The Sugar Quill
Author: Mosylu (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Home is Where the Heart Is  Chapter: Chapter Three
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Part 3

Etta James sings the version of "At Last" that Harry and Ginny dance to. Itís a great song, go get it. For any Bible scholars out there, I realize that a large chunk of the Charm of the Best Beloved is lifted from the book of Ruth . . . itís shatteringly romantic anyway, I hope. Enjoy.

* * *

Fred and Angelina kissed soundly, to applause and laughter. Then the justice of the peace, who luckily was a wizard as well, stepped away from the front of the aisle and the entire crowd fell silent.

The Muggle vows had been recited, but those were for legal purposes and they didnít really carry the emotion that the coming charm did.

Ginnyís eyes wandered to Harry, sitting in the second row back. His head was tilted towards Hermione, who was explaining to him in a nearly soundless whisper about the Charm of the Best Beloved.

It had been first performed during the Burning Times, those dangerous times when to admit oneself a witch or wizard to anyone one didnít trust implicitly was as good as a death warrant. It was true that Flame-Freezing charms were easily performed, but there were other ways to torture those of wizard blood. The Charm of the Best Beloved had been both safety net and celebration of all that was wizard and human. It had faded away after the end of the Burning Times, to be replaced by other rituals, but after the first advent of Voldemort, it had begun to be performed again.

Fred swallowed hard. This charm was performed without a wand, to show that it came from within and needed no outward focus to be kept. He swallowed again and started speaking in a slightly shaky voice.

"Thou art mine best beloved." As her brother said, "Angelina Mariette Johnson," Ginnyís mouth formed the words, Harry James Potter.

"As I love thee I will never leave thee. Whither thou goest, I will go, where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, all the days of my life. I pledge my heart, soul, and body unto thee alone. Do with me as thou wilt."

* * *

"Ginnyís left Hogwarts now," her mum told Harry over the table, beaming with pride. "Third in her class. First in Defense Against the Dark Arts, first in Charms, second in Herbology, fourth in Care of Magical Creatures--"

"Itís positively sickening, mate, I tell you," Ron put in. "Itís like when Percy left, but worse, because nobody was expecting it."

"Right after Christmas, it was," Ginnyís mum rolled on, unstoppable as a tsunami. "Itís as if she suddenly had a reason to excel."

"Maybe I did, Mum," Ginny said, looking Harry straight in the eye.

He looked away first.

"And her Apparition test!" Ginnyís mum continued.

"Yes," Hermione said. There was a knowing glint in her eye. "Tell Harry about your Apparition test, Ginny."

Ginny blushed. She hadnít set out to, but-- "I beat Hermioneís score," she murmured.

"Oh, donít put it like that--" Ron told her. "Hermioneís score was the highest set in three centuries, you remember," he told Harry.

"I do, yeah," Harry said slowly. "Was?"

"Well, now Ginnyís is--beat her by fifty points. Most flawless long-distance Apparition theyíd ever seen." Ron grinned at Hermione. "Does her good to be beaten at something once in awhile, I think."

"As if chess with you werenít enough!" Hermione retorted.

"Now Ginnyís got her pick of offers," her mum finished up, almost glowing. "Wizards all over the world have asked her to take jobs with them. She can do anything she likes." She shot her daughter a look. "Not that sheís taken anyone up on it yet . . ."

It was a sore point between Ginny and her mother. "I told you, mum," Ginny said. "Nothingís caught my attention."

"Well, what will, dear?"

"Iíve got--a specific position in mind."

Her mother was opening her mouth to say something that would probably start an argument when her dad turned up. "Molly," he said with a beaming face. "Iíve got the contract disc player hooked up. Come pick some music."

"Oh, but--"

"Come on," he said again, and chivvied his wife away with him. When he glanced over his shoulder and winked at his daughter, Ginny mouthed, Thank you at her dad. While he was as baffled as her mum about her lack of interest in her future, he was wise enough to leave her to it.

Ron was explaining to Harry. "Dad found that player last year, and he managed to get it working--"

"Over Mumís strenuous objections," George said dryly. "But Fred wanted some of this Muggle music, because he and Angelina like to dance--you remember them at the Yule Ball, sixth year--well, it would have been your fourth."

Harry stifled a snort of laughter. "Yes, I do."

George laughed too. "And Mum likes to dance, too, so she gave in on this one. Celestina Warbeckís all very well and good, you know, but I have to say sheíll never match Ella Fitzgerald for dancing music." He paused and listened. "Sounds like thatís who sheís picked," he finished, and grabbed Morganís hand. "Címon, luv, letís go give Fred and Angelina a run for their money."

Hermione and Ron left in a moment, too, leaving Harry and Ginny alone at the table. Ginny toyed with her food.

