in the closet


First off, I just want to say that Harry is a capital bloke, and don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

I knew that he was great right from the start, beginning with that day on the Hogwarts Express. I was only eleven at the time, but I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. I was hungry, and like any other stupid kid, I wanted some sweets...but I couldn't afford them. Enter Harry, right on cue, straight to the rescue. Do you know what he did for me? He practically bought the entire cart for me, that's what he did. Absolutely amazing. That's just the kind of guy he is, even as a kid– always looking out for other people, thinking of other people – totally selfless.

He's the perfect heroic type, always sacrificing for others, fighting villains, the whole shebang…kind of like Superman, but dinkier, with messy hair and glasses, you know, like Superman's alter ego, that chap that Hermione fancies in that show on the telly – oh, yeah, Clark Kent, that's it.

You know, that show has really gone done the tube since like, second season, but let's not get started on that.

Don't you know television? Oh, you do! Of course you do…It's absolutely magical, isn't it? Muggles come up with the craziest contraptions, don't you think? You wouldn't even believe it, why, the things my fiancée has shown me would blow your mind.

Um, I don't mean the sex stuff!

Okay, okay, back on topic. Harry.

In retrospect, I should have known about Harry. About…something. I mean, even heroes need to have their secrets, and I guess this was his. But I certainly didn't expect it. I don't think any of us could have expected it.

I do believe, however, that Harry is essentially a good person. I'm not sure what he did or what he didn't do, but…yeah, he's a good chap. Real good.

Like I said, I've known him since we were children. If anything, I'd blame Malfoy. It's always Malfoy's fault. He was always giving us hell back when we were in school. If something smelled of a rat (or ferret, as the case might have been), chances were, it was Draco Malfoy. Well, either him or Yo—Voldemort.

I'm supposed to be able to say that name. That was a big thing they tried to get us to do during the war, to say his name – to show that we weren't afraid of him anymore, you see, even though a lot of the time, we were. Hermione called it a psycho…psycho…what's that word I'm looking for? Oh, yeah, psycholomogical, that's it- a psychopathylogical defence. Warfare in the mind and all that rot.

To fear a name was to increase fear of the object. To name a fear was to have the power to conquer it. We were desperate then, and one defence was as good as another, even those with the ridiculously long names that make your tongue get all tangled in knots just trying to say the goddamned thing. Now that the war's over, I suppose that we're supposed to just keep on saying his name, and my tongue still trips over that, too. It's pretty much a moot point when you think about it, unless you count what's going in the history texts. Pro- er, Lupin and Hermione both agree that we should anyway – a sign of a new era and what not. It's hard. See, I almost just called Remus Professor Lupin.

Old habits are always hard to break.

I'm sorry, I tend to digress a bit. You may have noticed.

You want to know about Draco Malfoy? Okay. I must confess that I can't tell you much, since I don't know much, really. None of us knew much about him, though. Well, there were the rumours and speculations, of course, there always are those, but those are usually pretty wild and can't be trusted. I should know- I helped start a good portion of them. And frankly, I didn't give a shit – pardon my French – I really could have cared less about what happened to that obnoxious, nasty little wanker.

The most popular rumour, however, the one 'most everybody accepted as the truth, was that as soon as he graduated, he ran off to join Daddy and the Death Eaters. That was what we all expected, anyway. No one knew for sure if that was what happened, and, again, nobody really cared.

Then, several weeks later, Dad came home with the news that Narcissa Malfoy, quite hysterical, was making quite a scene down at the Ministry. 'He's never been gone this long!' she had said. 'He's of better breeding to know not to just disappear like this. Where are you hiding him? What have you done to him?' Of course, no one had seen her Precious Dragon. That was when we knew that he was missing.

They interrogated us, the entire bloody class of '98. When you're filthy rich, you can do things like that. They posted a large cash reward for anyone who could find him. No one responded. Then came the notice that there would be cash rewarded just for having news of him. Suddenly, Draco Malfoy was a more popular mirage than Ellis Presvy, as Hermione put it. I'm not sure what she meant by that. I think it means that people just thought they saw him everywhere, which was true.

It got so bad that you couldn't be blonde and pale and male anywhere without getting mobbed.

