finally drift shut.

Watching him there, Ginny considers that her post-game rituals will never be quite the same again.

Chapter Text

4.

Harry’s barely trudged back into his office, still dusting spent Floo Powder off his travel-stained cloak, when Rosier sticks his head in the door.

“Fair warning,” he says. “Gerhardt’s calling for your head.”

Harry sighs, dropping his carryall to the floor and collapsing down into his chair. “And what did I do now?”

“You think disappearing for days without clearance and sticking your nose into foreign local jurisdiction isn’t enough?” Gerhardt bellows by way of greeting, striding into the office.

With great effort, Harry rocks back to his feet, giving his boss his full attention despite how exhausted he is. “I received an urgent message from an informant, sir.”

They have some leeway to follow leads, but there is still protocol. This particular trip was a bit more…sensitive, and he hadn’t had the time to log it properly.

This doesn’t appear to appease Gerhardt one bit. “Another one of your unofficial ones, I presume. That doesn’t explain why even your partner didn’t know where you were or what you were doing.”

Harry glances at Rosier, but his face is as unreadable as always. “No offense to Rosier, I’ve just always done it this way. Byron understood that some of my informants will only meet with me. That I’ve sworn to keep their identities secret. From everyone.”

Gerhardt’s scowl only deepens, his eyes nearly disappearing under his bushy eyebrows. “Byron may have been fine with that, but there’s a reason he couldn’t cut it in the grey stripes, Potter. And, honestly, the jury is still out on you.”

Something his boss is very fond of reminding him these days. It’s honestly getting tiring at this point. And maybe that’s why he lets his mouth get ahead of his brain once again.

“I’m sorry, sir, but is Rosier supposed to be a partner or a babysitter?”

His boss seems to swell with anger. “What did you find?” he demands, each word short and clipped.

“Nothing I’m ready to report on yet, sir.”

Harry swears he hears Rosier groan under his breath. Doubtlessly he can’t believe the hole Harry’s digging himself.

Harry relents. “I’m not being obstructionist, sir. I’m still just vetting it all. It honestly struck me as a bit of a wild pixie chase. There’s no point in running off on bad intel. It would be a waste of our resources.”

Gerhardt closes his eyes, giving off the impression that he may be counting to ten. “You will use Rosier,” he says, voice brooking no argument. “Use him to help sort through it all.”

“Yes, sir,” he says, mostly because he has to.

“We do things a certain way here, Potter. You need to get on board with that.” With that, he leaves.  

Harry leans over to pick up his bag, suddenly finding the idea of spending another minute in his office unbearable. “I’ll fill you in on Monday,” he says to Rosier. “For now, I’m beat.”

“Sure,” Rosier says, lips twisting as if seeing Harry get read the riot act was the best amusement he’s had in a while. Arsehole.

The next morning Harry wakes to insistent tapping. It takes his exhausted brain a bit to realize it’s the delivery owl.

“For fuck’s sake,” he mutters, clambering out of bed and nearly tripping over his shoes. He hefts the window open, blinking against the early morning light.

The owl drops a newspaper, Harry reaching out to grab it. Before he can pull back, the bird catches the edge of his hand with its beak.

“Ouch! What the hell?”

The owl lifts its leg, jostling the small leather pouch attached to it.

“Right,” Harry says, yawning as he crosses over to his dresser to dig out a coin. He drops a galleon in, satisfied to see the bird nearly topple over under the unexpected weight.

“That should earn me another few months of nice quiet morning deliveries, right?”

The owl gives him a very unimpressed look, taking a deliberate shite down the inside of the windowsill as it goes.

Harry curses.

By the time he finishes cleaning up the mess, he looks longingly back at his bed but knows there’s no point in trying for more sleep.

He tucks the morning paper under his arm and heads out into the kitchen. Leaning back against the counter, he sets the coffee going with a jab of his wand, another sweeping motion summoning a mug to rattle to rest next to his elbow. Fighting back a yawn, his mind starts to idly process the details he picked up in Germany.

There’d been an altercation in a small rural village, tales of muggle baiting. Unfortunately not as unheard of as it should be these days. The only reason his informant dragged Harry in at all was a claim that someone had seen Thorfinn Rowle. Despite the fact that the war criminal is currently a soulless husk rotting away in Azkaban, and has been for four years.

That would be more alarming if people weren’t always claiming to see famous dark wizards. They were the new boggart haunting people’s cupboards.  

It was probably nothing. Which is what he would tell Rosier. On Monday.  

Harry pours himself a cup of coffee and fixes a bowl of cereal. Flipping through the paper over breakfast, he comes across an article about the latest round of trades and recruitments in the British and Irish Quidditch League. Near the top is a note that the Montrose Magpies signed Ginny Weasley to a two-season, six figure deal that is apparently sending ripples through the league to judge from the article.

That certainly explains all her mysterious meetings.

Good for her, he thinks. Considering how phenomenal she is, he’s surprised she hasn’t been snatched up before this.

He managed to drop in on one of Ginny’s matches while he was abroad and maybe that played a small role in his decision to go solo. Not that his informant isn’t a paranoid wreck, but Rosier honestly could have been trusted to hang back when asked. It’s possible Harry’s mind was focused on something else. Someone else.

He’s seen her a handful of times in the last two months. Usually when she’s in London for more of her now not-so-mysterious meetings. He would have thought after the long marathon weekend in Budapest that the edge may have come off a bit, but his body is always just as eager at the sight of her as always.

She had seemed just as happy to see him when she noticed him loitering on the sidelines at the end of her match. She dragged him back to the locker rooms and let him help with her post-game rituals and that alone made the trip worth it, useless information and his boss’s ire be damned.

He’d smooth it over. He always does.

Sure enough, on Monday he shares his intel with Rosier, both of them agreeing it’s nothing. Harry’s boss even starts to defrost a bit, but not before getting his revenge on Harry.

“My boss just signed me up for a month of recruit training,” Harry complains to Ron next time they meet up for lunch.

“Dueling hall?” Ron asks.

He shakes his head. If only. “Wilderness survival and overland tactics.”

Ron lets out a low whistle. “You are not his favorite person at all, are you.”

Not even a little bit. Harry has to hand it to his boss. He definitely won this round.

“You should come with, brush up on some of your skills,” Harry says.

Ron laughs. “You just want company in your misery.”

Harry can’t even say that’s a lie. Resigned to his fate, he turns his attention to demolishing his way through a meat pie.

Once he’s made a dent in it, he says, “I saw in the papers that your sister is moving back.”

“Yeah,” Ron says, not looking all that pleased considering. “We’ll see if it sticks.”

Harry frowns. “You don’t think it will?”

Ron shrugs. “She’s not much for commitment.”

“From what I read, it’s a pretty impressive contract,” Harry says.

“True,” he concedes. “Mum’s glad at least. She thinks it means Gin’s finally put everything behind her.”

Harry frowns, thinking of the scars on her back. “You mean the war?”

“No,” he says. “I mean, that was hard, of course. On all of us. But Ginny’s not…” He shakes his head like he’s struggling to put it into words. He leans his elbow on the table. “Growing up, Ginny would never step back from a challenge. She wouldn’t walk away from anything . She was like a force. It wasn’t until later that she started changing. Now she never settles on anything. I swear, some days it’s like I don’t even know her anymore.”

“Did something happen?” Harry can’t stop himself from asking.

Ron looks at him. “Oh, yeah. I guess you probably never heard about all that. It was a long while ago. Some arsehole in her quidditch league who got what he deserved. She just never seemed to get over it.” He shrugs. “Maybe she thought the continental league would be easier somehow. Not that it seems to have been.”

That isn’t exactly a satisfying explanation, but Harry doesn’t know how to get more info without making Ron suspicious. It’s probably best to keep Ron in the dark about his arrangement with Ginny. More than likely it will fizzle out—sooner rather than later—and there will never be any need for Ron to know of it at all.

Ron finishes off his ale. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe this is the time she finally follows through. I’m just not going to hold my breath.”

“You miss her,” Harry realizes, finally recognizing the real source of his mate’s peevishness.

“Miss that foul-mouthed, vicious harpy?” Ron says incredulously. “Yeah. Quite a lot.”

Harry laughs.

A week later, the foul-mouthed, vicious harpy herself shows up on his doorstep.

“So it looks like we might be neighbors,” she says.

“So I saw. Congratulations.”  

“Even more convenient,” she says with a smile, leaning back against his door jamb and looking as enticing as hell.

He can’t help but look for any evidence in her expression that she’s not happy about her move back to England, but all he can make out is the typical mix of playful and predatory, the sign of a witch who knows exactly what she wants.

“Well?” she asks, lifting an eyebrow at him.

“What?” he asks, a bit stupidly.

“Are you going to give me an answer?”

“Oh. Yes. Definitely.” He pulls the door open wider, letting his eyes travel down over her body. “Anything in particular I can do to help make your celebration special?”

“I can think of a few things,” she says as she brushes past him.  

“Good thing my evening is open,” he says, shutting the door.  

“Oh,” she says, looking back over her shoulder at him, “I have faith you’d clear your calendar for me.”

He watches her cloak hit the floor and has absolutely no doubt that he would.

*     *     *

Ginny officially moves back to England two weeks later and they fall into a rather intense, almost everyday pattern for a while. At first the chance for daily sex is just too much to pass up, but the novelty of the situation does not seem to be wearing off. Not even in the slightest.

Harry keeps waiting to get tired of her, but he never does.

Then one day he shows up at her hotel and she greets him with a firm, “No.”

“Okay,” he says, despite his body’s severe disappointment. He really is getting spoiled.

“I have my first match tomorrow,” she says, giving him a stern look. “No distractions.”

“No explanations, remember?” he says, giving her a smile before heading back for the elevator.

“Harry,” she calls out after him.

He pauses, looking back at her.

She’s giving his body a speculative look. “Are you around tomorrow evening?”

He shakes his head. “Out on a mission.”

Her shoulders drop. “Well then, I’ll handle it on my own.”

He remembers far too well what that looks like.

Glancing at his watch on his mission the next day, he lets his mind wander to whatever locker room she’s currently in.

Unfortunately, this is the beginning of a new pattern. And one far less satisfying than daily sex. She turns him down or just isn’t there the next four times he drops by her hotel room. He isn’t sure if she’s tried to come by his place because he’s been pulling really weird hours with a new disturbing case involving some missing children.

He and Rosier throw all in on it, and the only thing to be said about that is it at least smoothes some things over with his boss. Despite everything, he and Rosier do work fairly well together.

Still, yet another week passes with Ginny and Harry missing each other, and after the near-daily routine, it’s a disappointment.

After finally closing his case, he’s out one evening with Ron and his mates, really hoping for some mindless fun to distract him from the more disturbing aspects of his day. Yes, they solved the case, but it was the kind that left no room at all for personal satisfaction. Sometimes catching the bad guy doesn’t really fix anything at all.

He’s been there about an hour when Ginny walks in, looking amazing as ever. His body almost immediately reacts, and damn, maybe it is an addiction at this point. When she notices him, she comes to a stop, eyeing Ron’s back before carefully circumnavigating the pub without her brother noticing her presence.

She makes direct eye contact with Harry before slipping into the back hall towards the loos.  

Harry waits, not getting up right away, waiting for a convenient pause in the conversation before excusing himself to the loo.

In the back hall, she’s leaning against the wall, arms crossed over her chest as she waits for him. “Tell me something,” she says before he can even say hello.

“Alright,” he says.

She studies his face. “Have we just been having shitty timing issues, or are you getting tired of this?”

She’s matter of fact about it, not wheedling or even seeming annoyed, but he can’t help but think of the way his last two relationships ended, only after months of slow deterioration and hard feelings on all sides.

You’re just never here, Harry.

This isn’t a relationship, he reminds himself. “Not bored of you yet,” he says, ignoring that it’s an extreme understatement. “What about you? Has this gotten too…annoying?”

“Fuck, no,” she says with a gratifying amount of enthusiasm.

“Okay then,” he says and takes her hand.

“Where are we going?” she asks as he tugs her down the hall.

“Just say yes or no, will you?”

“Yes. Obviously.”

He pulls her into a rear storage room.

She looks around. “I suppose this will do.”

Harry pulls an armless chair over, settling it back against the closed door.

She pulls her wand, casting contraceptive charms on herself. She looks up at him expectantly. “Are you going to set privacy charms?”

“No,” he decides, pulling her closer.

Her eyebrows lift. “Are you expecting me to be quiet? Or do you just feel like giving everyone a show?”

“I doubt you’ll stay quiet,” he says, tugging her sleeve to the side so he can work his mouth across her collarbone.

She tilts her head back on a sigh. “Rather full of ourselves, are we?”

He slides his finger down into her bra, brushing teasingly across the peak, not missing the way her breath catches and she leans eagerly into his touch. “Then prove me wrong.”

Her eyes flash. “Oh, I see. A challenge.”

He lifts one shoulder as if it’s nothing to him, as if the fire in her eyes isn’t doing wonderful things to him. “I just don’t think you can manage it.”

“Fuck you,” she says, shoving his hands away and pulling her shirt up and over her head.

Ginny seems to take the challenge very seriously, pushing and giving back even as she writhes against him but doesn’t make a sound no matter how he provokes her. He really needs to remember this, how much she likes to play games, only she’s currently doing her best to make him forget his sodding name, her hands shoved down his pants and doing wonderful things while he mouths her breast, his tongue flicking and swirling around her nipple.

She turns her head into his arm, teeth biting down in an attempt to keep herself quiet, and fuck, that does rather surprising things to him as well.

He’d try to drag this out even further, but it’s been weeks and he is feeling far from patient. He sits back on the chair, shoving his trousers and pants down and pulling her so she’s straddling his lap. She’s more than happy to take advantage of the position, lowering herself down onto him with painful patience. Not willing to put up with that for long, he grasps her hips, dragging her down tight against him.

He whispers absolutely filthy things in her ear as he thrusts into her, but her only response is to squeeze her eyes shut and rake her nails down his back, making him gasp.

A sound eventually builds in her throat, and she pulls his mouth to hers as she climaxes, pouring her moans and curses straight into him, and he follows almost immediately, one hand in her hair keeping her mouth tight against his.

He reluctantly lets go, his head falling back against the door behind him.

“Impressive,” he says, the quiet of the room only marred by the sound of their heavy breathing and two people arguing about something out in the hall.

“Maybe you just didn’t do that great of a job of it,” she says.

Harry lets a lazy smile curve his lips. “I know for a fact that’s not true.” The various stinging spots on his body tell him just how hard she struggled to stay quiet.

She smiles at him, something dangerous in the angle of it, and then she’s leaning her head back and kicking her foot against the door. “Oh, fuck, yes! Right there, give it to me hard, you amazing stallion!”

Harry freezes in shock, vaguely hearing the argument in the hall abruptly stop before breaking into shocked laughter.

“Give it to her, mate!” someone shouts.

Ginny continues to dramatically moan, and Harry scrambles to shut her up the only way he knows how, pressing his mouth to hers. Her laughter dies against his tongue, her entire body softening into his as he grasps her chin and kisses her thoroughly.

He really thought he knew all the depths and dimensions of Ginny Weasley. Boy was he wrong.

*     *     *

Ginny spends quite a bit of time thinking about how she wants to answer Harry’s little game at the pub. She’s not interested in revenge as much as she enjoyed the hell out of it and wants to up the ante. If Harry wants to play games, she’s perfectly happy to do her part.

So she waits until she has a down training day and dresses very carefully before heading for the Ministry.

Walking into the lobby of the auror department, she tries to looks worried and weepy. “I need to speak with Harry Potter,” she says to the man working the front desk. “No one else.”

The guy frowns, but doesn’t argue, leaning his head back and shouting down a nearby hallway. “Oi, Potter! You have a visitor!”

“Thanks for your help,” Ginny says, barely resisting rolling her eyes. She starts down the hallway indicated by the less than helpful wizard, and sure enough, a few doors down, Harry appears in the hall.

He’s not wearing his uniform, just a dress shirt that is half pulled out of his trousers with a few buttons open at his throat. His hair is standing on end as if he’s been running his hands through it. It works for him.

Then again, everything seems to.

His eyes fall on her, his face cycling through confusion and pleasure before settling on concern, like it occurs to him that she might be in trouble.

Before he can get too worked up, she bats her eyelashes at him. “I am in fear for my life,” she says in a breathy voice, pulling out a hanky. “From a very, very dark wizard.”

This is definitely over the top, to judge from his colleagues’ expressions. More than a few heads are poking out of various offices in curiosity.

“I see,” Harry says, jaw tight as he reaches for her arm. “Why don’t you step inside and tell me exactly what the problem is.”

She presses the hanky to her face. “Oh, thank you.”

“You need me?” a guy across the hall calls out, his lips twisting with amusement.

“Nope!” Harry says, shoving her inside his office and closing the door firmly behind them with a jab of his wand.

Ginny barely gives the space a cursory glance, turning instead to look at Harry. He’s staring at her like he can’t believe this just happened.

Ginny jams the hanky back into her pocket. “I was in the building. Thought I might say hi.”

“Did you,” he says, voice disconcertingly neutral.

“If this is off limits…” she starts to say, unnerved by the way he’s looking at her.

“Do you know what’s tragic?” he says, taking a step towards her.

“What’s that?” she asks, feeling a bit off-kilter with this version of serious auror Harry. She thinks she likes it, if she isn’t about to get kicked out or read the riot act.

He takes a few more steps until he is nearly up against her, his expression still stony at best. He leans down so his mouth is near her ear. “I have never shagged anyone on my desk.”

Ginny lets out a shaky breath, feeling her pulse speed up. “Never?”

“Nope,” he says, the way he’s looking at her making heat rush up her chest. He hasn’t even touched her yet, and this is clearly the best idea she’s ever had.  

“Forget my life being in danger, that is clearly the greater crisis at the moment.”

He brow creases. “You did make that up, right?”

She laughs, undoing the top few buttons of her heavy cloak. “Yes, Harry. I made that up.”

His eyes drop to the skin being revealed as her fingers continuing working their way down the fasteners.

“Are you wearing anything under this?” he asks, voice finally breaking out of what she’s starting to call his auror voice.

She flicks the last clasp open, letting the fabric pool to her feet. “Nope.”

“Fuck,” he says, and drags her up against him.

Definitely her best idea yet.

He’s lifted her up on the edge of his desk, his trousers down about his ankles as he thrusts into her when her head falls to the side only to find herself face to face with Langston Nott.

“Ginny?”

She realizes she’s let her entire body stiffen.

She shifts, pulling a file out from under her arse. “Paper clip,” she says.

He takes it from her, tossing it to the side with a rather flattering lack of care.

She focuses her attention on Harry, getting back to the task at hand. “So am I going to get a commemorative plaque or something?”

He grins. “The Ginny Weasley inaugural shag desk?”

She draws him closer. “Not until you finish what you started.”

His hands tighten on her bum, pulling her closer. “I always finish what I start,” he says as he presses up into her.

She closes her eyes, shutting out everything but Harry.

*     *     *

Midweek, Harry decides to take an early lunch. Like, two hours early, but whatever. He ducks out of his office (now littered with very dangerous memories), and apparates out of the atrium.

It’s a bit early in the day for this, but he knows Ginny has the morning off and he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it, about her, so he figures why not just show up at her hotel and see if she’ll say yes? Besides, she’s the one who infiltrated his place of work and made it impossible to concentrate. All bets are off now.

At his knock, she opens the door, brow furrowed like she can’t imagine who it is, only for her expression to morph into something bordering on horror when she sees him.

“No,” she says, more a moan of distress than a clear denial.

Harry frowns. It’s not like they haven’t each given a fair amount of nos in the time they’ve had this arrangement—sometimes because of bad timing, or just not feeling all that great, or just not particularly wanting sex. It happens. Not all that often to be honest, but often enough that he doesn’t understand this particular reaction.

“Uh, no problem,” he says, biting back on the impulse to ask what’s wrong, knowing that’s not part of the deal. He starts to retreat and that’s when Ginny furtively looks back over her shoulder into the apartment behind her and it all clicks together.

There’s someone in there with her.

This is not something they’ve dealt with before, as far as he is aware, and even as part of him knows he has no claim, no reason to feel anything other than disappointment at a missed chance for some really great sex, there is another part that is less than happy, that wants to barge in and see for himself.

He forces his hands to relax. “I’ll, uh, see you later,” he says.

But before he can escape, the door pulls open, someone else appearing in the doorway. “Who’s—Harry?”

Ron stares back at him in astonishment, and Harry feels frozen to the spot. His mate. Her brother.

Shit.

Ginny closes her eyes with a sigh.

“What are you doing here?” Ron asks, still looking genuinely confused and not at all suspicious. “How did you know I was here?”

“I’m uh—” For some reason every logical explanation seems to flee his brain, and fuck, he’s supposed to be a trained bloody auror, for god’s sake.

Ron’s confusion is quickly morphing into something far more dangerous. “Wait. Are you here to see Ginny?”

“What?” Harry says, voice a bit high. “No. Of course not. I’m just—”

Ginny looks up at the ceiling as if praying for forbearance. “We’re shagging.”

So much for bluffing their way through, Harry thinks as Ron whips his head around to look at her. “What?”

She nods.

He looks to Harry as if for confirmation, and he just kind of shrugs helplessly.

Ron is clearly struggling to catch up. “Wait, so, you’re together? Like, dating?”

“No,” Ginny says, voice slow as if she’s talking to an idiot. “We’re not dating. We’re shagging.”

He frowns. “I don’t understand.”

“Well,” she says. “You see, Harry has a penis. And I have a—”

“Not helping, Ginny,” Harry says, finally managing to find his words in the face of Ginny miming female genitalia with her hands.

“I dunno,” she says, head tilting to the side. “It seems the sort of thing he should know, being a married bloke and all.”

Harry honestly isn’t sure what to do other than laugh at this point. “Let’s take this inside, shall we?” he says, noticing one of the hotel’s other residents out enjoying the show.

“Fine,” Ginny says with a huff, pushing Ron back into the room.

Harry carefully closes the door behind them after staring the nosy neighbor down.

Ginny has Ron sitting on the small in-suite couch that they have definitely utilized before.

“Look, Ron,” she’s saying. “He’s still your mate. You’ve got first dibs. I just…borrow him from time to time. And it’s not like it’s even part of him you’re interested in! I mean, unless you are, in which case I can only highly recommend it.” She smacks him on the arm. “If you weren’t, you know, married.”

Harry is beyond even processing what’s happening anymore, just looking up at the ceiling. “Thanks for the endorsement.”

“Anytime,” she says. “Quality work should always be recognized.”

Ron groans. “Could you please stop talking about my mate’s…”

Ginny looks indecently amused at her brother’s inability to say the word penis. “Knob?” she helpfully supplies. “Cock? Tallywacker? Roger? One-eyed trouser snake?”

To Harry’s surprise, Ron actually starts laughing. Clearly Ginny knows exactly how to smooth this over with him.

“Merlin’s balls, Gin. You’re the worst.”

She snorts. “Yeah, because I didn’t learn pretty much every single one of those words from you.”

“And Bill,” he points out.

“And Bill,” she agrees, smiling.

He sobers a bit, looking between them. “You’re really both okay with this? Just meaningless sex?”

Ginny shrugs. “So far so good.” She looks at him. “Right, Harry?”

“Yeah,” he says. “We’re good.”

Ginny claps her hands together. “Great. So why don’t we all drink until we can laugh about this.”

Ron shakes his head. “I came over here for a reason, Ginny!”

“Oh, right. I’d forgotten. You wanted to tell me something.”

“Should I go?” Harry asks, gesturing back towards the door.

Ron shakes his head. “No. No, that’s okay. I mean, I wasn’t going to… But if you’re…”

Harry takes a step back, not sure shagging Ginny should earn him access to family information. “Really, Ron. I can just—”

“Hermione’s pregnant,” he blurts.

“What?” Ginny practically shrieks. She pops up to her feet, launching herself at Ron. “That’s amazing!”

“Wow, Ron. Congratulations,” Harry says.

Ginny musses Ron’s hair proudly. “See? He does know how shagging works.” She presses a sloppy kiss to his cheek. “I’m so proud of you and your little swimmers.”

Ron shoves her off. “I can see why Harry doesn’t want to date you,” he grumbles.

Ginny laughs, but Harry finds himself biting down on the impulse to defend her.

“Well now we definitely need to go get a drink,” she says.

“You mean me drinking while you two have eye sex?” Ron grouses.

Ginny shrugs. “You could just leave and we could have actual sex. Which I assume is what Harry is here fore. That sofa is more comfortable than it looks.”

Ron jumps up off the offending piece of furniture. “No. No. No. You don’t get to traumatize me like this and then shag. I refuse to let that happen. I’m keeping my eye on both of you until Harry goes back to work.”

“Lunch it is then,” Ginny says, looking at Harry. “You in?”

“Sure,” he says. Why not? It will only probably be the most awkward lunch of all time.

As if to prove it, Ginny tugs on Ron’s arm as they all head for the door together. “For the record, even Harry can’t work all the time. And his office desk is far sturdier than it looks.”

Harry closes his eyes on the sound of Ron’s horrified groan.

Chapter Text

5.

“Harry’s been away a while now, hasn’t he?” Ron asks rather slyly over dinner one night.

Ginny looks up at her brother. Harry has been gone a few weeks now, which is annoying, mostly because she’s gotten used to a regular fix, more or less. Not that she couldn’t find someone else to fill the gap hypothetically. It just seems like a lot of work, and things with her new team are kind of intense and time consuming.

Ron’s still being a prat about the whole thing, of course, and Ginny half suspects Harry really just left town to avoid the fallout, the coward.

She shrugs. “I suppose.”

“Have you heard from him?”

Ron is by far the least subtle brother she has, and that’s including George, who showed up to the family dinner celebrating the coming baby with a t-shirt that read, “Great job successfully banging Hermione.”

Mum had taken away his dessert for that one.

“No, I haven’t heard from him,” Ginny patiently says. “Why would I?”

Ron’s eyes narrow, clearly annoyed to not having gotten a rise out of her. “Are you worried?”

“Only if his cock is somehow in danger,” she says, mostly just to needle Ron.

Hermione gives her a disapproving look as if she knows exactly what Ginny is doing.

Ron isn’t going to take that lying down though, deciding to throw all in. “Still haven’t gotten a place of your own yet though, have you? Hoping Harry’s going to take you in?”

For fuck’s sake. “If I wanted to be judged for all my life decisions, Ron, I’d just go have dinner at the Burrow.”

In Ron’s defense, he has at least kept her arrangement with Harry to himself. The last thing she needs is her mum finding out. Or her other brothers. Lord. George might fashion himself a “Way to get it, Gin” shirt to wear to dinner, and then no one would get dessert.

They manage to pass the rest of the meal with no mention of Harry, mercifully, even though Harry seems to be Ron’s favored topic these days. She suggested once that maybe he should shag Harry since he seems so obsessed with what he does with his penis.

That night hadn’t ended particularly well.

Tonight though, they all get to finish dinner with no one getting hexed. A victory.

Hermione walks her out, pulling her into a hug. “You know Ron’s just trying not to get his hopes up.”

“About Harry?” she says, horrified. He can’t really think that’s going to be something, can he? More than likely they are a few shags away from getting bored with each other. Okay, maybe a dozen. At most.

Hermione shakes her head. “You staying.”

She’s officially been with her team for over two months now. So far it’s looking…pretty okay. Of course, it’s looked that way before. “He has a funny way of showing it.”

Hermione lets out a soft sound of agreement. She knows far too well how that barmy husband of hers works. “Yeah, he does.”

Ginny regards her sister-in-law. “You know I can’t promise anything, right?”

She nods. “So does he.”

Ginny gives her a disbelieving look, and Hermione relents. “In his own way.”

“Take care of that little bun,” Ginny says, pressing a kiss to her cheek.

“Goodnight, Ginny,” Hermione says, giving her the look of fond exasperation she’s mastered since joining the Weasley clan.  

On her way back to her hotel, Ginny can’t help but think about Ron’s point. Not about Harry, but rather her living situation.

It’s a presumption, throwing down money on a permanent residence when she hasn’t stayed in a single place for more than eighteen months since she lived at the Burrow or Hogwarts. On the other hand, being in the hotel is starting to grate and she hasn’t had a single fight with management yet. Well, not a serious one at least. So maybe it’s time.  

She spends the next few weeks finding the perfect flat. The day after she gets the keys, she goes out with Ron and his mates, a half-formed plan of finding someone to break in her new place with her developing in her mind.

It’s been four weeks since Harry ran off to do whatever, after all, and the only reason she hasn’t found someone else sooner is because she’s been busy. That and the fact that meeting people has become a lot more complicated since she joined the Magpies. It’s the kind of publicity she hasn’t faced in a long while. It makes her doubly glad for her arrangement with Harry. He’s not someone she grew up with, but she also knows for certain that he’s not just looking to shag and tell about a professional chaser to the papers.

Still, it’s been weeks, so she thinks she should be willing to take on the risk. It’s even possible she’ll find someone who won’t pale in comparison.

You’ve had better lays in your life, Ginny, she reminds herself. Which may be true. Though a lot of those blokes were also raging arseholes, so there’s always a trade off.

An hour later she’s flirting with someone at the bar when she hears Ron exclaim, “So you are still alive!”

She turns, and there Harry is, looking more or less intact if not tired and a bit thinner. She’s definitely happy to see him, but she still isn’t just going to drop everything for him the second he walks in the door. She deliberately returns her attention to the guy—Cyril? Was that his name? He’s cute. Not the quickest broom in the shed, but she’s really only interested in one of his skills if he’s amenable.

Still, she can feel Harry like an itch in her spine. Looking up, she catches him watching her. He lifts his drink to her and she gives him a wink.

Annoyingly enough, her potential companion starts to lose a lot of his appeal. If he’d honestly had any to begin with. She’d thought him perfectly okay not that long ago. Or maybe she’d just been lowering her standards. He touches her leg and completely misses the fact that she doesn’t like it. Like he doesn’t know what a witch looks like when she’s not into it.

She sighs internally. Yet another reminder why she made her arrangement with Harry in the first place. Properly vetted, he requires far less bullshit and social navigation. It’s stupid not to take advantage of that.

When Cyril offers to buy her another drink, she shakes her head and leaves coins on the bar for the first drink he bought her. She hadn’t even finished that one, but he doesn’t seem to have noticed or cared.

“I appreciate the company this evening, Cyril,” she says, smiling at him as she pushes back from the bar and gets to her feet. “I hope you have a really nice night.”

“Wait, what?” he says, reaching up to grab her arm. “Where do you think you’re going?”

She glances down at his hand. “This is me saying thank you, but no thank you,” she clarifies. “So you should probably take your hand off me before I stop being so polite.”

She watches him hover between pressing and cutting his losses, and god, yes, she’s made the right decision chucking this one.

He eventually relents, his hand dropping away, but not without grumbling under his breath.

She catches Seamus’ eye behind the bar, and he shakes his head in annoyance at the bloke.

Ginny heads for the loo, looking back over her shoulder at Harry. He’s once again already watching her. She lifts an eyebrow at him in question, lingering just long enough to watch Harry say something to Ron that makes him look over at her and scowl.

Ginny smirks at her brother and then ducks into the hallway.

Harry appears a few moments later. “Well, hello,” he says, giving her a soft smile that tells her he’s just as pleased to see her.

“Hey, stranger.” She looks him up and down. “Exactly what kind of mission was this?”

The warmth in his expression dims a bit, his shoulders tensing. She wonders if he’s bracing himself for the third degree, like she’s going to give him the cold shoulder for being gone so long without a word.

She steps up to him, hands sliding up his chest. “I only ask because you look like you desperately need a shag.”

His shoulders relax. “You have no idea,” he says, hands finding her waist. “Four weeks cramped in a tent with two coworkers, stuck wanking off under a muffling spell like a teenager.”

She makes a sympathetic sound. “Poor Harry.”

“I didn’t mean to interrupt anything,” he says, jerking his head back towards the bar.

“Well, out of compassion, I might be willing to cancel my plans just this once. So long as you don’t expect me to start making a habit of it.”

Harry wraps an arm around her back, drawing her flush up against him. “What about your friend?”

Her fingers curl in his jacket. “He wasn’t going to make the cut anyway.”

Harry nods. “He did seem to have a hard time reading the room,” he says, confirming that she was not imagining his gaze on her. He lowers his face to her jaw, and she lets out a breath at the tingle in her spine.

“Not one for details, I suppose.”

“Ginny,” Harry says, voice rough. “Are we doing this here, or are you going to let me take you home and really take my time?”

She licks her lips. “I finally got my own place. Feel like helping me christen it?”

“I’d be honored,” he says, and Ginny hates herself for almost letting out a whimper just at the thought.

She drags him back over to Ron. First she’s going to have a little revenge.

“I’m taking Harry home to shag his brains out now,” she announces. “Just to make sure everything’s still in proper working order.”

Other than giving her some massive side eye, Harry doesn’t seem particularly embarrassed. Pity.

Fortunately Ron more than makes up for Harry’s lack of reaction.

“Merlin, Ginny!” Ron says, face twisted in disgust. “You don’t need to tell me these things.”

“I don’t?” Ginny says with faux innocence. “But you’ve seemed so interested in Harry the last few weeks. I’m happy to come by your flat tomorrow and give you the play-by-play.”

He covers his face. “Just go away, will you?”

“Come on, Ginny,” Harry says, pausing only long enough to pat Ron’s arm. “Sorry, mate.”

Ron shakes his head, still not looking at either of them. “Better you than these tossers she’s been surrounding herself with these last couple weeks, I suppose.”

“Ugh. Stop it,” Ginny says. “You’re going to give Harry a fat head and then he’s going to stop feeling the need to prove himself to me.”

Harry leans into her, voice lowered but definitely still audible to Ron. “Do you really think punishing your brother is going to get you off more than I can?”

“We’re going now,” Ginny says, and drags him out of the pub.

