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The Runaway Returns by HPForevermore
Chapter 21 : The 'Ginny Horcrux'
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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Harry arrived at his London townhouse after leaving the Burrow.  He spent the next several hours brooding on Ginny before attempting to divert his thoughts by thinking of his future with the auror’s office.  The prospect of becoming an auror intrigued him more and more.  He enjoyed the brief time he spent meeting with Gawain Robards, Michael Davidson, and Aristide Porucrocopolis.  However, despite his best efforts, his mind continued to drift to Ginny.  Harry finally accepted the fact that a change in scenery was in order once again.  He needed to find someplace where nothing he saw, nothing he heard, nothing he smelled, tasted, or felt would remind him of her.  

As Harry’s thoughts bounced between his future with the Auror Office and the girl of both his dreams and nightmares, the two trains of thought collided.  ‘Ari, the Greek chap’, Harry thought.  The realization struck him.  He extended the use of his Greek villa to Ron and Hermione, but he had never been there himself.  

“Steinig?” Harry called.

The large elf appeared at his side with a ‘pop’.  “Yes, Master Harry?”

“Steinig, could you get me the folder for that Greek property I own?”

“As Master Harry wishes,” said Steinig with a bow.

Steinig reappeared with a ‘pop’ minutes later, handing Harry the real estate folder.  His villa was on the island of Ios, which was part of the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean Sea.  It was some distance from Athens – about ten hours by ferry.  That might be a problem for Ron and Hermione’s plans to visit historical sites unless there was some way to apperate from Ios to the Greek mainland.  

“Steinig, have you ever been to the Greek villa?”

“No Master Harry, but Genuino has.”

“Genuino?”  Harry called.  

With another ‘pop the second elf appeared.  Of all of Harry’s house elves, Genuino reminded him the most of Dobby, that is until he spoke.  He had the old gravelly voice of Kreacher in a younger, more energetic body.

“Master Harry calls Genuino?”

“Genuino, I need you to take me to the Greek villa for a few days.  Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger will be going there for their honeymoon and I want to check it before they go.  I’ll need you to tell me everything about the place and about how they can get to the mainland, both the magical and muggle parts.”

“Absolutely, Master Harry!” replied Genuino.

“Please pack some suitable clothes for the two of us and meet me here as soon as you can.”

“As you wish, Master Harry!” replied Genuino.

An hour later, after a long and nauseating portkey, Harry arrived in what appeared to be a refreshingly cool living room of a home made of stone.  The room was well-lit from the sun shining through the sliding glass doors to his right.  Comfortable furnishings surrounded the room and before him was a fireplace, next to which sat a pile of logs and kindling.  To Harry’s left was a small kitchen and he noticed that to the right of the kitchenette were two doors.

“The door on the left is the pantry and the door on the right is a small bedroom,” noted Genuino.  “The master bedroom is up the stairs behind you, as is another small bedroom.”

Harry nodded his response and surveyed the room once more.  While outdated, everything was well maintained.  Harry turned and walked toward the balcony beyond the glass doors.  The balcony was spacious enough for four lounge chairs – perfect for sunbathing.  However, it was the view that captivated Harry.  The home appeared to be carved into the stone approximately half way up a sheer cliff.  The cliff sloped steeply on either side and nearly encircled a lagoon below – Harry had the fleeting impression of a mother-nature sized dancer with her arms extended in a graceful arc and at a descending angle in front of her, the tips of her fingers separated by a several metres.  The far side of the lagoon, between mother nature’s fingers, spilled directly into the sea beyond.  The water of the lagoon was crystal clear for the first twenty metres from the beach, which then smoothly blended from aquamarine to azure.

“The property has been built into the cone of a dormant volcano,” explained the elf.  “The far side of the lagoon has long ago been reclaimed by the Mediterranean, leaving behind this beautiful lagoon.  Muggles can not see the lagoon.  They only see a continuation of the cliff face.”

Harry noticed a stairway to the right of the patio that wound its way down the cliff face some thirty metres to a pristine beach below.  Descending the stairs found Harry standing on a clean stretch of private beachfront.  The sand on the beach was light beige in colour and was as fine as powdered sugar.  He could clearly see fish darting through patches of rocks in the lagoon.  The water was warm, but refreshing in the heat.  ‘This – is – perfect!  There’s no other way to describe this place – just ‘perfect!

Ascending the stairs, Harry found Genuino waiting for his return.  “Genuino, I only have one concern and I hope you know the answer.”