That was when the really crazy rumours started. Malfoy was spotted in London, Dublin, Paris, Rome, Vienna, even exotic locales like Jerusalem, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi. Some people even went so far as to suggest that Malfoy ran away to escape his inheritance -changed his name, maybe, dyed that ratty blonde hair, got a new name, a new life. He could easily disappear into the Muggle world, if his hate for his controlling father overcame his bigotry. I highly doubt it, though.

Not one of us ever seriously considered the possibility that he might be dead. It was just so out-of-character for him, you know? Draco Malfoy was a survivor. He was someone who was willing to do anything, crush anyone, to stay alive, and not only well, but better than the rest of us working-class scum. Sure, a lot of people hated him, but he wasn't easy to kill, just like that –you know, kind of like a cockroach, he was the pest that just keeps coming back.

We knew he hadn't been kidnapped, because there was never a ransom note – and you'd have to be some kind of blooming idiot to not demand money after abducting the sole heir of a multimillion-galleon fortune, I'll tell you that.

And I guess the main reason we all believed he was still alive, somewhere, was that they just never found a body.

Besides, we thought it was just as well that he was missing. Some people said it was karma, or maybe that old rule about backlash in threes – do unto others, and those things will be done unto you. Lucius Malfoy had hurt a lot of people in his lifetime, and this was just another punishment that he deserved.

Mum had said that that was an awful thing to say, when George mentioned it at the dinner table. I couldn't believe she said that. I asked if she remembered all the things that he had done to us, all the times he had purposely made Dad miserable. He had once even pushed Dad to the brink of tears – let me tell you, no one should ever have to see a grown man cry, especially not when that man fathered you! Lucius Malfoy was a Death Eater, practically You-Know-Who's lapdog, for crying out loud! He and his kind all fed off of human misery!

Mum said that she hadn't forgotten anything, but she knew how painful it would be if she lost any one of us, and she didn't wish that upon anybody...no matter how much of a scummy, sleazy, inbred rat-bastard they were.

Okay, well, maybe I added that last part, but you get the idea.

I still think it's good riddance to bad rubbish, however. Mum didn't know personally what a snot Draco Malfoy had been, how much of a hell he made my-our lives. Nobody was ever more a schmuck than Malfoy, you can be sure of that. He was always there, taunting, mocking, jeering, in that uppity, posh way of his. Okay, okay, I admit it, my temper has never been the best – goes with the red hair, you see, no matter how stereotypical that sounds – and more times than I should have, I let Malfoy get the best of me. Or rather, the worst of me. Harry was always there, of course, to save my arse. He took the blame for me more times than I can count. That boy served more detentions on my behalf than should have been allowed.

But again, that's the kind of bloke he is. Always willing to put others before himself, always brave, always unafraid. We couldn't have asked for a better hero. We didn't ask. He always just was, and that's a fact.

I used to envy him, a lot. Yeah, I was jealous. You try being the best friend of the Saviour of the World, and come back and describe to me how it feels. I mean, it's tough enough to be a teenager without having a famous best friend, someone everybody admires and puts all their hopes on, and all you ever were was the bloody sidekick. People would never remember my name, of course, it would be like, 'Oh, yeah, you're that bloke that hangs around Harry Potter a lot! Tell me, what's he like in real life?'

Yeah.

I don't anymore, though. Envy him, that is. I mean, I get asked that, still, occasionally, but I'm more of my own person now – living life on my terms, to be cliché. My relationship with Harry is no longer what determines my entire identity.

Besides, being a hero is a lonely life. You see things that nobody else does, and do things that you know you have to do, and nobody understands you. The adoring public is fickle, and when they abandon you, you're left on your own. Of course, we just had to learn that the hard way. Harry used to be really moody sometimes, and he'd snap out at me and Hermione, but I never really blamed him.

Sure, I resented him sometimes, but I never really blamed him.

Other times I used to see him get pensive and broody, a lot of the time, but he would never tell you what was wrong. When you asked him what he was doing, he would just snap out of it, shake himself off, cover it with a shrug, scoff and 'no, nothing's wrong. Everything's fine'.

I knew, though.

I always knew.

