It arrived on a rainy April morning, in a thick cream envelope. Had it simply been found on the doormat, Harry would have assumed it to be a late April Fool's joke, but Ginny had nearly choked on her cereal with excitement when she spotted the fat Muggle postman hurrying up the garden path.
'Let me talk to him!' she said, her eyes lighting up.
'No, don't worry, you stay here,' Harry replied hastily, gently pushing her back into her seat.
'But I want to ask about-'
Harry ignored her, reaching the front porch as quickly as he could. Ginny was as bad as her dad for loving Muggle things sometimes, and he dreaded to think about the sort of questions she was likely to interrogate the poor bloke with.
'I think you have the wrong house,' he said to the bewildered looking postman.
The man was craning his neck to look at the cottage, rapidly glancing back down at the envelope in his hand. 'Yeah… I didn't know this place existed… Er…' he squinted at the address on the letter. 'This is Sparrow Cottage, isn't it?'
Harry nodded, and Ginny appeared behind him, standing on her tip toes to stare over his shoulder at the postman.
'Ask him about stamps,' she whispered in his ear.
'I'll tell you about them later,' he hissed back. He turned back to the Muggle with a polite smile. 'That's right, but we don't usually get post. Who is it addressed to?'
'A Mr Harry Potter,' said the postman.
'Oh,' said Harry, experiencing a sudden rush of memories from when he was ten years old. 'Yes, that's me.'
The postman gave him a good natured smile as he handed over the letter, and with one last glance over the cottage he'd never known existed, turned back into the rain. But Ginny leapt forward, nearly knocking Harry over in the cramped porch.
'Wait!' She grinned at the alarmed postman, her face alive with excitement. 'I just wanted to ask, how do you get the money out of stamps?'
'You what, love?'
'How do you get your pay? From the stamps? How do they work?'
Clearly under the impression that he was being mocked, the man frowned at her and stomped away, muttering under his breath about rude snobs. Ginny looked disappointedly back at Harry, who simply shook his head witheringly at her and returned to the kitchen.
'But I still don't understand,' she said as she followed him. 'Why don't you give him money like we do to owl deliveries? How can he be paid in stamps? It doesn't seem fair to not let him have real money.'
'I told you,' said Harry, opening the letter and pulling out a thick cream card. 'They just show that you've paid, it's all part of a bigger system, they're not really…' He faltered as he scanned the card.
'What is it?' asked Ginny.
'Nothing,' he said quickly, shoving the card back into the envelope. 'Must be the wrong address.'
'You're a terrible liar,' said Ginny. 'Come on, what is it?'
'I told you, it's nothing-' Harry insisted, but Ginny tackled him. He held the envelope high above his head, using the other arm to try and wrestle her off, but she had remarkably little trouble clambering up him like a squirrel, and after a few moments of clumsy tussling, she reached up and snatched it out of his hand.
'A Muggle wedding!' she said with delight. 'And you've got a plus one too; I can come!'
'We're not going,' he said flatly. 'Why he wants me there is beyond me.'
'But he's family,' she began slyly.
'Don't try that,' he warned. 'They don't want me there, and I don't want to go.'
'Of course he does, why else would he have invited you?'
He shrugged, a little flustered, and sat back down at the kitchen table. 'I don't know, politeness? Maybe his fiancé thinks it's the decent thing to do? I'll send a nice note back saying we're busy in August.' He picked up his newspaper, hoping to end the conversation there, but Ginny pulled it firmly off him, glaring down at him sternly.
'It would be rude for us not to go,' she said.
He stared at her with narrowed eyes for a few moments, then it clicked. 'You just want to go to a Muggle wedding, don't you?'
'It might be my only chance,' she admitted.
'Well tough. It will be miserable and awkward, no one wants me there and I don't want to see them. We're not going, and that's final.'
The morning of the wedding dawned bright and early for Harry and Ginny. Harry's lack of enthusiasm was softened only by Ginny's raw excitement, and even he couldn't help but smile as she showed off her large Muggle hat.
'Hermione helped me get it,' she said proudly. 'Isn't it funny looking?'
'You look great,' he said. 'But you will remember to play it cool, won't you? You'll be the only witch there.'
'Yes, yes,' she said, waving her hand with a worrying lack of concern. 'I can't wait to hear the music they have, Hermione says Muggle weddings usually have a BJ-'
'DJ,' Harry corrected her hurriedly.
'-Yes, that's what I meant, and the music is played with eckeltricity.'
'Have you got the backstory memorised?' he asked her patiently.
She nodded, still fiddling with the placement of her hat. 'Yes, I work in sports journalism for rugby, and we met at school.'
'No, we met because you went to the school next door to me,' Harry reminded her. 'They all think I went to a boys school for delinquents, remember? You have to say you went to a different one.'
'I will,' she said easily. 'Ready to go?'
Feeling thoroughly miserable and rather convinced that they would end up breaching the Statute of Secrecy, Harry took Ginny by the hand and Disapparated.
It was the first time he'd been back to Surrey since the war. It was much the same as he remembered it. They had Apparated to the end of the quietest platform in Guildford train station, where Dudley had once tried to push him onto the tracks as a joke.
Ginny was looking around the dismal station with a rather awestruck expression, staring intently at a man talking loudly into a mobile phone. 'Did you really grow up here?' she asked him. 'The station's not as good as Kings Cross.'
'Not here, exactly, Little Whinging's a bit further out.' He pulled out the now old and dog-eared invitation and frowned at the address. 'I think we're better off getting a taxi, the wedding's in the middle of nowhere.'
'I wanted to get a Muggle train,' Ginny said, looking rather crestfallen.
'Taxis are good too,' Harry said. 'Come on.'