*     *     *

Ginny’s ‘new place’ isn’t so much a one-room walk up as a penthouse suite. There’s a doorman and a polished stone and steel lobby and a lift. Which is good considering she’s on the top floor, at least eighteen stories up.

Inside, it’s not quite as pretentious, but still has a huge cavernous common room with a fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows. It probably feels even bigger than it is considering all she has is a sofa and a low coffee table.

“Nice flat. Understated.”

She pulls a face. “I know. It’s bloody ostentatious. I don’t even go into that half,” she says, gesturing impatiently towards what must be another wing.

“Then why did you pick it?” he asks, amused by her clear disapproval of the place.

“For this,” she says, leading him to a pair of French doors off the dining room. She pushes them open and rather than a balcony or a terrace like he expects, it leads out into a small park.

The space is thick with trees and rolling hills and a small creek, completely incongruous with the grey, geometrical skyline behind. He lets out a low whistle, knowing the charms necessary must be beyond complicated. And expensive. Then again, aurors have never been so well paid as quidditch stars.

“I’m a country girl,” she says by way of explanation. Kicking off her shoes, she walks out onto the grass. “You coming?”

He looks up at the looming clouds. “It’s raining.”

“Hardly,” she says. “Scared of a little damp, are we, Potter?”

In his defense, he just spent the last month in a forest. He’s had plenty of damp and dirt, and the occasional unexplained rash.

She turns her face up to the drizzle, arms spread wide, and it’s just heavy enough that her shirt is starting to stick to her body. She definitely isn’t wearing a bra.

Who is he kidding? She’s worth a bit of damp. He follows her out into the drizzle.

She takes his hand, leading him down a small path that meanders through the space, pointing out her favorite parts.

“So,” she says, pulling him to a stop near the stream. “Has Ron tried to warn you off me yet?”

He shakes his head. “No.”

“I find that hard to believe. He’s a meddler.”

“He’s not that bad,” Harry defends. Especially considering how much Ginny has been deliberately provoking him. “He just worries about you.”

Her eyes narrow. “So you two have talked about me.”

“Narcissistic, are we?”

She lets out a soft huff. “Consider it a little sister thing. I always know when I’m being talked about. And this little sister, the train-wreck-waiting-to-happen, is his favorite subject.”

Harry considers his chances of being able to avoid this conversation. “He definitely didn’t say that,” he hedges.

“And what did he say?”

Harry sighs. “Just that he didn’t think you’d stay. When I asked why, he said England’s tough for you. That something went bad for you here.”

She laughs, the sound low and sultry in the cool air. “You know, for someone as caring as my brother, he is thick as a post when it comes to some things.”

“But something did go bad,” he says before he can think better of it. He blames his auror’s inability not to press.  

“You really wanna know?” she asks, expression shifting to playful.

“Yeah,” he says, surprising himself.

“Then take off your shirt.”

He looks at her in question.

She shrugs. “Tit for tat.”

He glances at the buildings surrounding the space. “You have some sort of privacy wards on this place?”

“Maybe,” she says. “Or maybe I haven’t gotten around to them yet. You’ll just have to decide if you’re willing to risk it.”

Well, fuck, that’s not a challenge he can step back from. He should be more worried about how unreasonably competitive she makes him. He doesn’t even have the bloody potion to blame this time.

He unbuttons his shirt, dropping it to the ground before pulling his undershirt up and over his head. His skin prickles with cold as the mist settles on him.

Ginny eyes his chest, trailing her fingers across his shoulders as she makes a slow circuit around him. “It was my first year in the league, just a few years after the war ended. Me, young and stupid and so eager to please. He was older, promised he’d make me better, guide me, show me how special I was.”

Her voice is bitter, and he doesn’t know if that is for the man or for herself. But Harry already has a horrible sense where this is going.

“And?” he prompts, knowing there is more. Probably much more.

She gestures at his feet.

He kneels down, untying his laces and pulling off his shoes and socks, wiggling his bare toes in the damp grass.

Apparently appeased, she continues. “I knew he wanted me on my back. I wasn’t quite that naive. It just took me a while to realize what he really wanted was me under his foot. I strongly objected and he didn’t take it particularly well. Things got rather…complicated for a bit.”

She speaks of it like it’s no big deal, but Harry also knows she left the league entirely, and England too, nearly a decade ago, so there must be something more to it.

“Where is he now?” he asks, popping the button on his trousers, knowing the cost of the question before she even needs to demand it.

She licks her lips, eyes on his hands. “Nowhere. He’s a washed-up nobody.”

“And you’re a rising international star,” he says, stepping out of his trousers.  

“Yes,” she says. “Yes, I am. The best form of revenge, really.”

He laughs appreciatively and tries to ignore the part of his brain that wants to ask the guy’s name, because there is no way he’s considering tracking the arsehole down just to…have some words with him. It wouldn’t be all that hard to figure out, really. There must be records. Team rosters.

For something he definitely isn’t going to do, it’s all lining up pretty clearly in his head.

She steps closer, licking and nibbling her way up his chest, and the train of thought disappears entirely. Merlin, he’s been away from her for way too long.

He conjures a blanket with a radiant heating charm on it, laying it down next to the small creek.

“This is new,” she says, finger trailing down the fresh scar on his thigh.

“You wanna know? Take off your jeans.”

She gives him a playful grin, reclining on the blanket and wiggling her way free of her jeans. She slings them to the side, left in nothing but her increasingly wet shirt and a pair of knickers.

“It was a training accident,” he says.

She laughs. “That sounds like a line, but you look annoyed enough that I actually believe it.”

He pulls a face, kneeling down on the blanket near her feet. “It wasn’t even that serious. We were just out on maneuvers with the trainees. Fucking field medic made a muck of it.” He pokes a finger at it, annoyed to realize it’s still tender. “Going to leave a hell of a scar.”

She hums. “No more bikinis for you.”

He picks up her foot, running his fingers up her calf, rewarded by the way she bites down on her lip. “A tragedy for the universe at large, I’m sure.”

She smiles, lying back and stretching her arms above her head. “So, has it left you weak and useless?”

“Fuck you,” he says, dragging her down towards him.

She lets out a peal of delighted laughter, her shirt shimmying up as he pins her to the ground under him.

“I’ll show you weak and useless,” he says.

She wraps her arms around his neck. “You did promise to take your time.”

The rain continues to patter on his back as he shoves her shirt the rest of the way up, and he decides pneumonia might just be worth keeping his promise.

*     *     *

Harry stares at his office wall. It’s yet another office day. He hasn’t caught a case since he came back from training purgatory. Things have been quiet, though, so it’s possible this isn’t all just his boss hating his guts.

Sighing, he turns his head, looking over at the image of Langston Nott. He hadn’t missed Ginny looking at it the day she came for a visit. He knows why, too.

Nott was one of the thirteen wizards to escape Azkaban five years ago. He’d remained free longer than most. Until he was killed while trying to evade capture. Killed by Harry’s partner.

Of the thirteen escapees, only two still remain at large, the other eleven having been recaptured or killed. Of the ones returned to Azkaban, one died of an illness, one succumbed to madness, and three were Kissed—two during a still-unexplained episode where Dementors managed to wander too close to the cells. The third was sentenced to be Kissed in punishment for their additional crimes while they were on the run, including the murder of a Muggle family.

Ultimately meaning that there is no one to ask questions of. Which is bothersome primarily because, after five years, they still can’t explain how the breakout happened in the first place. It’s the kind of loose end that tends to fester. At least for Harry.

Or maybe he’s just bored.

He digs around his drawer for the related file, only to realize that was the one he handed off to Rosier as an academic exercise. Probably for the best anyway. He has plenty of other things to focus on than an old case considered closed by most everybody’s standards.

He returns his gaze to his wall, looking at his cold cases, but his eyes constantly get dragged back to Nott’s smug face.

“Screw it,” he says, and pushes to his feet. He can pull another copy of the Azkaban Thirteen files down in the archives.

It’s late, so he doesn’t pass too many people on the familiar walk down to the archives. While he prefers to be in the field, there is definitely something satisfying about putting pieces together to make a clear picture. So rather than farm out this kind of background work, Harry tends to do it himself.

Down in the archives there are small cubicles, each with a desk and a light, and not much else. Other than the large wooden filing cabinet.

Keying his wand to the cabinet, Harry says, “Azkaban Thirteen.” When he pulls the drawer open, all the files associated with the escaped prisoners are there. He reads through the files again, even though he had most of them practically memorized at some point. Back when he and Byron were still actively pursuing Nott.

Flipping open Nott’s file, he skims the list of crimes he was tried and found guilty of. While suspected of killing seven people and aiding in the killing of dozens of muggleborns during Voldemort’s long reign, there were only three murders with enough evidence to pin on him specifically. The names are listed in the file. Among them, Fred Weasley.

Due to his friendship with Ron, he’s always been aware of the connection. Known just why the escape of this particular criminal had been so hard on the Weasleys. He’d never met Fred, just heard tiny painful snippets about him from time to time.

Turning back to the filing cabinet, Harry taps it with his wand. “Weasley.”

He realizes he should have been much more specific when the drawer pulls open with dozens and dozens of hanging folders. He knows it’s a big family, has met most of the living members, but this is ridiculous. He flips through them, pausing when he sees Weasley, Frederick Fabian - 1 of 6, see also addendum Weasley, George Gideon.

Christ. That was a lot of coverage for anyone, let alone someone who is not a criminal or a Death Eater.

Pulling Weasley, Frederick Fabian, he flips through until he finds Weasley, Percival Ignatius as well. The other brother was apparently killed after getting caught feeding Ministry information to the Order. There’s no proof, but Nott is suspected of that one as well.

Harry spends the next three hours reading over the brothers’ extensive resistance activities, lingering over the ones that put them in the way of Langston Nott. There’s nothing here to help with the mystery of the Azkaban breakout, other than a chronicle of young wizards who, despite being purebloods, routinely put themselves in harm’s way to save muggleborns, and various other accomplices who got themselves picked up by the government.

Putting back Fred and Percy’s files, his eye is caught by Weasley, Ginevra Molly. He blames his exhaustion, but honestly, it’s more his most incurable vice—curiosity.

Pulling the file, he places it on the desk. He opens it, a table of contents on the left, the right side sitting empty in anticipation of his order. The contents are more extensive than he expects. She couldn’t have been much more than nineteen when the war ended, after all. Only then he remembers the scars curving across her back.

His eyes skim down the contents: Family, Childhood, Known Associates, Schooling, Hogwarts, War Activities, Post-War Inquiries—Roles In, Testimonies Against Known Combatants, Testimonies Against the British and Irish Quidditch League, Movements Abroad.

That she was active in the resistance and the war doesn’t come as a surprise to him. He is far more alarmed that her movements abroad have been tracked, not to mention taken aback to see that she testified against the quidditch league at some point. He taps his wand on that header and it blooms into another table of contents. Accusations, Public Coverage, Official Complaint, Counter-Complaints, Wizengamot Case #20000426-97, Court Decision, Threats and Attempted Assaults Against, Suspected Perpetrators, Auror Protection Assignment.

Harry sits back, dragging a hand through his hair. When he asked about something having gone bad for her, she made it sound like a failed relationship with a controlling arsehole, not…this. What the fuck had happened? He wants to read through all of it, figure out the specifics, but something stops him. Probably the knowledge that Ginny would kick his arse, or worse, never sleep with him again if she ever found out.

She deserves her privacy, as much as it kills him not to know. He breathes out, jaw clenching as he eyes the Threats and Attempted Assaults Against header. And Auror Protection Assignment. They would never assign someone to her if there hadn’t been a real threat. He opens that one, just to check the last time she was under protection, that it isn’t ongoing.

Auror assignment ended June 1, 2004. No threats detected.

At least eight years. That’s something at least, knowing there aren’t any current threats.

Hand tightening around his wand, he taps open the Public Coverage heading, telling himself that newspaper articles are something anyone could have seen. It isn’t prying. Technically.

The file is full of clippings from The Daily Prophet back in 2002.

Upcoming Chaser Accuses League of Turning Blind Eye to Sexual Harassment

The wizard she mentioned didn’t just object to Ginny refusing to play his games, but also apparently attempted to scuttle her career after she refused to trade sexual favors in kind. And she hadn’t been the first, she claimed. And even worse, the league knew, caring more about their star players and ticket sales than their female players.

From what he can tell, after a very long and particularly nasty fight, she won the suit, the league dismissing the player over her accusations against him, paying damages to multiple parties, letting go of a few high-level league administrators, and instituting new rules and regulations on player and management behaviors, adding clauses to contracts and requiring the rigorous investigation of all reported incidents. All of which are still standard to this day.

There are a lot of opinion pieces, some lauding Ginny as a hero, others bemoaning the destruction of quidditch culture and whiny people who just can’t handle the locker room.

Half a year after the end of the trial, there is a much smaller article reporting that Ginny Weasley, after a career-low slump on the pitch, was let go from her contract with Puddlemere United. Will Anyone Pick Up Free Agent Weasley?

There aren’t any further articles, but Harry knows shortly after that she began bouncing around the European leagues. Never staying anywhere for long.

Flighty, Ron would probably describe it.

She isn’t one for commitment.

But it’s clear to Harry that this is something else entirely.

“Son of a bitch,” he says.

Chapter Text

6.

For Ginny, when she’s on the pitch, everything drops away other than the game. It’s always been this way, one of the main reasons she loves it so much. All the bullshit, all the doubts. They just evaporate. There’s only the game. The challenge.

The locker room is another story. The same people she can communicate seamlessly with on the field, in this space become landmines. She’s been playing nice for three solid months at this point, and it’s beginning to grate on her.

She sits through a post-practice lecture from their coach about their upcoming match against Puddlemere United. Their opponents are first in the league right now, and the game is sure to be a tough one. They analyze Puddlemere’s strategies and past matches, and Ginny does her absolute best to focus on the game, but it’s like every word her teammates say is a cut against her skin.

It’s just another sodding match, she tells herself. Nothing special. You’re done giving this power over you.

The interminable meeting finally ends, and she brushes off a teammate’s offer to go for a pint. She really needs some distance from everything quidditch right now. She would try to drop by Harry’s place to work some of her annoyances out, but she isn’t really in the mood. Besides which, she already turned him away earlier in the week. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but she hadn’t exactly been that nice about it.

He probably won’t take it personally, she tells herself, and firmly pushes him out of her mind. That’s the deal, after all. One they have been holding to very well for more than half a year at this point.

Back in the blissful quiet of her flat, she orders in her favorite meal from her favorite extravagant restaurant, and settles down with a salacious book sent on from an old school friend. Gossip has it that Professor Sprout is actually the author of the deliciously explicit story.

The heroine has just started her first round of bosom-heaving when someone knocks on her door.

Ginny curses. She really thought Harry would be smart enough to take a hint. Getting up, she pulls open the door, ready to tell him off. Only it isn’t Harry.

“Luna,” Ginny yelps, dragging her friend into a hug. “When did you come back? I had no idea you were even in this part of the world, let alone London!”

Luna lifts her shoulders. “I don’t know why, but I always find writing easier in England. I do wonder if it has something to do with birthlines. One is never quite so eloquent as when they are in the place they were created.”

Ginny lifts an eyebrow. “Your editor finally tied up your expedition funding until you complete your manuscript?”

Luna makes a humming sound, but otherwise chooses not to respond.

Ginny laughs. “Well, come in, come in! Do you have a place to stay?”

“I had considered getting a hotel, but then I remembered that you were living here now.”

“You have to stay here,” Ginny says, taking her bag. “I have way more rooms than I know what to do with.”

Luna smiles. “That would be nice. Maybe just for a few days.”

Ginny shakes her head. “You should just move in. Consider it your London base whenever you’re here. It can be like old times.” They’d been roommates the first few years out of Hogwarts.

Grabbing Luna’s arm, she drags her down the hall, elated by the idea of having something to do with all her extra space.

“Look,” she says, pushing open a door. “This can be your bedroom. This room can be your office. And the one down the hall can be for your specimens. You can just leave stuff here so you don’t have to worry about storage. You can paint and ward them anyway you like. They’re just gathering dust anyway.”

“I do believe that would work,” Luna says, looking speculatively around the space.

The room only has a bed and a simple dresser at this point, but Ginny has no doubt it will soon be fit to bursting. It would be nice to have someone around. And the fact that the flat is big enough that they can easily stay out of each other’s way when they want is definitely a bonus.

“You’ve been having regular sex,” Luna observes as she deposits her bag on the bed.

“Have I?” Ginny says, refocusing on her friend.

“Your aura is quite…content.”

“Yes, well,” Ginny says. “I’ve made a particularly enjoyable arrangement.”

Luna nods, but doesn’t ask for details.

“Are you hungry?” Ginny says.

They share the rest of Ginny’s meal and take turns reading out loud from the book, complete with sound effects. It’s exactly the distraction she needs.

*     *     *

Against the odds—quite literally, some people must have made a fortune—they beat Puddlemere. It’s an enormous feat and Ginny played no small role in it. It should feel amazing.

All she feels is exhausted. With something like resentment festering in her stomach.

Her team has no such compunctions, champagne and firewhisky flowing in the locker room. Their jubilance grates.

Ginny retreats to a private shower room as soon as she’s able. But rather than showering, she conjures a chair and drops into it, sitting in the dim quiet space. The occasional roar of amusement filters in. She leans back, closing her eyes.

She isn’t sure how much time passes when someone knocks. Probably a teammate foolish enough to try to drag her back to the celebration.

“Come,” she says, resigned to telling whoever it is to bugger off.

It’s Harry.

“Hey,” he says, smiling at her as he eases into the room, shutting the door behind him. “Great match.”

“Harry,” she says. “How did you get in here?”

He’s on her approved list of backroom visitors, so it’s not that he can’t be here. He just doesn’t usually come back on his own, waiting for her to bring him. Not to mention that she doesn’t know how he got tickets, the match one of the most coveted of the season.

He looks sheepish. “I called in a few favors,” he admits. “Managed to get my hands on a ticket. Had a feeling it wouldn’t be a match to miss.”

That would be flattering on any other day. Today it just feels intrusive.

“I’m really not in the mood,” she says, doing her best to keep her voice calm and disinterested, but she’s scared she might just sound miserable to judge from Harry’s expression.  

“Yeah, sure. Okay.” He turns to go, but rather than leaving, he pauses at the door. He glances back at her, seeming to study her face. “Any chance you’d like some company?”

She sighs, not having the energy for this right now. “I already told you—”

He lifts his hand, cutting her off mid-scold. “I meant more of the non-sex variety.”

This definitely takes her by surprise, something in her chest churning. “Like a friend?”

“Sure,” he says, hands sliding into his pockets as he shrugs. His harmless muggle act, as she’s started calling it in her head.

She ignores the irrational thought that maybe she’d like him to stay, because there is definitely something else going on here. Why is he doing this? Why now? Why this game of all games? Why doesn’t he look surprised by her mood?

“And what makes you think I need a friend?” she asks.

He opens his mouth only to close it again, and she sees it in his face—guilt.

“Why this match?” she presses, daring him to tell her she’s imagining things. Daring him to say that he doesn’t actually know when not all that long ago he didn’t seem to have a clue.

He lets out a breath. “I looked at your file.”  

She feels her body stiffen into unnatural stillness. “In the auror archives?” she asks, impressed how calm she sounds considering the roiling chaos in her chest.

“Yes.”

Her hands tighten to fists in her lap as she struggles to keep her breathing slow and steady.

He takes a step towards her. “I only got as far as the table of contents before I started feeling like a creep.”

“A few steps too late,” she snaps.

He winces. “I know.”

She can’t stand to look at him, her eyes dropping to her hands. They’re twisted together in her lap. “How much of it did you read?”

“Nothing from the war or Hogwarts,” he’s quick to say. “I just…I opened the quidditch complaints file.”

She wonders if it makes her irrational that she would have preferred he’d meddled in her war records instead.

“As much as I wanted to read about the threats and assaults—” He pauses, and she lifts her head to find him looking at her like he can’t believe she’d kept that to herself, or like he wants a sodding explanation.

Fuck you, buddy, she thinks, pressing her lips together into a thin line.

“I only read the collection of Prophet articles,” he continues, like that makes the tiniest fucking difference.  

“You want a bloody gold star for only being that creepy?” she snaps.

He’s clearly taken aback. “No. No. That’s not—” He stops, dragging a hand through his hair, obviously frustrated, but frankly she has zero sympathy for his situation. He dug this grave; he can bloody well bury himself in it.

He sighs. “I just thought you deserved to know. I’m sorry.”

She nods. She does deserve to know. But his apology means exactly shite. “Get out.”

His expression shifts to kicked puppy, and how fucking dare he.

“Get out!”

“Right,” he says, and she wonders if he honestly expected anything different. “I’m glad you kicked their arses. I hope it feels good.”

She watches him walk away, something horribly tight in her chest. And she doesn’t know if that’s actually having someone maybe in some small way understand what this match was like for her, how hard it was to look at the team that should be hers, the place she bloody well earned.

“It doesn’t,” she finds herself admitting. “It doesn’t feel good at all.”

He pauses, looking back at her. “No,” he says. “It never does.”  

He lets himself out the door, closing it quietly behind him.

Good fucking riddance, Ginny tells herself, but there are tears pressing at the back of her eyes that she refuses to acknowledge. Getting up, she heaves her chair across the room, the wood hitting the wall with a crack.

It doesn’t help.

*     *     *

“Hey!” Ron says, throwing the door open and dragging Harry inside. “There you are. Thought you’d try to squirm your way out of this again.”

“You said you’d set Hermione on me if I even tried,” Harry reminds him. Ron’s been bugging him to come over for the last week. It’s not that the dinners are a chore or anything, he just hasn’t been quite in the mood, to be honest.

Which is stupid.

He hasn’t seen Ginny since she threw him out. He’s been giving her space, though he knows it’s realistically more than that. That he more than likely fucked the situation up beyond salvation. Supported by the fact that she’s hasn’t been by to see him once. It’s easily the longest they’ve gone without when both of them are in town since this thing began.

God damn his need for honesty. Though it was his curiosity that really damned him. He feels about two inches tall. Knowing he deserves it is almost worse.

“Come on,” Ron says, leading him into the kitchen. “You’ll at least indulge in one tiny glass of wine, right? The food won’t taste right without it.”

“Sure,” Harry says.

Ron’s just poured him a glass when the front door opens with a slam.

“Hey! I hope you made that amazing lasagna you promised me or I’m going to tell mum you’re the one who defaced her Gilderoy Lockhart memoir!”

Harry freezes, looking up as Ginny strides into the kitchen. The smile on her face immediately disappears when she sees him.

“You’re the one who defaced that sodding book, you git,” Ron says, his attention still on the stove.

Harry stares at Ginny in horror, opening his mouth to make it very clear that he had no idea she was going to be here, but she must be able to get that from his face, because she turns her fury on her brother.

“Ron,” she says, voice dangerous. “What the hell is this?”

“What?” he says, turning around. “You both said you were fine with things. Can’t we all have dinner?”

Ginny’s eyes dart to Harry, only to fall away like she can’t stand looking at him, and he supposes that answers the question of whether or not she’s still pissed at him.

Ron looks between them, his eyes narrowing. “Has something happened?”

“No,” Ginny says, grabbing Ron’s glass of wine and generously topping it up before claiming it as her own. “Of course not. Don’t be stupid.”

With that, she winds her arm through Harry’s, drawing him back out of the kitchen. “For a proper hello,” she says off-handedly.

Ron looks at Harry, and he tries to look nonchalant before letting Ginny tug him out the kitchen. The moment they are out of sight, she drops his arm like it burns her.

“Look,” he says. “I can go. Claim a work thing.”

“Don’t be stupid,” she repeats, glaring at him like she’s threatening him with a dire end if he lets on anything is wrong to Ron. Clearly she doesn’t want to air their shite in front of her family. He doesn’t blame her.

“Ginny,” he sighs.

“No. Don’t do that.” She seems to struggle for the right thing say. “Just don’t. Okay?”

“Sure, yeah,” he says, resigning himself to the most awkward dinner of all time.

Hermione gets home then and he leaves her and Ginny to it, going back to the kitchen. He basically just gets in the way while Ron finishes making dinner, but it’s still safer than being in the same room as Ginny. He does his best to act like everything is normal.

God, he wishes he drank.

Harry helps by carrying out the salad, taking the seat next to Ginny at the table when it’s clear that there is no way to avoid it without making things even weirder. At least this way she won’t have to look at him much.

“Just no shagging in our flat,” Ron says sternly to Ginny as he puts the lasagna down on the table.  

Ginny takes a generous swig of wine that rather belies her claim of abstaining from drinking during the season. “Wish you would have told us that rule sooner,” she drawls.  

“Ugh, what?” Ron says. “Where? When? You’ve only been here twenty minutes!”

“Do you really want to know?” she asks, looking eager to give details, and Harry suspects this is meant to punish him just as much as Ron.  

“No,” Hermione declares, saving them all.

The meal seems to drag on forever. Ginny refuses point blank to be dragged into any conversation about quidditch, claiming to have had her fill of that the last week. Beyond admitting that work is frustrating at the moment, Harry doesn’t particularly want to talk about his job either, even if he were allowed to. Needless to say, this doesn’t make either of them particularly scintillating dinner guests.

Hermione and Ron fill the conversation easily enough, Hermione talking about new legislation and Ron bickering with her good-naturedly in the way Harry has long since learned is their form of flirting and foreplay.

Ginny and Harry don’t directly speak to each other at all. Then again, their arrangement has never been about that. Just sex. Or at least it had been, he thinks with a wince.

At the end of the meal, Ron goes to help Hermione with the dishes, clearly leaving them on their own on purpose. He chose a great fucking moment for matchmaking.

Harry knows the smart thing to do is immediately excuse himself and escape while he can, but he’s starting to get annoyed at the entire situation, and Ginny is still just sitting there drinking wine like no tomorrow.

“Ron doesn’t know, does he?” he says.

“Know what exactly?” she asks, voice hard, like she’s daring him to bring up their fight. Or whatever this is.  

“That you were blacklisted.”

Ginny actually deigns to look at him this time, something flashing in her eyes. “Who says I was?”

But Harry isn’t interested in playing games. “I do.”

He may have an eye for details, but all he needs to know is Ginny. And she isn’t flighty. She doesn’t take the job lightly. If he looks at her career with a dispassionate eye, he sees someone working their arse off against overwhelming odds.

Ron said she wasn’t the sort to walk away from a challenge, and her career isn’t an anomaly from that despite what Ron thinks. It only proves how true that is about her. She’s kept trying long after anyone else would have quit. And it may finally be paying off. He can only imagine what that must feel like.

She makes a dismissive sound. “It’s not like there’s an official sodding list. Everyone just seems to know that Ginny Weasley is more trouble than she’s worth. A distraction on the pitch. And just like that, opportunities start to thin out. And it’s not like you can prove yourself when you don’t get field time.”

Exactly what he suspected, but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear. “And your brothers couldn’t see that?”

She pierces him with a hard glance. “The system is built to punish women who do what I did, and do it invisibly. Of course they didn’t see it. They’re men.”

He feels that like the slap he supposes it’s meant to be. Or maybe that’s just the way part of him wants to deny it, to not own his place in this. That wasn’t me.

He’d still been running around the continent chasing down Death Eaters in hiding during most of the scandal. But not for all of it. He hadn’t seen it any more clearly than anyone else. Hadn’t wanted to see it. He’d probably thought it wasn’t important, that it was just an exaggeration.

Only here is the collateral damage sitting right in front of him.

“I’m sorry,” he says, because that’s all that he really has—not doubting her and the things she’s had to face, things he’ll probably never really be able to understand.

His apology isn’t some easy fix though. Not for her situation or for what he’s done.

Sure enough, she doesn’t absolve him of it. She doesn’t owe him that.

He gets to his feet, carefully pushing his chair in. “I’ll let you have some time with your family.” Without having to put up with him is the unspoken. “Enjoy dessert.”

Ginny doesn’t say anything, clearly fine with him leaving. He resigns himself to it ending this way. He hadn’t really expected anything else.

Still, he finds himself stopping at the door, his hand tapping on the handle. “For the record, I don’t think you could ever be more trouble than you’re worth.”

He tells himself he only means as a quidditch player, but knows perfectly well that he doesn’t.

Not looking back to see her reaction, he lets himself out the front door, closing it behind him. He’s not going to give Ron the opportunity to guilt him into staying or the chance to piss Ginny off more.

He takes a moment in the hall to gather enough energy to get home. He starts down the hall. What a shitty day. He’s near the stairwell when he hears a door slam.

He turns, and Ginny is striding down the hallway towards him with a frankly alarming amount of anger on her face. What the hell has he done now?

She comes to a stop in front of him, poking him in the chest, and he considers that she’s had even more wine than he realized. “Do you know what pisses me off the most about all of this?”

“No,” he says, having no doubt she’s about to tell him.

She pokes his chest again. “After everything you did, some tiny, barmy part of me still wants to shag you!”

He blinks. “Uh, I’m sorry?” he says, not sure if she’s really looking for an apology for that.

Her jaw tightens as she plants a hand against his chest, shoving him a bit. “You swear you only read the clippings. Not the transcripts or the incident reports.” Her voice falters, just the tiniest bit, and he realizes she’s just as hurt as she is angry, like he’s exposed some awful wound.

“Just the clippings,” he says before he can consider that it’s not entirely true. He winces.

Ginny definitely notices, her eyes narrowing. “What?”

“I looked at your brothers’ files,” he says in the name of full honesty.

Her breathing is a little uneven now. “My brothers’ files?” she echoes hollowly.

“Fred and Percy,” he says, voice soft.  

She flinches, like the names are still hard to hear even after all this time. “How fucking dare you,” she says. “Is my life some sort of gross game for you? Is that it?”

Harry is really trying to keep his temper, but she isn’t making it particularly easy. “It’s not a bloody game, Ginny. It’s my job.”

“Your job,” she practically spits. “What fun that must be for you, to wallow in the misfortunes of others. In things you know nothing about. Does that get you off?”

He feels his temper snap, grabbing her arms and pushing her back against the wall. “My mother was a muggleborn,” he hisses. “So don’t try to tell me it isn’t real for me.”

Ginny stills, her face seeming to pale, not out of fear, he knows, but from the implications of his mother’s status.

Hundreds of muggleborns of all ages disappeared in the years surrounding Voldemort’s climb to power in the late 1970s, and continuing after his takeover of the Ministry. All of them eradicated. By the time he and Ginny were teenagers, it was widely spread about and accepted that muggleborns no longer existed, that they never had in the first place. Just the vicious infiltration of nefarious muggles all along.

Muggle thieves and murderers. The root of all of their society’s problems.

Ginny seems unnaturally still. “Was it him?”

“Who?”

“Nott,” she says. “I saw him on your wall.”

Harry shakes his head. “We never knew. That’s how it was. They just disappeared. It wasn’t one person. It was an entire system.” His father had never been able to accept that. He died trying to figure it out, driven crazy by the grief and the mission—the dark objects they’d been forced to live in close quarters with in order to bring the seemingly immortal Voldemort down. “The Death Eater who killed my dad, him I got.”

It’s what he meant, when he told her it never feels as good as you think it will, revenge. It doesn’t bring anything back. Not time, not people.

He looks down at Ginny, his hands tightening on her arms as he leans into her. “I know exactly what kind of people these are, Ginny. It’s not a fucking game.”

She looks up at him, and he feels stupidly trapped staring back at her. He becomes aware of how close they’re standing, his body nearly pressed against hers. There’s a flush working its way up her chest that he isn’t sure is entirely anger.

She closes her eyes as he finds himself swaying towards her, a pull he could never resist even if he tried. He doesn’t doubt for a moment that they both still want this.

“Ginny,” he says before their lips can meet.

Her eyes open, her expression shifting, something sad and hopeless and angry all at once. She shoves him back away, pacing a few steps down the hall before stopping with her back to him.

Harry doesn’t move from where he is. “What now?”

She doesn’t say anything right away, her back still to him, every angle sharp with tension. “You mean, now that we’ve thoroughly insulted one another and broken the rule about no drama?”

He swallows. “If I recall, the rule was ending our arrangement without drama. Is that what this is?”

She finally turns, her arms crossed over her chest, and he can’t find any other word to describe her right now than vulnerable. “I don’t know.”

He nods, feeling too raw himself at the moment to make a rational decision. Then again, he’s rarely rational when he’s around her. “You know where to find me. Whenever you’re ready. Or not. It’s your call.”

Her eyes lift to his, and he knows he’s just inadvertently admitted that he still wants this. Any way he can get it.

She nods. “Okay.”

He forces himself to turn and walk away.

*     *     *

Ginny is angry.

Angry at Harry and his prying. But she’s also pissed how much she let the stupid match bother her. She’s supposed to be over this shite. She’s supposed to be bigger than this. And Harry knowing, and even maybe understanding to some small extent, shouldn’t mean anything. Shouldn’t make it even harder to bear. Or easier. It shouldn’t affect her at all.

She’s also pissed she didn’t just end it when Harry gave her the opening.

I don’t know.

Yes, she bloody well does know. There’s only one smart thing left to do, after all. Walk away. Find something far less…complicated. It’s time to be done.

She plays another match, gets swept up in work for a few days, a dinner with her parents, helping Luna get all moved in.

It’s been a week since the disastrous dinner at Ron’s when she decides to send Harry an owl asking if she can drop by his place at nine that night. Another rule she’s breaking—arranging meetings in advance—but things have been tenuous enough that she doesn’t particularly want to catch him off-guard. But she also thinks she owes it to him to at least end this in person.

A few hours later, she gets a simple message back by owl. I’ll be here.

There aren’t any lines to read between, but at least he’s agreed. That’s when she realizes she half-expected him to blow her off, to decide he’s had his fill.

I don’t think you could ever be more trouble than you’re worth.

He’d be the first.

That evening shortly after nine, she knocks on his door. With his wards, he doubtlessly knows she’s already here. She wonders how long it will take him to un-key her wand.