“Master Harry, if Genuino does not know the answer, Genuino will do everything he can to find the answer.”

“Excellent.  Er, as you know, I’m letting Ron and Hermione use this place for their honeymoon.  However, Hermione loves history, both muggle and magical.  Most of the sites she will want to see are on the mainland, particularly around Athens, but this place is ten hours by ferry.  Do you know of any apparition points near Athens?”

“Yes, Master Harry.  If Master Harry wishes, Genuino can take Master Harry there now and show him the magical sections.”

~~~

For more than a week, Harry was blissful on Ios.  Most of his time was spent apperating to the mainland and touring the ruins of Athens and other locations, but he was most impressed with Thermopylae, the site where just a few hundred Greek soldiers withstood an overwhelming Persian force of over one hundred thousand men during three days of battle.

When not visiting the mainland, Harry spent his time swimming in the lagoon and resting on the beach.  His mind was at peace and despite not having Poppy Pomfrey’s dreamless sleep potion he slept soundly – until last night.

He rose from the tanning bed seated beside the lagoon and waded into the water.  The cool breeze flitted across his skin, making the water’s dampness all the more refreshing.  He closed his eyes and raised his face to the sunshine.

He could hear the disturbance in the water behind him, the gentle splashing as she strode through the crystal clear water.  The splashing suddenly stopped.

“Harry?” she called.  Her voice cracked in trepidation.

He knew she was there.  She was no more than a metre from him.  Yet, the sound of her voice caused him to stiffen in both apprehension and relief.

“Hey, Gin.”

“I’m sorry, Harry.  I’m so, so sorry.”

“I… I’m sorry, too.  We’re both at fault.  We both could have handled things better.”

Her arms wrapped around his waist from behind and he could feel the dampness of her skin, her moist bikini top pressing into the middle of his back, and her lips as they gently placed a kiss on his spine between his shoulder blades.  He entire body stiffened further before relenting and relaxing.   She held him for several moments, revelled in their closeness, before she spoke is a barely audible whisper, her breath causing ripples of excitement through his extremities.

“Thank you.  Thank you for never giving up on me… on us.”

Harry turned in her arms and placed his finger under her chin.  He lifted her head to look him in the eyes.  “Gin, you are my soul mate.  You are everything to me.  Without you, I am empty.  You are my reason for returning, my reason for living.”

He leaned forward and gave her a soft, lingering kiss.  Pulling back, he gazed lovingly into her chocolate brown eyes.  He could feel the soul-penetrating love being reciprocated, gripping his heart…

He awoke with a start and fumbled for his glasses on the end table next to the bed.  Hazy early morning sunshine lit the master bedroom and promised another radiant day on Ios.  However, the brilliance of the morning stood in sharp contrast with Harry’s mood.  Rising from his bed, he threw a robe around his shoulders and proceeded to the balcony off of the master bedroom.

Settling into a chair, Harry looked beyond the lagoon to the tranquil waters of the Mediterranean.  Genuino silently appeared shortly thereafter with a tray of tea and buttered crumpets for his wizard friend and left him alone just as quietly.  Harry brooded over last night.

Another nightmare had invaded his mind.  However, unlike those that had haunted him for the last several years, last night’s nightmare did not cause him to awaken in a cold sweat.  It did not cause him to unconsciously cast damaging spells throughout the residence.  It did not cause him to fear for the well-being of his family and friends.  But the nightmare was just as vivid and just as emotionally draining.

Last night’s nightmare drove a different kind of depression through Harry’s veins, one caused by loneliness and regret.  Here he was, some 3,500 kilometres away from her, and she still flooded his mind.  She still controlled his emotions.  

She still owned his heart.

And she refused to share hers with him.

Harry no longer felt secure anywhere now.  Ginny was so imbedded within him, that no matter where he went, he would be unable to move on.  In a weird sense, she was like another of Riddle’s accidental Horcruxes – the ‘Ginny Horcrux’ – ever-present, indestructible, and able to invade his thoughts and control his emotions at any time and against his wishes.

Of course, she would be a Horcrux that he would be more than willing to carry… if only she would allow him in her life again… if only she would allow him to explain that he realised how badly he had hurt her… if only she would allow him to show he would do anything in his power to make it up to her…

If only…

Perhaps Mrs. Weasley was right, that the only way to get rid of his nightmares was to talk them out.  However, last night’s nightmare was not one he felt he could share with many people.  Most everyone he knows is also close with Ginny.  Further, even among those with whom he would be willing to discuss his nightmares, there were not many people that could empathize with his plight.  As the muggles say, ‘It takes two to tango’, and only one of them is willing to dance.  

How does one move on with life, particularly when that life must be spent in a world of constant reminders of the dream that slipped away?  How does the groom pick up the pieces after he has been jilted at the alter?

Who does he even know who has been in this position before?  Lavender Brown?  Dumped by Ron, she would probably have a strong anti-Weasley bias.  Oh, sure, she’s still friendly enough with them, but it is unlikely she would be very objective when it came to a romantic relationship with a Weasley.  Besides, he hasn’t seen her since the war; it would probably not be the best idea to show up on her doorstep and start discussing his problems with her.  Dean Thomas and Michael Corner?  Great guys to commiserate with, considering he was now part of their Former-Boyfriend-of-Ginny-Weasley Club, but maybe not, considering she dumped them for him and he bollixed the relationship.  Ernie MacMillan?  Not even sure what happened there.

No, he knew no one with whom he could share his thoughts.  Anyway, he did not think their relationships ran as emotionally deep as his with Ginny.

His growing anxiety caused random memories to pirouette through his head.

You will heal, Harry Potter.  It may take more time than you’d like, and you might not heal the way you want to, but you will.  You’ll get better, and once you do, you’ll be home again.’  Luna’s omnipresent truths always contained deeper meaning.  He did not pay much heed to her words when she spoke them, being that he was too preoccupied by a certain redhead at the time, but he was beginning to understand and he did not like what he heard.  Yes, he would heal.  Yes, it was taking a damn long time, too long for his liking.  No, it was now obvious that he was not going to heal the way he wanted, but he would.  And then what?  How does one make a future from scratch?

Just be patient, and don’t do anything rash.’  Hermione was always the practical one.  There was a wedding approaching, and approaching quickly – her wedding.  Just get through the ceremony and reception.  Keep a cool head.  Don’t botch anything.  Be pleasant and polite.  Once it’s over, move on from there.  One day at a time.  One step at a time.  There was nothing else for it.

Be patient and polite.  Don’t do anything rash.  Do your wedding duty for Ron and Hermione’s sake.  Heal and move on.  Go make your own way in the world.  Don’t look back at anything… or anyone.

Harry breathed deeply, relishing the view from the patio overlooking the lagoon and savouring the Mediterranean air one last time.

“Genuino?” he called.

“Yes, Master Harry?”

“It’s time to go back.”

“Yes, Master Harry.”

