Malibu, California, April 2008
Ginny stood at the edge of the pool terrace of her house in Malibu, California, and looked down at the papers in her hand.
The house was her secret retreat; bought from part of the compensation she'd got out of the divorce agreement after her third marriage, it was situated on a cliff just below Pacific Coast Highway in a solely Muggle neighbourhood. None of her devoted fans in the wizarding world would think of looking for her in the ultra-modern, ultra-minimalistic concrete monstrosity that looked like a two-story bomb shelter from the outside, all be it an elegant one.
She didn't care much for the minimalistic design of the house and its interior, either. What had captured her the moment she'd set foot into the open plan ground floor that overlooked the pool and a long, narrow garden was the view on the Pacific Ocean, and the eternal, soothing sound of the waves slapping on the small, private beach at the foot of the cliff.
It reminded her of the view from Shell Cottage, the house Bill had bought for Fleur not long after they were engaged. Shortly after that, she'd become Harry's girlfriend, and she'd begun dreaming of the house Harry would buy for her: a house on a cliff where she'd live with Harry and their three children, a boy who looked like him, and little twin girls with fiery red hair, and they'd be happy for ever after …
She let out a bitter snort. Little had she known back then that all her dreams of a future with the Boy-Who-Lived would be shattered into tiny pieces not even three weeks later. Dumbledore got murdered, Harry broke up with her and left her behind to go on his next adventure with Ron and Hermione. It had seemed to her she'd always been the one who was left behind: little Ginny, too small to play with the big kids, too dumb and naïve to tell her anything important.
Back at Hogwarts, she'd had to pay the price for her naïvité. She hadn't seen it coming; she'd still been basking in the memory of the heroic way she'd dealt with his break-up, and the kiss to remember her she'd given him on his seventeenth birthday. To her surprise nobody believed that Harry and her had broken up for good, least of all the Carrows. His faithfulness and loyalty to those he cared for were too well known, so they just assumed it had been a hoax. The Carrows had tortured her again and again in the vain attempt to learn Harry's whereabouts from her.
Her eyes swerved to the tanned, dark haired man who dozed in a lounge chair next to the pool. A reluctant smile crept over her face. If it hadn't been for him, she would've likely died within the first two weeks of her sixth year.
Something had broken in her when she realised that Harry had left her without a second thought to her safety under the new regime at Hogwarts. But her saviour had been there, he had saved her and made sure she was prepared as best as she could for the fights ahead of her.
Too bad they both didn't have the money to live their dream …
She sighed; her gaze returned to the papers in her hands. She was free, again, her fourth marriage was dissolved - and not one day too soon, truth be told. She traced her hand over the faint scar on her right forearm. Giles had been an abusive bastard, she couldn't recount the many times he'd beaten her up and she had to mask her bruises as "training accidents". However, she'd known before her marriage into what she was getting herself, and had decided the price was worth the … unpleasantness. And she'd made him pay. His public image was his weak spot, and she'd used that to her advantage. Either he'd agree to her demands, or she'd get the money by selling the exclusive interview about her sufferings during their marriage to one of the big international magical papers. Suffice to say that their divorce agreement had been the most … satisfying out of the four she had.
With another sigh, she folded the divorce papers, stashed them in the back pocket of her faded, very short cut-off jeans, and looked out onto the ocean. Here she was, Ginny Weasley, highest paid Quidditch player in the world, sought-after model, international superstar, twenty-six years young, rich, independent, and of a wild beauty that made males all over the world lust after her.
But she also had four marriages under her belt, had estranged herself from her family and was - empty.
She kept staring on the ocean, blind for the beauty of the scenery. All she saw was a handsome face with fascinating emerald eyes under a mop of untamable black hair. Everything came down to him; she was the shell of the Ginny Weasley she'd been once ever since the day he'd broken up with her after Dumbledore's funeral.
She narrowed her eyes, her mouth set in a grim line. It was about time she changed that. She wouldn't be able to go on, live in peace or whatever, before she'd got even with him.
The touch of a tender hand on her shoulder startled her out of her black thoughts.
'We've finally reached our goals, haven't we?' he asked in a soft voice.
