Harry’s eyes widened. He looked at Ron. Harry thought that Ron looked shocked, but had a hard time being sure with all the soot covering Ron’s face. Harry looked at Lavender who in turn looked intently at Dudley. Harry turned his gaze back to Dudley, who awaited his answer patiently. Only Dudley’s hand gently stroking the back of Lavender’s hand gave show to his nervousness. Harry opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again, thinking better of what he had been about to say.
Finally, just as the silence grew to an uncomfortable length, Harry spoke. “Dudley, I can’t give you an answer just like that. I simply don’t know if I can do it. You come back into my life after ten years, with a fiancée that I thought was dead, and a witch to boot, and expect me to just agree to be your best man. I’m glad that both of you are doing well, but I don’t know what kind of man you are now. If you’re the same now as when you were a boy, then I can’t be your best man in good conscience. I would like believe that you’ve changed, but I don’t know you anymore.”
Dudley interrupted, “Harry, I have changed. The boy you knew is gone. I would like to apoligise for how I treated you back then. You’ve been through a lot, too, and I’m sure that you’ve changed. Please, Harry, give me the benefit of the doubt.”
Harry started to answer, when his door opened and a red paper airplane memo flew in. Dudley stared in amazement at the memo as it landed on Harry’s desk. When it landed, it unfolded and a deep, Irish voice began shouting, “Oi! You lot have been back at least thirty minutes! Why isn’t the report on the Naismith case on my desk? Come to my office immediately!”
“Shit,” Ron swore. “We’d better get there right away, Harry. You know how Ciaran gets when you make him wait.”
Harry pulled a quill and parchment from his desk and wrote something on it. He handed the note to Lavender and said, “Tonight’s the night that Ginny and I usually have dinner with Ron and Hermione. We’d like you both to come tonight, if you can make it. Can you still Apparate?”
Lavender smiled a rueful smile and said, “Harry, I’m not magically crippled, just physically. Yes, I can still Apparate and bring Dudley with me.”
Harry said, “Good, I’m looking forward to seeing you there, both of you. Our address is on the note. Dinner’s at seven o’clock.” He leaned over and gave Lavender a quick hug. Harry spoke as he embraced her awkwardly, “I’m glad that you’re not dead, Lavender. You’re one less death on my conscience.” Dudley stood as Harry approached him. Harry shook his hand again. As he started to usher Dudley and Lavender out of his office, Harry said, “Dudley, I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve been up to these last ten years. I’ll see you tonight at home.”
Ron finished cleaning himself as Harry talked to Lavender and Dudley. Ron leaned over Lavender and kissed her gently on the cheek. Harry heard him whisper, “I’m glad that you’re not dead, too. I’ll always remember our first kiss by the lake.”
As Lavender blushed, Ron shook Dudley’s proffered hand and said, “Congratulations on your engagement. Lavender’s a really nice woman, I hope you treat her like she deserves.”
Dudley moved behind Lavender’s wheelchair and began pushing it down the hallway back to the lifts as Harry and Ron moved the opposite way toward the Head Auror’s office. As they walked, Harry pulled out his wand, summoned his Patronus and sent it home to Ginny with the message, “We’ve got two more for dinner tonight: A friend from the past and her fiancé. I’ll tell you more when I get home. I love you, Ginny. Give Albus and James a hug for me.”
Harry returned home; Apparating with a bang into the foyer. Delighted squeals from deeper in the house indicated that James and Albus had heard his Apparition. As Harry hung up his robes, revealing jeans and a T-shirt, James ran into the room, followed by Albus toddling after. James ran up to his father, yelling, “Daddy’s home, Daddy’s home!” Harry leaned over, scooped up James and put him on his shoulders. Harry pulled his wand out of the robes he was hanging, and deftly flicked it at Albus, cleaning a chocolaty mess from around his lips. He waved his wand at Albus again and walked forward with James hanging onto his head and Albus giggling as he floated gently before him.
Harry moved through the comfortable living room, taking a moment to deposit James on the couch with the tales of Beadle the Bard. Harry rotated his wand and flipped Albus upside down, still floating gently before him. Albus’ squealing laugh echoed from the walls as Harry flipped him back right-side up and sat him on the couch next to his brother. Harry looked at his sons in mock sternness. “I’ll be back soon to take you boys to your grandmother’s. You boys behave while I go and greet Ginny.”
James pretended to read the book, not realising that he held it upside down. James nodded and looked at his brother as Albus climbed up next to him and tried to pull the book out of his hands. Harry let his sons work out their differences, since it didn’t seem to involve fighting and went into the kitchen to greet Ginny.
As Harry entered the kitchen, he took a moment to admire Ginny. She stood at the sink, peeling potatoes with her wand, then cutting them into chunks and putting them in a pot with carrots, celery and onions that she had already cut. She stood with her back to him, not having heard him enter over the din on the W.W.N. Her head bobbed with the music as she worked on dinner. Harry admired the way her hair shone, just barely visible underneath a kerchief. Even standing there in a pair of old sweatpants and a green checked blouse, she looked lovely. She turned slightly to pick up a potato that had rolled away from her and Harry noticed the small swell of her belly. She had just started to show recently.