~~~

Despite the two hour time difference between Ios and England, Harry was still full from the breakfast he had finished minutes earlier, even though Kreacher insisted that he eat again, it being only half seven at Lionheart Manor.  He took a small plate of toast and a cup of tea with him to his study, where Steinig awaited him.

“So good of Master Harry to return!  Steinig trusts Master Harry enjoyed his stay in Greece?”

“Yes, Steinig, I did, thanks.”

“Steinig has stacked Master Harry’s post in piles according to when they arrived.  Master Harry’s most recent post is in the pile on the right.  Steinig couldn’t help but notice that several were from Master Ronald Weasley.  Steinig suggests that perhaps Master Harry should open Master Ronald’s post first?”

“Thanks, Steinig.  Perhaps I will.”

Harry decided to open the most recent of Ron’s letters.  It was fairly brief.

Harry,

I’m trying not to overreact, but you haven’t responded to any of my other letters.  Please let me know everything’s alright, at least.

Your Mate,
Ron

Harry scribbled off a quick reply to let Ron know he was in Greece, inspecting the place where Ron and Hermione would be staying for their honeymoon.  He assured Ron that they would love their stay and informed him that one of the elves, Genuino, would be there as well to care for their every need.  Finally, he told Ron that he would be reading his earlier letters and would get back to him later today.

Harry rifled through the piles of earlier post and found Ron’s other three letters.  He also noticed two letters that intrigued him, which he pulled from the pile as well.  The script on one of the letters was familiar, but for the life of him Harry could not recall whose it was.  The script on the other of the two letters was all too familiar to him.  For the first time in several months, Harry felt the urge to throw a letter, that letter,  into the fireplace without reading it.

Scanning through each of Ron’s letters, Harry discovered that they pertained to his bachelor party.  Harry slapped himself on the head.  Of course, he was the Best Man and was expected to set up the party.  It completely slipped his mind.  Ron asked that Harry set up the party for Friday, the 10th of August, as all of his brothers would be available that weekend.  Ron did not elaborate, but Harry knew why – Ginny’s twentieth birthday was the following day.