He was starting to feel rather sick as he led her out to the taxi rank. She was chattering away about something, but all he could think about was the prospect of seeing the Dursleys again. He had never bothered to check up on them after. Dedalus Diggle had assured him that they were back at home, and that their time in hiding had consisted of an uneventful few months on the Costa del Sol. He supposed it was Dedalus who had given Dudley his address.
His RSVP in the affirmative had resulted in a delighted letter from Dudley, who said that he was thrilled Harry had agreed to come and was looking forward to introducing him to his fiancé. However one line of the letter in particular had haunted Harry since reading it.
I hope you enjoy the wedding, it's a great opportunity for everyone to make amends and put past issues aside – we are family, after all.
'I bet it's all a big trick,' he said despondently to Ginny as they clambered into the back of a cab. 'His fiancé probably wrote that, I don't think Dudley knows words like "amends"… I'm not even sure he can spell "opportunity" either.'
'He could be a changed man, perhaps he grew up during the war,' she said.
'They spent the whole time lying on a beach in Malaga,' said Harry bluntly.
'It still must have been tough, to leave all his friends and home and all that,' said Ginny. 'Anyway, maybe this… What's her name? "Hyacinth" girl has been good for him.'
Harry gave a disbelieving hum, and fiddled with his cufflinks. 'At least there's an open bar,' he said heavily.
'Exactly,' said Ginny brightly. 'I'm sure it won't be that bad, you and me can just do lots of dancing and ignore your family. You never know, the drunker they get, the more you might like them.'
'The drunker they get, the more chance there is of Uncle Vernon telling his Japanese golfer joke and Aunt Petunia having to apologise for him,' retorted Harry.
The taxi had left the town, and the urban grey transitioned smoothly into gently rolling green fields as the car trundled down a winding lane.
'Fancy place, this Rosewood Hall,' said the taxi driver suddenly. 'My daughter wants to get married here.'
'Ooh, really?' said Ginny eagerly, leaning forward. 'Will there be a BJ?'
'DJ, Ginny,' corrected Harry hastily.
Eyebrows raised so high that they had vanished into the folds of his wrinkled forehead, the taxi driver nodded at her slowly in the rearview mirror. 'Er… Yeah, there'll probably be a DJ, yeah…'
The stately home they arrived at was as the driver had promised; very fancy. A pristine lawn stretched up to the house, Georgian in style and reflected beautifully in a gently shimmering lake. Already a swarm of well-dressed Muggles were tottering up the gravel drive, and Harry's spirits sank even lower as he peered out of the window at them.
'Merlin, he even invited our old primary school teacher,' he groaned. 'Who does that?'
'Will she remember you?' asked Ginny hopefully. No doubt she was hoping to hear adorable stories of his childhood.
'Probably,' Harry muttered. 'I turned her wig blue.'
'You turned her-?'
But the driver was asking for money and Harry was trying to pay without being spotted by Miss Burtman, so Ginny's question went unanswered.
The ceremony was taking place inside the grand house, despite the hot weather, so they followed the crowd up to the huge mahogany doors. Ginny had never been inside a Muggle stately home before, and its familiarity yet subtle differences to Hogwarts were disconcerting. She watched the dark oil portraits, creeped out by the fact that they didn't move, and gave a distrustful look at the chandelier, which Peeves would have unscrewed in minutes.
They shuffled through the entrance hall, buffered by the crowd, to another large set of doors, where smartly dressed ushers were showing people to seats in an airy room. When they reached the front, a short, slightly chubby young man hurried over to them.
'Bride or groo- Oh! Potter!'
He gaped at Harry, who stared confusedly back for a few seconds, before remembering with a rush of dislike. 'Malcom,' he greeted stiffly.
Malcom scratched the back of his neck awkwardly, not quite meeting Harry's eyes. 'Been years, hasn't it?'
'Ten years,' Harry replied with a cool voice.
Malcom nodded, swallowing nervously. 'So… Er… Bride or groom?'
Harry raised an eyebrow. 'Groom,' he said pointedly.
Malcom blushed furiously. 'Right, of course, obviously, haha… This way.' He led them down the aisle and sat them in uncomfortable white chairs which looked towards vast floor to ceiling windows. In front of them and under a flowered archway stood a vicar, a nervous looking Dudley and his best man, and a stern looking man Harry thought might be the father of the bride.
'Who was that?' Ginny whispered as they sat, nodding towards the usher that was now walking away from them.
'One of Dudley's old school friends,' said Harry. Forgetting himself somewhat, he lowered his voice. 'He was the fastest in his gang so he'd catch people running away. And then Piers-' he pointed to Dudley's best man, '-would hold their arms behind their back while Dudley punched m-them.'
He hoped that she hadn't noticed his almost-slip of the tongue, but judging by the thin line her lips had now formed he suspected that she knew exactly who Dudley used to punch. 'Anyway,' he said bracingly, 'he thinks I went to a school for criminal boys, that's probably why he was so nervous around me.'
A few rows in front of them, Harry could see the backs of his aunt and uncle. He wasn't sure if they knew he was here or not, but immediately felt incredibly awkward. Perhaps he had tensed up, for Ginny grasped his knee tightly, rubbing a reassuring thumb over his leg.
'It's very pretty, isn't it?' she said, nodding to the flowered arch. 'And I can't believe that's your cousin, he looked very different last time I saw him.'
Dudley had certainly lost a lot of weight, but clearly a year away from Surrey had not stopped him from enjoying boxing. His broad shoulders and muscled arms were intimidating even in his wedding suit. 'I've just thought,' whispered Harry, a horrible realization coming over him. 'I don't even know what excuse the Dursley's gave all their friends for that year away.'
'We'll work it out,' said Ginny reassuringly. 'Or we can ask one of them after the ceremony.'