That is to say, I should have known.

I probably took him at his word more often than I should have.

He was always so alone. At least Hermione and I had each other, and we felt even worse about that.

Hermione, Hermione Granger. Yeah, sorry, I've been bringing her up without really going into proper detail.

That's spelled H-E-R-M-I-O-N-E.

Yes, that's correct. What can I say, she's the woman I love, and one of my best friends, still, after all these years.

We only look like we fight a lot. We fight over little things, but what couple doesn't? You're right, I did say fiancée. No, we haven't set a date yet. Not sure. It's in the works. Hermione and I – we're hot and cold a lot, but that suits us just fine. We're happy together. Very happy.

Unbelievably happy.

Happy.

I suppose you could call us one of those couples that just hate seeing anyone else alone. At least, we were like that with Harry, because he was our friend, you know?

We were worried that he'd feel awkward around us, kind of third wheel-ish. We didn't want that happening, Merlin forbid.

After all, he had never been in the background before, he just wasn't used to it.

His first attempt at dating that tart Cho Chang was a complete and utter disaster, but he was really young then and he also had a lot more to worry about than stupid flings. When the war ended, Hermione tried to get him to socialise more, deal with actual people. You know, the kind that didn't have scars or nightmares and had all their limbs and wasn't looking to betray you at every turn.

There were plenty of women, all ages, fairly throwing themselves at him, now that he was a bonafide celebrity. Strangely, none of them appealed to him, because he was a bonafide gentleman, too.

It didn't matter how hot she was, how big her knockers were, how long her legs – none of that seemed to interest him. I really didn't have the foggiest as to why. Hell, if I were Harry (and if I didn't already have 'Mione), I would have had a revolving door installed on my bedroom entrance and had myself a blast.

But Harry was funny like that.

Sometimes I really didn't understand him.

A lot of the times I thought I did, but of course I learned later that I was wrong more often than I would have liked.

You can't imagine how fucking ecstatic I was when he got together with Ginny-

Ginevra, that's her full name, yes, she's my little sister-

I had wanted them to get together ever since we were all in school together. I had always entertained this secret little fantasy-

No! Not like that!

…this fantasy that they would fall in love and maybe get married, and then we'd all be this one big, happy family.

We could all be together forever. It would have been great.

Harry was closer to me than any of my brothers, and I couldn't think of anyone I would want in my family more. As for Ginny, she was always bringing losers home. This one had a drinking problem, that one had no direction in life, the other was a complete slob.

Forget about choice pieces of meat, these blokes were pork-chops...and pork-chops festering with maggots, at best.

I didn't get it. She's a beautiful girl, gorgeous long red hair, nice figure, very attractive (runs in the family, you know) – why did she always see blokes that were so sub-par, so far beneath her? Was it low self-esteem?

Well, when she finally asked Harry out, I couldn't have been happier. Harry's a sweet catch if I ever saw one, and he fulfilled all the conditions of the Big Brother High Standards.

At last, Ginny was doing something right for a change.


Ginny smiled at Harry over her cup of coffee. It was black, strong, heady – just the way she liked it. Silly, charmingly childish Harry never touched his without copious amounts of cream and sugar, swirled into the brew until it was more white than brown.

He was so handsome, she thought with a mental sigh, his hair raven-black, messy in a devil-may-care sort of way, and his dazzling green eyes – like a cat's – jaded with secrets. She wanted to know all his secrets, to know all of him. He had a strong hero's chin with a slight cleft, admirable bone structure, and although he was always clean-shaven, she was sure that a five o'clock shadow would have made him look very rugged and manly. He had finally discarded those ridiculous round frames of his youth for more stylish, slightly squarish ones, much more suited to his face, and now he looked distinguished and intelligent, rather than dopey. Altogether, he was a very attractive young man, indeed. Tall, dark, and handsome would always be a favourite.

And he was so sweet, so thoughtful. He hardly ever touched her other than the chivalrous offering of an arm, the brief tender squeezing of her hand in his (and she could feel her heart squeeze, too), the chaste kisses goodnight. Even after seven months together, he had never touched her in anyway that any of her brothers would have disapproved of, and their standards demanded a chastity that could have rivalled a nun's.