Before responding to Ron, Harry opened the second letter with the not-quite-so-familiar handwriting.  He was glad he did – it was from Seamus.  He had run into Ron in Hogsmeade and they discussed potential sites for the bachelor party.  Seamus explained that, since the war, he had become good friends with Aberforth Dumbledore and suggested that if Harry wanted to have the party at the Hog’s Head, then he, Seamus, could have Aberforth reserve the upstairs room.  Seamus also explained that he could probably get the food and drinks at a discount, which would be good for Harry because he knew how little gold Harry had.  

Thanks to Seamus, Harry had a ready-made plan for the party.  He sent Seamus a response, thanking him and asking that he finalize the arrangements with Aberforth for the 10th of August while Harry handled the invitations.  Harry then sent another letter to Ron, explaining that the party was scheduled to begin on the tenth of August at seven in the evening.  He also informed Ron that invitations will be sent out in the next few days, that he planned on inviting the male members of his family, the DA, and the Order, and to please let him know as soon as possible if there were others Ron wanted to invite.

Bachelor party arrangements done for the moment, he turned to the scroll with the familiar handwriting.  He took a few deep breaths, internally debating whether to even bother reading it. He chose to bother.

Dear Harry,

I don’t really know why I’m writing you and I don’t know how to put this tactfully, so I’m just going to come out and say it.  

Stop running away!

Mum’s told me you’ve too off for parts unknown – twice.  Last time was to Oslo.  This time, Merlin knows where.  I’m not daft.  I realise that you’re leaving coincides with each of our confrontations.  I know you can’t stand the sight of me, but we need to put our own issues aside, at least until after the wedding.

You are supposed to be Ron and Hermione’s best mate and Best Man – start acting like it!  Start acting like the Gryffindor you’re supposed to be!  Be there for them and their families!

Because I seem to be the cause of your issues, I decided to be the bigger person.  I’m calling a truce.  I will be nice to you if you stop running away.  Agreed?

Ginny

P.S.: I don’t appreciate that you made me out to be the bad guy with Teddy.  When did you ever try to apologise to me?

Harry was tempted to throw the letter into the fire and now regretted that he had not done so before reading.  A new emotion overcame him; one that he never thought would be directed at Ginny – rage!  How dare she?  She made it perfectly clear that he was to stay out of her life, but here she was, trying to control his!  All she had to do was be nice to him in the first place.  Now, she wants to strike a deal with him to get her to be nice?  Was it really that difficult to be civil to him?  Was it such a challenge to be show simple decency?  She was being the ‘bigger person’ by choosing to be nicer to him?  Really?  And how in the world did Harry make her out to be ‘the bad guy’ to Teddy?  He’s a three year old, for Merlin’s sake!

Harry crumpled the letter and threw it across the room.  ‘Shove it up your arse, Gin!

After stewing for several minutes over the letter, Harry strode across the room and picked it up.  Walking back to his desk, he grabbed a quill, wrote a terse note to Ron on the bottom of Ginny’s letter, and sent it off with Yama.

He spent the next couple of hours reading his mail and perusing a week of Daily Prophet issues.  One his mind and desk were cleared, he noticed an envelope on the corner of his desk bearing the Gringotts seal.  He realised what it was as soon as he peeked inside.  He had never delivered the Harpies tickets to the Williams’.  Looking at his battered old watch, he realised it was already half noon.  Harry leaned back in his chair and regarded his study.  Two thoughts came to him.  One, as comfortable as it was, Lionheart Manor was too impersonal, too cold.  Two, he needed to get out of this place more often.  Despite the throngs of people he would encounter, he decided to take a trip to Diagon Alley, specifically to Slug & Jiggers Apothecary.  It stood in the alley just beyond the Leaky Cauldron, so his exposure to the public would perhaps be minimised.

“Kreacher?”

“Yes, Master Harry?”

“I think I’ll have lunch now and I’ll be leaving for Diagon Alley somewhere around two.  I shouldn’t be long.  While I’m gone, could you find some of my old family photos and set them about the manor?  I think some in here and the other study, and some on the mantle in the lounge.”

