Once again, it was Hermione who held him back. “Don’t make a scene, Harry,” she hissed.
Harry glared at her. “Did you see where he was looking?” he demanded crossly.
“Yes. The same place you were looking. Honestly, Harry. It’s called a push-up bra,” Hermione said, her cheeks turning pink.
“What the bloody hell has Ginny done to herself?” Ron demanded, finally finding his voice after Ginny and Jean-Luc had walked onto the dance floor. “That…that doesn’t look like my baby sister, and I don’t want all these blokes looking at that.”
“Would you lower your voice,” Hermione snapped. “Ginny wanted something to make her dress robes look less childlike, so I told her what to get.
It’s a Muggle thing, and it’s designed to take what you’ve got and…push it all up a bit.”
“A bit?” Ron demanded furiously.
“Never mind your sister, Ron. She can take care of herself. Besides, she’s only dancing amidst the presence of her entire family. Speaking of dancing, I believe you promised me one,” Hermione said, raising an eyebrow.
Ron gulped but held out his hand and escorted her onto the floor, still throwing murderous glances towards Ginny and Jean-Luc.
Scowling, Harry turned on his heel and stormed away from the table. While Charlie was watching Ginny closely, Ekaterina was smiling knowingly at Harry, and he couldn’t stand it. He saw Remus standing with Tonks near one of the bars and walked over to join them.
“Wotcher, Harry,” Tonks said. She was wearing bright fuchsia robes with a hair color to match. Harry was happy to see that both her Metamorphmagus abilities as well as her relationship with Remus appeared to be back on track. The couple was nearly beaming. Despite the sting he felt from the mess his own relationship with Ginny had become, he was pleased the fates appeared to be smiling on his former professor.
“Hi, Tonks. Hello, Remus,” Harry said, shaking the older man’s hand.
“What’s the matter, kid? You look like you just lost your best friend,” Tonks said with concern.
Harry shrugged. “I’m all right.”
Remus’s eyes scanned the dance floor and came to rest on the glittering figure in gold with the fiery red hair. “Ah. I see,” he said, before handing Harry a shot of Firewhiskey.
Harry raised his eyebrow.
“Sirius always said it helped to take the edge off,” Remus said, raising his own glass. He and Harry clinked their glasses together before tipping back the shots.
“How are things going at headquarters?” Harry asked once his eyes had stopped streaming.
He noticed the furtive glance that passed between the two Order members before Tonks answered. “Busy. There has been a lot happening.”
“Like what?” Harry demanded. “I know someone’s staying there that you’re protecting.”
The last statement was merely a shot in the dark, but it appeared to hit its mark. “Not here, Harry,” Remus said, speaking in a low voice. “We can talk about it another time in a more secure location.”
As he spoke with Remus and Tonks, Harry’s eyes kept glancing surreptitiously at the dance floor. He watched as Ginny danced with several partners in addition to Jean-Luc, although he appeared at her side more often than not. She looked as if she were having the time of her life. He hadn’t known she could dance so well. If it weren’t for the fact that Jean-Luc was out there with her, he would have enjoyed watching her.
The monster in his chest was screaming at him to go out there and ask her to dance, but he held back. He couldn’t do that. If he went near her now, he’d be lost, and he knew it. It was better for her and all involved if he kept his distance and allowed her to move on with her life.
He just wished it didn’t have to hurt so much.
As Tonks turned to speak with someone from the Ministry, Remus leaned over to speak softly in Harry’s ear. “If she won’t leave your thoughts even when you try to keep her away, perhaps the answer lies in keeping her closer to your heart.”
Harry sighed, still staring at Ginny as she danced. “I wish it were that simple.”
“Sometimes it is,” Remus said mildly.
“It’s too dangerous right now, and I don’t want to see her hurt,” Harry replied, the standard answer suddenly sounding weak even to his own ears.
‘Ah, I see. That old mistress Nobility appears to run strong in your family, Harry. Your father went through a stage of wanting to protect your mother, too. He didn’t want her involved in the Order or fighting Voldemort, but he finally came around and allowed her to be herself. He realized that he fell in love with that feisty, stand-up-for-what-she-believed-in girl, and then he asked her to change. That wasn’t really fair to either of them,” Remus said, taking another drink.