Harry crept up quietly behind her and waited until she had just finished with a potato and had reached for another before embracing her from behind and kissing the curve of her neck below her ear. He slid his hands over her belly and touched her gently on her stomach underneath her blouse as he continued to kiss down the back of her neck.
Without turning around, Ginny said, “Dean! You shouldn’t be doing that right now, Harry will be home soon.”
Harry let go of her and said, “Oh ho! Caught you red-handed. You admit that Dean’s your lover.”
Ginny turned to Harry and said, “I admit nothing, Harry.” Then she started laughing, burying her head in Harry’s chest.
Harry stroked her hair as she spasmed with laughter against him. “You never get tired of that, do you, Ginny?”
“Remember the first time that I did that?” she asked, in between gasping breaths and laughter. “You thought I was serious.”
Harry waited until she had finished laughing and lifted her head. He leaned over and kissed her hello. Ginny lowered her hand and pinched him on the bum. Harry jumped and let go of her.
“You obviously got my message?” Harry asked.
“Actually, Harry, I ran into them at the market about three hours before you sent your Patronus and had already made plans for them,” Ginny replied, returning to her dinner preparations. Harry rummaged around in the cabinets and brought out plates and glasses. He looked through into the living room and checked on his sons as he started setting the table in the small dining room that adjoined the kitchen.
Harry quickly sat six place settings down on the table, using his wand to summon the cutlery from the drawers in the kitchen. After the cutlery had reached its place on the table, Ginny poked her head around the door and said, “Didn’t I ask you not to use the Summoning Charm on the cutlery while I’m working in the kitchen? Do you know how disturbing it is to have a drawer open behind you and knives and forks fly out of it? Please don’t do it again, Harry.”
Harry went back into the kitchen, donned an apron from a drawer and started helping prepare dinner. Ginny handed him lamb to cut up and braise before assembling it with broth into a Dutch Oven. They worked quietly for several minutes, getting the stew prepped while soft music filled the room. After the stew had been set to simmer, Harry asked Ginny, “So, what did you think of him?”
Ginny looked confused and asked, “Who, Harry?”
“Her fiancé, what did you think of him?”
Ginny pulled a dough ball that had been rising out of the oven, floured a board and started kneading it before answering, “He’s exactly the sort of person that I thought she would end up with. They seem to have the same interests from the little bit that I saw of the two of them together. He’s larger than I thought, from the descriptions I heard of him.”
Harry nodded and sat on a stool. “Were you surprised to see her? When she came into my office in that wheelchair, I nearly fainted. And Dudley, who would have ever expected him to marry a witch?”
Ginny furrowed up her brows in confusion and asked, “What are you talking about, Harry? Luna’s fiancé isn’t named Dudley, he’s named Rolf.”
Harry answered, “I didn’t see Luna today. I saw Lavender and Dudley. You saw Luna?”
Ginny nodded as she kneaded the dough. “Yes, she just got back from America. She and her fiancé Rolf are coming tonight for dinner with Ron and Hermione.” She stopped kneading the dough and turned to Harry, shock on her face as the words he said just processed in her brain. “Wait, you saw Lavender, Lavender Brown? She’s dead. She died at the Battle of Hogwarts.”
Harry stood and started gathering two more place settings as he spoke. “She said that she faked her death. She came in, with Dudley pushing her in a wheelchair. They want me to be best man at their wedding. I got called away to Ciaran’s office, so I invited them to dinner tonight to talk about it.”
Ginny interrupted, “Dudley who? Do we know any wizards named Dudley?”
Harry put the place settings down and said, “No, Ginny, it’s my cousin Dudley. Not a wizard.”
Ginny had just started kneading the dough again and stopped as Harry spoke to her. Ginny picked up her wand from the counter and waved it at the dough. It started to knead itself as she sat on the stool next to Harry. She looked him right in the eye and said, “Really, Harry, if this is one of your jokes, it’s in bad taste.”
Harry leaned into her, putting his arm around her as he said, “I promise that I’m not joking. Dudley and Lavender are engaged and they’re coming to dinner tonight.”
Ginny looked him in his eyes, confirming that he was serious before saying, “Harry, we won’t have enough food for eight, I only cooked for six.”
Harry thought for a moment, and answered, “After I take the boys to your parents, I’ll Apparate into London and go by that little place that makes that fabulous tabbouleh and pick up enough for everyone. That should make the difference.”
Ginny sprang up and started moving industriously around the kitchen, cleaning up the vegetable peelings. “If you’re stopping there, Harry, you might as well pick up some of their olive tapenade, hummus and pita chips too.” She rummaged in a drawer and wrote a quick list for Harry.
Harry took the list, kissed Ginny one more time and went into the living room to get his boys ready for their overnight visit at their grandparents’ house.
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