“Very good, Master Harry!”

~~~

Peaking inside the door of the muggle entrance, Harry was disappointed that the Leaky Cauldron was as full as it was for two in the afternoon on a Tuesday.  ‘Don’t these people have jobs?’  He strode through the door and walked briskly toward the back of the pub where the entrance to Diagon Alley awaited him.  He had reached the last set of tables when his approach was blocked by a barmaid.

“Aren’t you going to say hello, Harry?”

“Oh, er, hi Hannah!  Sorry, I’m trying to avoid attention,” replied Harry in a hushed tone.

“Oh, well, let me apologise to you then,” said Hannah as she nodded in the direction of the tables behind him.  Harry turned and noticed a gaggle of witches had gathered, the speed of which frightened him.  Offers to share lunch or a drink were proffered immediately and declined politely, yet the witches did not leave.  Harry turned toward Hannah at the sound of yet another voice.

“Hiya, Harry!”

“Harry, have you met my cousin. Cora?” asked Hannah.

“Er, yeah, hi Cora,” replied Harry.  He had extended his hand for a handshake, but instead he suddenly found his hand firmly planted under her bum to keep her from pulling the two of them to the floor.  Cora had jumped into his arms, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the lips.  It was not quite a lingering kiss, nor was it a quick peck, and he lowered her and looked into her eyes, stunned by what she had done.  However, the kiss had done its damage…

FLASH!  FLASH-FLASH!

“Sorry, Harry!  I couldn’t resist,” whispered Hannah as she stood on the tips of her toes to place another kiss on his cheek.

FLASH!  FLASH!

“Ahh, bloody hell, Cora.  Hannah?  Please?”  Harry appealed to Cora’s older cousin to take her away.  Suddenly, other witches attempted to take Cora’s place.  Harry needed to escape the mob, and he and several members of the press pushed their way through the swarm.  Harry felt more than his share of groping.  

Leaving the horde of witches behind, Harry suddenly had to field shouted questions from the press.  

“Mr. Potter?  What brings you to Diagon Alley?”
“Mr. Potter?  Are you currently dating Cora Abbott?”
“Mr. Potter?  Will you be attending the Weasley-Granger wedding?”
“Mr. Potter?  Why is the widarding world’s most eligible bachelor settling down so young?”

By the time Harry reached Slug & Jiggers Apothecary, he had had enough.  “Listen!  It doesn’t matter what I say because you’re going to print whatever you want anyway.  So, stop asking me questions!”

Just as he turned to enter the apothecary, one last question was shouted in his direction.  “Mr. Potter, are you confirming that you are currently dating Cora Abbott?”

“Yeah, whatever, print what you want,” he replied exasperatedly as he walked through the door.

~~~

“Harry!  What a surprise!”

“Hello, Wendell.  How are you?”

“Never better!  I see the press still won’t leave you be.  What brings you in?”

“I heard about your run of good luck, and since I was in the area I decided to stop in and see you.  Oh, and to drop these off as well.”  Harry slid the envelope across the counter to the potions master, who looked inside and extracted three tickets to the Harpies-Magpies match on the 27th of October.

“Thank you again, Harry, really!  This is too much.”

“My pleasure.  Think nothing for it.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you, Harry.”  Wendell leaned against the counter and motioned Harry to come closer.  As Harry leaned closer and rested his own arms on the counter, Wendell lowered his voice.  “You didn’t happen to, er, have anything to do with my recent ‘run of good luck’, did you?” 

Harry gave him a small smile.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  Harry’s response left Wendell distinctly uncertain and his showed his doubt with a small smile of his own.  The tinkling of a bell rang behind Harry and he turned his head to see two witches approaching the counter.

“Bloody hell,” muttered Harry.

“What’s the matter?” asked Wendell.

“I, er, I had a run-in with one of those two awhile back,” replied Harry.

“Not to worry, Harry.  Ms. Bustaman and Ms. Dixon are regulars.  I brew up a tricky little potion for them for their quidditch matches.  It’s a combination of an invigoration draught for energy, a healing potion for soothing injuries, and a wit-sharpening potion to enhance their mental clarity.  Listen, I’ll let you out the back door once I’m done with them.”

Harry nodded and stood back from the counter to allow Bertha Bustaman and Kadeisha Dixon to get to their business.  They approached the counter, but drew up short and turned to face him instead.

“Fancy meetin’ you heah, Harry,” said Kadeisha softly.

Harry nodded, “Hello again, er…”

“Kadeisha Dixon.”

“Right, hello Kadeisha.”

“You remembah Berta Bustamon?”

“Only by sight,” replied Harry with a curt nod.

“So, Potter, everyone out there’s all atwitter about you and the barmaid at the Leaky.  Is it true?” asked Bustaman.

“What if it is?  What business is it of yours?” snapped Harry.