Some women would have found this frustrating, but Ginny personally found it sweet and was quite charmed. It was a refreshing breath of oxygen after the asphyxiating oppression of her last boyfriends, most of whom had little other than that One Thing on their minds. Right now, she was content to lay back upon a fluffy towel and bask in the romance, a healthy adoration growing and glowing daily. Besides, she was fairly positive that Harry was a virgin, and she found the thought unbearably cute. She didn't want to pressure him into doing anything that he wasn't ready for, and when he was ready for it, she was certain that it would be amazing. Spectacular. He was the type who would be a demon in the sack; Ginny could tell. She would be gentle, of course, at least for his first time. It would be perfect. Who else could say that they had been Harry Potter's first?

'Popped his cherry', in cruder, less appropriate terms.

She had to quickly stifle a giggle, hiding her devious grin behind her cup. Couldn't let Harry see that.

Even though he was about a year older than she was, Ginny often felt that Harry had to be protected and taken care of. He didn't really know how to deal with people, and she didn't blame him in the least. It was understandable considering his childhood upbringing, and all the trials of his early adolescence. In fact, she admired his bravery, and even found his antisocial tendencies endearing, at times. She felt privileged to have been friends with him for so long, and especially privileged to be one of the few that was allowed into Harry's own little world.

Essentially, Harry was perfect. There was no outstanding flaw, and everything else was just a little quirk or idiosyncrasy that made him all the more lovable. Ginny's only regret was the time that she wasted on all the boys before when she could have been spending it with Harry instead; all those years (all four of them) spent searching for Mr Right, not realising that he had been right under her nose all along. Most infuriating, of course, was the knowledge that she had been right the first time around, when she was only ten and wrapped in the throes of a mad, innocent, little-girl crush.

But it was no use crying over spilled milk, and that had been then, this was now.

Now she was in imminent danger of falling in love. She found that the thought didn't bother her, not at all. She was frightened, yes, but it was a nice kind of frightened, like going to a horror film so you could scream and cling to your boyfriend, knowing that he would put his arms around you and comfort you, even if, deep down inside, he was as every bit afraid as you were. It was thrilling, like those amusement park rides that went a bit too fast and twirled and spun a bit too much, and would probably make you sick to your stomach if you didn't close your eyes sometimes.

And today would be the day that she asked Harry to move in with her, because she loved him and was falling in love with him, and it felt right. Even if he turned her down, she could probably get the message across that she cared about him a whole lot, and wanted to spend more time with him, preferably all her time with him.

"I want to talk to you about something," they said simultaneously, met each other's eyes, and blushed.

"You go first," they both said, again in unison.

This time they looked at each other and laughed.

Ginny smiled. "I have an idea. Why don't we both say our thoughts at once, and see if we're thinking the same thing again."

"Okay," Harry agreed, smiling back a bit sheepishly.

"I think we should move in together," said Ginny.

"I think we should spend some time apart," said Harry simultaneously.

They looked at each other, surprised.

Then, once again, they both said, "What?"


But one day, I walked into a conversation between my sister and my girlfriend.

I could hear Ginny's voice from down the hall- she was obviously wicked pissed off about something. As I listened, I learned that she had wanted him to move in with her, and Harry had said something to the effect of "I need my space."

Hermione found this strange, since Harry spent so much time alone.

Ginny cried, "I told him, 'Harry, that's completely wank and you know it! If I gave you any more space, we'd be living on different planets!' That ruddy idiot!"

Hermione gave some sort of noncommittal reply.

Good old Hermione- she always kept level-headed, even when any one of us Weasleys was in hysterics. Especially when one of us Weasleys was in hysterics, in fact.

Ginny was close to hysterics, it seemed. "I can't believe the nerve! THAT BLEEDING BASTARD!" she exclaimed. She had picked up quite a vocabulary from Fred and George, I'm afraid to say, and the rest of us boys probably didn't set the good examples that we should've.

She also picked up a vase full of nearly-fresh flowers (only about a week old!) and prepared to throw it.

Hermione was unfazed by Ginny's rather colourful language, and she carefully took the rather colourful vase out of Ginny's hands. "Now, Ginny…I'm sure he has his reasons."