Harry pulled a face, but couldn't answer as the music swelled. They twisted in their seats to see the mystery girl,
Hyacinth Coutts, who was to become Hyacinth Dursley. She was a plain girl, in Harry's opinion, skinny but with a face that seemed to have been pulled forward at the mouth, and long, straight brown hair that she'd left down under her veil. But as she saw Dudley waiting for her at the other end of the aisle, her wide lips burst into a radiant smile that seemed to make all the difference.
Dudley too, was barely recognizable. Genuine care for another person seemed to transform his face into something like handsomeness, quite unlike the piggy boy Harry had grown up with.
Hyacinth walked slowly down the aisle, her stern-faced father throwing Dudley a threatening look as he gave her away, and the hushed whispers that had rippled through the audience fell away to revered silence.
'Dearly beloved…' began the vicar.
Harry gripped Ginny's hand tightly. He had no particular interest in the ceremony, and through the various readings and hymns, he could feel unfriendly eyes on him. The majority of the people on the groom's side believed him to be a criminal.
Ginny was either unaware or tactful enough to pretend not to notice, for she continued to watch the ceremony with a careful expression of mild interest, dignified and elegant in her composure. At one point during the hymns, Harry was sure Aunt Petunia turned around and eyed Ginny beadily, but Ginny continued to sing 'All Creatures Bright and Beautiful' with admirable gusto.
Finally, the vows were said and the rings were exchanged, Piers' rat-like face grinning idiotically as he handed them over.
'Perhaps when you've had a few drinks at the bar, you can hold his arms behind his back while I punch him,' Ginny suddenly whispered.
Harry's snort of laughter was so loud that those sitting close to them turned to glare, Harry burying his face in his hands to control his laughter. Ginny continued to stare straight ahead with that same calm expression, as though she had said nothing at all.
Dudley and Hyacinth made their way back down the aisle to rapturous applause, and soon Harry and Ginny found themselves lining up to shake hands with the wedding party. Ginny went first, and had no idea what to say to any of them, so repeated "congratulations" to the both bride's family and the Dursley's, but Harry found that he could say nothing at all. He shook his aunt and uncle's hands as if they were strangers, exchanging a small, polite smile for their cold glares. Hyacinth seemed to know who he was and gave an uncomfortable but warm smile. He reached Dudley.
'Congratulations, you must be thrilled,' he said.
'So glad you could make it,' Dudley said back, beaming. 'I didn't tell Mum and Dad, I thought it would be a nice surprise. I've sat you on the family table too.'
Harry's low, horrified voice was drowned out by the impatient old woman behind him, who barked at him to move out of the way and pushed him aside.
'Did you hear that?' he said to Ginny as they walked away. 'He's still a complete idiot, he didn't even warn my aunt and uncle! And what does he mean "family table"? He's not put us on the high table has he?'
Ginny shook her head at him, nonplussed. 'There's drinks outside while they do their photos before the meal,' she said. 'Come on, no point worrying about it now.'
He was sure that he meant it as a nice gesture, but Dudley's attempt to make Harry feel like part of the family had just made him feel even more anxious. He seized a glass of champagne from a waiter as they went outside, and downed it in one.
'I don't think your uncle knew who I was,' said Ginny conversationally, 'but your aunt gave me the meanest glare.'
'Probably not as mean as the one she gave me,' said Harry. He looked around the manicured lawn. Several women were sinking slightly as their heels struggled with the soft ground, but otherwise it was the perfect picture of an English garden party. 'Hyacinth's family must be loaded,' he said. 'My uncle's too tight to shell out for stuff like this.'
'I bought some of George's Farting Fudge, I thought we could sneak it to him in a vol-au-vont,' said Ginny, eyeing Vernon as he gathered people for photos.
'Ginny,' said Harry warningly.
'Come on, it'd be great during the speeches-'
'We talked about this, the Statute of Secrecy, remember?'
'You'll change your mind,' Ginny assured him, taking a sip of her champagne. 'Did you still want to speak to your aunt about what the cover story was?' She nodded to Aunt Petunia, who was talking chirpily to another blonde woman.
Harry groaned. 'She's with her friend Yvonne. Come on then, I'll get it over and done with before anyone asks us any questions.'
They approached, and though they were sure Petunia knew they were there, she didn't acknowledge them until Harry coughed awkwardly. 'Hello,' he said. Petunia gave a jerky shake of her head, while Yvonne stared at him with undisguised disgust. 'This is Ginny,' he said. 'Ginny, this is my Aunt Petunia and Yvonne… Yvonne is Dudley's godmother and used to babysit me when Mrs Figg couldn't.'
'Pleased to meet you,' said Ginny cheerfully, but neither Petunia nor Yvonne responded. There was an achingly long pause, before Harry gave an awkward glance at Yvonne and turned to his aunt. 'Could I have a moment?' he asked, trying to give her a meaningful look.
'Fine,' she said resentfully. 'Yvonne, stay here, I'll be right back.'
They walked away, Harry throwing Ginny an apologetic look for leaving her alone with Yvonne. The woman was rather plastic looking, with blonde hair lighter than Petunia's and oversized lips that would have been convincing if it weren't for the wobbly lip-liner.
Desperate for something to say, Ginny smiled at Yvonne and, absurdly, clinked their champagne glasses together. 'To Dudley and Hyacinth!' she said boldly. Yvonne looked appalled.
'So you used to babysit Harry, then?' she asked, hoping to draw any sort of conversation out of the woman after a long pause.
'Occasionally,' said Yvonne sniffily. 'You're not dating him are you?'
'Yes, I am actually,' said Ginny pleasantly.
'Well I wouldn't, sweetheart,' scoffed Yvonne. 'He's troubled, I warned Petunia when she took him in that kids with no parents never turn out right. I told her not to - don't put Dudley at risk, I said, he'll be dangerous before long. I mean, I feel sorry for the poor little wretch, but they always have behaviour problems, kids in social care, and I was right, wasn't I? Ended up a criminal, didn't he?'