Harry opens the door, looking a bit rumpled and tired. From work no doubt.

“I didn’t know,” she blurts. “About your mum.”

This is not at all what she intended to say, but she supposes the guilt has been eating at her as much as everything else.

“I didn’t expect you to,” he says, arms crossing over his chest.

It isn’t part of their arrangement, after all. No spilling their deepest secrets. Yet here they are.

“I still shouldn’t have said that,” she says. “I say stupid things when I’m angry.”

She has no idea why she’s doing this, trying to clear the air. Maybe because he’s Ron’s mate and they both live in London. They’re going to see each other. This way maybe they can still manage to be friendly.

“And drunk,” he says. Not a scold, really, but a reminder that he knows she fucked up. He’s angry too. The fact that he’s not letting her get away with that should annoy her, but it doesn’t.

She nods, conceding the point. “And drunk.”

The air seems to go out of him. “I shouldn’t have looked at your file.”

“No, you shouldn’t have.”

They stand there, at an impasse, Harry apparently just patiently waiting for the curse to fall, if not for the way his fingers are clenching and unclenching around his biceps.

“I’m still really angry,” she says, stuck watching the hypnotic movement of his fingers.

He nods. “Okay.”  

She closes her eyes, and this is where she ends it. Only instead she finds herself saying, “But I think I’m willing to give you a chance to try and make it up to me. Just this once.”

Peering up at him, she can tell he didn’t expect this. “Ginny.”

She forces herself to hold his gaze, waiting for him to tell her he’d rather just call it quits. Be the smart one.  

Instead he steps closer. “I’m sorry for what I did. I really am,” he says, so painfully sincere that she can’t help but believe him, despite her better judgment.  

“You want to know something, you ask me , okay? I might not answer, but that should be my choice. No using your auror resources against me.”

He nods. “I promise.”

“Okay,” she says and steps past him into the apartment.

She can hear Harry close the door behind them before coming up next to her.

They stand there just regarding each other for a long moment. He tentatively reaches for her waist. When she doesn’t protest, he slowly draws her closer.

It feels a lot like that first night, like he’s giving her plenty of outs.

She doesn’t want it. No matter how much she should.

He lowers his head to hers.

She can feel her body react just having him near, in her space. “We stick to the rules,” she feels the need to say.

“We stick to the rules,” he agrees. “Convenient and thorough.”

She nods. “No drama. Just sex.”

Simple.

They don’t usually spend much time kissing, preferring to get on with things, but his chin nudges up against her jaw like a question, and she lifts her face in answer. His lips find hers, the kiss slow and exploratory, almost like they are feeling each other out again for the first time. Only now they know exactly what the other likes, and even the smell of his skin is familiar and indelibly tied to arousal.

The kiss lingers, not building, just slow and soft. She doesn’t feel the need to take control, doesn’t need to prove she can. What she needs is to see if she can let herself trust him. Needs to know that he isn’t going to forever tiptoe around her. That this arrangement can still work the way it used to.

His hand maps the curve of her waist, sliding higher over the swell of her ribs, palming her breast. His thumb drags across her nipple, gripping tighter as she sighs into his mouth.

“Tell me this is what you want, Ginny,” he says, voice barely a whisper.

“Yes,” she says, gripping his shoulders. “Yes. This is what I want.”

He kisses her again, harder this time, and she winds her hands up in to his hair, wanting him closer, pressing her body firmly against his, seeking friction and pressure and just him.

Their hands get greedier, clothing dropping to the floor, but never rushing, Harry slowly maneuvering her further into the room.

She bumps back against the table, dropping the last of her clothing to the ground before hoisting herself up on the edge. Back to where this arrangement started—a reset of sorts maybe.

He eventually lays her back on the surface, his hands lifting her legs to hook around his neck.

“Good?” he asks.

She nods, watching his hips flex, the play of muscles across his stomach as he slowly, tantalizingly slides into her before dragging back out. And, god, the view alone is doing almost as much as the feel of him deep inside of her.

Looking up at his face, she finds him watching her too, hand grabbing her hip as he searches for the exact right pace and angle. She stretches one arm up over her head, the other trailing down over her breast, a feather-light touch, her eyes never dropping from his.

“Ginny,” he says—a question, a plea, an apology.

She lets her eyes drift closed. “Just don’t stop,” she says, hand tightening on the edge of the table as the angle changes, as he leans harder into her.

Don’t ever stop.

Chapter Text

7.

Harry falls back onto the bed, his skin slicked with sweat and every muscle in his body feeling like mush. “Christ,” he says.

Ginny laughs, something low and sultry in the dim room that seems indelibly marked with the heavy scent of sex. She looks back over her shoulder from where she’s still gripping the bedpost. “Don’t tell me you’re finished already.”

He has his doubts he could walk at the moment, let alone go another round. “Anyone ever told you that you’re insatiable?”

“Sweet talker,” she says with a wink as she hops down off the bed with admirable agility.

He probably should have known better than to get mixed up with a professional athlete.

He watches her walk across the room towards the attached loo, admiring the unobstructed view of her arse as she stretches her arms over her head. Fortunately, ogling her takes very little energy.

He feels the bed dip as she gets back, not realizing he’d let his eyes drift shut. Ginny looks down at him as she sips from a glass of water. She holds it out to him.

“Don’t want you getting dehydrated.”

He reaches for it, a bit alarmed to see that his hand isn’t completely steady.

Ginny notices too. “Finally wrecked you, have I?”

He shakes his head, pushing himself up to lean back against the headboard. “I must be sleep deprived.” They’ve seen each other almost every night lately. They seem to be trying to make up for lost time. Lots and lots of sex and no complications. Almost as if they are trying to prove they can do it.

He takes the glass, steadying it against his knee. A few moments later, he’s able to lift the glass with no problem, downing the water.

They both sit there in contented silence for while, Harry finding himself almost dozing off again. Part of him wishes he could just stay.

Ginny’s fingers trail down his arm. He looks over to find her giving him that look.

“No,” he says, cutting her off at the pass. “I am going home early for a real night’s sleep for once.”

“Oh, I see,” she says, flopping back against the pillows with what is definitely a pout. “My allure is wearing off already.”

If only that were true. “Your allure is going to be the death of me.”

This doesn’t seem to mollify her.

Harry lazily lets his eyes travel over her body. His fingers twitch to touch her. Fuck, he thinks.

Putting the glass on the table, he shifts down in the bed.

She eyes him. “Taking a nap, old man?”

“Employing strategy,” he says, ignoring the slight, knowing he’s barely a year older than her.

He tugs at her knee, pulling her over so she is straddling his shoulders. Ginny is more than happy to comply, her hands bracing on the headboard. Grabbing her hips, he very carefully sets about showing her just how much her allure has nowhere near faded.

Needless to say, it is far later than he’d like when he finally walks out of her bedroom, Ginny rather contentedly curled up on the bed.

In the sitting room, Harry comes to an abrupt stop when he realizes someone else is in the flat.

There is blond woman in an apron and not much else, humming to herself and dancing around the space, a shaft of moonlight through the window making her seem almost ethereal.

“Hello,” she says without looking at him, seemingly far less startled by his appearance than he is by hers. “Did you have a nice time?”

“Um,” he says, hand wrapped around his wand as he tries to make sense of this. “Who are you?”

“Luna,” she says as if this explains anything. She finally stops, turning wide blue eyes on him. “Ginny’s roommate. And you are Ginny’s lover.”

“Uh…” Harry says, not sure how to respond to that. Considering how unsurprised she seems, he has to assume Ginny has told Luna more about him than she’s told him about her.

“Her aura has been much less volatile. You must be very good.”

He blinks. “I try.”

“Ginny has given me a suite of rooms of my very own. There is even one to keep my specimens in while I am traveling. It’s quite kind of her. I’m writing a book, you see.”

“Specimens?” Harry echoes. That’s the moment he hears a low rumble emanate from the direction of the other wing of rooms.

Was that the sound of a fucking chimaera?

“Don’t be afraid, that’s just Mr. Fimply. He has insomnia. Hasn’t adjusted to the time change at all well. My dancing calms him.” With that, she starts moving again.

Harry watches her for a moment, her movements sure and rhythmic despite the lack of music. It’s almost hypnotic, but that could just be his current state of exhaustion.

Honestly, he doesn’t have the slightest clue what is happening right now.

“Well then,” he says. “I’ll leave you to it.”  

Luna doesn’t respond, just makes another smooth twirl, her hands lifted in the air. The chimaera lets out a contented purr.

He doesn’t particularly want to leave Ginny alone in a flat with dangerous magical creatures. He’s also not keen to provoke her anger again, though. He doubts she’d take kindly to his meddling, and he likes having sex with her far too much to jeopardize that again. Not that it stops him from adding a subtle additional ward to the main living area. It takes him two tries to get it right, and he decides he must be even more tired than he thought.

With one last glance at the still-dancing Luna, Harry lets himself out of the flat.

*     *     *

Ginny lets out a sigh of relief, dropping her bag on her bed. She’s been out of town for the last two weeks for a series of matches. As much as things with her team have settled again, she is definitely thankful to finally have a down day. And she knows just what she wants to do with it.

It’s Sunday, so she thinks her chances of finding Harry at home are pretty good. Sure enough, he opens the door only a few moments after she knocks.

“No,” he says, more a moan of annoyance than anything.

Ginny stops, her eyes sweeping down his body. He’s wearing his full auror kit, and fuck if that isn’t the hottest thing she’s seen in a while.

“I have a mission briefing in fifteen minutes,” he says.

She drags her eyes back up to his face. “No explanations, remember?”

He looks pained. “Yeah, but I really want to say yes.”

She smiles. “Always nice to be wanted,” she says, and it does go a ways to softening her disappointment. Not that it should. “Some other time.” She turns and walks away.  

He makes a sound, something between a groan and a complaint. She glances back.

“You’re wearing a skirt,” he says, eyes definitely not on her face.

“I have been known to,” she says, rubbing one leg against the other and no doubt giving him a nice flash of thigh.

His face contorts. “A really bloody short skirt.”

“You have a briefing,” she reminds him. If there is one thing they share, it’s an absolute dedication to their jobs.

He gnaws on his lip, clearly running through all his options. “How do you feel about fast sex? Like, ten-minute sex?”

She takes a step back towards him. “I don’t particularly care how long it takes, only how good it is.”

“Get over here,” he says, gesturing her back.

He kicks the door closed behind them, dragging her up against him, his other hand reaching for the fasteners on his uniform.

“Keep it on,” she says.

“Yeah?” he asks, giving her an arrogant grin.

“Yes,” she says, beyond caring if he’s going to tease her about it. It’s his fault she’s developed a thing for bloody aurors, after all.

“Only if you keep yours on,” he says instead, tugging at the hem of her skirt before sliding his hand under the fabric.

“Deal,” she says, eyes closing as his hand settles warm and firm on her thigh.

It’s not exactly fair, more of Ginny’s body readily available to his touch while his is hidden under layers of heavy wool and leather. She still makes it work, making do with what she has until he’s dragging her up against him to get any friction he can.

As pleasant as this is, they’re on a bit of a time crunch, so she pushes him back down on the sofa, climbing up on his lap.

He mouths her breast through her shirt, his teeth grazing across her nipple, making her fingers fumble where they’re working at the opening of his trousers. He tugs her knickers impatiently to the side before sliding his fingers into her.

She gives up on his trousers as a lost cause for the moment, instead letting her head fall back as she rides his hand. Eventually she bats him away, wanting far more than he’s offering at the moment.  

She impatiently tugs off her knickers, and then helps him shimmy his trousers down just far enough to make this work. It’s almost like being teenagers again, fumbling through clothing in some broom closet or something. Only then he’s surging up into her and the similarity disappears entirely, because he really fucking knows what he’s doing.

It’s nothing particularly creative or anything, just sofa sex, but he’s as good as his word, making those precious few minutes count. He grabs her hips, grinding her down against him, thrusting up into her with quick, shallow strokes.

“Fuck, don’t stop,” she says, the friction achingly close to being enough for her, but falling just short.

He reaches down to stroke her with the pad of this thumb and she moans her approval.

“Come on, Ginny,” he says against her throat. “I want to hear you.”

She’ll happily let everyone in this building hear her if he can keep this up.

Harry doesn’t disappoint, never faltering in his rhythm as he nimbly moves his fingers, Ginny happily verbalizing her appreciation. It’s far better than this rushed little exercise should manage but Merlin, is it good. Totally worth coming over here for.

Once he’s content that he’s gotten her there, he intensifies his effort, practically bouncing her on his lap as he chases his own release. He squeezes his eyes shut, grunting out how good she feels.

She swivels her hips the way she knows he likes and is rewarded with Harry finally losing it, and there is something doubly hot about him falling apart while he’s wearing his uniform all still perfectly buttoned up like a good little soldier.

They definitely need to do this again.

“Jesus Christ,” he mutters, lifting an arm to rest over his eyes.

She glances at his clock. “I’m disappointed in you, Harry. You had at least 45 more seconds.”

He peers up at her, something flinty in his expression as he regards her. “Next time I will drag it out until you’re begging.”

She has no doubt he will, feeling a shiver travel down her spine. “Promises, promises.”

He pulls her closer like he’s going to prove it right now.

She stops just short of letting him kiss her. “Mission briefing,” she says, feeling smug that she could make him forget.

He curses, holding her tight against him as if giving himself one last moment to enjoy it before letting her reluctantly shift up off him.

Ginny adjust her clothes, relocating her knickers and casting a few spells to clean up and smooth out the most egregious wrinkles.

“Harry?” she says on her way out.

“Yeah?” he says, looking up from buttoning his trousers.

“Have a good briefing.”

He looks confused by this random nicety. “Uh, thanks.”

She licks her lips. “And try not to think about me under the table while you’re supposed to be paying attention.”

She shuts the door on the sound of his groan.

*     *     *

Harry is out the next few times she tries to drop by. Out on his mission still, she supposes. She stops trying, figuring he’ll show up when he gets back. Which is probably why it takes a while for her to hear that he’s been injured. Ron just smugly drops it into a conversation over dinner one night like the prick he is.

She waits for more details, but Ron clearly isn’t going to share until she lowers herself to ask. It pisses her off, but is also a bit of a relief. He wouldn’t be playing games if it were serious.

“Is he alright?” she gamely asks with minimal annoyance in her voice.

Ron shrugs, giving her a sly look. “I’m sure his tackle probably is, and that’s all you care about, right?”

Ginny glares at him.

He finally relents. “He’s at St. Mungo’s. Has been since Tuesday.”

Well then. It must be at least somewhat serious, to require a hospital stay.

“I’ll be sure to send his cock a fruit basket,” she says, and goes back to eating her meal.

She makes it until the next afternoon before indulging her need to check on him, mostly after Ron refuses to give her any more details. She’ll get her revenge on her meddling brother some other time.

“Hi,” she says, smiling at the hospital receptionist. “I’m looking for Harry Potter. Can you tell me what room he’s in?”

“Let me see if he is accepting visitors.” The witch fiddles about with some charmed boards, finally looking back up with a smile. “He’s on the fourth floor. Room 406.”

“Thanks,” Ginny says, silently noting that the fourth floor is reserved for spell damage. It’s been a long while since she visited that particular ward.

Fortunately Harry isn’t in the part of the floor dedicated to long-term spell damage. Finding his room, she stops outside his door at the sound of voices.

“Well, like it or not, Potter, you are on medical leave for two weeks following your discharge.”

“That isn’t necessary,” Harry says. He seems healthy enough to judge from how annoyed his tone is.

“Fortunately, what you think doesn’t matter. From Rosier’s version of events, you were sloppy. Was he lying?”

She expects Harry to deny it, but instead he says, “I don’t know what happened, sir.” He sounds almost embarrassed.

“Exactly. It could have been much worse, and you damn well know it. So take a breather, rebuild your strength. Or consider a different goddamn career. No one is an auror forever.”

Ginny steps away from the door as it swings opens, grabbing a newspaper from a nearby tray and leaning against the wall with as much nonchalance as she can muster.

The older guy Ginny assumes to be Harry’s boss doesn’t so much as glance at her, but the younger one’s eyes linger on her a moment as he shuts the door behind them. They start moving down the hall.

“Do you think he’s telling you everything?” the boss asks the younger guy.

Ginny finds herself following to keep their voices in range.

“There’s no way to know for certain, sir.”

“Well, find out. Whatever it takes. I need to know what he’s digging into.”

The younger guy nods, Ginny coming to a stop as they disappear into the stairwell. Heading back for Harry’s room, she pulls the door open and peers inside. He sits propped up on a few pillows with his eyes closed. He looks ashen and grumpy but otherwise fine. All the other beds in the room are empty.

“I hope you aren’t here because of me,” she says as she closes the door behind her. “I’d hate to think I’ve become a distraction.”

He looks up at her, his face relaxing into a smile. “As tantalizing as that mental image was, you are not quite so powerful as to make me incompetent.”

“Hmm,” she says, strolling up the foot of his bed. “I must not be trying hard enough.”

“Ah. Now I see. Me getting killed in the field would be a good thing for your ego.”

She presses her lips together, not finding that particularly funny. “My ego is just fine on its own, thank you very much.”

His eyes travel over her face. “I didn’t think sitting by the sickbed was part of our arrangement.”

“It’s not,” she says, walking around to the head of the bed. “How hurt are you?”

He shakes his head. “I’m fine. They’re just keeping me for observation.”

She raises an eyebrow at the blatant lie. They don’t keep people in hospitals for no reason. And they also don’t get put on two weeks of disability leave.

He sighs. “I got hit with a curse. It’s made my magic go a little haywire. Temporarily.”  

She considers that. “The Manasectum curse?” she asks.

He looks surprised that she knows it. “Yeah.”

It is a pretty obscure one. Painful as hell and inconvenient during a fight—or a prolonged bout of torture by an opponent who is scared of children being able to fight back—but it doesn’t usually cause long-lasting damage. And it shouldn’t impact him physically. Conveniently.

Grabbing the edge of the curtain between his bed and the one next to it, she slowly draws it closed around the space. She sets a privacy charm with a flick of her wand.

Harry watches her with his eyebrows raised. His hand, she notices, clenches around the edge of his sheet in what she hopes is anticipation.

“So how are you feeling today, Mr. Potter?” she asks, aiming for prim mediwitch.

“Um,” he says as she lifts one knee up on the bed, “maybe just a little weak.”

“Don’t worry,” she says, crawling up to brace her knees on either side of his thighs. “I can do all the work.”

His hands settle on her hips. “I’m beginning to realize you have a bit of an exhibitionist kink.”

“Just catching on, are you?” she asks, linking her hands behind his neck. She leans into him, her chest just barely brushing against his. “I’m quite used to being in front of a crowd.”

Harry seems to have nothing to say to that, his hands already busy finding the gap between her shirt and her skirt.

“Just say yes or no, Harry.”

“Hell yes,” he says, and lifts up to capture her mouth with his. He rather quickly proves that his body is in fact working just fine despite the curse.

Undoing the bow at the back of his neck, she drags his hospital gown down, eyeing his chest. There’s no bruising or new scars, just the same old faded circle right above his heart. Physically he does seem to have escaped any harm.

“Satisfied?” he asks.

She runs her fingers down over his stomach. “Hardly. But I don’t plan on leaving until I am.”  

“I should hope not,” he says.

Harry’s just let out a low moan as she works her mouth down over his chest when the door opens. “Mr. Potter?”

“Mr. Potter is receiving his treatment,” Ginny calls out. “Come back in half an hour.”

“Is that all?” Harry murmurs. “I’m very sick.”  

She laughs, the mediwitch making a scandalized sound and shutting the door with a thump.

“Don’t let them hear you say that,” Ginny says, fingers curling under the edge of the blanket pulled up over his lap. “They’ll keep you here another week. And I don’t plan on making anymore bedside visits.”

“Then I guess you’d better give me my treatment quick,” he says.

“Oh,” Ginny says, grinning at him as she shimmies down the bed, taking the covers with her. “I have no intention of being quick.”

Harry’s response is lost in a garbled curse.

*     *     *

“Welcome home,” Ginny says as she unhooks her bra, letting it slide down her arms and fall to the floor.

Harry has finally been released from St. Mungo’s after nearly an additional sodding week , and this special welcome celebration staged by Ginny is almost enough to make being injured worth it.

“I’d feel more welcome if you came over here,” he says, patting the bed where she’d insisted he stay.

Instead of complying, she continues her languid striptease, sliding her knickers down over her legs, nearly bending in half to step out of them.

As much as he is enjoying her extended performance, he’s rock hard at this point and really tired of not being able to touch her.

Climbing off the bed, he crosses over to her, picking her up over his shoulder, one hand patting her arse.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks, but her voice is lilting with laughter.

He tosses her back on the bed, her hair a glorious tangle around her head.

“Proving that I am far from an invalid.”  

She gives him a deliberately coy look, one finger in her mouth. “How very…impressive.”

Harry’s boss may have farmed him out on disability for two weeks and banned him from setting foot in the office, but none of that is going to keep him from showing Ginny Weasley that she is not the only one who can take control.

Kneeling on the edge of the bed, he picks up her foot. He slowly rubs his thumbs up her arch, taking his time tracing each toe.

“Is my foot really the most interesting part of me?” she asks.

“Nothing like a near-death experience to make you appreciate the little things,” he says, thumb circling the small bone protruding from her ankle.

She licks her lips. “You hardly almost died,” she tries to scoff.

He can tell she is nowhere near as unaffected by his touch as she is pretending. He knows her well enough to see that. And the idea that something as casual as his fingers on the curve of her ankle could get her going makes him feel stupidly powerful. Especially after being confined to a bloody hospital bed like an infant.

His fingers slide further up her leg, tracing the swell of her calf as her foot comes to rest on his shoulder. Turning his head, he presses his lips against soft skin at the back of her ankle, his teeth dragging lightly across it.

“I also seem to recall promising to drag this out until you begged,” he says against her skin.  

She lets out a long breath through her nose, her eyes fighting to stay open. “You must have suffered from a concussion or something.”

His fingers press into the soft spot behind her knee. He takes his time responding, working his mouth up the inside of her calf, finally pausing long enough to suck gently at the side of her knee.

“Fuck,” she says. “That should not feel that good.”

He feels an intense beat of satisfaction, enough that he’s happy to keep drawing this out despite the urges of his own body. Kneading gently at her thigh, he avoids the obvious bruise more than likely left by a bludger or some other hard contact on the pitch. He lightens his touch as it gets closer and closer to the apex of her thighs.   

“Harry,” she very nearly growls. “If you don’t get on with it soon, I’m going to hex you back into hospital.”

His thumb skims down the valley between her thigh and hip, so tantalizingly close, but still firmly nowhere he knows she wants him. “Pretty sure that was a threat. Completely different than begging.”

“I also know how to fight without a wand, you should know,” she says, eyes shut as her neck arches, hand fisted in the quilt.

“Hmmm,” he says, retreating all the way back to the end of the bed. He picks up her other foot. “We may have to start all over again.”

Her eyes are blazing. “I really don’t like you,” she says.

He smiles, knowing intimately what that look means, and it is very far from ‘I hate you.’ “Liar.”

He takes great pleasure in showing her just how much she likes him.

In the end, she doesn’t beg. She just lifts her head, looks Harry in dead in the eye, and says, “I need you.”

No threats, no pleading, just bare honesty.

Harry wastes no time settling between her legs, sinking into her slick warmth with a groan no less intense than hers.

There’s no more words, no more teasing, just need.

“What about you?” Harry asks much, much later when he’s just started laying the groundwork for round number two.

“What about me?” she asks on a sigh.

“Why don’t you do relationships?” She’d asked him once, why he would want this sort of arrangement, but he’s never gotten around to asking her. He’s curious though, and he’s learned his lesson. He’s going to straight up ask her if he wants to know something.

“I don’t like intimacy,” she says.

He looks up at her from where he’s kissing his way down over her stomach, one hand already between her legs. “Yeah?” he asks, quirking an eyebrow at her.

“Sex isn’t—” She breaks off as he slides his fingers inside of her. She takes a deep breath, her hips lifting. “Sex isn’t intimacy. It’s sex. Just bodies.”

“So you mean feelings,” he says, doing his best to make it really hard for her to think.

She makes a noncommittal sound, pressing down against his hand. “Among other things.”

“I see,” he says. “Like, visiting people’s sick beds?”

She rolls her eyes, clearly not amused by his attempt to tease her. “More like…expectations.”

“Expectations?” he asks, his mind automatically going back to his own failed relationships. The things he could never give that they so clearly wanted from him. The way he was just never enough, no matter how hard he tried.

She nods. “Giving someone power over you. Power you can’t ever take back.”

Harry finds this conversation less amusing by the moment, kind of wishing he’d never brought it up in the first place.

Ginny puts her foot on his shoulder, pushing him firmly so he flips onto his back. She straddles him, one hand pressing to his chest to keep him lying down. “This here, this is like church.”

He tries to give her an arrogant smirk, chasing that light-hearted amusement again. “Are you saying shagging me brings you closer to god?”

She laughs, the full-throated sound of someone who doesn’t see the need in holding back. In playing to people’s expectations. “More like the confessional, then.”  

He considers that. “Some nameless priest in a dark box somewhere.”

“Exactly,” she says.

He reaches for her hips, wanting her closer, but she shakes her head. He lets his hands fall back to the bed. She’s ready to be in charge, he can tell.

She dips down towards him, her breasts tantalizingly close to his chest, her breath warm on his skin, but all without any true contact between them. “Do the rituals and movements, spill your secrets, whatever you need to feel good. And then walk back out into the world until you need to do it again.”

His hands clench in the bedcovers, his body prickling with awareness of her. “I’ll pretty much confess anything if you’ll put me out of my misery.”

She laughs, and finally nods her permission. He sits up, grabbing her hips and pulling her tight against him. As she starts to move, setting a pace just the way she likes, Harry thinks she must be right.

Because being here with her feels an awful lot like absolution.

Chapter Text

8.

As annoying as his forced medical leave is, it does give Harry a chance to catch up with his mates and be social for once. After the first week, his magic seems fairly well recovered, though he still feels a bit fatigued. Not that he would ever admit that, especially not to his boss.

For once he’s pretty good about following the rules—limiting his magic use and not setting foot at work. Not that he doesn’t have enough failed cold cases or obscure closed investigations to brood over mentally now that he has the time. That keeps him from boredom, but is also massively frustrating.

Fortunately, Ginny holds to her promise to keep him company, coming by after practice most days.

It’s always a bit of a mystery which post-practice Ginny will show up. Sometimes she’s soft and relaxed and playful. Sometimes she shows up high and antsy, like the endorphins of a good workout make her even more energetic, and he knows he’ll have a hard time keeping up with her. Occasionally she comes out of practice frustrated with herself or the other players and clearly just wants him to make her forget everything for a while, happy to let someone else take the lead.

Each of these versions are fun in their own way. He’s happy to have any variety of her, especially since her visits are one of the only bright spots of his days as his convalescence stretches on and on.

Today, however, he’s ended up with a different Ginny all together.

“I can’t help but notice that you’re not really into this,” he says.

“No, I am,” Ginny says, increasing her rhythm as if to prove it.

He gives her a look of disbelief despite the fact that her back is to him and she can’t see it. “By now I’d like to think I know exactly what you look like when you’re having a good time.”

She stops moving, seeming to hover a moment as if deciding if she should continue her abysmal bluff, or maybe considering the possibility of distracting him by doubling down on her efforts.

“Ginny.”

“Ugh,” she says, shifting up off him and flopping over onto her stomach on the bed. “Now I’m really annoyed if this is keeping me from enjoying sex.”

He rolls onto his side. Despite the fact that he certainly has been enjoying himself, the misery etched into every inch of her body is far too obvious to ignore and goes a long way to cooling his ardor.

“What’s going on?” he asks.

She drags a pillow down and buries her face in it.

He nudges her with his foot. “The confessional, remember?”

She turns her head just enough to glare at him, clearly not appreciating that being tossed back at her right now.

He just lifts his eyebrows and waits, propping his head up on his elbow.

She sighs, rolling onto her back. “I can feel it. A confrontation with my team manager building.”

“Yeah?”

She nods, covering her face with her hands. “Merlin knows I’m familiar enough with the feeling. But this time...it’s like I’m deliberately picking at things. And I can’t help but wonder if I’m trying to sabotage it.”

This is the first time they have come even close to talking about this again, as if they’ve been aggressively trying to prove nothing in this arrangement has changed with their earlier falling out. Harry isn’t particularly excited at the prospect of setting her off again, either. But she really does look freaked out.

“Because maybe you’d rather walk away on your own terms?” he cautiously asks.

He can’t even imagine how many times she’s been dropped or pushed aside. Or if part of her has given up entirely on finally finding a place. The fact that she’s even still trying impresses the hell out of him.

She peers over at him. “You mean before I get punted?”

He lifts his shoulder.

“Fuck,” she says. She says it three more times, her feet kicking at the bed with each curse.

He smiles at her childish antics. “Feel better?”

“No,” she says, turning her face into his arm. “And I still don’t really want to shag you.”

He laughs, sliding his hand up and down her arm. “That’s fine. After all, I have your poster.” He gestures towards his closet.

Her eyes widen, and then she’s sitting up, groping for her wand and flinging the door open with a quick spell.

There her poster is, still carefully charmed to the inside of the door, the poster-version of Ginny grinning and waving at them both.

“You dirty little perv,” the real Ginny says, looking delighted.

“What, you thought I was going to throw it out? It even came with very specific instructions.”

She gives him a speculative look, eyes trailing down his body and easily rekindling his earlier ardor. “My poster and two perfectly good hands?”

“Nope. You made your choice.” He points to the door. “Be gone with you. Your poster and I have some important business to finish.”

“Arsehole,” she says with a laugh.

Gathering up all her clothes, she pulls them on while he watches.

Before she leaves, she unexpectedly leans down and presses a soft kiss to his lips. “Thanks,” she murmurs.

“Anytime,” he says, taking advantage of her closeness to grope her.

She laughs, batting at his hand.

“Oh, wait,” he says, suddenly remembering. “I have something for you before you go.” He opens a box next to his his bed, scooping out a galleon.

She frowns down at it as he hands it to her. “You’d better start explaining, Harry, because I’m really trying not to take this the wrong way.”

“What?” he asks.

“One, I don’t have sex for money, and two, if I did, I would be worth far more than one manky galleon.”

“Definitely far more,” he agrees. “It’s something we use in the department sometimes, for easy communication, you know? Rigged these two up to display a date, time, and place. And then just a yes or no back.”

Her expression is no longer playful or annoyed, but almost like she’s thinking about something else entirely.

“Yeah,” she says. “I know how they work.”

That’s when he remembers just where these came from, someone from Hogwarts having clued the department in.

“Bugger,” he says. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think.”

She blinks, the haunted look on her face gone in a flash. “It’s fine. That was a long time ago.”

“We don’t have to use them.”

“Of course we do. Besides, using them to get laid is a far better application.” She tucks the coin away in her bra. “For safekeeping.”

“Anytime you want to keep me safe…” he says.

“I’ll just let you know by giving it a little squeeze,” she says, patting her breast. “You two have fun.”

With that, she walks out of the room.

Harry hears the front door close a moment later, content that she probably won’t get herself fired. Looking up at the poster, he says, “Just you and me now.”

Poster-Ginny blows him a kiss.

*     *     *

When his two weeks of leave are up, Harry dutifully reports to the auror department’s head medic for his final clearance.

She scans and prods him and takes more bodily samples than he wants to think of.

“Let’s see how your magic is coming along, shall we?” she asks once she’s done.

“Sure,” Harry says, pushing to his feet and pulling out his wand.

There’s a sparring dummy at the end of the room.

“Let’s start with a basic shield, please.”

Harry resists rolling his eyes, casting the simple spell while she continues to scan him, data automatically recording on a nearby parchment.

She nods. “And a stunning spell?”

Harry complies, gradually working through half a dozen spells. He falters on the next spell though, not quite able to summon the right level of focus. It’s a small thing, really, but he’s used to doing far more rigorous wandwork. He’s able to get it right the second try, but the power level is low, the dummy barely rocking under the impact.

“Hmm,” the medic says. “You magic is taking a little longer to recover than I would like.”

She spends a while studying the diagnostics that have been running while he sparred, a frown appearing on her face.

“Something wrong?” Harry asks. Clearly something is, or this wouldn’t be happening. Did they muck up the counter-curse? Or just miss something else?

“No,” she says. “In fact, quite the opposite.”

“I don’t understand,” Harry says. “You saw what just happened.”

“Yes. But your scans are clean. There is no residual sign of the curse.”

That is utter nonsense. “I was better last week.”

“I know it probably feels like that, but that’s not actually true.”

“What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?” Harry demands.

The medic carefully puts her scans down. She gestures towards a seat, taking one opposite him.

He doesn’t move, not particularly keen on a tête à tête.

She looks up at him, clearly content to wait him out.

Harry drops into the seat with a sigh. “I’m not imagining this.”

She regards him with cool eyes. “I didn’t say you were.” No, but everything about the way she’s treating him seems to strongly imply it.

He feels his temper flare, mostly at the gentle tone she’s using. “And what exactly are you saying?”

“What I am saying, Mr. Potter, is that there is absolutely nothing in your scans that would explain this. Your body is in perfect health.”

He doesn’t at all care for her tone, or her carefully chosen words. She doesn’t come straight out and accuse him of losing his mind, but she doesn’t need to. He hears it all the same.

If his body is fine, there is only one other explanation. He must be losing his nerve as so many other aurors before him have.

He’s not just any fucking auror.

“I would like to arrange a consultation with one of my colleagues,” she says.  

A mind manipulator. Hell no. “There is absolutely no reason for that. I’m fine.” The last thing he needs is that on his record.

“Mr. Potter,” she says, voice sharp. “I’m quite familiar with your medical history. You have been through a lot.”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “No more than a lot of other people.”