Only some water had spilled to the floor, thankfully.

"And what might those be? A fear of commitment? Cowardice? Idiocy? Some stupid man-thing that knows no logic whatsoever?"

"I don't know," Hermione replied, giving Ginny a rueful smile.

"Ron!" Ginny said, noticing my presence for the first time. "You're a member of the species. What is it with men and their fear of commitment?"

"Uhh…I wouldn't know, Ginny," I told her.

Which was the truth. I had been seeing Hermione for years, and I was very committed. Deeply committed. Hopelessly devoted, as the song went (Musicals are great, don't you think?). I wasn't afraid to love her at all. Sometimes I felt like I loved her too much, and I couldn't take it. It was a scary feeling.

"Maybe he's cheating on me," Ginny suggested darkly.

"You don't know that, Ginny!" Hermione exclaimed.

"Oh yeah?" Ginny replied, and it was a dangerous tone of voice that I had come to know and fear.

I didn't say anything about the hair.

You see, Harry wears this dark coat to work, every day, no matter the weather.

Yes, at the Ministry, of course.

Even when it's sweltering outside, he claims the insides of buildings are too cold. Well, one day about a week before our conversation, we were getting off work and going out for drinks. Harry had agreed to go with us. He doesn't always. Sometimes he's working overtime, though I never expected my best friend to turn out to be such a workaholic.

(I always thought it would be Hermione, of the three of us.)

Gives him something to do, I guess.

Something to worry about now that Voldemort's gone.

Other times he says he's really tired, he'd rather just go home rather than booze it up. And, recently, whenever he was in the mood to go out, Ginny often dragged him somewhere.

It might surprise you to know this, but Harry doesn't really get out much. In fact, he doesn't have much of a social life outside of Hermione, me, Ginny, and our little group of friends. Well, this time, Harry had agreed to go with us for once, and I went to get his coat from the closet. When I did, I noticed a couple of strands of this fine, blonde hair on it – so light that it was almost white.

Now, nobody I know has hair that colour.

And certainly nobody who worked with us had hair like that.

Of course, it occurred to me that it might have just brushed off on Harry when he was riding in the tube or something like that, or any place where a lot of random people are crowded together. Rather, that is to say, it occurred to Hermione

(she said that when I told her about it, then dismissed the entire matter).

Now, Hermione, she's a sweet thing, but she's so practical, always studying, always working

(she's getting her post-doc degree),

so…boring.

My theory was more plausible anyhow.

You see, my theory was that Harry had a secret lover, and that's why he acted the way he did.

Now tell me that doesn't make perfect sense.

Why didn't I say anything to Ginny?

The answer is quite simple. Although Ginny is my little sister and I love her more than almost anything, nobody's perfect and she is my little sister. Thus, she had a fatal flaw when it came to relationships.

You see, Ginny had a tendency to get jealous.

Not your average kind of jealousy, the one where you suspect something and it burns – but you got over it as soon as you had reassurance and plenty of tender, loving care, right? No, Ginny's kind of jealousy was the kind that ate away at you and festered inside until you could think of nothing else, the obsessive, possessive kind of jealousy. Not that I couldn't understand her – I had often felt the same way myself, concerning Hermione. But Ginny experienced it with every single bloke she went out with.

She had her reasons – three of her previous boyfriends had cheated on her, and Ginny was ripped as all hell when she found out. She got her revenge, of course, in her own way…but those are other stories, that you'll have to find out later. One time, she even got into this huge catfight with this truly attractive bird that she had caught her last boyfriend having tea with – too bad the "skanky whore" later turned out to be the "cheating, lying bastard's" sister.

Needless to say, they broke up after that.

Basically, it had gotten to the point where she would get upset if another female even looked at her current boytoy, and Harry had a lot of females who didn't just look, they molested him with their eyes.

Hell hath no fury like a woman's wrath. I didn't tell Ginny about the hair in order to protect Harry as much as to protect her. And, also, to protect myself.

Besides, I didn't want to cause any unnecessary trouble until I was absolutely sure. I may be brash at times, but I'm not stupid.

I didn't really do anything huge, I just started doing some detective work. What? I can do detective work if I want!