Ginny's fingers tightened around the stem of her champagne glass. 'Well, he's turned over a new leaf,' she said, trying to keep her voice friendly despite her gritted teeth.
'Nah, he's been traumatized. He'll be a walking disaster, you give it time. Petunia says he's been in prison already. I know about these things, sweetheart, I did an A-Level in psychology.' Ginny drank to keep herself from shouting at the woman. 'Where did you meet him anyway? I hope he hasn't lied to you about his background.'
'We were arrested together and met in jail,' said Ginny. 'I punched a woman in the face.'
'Everything all right?' Harry and Petunia had returned, and he looked at Yvonne's horrified face with a nervous curiosity.
'Fine,' said Ginny loudly. 'Come on, I want some of those little crab things that waiter was carrying round.'
She linked her arm through Harry's and hurried him away before Yvonne could say anything. 'They're telling everyone that Vernon got transferred abroad for a year,' said Harry. 'And that they thought it would be a good experience for Dudley to learn a new language.'
'Has he learnt Spanish then?'
They found the waiter with the miniature crab cakes, and giggled over Ginny's whispered dissection of Yvonne's appearance. 'I didn't realize Muggles pretended to tan, is that why she was orange? Didn't it work? I could place a melanin charm over her if you think it would cheer her up.'
Harry smirked, stealing a glance at Yvonne as she posed, lips pouting, with Petunia for a picture. 'Yvonne's never been one for natural beauty,' he said. 'I have a horrible feeling she'll be on our table though, Dudley always thought of her as family.'
Ginny scowled. 'But she's ghastly.'
Harry raised an eyebrow. 'You worked that out quickly. What did she say to you?'
'Nothing, really,' Ginny lied. 'It was all I could do to get her to say anything at all. By the way, I don't know if your aunt told you, but it sounds like she's been telling people you were in prison.'
But Harry wasn't listening. Instead, his face had fallen into pure horror as he spotted someone over her shoulder, and he swore quietly, grabbing Ginny by the arm and hurrying them away into a crowd.
'It's Aunt Marge,' he said, to Ginny's spluttered confusion. 'I completely forgot she'd be here, we never should have come.'
'The one I blew up,' he moaned, trying to hide behind a rather large guest. 'I can't keep my temper around her.'
Ginny's eyes widened. 'Making amends,' she said to him, with a soft panic.
Harry realized too, and thought he might be sick. 'He's put me on a table with her, hasn't he? The moron, we hate each other…'
Ginny shook her head in angry disbelief. 'I'll go and get you another drink,' she said firmly.
She caught the eye of a passing waiter, and grabbed another glass of champagne. Harry downed that one too.
'Steady,' she said cautiously. 'If I'm not allowed to hex people, neither are you.'
Harry opened his mouth, but a fat hand landed on his shoulder. Vernon, purple-faced and moustache twitching, forcibly turned him. 'What are you doing here?' he demanded, his voice low but furious.
'Dudley invited me,' said Harry stubbornly. 'And I thought I'd come just to annoy you.'
Vernon gave an embarrassed look around, checking that no one was eavesdropping, before giving Harry's shoulder a slight shake. 'This is a family event. How dare you-?'
'I love family events,' said Harry coldly. 'They're magical.'
The threat was clear in his voice, and Vernon's face drained of its purple hue rapidly. 'You leave us alone,' said Vernon, his voice trembling. 'We don't want any of your funny business.'
'Would you like a fudge?' offered Ginny sweetly. 'They're very nice.'
He ignored her outstretched white paper bag and simply shot her a harsh look. 'I suppose you're like him too, are you?'
'Yes, I am,' said Ginny, her eyes narrowed as she shoved the fudge back into her bag. She found it hard to believe just how much she despised this man. She straightened slightly, and took a small, unconscious step towards Harry. 'You should be proud of him, you know.'
'Ginny, don't,' said Harry quickly, his face reddening.
'He managed to be raised by you and still turned out to be a decent person,' she continued haughtily, prodding Vernon several times sharply on the chest. 'It's a stunning achievement.'
Vernon looked ready to explode with fury, but a giggling, tipsy woman suddenly appeared at his side, gripping his fat arm. 'Vernon!' she trilled. 'We need someone strong to help with one of the tables.'
With a final glare at Harry and Ginny, Vernon reluctantly turned away, stomping off and vanishing into the large marquee. 'Is he always that vile?' asked Ginny.
Harry snorted. 'You haven't even met Marge yet.' He felt rather embarrassed now, and couldn't quite bring himself to look at her. 'You don't need to defend me against them,' he told her quietly. 'I can just ignore it now.'
'Oh, shut up, Harry,' she said teasingly, rolling her eyes. 'I bet you didn't even notice me slip that Sudanese Sweating powder onto his shirt, did you?'
'What?' he said, his eyes widening.
'All down his front,' she said happily. 'He'll start to feel it in about ten minutes, and he'll be drenched by the speeches.'
She grinned wickedly. 'You can't pretend you're not secretly impressed.'
He pulled her close, enjoying her mischievousness, tilting his head so that his lips were close to hers. 'I'm always impressed by you,' he murmured, before kissing her. The champagne he had drank so quickly had made him forget that he was surrounded by people he disliked, they were in their own world, and he could think of nothing else but her.
The sound of a knife against glass jerked them back to their senses, and, wedding photographs now finished, the guests were called into the gleaming white marquee.
Harry's worst fears had come true. Ginny spotted their name places first, on a round table for eight decorated with a glass vase filled with water, silver beads and a magnolia as a centerpiece. They were the first to get there, and Harry seized the card with Marge's name desperately. 'I could swap it with someone else's,' he said, scanning his surroundings frantically. 'No one would notice, would they?'
'Your uncle is staring at you from the high table,' she said. 'He knows what you're trying to do.'