She turned around, encircled his waist with her arms, and leaned her head against his broad chest. His heart thumped like a hammer, the only indication that he wasn't as calm as he pretended to be at the outside.
'I guess so.'
'You guess so?' He lifted her face with his index finger so that she was forced to look at him. His lips were curled in an amused smile, however, it didn't reach his eyes. His gaze was guarded, apprehensive, as if he already knew what she was going to say.
She hesitated; should she really go on with her plans? Wasn't it about time to let go of the past and concentrate on their future?
The decision was made in a split second. She'd nourished her grudge too long to let go of it that easily. Harry Potter owed her, and she'd make him pay.
'You know about my long-term plan, love,'
'Potter!' he spat.
He let go of her, almost pushing her away, turned his back at her and carded a hand through his wavy dark hair. His shoulders raised and lowered in a deep breath.
She loved his self-control, it was such a contrast to the men of her family, such a contrast to Harry … It added to his appeal, that touch of mystery and danger had drawn her towards him ever since he'd rescued her and taken her to his room in the Slytherin dungeons that fateful night.
When he turned back to her, his face was calm and composed; it betrayed nothing of the disappointment she knew he felt.
'Don't you think it's about time to let go of that old grudge of yours, love? I mean … It's kinda obvious that Potter isn't interested, isn't it? For five years you've done everything, but parade naked in front of him to catch his interest whenever he was over here, and he didn't go for the bait once.'
Her chest constricted; spots flashed at the edge of her vision. She squinted at the young man in front of her through narrowed eyes. Had he really said these hurtful words?
'You … you …' Her mouth found it impossible to form words. Tears shot into her eyes; she whirled around, her fists clenched at her sides, and she stared out onto the ocean without seeing anything.
'You don't understand. It's something I have to do to get closure,' she finally managed to get out.
He stepped behind her and put his hands on her shoulder. 'I understand more than you give me credit for, love. However, what he did to you is so very far in the past. I don't want to see you get hurt.'
His face was close to hers, and his warm breath sent a shiver down her spine. Ginny clenched her fist; this wasn't fair, once again he used her physical attraction to him to get his way. She wouldn't allow him to manipulate her. She took a deep breath, fighting off his allure.
'Harry will never hurt me - at least not intentionally.' That was true, the noble prat didn't have it in him.
There was a tender squeeze of her shoulders, and again she shivered. 'That might be true, but what about his wife? Remember, she's a snake; she won't be held back by the same moral values that apply to Potter.'
He must be kidding. She snorted. 'His wife? That wet washcloth? I've dealt with her before and won each time, love. She won't stand a chance the moment I'll begin fighting for Harry in earnest.'
His hands clenched into her shoulders, almost painfully. 'So, you're planning on returning to England?'
Ginny leaned back against him, revelling in the warmth of his hard body. She should've known he was already thinking one step ahead and anticipating her next move. 'Yeah, it's about time I meet her on her home turf. The tenth anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts is in a couple of weeks. I got an invitation to the annual Veterans Ball today. That's exactly the right time and place to announce my return to magical England.'
The grip on her shoulders intensified. 'Are you sure about that, love?'
A cold shiver ran down her spine, as if someone was walking over the space where her grave would be. She'd never given a fig for superstitions like this, and wouldn't begin to right now, either.
'Yes …' Her voice faded, and she swallowed. 'Yes, I am sure.'
Who was she convincing, him or herself?
He took another deep breath. 'So mote it be.' His voice was a whisp in the air.
She looked out onto the ocean and suppressed another shudder. No, she wasn't superstitious at all. But where, by Circe, did that feeling of dread come from that all of a sudden threatened to overtake her?
'So mote it be,' she repeated.
The Silver Phoenix Resort, May 8th 2008
The reception rooms at the Silver Phoenix Resort rivalled the best that the U.S.A. had to offer. It seemed British magical society was at last finding its way out of the backwater and was attempting to join the worlds more advanced magical societies in the twenty-first century.
Ginny cast another surreptitious look at the mingling ball guests, a glass of elven champagne in her hand. Every now and then she took a sip of the expensive drink, and tried to comprehend the amazing changes that had taken place in the ten years she'd been away.