“Is that what I’m doing?” Harry asked, shocked. He’d never quite looked at it that way. Of course his parents had both been involved in the fight against Voldemort. The prophecy had said they’d defied him three times. His mother was in the Order, the same as his father, yet he’d still tried to protect her when Voldemort had first arrived at Godric’s Hollow. How had he reconciled the two such opposing desires?
“It would be highly unfair if Ginny locks away her true personality in order to support your quest, only to have you fall out of love with her because she’s no longer the same girl with whom you fell in love in the first place,” Remus said.
“That would never happen,” Harry stated firmly.
“I feel like a hypocrite giving you this advice, Harry, considering my actions of the past year,” Remus said, wincing. “But take it from a man who knows where you’re coming from, you’re much stronger and a more able wizard with her than without her.”
Harry sipped his wine, mulling over Remus’s words. Hadn’t he said himself that he’d never felt stronger than that brief time he and Ginny were together? Hadn’t his own parents decided that living and loving were worth all the risk?
“Come on, Harry. Let’s dust off your dancing shoes,” Tonks said, grabbing his hand and dragging him onto the floor. He danced with Tonks, Mrs. Weasley, Hermione and even Fleur before insisting he needed a break.
A disturbance near the entrance of the tent caught his attention, and he walked over to investigate. Fred and George stood there with arms akimbo, glaring at Percy, who was standing at the entrance, looking extremely uncomfortable. With him stood the Minister of Magic, dressed in his finery and bearing gifts. Harry was reminded of a similar scene this past Christmas.
“What are you doing here, Percy?” Ron demanded, storming across the tent and stopping within inches of his elder brother.
“I was invited,” Percy said, lifting his nose and adjusting his glasses.
“Yeah, and you didn’t reply,” Fred spat.
“Mum had a good cry over it, as I recall,” George said.
“Unfortunately, my busy schedule didn’t allow my prompt response, and I do apologize for my ill manners,” Percy said stiffly. “I’ve come to deliver a gift to my eldest brother, so if you’ll excuse me...”
“Mr. Potter,” Rufus Scrimgeour said before Harry could slip away. “I wondered if we might have a word while Percy here discusses a private matter with his family.”
“Harry is family,” Ron snarled. “More so than this sod,” he said, jerking his head in Percy’s direction.
“Percy? Is that you?” Mrs. Weasley cried, interrupting them all. “Oh! You did come; I knew you would. Come over and see the newlyweds. Bill will be so happy to see you.”
As Mrs. Weasley led Percy away, Scrimgeour stared pointedly at Harry. “A word, Mr. Potter?”
Harry crossed his arms across his chest but didn’t move away from Ron and the twins. “We have to stop meeting like this, Minister. I suppose old habits are hard to break.”
A flicker of annoyance crossed Scrimgeour’s face. “Things are dismal, as I’m certain you are aware. Now that some time has passed since Albus Dumbledore’s death, I’m wondering if you’ve taken the time to reconsider my proposition?”
“About Ministry protection, Harry. I’m certain you’ve read the reports of Muggle casualties. Just last week there was another attack in Diagon Alley, where several shops were destroyed.”
“I’m aware of them. What are you doing about them?” Harry asked.
“The Ministry is doing everything within its power—”
“Released Stan Shunpike yet?”
“That is not going to get us anywhere,” Rufus Scrimgeour said, his voice rising slightly.
“No, what’s not getting us anywhere is your refusal to accept that I’m not going to be your poster boy,” Harry said, snarling. “If you want my approval for the way things are being done at the Ministry, then earn it. Start doing what needs to be done. Skip these useless handbooks on how to protect yourself and start teaching people something useful. Teach them how to cast a Patronus, or how to deflect the Inferi. Stop terrorizing people you know are innocent just to make it look like you’re doing something.
“You can start with questioning those former suspected Death Eaters who claimed to be under the Imperius. Hell, any Death Eater worth his salt knows to claim he was acting under the Imperius, and you’ll release him. The fact that Stan Shunpike never thought to claim it should tell you he’s no Death Eater.”
“This is getting us nowhere,” Scrimgeour said irritably.
“No, and I can see from your refusal to accept some cold hard truths that it’s not going to. You might have once wanted to help people when you first became an Auror, but now you’re just like Fudge, more concerned with politics and public perceptions. That isn’t the kind of leader we need in this climate, Minister. So, you go right ahead and do what you’ve got to do, while I’m going to go and actually get something done,” Harry said, fuming.