'Well he can't do anything about it, can he?' Harry said, a little snappishly. 'Right, you stay here, I'll find another empty looking table and-'
'Turned up, did you?' came a booming voice. Ginny saw Harry's eyes close and his face fall.
A large woman, ruddy-faced and with a whisper of a moustache on her wide upper lip, was glaring at the back of Harry's head with an expression Ginny could only describe as satisfied outrage. Harry slowly placed the name card back on the table, and turned around, looking as though he were about to walk to the gallows.
'Heard you were in prison,' the woman said smugly.
'Got out,' Harry mumbled. 'Er… This is Ginny, my girlfriend. Ginny, this is Aunt-'
'That school did you no good then,' Marge continued loudly, settling into her seat. It was then that Harry and Ginny noticed the short, old man behind her, with a thick handlebar moustache and chest full of military medals. 'This is the boy I was telling you about, Colonel, the orphan boy.'
'Hmmph,' said Colonel Fubster, sitting in his seat and glaring up at the still-standing Harry. 'Looks the type. You ought to neaten your hair for a wedding, boy,' he admonished with a wagging finger. 'Couldn't get away with scruffiness like that in the army.'
Harry gave a slightly pained look at Ginny and they sat too, shortly joined by Yvonne and her latest partner (who Harry hadn't met), Keith. Ginny thought it rather unfair that Colonel Fubster did not admonish Keith for wearing jeans to a wedding, though perhaps Keith's bald head was neat enough to meet military standards.
Dudley's great aunt and uncle also arrived at the table. Harry had only met them a handful of times in his life, and he whispered to Ginny in a low voice that they were Reginald and Mabel Dursley, and that they had never directly spoken to him. 'I think that they think that by pretending I don't exist, it means that I'm just a temporary problem that will go away,' he muttered, pouring them both generous glasses of wine.
'Neither of them seem all there to be honest,' said Ginny, peering over at the ancient and vacant looking couple. Harry simply shrugged. Ginny looked down at her empty plate guiltily. She'd been so excited to experience a Muggle wedding, and part of her had hoped that the letter was right, that he would be reconnected with his family… She had not anticipated people as awful as this.
A soup starter was served, Marge loudly exclaiming how much she detested leek and potato and she wouldn't touch it, between explaining to Yvonne that she bred bulldogs.
'And fine specimens she produces too,' added Colonel Fubster, the ends of his moustache bouncing as he nodded. 'You can't get more British than a bulldog, and Marge makes our country proud.'
Marge's simpering chortle made Harry pull a face, which unfortunately she spotted. 'I don't know what you're smirking about boy, what exactly have you achieved in your miserable life? What are you doing for a living now anyway?'
'Er… I'm in the police,' he mumbled.
Marge gave a loud, pig-like snort. 'With a criminal record? Unlikely.' She turned to Colonel Fubster with that same smug expression. 'His parents did nothing either, unemployed shirkers from what I've heard.'
'I think I recall them from Vernon's wedding,' croaked Reginald suddenly. 'I believe Vernon said the boy's father was some kind of amateur magician.'
Marge made a noise of disgust. 'Well, that's even worse! Good lord, there was never any hope, was there?'
Ginny's heart was thudding with fury, and she could see the tenseness in Harry's jaw as he stared coolly ahead at the flowery centerpiece.
'You should join the army, boy,' said Colonel Fubster. 'They'll straighten you out. Nothing like a war to turn a boy into a man.'
'I'm in the territorial army,' said Keith proudly. 'You can't muck about there. It's sort of one of the rules.'
'I doubt he'd even get into the army,' sneered Yvonne, jerking her head at Harry. 'You've got to be mentally sound, damaged children rarely cope.'
'Quite right,' added Marge. 'You see it often with dogs. Separated from the mother too young and they never grow up right. Of course, by the sounds of it I'm not sure he'd have grown up right anyway.'
The centerpiece fell over with a thunk, spilling cold water and beads all over the table, sending Yvonne and Mabel squealing while Marge admonished Harry for shaking the table.
'I didn't,' he protested, standing and leaning forward to pick the vase up, his cheeks burning red. Ginny helped, blocking the rolling beads from falling off the table as best she could, wishing she could comfort him, or at least take him away from this place, especially if he was causing accidental magic already...
'Yes, you ruddy well did!' exclaimed Marge. 'Oh, you'll do anything to ruin Dudder's special day, won't you? Gatecrashing, and ruining the decorations-'
'He didn't gatecrash,' said Ginny hotly as Harry shoved the magnolia back into the now empty vase. 'Dudley invited us.'
It was as though Marge had only just noticed that Ginny was there. She had been enjoying tormenting Harry too much, but now her piggy little eyes were fixed on the young woman dabbing the wet tablecloth with napkins.
'What did you say your name was?'
'Ginny. Ginny Weasley.'
'And you're here with the boy, are you?'
'I'm here with Harry, yes,' said Ginny icily, sitting back down. Under the table, Harry squeezed her knee. She knew it was asking her to keep calm.
'And what do your parents do?' demanded Marge.
Ginny faltered, and exchanged a panicked glance at Harry. Neither of them had expected questions about Ginny's background, though, of course, neither of them had expected Aunt Marge to attend, along with all her outdated opinions on class.
'Er… My dad works for the government, and my mum stays at home,' she said uneasily. 'We live on a small farm, and she takes care of that-'
But Marge didn't care about the farm, or Ginny's mother. 'What does your father do for the government? Does he know how close you are to a criminal? Is it not a threat to the country?'
'Ginny's dad works for the Foreign Office,' said Harry quickly. 'And we get along very well, thank you.'
'Hmmph. And what do you do? A policeman's salary doesn't stretch very far, especially when it's imaginary,' said Marge.
'I'm a sports journalist,' said Ginny.