“We aren’t talking about other people, Mr. Potter. We are talking about you.”

“No.”

Her expression hardens and he knows he’s going to have one hell of a fight on his hands.

Deliberately taking a breath, he reins in his temper with difficulty. “I have been feeling a little tired. Maybe I just…need a little more time. Some rest. Then I’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

This seems to do the trick—a nod towards cooperation without actually having to go to a mind healer—her expression softening. “I won’t clear you for field duty. But I will allow light office shifts. That is it. Come back in two weeks and we will revisit this conversation.”

“Two weeks—” he starts to protest, hoping more for something like three days.

She hasn’t softened completely. “I can make your visit to other specialists mandatory now if you force me to, Mr. Potter.”

He clenches his jaw, but nods his agreement, knowing when he’s been beat. “Two more weeks. And then everything will be fine.”

“I hope so,” she says. “But you will come see me if anything worsens.”

Harry mutters an agreement he has no intention of keeping and she dismisses him.

He hides in his office, quietly fuming until it’s time for him to meet Byron for one of their semi-regular meet-ups. He’d just blow it off, but he hasn’t seen his former partner in weeks. Besides, at this point he’s tired of his own company.

When he gets to their traditional watering hole, Byron is already at the bar. Despite only being six years Harry’s senior, he looks much older.

Harry pauses in the door, taking in his ex-partner. His head is bowed over his ale, hair grown long and lank when he used to keep it regulation clipped. His cloak doesn’t look particularly clean. It’s all just wrong, every bit of his fastidious partner seeming to have disappeared.

They worked together for over a decade, Harry having been paired with him as a rookie. The two climbed the ranks together, depending on each other’s varied talents to close cases and keep each other alive. Rarely had two people been so well paired as their various supervisors often commented.

Harry can admit to being a little professionally adrift the last year and a half without him. Today even more than usual. But this isn’t the Byron he used to know.

Harry slides onto a stool next to him, raising his arm to get the bartender’s attention. “Can I get a butterbeer?”

His companion lets out a derisive snort. “Still drinking that shite?”

Eyeing his former partner’s ale, he doesn’t have to ask how many he’s had, or confirm the flask of fire whiskey tucked just out of sight. “As usual, you seem to be drinking enough for the both of us.”

Just another thing that has changed. The drinking started just after their last case.

Yes, Byron had been forced to kill. It was an ugly thing. It always is. Harry’s killed before too. He loses sleep over it, does absolutely everything in his power not to have to take that ultimate step ever again, but sometimes it’s just bloody necessary.

Byron lets out a snort. “Yes, well, we can’t all be prissy prefects. The breweries would go out of business.”

Harry smiles. “Very altruistic of you.”

They fall into silence then, Harry nodding at the bartender in thanks as he delivers his drink. Just like during most of these meet-ups recently, part of Harry wants to be really bloody angry at Byron. For walking away. For falling apart like this.

Harry stares down at his drink, carefully wrapping his hands around the cold bottle. The fatigue deep in his bones is impossible to ignore, particularly after the disastrous meeting with the medic.

And if this isn’t the bloody curse…

Harry rolls his bottle between his hands. “Do you regret it? Retiring?”

Byron’s answer is immediate. “No. I’m done with it,” he says, but Harry doesn’t miss the way his hand tugs compulsively at his sleeve, almost as if a nervous tic. Just another way the drink has ruined him. He’d be useless in the field now.

Only, if he really wanted to retire, then why doesn’t he look happier? Is this what Harry has to look forward to?

Byron has always been prickly, but he’s downright testy when it comes to this topic, so Harry doesn’t dare push.  

“How is Maura? And the kids?” Harry asks, moving on to safer topics.

Even this topic doesn’t seem to help much, conversation stalling and dying out before it even begins. They used to be better than this.

“What’s up with you?” Byron asks, eyeing him blearily as he works through his third ale. “You’re not your usual bubbly self.”

Harry grimaces. “Out on medical.”

Byron nods. “No wonder you look so surly.”

“That’s rich coming from you.”

Byron lets out a bark of laughter. “How exactly did you fuck up this time?”

“It’s just Manasectum,” Harry says. He taps his fingers on his bottle, debating how much he really wants to say. “Magic’s taking a little longer to recover than it should.”

Byron’s eyes narrow. “Is that why you’re asking about retirement? You finished?”

“No,” Harry says immediately. He doesn’t even know who he is without the job.

“You know curse damage can compound over time,” he says.

“No,” Harry says. “This isn’t that.”

It can’t be.

“You know,” Harry says, desperate to turn the conversation back to anything else. “I was looking into the Azkaban Thirteen the other day—”

Byron’s expression shutters. “No. We’re not going down this niffler hole again.”

That niffler hole was the last case they ever worked together. The last time things really felt right.

“You know me,” Harry says, knowing he’s just being stupidly nostalgic.  

“Yes, I do,” he says, gestures getting big and sloppy. “And it’s going to get you killed.”

Harry laughs, thinking it’s a joke. “Really. I was just wondering why we never looked into—”

“Harry,” he snaps, nearly spilling out of his seat. “For once in your goddamned life, just leave it alone.”

Harry reaches out to steady him, frowning at his unexpected intensity. “Sure,” he says, patting him on the arm. “Of course.”  

He has to side-along apparate Byron home in the end, by some miracle not splinching either of them in the process. He feels out of breath by the time he manages it, pain building behind his eyes.

He looks down at his hand and it’s shaking.

Byron’s wife Maura opens the door at his knock. Harry gives her an apologetic shrug and lugs her inebriated husband inside. Harry helps wrangle him up the stairs, his mood only getting bleaker as he dumps Byron onto his bed.

“Pepper-up potions don’t even work anymore,” Maura says as she pulls off her husband’s shoes with practiced efficiency. As if she’s used to this.

Harry remembers the vibrant, laughing young woman she used to be. Just more collateral damage of this job.

“Harry,” Byron slurs, grabbing at him.

Harry stoops over the bed. “Yeah, mate?”

“N’ver shoulda left t’ red stripes,” he mumbles.

“Those were the good days,” Harry says, thinking back to their time spent on simpler theft cases and chasing down dark objects rather than murders.

“Shoulda left well ‘nuff alone,” Byron says, his eyes slipping closed as he passes out.

“Need help getting him changed?” Harry asks Maura.

She shakes her head. “Leave him.” She doesn’t look embarrassed so much as tired.

“You or the kids need anything?” he asks as she walks him back down.

“We’re okay,” she says. “Though the kids might enjoy a fun day out with Uncle Harry.”

“Sure,” he says. “Think they’d like to catch a quidditch match?”

She gives him a worn smile. “I’m sure they’d love that.”

He folds her into a hug, pressing a kiss to her cheek. “I’m sorry,” he says, squeezing her tight, and he isn’t sure if he’s apologizing for her drunk husband or the job that did this to him. For his part in it all.

She shakes her head, patting him on the cheeks as she pulls back. “Just keep yourself safe, Harry.”

His stomach clenches. “I’ll do my best.”

He escapes outside, breathing in the cool night air when the galleon in his pocket heats up.

He hasn’t seen Ginny in a few days, and suddenly that feels like the only place he wants to be in the entire world. He shouldn’t. He knows he shouldn’t. His mood is shite and he needs sleep. But, god, does he need her even more.

Forgoing another questionable apparition, he gets on the Tube, climbing back up near her building. He lets himself in, and tonight, the entire flat is quiet and dark. There’s no sign of Luna.

Opening the door to her bedroom, he finds the inside softly cast in warm light. On the bed, Ginny waits for him. She’s wearing a green silky thing that there is probably some fancy French word for. She doesn’t need any accentuation, if you ask him, but damn she looks amazing.

“Hi,” she says, toying with the lacy hem lying across the top of her thighs.

He immediately starts shedding his clothing as he moves across the room.

“Get the door, will you?” she asks, clearly pleased by his eagerness.

Without thinking, he pulls his wand, casting the spell. He’s mortified when nothing happens.

Taking a few steps back, he shoves it shut with his hand.

Ginny doesn’t say anything, just watches him from the bed, her brow slightly furrowed.

He hopes that will be the end of it as he shucks the rest of his clothes and joins her on the bed, his hands already skimming up the silky fabric.

“This is nice,” he murmurs.

“I’m glad you like it.”

Kissing down her neck, he spends a very long time with her breasts, letting his fingers dip just below the lacy edge of the scooped neck, teasing back and forth until she’s practically writhing up into his touch in search of more.

He finally drags the fabric down, hearing it tear, but dismissing it almost as quickly, telling himself he can fix it later. He works his tongue and lips across the taut peaks of her breasts, just wanting everything lost in the sensation of her body under his, her fingers tight in his hair as she arches back up against him.

He’s easing off her knickers when she speaks.

“Has something else happened?” she asks, fingers closing around his hand that is still slightly shaking. Even she is familiar enough with the curse to know this isn’t right.

“It’s nothing,” he says, really not wanting to talk about this. Or anything really.

“Hmm,” she says in a way that says she doesn’t believe that for a second. She kicks her feet free of her knickers. “You know, for an auror, you’re a pretty shitty liar.”

Her voice is soft and teasing, but that doesn’t matter at all. From nowhere he feels anger and annoyance flaring in his chest, left over from his medic visit and Byron and Maura and his fucking magic and having nothing to do with her.

“I thought the benefits part of this arrangement was sex, not endless nattering,” he snaps.

He feels her stiffen and immediately regrets it.

Shoving him off, she starts to roll away from him.

He grabs her arm, pulling her to a stop before she can get up.

She yanks against his grip, but he stupidly just holds on tighter because he doesn’t want her to leave.

“Let go,” she says, voice hard.  

“Ginny,” he says.

She looks back over her shoulder at him, something blazing and angry in her eyes even as her tone is flat and even. “You trying to put me under your foot, Potter? Because you’ll find it harder than you might think.”

He immediately lets go, horror swelling in his stomach.

They regard each other across the bed. She glares at him, her shoulders lifting with her heavy, furious breath, her lingerie still half hanging off her, and fuck, that turns him on way more than it should. Then again, he’s yet to find a single one of her expressions that doesn’t turn him on.

He tentatively brushes the back of his fingers against her knee, sliding up the smooth skin of her thigh when she doesn’t pull away, and he doesn’t miss the way she shivers against the touch despite her anger.

“I was more thinking of putting you under my mouth,” he says, fingers pressing in.

“Were you,” she says, and he knows this expression, one much more familiar and welcome.

“Ginny,” he says, voice softer. Apologetic. He tugs gently, and she concedes, sliding back down onto the bed, letting him pull her knee to the side as he works his mouth up her inner thigh.

“Hmm,” she says again as he lowers his head, only this time the meaning is entirely different, her fingers tight in his hair as he licks into her.

He offers his apology the best he can.

Later he wakes curled up behind her, having dozed off on an impromptu nap. He’s more relieved than he should be that she hasn’t left. The anger is still buzzing under his skin, but softened by the feel of her back warm against his chest, the gentle curve of her breast under his palm as if he was holding her even in sleep.

He lowers his head just far enough to press into the back of her neck, breathing in the scent of her skin.

She shifts back against him, and he tightens his arms around her, hand slowly moving across her breast. “Awake?” he murmurs.

She lets out a breath, her hips pressing back into him. “Yes.”

He kisses along the curve of her neck, mouth open and tongue exploring as his hands gently knead her breasts. She starts a smooth cadence with her hips in response that has him hard and aching in no time.

Before either of them can get too carried away, her fingers close around his hand. “Harry.”

He blows out a breath, his head falling forward against her shoulder. A real apology is what she deserves. Only instead, it’s the truth that tumbles out. “They think I’m cracking.”

She’s still a moment as if absorbing that, and then she’s lifting his hand to her mouth, her lips warm against his palm. “And are you?” she asks before drawing her tongue up the pad of his thumb and pulling it into her mouth, sucking gently.

He closes his eyes, nearly losing his train of thought entirely. “I don’t know.”

It’s the first time he’s so much as even allowed for the possibility.

He slides his free hand down between her legs, and with a sigh she opens them wider, her foot hooking back over his knee. His fingers carefully dip and swirl and caress as Ginny’s breathing grows heavier. He wants nothing more than to be inside her.

“How long do aurors usually last?” she asks, words hitching.

He shifts her knee up and slowly pushes into her from behind. “I think I’ve already proven how long I can last.”

She takes a moment to catch her breath, her back arching, giving him better access. “I meant grey stripes.”

He slowly rolls his hips, the drag between their bodies delicious.

He tries not to think about anything but how good this feels, but her question lingers. The fact is that grey stripes don’t have a great record of longevity, that many of them end up like Byron, or worse, dead. He’s spent thirteen years in the aurors at this point, and the war before that. As long as he can remember.

Ginny reaches back, her nails pressing into his thigh, meeting him for each languorous thrust. “Have you considered that they might be right and you just need a break?”

“It’s possible,” he concedes.

“But?” she asks, clearly hearing something in his tone.

He stops moving, pulling her back so she is once again cradled against his chest. He lowers his face to her shoulder. “There’s this little voice at the back of my head that’s kept me alive more times than I can count.”

“And what does it say?”

He considers that, trying to quiet everything else down. Nothing but the feel of her all around him. “That this is something. That this is more.”

She lifts her arm up over her head, reaching back to wind her fingers into his hair. “Then I suppose you should listen to it.”

Harry closes his eyes, a long breath rushing out. She’s the first one to not just tell him he’s crazy, to just let it go. All he can hear in her voice is trust. Faith that he knows what he’s talking about.

“Ginny,” he murmurs against her skin.

She presses back against him, her hips rocking in invitation. He shifts, rolling her forward slightly to gain better leverage, reaching for that blissful oblivion, and soon neither of them have any breath left for talking.

He gives himself over to her entirely.

Chapter Text

9.

“No,” Ginny says, barely opening her door far enough to see Harry on the other side. She wishes he’d used his galleon instead of just coming over here, but he’s proven to be impatient and impulsive like that.

Under any other circumstance, she might be happy to see him. But not today.

“Okay,” he says, starting to step back only for his eyes to narrow as he apparently catches sight of her face. He strides forward, pushing against the door. “Fucking hell, Ginny, what happened?”

She sighs, letting the door swing open. She can only imagine the bruising covering half of her face is only worse with the clearer view. “Just a bludger, okay? I was bloody stupid.”

“Christ,” he says, fingers tipping her chin to one side so he can inspect the damage.

She pulls back. “They healed the skull fracture no problem. I just get to deal with the bruising. And the fucking endless pain in my head. So I’m cranky and ugly and in absolutely no mood to get jostled about by you, thank you very much.”

His eyebrows lift. “So that’s a no, then.”

“Yes, Harry. That’s a no,” she says and shuts the door in his stupid face.

Less than twenty minutes later, someone knocks again, and that’s it, she’s done with people and having friends.

It’s Harry. Again.

“Oh my god,” she says, feeling an extra twinge of pain in her head. “My answer hasn’t changed.”

He lifts a bag. “I brought ice cream.”

She reconsiders slamming the door in his face. “What flavor?”

“Um,” he says, peering inside. “Most of them. I wasn’t sure what your favorite is.”

There’s a reason for that. They don’t do ice cream dates, or talking about mundane details of their life. Which is a very good reason to send him on his way.

“I… I want to say I don’t care, but I do. I want all of the ice cream.”

He smiles, looking like a pleased house elf, and Ginny grudgingly opens the door.

“You look like hell,” he notes.

“Shut up and give me ice cream.”

He laughs, laying it all out on the counter, and at least he looks better. Less haunted than last time she saw him. But honestly, her head hurts too much to even think about that.

“Which one do you want?” he asks.

She pulls a giant bowl out of her cupboard. “All,” she says.

He doesn’t protest, proving that he’s smarter than he looks, and starts carefully putting a scoop of each flavor in her bowl. “Is Luna here?” he asks.

Ginny shakes her head only to instantly regret it. “Still off hunting snorkacks.”

“You know those aren’t real, right?”

“Prove it,” she says, casting a careless temperature charm on the tubs of ice cream and crossing over to collapse back on her sofa with her bowl.

Harry must decide he has no interest in arguing the existence of snorkacks, following her into the sitting room and swinging the backpack off his shoulder.

“I also brought you something to help distract you,” he says, pulling out some sort of machine and putting it on the low table in front of her.

“What is that?” she asks around a bite of peanut butter cup.

“A laptop.”

She peers at it. “Like the muggle computer thing?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Hung about with my fair share of muggles when I was a kid.”

Just another sign of his unusual upbringing. It was a fight over blood purity and keeping wizarding ways free of muggle corruption after all. Or at least on the surface. Consciously adapting muggle technology and culture is like a giant fuck you to all that nonsense. Even in this day and age.

She eyes the glittering threads woven around the outside of the flat box. “Are they always so…sparkly?”

“What?” he asks. “Oh. No. That’s something a friend rigged up for me. Sylph sinews. Apparently they help protect the machine from ambient magic, so it doesn’t go haywire.”

“Huh,” she says, likely to be more interested if she weren’t so miserable. “You know sylphs aren’t real, right?”

He lets out a soft huff, punching buttons with his fingers with ease and pulling a flat silver disk out of a case.

Once he has it all set up, a picture coming up on the screen, he stands. “You’re all settled?”

She looks at her still half-full bowl. “For now.”

“Okay,” he says, lifting up his pack. “I’ll leave you to it.”

“You aren’t staying?” she asks before she can think better of it.

He looks surprised. “Do you want me to?”

She frowns, feeling strangely nettled. “Well, I don’t know how to work the bloody thing, now do I?” She lifts her bowl. “And I’m going to need a refill.”

“Right. So you basically need a house elf,” he says, but still settles on the sofa next to her.

“Pretty much,” she says.

She eats two bowls of ice cream as they watch this fairly ridiculous movie about a lord and a ring—she’s seen elves and they do not fucking look like that. Though the old wizard does look a lot like Dumbledore. Nearly as ridiculous as he was too.

When she finishes her second bowl and refuses a third, Harry takes her dish to the kitchen for her, and when he gets back, the sofa kinda sinks under his weight and this is the only reason she shifts in his direction, the only reason she allows him to put his arm around her shoulders.

This is definitely crossing a line somewhere, but she’s too miserable to deal with it.

By the time the stupid ragtag group almost gets eaten by a troll—that one is fairly accurate all things told—she’s listed down far enough that the not completely ravaged half of her face is resting on his thigh.

His fingers touch her hair, hesitant at first as if he’s not sure he’s going to get yelled at over it. She probably should, but the gentle pressure actually feels kind of nice. Relaxing. She has to bite back a protest when his hand eventually leaves her hair to rest against her hip.

After a while, she shifts around, squirming, because nothing is comfortable, and maybe she bloody would like to have sex if her head didn’t feel like it was going to fall off.

“Can’t relax?” he murmurs.

“No,” she grumbles.

His fingers move across her hipbone, a slow, circular sweep. “Can I help?” he asks, and she knows that tone.

“You think you could?” she challenges.

His hand slides down over her stomach and between her legs. “Willing to give it a try,” he murmurs, his fingers circling gently.

She shifts on to her back, giving him better access, her eyes drifting closed.

“Aren’t you going to watch the movie?” he asks, something smug and challenging in his tone.

“No,” she says.

He quietly gives a running stream of information about the characters on the screen, making fun of costumes, saying the dialog, his deft fingers never pausing in their slow, gentle movement. It’s through two layers of clothing and should not feel this good, but it really, really does, maybe just in comparison to the riot of pain elsewhere.

That all starts to fade behind the gradual build up, but even that isn’t enough eventually, Ginny giving a small sound of annoyance. He laughs quietly under his breath and obediently slides his hand inside her knickers for better contact, his other fingers skimming across her breast.

“Better?” he asks.

“Hmm,” she agrees.

Her orgasm doesn’t so much as hit her as roll smoothly through her, stretching on and on and on. It leaves her feeling boneless and on the edge of sleep.

“Did that jostle you too much?” he asks, clearly having taken exception to her description of having sex with him.

“Fuck you,” she murmurs, snuggling into his comforting warmth and closing her eyes.

She wakes much later, the pain in her head a duller throb.

She’s alone on the couch, but there’s a note on the table.

Had to run into work. Left the rest of the discs for you. The password is ginnyweasleyhasahotarse. Hope you’re feeling better.

-Harry

She fingers the paper, thinking about the lazy, soft relaxation of her body, the way the sofa feels annoyingly empty.

“Fuck,” she says.

*     *     *

Ron winces when he looks at her. “You still look like hell.”

“Just what a witch loves to hear,” Ginny says, kissing him on the cheek before sitting down next to Hermione. “Ramen, huh?”

Hermione shakes her head, seeming at a loss to explain it. “Suddenly it’s the only thing that sounds good.”

Rom smiles at his wife. “I haven’t quite figured out how to make it at home.”

Ginny laughs. “I suppose that means you spend a lot of time here.”

“Keep waiting for them to inscribe our table with a plaque or something,” Ron teases.

Hermione looks too tried to take exception to that, instead pushing back from the table. “I’m going to wash up,” she says and leaves for the loo.

Ginny gestures at the fourth setting at the table. “We expecting someone else?”

“Oh, no,” Ron says. “Harry was going to come. He got called away though.”

“Did he?” she asks. She isn’t disappointed in that. Okay, maybe. But only because she’d really been looking forward to a good shag now that her face doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall off. That’s all. “He isn’t still out on leave?”

“Apparently not,” Ron says. “He mentioned something about a mission.”

He must finally be better then.

They think I’m cracking.

“Hey, Ron?”

“Yeah?” he asks, not looking up from his menu despite the fact that he doubtlessly has it memorized by now.

“Why did you quit? The aurors?”

His eyes dart up to her, but for once he doesn’t press. “I guess I wasn’t willing to give everything to it. I feel I did my part, but I wasn’t willing to die for it.”

“You mean like Harry,” she says.

Ron gives her a speculative look. “You know his parents died in the war, right? When he was just a kid. He was practically raised by the Order, going on missions, risking his life. I suppose it’s all he’s ever known.”

She nods, picking up her menu but not really seeing it.

“Must be hard though,” he says. “Trying to rewrite the past. Knowing you can never do it.”

She imagines Ron knows something about that from his years as an auror. The long trials and digging up secrets of a painful past. None of it brought Fred or Percy back.

“Do you think it’s true?” she asks. “What they say about the Order?”

“You mean that they’re the ones who assassinated the Grand Commander?”

She nods. “That they figured out whatever secret he had that made him invincible?”

There had been a famous assassination attempt back when Ginny was only a toddler. A very public one at that. It appeared Voldemort had died. But then a few months later he was up and about again, making public appearances even if he looked a little…different. The assassination was passed off as a lie, an event that never happened in the first place. A fake.

But that didn’t stop people from wondering. And fearing.

What kind of a wizard could cheat death like that? 

It had seemed a final solidification of his power. No one would dare stand against him.

“I don’t know,” Ron says. “I never asked him, to be honest.”

It’s hard to know what is myth grown over time and what is truth. Voldemort surrounded himself with so many layers of lies and propaganda that it was nearly impossible to know what really happened.

Ron looks over his shoulder as if checking to make sure there’s still no sign of Hermione returning. “I do know that they saved Hermione’s life. The Order. Dean’s too.”

“What?” Ginny asks, never having heard about that.

“Didn’t you ever wonder? How she survived?”

Her brother’s wife is one of the few muggleborns their age she’s ever met. But it’s also not something she talks about, understandably.

Ron leans in, his voice lowering. “The Order broke into the Ministry. Lost at least eight people doing it, but they managed to get to the magical registry. Destroyed it. Not just the list, mind you, but the charms and equipment that populated it. The entire bloody department. It took nearly four years for the Ministry to build it again, especially because some people on the inside deliberately dragged their feet. Four years of muggleborn babies that were never tracked.”

The ethics of the registry itself is still hotly debated. Harmless, some people like to claim. Just a list. Nothing like that would surely ever happen again, as if they’ve all forgotten that it had been used once before by the government to murder its own people.

“The Order’d already made their own though,” Ron continues. “So they were able to get to the families first, to warn them. Including Hermione’s parents. She and Harry knew each other a bit as kids, when the Order would teach her enough to control her magic, to help her hide.”

Ginny always knew Hermione was brave to even live in the wizarding world. To be the open contradiction to all the lies that wove themselves into their society for so long. A society where some people still refuse to believe it ever even happened in the first place.

“Is he good?” Ginny asks.

“What?” Ron asks, frown furrowed.

“Harry,” she says. “Is he good at his job?”

Ron considers his answer. “Some people have to work hard at it, you know? But with Harry…it’s like he just does it all instinctively.”

This is something. This is more.

Ron reaches over and squeezes her fingers, like he thinks she needs comfort. “He’s damn good, Gin. Quite possibly the best.”

Hermione comes back to the table then, Ron getting up to pull out her chair for her. She rolls her eyes a bit at the over-the-top fit of gallantry, but smiles up at her husband all the same.

Ginny looks down at her menu and thinks about Harry. Nott’s face hanging on his cubicle wall.

I know exactly what kind of people these are, Ginny. It’s not a fucking game.

Harry is either chasing ghosts, or this isn’t quite as over as they’d all like to believe.

She isn’t sure which possibility is worse.

*     *     *

“There’s no mistake, Harry,” Remus says. “It’s magical degeneration.”

Harry shoves to his feet, feeling closed in by the walls of the dingy office. “I’m thirty-four! You said that was impossible.”

“I said it was improbable ,” Remus corrects, looking prim behind his cluttered desk. “We always wondered what would be the cost of teaching you to use magic from such a young age. And with a wand that wasn’t your own. And that’s not even taking into account the—”

Harry turns on him, leaning on the edge of the desk. “It’s not the fucking horcruxes.”

Remus, as usual, is unmoved by his temper, having had more than his share of Potter hotheadedness in his life. “We saw what the diary did to your dad.”

Drove him mad, bit by bit as he tried to mine every last bit of information out of a sixteen-year-old sociopath.

Harry shoves up off the desk. “I didn’t have anything to do with the diary.” His father had been careful to shield him. From that at least.

“Yes,” Remus agrees. “But after Regulus died…you wore the locket on and off for what? A year?”

Harry paces away from the desk over to the grimy window overlooking the alley. “And only now it’s doing this to me? Nearly twenty bloody years later?”

“Harry,” Remus says. “When I look at these scans, I see the same patterns I would see in squibs, elderly wizards with magical degeneration, and people who suffered extreme magical trauma. Only one of those can possibly describe you.”

Harry shakes his head. “If I had magical degeneration, the medic would have picked up on it.”

“It probably wouldn’t have even occurred to them to check. Not yet. Especially right after you were exposed to the Manasectum curse.”

“Exactly!” Harry says, spinning on his heel. “It has to the be the curse. You can’t tell me that’s a coincidence. Weeks after getting hit by that curse my magic starts failing?”

Remus shakes his head. “If anything, getting hit by that curse only accelerated what was already happening. But it didn’t cause it. And the medic will tell you the same thing next week when you go back for your follow up.”

Six days. He only has six days left until he has to face the bloody medic again. An official diagnosis of magical degeneration will be the end of everything.

“Are you absolutely certain?”

Remus looks at the scans again, but his expression already says it for him. “I wouldn’t say it if I wasn’t.”

Harry has no idea if he’s supposed to find it comforting that he isn’t losing his mind after all. Just his magic.

He leans back against the windowsill. “So that’s it then, is it?”

There’s a flash of exasperation on Remus’s face that Harry is intimately familiar with. “Stop it. This isn’t fatal. You know that.”

So he isn’t going to die. He’s just going to lose his career. His ability to use a wand. His ability to protect himself. To protect anyone . “Is that supposed to make it better?”

Remus’s jaw clenches. “Your parents—”

“Don’t,” Harry says, cutting across him. “Don’t you fucking dare.”

He doesn’t need a lecture about what people suffered for him, the people who would have done anything to still be alive today. None of that has anything to do with this.

Remus doesn’t press, just collapses back in his chair. “I’m sorry, Harry.”

Harry slams out without saying goodbye, spilling out into the alley behind Remus’ office. He paces the length of the alley, everything compounding and building. He’s worked too hard to get here for everything to end like this.

“Fuck,” he says, eyes stinging. His breathing is heavy and he feels on the edge of losing control completely.

He has no idea where to go or what to do.

Jamming his hand into his pocket, he pulls his galleon out, staring down at it. He can’t even apparate to her, so instead he sends her his location and a time five minutes from now before he can talk himself out of it.

He paces up and down the alley as he waits, feeling like he’s going to crawl out of his skin.

He hears a quiet pop, and there she is. She peers down the alley, clearly trying to find the obscure address.

Her eyes take him in in a sweep, and he knows he should stop pacing, but just can’t, and it’s better than putting his fist into the brick wall, really.

She walks up to him, glancing around. “Should we go somewhere?”

He reaches for her, backing her up against the wall. “Do we have to?”

He’s talked her down when she was on the edge of straight up maiming someone in the franchise management more than once at this point. She, of course, likes to say he fucked her down, but that’s Ginny. She likes her distinctions.

Either way, he needs her to return the favor and get him off this goddamned cliff.

She doesn’t make him ask for it, her eyes intent on his face, and he gets the feeling she can read exactly how close he is to breaking. Sees it and isn’t running the other way.

“No,” she says, fingers digging in on his hips as she pulls him flush against her body, and Christ, yes, this is what he needs, something rough and unapologetic and now. “We can stay right here.”

Cars rumble past at the end of the alley, people occasionally walking by, and as much of an exhibitionist kink as she has, this is probably overkill. But nothing a few well-placed spells can’t fix.

He tries, but his fucking hand and his fucking wand are not cooperating.

“Harry,” she says, her hand covering his shaking one.

“Don’t,” he says. “Please don’t fucking ask.”

She eyes him for a moment before pulling her own wand. With a competent flick of her wrist, an impressive disillusionment charm blooms around them to create a small pocket of privacy. It won’t stop someone from physically running into them if they get close enough, or hearing them, but it’s enough.

“I’m not just a hot arse, Potter,” she says.

“No,” he says, voice rough. “You definitely aren’t.” He slips his hands down over her arse, gripping tight. “But it’s still bloody impressive.”

“I know,” she says and sticks her hands down his pants.

For a while he’s able to forget, to take comfort in this one way his body still actually follows orders. The way he can still make her rake her nails down his back and groan his name as he fucks her against the wall. He makes her come hard, her face beautiful and flushed and mouth wide open on a drawn out moan, and he is so fucking lost, except here. Except with her.

He screws his eyes shut, thrusting up into her, chasing the pleasure, even as part of him never wants it to end. Just wants to stay here in this moment. This sensation.

When it’s done, he tells himself he will pick up all these pieces and find a way forward.

He’ll overcome this.

Chapter Text

10.

Harry stares up at the ceiling of his bedroom. The morning delivery owl has long since come and gone, barely a whisper of wings, and Harry is still trying to work up the energy to get out of bed. He should be hungry or bored or something , but all he feels is tired.

Two days. Two more days until his medic appointment and the end of his career. Not so much ending with a bang like he always assumed it would, but rather with a pathetic whisper.

He can barely manage more than one or two basic spells a day now. There won’t be any hiding it. The medic will do the same scans Remus did, come up with the same diagnosis, and that will be the end of it.

Somewhere in the deep recesses of his brain he knows he’s late for work, that this brooding is unbecoming, that he’s acting like a morose, pathetic teenager. But he can’t quite muster the energy to care.

It’s just a career, Remus would probably tell him.

His career is all he’s ever fucking had.

He eventually finds the will to roll out of bed and drag himself into the shower, leaving the water cold in an attempt to shock his body into wakefulness. An hour later he’s out on the street, walking towards work, but comes to a stop in front of a seedy-looking muggle pub.

He imagines going inside, getting blazingly drunk. He hasn’t gotten seriously pissed in years. He never was one of those fun sots who could liven up a party. Instead he always tended to end up heaving in the loo or sliding into a deep funk. A sad sack, as Sirius would laughingly call him.

Back before he caught the bad end of an Avada.

Fuck, Harry can’t even stand himself right now. Turning around, he abandons the pub and any idea of going into work and disappears down into the closest Tube station. He supposes he should get used to using it.

Forty minutes later, he ends up in a quiet neighborhood far from the city center. Tight little houses line sidewalks more or less clear of debris. Somewhere nearby a few children shriek with laughter, two old ladies talking to each other as they shuffle home from the market.

The real world, some might call it.

Finding the correct house, Harry lets himself in through the side gate, walking around to the tiny backyard. Byron is right where he expects him, sitting on a small stool, sneaking pulls off a flask between snipping at a gnarly-looking rose bush.

Harry comes to stand next to his former partner, Byron just glancing up at him before going back to his pruning.

I’m done. Simple enough words, but Harry can’t find a way to say them even though he knows that’s why he’s here.

They’d been sitting out here together when Byron told him the same thing. I’m done with it, Harry. Retired for the family he’s too fucking drunk to be there for. Retired for this stupid patch of dirt. For a sodding rose bush .

Harry is being dragged away from it against his will, being ousted. And Byron just fucking walked away.  

The person he put his trust in every day, his partner. And he’d just left . Every other person who had ever meant that much to him had been ripped away by death. But he just walked away. From the job. And from him. Walked away like Harry meant fuck all to him.

Finally finishing with the chore, Byron pushes to his feet, brushing his hands free of dirt. “Spit it out, Potter. Whatever has your knickers in a twist.”

“How could you do it?” Harry bursts out, the words he’s been wanting to say for over a year. “Just walk away like that?” He gestures around at the pathetic garden. “Is this really fucking worth it?”

Byron’s shoulders tense, but he doesn’t so much as turn to look at Harry. Just stands there and takes it. It only infuriates Harry even more.

“I never thought you, of all people, would be such a fucking coward,” Harry spits.

Without warning, Byron shifts, his fist catching Harry’s chin. He really puts his all in it too, like he’s been dying to give someone a facer. Harry sprawls back on his arse, crushing a nearby shrub. It takes a moment for his vision to clear, his head feeling like it’s going to split in half.