“Exactly what is it you think you’re going to be doing?” Scrimgeour asked suspiciously.
“Oh, a little of this, a little of that,” Harry replied, shrugging his shoulders.
“You know what Albus Dumbledore was doing before he died, and I intend to find out,” Scrimgeour accused, his eyes narrowing dangerously.
“As I said,” Harry replied with dead calm, “you do what you have to do. Right now, I have a wedding to enjoy, and your presence is neither needed nor wanted here.” With that, Harry walked away from a spluttering and very angry Minister of Magic, Ron following closely in his wake. Harry was amused to see Fred and George remain behind to escort Scrimgeour from the tent.
“Whoa, Harry,” Ron said, grinning appreciatively. “You just dismissed the Minister of Magic. I’m glad Hermione didn’t hear that, though. She would have started hyperventilating.”
Harry smiled. “Are you two having a good time?”
“Yeah, we are,” Ron said, watching Hermione chatting with Viktor Krum.
Harry tensed, waiting for the explosion. “Ron.”
“She came here with me. She wants to be with me,” Ron said firmly, keeping his eyes fixed on Hermione as she walked across the dance floor.
He could hear that slight measure of uncertainty still in Ron’s voice. Deciding to tease a bit, he asked sharply, “Did you get a nice look at her bum?”
Ron jumped. “What? I- I- I didn’t.”
Harry couldn’t hold the stern face any longer. “You did so! I just watched you. You can’t take the mickey out of me anymore about Ginny unless you want to get it back about Hermione. She’s the closest thing I’ve got to a sister, you know.”
“Sod off. Don’t let her hear you say that, either, or she’ll cry all over you. We all know how well you handle crying girls,” Ron said, elbowing Harry in the ribs.
Harry shoved Ron’s shoulder. “Git.”
“Would you like to dance, ‘Arry?” Gabrielle asked. She’d walked up behind them without his noticing.
Harry groaned inwardly, while Ron sniggered.
“I’d be honored, Gabrielle,” he said gallantly, causing the young girl to beam. He glared at Ron as he led Gabrielle onto the dance floor. As the music played, he caught sight of Ginny, once again dancing with Jean-Luc, and had to grit his teeth in frustration. He tried to steer Gabrielle away from where Ginny and Jean-Luc were dancing, finding it unbearable to watch her. Somehow, however, every few steps Gabrielle managed to maneuver them nearly next to the chatting couple. He knew he was the one who was supposed to be leading, but he’d never quite got the hang of the steps.
Just as they came alongside Ginny and Jean-Luc, the music changed into a slower song, and the couples surrounding them pulled each other closer.
“I zink it iz time to switch partners,” Gabrielle said, shocking both Harry and Jean-Luc. She let go of Harry and wrapped her arms around her cousin. She said something in French as the two began to dance.
Harry and Ginny were left staring at one another.
“So, are you going to ask me to dance, or what?” Ginny asked, raising a finely arched eyebrow. Harry could read the challenge in her eyes. She was daring him to walk away.
Damn it all to hell, but he couldn’t do it.
“Would you care to dance with me, Ginny?” he asked hoarsely, licking his suddenly dry lips. A thin sheen of sweat formed on his upper lip as got a better look at the neckline of Ginny’s dress. His eyes wouldn’t behave and kept trying to look down.
Ginny’s eyes softened as she put her small, warm hand within his own. He wrapped his other arm around her waist and pulled her firmly against him, inhaling the sweet, flowery scent he remembered so well.
He forgot about his feet and counting the steps and simply allowed himself to be swept away in the moment, loving having her body pressed against his. He ran his hand along the silky material of the dress robes on her back and hissed involuntarily when he reached the bare skin near her shoulders.
“You look lovely,” he whispered.
“Merlin’s Beard, Harry. Was that a compliment?” she asked, laughter dancing in her eyes.
His eyes dipped to the cleavage that seemed to be fighting its constraints, and he swallowed heavily. He could now feel the sweat rolling down his back. “I suppose it was.”
Ginny smiled gently and leaned in to rest her head on Harry’s shoulder. He shut his eyes and placed his cheek against the softness of her hair. He had no idea how long they stood there, simply swaying to the music; he just knew this was where he wanted to be. When Ginny finally looked up and into his eyes, he was mesmerized by the play of lights on her face. He leaned over slowly and her lips parted, but before he kissed her he glanced around the room.