“It’s my business because Ginny’s my friend and teammate, and ever since you came back from the dead, her mind is mash!  She can’t concentrate properly.  She can’t focus on what she’s doing on the pitch.  She’s going to get herself seriously injured out there and it’s all your fault!”

“I don’t know what Ginny’s been filling your head with, and I certainly don’t owe you an explanation.  In fact, I don’t owe you shite!  But let me tell you how it really is!  I never lied to her.  I never cheated on her.  I never ran off with another woman.  I never so much as said a harsh word to her.  All I did was leave the wizarding world… for her protection!  So she could live a long, safe, happy life.  It’s her choice we’re not together again!  NOT MINE!  That being said, I will thank you for staying out of my personal business from now on!”

Bertha Bustaman was taken aback for a moment before turning and walking toward the counter.  She shouted across the shop to Wendell, “Do you believe this bloke?”

“Yes.  I do,” replied Wendell coolly.

Kadeisha remained behind with Harry while Bertha and Wendell conducted their business.  After several moments of staring at the shared patch of floor between them, Kadeisha finally broke the ice.

“Er, Harry, is you really datin’ dat bahmaid?” she asked quietly.

“Of course, not.  I was just walking through the Leaky and she sort of jumped on me and kissed me.  Naturally, it’ll probably be all over the news tomorrow, if not this evening, because someone from the press got photos.”  Harry shook his head in disgust and looked away.

“Look, Harry.  Dis is really none of my business, bu’ I don’ tink Ginny wans you outa her life.  In fac, I tink she wans you to be in her life very much.”

“Kadeisha, it doesn’t really matter what you or anyone else thinks.  Ginny told me herself and has made it as clear as glass several times since then.  She wants me to get out of her life and she wants me to stay out.  And as soon as her brother’s wedding is over, she’ll have her wish.  Now, I’m done talking about this.”

Kadeisha merely nodded, her gaze having never left the floor between the two.  “As you wish, Harry.”

Several more moments of uncomfortable silence passed between Harry and the Harpies beater.  This time, Harry broke the ice.

“So, your first professional match in a month or so?  Your mum and dad must be proud.”

“Yeah, it’s a shame, dough.  Dey wanted so bad to be heah for da match, bu’ dey can’ make it.”

“Really?  Why’s that?”

“Dey really can’ afford de trip.”

After another moment of uncomfortable silence, Harry replied, “Well, keep you hopes up.  Perhaps something will happen and they’ll find a way to make it.”

Kadeisha nodded in reply as Bertha Bustaman returned to her side.  Kadeisha looked up at Bertha and nudged her in the side, bobbing her head in Harry’s direction.

“What?  Oh, yeah.  So, listen, Potter.  I never did thank you for doing… you know, what you did for me.  The reduced suspension and gettin’ the Ministry off my back an all that.  So, anyway, er, thanks,” mumbled Bertha sheepishly.

“No problem.  You didn’t deserve what they were throwing at you.”

“Yeah, all the same, damn decent of you.  So, er, thanks again.”

“See you latah, Harry.  Oh, an’ wha’ I told you abou’ Ginny, I’m preddy certain I’m right.”

Harry gave both witches a curt nod as they left through the front door and into the mob of press and spectators awaiting Harry’s egress.  He then followed Wendell out of the back of the shop where he portkeyed to Lionheart Manor.

~~~

Sitting in his study, Harry opened the Evening Prophet.  Sure enough, he was front page news.  Two pictures replayed themselves over and over.  Cora Abbott draped on him like second-hand robes and giving him what looked like a brief but passionate kiss – his hand placement was obvious.  Cora Abbott draped on him like second-hand robes and whispering in his ear lovingly before giving him another brief, passionate kiss on the cheek.  He knew that Hannah Abbott was standing right next to him, but she was hidden from view by him and Cora.  However, others were in the picture – a gaggle of very disappointed-looking young witches.  What upset Harry most about the picture was that he didn’t look as shocked as he had actually felt when it happened.  He looked amused by the kisses.

The newspaper found its way into the fireplace.

~~~

“Good evening, Love!  Something smells delicious and I’m famished!” said Arthur as he kissed Molly on the cheek.  Molly turned in his arms and gave a strong, lingering hug.  Arthur was used to Molly’s affection, but this felt different.

“What’s wrong,” he said as kissed the top of her head.  Molly drew back a bit and nodded in the direction of the table.  Arthur pulled away from Molly and picked up the front page of the Evening Prophet.  The photos were fairly incriminating, but the article made matters worse.