'Football?' asked Keith hopefully.
'Mostly rugby, I'm afraid,' said Ginny kindly. It had been the only Muggle sport she'd known anything about, and she knew very little, but she was willing to risk looking foolish if it got the conversation away from Harry. Unfortunately Marge was not going to let that happen.
'I'm surprised you managed to find a girl,' she was saying to Harry loudly. The soup starter was taken away by white gloved waiters, quickly replaced with over-poached salmon. 'At least you've had the decency to grow a little since I last saw you, but you still have that mean look about you. What you've needed from the start is a good beating, I've always said it, but Vernon's always been too soft on you, I told him, the odd smack won't do it-'
Quite without warning, Marge's poached salmon flipped up and hit her directly in the face, sliding down unpleasantly into her enormous cleavage.
Harry, who had not been particularly bothered by Marge's comments on his appearance or her opinions on disciplining him, gave a shocked look to Ginny, who was white-faced with fury. 'Sorry,' she whispered at him, taking a sip of wine, though she didn't look sorry at all.
Marge was chuckling embarrassedly, trying to brush off the pale pink flakes of fish and pushing away Colonel Fubster's dabbing napkin. 'No, no, don't worry, I must have been a little overeager with my fork, not to worry-'
'Oh, but you'll be hungry now!' exclaimed Ginny sweetly. 'The entire main course, you can't go without…'
'She's right, Marge,' said Yvonne with concern. 'You didn't eat the soup either, I'll ask one of the caterers if they have any spare.'
'No, no,' protested Marge, who looked very embarrassed. 'We've still got dessert; that will be enough to keep my blood sugar up.'
'If you're worried about blood sugar, I have some fudge in my bag,' Ginny said innocently. 'You're more than welcome, I wouldn't want you fainting on the dance floor.'
Harry gave her a horrified look, shaking his head slightly as she pulled the paper bag out and leaned across the table to Marge. 'Ginny…' he breathed.
'Well only if you're sure?' said Marge hesitantly, glancing into the bag of appealing looking fudge.
'Quite sure,' said Ginny cheerfully. 'I have plenty.'
'But maybe wait until after the dessert,' said Harry quickly. 'The… The flavours might not go, or…'
'You see?' Marge said to Colonel Fubster. 'You see how selfish he is? He's always been like this, never shared with Dudders.' Her greedy hands grabbed at the fudge, her lips smacking in anticipation. She took such a large handful that the sweets toppled from her hand as she pulled it away, and she made herself a neat little pile to feast from.
'Now, there's decency,' she said. 'What on earth are you doing with him? I mean, what do you see in him, girl? You could do much better.'
'She met him in prison,' Yvonne blurted out, glaring at Ginny resentfully. 'She looks like butter wouldn't melt, but she's a nasty one too, you know.'
'I was only joking,' said Ginny lightly. 'They don't put men and women together anyway, do they?'
'Well then where did you meet?' asked Marge, chewing on a fudge with a suspicious expression.
'Ginny went to the school next to mine,' said Harry calmly.
Marge's eyes widened, her cheeks bulging from the fudge. 'But you know which school it is he went to?' she asked Ginny thickly. 'St Brutus's Secure Center For Incurably Criminal Boys?'
Ginny gave a sultry smile. 'I've always liked bad boys.'
Harry wouldn't have been surprised if Marge had had a heart attack.
Soon came the dessert, and, astoundingly, Harry was beginning to enjoy himself. There was something immensely satisfying about allowing Ginny to gently prod and antagonize Marge, and there was a glorious, fantastic moment when Marge leaned forward to pick up her dessert spoon.
The fart was low, loud and long, it's rumble jolting Mabel, who had fallen asleep in her chair, awake with a squeal. 'Colonel,' Marge whispered, aghast, 'I am so sorry, I don't know what came over me.'
Colonel Fubster didn't seem to know where to look, his moustache bristling as he assured Marge that it was quite all right. Harry's shoulders were shaking as he tried to keep his laughter in, but years of growing up with Fred and George meant that Ginny was able to maintain a deadpan expression, eating her tarte au citron as though nothing had happened.
He had been entertained too, by twisting in his seat to look at the high table, where Uncle Vernon looked as though he were sitting in the middle of the Amazon. Dabbing frantically at his shining forehead with a napkin, he tugged at his tie and threw a confused glance at his glass of wine.
'You're brilliant,' he said to Ginny, turning back to her. 'Only you could have made this wedding worth going to.'
'Told you you'd change your mind,' she said smoothly, ignoring another one of Marge's tremendous farts. 'I hope the speeches don't last too long, I really want to dance, and the smell coming from your aunt is awful.'
The speeches were a little on the long side, but they were helpfully punctuated by increasingly loud farts from Marge, as well as snores from Mabel, and the sweat was now pouring off Vernon as though he'd just emerged from a swimming pool.
'Can I let off one of George's fireworks?' Ginny whispered.
Piers stood, looking as pompous and rat-like as Harry had always remembered. He launched into an inappropriate and unfunny speech, which Ginny didn't listen to until she heard Harry's name.
'…Always had good fun, me and Duds, whether it was Harry Hunting or boxing down at the club, we've always had this fighting spirit in us that…'
'What's Harry Hunting?' she asked slowly.
Harry went very red. 'Nothing,' he said. 'I dunno.'
Finally, the speeches finished, and music started behind them. While they had been eating, a dance floor had been set up, and a dumpy looking man with headphones sat in a booth.
'Harry!' said Ginny joyfully. 'A BJ!'
He didn't bother to correct her, he was too tipsy to care. She waited rather impatiently through the first dances, before finally the bored sounding DJ welcomed everyone onto the dance floor and Ginny pulled Harry out of his set rather forcefully. Ginny couldn't stop grinning, she had never heard music like this before. She had no idea what kind of instruments it used, and why the girl's voice sounded like that, but it was exciting. Harry, on the other hand, looked despairing.
