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--"
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.
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,
"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."
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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.
"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
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."
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.
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?"
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
oh, yeah, 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.