"Ho, little Virginia! Lovely day for a wedding!"

Oh, dear--it was Uncle Nigel. He was one of those family relations that people invited to things like this because--well--they were family and you just didnít ignore family like that, although you wished you could.

Stop that, Ginny scolded herself, accepting his whiskery kiss on her cheek. He really wasnít a bad sort, just a bit of a duffer. The trick was to smile and nod.

He settled down in the chair next to her, and Ginny heard it creak alarmingly. "Nice ceremony, eh? Wonder whoís next!" He winked broadly at her. "Ronnieís dragging his feet a little, I hear--but George seems content to putter around--and Bill and Charlie havenít brought a girl home in years--and what about you, missy?"

Right, that was it--if he kept blathering about weddings, she wouldnít be responsible for her actions. "Harry," Ginny said quickly. "This is my Uncle Nigel. Uncle Nigel, this is a friend from Hogwarts, Harry Potter."

Uncle Nigelís mouth had fallen open a little at the famous name, but true to form, he recovered himself quickly, leaning across the table to shake Harryís hand heartily. "So, Harry Potter! A pleasure, really a pleasure . . . Whoíd you say you were friends with from this family?"

Harry took back his hand, presumably too polite to massage the blood back into it where Uncle Nigel could see. "Everyone, really," he replied. "Ron first, and then the twins, from Quidditch--and then--"

And then he saved my silly life because I hadnít any more sense than to keep writing to a diary that patently didnít have my best interests in mind, Ginny thought ruefully. It was such an old regret, however, that it no longer had any sting. Could you count that as the basis for a friendship, she wondered.

"And then I sort of got absorbed into the family," Harry was finishing.

Uncle Nigel laughed heartily. "Bless her heart, Molly does seem to have the habit of adopting any strays that come her way . . . Whatíre you doing with yourself, lately? Havenít heard much of you since the end of Voldemort--"

Ginny was expecting one of Harryís evasive non-answers, so when he said, "Oh--Iíve been sort of a jack-of-all-trades lately," her head snapped up.

"Really! How so?"

"I started traveling after--I left Hogwarts, and every so often Iíd do a favor for some countryís Ministry of Magic, and--well--" he shrugged. "Every so often became more and more often, until thatís pretty much what I do now."

"Really! What kind of favors?"

"It depends on what they need at the moment," Harry said. "Iíve carried packages, relayed messages--that kind of thing. In Australia, I worked as a sort of consultant and liason to the Australian Muggles for several weeks."

Ginny could practically see the light go on over her uncleís head. "Oh, right--you were raised Muggle--you blend, donít you."

"Yes, thatís part of it. Once or twice, Iíve looked into things that the ministries sort of had to be discreet about investigating."

Uncle Nigel chuckled. "Will you have to kill us if you tell us about them?"

Harry shook his head, smiling faintly. "Nothing so drastic, if I donít mention particulars. To answer your question: a lot of monsters, a lot of Dark Magic. Iíve run into Death Eaters left over from the war, vampires, werewolves, that sort of thing . . . itís not too comfortable sometimes."

Ginny gaped. Why was Harry telling Uncle Nigel, of all people about this?

Then his eyes cut to her, and she realized--he was telling her too, in the hopes that it would discourage her.

She said clearly, "Itís something like what Dad and Ron do, then."

"Something like," Harry said. To someone who had watched him for as long as Ginny had, the dismay was clear. "Sometimes."

Uncle Nigel said, "Well, isnít that--interesting. How--mm--varied!"

"Itís really no sort of life for any sane person," Harry said, and now it was obvious he spoke to her. "I donít know where Iíll be, or what Iíll be doing, from one week to the next. I donít know whether Iíll be in ridiculous danger, or itíll be just a wild-Snitch chase. Sometimes, I donít even know what language I should be speaking."

"And yet you do it," Ginny said.

"Yes, but--itís something to do. Iím not cut out to do nothing for very long, and thereís not much I really like besides Quidditch. Plus Iím used to fending for myself." He leveled her a speaking look. "But someone whoís always had a steady home and a family around them wouldnít like it very much."

She lifted her chin. "Maybe someone whoís always had a steady home and a family around them would be glad of a little excitement and change." She quirked her brow at him. "Especially if they donít know what to do with themselves either."

Uncle Nigel was clearly lost in the undercurrents. He gave a fakey-sounding laugh and said, "Well, good for you, Harry--itís good to have occupation." He heaved himself up, purple robes straining. "Think Iíll see if we have a bit more cake--"

He left, and Ginny said, "Stop it, Harry."

His face was flat and expressionless. "Stop what?"

"You know what, and stop. Itís not going to work."

"I was telling the truth, Ginny."