While the men still adhered to formal dress robes, albeit the modern ones that mostly resembled a Muggle dinner jacket, almost all women had opted for fashionable Muggle dresses, and none of the women seemed to care about the modesty that had been expected of magical women before the war. The dresses were throughout more sexy and revealing than she'd thought she'd ever see in a ballroom on the British Isles.
Ginny suppressed a frustrated sigh and looked down at her own expensive designer ball gown. So much for her idea of standing out of the crowd in an opulent, off the shoulder ball gown of golden lace, with a sweetheart neckline over layers of wide swinging chiffon petticoats.
It had seemed to be a good idea when she came across the dress in New York the day she'd left for England: the colour was a subtle reminder of the dress she'd worn at Bill's wedding to that Veela tart. Harry hadn't been able to tear his eyes off her that night, and he surely would remember that when he saw her in a gown of the same colour. The wide skirt gave her a touch of youth and innocence, while the tight bodice and the way the dress hugged her chest and her hips sent a completely different message: she was a grown up woman who had a lot to offer. Even Harry should be able to understand that.
Unfortunately, there were at least ten women in her vicinity who wore a ball gown of exactly the same cut and several others who sported similar colours.
She frowned and took another sip of champagne while her eyes wandered to her escort. It was a pity she wouldn't be able to rouse Harry's jealousy with a fantastic date by her side. After almost ten years in the U.S.A. she'd lost touch with her former friends and found herself in the uncomfortable position to have nobody of real standing in this country she could ask to take her to the ball.
She sighed; of course it was perfectly acceptable to be escorted by her agent; after all, he'd done that many times in the past when her current husband wasn't available or she'd been single between two marriages. Though, it was just slightly better than having to ask her only unmarried brother, Charlie, to take her to the ball, and it as sure as hell wasn't the impression she wanted to make on Harry. She needed to be desirable and just out of reach …
She sighed again. At least she'd managed to turn up before Harry and his timid wife did. This way, she could watch him from the background and plan her next moves. It should be easy to get rid of Greengrass - .
A commotion on the gallery at the opposite side of the reception area, where the Floo entrance to tonight's festivities was located, made her look up. The Floo was cordoned off along both sides; flocks of reporters and photographers with cameras at the ready crowded behind the ropes. A red carpet led from the Floo down the grand staircase towards the reception area and guaranteed a good view of new arrivals.
The green flames of the Floo framed a couple emerging from the fireplace. The raven haired man helped the petite, blonde woman by his side out of the fireplace. Harry and his Merlin bedamned wife had arrived, finally. Cameras flashed, and the shouts of the reporters were clearly audible down here, even above the ruckus the many people in the reception area made.
A small, predatory smile appeared on Ginny's lips. Harry wouldn't be able to escape her tonight.
Ginny put the champagne flute on the bar table next to her. Her eyes took in the sight of Harry, and she moistened her lips. Dressed in black, dinner jacket style robes that showed off his broad shoulders, and an emerald green waistcoat with silver embroidery that emphasized his eyes he was prime eye-candy.
He had his arm around the waist of his petite blonde wife, who seemed to be glued to his side, and looked down on her. The next moment he had led her past the obnoxious reporters, and they swept down the grand staircase.
It was impossible to take her eyes off them. At least she wasn't making a spectacle out of herself: all eyes in the room were on the Potters. Ginny's stomach hardened, and she clenched her teeth until her jaw hurt. It should've been her at Harry's side …
Her eyes appraised magical England's hottest celebrity couple. Either they had a very good image consultant on their payroll, or Greengrass was far cleverer than she had given her credit for. Her ball gown was made of a subtle shimmering silver material that matched the embroidery on Harry's waistcoat. A diamond necklace sparkled around her long and slender neck, and her light blonde hair shimmered like moonlight in the light of the chandeliers.
That choice of colors and accessoires was a masterstroke: the light and shimmering colours were not only the perfect background for Harry's dark handsomeness, but complimented his looks. Damn, for anyone who didn't know Harry and his real feelings as good as she did, they looked as if they were made for each other.