Clearly Byron’s punching skills have not faded in the slightest.

Harry peers up at Byron through watering eyes, and for a moment he looks like the man he used to be, his jaw tight, eyes lit up with something other than booze. Just as quickly, the spark is gone, Byron closing his eyes as if reining his temper in with real effort.

“Get up,” he says, reaching out to help him up. “You look ridiculous.”

Harry grabs the proffered hand, getting ready to hoist himself up, but instead just sits there, Byron’s arm firmly in his grasp.

His sleeve is shoved up, a smudge of dirt on his forearm. But not enough to obscure the faint line. At first Harry thinks it’s just a trick of the light, a bead of sweat working its way through the grime, rose thorn scratches.

Only it’s not.

Harry’s hand tightens around his wrist, dragging him closer, twisting to see the inside of his forearm. Bryon tries to pull back away, but Harry doesn’t budge.

Thin, barely visible white lines curl up his arm in a fluid pattern.

It never made sense, Byron leaving the way he did. When he did. Harry could never even fathom a reason for it. Had been too hurt and adrift to really let that settle in. But here a reason sits, clear as day. The unmistakable marks of an Unbreakable Vow twining up his former partner’s arm.

Byron wrenches his arm free, stumbling back a few steps as he yanks his sleeve back down. “Harry,” he says voice hard. “You can’t—”

“Shut up,” Harry says, not able to risk a single wrong word sliding out. “Don’t say another word.”

Byron’s jaw clenches, but he holds his tongue. Harry’s head is spinning and not just from the punch. What vow did Byron make? When? Why? To whom? They can’t be compelled. You have to do it willingly.

A screen door slams shut, Byron’s eyes darting past Harry’s shoulder.

Harry turns to see Maura standing out on the porch, her face pale. The kids hover around her skirt, watching Harry with wide eyes.

Byron’s family. The only thing in the world he would do anything for. Walk away from anything. Make any promise.

Even if he forever hated himself for it.

“Is this why?” Harry says.

Byron looks back at him, his eyes sharp and focused. His head doesn’t so much as nod in confirmation, not even the tiniest movement, but then, he doesn’t need to.

Harry rolls back to his feet, brushing off his trousers. Byron watches him warily, as if bracing himself for whatever Harry is going to do next.

Harry shoves his glasses back up his nose. “Your garden looks like shite.”

“Yeah,” Byron says. “I know.”

This was never about the sodding garden.

Taking a breath, Harry waves at Maura and the kids, putting on his best ‘everything’s fine’ smile as he heads for the side gate.

“Harry.”

He turns back to his old partner still standing helpless in the middle of his shrubs.

“You can always just walk away. You know that.”

Harry’s stomach clenches, knowing that is a choice he will likely never get to make. “Like you did?”

Byron’s hand closes around his forearm, not bothering with the same old lies. “Just don’t give them an excuse, Harry.”

Harry smiles grimly at him, but doesn’t reply.

He lets himself out of the gate.  

*     *     *

Harry rides the Tube back to Whitehall in a haze. The implications of those thin lines on Byron’s arm swirl in his head, but somehow he feels more awake than he has in a while.

He lets his paranoia run full tilt, because his magic may be gone, but his instincts are still screaming, and he is angry to realize how quickly he’d been convinced to dismiss them by everyone around him.

Everyone except Ginny.

Then I suppose you should listen to it.

Walking briskly towards the Ministry, Harry thinks back over everything Byron has said to him the last few months, searching for any clues he overlooked. Out of context, the Unbreakable Vow is meaningless, the one person he could ask about it magically bound not to. It could be something totally unrelated to the work, but Harry doubts that. Not after what Byron said about walking away.

N’ver shoulda left t’ red stripes. Shoulda left well ‘nuff alone.

Those words haunt him now. Like it was something sitting right in front of him that he should have seen long before.

In his office, Harry sits at his desk. It’s half packed up already in anticipation of his rapidly approaching retirement. Less than a year since his partner washed out. Another coincidence?

Don’t be paranoid, part of his brain says.

Only he thinks about the convenience of Rosier being assigned to him right after Byron’s retirement, the way Gerhardt lost his shite every time Harry tried to do anything without him.

He’d joked once that Rosier was meant to be his babysitter, but maybe he’d been closer to the truth than he realized.

Leaning over the bin, he pulls out his old files. In here, somewhere, is the answer to whatever Byron stumbled over. A truth so important, someone felt the need to muzzle him permanently. The smartest place to start is with the last case they worked together.

Langston Nott.

“Spring cleaning?” Rosier asks from the doorway.

Harry isn’t surprised. Some days it feels like his partner always has one eye on his arrivals and departures. He slides the Nott file under a stack of requisitions forms.

“In October?” Harry says, turning around.

“Oof,” Rosier says, when he catches sight of his face. “Rough date last night?”

“Something like that,” Harry says, rubbing his jaw. The punch and resulting bruise are honestly the last thing on his mind right now.

Rosier waits, like maybe he’s expecting details. After a moment he shakes his head. “Anyway, I finished going over these,” he says, dumping the thick file on the Azkaban Thirteen on his desk.

Harry’s barely paying attention, his brain too busy scrambling to find a way to get rid of his partner without it looking too suspicious.

Just don’t give them a reason.

“Bit of a slow reader?” Harry says. He gave Rosier those files nearly half a year ago, after all.

Rosier doesn’t seem to take offense. “Not really. You haven’t been around to talk to much, now have you?”

Harry isn’t quite sure if this is a dig at his medical leave or his habit of ditching Rosier as often as possible. “I suppose I haven’t.”

“Well, it also took me a while to get my hands on this.” He pulls an enormous leather-bound ledger out from under his arm, heaving it onto Harry’s desk. “Figured I wouldn’t bother you until I had something concrete.”

“What’s this?”

Rosier shrugs. “I thought it might be interesting.”

Harry lifts the tome, reading the gilded lettering on the spine. ROWLE, it says with a string of goblin letters underneath.

Harry straightens in his chair. “Is this…?”

Rosier nods. “Sure is.”

A Gringott’s bank ledger.

The goblins function like an independent nation within Britain. They don’t cooperate with investigations, never divulge the contents of vaults, and won’t even confirm certain people have accounts. There are more than enough powerful wizarding families who like it that way for the laws to have never been changed. Not to mention no one wants a bloody Goblin War on their hands again.

For the first time, Harry turns around and fully focuses on Rosier. “How the hell did you get this?”

Rosier leans his hip against the desk. “Did you know that they often come in pairs?”

“What?” Harry says. The financial quirks of the rich and pureblooded have never been something he’s been exposed to. Other than Sirius making sport of them.

Rosier nods. “The goblins keep the originals of course—good luck getting your hands on those—but a lot of the snobbier pureblood families don’t really trust non-wizards. So they demand magically cloned copies. That way they can make sure the goblins aren’t ripping them off.”

Harry touches the book. “So this…”

“Is a family copy,” Rosier confirms. “You wouldn’t believe what people leave lying around during a ball.”

“You stole it?”

“I borrowed it,” he corrects. “It struck me that the thirteen people who escaped Azkaban were all filthy rich. I thought a look at their accounts might be…illuminating. If only a way could be found.”

Harry looks down at the ledger, a flare of hope and purpose burning in his chest. “Christ, Rosier.”

“Now, they’re family accounts, not just a for an individual person, so it’s hard to know if the wife is splurging on a new flying carpet or if someone is, say, buying their way out of prison… But what I found really interesting was this.”

He taps the book with his wand, the pages flipping open to settle on a particular page. Harry skims it, almost immediately finding what caught Rosier’s attention. There’s a withdrawal of 50,000 galleons.

Harry whistles. “That’s quite the chunk of change.”

Rosier nods. “Look at the date.”

Harry expects it to be from the year of the Azkaban escape, but it’s not. In fact, it’s much later.  

Harry drags out the file on Thorfinn Rowle, flipping it open just to confirm. “A week after he was Kissed.”

“Seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? Not to mention the regular expenditures that seem a bit high for wine and canapés.”

Harry looks up at him in disbelief. “You’ve got a really strange skill set there, Rosier.”

He shrugs. “Sometimes everyone assuming you’re a pureblood wanker has its benefits.”

Harry meets Rosier’s eye, knowing this is a shot at him as much as anyone. And Harry can’t even say he doesn’t deserve it. But he has other things to worry about at the moment.

Because Nott was also part of the Azkaban Thirteen. And less than a week after killing him, Byron retired. Retired and disappeared into a bottle because of something that happened. Something he saw or did that someone took extreme measures to make sure he never told anyone about.

What would the Nott ledger look like?

“Do you think you could get your hands on more of these?” Harry asks.

“Maybe,” he says. “It’ll take time though.”

Despite the blood pounding away in his head, the theories already coalescing, Harry forces himself to shrug with an ease he doesn’t feel. “That’s fine. It’s not like the case is going anywhere. It’s so cold it’s practically carved of ice.”

Rosier doesn’t look convinced, his eyes narrowing. “You aren’t about to run off on me again, are you?”

Harry gives him an easy smile. “Couldn’t even if I wanted to, could I? I still haven’t been cleared for field duty.”

Eventually, Rosier nods. “Okay. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Good.” More evidence is important, almost as much as keeping Rosier busy. “And maybe by the time you do, I’ll be allowed to do more than sit here and stare at my walls.”

Rosier laughs. “I wouldn’t put it past Gerhardt to bribe the medic just to make you miserable for longer.”

Harry forces a smile despite the frisson of unease he feels chase down his spine. “I wouldn’t either.”

“I’ll let you know what I find,” he says, walking out.

“Rosier,” Harry says, that little voice at the back of his head getting loud again.

His partner pauses. “Yeah?”

“Who else knows about this?” he asks, gesturing at the ledger.

Rosier shakes his head. “No one.”

Harry takes a moment to judge his sincerity. “Keep it that way, will you?”

Rosier’s motives may still be murky at best, and Harry sure as hell doesn’t trust him, but that doesn’t mean he deserves to end up as collateral damage. There’s been more than enough of that already.

After giving Harry a long searching gaze, he nods. “Sure.”

Harry gets up and shuts the door behind Rosier, wishing he could cast a few extra privacy wards. He sits back down with the ledger. A bunch of numbers in an illegally obtained book are circumstantial at best. Enough to start a theory building in Harry’s head, but not enough to prove anything. Not enough to provide names. Not enough to figure out exactly what happened with Byron.

But if this is what Harry is starting to suspect it is, there is proof. And he thinks he knows just where to find it too.

*     *     *

Ginny’s just sat down to dinner when there’s a knock on her door. Crossing over to open it, she’s surprised to see that it’s Harry.

“Hey,” he says, smiling warmly at her.

“Hey,” she says, pulling the door open.

She watches him as he walks inside. It’s been nearly a week since she saw him last. He still looks worn and exhausted, but also seems perfectly calm, nothing left of his shaking desperation. She’d wondered at the back of her mind if he was avoiding her, feeling embarrassed.

There’s nothing of that today though.

He comes to a stop by the table, looking down at the food on her plate. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s fine,” she says.

“At least finish eating,” he says. “I can wait.”

He sits across from her, and yes, she’s shagged him on and around this table several times, but seeing him pull his coat off and hang it on the back of one of the chairs is entirely different. He’s wearing worn jeans and a soft-looking flannel shirt rolled up to his elbows, and it’s hot, yes, but also something else far more dangerous.

“Um,” she says, gesturing at her plate. “Want anything?”

He shakes his head. “No, thanks. I’ve already eaten.”

Maybe he doesn’t want it to be that weird either. She’s glad.

“You’re better?” she asks, eyes lingering on his hands where he has them folded on the table.

“Yes,” he says, flexing his fingers. “Just like new. Guess I just needed a little rest.”

He casually refills her glass with a simple flick of his wand as if to prove it, but she can’t help but feel like he’s lying.

It isn’t any of her business, she tells herself.

They fall into silence as she eats. Conversation has always come less easily when they aren’t naked.

“I’m heading out in the morning,” he says after a while, fingers tapping against the table.

“Yeah?” He occasionally tells her when he’s going to be gone for an extended period, but infrequently enough that this strikes her as an anomaly. She doesn’t need to know where he is every hour of the day.

It inexplicably sets her on edge.

He nods. “There’s something I need to take care of.”

She wants to ask if that’s wise, thinking of him in that alleyway, fractious and on edge, unable to complete a simple charm.

He’s better, she reminds herself.

“May be a bit of a long one,” he says.

She almost asks if it’s going to be dangerous, but she’s not so naive as to not realize that they’re always dangerous.

“Okay,” she says instead.

Deciding she’s eaten enough, and not because of this heavy, uncomfortable weight in her stomach, she gets to her feet, plate in hand.

He catches her arm as she passes on her way to the kitchen. “Ginny.”

There’s an earnestness in his voice that makes her body tense. She looks down at his face, the open, almost vulnerable look on it, and feels panic flare in her chest, like they’ve been teetering on the edge for so long and this just might be the tipping point.

“Don’t,” she says, voice rough. “Don’t fuck up a good thing.”

For a moment he looks like he might push or deny it, but instead he gets up and kisses her, something hard and deep and completely enveloping as his hands bury in her hair. She drops the plate back to the table, not particularly caring of the mess as he continues to kiss and kiss and kiss her, enough that she begins to feel like he’s never actually done it before. Not really.

He lifts her up, her legs wrapping around his waist, and walks them back into her bedroom, all the while never breaking the relentless kiss. She doesn’t know if he just doesn’t want her talking or if this is something else.

It feels a lot like something else.

He places her on the edge of the bed, lowering himself to his knees in front of her. She usually pulls her own clothes off, but he bats her fingers away, slowly removing them himself, his eyes never leaving her face. She tries to think of something to say, something to break this strange intensity, but all she can do is watch as he strips her.

He doesn’t immediately reach for her, rather letting his eyes trail over her, and she has the completely ridiculous thought that he’s memorizing her.

He stands, and before he can start shedding his own clothing, she finds herself reaching for the buttons on his shirt. She darts a look at his face, feeling off-kilter and strangely unsure of herself. She doesn’t know how to deal with this particular version of Harry, but he just looks back at her, eyes deeply intense, his fingers gently brushing her hair back from her face as he patiently waits for her to help him out of his clothes.

She undoes another button on his shirt, lowering her face to his chest to hide from that gaze, lips and then tongue following, Harry’s breathing coming out as a rush. She lingers in the feel of it, pushing away everything but the taste of his skin, the smell and feel of it. The quiet rasp of his breathing, his fingers in her hair.

Once he is completely divested of clothing, she pushes back to her feet and he lays her back on the bed, climbing up after her. His mouth and hands are everywhere, like he’s mapping her body, her own hands restless as they skim the planes of his body, so familiar now as his muscles bunch and shift under her palms.

Only after this thorough exploration does he finally slide into her, his face turned into her neck. He moves with focused intent, something smooth and aching and so fucking good. It rolls and builds like waves, like the tide sweeping in, more and more inescapable. She gasps, her fingers pressing into his back as he whispers her name like a benediction, the first word between them since this began. It seems to stretch on forever, bare and raw and something she definitely shouldn’t allow but can’t bear to let go of.

Not a break or a fall, but an undoing.

She can’t catch her breath afterwards, like something painful and heavy is on her chest that isn’t his weight. Her eyes prickle, pressure building at the back of them, and she turns her face to the side, unable to bear looking at him.

He eventually pulls away, lips dragging across her neck and her shoulder, and she forces her fingers into the sheets to keep from holding him in place.

They don’t do post-coital snuggling. They don’t hold each other.

These are things they don’t do.

She rolls away from him onto her side, feeling strangely exposed, like he’s changed all the rules on her without warning. She drags the blanket up over herself, curling her knees into her chest.

They lie silent in the dark for a long while.

“Gin,” he eventually says, voice barely a whisper, but that dangerous softness still audible.

She doesn’t stir, keeping her breathing long and slow, letting him think she’s asleep. And yes, she’s a bloody coward, but she can’t give him this opening, can’t stand to let him ruin everything.

He lets out a breath, almost a sigh, his hand ghosting her hip. He’s quiet for a long time, so long she very nearly does actually doze off.

“I love you, Ginny,” he says, so quiet she can barely hear him.

But she does. She does hear him.

He rolls off the bed and is gone.

Chapter Text

11.

Ginny is furious.

She’s a whirling ball of rage out on the pitch, enough that her teammates have started giving her a wide berth. Her manager just yells at her to save it for their upcoming match.

She does somehow pull it together, but only because she knows she’s stupid when she’s this angry, and the last thing she needs on top of everything is an injury.

“What crawled up your arse and died, Weasley?” one of the beaters calls across the locker room.

“Your talent,” she snaps back, slamming the door to her locker closed on the sound of her other teammates crowing with approval at the brutal riposte.

“Damn, Weasley,” their seeker murmurs in amusement. He smiles at her, and he may not be as useless as the average seeker, but she still isn’t exactly in a place to be charitable to fucking seekers.

Ginny grabs her stuff and leaves before she can burn any bridges.

Her anger follows her home, of course. Goes everywhere with her these days. Mostly because it all boils around one simple fact—she’s going to have to say no the next time Harry shows up. And not just ‘no’ that one time. No for good. It’s all done.

She’s angry because part of her wonders if she’ll be able to do it. Just because he’s ruined everything doesn’t mean she’s any less eager to shag him. But this is done.

It has to be.

She spends the first few days reminding herself of these simple facts. Is rather grateful to have the time.

Then a full week passes. Plenty of time to build up her resolve.

She has matches and practices and travels out of town once, and after the initial burn of anger settles down, she doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about him. It doesn’t matter that even Ron has no idea where he’s gone. That no one has heard a word from him.

He’s been gone this long before, she reminds herself, but she’s still thinking about that day in the alley, his barely contained fury and his useless fucking hands.

The knock on her door finally comes after two weeks.

She calms her heart and swallows back the relief, and tells herself firmly that she can have one last shag to get him out of her system and then it will be done. She’ll find someone more convenient.

She pulls the door open, only it isn’t Harry.

It’s Ron.

The wave of disappointment that threatens to swamp her is a giant problem, but she has her brother to focus on at the moment.

“Ginny,” he says.

She realizes with a jolt that his eyes are rimmed red.

“Oh, Merlin,” she says, stepping towards him. “What’s happened? Is Hermione okay? Is it the baby?”

“No, no. They’re both fine. Everyone in the family is fine, Gin. It’s…”

She frowns, not understanding. Because it’s not family, and who else would he possibly come here about—

“Harry?” she somehow manages to force out, that horrible feeling of dread that’s been simmering in her stomach exploding into buzzing in her ears.

Ron nods.

“Is he okay? Is he hurt?” His fucking hands and how dare he go on that stupid mission and what were his superiors even thinking?

“It’s—he’s—” Ron reaches out and takes her arms, fingers firm.

She feels it dawn slowly, painfully, these words he can’t bring himself to say. She shakes her head, refusing this. Refusing bloody everything.  

“Gin,” he says, not taking it back. “There was a mission and he—they say he—” He breaks off. “He’s gone.”

He’s not gone. Can’t possibly be gone. He was just here. Not even a month ago. He was here. Sitting at her table. Sleeping in her bed. Burying his face in her hair.  

Telling her he loved her.

“No,” she says.

“I’m sorry,” Ron manages, like he needs her to understand it, to really get it. “He’s dead.”

“No, he bloody well is not!” she says, shoving at his chest, and Ron just stands there and takes it, as she hits him again and again.

He pulls her into a hug and she doesn’t cry, doesn’t have a single tear, just a jagged ripped-out hole where she never knew she was holding anything in the first place.

None of it means anything. Not her brother’s arms or his words or the details he can’t give no matter how often she demands them.

She lies in bed that night, staring up at the dark of her ceiling and considers moving flats. Burning this bed. She can find a way out of her contract.

She can get away. Maybe to the Americas this time. Or Africa. Maybe just leave quidditch behind once and for all. What the fuck does it matter anyway?

She builds plans and contingencies, just keeping her head busy, busy, busy.

She tries, tries so damn hard, but in the early hours of the morning her exhaustion takes over and she can’t help it.

That last night with Harry rises up in her mind with horrible specificity, and only as it replays moment by moment does she realize how badly she misread it. He wasn’t trying to ask her for more. He wasn’t trying to complicate anything or break the rules. He was saying goodbye.

Like he knew he probably wasn’t coming back.

“You arsehole,” she says. “You bloody fucking arsehole.”

She rolls over, burying her face in the pillow he had no damn right to make his own.

*     *     *

There isn’t a funeral. Harry doesn’t have any family, which she supposes must explain it. There’s probably a grave somewhere, but she hasn’t asked where. Meaning there’s no place to say goodbye or end this somehow, and Ginny’s left with a festering empty place with no explanations for why.

Without much organization, people gravitate to the pub they’ve made their local the last few months, wanting to be with each other, to talk about him.

“He’ll have a spot on the wall,” Ron tells her, referring to the memorial in the auror department. A sea of notches on a wall of sacrifice.

“What good does that do anyone?” Ginny wants to know.

“It’s all we have.”

It isn’t enough. Not nearly enough.

Ginny sits at the table, surrounded by the people who cared about Harry. They all seem to fade away though. She feels numb, smothered. Like she’s underwater. Everything is soft edges and garbled tones, except the sharp pain in her chest like the straining last breath before sucking in nothing but water. Like she’s moments away from drowning.

Is this what it felt like for him in the end? Or was it quick? Did it hurt?

The door to the pub opens with a bang, Ginny looking up, like maybe it will be him. That he’ll show up and say it was all a mistake and take her back to the storage room and fuck her and tease her about missing him.

Only he won’t.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

Nothing but a body.

That’s all he ever was supposed to be. Right, Ginny?

She shoves to her feet, everyone reaching to steady their drinks as she accidentally jostles the table.

“Ginny?” Ron asks, voice muddled as if from far away.

“I’m going home,” she announces.

Ron and Hermione share a look. “Is Luna back?”

“Yeah,” Ginny lies.

Ron looks relieved like she knew he would, and she’s able to leave without any further fight.

Luna might actually be home, Ginny isn’t certain, but it doesn’t matter anyway because she doesn’t go home, instead finding herself at Harry’s flat because clearly she hates herself.

The door opens under her hand, still keyed and waiting for her. Inside, the rooms are quiet and empty. Which of course they would be. The flat already has the hollow, neglected feeling of an abandoned space. No sign that someone once lived here. Once breathed and ate and slept and shagged.

The flannel shirt he wore the last time she saw him is carelessly strewn across the back of the sofa. Still resting right where he left it, the last time he was here.

Turning away from it, Ginny crosses into his bedroom.

The closet door is slightly ajar, as if he hadn’t managed to get it shut properly, or left in a rush. She can see the slight movement of her poster inside, pulling the door the rest of the way open.

She stares unseeing at the hypnotic movement of the broom moving against an unfelt wind.

Her eyes fall on the thick grey wool of his auror uniform, still hanging perfectly pressed and waiting. She touches the grey stripe, resentment for the fucking job that took him from her flaring in her stomach. She wrenches them down off the hangers, throwing them to the floor.

Climbing up on the bed, she curls herself around his pillow and finally lets herself cry.

She wakes the next morning to the sharp annoyance of a beam of light in her eyes. She rolls over, the other side of the bed stretching empty. It’s the first time she’s ever stayed the entire night.

Did you really think he would somehow miraculously come back?

There’s a paperback on the bedside table, a ratty piece of parchment marking his place. Pulling herself up against the headboard, she reaches over, picking the book up, reading a few words on the last page he read. Setting it aside, she reaches for the small leather box sitting next to a Muggle-style clock.

It creaks a bit as she opens the lid. The first thing she sees is a galleon, realizing after a moment of staring that it is the companion to her own. The one keyed for their communication. Underneath is a small and no doubt precious collection of photographs, names and dates carefully written on the backs. One is of a large gathering of people including a quite young Harry with people called names like Sirius and Regulus and Mad-Eye and Fabian and Alice.

Near the bottom is a photograph of two people, dancing in each other’s arms. Lily and James Potter-1979, the inscription says. Harry’s parents.

Ginny reaches for the last picture, completely unprepared to see her own face staring back up at her. It’s been carefully clipped from the newspaper, Ginny smiling broadly, flush with victory after a match.

I love you, Ginny.

Dropping the pictures and galleon back in the box, Ginny scrambles up off the bed and abandons the flat. She has no idea where she is going, just knows that she can’t stay in that place a moment longer. She practically runs down the stairs, bursting out into the small alleyway. Without even bothering to make sure she’s unobserved, she turns on the spot, no clear destination in mind, and she’s asking to be splinched, or far worse, but miraculously reappears whole and uninjured, like maybe she knew where she wanted to go all along.

She’s in another alleyway, this one narrow and lined with trash, the brick walls covered with graffiti.

Of course she came here.

Harry’s hands in her hair, her back hard against the wall as he fought against whatever the hell was chasing him, as he tried to forget it all here with her. His shaking hands and his wild eyes and his don’t fucking ask.

She should have asked.

She leans her head against the wall, trying to breathe, trying to make everything stop spinning. To just make it all stop.

After long moments, she realizes she’s staring at a small brass plaque, dull with grime.

R. J. Lupin, Healer

Ginny leans back, looking up the façade of the building. For the first time she bothers to wonder why Harry was here. Where he’d come from. She considers the narrow door with chipped black paint.

Without giving it any more thought, she reaches for the handle, the door groaning as she pushes it open. Inside is a dim foyer that empties immediately into a narrow staircase. She starts up it, and halfway to the third floor she passes through a set of wards, the feel of them pressing and elastic against her skin before dissipating. A muggle-repelling ward more than likely, and a proximity alert.

Sure enough, when she finally makes her way to a door with another rusty plaque with R. J. Lupin, Healer upon it, there is already someone waiting for her inside.

The small reception area has a clean but worn sofa and a desk with no one sitting behind it. The only person inside is a man in robes that might have once been the sharp lime green of a Healer. His face is scarred and nearly as threadbare as his offices.

“Miss Weasley,” he says.

She’s startled to hear her name. “You know who I am?”

A tight flicker of what might be called a smile crosses his face briefly before disappearing. “I knew your parents. A lifetime ago.”

“Did you?” she says, wondering if she’s imagining that the name Lupin sounds slightly familiar.

“Would you care to come through?” he asks, gesturing at the small examination room behind him.

She follows him inside, this room looking slightly more lived-in than the sad-looking reception area. Faded blue curtains anemically flutter in the slight breeze coming through an open window. A desk piled high with texts and papers is against one wall, a low padded table no doubt meant for examinations dominating the center.

Ginny avoids it, instead looking at a wall covered in framed documents. There’s a bright spot of wallpaper where it looks like something was recently taken down.

“You haven’t been sleeping,” Lupin says. “Did you come for a potion?”

“You were treating him,” she realizes. That’s what he was doing here.

“Who?” he asks, the question obviously a weak attempt to deflect.

“Harry,” Ginny says, turning around to look at him. “You were treating him.”

His face seems to shutter, though whether out of defense, or pain, she can’t quite tell. “I can’t discuss my patients.”

But she doesn’t have patience for oaths and morality today. “You must have seen how sick he was!” she bursts out, something inside her seeming to finally crack and give way, a wall of burning anger and grief crawling up her throat. “How the fuck could they have sent him on a mission? How could they do that?”

And she realizes, with painful clarity, that what she’s really here for is answers. For someone to explain to her how he could possibly be dead.

Only Lupin doesn’t have anything for her, his lips pressed together and eyes swimming with grief.

She looks around the room again. Why the hell was Harry coming here? Lupin could just be a particularly great healer, but that doesn’t seem to be true. There are framed documents on the walls, his credentials and permits and degrees. But there is also a framed decree of sorts.

British Ministry of Magic Registration of Half-Breed Status

He’s a werewolf.

He meets her gaze squarely as if expecting her to turn and bolt, or fling insults. Or maybe just recoil. But she’s too busy connecting all the dots—the date of the decree, old and browned from the early days of the regime. But even more telling is the dislodged frame sitting across a pile of papers on the desk—a photo of Lily and James Potter with a small baby in their arms—like Lupin had just been looking at it.

She picks up the photo. “You were part of the group that raised him.”

“The last one left,” he says, sounding worn out and old and heartbroken.

So Harry came here out of nostalgia? Or trust? Meaning he didn’t think he could trust anyone else?

“You aren’t a Ministry Healer,” she says.

“No. I am not.”

She puts the photo back down. “What was wrong with him?”

She expects resistance, but instead he just drags his hands through his thinning hair. “I don’t know,” he says.

How could he not know? “The Manasectum—”

Lupin shakes his head. “It wasn’t that. His magic was failing.”

Ginny feels a jolt in her chest. “Magic doesn’t just fail.”

“No, it doesn’t. His body was fine, but his magic was getting weaker and weaker. Almost like he was losing it. But he’s—” he pauses a moment, wincing over his tenses—“he was young for that kind of affliction. At least for it to occur naturally.”

“And unnaturally?” she asked.

“Curses can compound,” he says with a shrug.

“Yes,” Ginny says. “They can. But you don’t sound convinced.”

He blows out a breath, his placidity shattering as he paces away. “Honestly? If I put aside logic and diagnostics and everything the facts are telling me? I would say he was being poisoned.”

Poisoned?” Ginny says.

“It’s impossible,” he says. “I checked everything.”

Ginny closes her eyes. Whatever the reason, the simple fact was that Harry could barely do rudimentary magic, and that was weeks ago. But he seemed to rally. Said he was doing better.

Enough to go on a mission. A mission that killed him.

“How could he even function?” she asks, more rhetorical than anything.

Only Lupin answers. “I gave him potions.”

She rounds on him, her anger flaring again in a moment. “Why the fuck would you do that?”

Lupin sits down, his entire body seeming to deflate. “He knew it was only short term, that it might only make things worse, but I…” He shakes his head. “He was going to do it either way.”

“Do what?”

He seems to remember himself, his expression once more shuttering. “No. That’s not—”

She takes another step closer. “Do what ?”

“He wouldn’t want you involved in this, Ginny.”

Everything seems to sharpen, that pressing feeling of moving through water giving way to a painful sort of clarity that makes it hard to breathe. “I thought you said you knew me because of my parents.”

He winces. “I did know your parents. But Harry also…he mentioned you.”

Her heart clenches. “He wouldn’t want me involved in what?”

Lupin stands. “You clearly meant a lot to him, Ginny. And I’m more sorry than I can say that it ended like this. He deserved…” He shakes his head, lifting his chin. “But if I know one thing for certain, it’s that he wouldn’t want you to be placed in any danger.”

Ginny feels a prickle of sensation up the back of her neck. “If he died on a mission, died doing his job, if it was just a routine field accident like they say, then why the hell would I be in danger?”

But Lupin won’t be moved, no matter what she says or threatens, refusing to tell her anything else. Then again, he doesn’t have to. She knows there is more to this now.

Because she has a little voice at the back of her head, too. And it says this is utter bullshit.

*     *     *

The good thing about Hermione’s pregnancy and Ron’s obsession with talking about it is that their movements are very predictable. It takes barely any effort for Ginny to track them down having lunch at a local deli.

Ron looks up as she walks in, clearly surprised to see her. “Gin,” he says, looking around. “Grab another chair.”

But Ginny has no interest in a chair or lunch or a casual chat. “I want to see the report.”

“What?” Ron asks, frowning up at her in genuine confusion.

“The report,” Ginny repeats. “Harry’s last mission. I want to read it.”

Ron’s eyes widen, darting a look around at the other customers. “Ginny, those reports are classified, you know that.”

“Hermione could get it,” she says, turning her attention to her sister-in-law. She’s been climbing the ranks through the Magical Law Bureau, and they are the one part of the government with any oversight over the aurors.

Hermione sucks in a breath of surprise before letting out a sound like a hiss. She leans in, one hand pressed to her visibly swollen stomach. “Not without breaking a dozen laws. And showing it to you could land me in Azkaban!”

Ginny feels frustration well up inside of her. She can’t very well ask Hermione to risk that, especially not in her condition. But she also isn’t willing to let this go.

“Then don’t show it to me. But I need you to read it. I need you to read it and tell me that nothing seems…off about it. That it makes sense. That he didn’t—” Horribly, her voice breaks, her words failing her, and Ron and Hermione’s expressions shift from shock to pity.

“Ginny,” Hermione says, voice soft. “It’s natural that you’d be curious, but you—”

The anger rushes back, and she’s really beginning to feel like a fucking boomerang at this point. She forces herself to swallow back her anger. “I’m not curious , Hermione. I just… I need this. Okay? I need this.”

“Considering this is about someone you were just mindlessly shagging, you seem awfully keen,” Ron says, clearly feeling defensive over what she’s asking his wife to risk.

Normally Ginny would rip his head off for that, curse him at the very least, but instead she just holds Hermione’s gaze. “Please.”

After a long moment, Hermione nods.

“Hermione,” Ron protests, but Hermione puts her hand over his.

“I’ll do it,” she says.

“Thank you,” Ginny says.

Hermione nods. “Now, are you going to stay and eat?”

Ginny shakes her head. “Let me know after you’ve done it.”

Then she walks out of the deli.

She winds up back at Harry’s place, picking up the flannel shirt off the back of the sofa and pulling it on. She curls up on the sofa and tries to sleep. She feels like she’s barely managed to doze off when someone is shaking her awake.

“Ginny.”

She looks up, blearily taking a moment to register her brother leaning over her. “Ron?”

“We’ve been looking for you everywhere,” he says.

Hermione is there too, clutching a thick file to her chest.

“You got it?” Ginny says. “You took it? You shouldn’t have risked that. How did you even get it?”

“It was already in the office,” she says. “Though it’s technically not supposed to be released until next week. After I looked at it, I knew it was worth the risk.”

Ginny frowns, wondering if her brain is still half asleep. Auror reports, especially grey-stripe reports, are heavily redacted, even for the Wizengamot. “Those files are classified.”