"So was I."

* * *

Ginny could only stand being carefully not looked at for so long before she gave up and accepted her friend Jeremyís offer to dance. He was such an old and dear friend that he didnít even have to ask what she was troubled about.

"Nothing changes," he said ruefully. "Youíre just the same about him as you were first year, arenít you?"

"Not exactly the same," she protested.

"Exactly. The details have changed, but thatís about it."

She thought about that for a little as they danced. "But heís not the same about me," she said finally.

Jeremy just looked at her.

"Heís not! Thereís something there--I donít know what--but there is."

A few minutes later, Charlie danced by with Carmen, and switched partners. "Thank god," he said, once they were a few feet away. "I was getting sick of the moony-eyes."

Ginny looked at Carmen and Jeremy, grinning sappily at each other, and shook her head. "Honestly, Charlie, youíre such a cynic about love, how will you know it when you find it?"

"Iím looking, Wee One. Believe me, Iím looking."

After Charlie, she danced with a few cousins, and finally with George. He was trying to make her giggle, but her attention kept drifting.

"What is it?" he demanded finally. "I know I havenít lost my sense of humor, so it must be you!"

She looked up at him blankly. "What?"

"Never mind," he grumbled. "I know whatís got all your energy, and it isnít me."

"Sorry, George," she said contritely.

He waved it away. "Donít worry about me," he said in a choked little voice. "You just moon about after Harry and pay no attention to your toiling brother trying his damnedest to cheer you up . . ."

She choked on a giggle at the mournful look on his face. "Oh, donít. I know what youíre full of."

George glanced over at Harry, who was still at the table, patiently listening to yet another Weasley relation. "What about him?" he asked her. "Yíknow what heís thinking yet?"

She sighed. "No, and Iím starting to wonder if I ever will."

"Hmf. I think I do, and if heís thinking what I think heís thinking, he needs to have another think, or Iíll kick him square in the arse."

"What?" Ginny was completely baffled.

"Never mind. Come on." He danced her double-time over to the table and said very quickly, "Oi, Harry, do me a favor, dance with Ginny, got to find Morgan, ta!" He scootched away, leaving Ginny slightly spellshocked.

They looked at each other for a moment, then both tried to speak at once.

"You donít have to--"

"Itís really no--"

They stopped. Ginny could feel her face heat.

"You donít have to do it, you know," she said.

Something flickered through his eyes, and then he gave her a rather odd little smile. "What could it hurt? Just as friends. Thatís all."

She thought, Thereís no such thing, not for us. But she took the hand he held out.

As luck would have it, a new song was starting. It took Ginny a moment to recognize it, but it was strangely appropriate. "At last . . ." she murmured as she and Harry found a spot on the dance floor.

At last
my love has come along
my lonely days are over
and life is like a song.

He glanced down at her. He really was quite tall now. "Hmm?"

"Nothing," she lied.

Oh yeah . . . at last
the skies above are blue
my heart is wrapped up in clover
the night I looked at you

It was too slow a song for anything complicated, but it would have tripped Ginny up anyway. She was too involved in feeling the strength of his shoulder under her palm, and his hand in hers.

There really was no such thing as "just friends"--not for them.

I found a dream
that I could speak to
a dream that I could call my own
I found a thrill to press my cheek to
a thrill that I have never known

Their bodies werenít plastered together, like some of the other dancers--but they moved in perfect sync anyway. They didnít speak, but Ginny didnít feel the lack, as the music slipped around them.

This was the way it was supposed to be. Sheíd only ever danced like this with Harry, and she had a feeling that there was no other man she could dance with quite like this. It would always be that way, whatever happened between them. It wasnít something either of them could wish or explain away.

It just was.

She glanced up at him, and he gave her another little smile--not the tight, odd one heíd given her earlier, when heíd said, "Just friends." That time it had only been his mouth, and his eyes had been wary.

This one was much more Harry--sweet and understated, and much more with his eyes than with his mouth.

oh, yeah, you smiled
you smiled
oh and then, the spell was cast
and here we are, in heaven
for you are mine . . . at last.

The song was drawing to a close, and their steps slowed in time with the music. Ginny was still looking at his eyes, and saw the way the pupils dilated, so wide as to leave only a thin ring of green that nearly glowed. Her breath left her in a whoosh as those dark eyes dropped to her mouth.

Was he--really going to--

Then his head jerked up. Jolted out of her sensual haze by the motion, Ginny realized that the song had stopped, and so had all the dancers . . . and about five hundred eyes were trained on her and Harry.

He stepped back, almost stumbling, and said, "Thanks for the dance, Ginny." Then he hurried off the dance floor, leaving her alone.

And he left her alone for the rest of the evening.

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