Ginny took another look at Harry's wife. Though she didn't have her spectacular colours, there was no denying she was an attractive woman. Her body more than made up for what her face lacked: only very few women had the figure for the tight fitting, strapless mermaid dress she wore. Damn it, when had the insignificant mouse become that sexy?
Harry and his wife took their place at the end of the reception line; his arm still was around her waist, and with his other hand he now cupped her chin in his hand, caressing her cheekbone, and turned her face towards him. He said something to Greengrass, a slight frown on his face. Her answer didn't seem to appease him, for the frown stayed on his face. Greengrass put a finger on his lips, and they exchanged a long look. At last, Harry leaned forward, kissed his wife, and let go of her chin, though his other arm was still draped around her waist. They both smiled at each other in a way that excluded everyone else in the room.
A burning sensation spread in Ginny's stomach, and she clenched her teeth. While she could understand the need for him to play the devoted husband in public, there was no need to overdo it like he just had done, surely he had some standards. That was revolting; by the way he couldn't seem to keep his hands off his wife, and the tenderness he showed towards her, he had almost fooled her in believing he was in love with his insignificant ant of a wife. Of course, that just couldn't be, it was well known that Potter men fell in love at a very young age and loved only once in their life.
From the corner of her eyes Ginny watched the reaction of the people surrounding her to the public display of the Potters. All eyes were naturally directed at the young couple. That wasn't surprising; ever since his return to the magical world aged eleven, Harry had been at the center of public interest, and it had got worse after his defeat of Voldemort.
However, what she now saw in the faces of the wizards and witches surrounding her was not only the plain hero worship she had seen whenever she'd made a public appearance with Harry in the few, short weeks she had had with him after the Battle of Hogwarts. No, there were soft smiles and wistful sighs from the women, and many chagrined male stares were directed at Harry, not that he was aware of that.
A matron about her mother's age in a raspberry-red ball gown let out a deep sigh. 'Oh, they are so sweet together! They really look and act like a couple out of a fairytale, don't they?'
Ginny picked up her glass of champagne and took a sip to hide her disgusted expression. She had forgotten that British wizards and witches loved to exaggerate. If they only knew how clueless Harry was around the female sex. She chuckled into her glass. Harry, the model husband, that was priceless. No, even Saint Potter was a male like any other: he was turned on by his wife's body, but there wasn't more to it than that. Harry had given his heart away at a very young age, there wasn't anything left for Greengrass, other than the physical side of their relationship. After all, even Saint Potter had to have needs.
The arrival of more ball guests obscured Harry and his wife from her vision. Soon after that, the doors to the ballroom opened. She drained her glass and put her hand on the arm of her escort.
'Shall we go inside and find our places?'
He complied by offering her his arm, and they drifted inside the ballroom among the swarm of ball guests who had the same idea.
As always, she gained a lot of attention, although not as much as she might have garnered in the U.S.A.. Many curious eyes were on her and her date, and she received the admiration she was due with a charming smile and a modest inclination of her head.
The huge ballroom was designed like an atrium. The dance floor in the middle of the room was crowned by an at least twenty feet high vaulted glass roof. Dozens of round dinner tables were set up under the arcades that ran along the four sides of the room. Rambling Rainbow Roses climbed the pillars of the arcades, and sweet smelling Rainbow Roses also decorated the table. The long rays of the late spring sun strew golden lights on the scene through the glass ceiling. It was like sitting somewhere on a plaza in Italy.
She looked around. Where were they supposed to sit?
'I have the honour of having you as my dinner partner tonight, Ginny,' a booming voice said behind her.
Ginny turned around and gave the Minister for Magic her most charming smile. 'What a pleasant surprise, Kingsley.'
Indeed, it was perfect. Harry had followed the Minister, his wife by his side, and Hermione and Ron brought up the rear. As the heroes of the war they'd most likely sit at a table with the Minister.
She cast a surreptitious look at Greengrass. Her face had assumed a decidedly green hue the moment she recognised her. Merlin, that woman was a wet dishrag: the last time they'd clashed she'd also lost her bowels. Maybe she could get rid of her with a few well-placed barbs during dinner.
Her escort held the chair out to her, and she sat down with a soft smile on her lips.
This ball would be a night to remember.