“It’s standard procedure,” Ron says, lowering himself into a chair. “To declassify reports when an auror goes rogue.”

“Rogue?” Ginny echoes incomprehensibly.

“Just look at it,” Hermione says, placing it on the table in front of her.

It’s a thick file, but Hermione flips it towards the back. A quick glance at the dates on the forms confirming that it is from the mission Harry died on. There’s a blurry photo of Harry talking to someone and she isn’t prepared for it, seeing his face. She breathes out hard through her nose, forcing her eyes to focus on the text below. It describes how Harry was discovered meeting with a foreign agent and caught in the act of selling state secrets.

Ginny turns the page to be confronted with an image of Harry’s companion splayed on the ground, his torso nearly ripped in half from a brutal cutting spell, his eyes staring up vacantly. She forces her gaze away, looking instead at the text.

Upon being cornered, Potter immediately turned on his informant, murdering the wizard without compunction before he could be stopped. He clearly did not want us to discover what information had been exchanged.

It goes on to detail that Harry resisted when the aurors attempted to take him into custody. It claims Harry used a Killing Curse, just barely missing one of the aurors before they were driven to use lethal force to stop him.

There had been signs of Potter’s instability stretching back months, but it was—

The page ends, but Ginny doesn’t turn it, not wanting to be met with an image of Harry’s staring face, that final image she would never be able to unsee. Suddenly she doesn’t want the details, not wanting to know what spell killed him or what kind of damage he may have taken.

She flips instead to the beginning of the file, noticing the dates, the thoroughness of the information. It stretches back for more than a year.

“So they shared this file with the Wizengamot because…”

Ron nods. “Because Harry’s going to be officially disavowed.”

“They claim he was working for the other side,” Hermione says. “That he was mentally unstable and shared classified information with foreign agents. Sold it for money.”

They think I’m cracking.

Ron sighs. “The bit about him dying on a mission is just the public cover story.”

“There’s evidence against him here going back months,” Ginny says, voice hollow.

“Ginny,” Ron says, kneeling down next to her, hands tight on her knees. “I know Harry. There is absolutely no way he was traitor. He just—”

“I know,” Ginny says. “I know that. What I don’t get is… He’s dead. Why do this? This file goes back months. Years. This isn’t some whim. It took them time to make something like this. There’s even pictures.”

“Someone clearly wants him defamed,” Hermione says.  

Ginny nods. “Okay. But why? And who?”

“The only thing I can think of,” Ron says, “is that Harry found something someone really didn’t want him to.”

He wouldn’t want you messed up in this.

“Someone inside the aurors?” Ginny asks, feeling, for a moment, as if she is floating above her own body, watching this all from afar.

“If this file is a lie,” Hermione says, “it’s the only explanation for it.”

“Of course it’s a lie!” Ron says.

Ginny ignores her brother’s indignation, still feeling like it’s all far, far away. “They killed him for it,” she says. “Because of whatever he found.”

“This is all just speculation,” Hermione says. “There’s no real way to know.”

Only Ginny does know. It was never some bloody accident on a case. This was no heroic death in the field. Someone did this. On purpose. And with deliberation.

And he knew. He knew there was a very good chance he would never come back.

I love you, Ginny.

“I mean, I knew things weren’t great at work for him,” Ron is saying. “His boss didn’t exactly love him. But this…” He shakes his head.  

Ginny is thinking back over every instance Harry ever mentioned his job. “He was getting pushed out.”

The forced vacations, the long training assignments, his boss’s angry voice at the hospital after Harry’s careless mishap: Or consider a different goddamn career. No one is an auror forever.

But above all, a quiet confession in the dark of her room.

They think I’m cracking.

Ginny lifts her arms, pressing her hands to the top of her head. “He suspected something was going on. Everything seemed to be pointing to the fact that he was going barmy, losing his nerve, but he thought it was something else, something more. I told him…” She looks up at her brother, eyes stinging. “I told him to listen to his instincts.”

“Ginny,” he says, voice strangled.

She shoves to her feet. “I told him to listen to his instincts, and now he’s dead.”

“This isn’t your fault, Ginny.”

But he doesn’t understand. “You didn’t see him! You didn’t see how sick he was!”

“Sick?” he asks.

She wipes at her face. “He was losing his magic. Could barely do the simplest spells. Magical degeneration.”

“Magical degeneration,” Hermione says incredulously. “He’s only thirty.”

Ginny throws her hands up, pacing away and trying to pull herself back together.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Hermione says.

“You don’t think,” Ron says into the heavy silence. “You don’t think the sickness… that wasn’t because of this, right? I mean, could they have been trying to get rid of him that badly?”

“You mean losing his magic?” Hermione says.

“Yeah,” Ron says.

I would say he was being poisoned.

Was it possible? Could they really have—

Pulling her wand, Ginny conjures her patronus. “Tell Remus Lupin, ‘Come to Harry’s flat immediately.’” The mare turns and gallops off through the wall in search of the healer.

“Remus Lupin?” Ron says. “As in from the Order?”

She nods. “He was treating Harry.”

“Bloody hell,” Ron says in awe.

“You think he can help explain any of this?” Hermione asks.

“He knows way more than he’s letting on.” And she has no intention of letting him get away with it any longer.

She will have her answers.

“You think he’ll come?” Hermione asks.

“He will.”

She wonders if she should have been more specific in her directions, or if she’s assuming too much about Harry and Lupin’s relationship. She looks at the door.

“Wait.” Ginny turns to her brother. “How did you get in here?”

Ron shrugs. “Harry keyed my wand a long time ago.”

That makes sense, but the crawling sensation at the back of her neck hasn’t dissipated. “And Hermione’s?”

They look at each other. “No,” Hermione says. “This is the first time I’ve been here. He usually comes round to our place.”

Without another word, Ron darts over to the small utility closet by the kitchen. He isn’t in there for long. “The wards have been stripped,” he reports, face pale.

“Harry’s been gone for almost three weeks, they could have—” Hermione starts to say.

Ron is already shaking his head, getting there before Ginny can. “Harry was almost fanatical about keeping them up. There is no way he let them degrade.”

“Meaning someone else has been here,” Ginny says.

The place suddenly feels corrupted, the idea that someone came here, dug around Harry’s things. The vastness of what all these little pieces seem to be pointing to is dizzying and frightening as hell.

“Ron,” Hermione says, voice stricken as she looks at her husband. Some sort of silent communication seems to travel between them, and then Ron is nodding firmly, pulling his wand and moving around the flat.

“There’s nothing,” he says after a protracted search. “No eavesdropping spells. We should be alright.”

“We need to know what Harry discovered,” Hermione says, voice clearly shaken.

They all sit with the gravity of that for a moment, of wading into whatever it was that got Harry killed. Of risking the same fate themselves.

“If he kept his evidence at the office,” Ron says, “it’s probably already gone. And we have to assume anything he had here was taken as well.” Without warning, he takes a step forward, kicking an ottoman in frustration.

“Ron,” Hermione says, voice soft.

“Sorry,” he murmurs, dragging a hand through his hair. “I just wish he’d bloody said something. We could have maybe—”

Hermione touches his arm. “He couldn’t, you know that.”

Ron nods miserably. “Maybe if I’d stayed in the aurors…”

Ginny turns away, unable to listen to her brother play a pointless game of what ifs. She finds herself staring at Harry’s collection of muggle DVDs in his bookshelf. She reaches out, touching the spines, reading the bizarre titles.

She closes her eyes, thinking of him sitting on her couch, his arm around her shoulders. His voice light and teasing.

Aren’t you going to watch the movie?

Her eyes snap open. “Ginny Weasley has a hot arse.”

“What?” Ron asks.

She turns to look at him. “How many people in the Auror department are comfortable with muggle computers?”

“Almost none,” Ron says with a snort. “Used to drive Harry barmy. No one seeing any value in it.”

Hermione frowns. “Well, to be fair, they wouldn’t work all that well in the Ministry. They blew up the few times anyone even tried if I recall.” She turns to look at Ginny, her eyes narrowed. “Why do you ask?”

Ginny looks at her. “Harry has a laptop.”

“Find it,” Hermione says, clearly realizing the implications of that as well.  

They’ve just finally located the laptop when the front door to the flat pushes open. Ron and Ginny spin around, wands out.

It’s Remus Lupin, his own wand similarly pulled. “What is this?”

Ginny stows her wand. “Read that,” she says, pointing to the file still sitting on the coffee table.

He glances at the three of them before slowly complying, sitting down and pulling the file into his lap.

“I need a password for the laptop,” Hermione says from where she’s sitting at the kitchen table with the laptop.

“Ginny Weasley has a hot arse,” Ginny says. “All one word.”

Hermione raises an eyebrow but doesn’t ask. “Yes. That’s it. I’m in.”

“Is there anything?” Ron asks, clearly impatient.

“Give me a minute,” Hermione says, pulling her lower lip between her teeth in concentration. “There’s some text files here, but they appear to be encrypted. That might take some time to work out. But there’s also a lot of scanned of documents.”

“Documents?” Ron asks, leaning in closer.

She nods, shifting slightly to make more room for him. “Ministry files from the looks of it. That’s very illegal of him.”

“Files on what?” Ginny asks.

Hermione clicks the laptop a few times and images come up on the screen.

“Thorfinn Rowle,” Ginny says, reading the name off the top of the file above the scowling face of the criminal currently rotting away in Azkaban with his soul missing.

Hermione nods. “There seem to be files here on all of the Azkaban Thirteen.” She frowns, leaning forward closer to see something on the screen. “But also…” Another image comes up on the screen, looking like a page with lots of numbers on it. “Is that…a Gringott’s ledger page?”

“How the bloody hell did he get his hands on those?” Ron asks.

Before anyone can even speculate, Lupin comes around the table, standing with the file still in his hands. His face is even more grave than usual. “I know what this file claims,” he says, “but there is no way Harry—”

“We know,” Ginny says, crossing her arms over her chest. “So why don’t you tell us something we don’t know.”

Lupin looks carefully at the three of them, seeming to struggle internally a moment before letting out a breath. “He never said anything specific. He was always careful.”

“Did he say anything generally then?” Ron asks.

“I got the sense that he’d uncovered something in the grey-stripes. Something big. Something he couldn’t risk retiring without figuring out first. Not matter how much it impacted his health.”

“He was going to retire?” Ginny says.

He nods. “Just this one last thing, he said. And then he was out.”

“And you have no idea what was making him sick?” Hermione asks.

He shakes his head. “No. Though after reading this, I think we have to assume it’s not a coincidence.”

Hermione nods sharply, turning back to the laptop. “We’ll just have to hope there are more answers here. Solid proof. It’s going to take time though.”

Lupin regards the laptop as if noticing it for the first time. He reaches out, fingers brushing the corner of the screen where a glittering tuft is sticking out of the worn shellac coating the device.

“Sylph hairs,” Ginny says absently, remembering her conversation with Harry.

“Oh, really?” Hermione says, sounding interested. “I’d heard they were doing some experimentation with those down in the Department of Mysteries. I hadn’t thought about their application to electrical technology though. They interfere with magical signals, you know.”

“Fascinating,” Ron says, looking amused over his wife’s enthusiasm.

“Interfere with magical signals,” Lupin says.

“Yes,” Hermione says, frowning at the screen and clearly only paying half-attention to the conversation. “They might be able to dampen magical fields. Probably explains how Harry could get the laptop to work so well. It’s genius, really.”

But Ginny is barely listening, more interested in the expression on Lupin’s face. “What is it?”

Lupin is still staring at the laptop, his fingers pulling at the loose hair. “It couldn’t possibly…” he says, seeming to be talking to himself more than anything. “But then it wouldn’t show up… merely an absence…”

After letting him go on like this for several minutes, Ginny loses her patience. “Lupin?”

“They were poisoning him,” he says, eyes gleaming. “And I think I know how.”

Without another word, he turns and strides out of the flat.

Ginny shares a look with Ron and Hermione.

“Strange fellow,” Ron mutters.

But Ginny isn’t thinking about Lupin or poison or evidence. There is only one thought in her mind. Someone in the auror office did this. Someone killed Harry. Deliberately. Meticulously.

I need to know what he’s digging into.

“I’ll be back,” Ginny says, collecting her cloak.

“Where are you going?” Ron asks.

“Team meeting,” she says. “It shouldn’t take long. But if I don’t go, I’ll probably get fired. I don’t imagine… I think he’d be mad at me if I screwed this up.”

Hermione reaches out and squeezes her hand. “We’ll see what we can find.”

*     *     *

Ginny doesn’t have a team meeting. Or she might, but doesn’t know nor care. She hasn’t bothered to show up at work in days after all. Nor is she interested in whatever has Lupin all confused and excited. She only has one destination in mind.

She’s been sitting in the lobby of the Ministry Atrium for nearly an hour now. She smiles as people pass by, occasionally talking briefly with a few familiar people.

“Just waiting for my dad,” she says easily.

It’s a long shot, and there’s a chance this will all be for nothing, but she still sits and waits.

It’s nearly seven when Ginny is finally rewarded with a familiar-looking wizard walking out of the lifts. She picks up a newspaper, lifting it as if she’s riveted by a story, one eye watching the figure cross the lobby.

Fortunately he moves towards the long bank of floos rather than the apparition point, so she’s able to follow him out. She waits as long as she dares before stepping into the fireplace herself. She ends up in the women’s loo that is the entry point to the Ministry.

Stepping out onto the street, she peers around the corner where the exit for the men’s loo is. The street isn’t too busy, so she’s able to pick up her quarry easily enough. As they enter the main muggle area of town, his robes subtly shift, now looking more like a muggle trench coat.

Ginny pulls off her own cloak, shrinking it down and shoving it into her purse. Her outfit probably isn’t perfectly muggle-passing, and it’s definitely wrinkled as she’s been wearing the same thing for almost two days now, but it’s the best she’s got at the moment.

Her heart is pounding away as she follows him a half a block back. She lets the objective of this outing propel her forward.

Less than fifteen minutes later, the wizard she’s following disappears into a muggle pub. Casually confirming through the glass that he is actually inside, Ginny ducks into a small deserted alleyway, casting a few spells to adjust her outfit. Content that she is as prepared as she can be, she takes a deep breath and walks into the pub.

The man she’s been following sits at the bar, and Ginny walks up, taking a stool so a few people are between them. She gestures at the drink the woman next to her is having when the bartender comes up, hoping it’s an appropriate choice.

Gripping her wand in her purse, she casts a slight confundus on the bartender, and he walks away convinced that he’s been paid.

The first few sips of the drink hit her hard, reminding her that she hasn’t really eaten anything all day. Was that just this morning that she woke up in Harry’s bed? Just last night that they toasted to his memory in the pub? So much has happened in the last twelve hours that it feels like years might have passed.

Except the raw place in her chest. That is still fresh and seeping, and Harry’s still dead.

Gone, gone, gone.

She forces herself to focus on the task at hand. She’s doing this for him, after all. She’s going to make someone pay.

After another twenty minutes, the couple sitting between them leaves. Ginny uses the little stick in her drink to stir the contents, hyperaware of the picture she presents, the short hem of her skirt, the tumble of her hair.

Sure enough, she can feel eyes on her. She looks up, finding him watching her. She gives him a brief smile before looking away, trying for flattered but hesitant. It’s enough, as he slides a few stools closer.

Ginny lifts her hand to the bartender. “Can I get another, please?” she asks, still not sure what the drink is called.

“I’ll get it,” the man next to her says.

“Oh,” Ginny says. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I insist,” he says, smiling at her. It does nothing to soften his face, the heavy brow and dark eyes. He’s thickset, a sort of solid, muscular build that Ginny’s used to seeing in beaters.

Her hand goes to her purse, finding comfort in the weight of it still being there, the wand carefully tucked out of sight. “Alright,” she agrees, returning his smile.

They chat aimlessly for a while, both of them exchanging fake names and jobs, watching the sport on the telly that Ginny doesn’t have to feign ignorance about.

“Not my sport either,” he says.

Under any other circumstance, she might find it funny, two wizards pretending to be muggles without the other realizing. The next time he says anything even remotely amusing, she laughs, letting her hand casually brush his thigh.

“Do you want to get out of here?” he eventually asks. “Maybe get a bite to eat?”

“Yeah,” she says, leaning closer. “I think I’d like that.”

He leads her out the back rather than the front, a little warning signal going off in her head, but her aim is to get him alone after all, so she follows him without protest. They pass through a dark hallway and out into a small, enclosed courtyard that seems to be for smokers to indulge their habits. It’s completely empty at the moment.

“Wait,” she says, deciding this space is as good as any. She steps up against him, her body almost touching his.

He looks amused, his hands settling on her arms. “Fancy being alone?” he asks.

Ginny slips her hand down into her purse.

“You know,” he says, pulling her closer until he’s nearly speaking into her ear. “I was wondering how long it would take for you to come to me. Though I can’t say I really expected this approach. Not that I’m not enjoying it.”

Her stomach seems to plummet towards her toes, her hand tightening around her wand. “I don’t know what you mean,” she says.

“You’re Potter’s girl,” he says.

She steps back from him, pulling her wand. “You’re going to answer my questions.”

He eyes her wand, not looking at all alarmed. “That’s cute,” he says, and with barely a movement or word on his part, she feels her wand tug from her hands, disappearing into a dark corner.

She feels a flash of real fear as he steps towards her, his expression set.

“I don’t think you really thought this through, sweetheart.”

The fear disappears under a beat of hatred and anger. Did you do it? Was it you that killed him?

His hand closes over her arm, dragging her closer, and Ginny reaches back into her bag again, pulling free with the small thrumming box in her hand, pressing it to his side.

His entire body seizes, his hands going slack as he slides to the ground. His wand comes to rest on the cobblestones near Ginny’s feet. She kicks it far out of reach, dropping the black box with a hiss as the pain in her singed fingers registers.

Retrieving her own wand, she casts wards to make sure they aren’t disturbed, locking his legs so he can’t move even when he recovers.

He eventually shakes his head, his breathing hard as his eyes come back into focus. “What the hell was that?” he asks, his body still weak and useless.

Ginny pulls her fingers out of her mouth. “Taser. Something muggles came up with.” She kicks at the smoking machine. It’s never good for more than one go, ambient magic wreaking havoc on them. But still a good back up, even if she did burn the hell out of her fingers. “I never did like being completely dependent on my wand.”

Rosier starts to laugh. “Fuck. I can see why he likes you so much.”

She’d really been banking on Harry’s partner having no idea who she was. A foolish mistake. “At the hospital,” she realizes.

He nods. “And the office. Those privacy wards aren’t quite as good as he thought they were, for the record.”

She lifts her wand, stepping towards him. “You’re going to tell me exactly what happened to Harry.”

He slips one shaking hand inside his coat, and Ginny doesn’t hesitate, kicking her foot out to press it against his shoulder, heel grinding into his shoulder as her grip on her wand tightens.

He stills. “Relax,” he says, pulling his coat away from his body in slow, exaggerated movements. She can see a file tucked away under the cloth. “May I?”

She nods, still watching him closely as he gingerly pulls a file free, dropping it onto the floor.

She leans down and picks it up, never taking her eyes off him. “What is this?”

“You know, it was my job to spy on him,” he says, voice almost conversational. “Watch him. See what he was up to. It’s why they brought me on in the first place. Gave me this little promotion I hadn’t quite earned yet. And I did my job well. Well enough that I can tell you there is no way he was working for the other side. Not a chance.”

“You were spying on him?”

His expression sobers. “I was told it was just standard observation. That there were some lingering questions over the loyalty of his last partner. Which is obviously bullshit.”

“It was you,” she says, voice catching. “You told them what he was investigating. The thing that made them go after him.”

He shakes his head. “No. I didn’t. I realized months ago that something more was going on. I was careful what I reported. But Harry, well, he managed to ruin all that, running off half-cocked without anyone to watch his back.” His expression hardens. “He should have trusted me.”

Ginny laughs. “Trust the spy?”

His jaw tightens.

Ginny looks down at the file, not really caring what this is about. About files and cases and conspiracies. That’s not why she came here. “I want a name.”

“A name?”

She lifts her wands towards his face. “You think I give a fuck about whatever shite is going on in that cesspit of an office? I want the person who killed him.”

“Killed him?” Rosier echoes.

She lets out a sound of exasperation. “Merlin, did the taser scramble your brains or have you always been this dull? What the fuck did you think I was here for?”

Rosier’s brow furrows. “You’ve read the file about him. The one they are gleefully bandying about the Ministry.”

She nods, feeling her patience splinter. “So what?”

Now he’s the one staring at her as if she’s out of her mind. “Don’t you get it? There was no reason for them to take the time and energy to smear him like that. It was clearly a backup plan. A worst-case scenario. It raises far too many questions to what otherwise could have just been a simple case of mission-gone-bad.”

“I don’t understand,” Ginny says.

“Clearly you don’t. They botched it. They’re covering their arses.” Rosier leans forward, his finger jabbing in the air. “The only reason they release that file is if Harry isn’t dead. If there’s still a chance he might try to come forward.”

Everything swivels for a moment. “But they said—” she says, her voice wavering.

“Merlin, I thought that’s why you were here.” He gets shakily to his feet. She keeps her wand on him, but he seems beyond caring. “I don’t have any way to find him, even if they weren’t watching my every move. And it’s only a matter of time until they rectify their mistake.”

She looks down at the file in her hand, the one she’d been so dismissive of only moments before. “What is this?”

“That is four of the deadliest aurors in our department deployed on some deep-cover mission. Very hush-hush. Only they left two days after Harry did and still haven’t come back.”

Four aurors. Hunting Harry. And they are still out there. If they’d done the job, wouldn’t they have come back by now?

“Where?” she asks, flipping open the file.

Rosier rubs at his arm, wincing. “Somewhere in the vicinity of Munich. That’s as specific as I could get.”

“This report says Lisbon.”

“I know. Look at the second file.”

She glances at it just long enough to see a long list of numbers, receipts attached to the form.

“Expense reports,” Rosier explains. “Always follow the money.”

Ginny’s still just trying to breathe. “You think he’s there still. Somewhere.”

He nods. “And I think he’s in a shitload of trouble. Those aurors, there’s nothing they can’t find. It’s only a matter of time.”

Ginny’s head is buzzing. “I don’t know what you expect me to do.”

His expression softens. “Look, as far as I can tell, they don’t know about you. No one’s watching you. What I want to know is, do you think you could find him? You know him and his friends and family far better than I do.”

She very nearly laughs at that, Rosier clearly having a skewed vision of her relationship with Harry. “He has no family.”

Only he does, she realizes as she says it. The last one left. Is it possible Lupin might be able to find him? Harry spent his formative years with the underground guerrilla group. Is that how he’s still alive?

“Do you think you can do it?” Rosier demands. “Can you find him?”

“I might have a way,” she admits.  

“Okay. Just give me a location and I’ll go get him.”

Ginny refocuses on Rosier, this partner who spied on Harry, who sat by and let this happen. For all she knows, this is a ploy. Or maybe it’s all true, only Rosier’s here to trick her into giving them Harry. To rectify their mistake before it’s all too late.

Rosier must be able to read it all on her face, letting out a soft snort. “Smart,” he says. “You have no reason to trust me.”

“No,” she says. “I don’t.”

“I’d say let me know if there is anything I can do to help, but you won’t will you?”

She starts to back away, needing to get to Harry’s flat, to share this information to Ron and Hermione and Lupin. To make a plan.

To get him back.

“You honestly think he could still be alive?” she asks. “You swear to me this isn’t just some wild pixie chase?”

“I swear. But you’d better be quick.”

She nods, tucking the reports away into her purse, heading for the alley behind the pub.

“I’m curious,” he calls after her. “What would you have done if I wasn’t planning on cooperating?”

She pauses, not looking back at him, not even needing to consider her answer.

“Anything I had to.”

Chapter Text

12.

Harry limps into the abandoned flat, firmly closing the door behind him. He rests back against it and absently surveys the small room. Over a decade has passed since he was last here, but it somehow still looks the same. Enough that a barrage of old memories threatens, only kept at bay by focusing relentlessly on the present.

Not that it’s particularly more pleasant.  

Gathering his strength, he crosses over to the ratty mattress in the corner, collapsing back on it, blackness nearly claiming him as he jostles his leg.

“Fuck,” he gasps.

Lingering here is a terrible idea for a lot of reasons, chief among them that the fidelius on this place has long since been broken. The only protection this so-called safe house has is its obscurity. But the fact is, he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Or the energy to try.

But maybe if he rests. Just for a little bit. Maybe he can find a way out of this mess. He closes his eyes and the image that has haunted him the last four days floods back.

They killed his informant.

He should have fucking known they were on to him by then. His time was running out and he’d needed to take the risk, but his informant ended up paying the price.

Christ, there’d been so much blood.

Harry feels the prickle of shame and rage pressing at the back of his eyes. He’d promised to keep him safe. He’d barely managed to escape himself, using the last of whatever reserves of energy he’d had left to run and apparate away the moment he was free of their wards. Only he’d splinched himself badly, taking a huge chunk out of his left calf. Part of the bone too.

With the last of his supplies he’d managed to staunch the bleeding, but not before he lost more blood than he could afford, and not without leaving a disgusting, gaping wound.

It’ll be a bit of a race, seeing what does him in first—his colleagues-turned-hunters or the infection. His body is burning with heat, red streaks radiating from the wound. It’s hard to tell considering how rank it is in here, but he thinks he can smell the sickly sweet odor of rotting flesh. Something so fucking simple to avoid, if he had any magic left at all.

Remus was right though, of course. The potions helped shore up his magic for a few short weeks, but at the expense of the magical degeneration speeding up. He’s full squib now.

He can’t defend himself. Can’t send a message for help. Can’t heal himself.

Fucking useless.

His only hope had been checking himself into a muggle hospital and praying no one thought to look for him there.

He’d almost made it to one too, but they’d been waiting for him. So back to ground he went, to an old Order safe house. After spending his entire childhood hiding away from the Ministry, here he is again. It would be hilarious if he weren’t so sure he’s going to die.

Maybe that’s fitting. Dying in a place like this.

The flat is wreathed in near darkness when the door creaks open, jolting him back out of his delirium.

And that’s it, he thinks, not even having the strength to lift himself up off the mattress. His fingers fumble for his wand, the wood smooth and familiar, even if there’s no point.

“We finally finishing this?” he asks, voice a pathetic rasp.

And here he hoped to die with some dignity.

The figure doesn’t speak, doesn’t curse him, instead easing cautiously into the weak light coming in through the grimy window.

He’s more delirious than he thought, because as the figure swims into view, it looks disturbingly like Ginny Weasley.

He lets out a hoarse laugh, letting his wand fall back to the mattress. “Well, now I know the fever’s bad,” he mumbles.

“And why is that?” the hallucination asks as she shuts the door behind her, looking around.

He tries to smile at her, feeling a little giddy just at the sight of her, even if he knows there is no way she’s real. She is far, far away. Safe. “If I’m hallucinating you.”

She lifts one perfect eyebrow at him, the gesture so familiar it’s painful. “Am I supposed to be flattered or offended?”

“Flattered,” he says, his eyes drifting shut even as he fights to keep looking at her. He can’t risk closing his eyes if it means she’ll disappear. “Definitely flattered. Though you are wearing more clothes than I’d ideally like.”

If he’s going to die, getting to see imaginary her is better than anything else he can think of. Except maybe a glass of water. Or the real Ginny.

The specter creeps closer. “How much danger are we in?”

He frowns. As if being fully dressed isn’t bad enough, his hallucination is being annoyingly practical. “Quite a lot, actually.”

“They’re still looking for you?”

“Didn’t quite manage the job.” He shifts, grimacing at the pain in his leg. “Though they may yet.”

She lifts her wand, performing a rather impressive series of protective charms he would have done himself if his wand was anything other than a useless piece of wood at the moment. Well, he amends, the wand is probably perfectly useful, just not to him.

She does a fourth ward he isn’t familiar with, the walls pulsing with it as she defines the borders of the protections.

“No need to look quite so surprised,” she says, making her way across the room towards him.

“Those are pretty impressive,” he says.  

“I grew up in a war too, Harry.”

She kneels next to him, close enough that he can make out the freckles across the bridge of her nose, the soft sweep of her eyelashes against her cheeks. God, he even imagines he can smell her, something clean and flowery, creating a deep ache in his chest with the knowledge that he’ll never get to see her again.

“I’m sorry,” he says, the unexpected tide of emotions leaving his voice little more than a croak.

She sits back on her heels, her eyes so horribly sad. “Harry.”

He shakes his head. “You’re never even going to know what really happened to me. Just whatever bollocks they come up with. You’ll never know…”

At least he told her, he reminds himself. At least she knew that .

She lifts her hand towards him.

“Don’t,” he says. He isn’t particularly looking forward to this part, where she touches him and can’t. Where she fades away. “Please don’t.”

He wants her here until the very end.

She hesitates, but only for a moment, her hand continuing its journey. Her fingers brush against his forehead, cool against his burning skin. God, it feels amazing.

So, so real.

Real.

His struggling brain finally catches up to the sensations.

“Holy fucking hell,” he says, nearly coming up off the mattress.

She pulls her hand back. “Did that hurt?”

“You’re here,” he rasps, his hand bumping against her jeans-clad thigh. Solid and warm and real.  

“Yes, Harry,” she says, looking exasperated.

“No,” he says, not understanding why she isn’t getting this. “You’re really fucking here.”

She stubbornly refuses to disappear. “You don’t need to tell me that. I’m not the one who’s delusional.”

“You can’t—” He shoves a hand under his side, trying to lever himself up. “You can’t be here.”

She reaches for him. “Harry, stop. What are you doing?”

“It’s bloody dangerous!” he manages to yell, only to erupt into a series of deep, wracking coughs, white spots exploding in his vision.

“Lie back,” she says, hand on his chest. “Let me have a look at you.”

He still struggles, part of his brain in utter panic at the idea of her really being here. “Do you have any idea how deadly the people who are after me are? I can’t fucking protect you like this.”

He’s useless. Doesn’t she get that?

“Well, then,” she says, digging through a bag hanging from her shoulder. “I’ll just have to protect both of us.”

“Ginny—”

She turns on him, her expression hard and brooking absolutely no argument. “Harry. Lie still or I will hex you, so help me Merlin. A child could knock you on your arse right now.”

He collapses back on the bed because she’s right, of course.

He ran out of potions days ago, but luckily managed to collect enough food and water to last. Until yesterday, that is. Or the day before? He can’t really remember.

“Water?” he manages.

“Fuck. Yes. Of course.” She looks around for a cup, cleaning it with a frown before filling it with a clear stream of fresh water with a simple tap of her wand.

He grabs it before she even finishes, splashing half down his front, but doesn’t care, sucking down as much as he can.

“Slower, slower,” she murmurs, wrapping her arm around his shoulders to support him. “You’re going to make yourself sick.”

Feeling slightly sated, he gasps for breath, letting his forehead rest against her shoulder. He tries to slow his breathing. “Christ,” he says. “How do you smell so good?”

Her arm tightens around him, her face lowering to the top of his head. “Anything would smell amazing compared to you.”

He lets out a laugh, regretting it immediately as he starts to cough yet again.

“Lie back,” she murmurs, lowering him down. She opens her bag, pulling out stoppered potion bottles, considering each one. “Maybe some of the pain potion first. But why didn’t I bring a fever potion?” she says, apparently talking to herself. “A little food to settle his stomach?”

She rattles on a bit, and he just submits himself to her ministrations without resistance.

Between the water, the potions, and Ginny being here, he feels more comfortable than he can remember being in a long while, his brain going fuzzy, his limbs heavy and useless.

There are important things to do. To think about. But he’s just…done.

It takes him a while to realize Ginny has reached for his trousers, undoing the button and zipper.

“Really, Ginny,” he slurs. “I don’t think I’m quite up for it.”

“Shut it,” she says, and drags his trousers down to his knees.

He hisses as she jostles his calf.

“What is it?” she asks, looking at him in alarm.

He shakes his head, but she’s moving closer, cutting away his trousers with efficient wandwork. She curses, clearly catching sight of what’s left of his calf. “What did you do?”

“Splinched,” he gasps, really trying to fight off unconsciousness, but losing the battle quickly.

“Okay. Okay. I’ll deal with that next. But first…” She returns her attention to his thigh, fingers running along the ugly scar there.  

Considering how ill he is, he isn’t sure some old scar is really a top priority.

“Just a theory,” she says, which isn’t particularly helpful. She pulls a knife from her pack.

His eyes widen, some of the fog burning away. “Ginny.”

She meets his eyes. “Do you trust me?”

“You know I do,” he says, too drugged up to even pretend otherwise.

She returns her attention to his thigh. “Not enough to tell me people were trying to kill you.”

He flaps a hand half-heartedly. “People are always trying to kill me.”

“I hate that I can’t even accuse you of being melodramatic.”

He snorts.

She grips his thigh. “Okay. This might hurt.”

Fuck does it ever, the knife slicing down the length of his scar. He only realizes he’s yelling when Ginny starts saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over again, even as she continues cutting at him.

He thinks he must black out at least for a little bit, because when he focuses on her next, she’s pulling a long glittering thread out of his leg.

“What the bloody hell is that?” he mumbles.

“A sylph hair,” she says, throwing it aside. “It’s been slowly poisoning you for months, but only recently reached toxic levels.”

“W-what?” he asks, not sure if she’s not making sense or if his brain is just broken.

Pulling her wand, she carefully seals up the wound. “You’ll have to ask Hermione and Lupin about it. They were in nerd heaven theorizing about it.”

“Remus?” he asks. When the hell did she find out about Remus? And he and Hermione were buddies since when?  

She doesn’t deign a response, digging around in her bag again, lifting his head to pour another potion between his lips.

Things quickly go soft around the edges, the pain receding, but he can’t quite let go, needing more. “How long?”

“What?”

He licks his lips, trying to stay focused. “How long…have I been gone?”

She’s not looking at him, still digging through her bag. “Long enough to get a wake and a notch on the bloody wall.”