'Don't tell me you like this song?' he asked her over the loud music.
'This is brilliant,' she said seriously. 'How do I dance to it? Is there a special way, or can I do what I want?'
'I'm not drunk enough to dance to Britney Spears,' he told her. She ignored him, and dragged him onto the increasingly crowded dance floor.
Despite himself, the alcohol, the ludicrous events of the night, and the enthusiasm with which Ginny was dancing all came together to bring laughter to his lips. It didn't matter who was around them; there were enough of the bride's guests here that they could escape his relatives, and song after song, dance after dance, Ginny got her wish of a Muggle party. It was just a shame, Harry thought, that Ginny seemed to love terrible pop music so much.
It was not only the music that delighted her. She was fascinated by the disco lights, the chocolate fountain, and when she vanished briefly to the toilets, she came back babbling about the hand drier.
'It knew my hand was there, Harry, like there was a charm or something, but of course there wouldn't have been, would there? I wish I could bring one home for dad, he'd love it.'
They even had some pleasant conversations with the bride's side of the family, who knew nothing about Harry and were therefore quite happy to accept that he was "a policeman".
'You make such a handsome couple,' sighed a little old lady who had commented on Ginny's dress. 'How long have you been together?'
'Just over two years,' said Harry politely.
'Well let me get you a drink,' said the little old woman unexpectedly. 'Shots?'
They gaped at each other. 'Er…'
'I'll get us all some tequila,' she announced.
'Really, Doris,' said Ginny, alarmed. 'You don't have to-'
'I love tequila,' said Doris. 'My husband won't drink it with me anymore because he says I get too flirty, but I don't see how that's a problem.'
She gave Harry's bum a tight squeeze and winked at him as she passed to the bar. Harry's face was frozen in a startled position, but Ginny collapsed into giggles. 'I'm definitely up for partying with Doris,' she said. 'You coming?'
'You wouldn't be saying that if it was your bum that got pinched,' he said, but followed her anyway. Things started to blur from then on. As evening descended and moths began to find their way into the bright marquee, the celebrations became more uncontrolled.
Harry was so far still able to avoid his family, ducking away whenever he saw any of them approaching, spinning on the spot and pulling Ginny in the other direction whenever he heard Vernon talking about Japanese golfers.
However, while they were stumbling away from the dance floor on their way to get another drink, yet another unpleasant person came across their path. Piers, who also seemed to be rather inebriated, blocked their way, staring Ginny up and down lewdly.
'You're sexy,' he slurred. 'Are you one of Hyacinth's friends?'
'No, I'm here with Harry,' said Ginny.
He blinked stupidly, only just noticing that Harry had one arm slung around her. 'Potter?' he spluttered.
'Evening, Piers,' said Harry.
Piers grinned nastily. 'Bloody hell, Potter, how did you manage that?' he asked, jerking a thumb to Ginny.
'Excuse me?' she growled, and Harry's arm unconsciously tightened around her.
'Don't you want a proper man, darlin'?' Piers asked her sleazily. 'This little twerp used to lose every fight against me.'
'Hard to win five on one,' said Harry coldly, his drunkenness encouraging more honesty than he would have liked around Ginny.
'Ah, it was all in good fun, though, wasn't it, mate?' said Piers, clapping him on the shoulder. 'Just a laugh, eh? Bit of banter?' When Harry didn't answer, Piers leered at Ginny once again, standing very close to her. 'I'll fight him again for you, darlin'. Watch me, I'm really good at it.'
Ginny laughed delicately. 'Far more dangerous men than you have tried to fight Harry, and me, as a matter of fact. Leave us alone.'
He was now so close to her that she could smell the beer on his breath, and though she wanted to recoil in disgust, she stood her ground stubbornly.
'I like them feisty,' he breathed.
She brought her knee up sharply, with a good amount of force, and it hit him directly between the legs. 'Sorry,' she said brightly, as he squealed and doubled up on the floor. 'I did mean to let Harry hold your arms behind your back, but looks like it wasn't necessary. You'll probably want to put ice on that, for the swelling.'
They stepped over him, Harry taking little care to avoid stepping on his fingers as they went.
Dudley and Hyacinth had, of course, been busy all evening, but they were finally able to talk to them after the cake was cut. Dudley introduced Harry and Hyacinth with a beaming smile, and Hyacinth, her voice far posher and throaty than Harry was expecting revealed that it had been her idea to invite him.
'I'm training to be a family therapist,' she said. 'I thought it would be so interesting to meet you.'
'Right,' said Harry awkwardly.
'Hyacinth made me realize that you were the… What was it, Cinthy?'
'Yes, scapegoat of the family,' said Dudley happily.
'I suppose so,' said Harry uncomfortably. He caught Dudley's eye. 'Does Hyacinth know… Which school I went to?'
'St Brutus's?' said Dudley, catching on surprisingly quickly. 'Yes.'
'It's very normal to slip into deviant behaviour if you've come from a troubled background,' Hyacinth said patronizingly. 'But it's good to hear you have your life back on track.'
'Yep,' said Harry brusquely. He felt irritated and embarrassed, especially in front of Ginny. Fuelled a little by the tequila shots, he turned back to Dudley. 'Why did you put me on the same table as Marge? Don't you remember what happened last time?'
Dudley's face formed an 'o' of realization. 'I thought… I didn't think… that would happen again. I mean, you're a lot older now.'
'She's still Marge though,' said Harry.
'She's always been really nice to me growing up,' said Dudley stupidly. He was swaying slightly. Ginny vaguely realized that they were all far too drunk to be having this conversation.
'Scapegoat, dear,' said Hyacinth soothingly.
'Oh, right, yeah,' said Dudley. 'I'm sure if I explained that to her though… Hey, AUNTIE MARGE!'