Harry Potter Off the Market!
Harry ‘the Recluse’ Potter, the wizarding world’s most eligible bachelor, has finally found love again.  As the photographs demonstrate, Mr. Potter is head-over-heels in love with the pretty young barmaid from the Leaky Cauldron, Cora Abbott, niece of the owner.  Numerous eyewitnesses verify that ‘the Recluse’ himself had confirmed that they were an item.  Mr. Potter is alleged to have been introduced to the young lass some weeks ago by none other than fellow Battle of Hogwarts hero, Neville Longbottom, who has been dating Cora’s cousin, Hannah Abbott, for quite some time.

After paying a visit to Cora at her place of business, Harry the Hermit proceeded to Slug and Jiggers Apothecary in Diagon Alley to visit Mr. Wendell Williams, a new employee of that store.  However, shortly after arriving, Mr. Potter encountered Holyhead Harpies beaters Bertha Bustaman and Kadeisha Dixon, teammates of former Potter Passion Pal, Ginerva Weasley.  If you recall, Ms. Bustaman had clashed with Potter once before in Hogsmeade a couple of months ago.  While reporters were not permitted inside the apothecary, they noticed that another brief but heated discussion between the two ensued.  The only common denominator between Bustaman and Potter seems to be Weasley.  Could the brief, but intense, love once shared between Weasley and Potter be causing ripple effects through the Harpies locker room?  Could Potter be the reason why the Harpies finished out of the playoffs for the first time in recent memory?  We can only speculate.

“Oh dear,” he breathed, giving Molly a sad smile.  He noticed her eyes had begun to water.

“I’m sorry, Arthur.  She’s upstairs.  She needs her father at the moment.”

Arthur nodded and proceeded to the first floor of the Burrow.  An hour later, more arrivals appeared in the kitchen.

“Where is she?” asked Hermione brusquely as she and Ron bustled into the Burrow.  

“Upstairs with her father,” responded Molly, bobbing her head in the direction of the stairs.  Ron remained behind with his mother while Hermione took the flight of steps two treads at a time.

“Is this about…” asked Molly, nodding in the direction of the newspaper left on the table by her husband.

“Yeah, typical Prophet bullshite.  Sorry, Mum,” Ron quickly added before continuing.  “Hannah and Neville flooed us as soon as we got home from work.  He’s not dating that Cora girl.  Harry only met her once before today, on the day we went to Madam Malkin’s to get fitted, and even then all he said was ‘hello’ to the girl according to Neville.  She’s apparently had a crush on him for awhile now.  Well, every unattached witch in Britain has a crush on him, don’t they?  And probably a few attached witches for that matter…” said Ron with a chuckle.  “Everyone except for our Gin.  Go figure.  But according to Hannah, he just happened to be passing through the Leaky when this Cora jumped on him.  And it just so happens that certain press people were there, too.”

“Do you think this Cora set him up to get some free publicity?”

“Hermione asked Hannah that same question.  Hannah doesn’t think so.  No one knew he was going to be there.  It’s all just a coincidence, I think.”

Ron was sitting quietly with his mother, stuffing his oral cavity with roasted chicken and potatoes, when Hermione and Arthur escorted a blotchy-faced Ginny to the kitchen table.  Hermione sat next to Ron and Ginny next to her mother, leaning her head on Molly’s shoulder.  Arthur sat in his usual seat at the head of the table.

“Everything alright?” whispered Ron to Hermione.  Hermione merely nodded and the sounds of silverware on dishes filled the room for several minutes.  The silence was shattered when Ginny unexpectedly spoke.

“Why does he do this to me?” she asked of no one in particular.

“Do what?” asked Arthur.

“Flaunt himself around in front of witches like that!” Ginny clarified.

“Harry?  Flaunt?  Really?” asked Ron with a chuckle of scepticism.  “’Flaunting’ is the last thing I’d call it.  If anything, it’s just the opposite.  I mean, look at the women in the picture standing behind him.  Pathetic, they look, don’t they?  Now I know why he’s such a recluse.”

“Oh, like you wouldn’t love to be in his shoes!  Having witches throw themselves at you everywhere you go!” spat Ginny

“Don’t get me wrong, Gin.  It would be a tremendous boost to my self-esteem!  But it would get really old really quickly, too.  Besides, I know I already found my perfect woman right here; every other witch pales in comparison,” said Ron as he leaned over and kissed the top of Hermione’s head.

“Thank you, Ron!  That’s so sweet, and you better not have gotten any chicken in my hair!” said Hermione with a snigger.