He frowns. “What?”

“You’re dead, officially.” She says it off-handedly enough, but there is something in her tone, the way she refuses to look at him.

“Ginny,” he says, tentatively reaching out to touch her leg.

Her hand covers his, fingers digging in like she’s still wondering if he’s real. “And a traitor too, so good job all around.”

They sit there a long moment, not looking at each other, just their hands firmly pressed together.

“Twenty-two days,” she says, voice rough. “It’s been twenty-two days since the last time I saw you.”

“Ginny,” he thinks he says, wanting to say so much more. To apologize, to pull her close.  

All he manages is passing out.

*     *     *

Once Harry is asleep, though more likely just unconscious, Ginny considers their situation. He’s badly off, and the things in her bag can only help for so long. There’s nothing she can do for his leg. He really needs a hospital. The only problem is that she can’t move him and protect them at the same time.

She needs to send a patronus message to Ron—who was currently checking out one of the other three Order safe houses Lupin had given them the locations of—but that could hypothetically be tracked back to her if someone was nearby enough to see it leave. Though if they were tracing magical use in the area, they more than likely already know she’s here. Her protections might hold them off, but only for so long.

She’s actually surprised Ron hasn’t shown up yet, to be honest. It shouldn’t have taken him this long to realize the other two places are empty. Unless he ran into trouble. But she can’t think about that now, not wanting to borrow any more worries than she already has at the moment.

She looks at Harry, his face drawn and gaunt, skin burning with fever. Alive, but still very near death. She’s just going to have to risk it. First she walks around the building, setting various wards and proximity markers, carefully looking for any sign of Harry’s work mates.

Content that the protections are as solid as she’s going to be able to get them, she sends her patronus off to Ron and returns to Harry. He’s still unconscious.

She sits by the disgusting mattress and looks him over. He looks awful. Smells even worse.

He wakes once, though not completely, just blinking up at her. “Ginny?” he slurs.

“Yeah,” she says, leaning close to make out his words.  

“Why are you here?”

She isn’t sure if he’s forgotten or if the question really sounds as accusatory as thinks it is.

This isn’t part of the deal.

She looks away. “Do you know how hard it is to find a good lay?”

When she dares to look back again, his eyes are closed, his breathing slow and labored.

She gets up, sitting on an old crate next to the window so she can see anyone approaching the old condemned building from the trash strewn courtyard below.

She feels rather than hears Harry wake sometime later, his eyes on her.

“There’s an anti-apparition ward in place,” she informs him, in case he’s wondering why they are still here.  

“What?” he asks, clearly alarmed. It not only means they can’t apparate away, but also that someone knows they are here. It also explains what’s taking Ron so long. She wonders if whoever is out there saw her arrive. “How far?”

She turns to look at him. “I don’t know. But I’m bloody well not leaving you here alone to go find out.”

He looks a little bit better, sharper, but his eyes are still bright with fever. This infection is far beyond a simple potion or cleaning spell.

“I need to find a way to get you out of here,” she says. Especially if something has happened to Ron too.

“You need to leave me,” he counters.  

Before she can even gather the brainpower to yell at him over that, a high-pitched chime emanates from Ginny’s wand.

Ginny gets to her feet, wand lifting. “I set a boundary.”

“Ginny,” Harry says, sounding panicked. “Please just go. Leave me here.”

She crosses towards the door, mentally calculating how long it should take them to get through her wards. “That is never going to happen, so save your fucking breath.”

She can hear him struggling to push up to a seated position. “Ginny—”

The door blasts open.

Ginny stumbles back, lifting an arm to protect her face with a shout, but she’s given no time to recover, spells flying into the room. She has half a thought for Harry before she’s flinging up shield charms.

Fortunately it’s only one person—a single, rather hulking wizard—but as he is more than likely a grey-stripe, it’s not like she really stands a chance. She deflects as many of his spells as she can, even managing to get a reducto past him, though it goes wide, hitting the wall behind him.

The auror stumbles as debris impacts him. Rather than harming him, it only seems to enrage him, because the next thing she knows, she’s on the floor, writhing under the pain of the cruciatus, and she may as well have been sixteen again being taught a painful lesson about refuting the Grand Commander’s ‘truths’.

Someone is yelling, and it’s probably her, but then the pain recedes, leaving her shaking and weak, weak enough that she can’t fight the pull of her wand from her fingers.

“No,” she moans, trying to hold on, but she can’t manage it.  

The world seems to swim, sounds around her abnormally loud and distorted, but she fights against it, seeking equilibrium, knowing Harry needs her.

“So it’s going to be you, huh, Roderick?” she hears Harry rasp.

“Looks like it,” Roderick replies, clearly unconcerned.

“Well,” Harry says, voice scornful. “I doubt you could find me more vulnerable than this, so have at it.”

No, no, no. She did not come this far just to lose him all over again. With her arms, she starts dragging herself across the floor.

“Well, isn’t that sweet,” the auror mocks. “I didn’t know you’d found yourself some company, Potter, even in a shit hole like this.”

A foot pushes into her shoulder, kicking her over onto her back. She looks up into the face of Harry’s would-be murderer.

He leers down at her. “It’s a pity. She’s pretty. And feisty. Just the way I like them.”

“She doesn’t have anything to do with this,” Harry says.

“Ah, but there’s no telling what she knows. What lies you whispered to her while you fucked her. No, that’s not a risk we can take. It’ll have to be the both of you now.”

“You fucking piece of shit,” Harry spits. “You’re a fucking disgrace. The entire lot of you. Taking money while you knowingly let murderers wander free. And now look at you, killing for them.”

The auror’s expression hardens. “Don’t fucking lay that on me, Potter. This is on you . We weren’t trying to kill you, just get you to retire. If you weren’t so sodding stubborn this wouldn’t have had to end this way. And now you’ve got the girl dragged in too. That’s on you, Potter.”

Ginny struggles against the weight of his foot on her shoulder.

Roderick leans closer to her, dragging a finger down the side of her face. “Though maybe after I’ve killed him the two of us can come to some sort of arrangement.” His touch trails lower.

“Hard pass,” Ginny spits. “Death would be preferable to whatever pathetic excuse for a willy you’ve got tucked in there.”

Predictably, this pisses him off. Taking a step back, he swings his foot hard into her side.

She cries out, feeling bile pressing up the back of her throat at the sharp pain.

“Stop!” Harry shouts. “Please. You don’t have to kill her. Just make her take a vow. That’s what you did to Byron, after all, isn’t it?”

This is news to Ginny, but she doesn’t particularly care at the moment. “I won’t,” she says. They can’t be compelled, and she is not playing this game. Not buying her life this way.

Harry curses under his breath.

Ginny looks up at Roderick, breathing ragged as she tries not to vomit. “They already know anyway,” she says. “People back in England. They know about the bribes. About the Azkaban Thirteen. Thorfinn Rowle.”

Hermione still hadn’t cracked any of the files when she and Ron left, meaning Ginny still has no idea what this really is. But her only hope is time. Time for Ron to get here. If she can get Roderick talking, get him panicking…

They just need time.

Roderick squats down in front of her, grabbing the front of her shirt and dragging her up to him. “You’re lying.”

She shakes her head. “They have the Gringotts ledgers,” she says, scrambling to remember absolutely anything Hermione found on the laptop.

This seems to mean something to him. “Who?” he demands, shaking her. “Who has the fucking files?”

“You’re too late,” she says. “It’s over. You’re done. You’ll never get to them in time. Even if you could torture me into saying.”

“Don’t think I won’t try, bitch.”

She just laughs. Any time he spends torturing her is time he isn’t murdering Harry.

“It isn’t too late,” Harry says, clearly feeling desperate. “You can be the one to stop all of this.”

Roderick shoves her back to the floor. “Save your breath, Potter. I won’t go to Azkaban.”

He paces the length of the room, clearly trying to work out his next move.

Ginny gingerly moves her legs, finding them nearly back to normal. She starts shifting, pulling her legs under her.

“Sod it all,” Roderick says, clearly having come to a decision. He lifts his wand towards Harry.

Ginny somehow manages to drag herself back up to her feet. She shuffles to the side, putting herself between Roderick and Harry.

Hand still tucked into her painful side, she tries to catch her breath. “I won’t let you do this,” she says.

“Ginny,” Harry says, “don’t.”

She ignores him.

“Get out of the way,” Roderick growls.

“Fuck you,” she spits.

Roderick looks past her to Harry. “This is on you, Potter.”

He lifts his wand to Ginny’s chest and all she can think is, Ron where are you?

Behind her, Harry heaves himself off the mattress, but rather than knocking Ginny to the side, he flings his wand out, his shoulder hitting the floor, but a spell erupting. It seems to do little other than sting Roderick, make him slightly stumble back with a grunt, but it’s enough of an opening for her. She charges at him, stepping into him and kneeing him hard in the groin.

He lets out a howl, and Ginny lifts her arm, swinging her fist into his face—a punch taught and perfected under the tutelage of an army of older brothers.

Roderick slumps to the floor. “You fucking bitch,” he grinds out, hands still clutched to his crotch as he tries to get back up.

Ginny dives for her wand, hand closing around the handle. Rolling onto her back, she lets loose a barrage of spells, Roderick going limp, getting wrapped up in ropes, and hung from the ceiling for good measure.

“Cunt,” Ginny spits before collapsing back on the floor.

“So much more than a hot arse,” she hears Harry mumble, followed by a soft thump.

Rolling onto her side, she looks over to see that he’s passed out face down on the floor. His leg is bleeding again, she notes.

She’s moving towards him when she hears the pounding of approaching footsteps. She swings around, very nearly hexing the crap out of Ron as he skids to a halt in the doorway, stumbling over debris.  

“Ron,” she says, nearly weeping in relief. “Where have you been?”

He wipes blood off of his forehead. “Anti-apparition ward. Took me ages to hoof it. And there was another one downstairs. Nearly had me.”

“You alright?” she asks.

He shrugs it off, looking up at Roderick hanging from the ceiling. “You?”

Ginny shakes her head, pulling her aching hand into her chest. “I tucked my thumb like a sodding amateur.” Her wand hand too.

Ron’s eyebrows lift. “You should know better.”

He kneels down next to her, helping lift Harry back onto the mattress. “He really is alive,” Ron says, looking down at his mate.

“Not for long,” a voice behind them says.

Ron and Ginny both spin about, pulling their wands to point at the tall wizard in the doorway, but before they can do anything, he gets stunned from behind, falling face first to the floor.

Ginny doesn’t lower her wand, her heart still pounding in her chest as she moves to be more firmly in front of Harry.

Rosier slowly walks into the light, his hands held up and clearly visible. “I come in peace.”

“You,” Ginny says, half accusation, half relief.

He shrugs. “What can I say? I followed you.”

She doesn’t even have the energy to be mad. “Well thank Merlin for that. Though did you have to wait until the most fucking dramatic moment to actually step in?”

Rosier leans down over the stunned wizard, picking up his wand. “I like to make an entrance. Though to be fair, there were two more that your friend missed,” he says, gesturing towards Ron.  

“Are we really trusting him?” Ron asks, as Ginny lowers her wand.

“I don’t think we have a choice.”

Ron eyes Rosier, who is pushing the unconscious wizard over onto his back. “Wait,” he says, eyes widening. “Is that Thorfinn fucking Rowle? I thought he was Kissed!”

“I think that was the point,” Rosier says, binding Rowle firmly. “Give me a hand, will you?”

After giving Ginny another look, he crosses over to help prop Roderick and Rowle next to each other. Rosier wraps their hands around a rusty hanger.

“Portus,” Rosier says, tapping it with his wand. The two men disappear.

“Not that I’m not glad to see the back of them, but where did you send them?” Ron asks.

Rosier stands, stowing his wand. “To a nice, out-of-the-way prison cell. I don’t think it would do to lose Harry’s hard-won evidence. He barely tolerates me as it is.”

Ginny looks down at Harry, pressing one hand to his chest as she listens to his labored breathing.

Rosier steps closer, leaning over to peer down at Harry. “Now how about we get Harry to hospital before he dies on us?”

*     *     *

Ginny sits in a chair outside the door to Harry’s hospital room. The hospital’s staff hadn’t let them follow him in, though they did swear this was the only entrance to the space. Ron sits next to her, while Rosier is a short distance away talking to some local aurors.

Ginny feels like she can’t stop shaking, knowing some of that is the residual effects of the cruciatus, but also shock setting in. She’s still not completely convinced they are safe, eyes constantly scanning the hallway, ears straining for any sounds. Even so, exhaustion is also beginning to drag on her. She forces her eyes to stay open. She has her hand still curled around her wand, because if one thing is clear it’s that there’s no bloody trusting anyone right now.

Rosier approaches them. “They’re going to post four of their best aurors here to keep him safe.”

Ginny eyes them, still in no way ready to give up her vigil.

“You trust them?” Ron asks.

Rosier shrugs. “They were pretty shaken to realize we found Thorfinn Rowle quite alive and living in their country. I think we can trust them to have your back. At least until I get back.”

“And where are you going?”

“I need to get my hands on the rest of the conspirators before they can come after us or disappear.”

Ginny knows that’s important, that Harry would think it’s important, but it doesn’t stop her from wanting to say fuck the case.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Rosier promises. “I assume you two want to stay here.”

Ginny just gives him a look like he’s insane to think otherwise.

Ron must have a similar look on his face, because Rosier just grimaces. “Fair enough.” He lowers his voice, stepping closer. “Look. I’ll be back soon. But if anyone other than me comes from the Auror Department or Ministry…”

“Hex first and ask questions later,” Ron says.

Rosier nods. “Yes. Exactly.” He looks at Ginny, holding out a small porcelain cat.

She takes it almost automatically, even as she frowns at him.

“Portkey,” he says. “Just in case. It’ll take you back to London.”

With that, he nods at both of them and then disappears. Ginny reminds herself that they don’t need him, but tucks the portkey carefully away nonetheless.

She watches Ron’s knee bounce, like he knows perfectly well that Harry needs them here to watch his back, but also wants to be home with Hermione as she digs through the evidence and builds a case. She moved in with Bill for extra protection, but that still isn’t the same as being there himself.

The two of them sit like sentinels outside Harry’s door.

A mediwitch finally comes to check both of them. Ron waves them off with gruff assurances that he’s fine. Ginny lets them fix her hand and give her something for the pain in her ribs.

“Nothing that will make me drowsy,” Ginny insists.

Despite that, she must doze off somehow, her head coming up off Ron’s shoulder at the sound of Harry shouting.

She’s half out of her chair, her wand lifting. The aurors stationed just down the hall don’t seem particularly concerned. “What’s happening?”

Ron puts a hand on her arm. “They’ve started treating him.”

A mediwitch emerges from the room, the sounds of Harry’s distress only getting louder as the door opens.

“What is going on?” Ginny demands.

The harried mediwitch stops. “The infection was very bad. We have to…” She makes a cutting gesture with her hand. “Cut away the bad flesh.”

Ron winces, another hoarse cry coming from the room. “Can’t you give him something?”

She shakes her head. “We have. But he still fights. He is far too ill for more. The infection, the magical degeneration. He may not wake.”

Harry lets out another particularly loud moan, and then there is the sound of raised voices, clearly alarmed, and something crashing to the floor.

“Fuck this,” Ginny says, pushing past the mediwitch and inside the room.

Someone yells at her in German, and she gets the gist, knowing she is not allowed in here. But Harry is twisted on his side, face slick with sweat and eyes bright and confused. A potion station near the bed is half smashed on the floor, two men trying to hold Harry down as he only struggles harder.

“Stop!” she says.

They look at her, but don’t let up, still holding Harry down.

She strides over, dropping to her knees by the bed so her eyes are at his level. “Harry,” she says. “Harry. It’s me.” She reaches out and touches his face.

His eyes are unnaturally bright, hazy with pain. “Ginny?”

She smiles at him, even though it feels like it might crack her face. “Yeah. Really me. Not a delusion.”

His fingers wrap around hers, as if trying to judge the realness of them.

“It hurts,” he whispers, sounding like a lost little child.

She nods, swallowing back against the thickness in her throat. “I know. But you need to let them do this. They’re helping you.”

He shakes his head.

“I’ll keep you safe,” she says. “I’ll stay. I won’t leave.”

He’s stopped fighting the healers, but he still looks wary. “Ginny.”

She leans closer, her face nearly touching his. “Please.”

His fingers contract around hers, almost painful, and then he’s nodding.

She pulls away just long enough to get up on the bed, sliding her body under his so his head is resting on her lap, his arm wrapping across her legs.

She nods at the healers.

They start in again, Harry holding perfectly still, even as his arms tighten around her painfully.

She brushes her fingers through his hair, her arm wrapped around him as she murmurs nonsense to him.

He can’t hold in his sounds of distress, no matter how hard he seems to be trying.

She feels the tension build and build in his body, a breath escaping him like an explosion, spit erupting from his mouth. “Oh, fuck,” he says, tears streaming out of his eyes.

Just when Ginny is sure she’s going to hex someone if this goes on for one moment longer, Harry’s whole body goes limp, head lolling back against her stomach.

She presses her hand to his chest, feels the steady thump of his heart. “Oh, thank Merlin,” she says, realizing he’s finally passed out.

The healers seem equally relieved, finishing their work with quick efficiency. Ginny keeps her eyes on Harry’s face and not the mess that is his leg.

After what feels like hours but is probably only twenty minutes, the lead healer steps back, swiping at her forehead. “Done.”

Ginny nods, letting out a breath. She gives them wary looks, waiting for someone to try to kick her out again.

No one mentions it.

“We must wait a few hours for his body to recover, and then we can give the potions to rebuild the missing bone and flesh.”

She nods, looking up to find Ron standing in the doorway, his face pale. Without a word, he pulls a chair up closer to the bed and sits, his wand still across his lap.

Harry goes in and out of consciousness over the next few hours. Even when he’s awake, he doesn’t really seem to know where he is. He gets a dose of Skele-Gro to fix his shin a few hours before dawn, and she holds him as he writhes and sweats with the pain.

He starts to make a small whimpering sound.

Ginny slides further down in the bed, careful of his leg. She pulls him against her, his head resting against her chest.

He mumbles her name.

“It’s alright. It’ll stop soon,” she promises.

She dozes herself, waking a few hours later to find Harry finally sleeping peacefully, his arm wrapped across her stomach. She brushes the hair back from his forehead, noting the cool feel of his skin. The fever has finally broken.

Ginny feels pressure at the back of her eyes, the relief swamping her without warning. She lies back, pressing her hand to her eyes. When she finally lowers it, she finds Ron watching her from a small camp bed pushed up against the wall.

He doesn’t say a word.

Carefully sliding out from under Harry, she escapes the room, claiming a need for the loo.

Out in the hall, she sinks into a chair, just trying to breathe.

A mediwitch comes up, resting her hand on Ginny’s shoulder. “Would you like a place to clean up? It might make you feel better.”

Ginny looks up at her, everything feeling very far away.

“He’s going to be fine,” she says kindly.

Ginny nods. “I know.”

He’s fine. He’s safe.

It’s all over.

Getting to her feet, she follows the mediwitch down the hall.

It’s all over.

*      *      *

Harry wakes slowly, his hand groping against the sheets, alarm growing when he finds the space next him empty. He tries to sit up, hissing at the pain in his leg that streaks up all the way to his hip.

Someone touches his arm. “Hey, mate. Everything’s okay.”

Harry cracks his eyes open to see Ron leaning over the side of his bed.

The panic only worsens, because why is Ron here? How did he get here? And for that matter, where the hell are they? He looks around, anxiety spiking in his chest, until his eyes fall on Ginny, curled up on her side on a small camp bed, looking perfectly peaceful.

He breathes out, collapsing back on the bed.

“She’s fine,” Ron says. “I finally convinced her to take a potion. She was near dead on her feet. She refused at first, of course, but once Rosier came back—”

“Rosier?” Harry says, voice little more than a croak.

Ron winces, lifting a cup with a straw from a table next to the bed. He helps Harry sit up enough to not choke as he drinks.

“Better?”

Harry nods, collapsing back against the bed. Christ, he’s weak. But not dead, which is certainly an improvement. “Rosier?” he repeats.

“Yeah,” Ron says. “Really saved our arses when Rowle showed up.”

“Thorfinn Rowle?” Harry says, trying really really hard to follow what’s going on, but not doing a particularly great job of it.

Ron nods. “Rosier got him back to London for you. Things started happening fast after that. That’s the kind of evidence that is hard to dispute. Though I assume that’s why you went after him in the first place.”

“Ron,” Harry says, pain in his head pounding rather unpleasantly. “I’m really gonna need you to start at the beginning.”

He smiles. “Want me to get Rosier?”

Harry nods.

Ron hesitates. “How’s the pain?”

“Bearable.”

Ron presses a hand to his shoulder. “It’s really great to have you back, mate.”

He has no idea how Ron got dragged into this, but assumes he probably wouldn’t still be alive if he hadn’t. “Thank you,” he says. “Thanks for coming and getting my sorry arse.”

Ron smiles. “You should really thank Ginny. She’s the one who refused to take any of this lying down.”

Harry nods, more than a few hazy memories of the last few days rising up in his mind.

Ron leaves, Harry turning his head to look at Ginny. She’s peaceful in sleep, her face soft and relaxed. It viscerally reminds him of that cozy afternoon spent with her head in his lap as she slept off her quidditch injury.

The door shoves open, Rosier striding in. “So you’re finally awake.”

Harry lifts his finger to his mouth, shushing him, not wanting him to wake Ginny.

Rosier looks over at her. He casts a series of spells so their voices won’t bother her and then drops down into the chair next to his bed.

“Tell me what’s going on,” Harry says, trying to focus his mind no matter how much it keeps wanting to drift off.

Rosier’s eyebrows lift. “Hello to you too.”

Harry drags his hand over his face.

Rosier takes pity on him. “I just sent Ron back to hover over his wife. She’s taken your evidence and run with it. Already has a full-fledged Wizengamot inquiry going.”

“Rowle?”

“In custody. We’ve also got Roderick and Gerhardt and the rest.” He glances over at Ginny. “They’re going to want to talk to her. Hopefully she won’t get me fired.”

Harry frowns.

Rosier shrugs. “Some of our internal files may have found their way into her hands inexplicably,” he says.

Harry feels anger flare in his stomach. “You should have left her out of it.”

Rosier laughs. “Left her out of it? She came to find me. Nearly bloody killed me.”

“What?” he asks, looking over at Ginny.

“She’s pretty fucking fierce, that girl of yours.”

Harry forces himself to look away from her. “She’s not my girl.”

Rosier looks surprised. “No? Could have fooled me. You should have seen her. She was ready to curse me to hell and back to get what she wanted, and that was just to avenge your death. Didn’t seem to bother her at all that I was a trained bloody auror. Once she knew there was a chance you were alive…” He shakes his head, still looking impressed.  

Things are hazy, but Harry remembers that clearly enough. Ginny standing between him and Roderick.

She came so fucking close to dying. And all because of him.

Rosier, mercifully, leaves it at that. “They say you’re stable enough to move to St. Mungo’s. I have a portkey. We can all go together when she wakes.”

He nods, all the details and dangers still swirling in his head. “I need to see—”

“Yes, yes,” Rosier says. “I’ll have a copy of all the files for you to look at. As soon as the healers tell me you’re up for it.”

Harry opens his mouth to protest, despite the hovering exhaustion already seeping back into his body.

Rosier holds his hand up. “Hey. I’ll take care of it. I’m your partner. This is what partners do when one of them is laid up in the hospital after nearly dying because he refused to confide in anyone.” His tone isn’t angry so much as blunt.

“I didn’t know if you were in on it,” Harry admits.

Rosier nods. “Yeah, well, considering they thought I was their lapdog, I can’t really blame you for that.”

Harry fights to keep his eyes open, but it’s a battle he’s quickly losing. “We’re not…done talking about this…”

A hand pats his shoulder. “Sure. You just sleep. I’ll hold down the fort.”

Harry has no choice but to trust that.

The next time he wakes, the camp bed is empty. He looks around, and Ginny is sitting in the chair by his bed, flipping disinterestedly through a magazine.

“Gin,” he says.

She sits up, looking over at him. “Hey. How do you feel?”

The memories are sudden and visceral. She’d held him, he remembers. Clutched him tight as he moaned and swore and cried into her lap.

I’ll stay. I won’t leave.  

“Better,” he manages.

She nods, her eyes skittering away like she’s having a hard time looking at him. “I’ll let Rosier know you’re awake. He’s eager to get back to England.” She pushes to her feet, dropping the magazine to the chair.

“Ginny,” he says, making a clumsy grab for her arm.

She stops, catching his hand with hers, but not looking back at him. “Yeah?”

“Thank you,” he says. It’s not nearly enough. Not even the beginning of what he wants to say.

She nods, and then her fingers are sliding from his.

She’s back soon enough with Rosier, his partner quickly organizing their departure, healers and mediwitches crowding around him doing last-minute diagnostics, making sure he’s stable enough for the portkey.

Through it all, Ginny stands off to the side, one arm pulled across her chest, looking like she’s trying not to get in the way. No matter how many times he tries to catch her eye, she won’t look at him.

“Potion, Mr. Potter,” one of the mediwitches says, holding up a vial.

“I’m fine,” he automatically says.

“You will need it,” she insists.

Not feeling up to a fight, he takes it, downing it and pulling a face at the sour taste.

The trip is awful, and he thinks without the pain potion he might have ended up chundering all over the three of them. As it is, he can’t control his descent, only Rosier and Ginny’s grip on him keeping him from face planting on the floor. He can’t hold back a moan of complaint.

Things get hazy, the next thing he knows he’s lying back on a stretcher, an entirely new collection of mediwitches and healers fussing over him. They’re moving at a quick pace, out of the waiting room and back towards the healing rooms, Harry seeing nothing but the lights in the ceiling flashing past, a hand firm in his.

“I’m sorry,” someone says, “but are you family?”

Ginny is the one to answer, her voice very close. “Oh,” she says. “No. I’m not.”

He shifts, trying to see her.

“Then I’m afraid you will have to wait out here,” one of the mediwitches insists.

“Of course,” she says, apparently stepping back because her hand leaves his.

Harry feels panic flare in his chest, hand closing over empty air. He doesn’t want her to go. 

I didn’t think sitting by the sick bed was part of the deal.

It’s not.

If he asked, would she stay?

But then a pair of aurors are there, red stripes visible on their shoulders as they step up on either side of her. “Miss Weasley? We have a few questions for you.”

Harry struggles to sit up.

Rosier touches his shoulder. “They’re clear. I double checked myself. I promise.”

“It’s fine,” Ginny says, moving off with them. “I’ll be fine.”  

“I’ll go with her, yeah?” Rosier offers.

They start wheeling Harry away before he can even answer, his head swimming. He focuses on breathing, his eyes on Ginny’s retreating form, flanked by aurors on either side. She glances back at him once, her expression unreadable.

He holds her gaze until door the swings shut between them, blocking her from view.

Chapter Text

13.

Ginny sits in her manager’s office, completely still despite the two men looming over her.

She tried to explain her absence once, right after she returned, but they clearly aren’t interested in explanations, especially vague ones about a family emergency abroad. The Wizengamot reps she spoke with made it very clear that she should keep everything to herself until the investigation is complete. Considering she had illegally accessed classified documents, she figures she probably shouldn’t give them any additional reasons to throw her in Azkaban.

Not that she imagines that reasoning would go very far to appeasing her bosses.  

Her manager is raging and yelling, her coach standing off to one side tagging in with the occasional caustic addition. Even the owner is here, though he seems content to sit in the corner reading a newspaper. He’s no doubt just here to make the final call, a silent nod to confirm that her contract is done and invalidated.

She missed five practices and a match, after all.  

In any other situation, Ginny would be giving back as good as she got, up on her feet shouting, telling them to go fuck themselves, her temper laying waste to everything yet again.

Not today. Today she sits calmly and takes it.

She wonders if this is because for once she actually did what they are accusing her of. She did bail on her team, she did break contract, she did miss an important match and leave her team hanging. She did every single thing they are accusing her of.

So she sits and takes it.

“You think you can just fucking disappear whenever you like?” her manager shouts.

He actually pauses then, and Ginny realizes she’s expected to answer. “I’m sorry for the disruption this caused the team, for not being here to do my part,” she says, voice calm and even. “But I’m not apologizing for making the choice I did.”

His face floods red in patches. “And why the hell not?”

Ginny holds his gaze. “Because it would be a lie.”

She would do it all over again in an instant, and she has no interest in pretending otherwise. Quidditch is her life. But there are some things that are even more important. She can’t apologize for that. She won’t.

“Wow,” he says, clearly at a loss. “I’m having a really hard time seeing why we shouldn’t just get rid of you for breach of contract right now, and you’re in no way helping the situation. Why the hell should we keep you on?”

Again, he seems to want an answer, for her to beg and plead maybe, make her case. “I would hope my hard work and skill on the field speak for themselves, but if they don’t, then I guess you shouldn’t keep me on.”

“Fuck, Weasley, do you want to be let go? Is that it?”

“No,” she says, knowing that is not what this is. Not this time. “I want this. And I will work myself to the bone for this team. But this is far from the first room I’ve sat in like this, with people like you standing over me and telling me I’m not worth it. I know there is nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. You either think I am or you don’t. That isn’t something I can control.”

And she’s tired of trying to pretend it is.  

“Well with that attitude—” he starts to bluster.

The owner stands then, her manager instantly falling silent, turning to look at him in surprise, like maybe this isn’t part of their choreographed attack.

Ginny takes a moment to study the grey-haired wizard in his perfectly pressed robes. He has a watch fob that glints elegantly at his waist, not a single hair on his head out of place. He reminds her of a dozen other men in his position she’s worked for over the years.

Folding up the newspaper and tucking it under his arm, the owner strolls forward until he’s standing in front of Ginny. He leans back on the desk, his movements calm and methodical and somehow all the more menacing for it. “When I picked up your contract, there was no shortage of people sidling up to tell me what a mistake it was. She’s not worth the risk, they said. She’s disruptive, combative, and has absolutely no loyalty. She’ll turn on your organization without the slightest provocation, they told me.”

He pauses, studying her face. Ginny remains impassive. She’s heard iterations of all of this a dozen times over.

“I can tell from your expression that doesn’t come as a surprise.”

“No, sir,” she says.

“I didn’t think so,” he says, a brief smile tugging his lips and making him look younger. “I listened, I admit, but I still took the contract because frankly I needed your arm. I needed your goal percentages and strategic mind to make something of this team, and you came cheap. Surely it was worth the risk. But I’m not a fool. I also watched you. Watched you probably more than you know, looking for any signs of trouble.” He leans forward, his eyes shrewd. “Do you know what I saw?”

Ginny shakes her head, not even bothering to brace herself against the words she knows are coming. She’s survived it before.

They were right. You were a mistake.

He holds her gaze, the quiet stretching long, even her coach and manager listening intently as if curious to hear what he’ll say. “I saw a player waiting for a team to show her a little loyalty.”

Ginny feels something well in her chest that she wants to believe is rage, anger at this man who thinks he knows anything about who she is or what she’s been through, but there is also pressure at the back of her eyes that she refuses to acknowledge.

“Am I wrong?” he asks.

Everything in her screams to lash out, to tell him he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. She’s no one’s victim.

She can’t trust herself to speak.

He nods anyway as if somehow satisfied by her response.

“You’re talented, hard-working, and take absolutely no shite from anyone, for better or worse. But you also screwed us.” He pushes off the desk. “So this is how I think this should go. You messed up. Even though you won’t apologize, I think you know it’s true. So you’re going to face consequences. You’re going to sit out the next match, even though we need you. You’re going to sit and watch what this team is without you and think about what it means for you to be here. And you’re going to pay a ten thousand galleon fine for breach of contract. You and the entire team are going to know how seriously we take this.”

These are harsh consequences, but not insurmountable. And it means she can stay, live to fight another day, no matter how much that exhausts her. She hasn’t had a lot of second chances in her career, usually coming in with two strikes already against her.

Only the owner isn’t done. “But I need you to understand that that’s going to be the end of it. We’re going to move on and trust that you have this team’s best interests at heart, trust that you had some reason for the choices you made. We don’t have to like it or accept it, but we’ll respect it. Because you’re part of this damn team, Weasley.” He steps closer to her, his gaze direct and unwavering. “That’s our loyalty to you.”

Ginny’s heart is pounding away now, the meeting taking a turn she never could have prepared for. Not a second chance with a mark hanging over her head, not one step closer to the door, one fuck up away from being discarded.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s still more than she’s ever been offered before.

“You think you can live with those terms?” he asks.

She swallows hard. “Yes, sir,” she manages to say.

He nods curtly. “Then get your arse in the locker room.”

He walks out without another word.

Ginny takes a careful breath, gets to her feet, and goes back to work.

She gives it everything she has left.

*     *     *

Harry leans back in his chair, surveying the small garden in front of him. He’s technically still on disability, his magic slow to recover, but recovering. Definitely recovering. His leg is also taking some time to rebuild its strength. Despite that, he’s been working in the office, coordinating raids and investigations. The truth is, they need him. Not that the grey-stripes even exist anymore, per se. A lot of things are still up in the air.

Between his injury and the arrests, the office is decimated, only a handful of the elite aurors able to solidly demonstrate that they weren’t involved either directly or by way of collusion in the money-making scheme. A sodding protection racket for Death Eaters and Voldemort collaborators.

It makes Harry sick, realizing what had been going on right under his nose. He can’t even imagine how Byron felt, knowing about it, but not being able to do a damn thing. Not without risking his wife and kids. Or his life.

The intricacies of the conspiracy are overwhelming, more so with each passing day as the details get clearer and clearer. A mass breakout, and then staged deaths, or some other poor soul being returned to Azkaban in their place under the guise of polyjuice, only to be Kissed or left to be driven insane until no one thought to ever check on them. Or, if the Death Eater had enough money to throw around, get the aurors to execute a minor petty thief and say it was them. Just like Byron had been forced to do.