'Dudley, NO!' said Harry, panicked. But it was too late. Dudley was already waving Marge over, ignoring Harry and Ginny's pleas for him to stop.
'There's my nephy-poo!' squealed Marge drunkenly. Her face was very red. 'All grown up and married, I can't believe it!' While embracing Dudley and peppering sloppy kisses all over his face, she caught sight of Harry and Ginny, and straightened up, glowering at them. 'Have you not gone home yet?'
'Still here,' said Harry despondently.
'Auntie,' slurred Dudley. 'We invited Harry 'cause he's family. And we've been treating him as the scapegoat and it's not fair.'
'What nonsense, Duddy. Dumped on the doorstep because his good-for-nothing parents were too irresponsible to stay alive-'
The lights flickered slightly. There was a prickle in the air. Ginny grasped Harry's hand tightly.
'We're all adults now,' said Hyacinth brightly. 'Now we can move forward as a family…'
Poor Hyacinth. She meant well, Harry supposed, but he imagined that as much as Dudley had changed and grown, he was unlikely to have fully recognized how much the Dursleys hated him.
Marge snorted, though it may have been to cover another fart. 'You always were a difficult child,' she said, pointing at Harry with a swaying finger. 'Never stopped crying when Petunia took you in, ungrateful little wretch. She was beside herself, had no idea what to do. I helped her out. What you needed was discipline and structure. You see it all the time with dogs,' she continued loudly. 'If a dog keeps whining, what you need is to crate train it. If you insist he can't go to an orphanage, find him a small space, I told her, somewhere you can stick him and let him cry it out-'
'That was your idea?' Harry suddenly exclaimed furiously. Ginny looked at him in surprise. The very ground seemed to be trembling under their feet now.
'What was your idea?' Hyacinth asked curiously.
'The cupboard under the stairs,' said Dudley, who seemed to be realizing he had made a terrible mistake. 'We made it Harry's bedroom until he went off to school.'
'WHAT?' Ginny let go of Harry's hand, her hands curling naturally into fists, hating the woman in front of her with fiery passion. The lights were flickering more than ever now, other people had started to notice, looking up at them with gasps of alarm.
'Well that seems rather abusive,' said Hyacinth, looking alarmed.
'Rubbish!' said Marge. 'People these days are far too soft. All this namby-pamby, wishy-washy nonsense about coddling naughty children-' she pointed at Harry again, squinting at him drunkenly. 'It was all for your own good, but you were a hopeless case from the start. How you've managed to find a girl I have no idea, but I wouldn't get too hopeful,' she said to Ginny. 'You mark my words, he'll run off before long and leave you with a baby, or dump it on Petunia again just like his own rotten father did.'
There seemed to be a sudden calm. The lights stopped flickering, the ground lay still. Marge seemed to be drawing a great breath to continue her verbal assault on Harry, but the breath didn't seem to stop. Her great round face expanded, her eyes squivelling in confusion, her arms slowly raising out to the sides as her ugly yellow suit strained at the seams, bursting at her bosom and thighs.
'I'm sorry,' Harry and Ginny said to each other horrified. 'You're sorry?' they asked together in confusion.
Whoever had caused the accidental magic, it now seemed impossible to stop. An audience had gathered, staring at the rapidly expanding Marge Dursley with bewildered terror, stunned silence as she seemed to grow.
It was the fudge that must have done it. Another fart and Marge was launched into the air, floating and screaming above their heads, her swollen arms and legs flapping helplessly.
'We need to send a message to your dad,' Harry said faintly, and Ginny nodded, but they continued to stare, transfixed, at the floating woman.
'MAAAAAARGE!' Vernon was thundering towards them like a rhinoceros, a hysterically shrieking Petunia hot on his tail.
'You've done it again!' Petunia howled at Harry. 'Get her down!'
Vernon was, as he had done before, clinging uselessly onto Marge's feet, but, with a noise like a trumpet, Marge farted again. The power of it sent her through the air like a balloon that had had its end untied, dropping Vernon with an almighty crash onto a table.
People were now screaming, chaos reigned as Marge bounced into the pillowy ceiling of the marquee, entangled in the fairy lights, a problem that only got worse as each far sent her spinning through the air.
'I'll send him a Patronus…' said Ginny.
A little shocked, she followed the crowd that was now pouring outside, stumbling over one another and fighting to get out, many sobbing uncontrollably in fear. No one noticed her sending a flash of silver into the night sky, but unfortunately the reason no one noticed was because something far more dramatic was happening behind them.
Though the marquee had been professionally erected and heavily anchored down, Marge's buoyancy was causing the great white tent to peak even more, and even above the noise Ginny could hear the ropes straining and snapping.
Harry appeared at her side, white-faced and frantic. 'We've fucked up,' he said simply.
The entire marquee lifted into the air, electric sparks bursting from the lights and DJ area, leaving behind a chaotic mess of tables and terrified guests. 'Would Finite Incantatem do it?' Ginny asked him. 'I think we're past keeping the Statute of Secrecy.'
'Already tried,' he said, watching the marquee rise like a giant ghost. 'Is your Dad coming with the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad?'
'Yeah,' she said. She sighed. 'I didn't even get to use George's fireworks, he made me promise.'
Harry put an arm around her, looking up at the floating marquee with increasing calmness and, as bad as it was to admit it, satisfaction. 'Well, we'll already be in tons of trouble for this,' he said. 'Why not?'
She grinned up at him. 'Really?'
The marquee finally slipped off Marge, falling back onto the tables and dance floor and leaving the woman screaming as she climbed higher and higher into the sky.
'Sure,' said Harry. 'Just promise you won't try to hit her.'
He was fairly sure that apart from Ginny herself, there was no finer sight than Aunt Marge flying off into a firework-filled sky.