I started with searching for some signs of domestic bliss.


I'm home.

A rustle of clothing as you take your coat off and hang it up.

I left you a message on the machine. I'm sorry I was out so late; she wanted me to go out with her again. And you know, I can't refuse her too much or else she'll become suspicious and want to come home with me. And we can't have that now, can we?

A vague smile.

Silence.

Come now, don't be mad.

The footsteps on hardwood become muted on carpet.

You know I love you more than anything.

Sighing softly, you pet the fine hair.

I can't stand it when you don't talk to me.

Your fingers wander familiar features, still beautiful after so long, following the line of a cheekbone and tracing sensuous lips.

You kiss passionately.

You draw out the kiss for several moments, your mouth so hungry, you've been so starved.

(It's okay. ) A vague smile. (I understand.)

I knew you would. grin You're always so understanding.

(It's just that I wish I could…)

I know.

sigh

I wish I could take you outside, too. I know you miss the fresh air and sunshine and the people. I know you miss your galas and socials and soirees but…

Trail off, trail your fingers down a porcelain cheek.

You know you haven't been the same since the incident.

(Yes…I know. I'm so lucky to have you.)

No, I feel so damn guilty doing this to you.

(It's all right. I understand your reasons.)

I only want you to be happy. As happy as possible.

(You make me happy.)

Smile.

Lean into the touch.

I love you.

(I love you.)

How about some dinner? I'll make your favourite.

Smile, nod.

You get up and, slowly, push the wheelchair into the kitchen with nary a sound.


Everything I found only further convinced me that Harry was guilty as the night was dark. The next day, there were a couple of strands of that hair on his shoulders. And Harry seemed way too chipper for someone who had just had a spat with his girlfriend – he was cheerful, genuinely happy, pleased with the world. It was like he was still basking in the afterglow of wild, passionate sex – and according to Ginny, they never even snogged, much less shagged.

He was the Virgin Harry, pure and pristine and white as snow.

Well, right now her Virgin Harry looked as if he had been overcome by the Holy Spirit, if you know what I mean.

There was nothing so obvious as lipstick marking his collar, of course, but Harry was smarter than that.

It all made sense, of course. Why commit yourself to one girl, when you could have two? This was the reason why he never went out with us, this was the reason he spent so much time at home.

It explained why he was unwilling to move in with Ginny, after all.

But the pieces didn't fit together perfectly. If Harry truly were two-timing Ginny, why didn't he take full advantage of the situation and have Ginny any way he could get her? (Little sister sex =ewewewewwwwwsoverywrong!, but little sister=little minx=fact.)

Why did he act as romantically inclined as the Pope?

Why not use Ginny for everything she had?

Murky waters run deep, as they say (or something like that), and I, Ronald Weasley, was determined to unearth the secrets that lay beneath.


We should see a film tonight.

Each word is pressed tightly against a slender neck, punctuated with a kiss.

It's been forever since we've gone out together. And I hear Pirates of the Caribbean is very good.

(Pirates?)Hear the smile, even if you can't see it.

Yeah, Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp.

(Sounds fun.)

You'd love it. It'll be nice, just the two of us.

(It's always just the two of us.)

It's better that way.

Sigh.

The next kiss is molasses, slow and lazy and sweet and thick.

(But what about…?)

It's all right. We can go to a Muggle cinema in London; no one will recognise us.

(You sure?)

Sure. We can catch a midnight showing, even. Just to be safe.

(Well. I do love Johnny Depp.)


Ginny stood nervously outside of Harry's flat, waiting. The doorman had let her in when she had told him that she was Harry Potter's girlfriend, although he had never seen her before. She was thankful that she at least looked the part of Harry's girlfriend, even if it didn't seem that way sometimes.

She had just raised her hand to lift the knocker once again when the door swung open, revealing a slightly irritable-appearing Harry.

He frowned at her and stared at her quizzically, as if she were a Magical Creature he had never seen before, and he was trying to figure out what the hell she was doing on his doormat.

"Ginny?" he said, and the question mark was obvious, striking and bolded, even if he had meant her name to be a statement. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry, Harry," Ginny replied, not feeling apologetic in the least. "But we need to talk."