All so they could rebuild lives for themselves somewhere else.

Harry picks up his cup, looking down at the liquid in the cup. “I’m sorry I didn’t figure it out sooner.”

In the seat next to him, Byron shakes his head. “I’m sorry you almost got yourself killed over it.”

Harry lets out a huff, taking a sip of pumpkin juice.

Byron drinks from his own cup, giving a small wince at the taste, but sticking with it. He hasn’t had a drink in almost a week. “You could have walked away.”

“No,” Harry says. “I couldn’t have.”

“No,” he concedes with a small huff. “I suppose not.”

Byron has a family, and he never could have put them at risk. They went after Harry the way they did because they knew they had no leverage over him. He doesn’t have a family. He doesn’t have a wife.

You had Ginny, the annoying voice in his head says.

Not really. Not in the same way. And they hadn’t known about her, thank god. Even so, it was enough to almost get her killed. Whether or not he ever really had her, she nearly died. And that was his fault.

He forces his mind away from her, the same way he has constantly for the last couple of weeks, ever since he was wheeled away from her in St Mungo’s. Rubbing his hand down his thigh, he can feel the hard, flat circle in his pocket.

He’s still carrying it around, the charmed galleon. It’s been cool and still. Not that he’s tried to use it himself.

The Magpies just advanced to the playoffs, he saw in the papers this morning. A busy time for her, and the last thing she needs is a distraction. Or so he tells himself. Anything to buy himself a little time. To let everything just…settle.

“Here, Daddy,” Byron’s daughter says, appearing out on the porch with a plate of sandwiches.

Byron smiles at her, giving her pigtail a little tug. “Thanks, poppet.”

She looks shyly between them.

“What is it?”

She digs her little hand into the pocket of the frilly apron she’s wearing, coming out with a motley collection of objects and colors that turns out to be a necklace of sorts.

“Is that for me?” Byron asks.

She nods.

He takes it, slipping it over his neck so that the yellow, feathery-looking blob rests on his chest. “It’s lovely.”

Her grin is nearly blinding as she giggles and then darts back into the house.

Byron chuckles to himself, sliding Harry a look as if daring him to take the mickey.

“You’re not coming back,” Harry says, knowing it isn’t even really a question.

God knows they could use him back in the office. At least one more trustworthy person.

“No,” Byron says, settling back in his chair. “I know when I’ve got it good.”

Harry nods, picking up one of the sandwiches. “Your garden still looks like shite.”

Byron laughs.

*     *     *

“Hey.”

Ginny looks up at her brother, realizing she must have been staring mindlessly out the pub window. Rain is drizzling down the pane, warping the people walking by, the festive fairy lights outside catching and refracting.

“Hey,” she returns, picking up her barely touched glass of firewhisky.

Ron settles down across from her. “Sorry about the playoffs,” he says, giving her a look that is sympathetic but also a bit wary. Not that she blames him. She’s never been particularly sanguine about losing quidditch. Too much is always riding on it. Even a year ago she probably would have already been halfway out the door, packed and ready to find somewhere else to pick up her next fight.

Tonight she just shrugs, despite the painful quarter-final loss. “There’s always next year.”

“Yeah?” he asks, like this is the last thing he expects from her.

She smiles. “Yeah.”

It’s still hard to believe some days, to ignore that voice at the back of her head whispering that despite how the season ended and how good things with her team have been, the off-season is the perfect time for everyone to change their minds. For her contract to mysteriously disappear.

But she’s getting better at ignoring that voice. If they’re willing to show her a little trust, she has to be willing to at least try to return the favor. Merlin knows it won’t be easy. But she can try. And maybe even allow the weakness of hope.

You could never be more trouble than you’re worth.

She looks down at her glass.

“Have you seen him?” Ron asks.

Ginny doesn’t need to ask who. In a fit of uncharacteristic sensitivity, Ron hasn’t asked a thing about Harry or what is or isn’t going on with them. Not for an entire month. He hasn’t talked about the things that happened in Germany. She supposes it was really only a matter of time.

She glances around the pub, at all their friends gathered here. As usual, Harry isn’t here. He hasn’t come by her flat, and she hasn’t gone to his. He’s never in the crowd when she goes out with Ron’s friends. Too busy, she supposes.

The investigation finally wrapped only a few days ago, though the turmoil still seems to be radiating out through almost every part of the Ministry. There’d been a letter too, one sent to her team management finally explaining her absence, her role in the whole torrid event.

For Ginny, it means more that they gave her the benefit of the doubt without it.

These days Harry’s in all the papers. Has been for weeks. Auror Uncovers Massive Ministry Conspiracy. He’s probably more famous than she is now. Hermione thinks he’ll make Head Auror in another few years.

She’s happy for him.

Ginny takes a sip of her drink, wincing at the burn in her throat. “No. I haven’t seen him.” They’ve both been very busy after all. Or so Ginny had been until the season ended.

Ron taps his fingers on the table. “Look. Mum wants me to ask him to Christmas dinner. Him and Remus.”

She nods, trying to ignore the sudden pounding of her heart in her chest. “Someone let it slip that it’s just the two of them, did they?”

Ron huffs under his breath. “Yeah. She’s all ready to adopt him. Especially after the thing with Nott.”

Just a few weeks back, Ginny had arrived at the Burrow for dinner to hear that Harry had been by that morning to see her parents. He wanted to let them know that he had personally overseen the recapture of Langston Nott. To swear to them that the real person was now safely in Azkaban where he belongs.

It had been a somber but somehow less heavy gathering that day. Like the closure they’d all been hunting for over a decade finally settled over the house. Even Ron, knowing he played a role in uncovering the conspiracy, no matter how small, finally seemed content with his decision to leave the aurors behind.

He had his wife and coming child to focus on after all.

“You should,” Ginny says, realizing she’s been quiet too long. “Invite him.”

“Yeah?” Ron says, giving her a speculative look.

Ginny tells herself she just wants the inevitable first awkward meeting over with, especially if her mum has decided to adopt him, but a larger part of her just wants to see him. Wants to see with her own eyes that he is really fine. But also…she misses him. Far more than she should.

She lifts her chin. “Yeah.”

He reaches out, squeezing her fingers. “Okay.”

They sit together in companionable silence for a while longer, until Hermione arrives from work and Ron gets up to greet her.

“Ron?” Ginny says.

He stops, looking back over his shoulder. “Yeah?”

Her hands tighten around her drink. “Tell Harry I hope he can make it.”

Ron nods. “I will.”

Ginny gives him a fleeting smile, turning back to looking out the window.

*     *     *

Against his better judgment, Harry finds himself standing on the porch of the Burrow midday on Christmas. He drags a hand through his hair, tugging at the collar of his robes.

“You look fine,” Remus says, clearly enjoying the hell out of his discomfort.

Unfortunately, none of the writhing anxiety in his stomach is about how he looks.

Remus touches his arm. “It’ll be fine.”

“Of course,” Harry says, and reaches out and knocks.

They are swept into the house by Bill with a toddler perched on one hip, a chorus of greetings from a packed sitting room following them as they get shunted into the kitchen.

Harry’s relieved to see Hermione there. They’ve spent quite a lot of time together the last month, working various angles of the same case. He’s come to respect the hell out of her mind and her relentless pursuit of what she thinks is right.

He kisses her on the cheek. “You’re looking well.”

She pulls a face. “I look the size of a house.”

“Well,” he says. “I certainly wasn’t going to point that out.”

She swats at his arm. “How are you?” she asks, gaze a little too knowing.

“Fine,” he says, forcing himself not to tug at his collar again.

Hermione makes a noncommittal sound, but mercifully doesn’t press.

He glances around the kitchen, torn between relief and disappointment when he realizes Ginny isn’t here. It’s torture, waiting for his first glimpse.

Then another one of Ginny’s brothers is approaching, reaching out for his hand.

“Thank you,” George says, Harry’s hand caught in an uncomfortable grip.

Harry doesn’t have to ask for what, the grim look on George’s face more than clue enough.

“Yeah,” Harry says, nodding awkwardly, hoping he won’t have to deal with too much misplaced gratitude over the recapture of Nott.

Luckily he leaves it at that, disappearing off to another room.

“Harry!” Molly says, shoving a pie into his hands and kissing him on the cheek. “Lovely to have you. Now be a dear and take this out onto the back porch, will you? There just isn’t room in here. It’ll keep cool enough out there.”

“Uh, sure,” he says. “No problem.”

He thinks he really shouldn’t be surprised to find Ginny out there, bundled up and leaning against the railing. He still freezes, just standing there stupidly and staring at her.

She looks up at the sound of the door swinging shut behind him, her eyes widening when she sees him. Her eyes track down to the pie in his hands.

“Of course,” she mutters.

She takes the pie, rolling her eyes, more than likely at her mum’s maneuvering than his weirdness.

Harry is still standing by the door as Ginny places the pie on a low table and resumes her post against the railing.

“I pretended I’ve taken up smoking,” she says. “Seems a good excuse to…” she waves a hand vaguely.

“Hide?” he guesses, wondering if she’s out here to avoid him.

She gives him a rather searching look. “Find a moment to myself.”

“Right,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets. He supposes that means he should make himself scarce. Before he can, she’s speaking again.

“How are you?” she asks, turning around so she’s facing him.

He holds up his hand, and it’s completely steady. “No potions or anything.”

“Nice,” she says, giving him a fleeting smile.

He nods. “My magic is pretty much completely back as well.”

“I’m glad.” She scans down his body. “What about your leg?”

He looks down at it, shifting his weight onto it without a twinge of pain or weakness. “Fine. Not much to look at though.” He’ll have the scarring to live with.

“Turning down that full-page spread in Witch Weekly then, I suppose, Mr. Famous Auror?”

Despite himself he laughs, rewarded with a bright smile from Ginny that leaves him feeling a little winded. Fortunately it doesn’t last, Ginny looking back out over the yard.

He gnaws at the inside of his lip. “Uh, how’s the off-season?”

They were ousted in the quarterfinals, but he knows that was far further than anyone expected them to get in the first place. There were articles in the papers about the Magpies’ gamble on the ‘wildly unpredictable’ Ginny Weasley actually paying off. Harry was more than a little tempted to write a letter letting them know what he thought about that.

“Miserable,” she says. “I don’t understand why it can’t just go all year round.”

“Yeah,” he agrees. “People who like downtime are weird.”

“Suspicious, if you ask me.”

For a moment their eyes catch, and it all seems to rise up, and he can’t believe it’s been eight weeks since he’s seen her, eight weeks since they last spoke or touched. Even longer since they last shagged, and he tells himself that’s the part he misses the most.

It’s a lie.

He somehow manages to tear his eyes away from her.

“Harry,” she says, something heavy in her voice.

A little girl comes tearing up the path. “Auntie Ginny! Come quick! You have to see what I made!”

Ginny’s shoulders drop, though whether out of relief or disappointment, he can’t tell. “Of course,” she says. “Just give me a minute.”

The girl grins and then darts back out of sight.

Ginny gives him an apologetic smile, canting her head after her niece. “I’ve got to…”

“Yeah,” he says. “Of course.”

They manage to avoid each other the rest of the night, sitting nowhere near each other at dinner, despite what seems an attempt on the parts of Remus and Ron to conspire otherwise.

The Weasleys are just as loud and boisterous as always, incredibly warm and welcoming. That doesn’t mean Harry doesn’t take the chance to flee the moment the meal is done. It’s rude to disappear without a word, he knows, but he can’t bring himself to care.

He just needs to escape.

He’s halfway down the front path when the door opens and slams shut again behind him.

“Harry.”

He closes his eyes, not turning to look at Ginny. He’s been bracing himself for this possibility all evening. It doesn’t make it any easier.

“No,” he says.

He pauses, knowing a simple no is supposed to be enough. But this isn’t a ‘no, not tonight,’ this is a ‘no, not ever’ and after everything she probably deserves at least an explanation for that.

He turns around. The moment he sees her face, he knows he should have resisted the urge. Just looking at her still has the power to fell him completely. Which is exactly why he has to do this.

He shifts his eyes off her, vaguely staring off into the trees. “I thought if I stayed away for a while that maybe I could go back to what we had. You know, stick to the rules.” He shakes his head. “But I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“Why?” she asks, her voice quiet.

He refocuses on her, too weak not to. “You know why.”

She turns her head away, hand lifting to her mouth, and he knows she heard him that last night, even if she pretended she didn’t.

He loves her. Painfully and completely. He knows he doesn’t have the right to expect that from her. She’s been perfectly clear about what she wants—and doesn’t—from the very beginning. He isn’t going to torture himself hoping for more. He loves her and wants all of her, and he isn’t going to be weak enough to pretend that anything less will be enough.

He starts to walk away.

“What if we modified our arrangement?” she says, striding to catch up with him.

“Ginny…” he says, suddenly feeling exhausted.

She doesn’t give up, grabbing his arm and tugging him around to face her. “We could also not have sex. Like…do other things.”

“Other things?” he echoes, trying not to sound exasperated by her clear inability to get this.

She nods. “I could watch your stupid movies with you sometimes. And you could figure out my favorite ice cream.”

“Mint chocolate chip,” he says before he can think better of it.

She looks surprised. “Oh. Well, then I guess…you can cook me dinner or something.”

“Would we actually eat it together?” he asks.

She winces, and he knows his voice must be more bitter than he intends. After everything she’s done for him, she doesn’t deserve that.

“Sure,” she says before he can apologize. “And we could also…talk and stuff.”

He lets out a humorous laugh. “That sounds an awful lot like a relationship.”

Only Ginny looks like she’s anything but joking. “Well, it turns out I’m not actually against relationships.”

His heart, traitorous little prick that it is, speeds up at that. Maybe, just maybe it’s possible, the small voice in his head whispers.

She takes a deep breath, lifting her chin a little defiantly. “I’m just against everybody who isn’t you.”

“Ginny,” he says, feeling like she’s hexed him in the chest.  

Only she isn’t done. “I told myself I was fine with this being over. With you not being in my life. But it’s not true. And seeing you again…” Her jaw tightens, like she’s struggling to put something into words. “I just…I like me better when I’m with you.”

She meets his gaze, something in her expression that makes the breath catch in Harry’s throat. Looking at him like she doesn’t just want him, but that she needs him. No matter how hard that must be for her to admit.

He wants to reach for her, wants to drag her up against him so badly that he has to curl his hands into fists to resist. “My job hasn’t changed. It’s not going to be any less dangerous.”

She nods. “I know. But I’ve proven I can handle your job, don’t you think?”

This time, yes. Maybe. But she shouldn’t have to. “Ginny,” he says, feeling his resolve crumbling, but god, the fear of what that could mean for her…

She touches his arm, looking a little desperate. “Sod the bloody rules. Come spend the night in my ridiculous childhood bedroom with me. We don’t even have to have sex. Just…stay.”

They regard each other, the enormity of what she’s asking seeming to swell between them, like they are teetering on the edge of this falling apart or becoming something else entirely. Becoming everything.

He closes his eyes, feeling his body leaning towards hers, like there was never a chance he ever would have been able to resist. And there wasn’t really. He was fooling himself even trying to pretend otherwise.

He reaches out, pulling her against him and burying his face in her hair. “Yes.”

Her fingers press into his back. “To which part?”

He can’t believe how good it feels just to touch her again. “All of it, really. Except the not having sex thing. I’d rather that wasn’t forever.”

She lets out a shaky laugh. “Deal.”

They stand there a long moment, just holding each other the way they’ve never allowed themselves to before.

“You know this probably won’t work,” he can’t stop himself from saying, because he’s an arsehole, but also because loving her doesn’t make him any less terrified of never being enough for her. Of letting her down.

He braces himself for platitudes, but this is Ginny. Instead she leans back, gazing up at him with that fierce, unapologetic gaze he loves so much. “I know. But I’m tired of being so afraid of the ending that I never let myself see the possibility.”

He rests his forehead against hers, every last bit of lingering fight draining away in the face of her. “Me too.”

She licks her lips. “So…all in?”

He was completely lost from the first, he knows. The very moment he laid eyes on her in that pub.

He touches her face, thumb brushing her cheek. “All in.”

Cupping her face with both of his hands, he lets his eyes travel over her face, relishing the fact that she’s here, swamped by how much he’s missed her. He leans towards her, wanting more than anything to kiss her and hold her and make this real.

She wraps her hand around his wrist, pulling slightly back just before his lips can touch hers, and Harry feels his stomach drop, terrified that she’s going to change her mind.

She gnaws her lip, looking nervous again. “I think you should know,” she says in a rush, “that I’m in love with you. If that wasn’t already obvious. You know, just for the record or whatever.”

“Good,” he somehow manages to say around the thickness in this throat. “That’s really really good.”

And then her lips are warm and familiar against his, erasing all of those long weeks of separation and uncertainty and doubt. He pours himself into the kiss, like he might somehow be able to put everything he’s feeling into the slide of his mouth against hers. She steps flush up against him in response, ready as always to meet him touch for touch, only this time not as a challenge or an advance or a prelude to something else, but instead drawing him into her like she’s done holding any tiny part of herself back from him.

Until that moment, Harry never before understood that another person could feel like coming home.

The kiss eventually slows and breaks, the two of them still wrapped around each other, foreheads nearly touching. Ginny is looking up at him with an expression he’s never seen before, but one he never wants to stop seeing.

Her fingers press into his chest. “I never got to say, but thank you for not dying.”

He lets out a breath. “Thank you for saving me. And for being there after.”

“Of course,” she says, like it was never even a question. “But let’s try not to make a habit of it, okay? I’m a busy person.”

He smiles. “Deal.”

He pulls her into a hug, resting his cheek on top of her head. In his complete contentment, it takes him a while to notice that they have an audience.

“Your brothers are all watching us,” he says, feeling far too soft and warm and pleased to really care.

She glances back over her shoulder at the Burrow where their faces are all smooshed against the glass. “Good. They could probably use some pointers.”

And then she’s pulling him down and kissing him again, this one no less potent, but also full of mischief and playfulness that has Harry sighing into her mouth in happiness.

Ginny seems similarly pleased when she eventually pulls back. “I think I’ve seriously underappreciated kissing my whole life.”

He laughs, wanting nothing more than to keep kissing her. Or, god, to maybe just cuddle or something. He’s clearly completely lost his mind already.  

“Are you ready for this?” she asks.

He blinks at her, and she cants her head back toward the house.

“Yeah,” he says. This is just another part of being all in, he supposes. “Might as well get it over with. Unless we can just stay out here and snog until your curfew.”

She laughs, nudging him with her hip. “Very tempting.”  

Rather reluctantly letting go of each other, they head back towards the house. They’re nearly back at the house when her hand slips into his.

He looks over at her, Ginny darting him a glance as if judging his reaction, like she wants to know if this is allowed. But there aren’t any more rules.

Lifting her hand still clutched in his, he presses a kiss to the back of it.

A pink flush spreads across her cheeks, and he grins, amused that this casual affection flusters her more than any of the wide and varied things they have ever done together.

“Ginny?” he asks as they climb up the front steps.

“Yeah?”

He comes to a stop, pulling her around so she’s looking down at him from a few steps above him. “Just to make sure you actually hear it this time, I love you.”

She doesn’t immediately react, her teeth biting down on her lip. “Good,” she says, her voice a bit thick. “That’s good.” She darts him a playful look. “Remember that while we’re facing my family.”

He laughs, stepping up and pulling her into his arms. “I’m not in any danger of forgetting it,” he says, kissing her yet again.

They eventually make their way into the front hall, her hand still firmly wrapped around his.   

“Harry’s going to spend the night,” Ginny calls out to her mum in the kitchen.

“Wonderful,” Molly calls back.

“No need to make up a camp bed. He’s staying with me.”

“Okay, dear,” comes Molly’s response.  

Ginny frowns, clearly having expected a different reaction. Or, knowing her, wanting more of a reaction. Still gripping his hand tight, she drags him into the sitting room, maybe in hopes of better sport.

Her brothers are all now in various states of casual repose, not paying them the slightest attention as if they hadn’t all recently had their faces pressed up against the glass.

Ginny’s eyes narrow. “What, nothing to say?” she demands, her free hand going to her hip.

“Oh, please,” Ron says, not looking up from the chess board that is sitting between him and Remus. “You’ve been practically head over heels for him since the first time you met him.”

“Harry was the same,” Remus says. “Nothing less predictable in the world.”

“Excuse you—” Ginny starts to sputter.

Harry squeezes her fingers.

She looks up at him, a frown marring her face, and he just gives her a look meant to remind her that they are clearly trying to wind her up.

“Good point,” she mutters under her breath, the indignation seeming to slide off her. Without another word, she crosses over and sits on the sofa next to George.

As he’s following after her, Harry catches Charlie and Bill sharing a look.

“Holy shit,” Charlie comments to Bill in an undertone, “you weren’t kidding.” He shoots Harry a look like he’s impressed he managed to deflate Ginny like that.

Harry forces himself not to glare in return, not particularly wanting to pick a fight with her brothers on the first day.

Harry sits down next to Ginny, the low table in front of them teeming with Christmas sweets. He eyes the little tartlets, having abandoned the house before he got any dessert.

Ginny shuffles closer to him, her body brushing up against his.

At first he thinks she’s just trying to antagonize her brothers, but when he looks down at her face, she looks just the tiniest bit uncertain, that faint pink flush across her cheeks again. He never would have suspected Ginny Weasley of being a secret snuggler.

He wraps his arm around her, pulling her into his side and pressing a kiss to her forehead. Considering this is something they have never done, it feels wonderfully familiar and easy.

She lets out a breath, softening into him.

Conversation slowly restarts in the room, Ginny’s brothers giving her the usual shite about various quidditch performances, sprinkling in stories of her as a girl that are clearly meant to mortify her in front of him.

Ginny just laughs along with it, her face occasionally pressing into his shoulder as she let out sounds of protest.

Remus steps in with stories of his own, just to make sure Harry doesn’t make it out completely unscathed. Ginny can hardly contain her glee, looking up at him with such sheer joy that he can’t bring himself to mind.

Her parents come in a while later, Molly sitting in an armchair with some knitting, while Arthur sits at her feet, playing a game with Ginny’s youngest nephew.

“So, Harry,” Molly says, not looking up from her knitting. “What are your feelings on children?”

Ginny nearly chokes on the biscuit she’s nibbling. Rather than yelling at her mum though, she turns to Harry, her eyes wide and horrified. She leans away from him. “I’m sorry, Harry. I change my mind. I clearly hadn’t properly thought this through.”

The way her hand is still firmly on his thigh tells him she is just teasing.

Nevertheless, his arm tightens around her shoulder, pulling her back against him. “Too late. I’m not letting go of you now.”

She sighs dramatically, relaxing into him. “Okay. But you’ll have to make it worth my suffering. Putting up with nonsense like this all the time.” She gestures vaguely at her mum and brothers.  

His thumb brushes along her collarbone, his face lowering towards her ear. “You doubt I could?”

She gives him a smile, something slow and full of promise. “Not even a little.”

Just when Harry thinks he won’t be able to resist kissing her—her entire family watching or not, Ginny turns away and addresses her mum. “But lay off the kid thing. Our relationship is all of five and a half minutes old.”

“Yes, dear,” Molly says, completely serene. “I’ll wait at least five and half days then.” She gives them both a sly look that answers the question of where Ginny gets her questionable sense of humor.

Ginny turns her face into Harry’s chest with a groan while her brothers start to laugh.

A few hours later they fold themselves up together in her tiny childhood bed, neither of them mentioning how easy it would be enlarge it with a quick charm. It should be weird, but it’s not.

They don’t have sex.

At least not until about 5 in the morning.

“It’s a different day entirely,” Ginny points out as she pulls her shirt up over her head.

“Ginny,” Harry says, hands on her hips.

“And it’s been ages. I mean, how long do you expect me to wait?”

Ginny.”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up and kiss me, will you?”

She grabs the front of his shirt, dragging him up so his face is near hers. “I don’t let just anyone order me about,” she says, voice low. “You’re lucky I like you so much.” She then proceeds to kiss him thoroughly, leaving him nearly senseless by the end of it.

Wrapping his arm around her, he rolls them so he’s pressing her back into the mattress. “I really, really am,” he says.

He sets about showing her how much he plans on never forgetting it.

Maybe a bit too well, to judge from the expressions at the breakfast table later that morning.

“Privacy charms are for suckers,” Ginny says, giving him a wicked smile over her toast.

Despite the deadly glares from her brothers, Harry can’t help but grin back at her. “Would you mind passing me the eggs, Ron? I find myself particularly famished this morning.”

Ron growls in complaint, Harry getting a wadded up napkin in the face for his trouble, but Ginny just tilts her head back and laughs, her leg brushing up against his.

This is the exact moment Harry decides that he honestly doesn’t care if this thing is destined to crash and burn—if it only lasts a day, a week, a month, a year—because every moment with her is worth it.

Under the table, her hand finds his, fingers lacing through his. He squeezes her fingers in response, his thumb brushing the back of her hand.

He has no plans of ever letting go.

Chapter Text

epilogue

two years later…

“Presenting Ginny Weasley, star Chaser of the league champion Magpies!”

The crowd in the pub lets out a roar as Ginny strides inside. She lifts her hands in recognition, not even bothering to pretend humility. She kicked arse in that match and deserves all the bloody praise she can get.

Luckily there is that in spades. Everyone seems to be gathered here--most of her brothers, their wives and husband, her friends. It’s only been twenty-four hours since the league-winning match, and Ginny is still high with it.

She gets a lot of hearty handshakes and hugs, and an equal amount of shit-talking from her brothers.

Ron has his daughter up on his shoulders, dressed in a miniature set of Ginny’s uniform. “She insisted,” he says with a grimace.

“That’s my girl,” Ginny says, giving her niece a little fist-bump.

She lets out a peal of laughter and something that sounds like ‘Auntie Gin-Gin’ that Ginny has fought against catching on with her nephews and nieces but has completely lost. Tonight she can’t bring herself to care. Though her brothers have learned the cost of letting her hear them say it.

After nearly twenty minutes of mingling and greetings, Ginny says, “What does a league champion have to do to get a drink around here?”

Charlie rolls his eyes and shoves her towards the bar. “Get it your own damn self. The last thing this family needs is another fat head.”

She sticks her tongue out at him and makes her way over to the bar.

Dean drops down into the seat next to her. “They’ll have to extend your contract now,” he says.

“We’ll see,” Ginny says, unable to keep the secretive smile off her face. There’s already a new five-year, six-figure contract in the works, but she isn’t at liberty to share that quite yet.

Seamus is behind the bar, a towel moving itself down the length of the wood. He leans an elbow on the edge, and Ginny is instantly on alert. He has a look on his face that is reminiscent of her brothers at their most mischievous.

“So what is it then?” she says, noticing something hanging on the wall above the liquor bottles. There’s a plain piece of canvas covering it.

“Just a bit of new decoration,” Seamus says with a playful smile.

Her brothers, she notices, are all turned and watching, clearly waiting for what is meant to be a big unveiling.

Ginny lifts her wand. “May I?”

Seamus gestures for her to go ahead.

With a flick of her wrist, the canvas flutters to the floor, revealing a framed jersey. It’s her number and name in the Montrose black and white, her signature scrawled across it in glittering ink, and she vaguely remembers signing it for him a few weeks back. In large letters below is an easily read sign.

GINNY WEASLEY GETS IT HERE

Ginny blinks at it for a moment before falling face first onto the bar, laughing her arse off. Around her, her brothers groan in complaint. She eventually recovers enough to lift her head, wiping tears from her eyes. She turns to the wizard sitting next to her. “Dean, this one is a keeper.”

“I know,” he says, grinning. “Why do you think I married him?” He leans across the bar to grab the front of Seamus’ shirt, giving him a very enthusiastic kiss.

Newlyweds, ugh.

While they are busy snogging, Ginny leans over the bar, swiping a bottle of firewhiskey and lifting it in the air. “Let the post-season drinking begin!”

Everyone cheers.

After an hour of toasts and well wishes, Ginny settles into a soft buzz that leaves her feeling loose and the tiniest bit melancholy. Most of the kids are passed out on their parents’ shoulders or have been taken home at this point. There’s gentle music playing in the background. Her brothers have long since given up trying to lure her into whatever conspiracy they are hatching over by the dartboards.

She’s more than content to sit at the bar and have a bit of a moment to herself.

She sighs, giving her jersey a small smile of amusement when she catches sight of it again. It’s hard to believe she’s been in the city for over three years now. London, somehow and completely against her will, has become home.

She supposes it isn’t such a terrible place after all.

Someone shifts up behind her, far too close to be casual. She automatically stiffens, not in the mood for unwelcome come-ons.

“Can I ask you a question?” a low voice asks.

She lets out a breath, but doesn’t turn. “Last time I checked, it’s a free country.”

He braces one hand on the bar so his chest is nearly touching her back. “How do you feel about one-night stands?”

Ginny turns slowly on her stool, propping her elbows back on the bar as she takes in the man in front of her, eyes sweeping him from head to foot. “In general or with you specifically?”

He smiles, clearly certain of his chances. “With me.”

“Hmm,” she says as if considering it. “I’m not sure you’re my type.”

His eyebrows lift above the frames of his glasses. “And what is your type?”

She purses her lips. “Punctual.”

He grimaces, his head falling forward to hang down like a house elf that’s just been rebuked.

She reaches out, touching his tousled and overgrown hair, fingers sliding down under his chin to lift his face. Beneath the beard covering his face, she can just make out the shadow of a bruise forming on his cheek. “Get in a fight at work, love?”

He shrugs. “The other guy started it.”

She laughs. “I’m sure.”

He grins, a flash of white teeth. “He went light on me once I told him my girlfriend could kick his arse without breaking a sweat. With or without her wand.”

She lets her hand drop, trailing down the front of his shirt. “And what does this terrifying girlfriend think about you soliciting women for sex?”

He leans in like imparting a secret. “I’m pretty sure she actually has a thing for picking up strange blokes in pubs.”

She fights back a smile. “I think ‘strange’ is a little much,” she says, wrapping her arms around his neck. “At most you’re mildly eccentric.”

He steps into her, his forehead coming to rest against hers as his hands find her waist. “I’m really sorry I missed the match.”

She honestly doesn’t care about the match, is just happy to have him back and in one piece, more or less. “It’s fine. After all, your job is nearly as important as mine.”

“I want to hear all about it,” he says, completely earnest, and she knows he’ll listen raptly to every tiny detail she’s willing to share.

“I’ll give you the play by play,” she promises. “Only later.”

“Yeah?” he says, looking intrigued. “And what are we going to do now?”

She slowly draws her lip into her mouth, knowing that after three weeks he won’t be able to resist. Sure enough, he lets out a low sound like a growl and then gathers her close.

Her back hits the edge of the bar as he kisses her deeply. She tries to get closer and he helpfully slides a hand behind her back, dragging her more firmly against him. She wraps her leg around the back of his.

There’s a loud sound of complaint from behind them, someone yelling for them to get a room. Ginny just sticks her hand deep down into Harry’s pocket, lingering long enough to make him moan into her mouth before pulling the silky weight of the invisibility cloak free. With one smooth movement, she flips the fabric up, letting it settle over them.

“Bloody hell,” Ron says. “We still know you’re there!”

“They aren’t honestly going to have sex under there, are they?” someone else grumbles.

“Who fucking knows?”

Harry smiles against her mouth. “I missed you.”

She lets out a long breath, wrapping her arms around him and burrowing her face into that perfect space between his chin and chest. “I missed you too.”

They stand there awhile in perfect contentment, Harry’s hands soft as they slide comfortingly up and down her back. Whatever tiny feeling of wrongness has been irritating her these last few days seems to disappear entirely.

“I wonder what people would say if they knew the real reason you don’t drink,” he murmurs against her hairline.

“Which is what?” she asks, trying for a warning tone but failing rather spectacularly.

“That it makes you all soft and snuggly.”

She lets out a soft huff. For someone who’s good with details, he’s way off.  She touches his face, her thumb brushing his lip. “That’s not the alcohol, idiot. That’s you.”

His expression shifts, his eyes darkening with what she likes to call his ‘I fucking love you’ look, and then he’s kissing her again, leaving her breathless.

“I have a confession,” he says, nuzzling against her neck.

“Oh really?”

He nods. “I’ve always wanted to shag a league champion.”

She laughs. “It may be your lucky day. I, after all, know quite a few league champions. What gets you going? Seekers? A pair of beaters?”

Harry doesn’t even bother to roll his eyes. “I think you have a pretty good idea what gets me going,” he retorts.

“It’s been three weeks,” she says. “I might need a reminder.”

“Well, if you would stop getting hit in the head with bludgers…” he teases, fingers playing with the neck of her shirt and frankly driving her to distraction.   

“Prat,” she says, more breathy exhale than cutting insult.

“You love it,” he mumbles, voice muffled as he kisses down over her sternum.

She winds her fingers into his hair, her patience beginning to splinter. “Any chance you can apparate us home quietly enough that they spend the rest of the night wondering what we’re doing under here?”

He laughs, arms tightening around her as he gathers her close. “For you? Anything.”

The ridiculous thing, she thinks, is that she believes him. “Good. Because I’m tired of sleeping alone.”

“We definitely can’t have that,” he says, pulling back far enough to smile at her. That dopey, lovely, ridiculous smile of his.

It hits her the way it always seems to, like this giant welling wave. He’s back, he’s here and safe, and now, finally, the celebration feels real, feels complete.

“Ginny,” he says, voice soft as he regards her, like he knows exactly what is going on in her head. But then, he’s always been good at seeing past her words.

“Yeah?” she manages, shivering a bit at the expression on his face.

He leans closer. “Just say yes.”

She regards him another long moment, just soaking him in, and then she’s leaning in to kiss him, a bare brush of her lips against his, soft and gentle. “Yes.”

His body shifts, the air squeezing and contracting around them. The pub, the people, the noise, the separation…everything falls away.

Everything but him.

.fin.