“But that’s just it, isn’t it?  You’re attached and he’s not.  There’s no reason to think that it would ever grow old for him.  He could just continue to have his dalliances,” retorted Ginny.

“Are you mental?  You tell him you want no part of him and then you get upset when some girl he scarcely even knows gives him a kiss?  You’re such a hypocrite, Ginny!”

“I am not a hypocrite!”

“Oh, no?  Didn’t you have your own ‘dalliance’ with Ernie MacMillan for two years?”

“That was completely different!  The circumstances were different then!  We didn’t even know whether Harry was alive or dead!”

“Well, he’s not dead now, is he?” replied Ron, the exasperation growing with the redness of his face.  “Let me be clear, Gin.  First of all, Harry doesn’t have ‘dalliances’ as you call them.  Second, I don’t think he’s so much as thought of looking at another girl in the last four years.”

Ginny gave a disbelieving snort, which rankled Ron even further.

“Alright Gin, clarity doesn’t seem to do it for you, so maybe candidness will.  I’ll speak slowly so what I say will penetrate that thick skull of yours…

“Every other witch pales in comparison to me because I know I already found my perfect woman right here.    Every other witch pales in comparison to Harry because he knows he already found his perfect woman, but lost her.  Once you’ve found perfection it’s awfully difficult to settle for something less.

“Oh, and who is this perfect woman he’s found?” asked Ginny.

Ron turned to Hermione, “Is she really this daft or is she pulling my leg?  Seriously!  She’s pulling my leg, right?  Please tell me she’s pulling my leg, because if she’s not pulling my leg, I’m taking her straight to St. Mungo’s for a mental health evaluation!”

As Ron babbled on, Hermione glanced over to Ginny and received a small smile in return.  “I think Ginny’s pulling your leg, Ron,” said Hermione with a smile of her own.

“Yeah?  Well, you may think all of this is funny, Ginny, but I guarantee you Harry doesn’t!”  Ron’s comment wiped the small smile from Ginny’s face.

“I don’t think any of this is funny!”

“Then maybe you think I’m totally gormless, but here’s a tip for you.  I said it was difficult to settle for something less, not impossible.  I don’t know if you’re ever planning on getting back together with the bloke, but if you are, this is no way to win him over,” said a frustrated Ron as he held up a crumpled piece of parchment.

“What’s that?” she asked pensively.

“Oh, I think you know what this is,” he replied as he flung the wad of parchment across the table at his sister with loathing.  With her highly honed chaser skills, Ginny caught the paper in mid-flight before it hit her in the face and she flattened it on the table.  It was the letter she had sent him earlier in the week, when Ron was trying not to panic over yet another Potter disappearance.

“How’d you get this?” Ginny demanded.

“He sent it to me.  There’s a note on the bottom,” snapped Ron.

Ginny scanned down to the bottom of the letter and read.

Ron,

Tell Ginny I agree with her terms until the wedding is over.  After that, I’ll be out of her life for good, just as she’s always wanted.  In the meantime, please tell her to stay out of mine!  What I do in my spare time is none of her business!

Harry

P.S.:  Tell her also that what I discuss with MY godson is MY business as well, NOT HERS!

“That letter was completely uncalled for, Ginny.  You had no business sending him something like that,” said Ron.

“Ron, he’s driving everyone up a wall!  He keeps running away!  You, yourself, were as nervous as a rat in a hippogriff pen!  Someone has to get him to stay put!”

“Ginny, if I have a problem with Harry, then I’ll deal with it.  I don’t need you to intercede on my behalf.  Stay out of my relationship with my best mate.  You worry about your own relationship with him.”

“I don’t have a relationship with him!”

“And at the rate your going, you never will!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Here’s a sickle’s worth of free advice from the gormless guy who has the emotional range of a teaspoon.  Judging by Harry’s response to your letter and the fact that he’s now getting out and about,” Ron nodded to the Evening Prophet now resting at the far end of the table, “I’d say he’s moving beyond that whole ‘depression of losing Ginny’ stage and shifting into the ‘anger’ stage.  I don’t think it’ll be long before he considers the two of you a cock up and moves on.  So, if I were you and I had any interest in getting back together with Harry, I’d be letting him know sooner than later.  And adding fuel to the fire certainly won’t help your cause!  In short, Ginny, it’s time to shite or get off the toilet as far as Harry’s concerned.  Er, sorry Mum.”

“Nice analogy, Ron!” said Hermione disdainfully with a slap on his shoulder.

“Whatever.  It’s accurate, though, isn’t it?” responded Ron.
 


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