"I told you never to call on me at home," Harry said, opening the door wider. For a second, Ginny thought that he might invite her in, and they could sit down together and talk. And finally, finally she would be able to see the side of his private life that he kept so carefully hidden away, wrapped in a veil and stashed in the closet.

He didn't, however.

Instead, he stepped out into the hallway, slowly closing the door behind him, as if afraid to let it slam lest it wake someone inside.

"I Owled you," Ginny found herself explaining. "You didn't respond. You didn't answer my Firecall either. I even tried phoning. No one picked up."

Harry didn't seem to be listening. "You didn't have to come here. You could have waited until tomorrow."

His necktie was undone, his shirt only half-way buttoned, collar open—revealing more skin than Ginny had ever been privileged enough to see. His hair was a mess, as always, but this time it seemedwantonly tousled, as if he had been interrupted in the middle of some rigorous act of passion. Just thinking about it made anger flare deep inside of her.

"Merlin's eyes, teeth, and balls, Harry! What the fuck? I'm your girlfriend, if you haven't forgotten! If I want to talk to you, I should be able to do it any bloody time I bloody well want to!"

"I don't let anybody call on me at home, Ginny," Harry said, quite calmly. "You know that."

"I'm not just anybody! I'm your girlfriend!" Ginny reiterated, even though she was starting to feel its futility.

"Ginny, please."

"Why?" cried Ginny, now in dismay. "Just tell me WHY, Harry, WHY?"

Harry sighed. "Ginny, I need my privacy. You have to understand that."

"Privacy?" Ginny spat the word out as if it tasted particularly awful. "You get nothing BUT privacy! You live alone, on the outskirts of the city, and your job requires little human interaction! You're practically a freaking hermit! Blow it, Harry, what can a person want with so much privacy?"

"I need to be alone with my thoughts," Harry replied simply.

"Your thoughts?" Ginny's voice quavered against her will. "But what about me?" she asked plaintively, not caring that she sounded like she was whining, not caring that she could have passed fora little twelve-year-old girl again. "I need to be alone with you, and all you care about are your thoughts? Well, a knut for your thoughts, Harry, because that's all you'll ever get for them!"

"I'm sorry, Ginny," Harry told her quite solemnly. "But I really do need my privacy. Maybe we could talk about this tomorrow?" He ended the question with such a hopeful tone in his voice that it restrained Ginny from punching him, which was what she had been prepared to do.

Ginny's arm fell uselessly down to her side; she clenched and unclenched her fist.

Her long, sharp fingernails dug into the flesh softness of her palm; she wondered if she would make herself bleed. If that would, in turn, help her to think better, clear her head, make her more glib. She was so bad at talking to people...in situations like this, at least.

Finally, at a loss for words, she burst out with, "But I love you, Harry!"

"I know, Ginny," Harry sighed, now pulling the girl against his chest, enfolding her into his arms.

He stroked her bright red hair with gentle fingers, brushed a few strands aside, and softly kissed her pale, slightly freckled forehead.

"I know."

Ginny's body shook uncontrollably. Whether she was laughing or crying, it all just felt the same.

She didn't know.

She just didn't know anymore.


2 AM.

The park is deserted, the glow of torches paint your path. The mists waft silver from the waxing moon; curling around you, dreamlike.

So what did you think of the film?

(Mm. I loved it. Johnny Depp is to die for.)

You are aware that he's a Muggle.

(Well, if all Muggles were like Johnny, then there just may be some hope for them after all.)

He's American, too. A Yank.

(Do my ears deceive me? Is that jealousy I detect in your voice?)

Of course not.

smile

(You're worth more to me than a hundred Johnny Depp's.)

Really?

(Of course. What would I do with that many Johnny's? Mm. Wait a minute…just had a thought. Never mind.)

Oh, come on. Is it the swashbuckling?

(What?)

It's the swashbuckling, isn't it? You fancy the swashbuckling.

(Do you even know what swashbuckling is?)

Do I know what swashbuckling is? Do I know what swashbuckling is? Of course I know what swashbuckling is! I've buckled about a million swashes. I can buckle swashes like you've never seen before.

(Right.)

Especially if it's your bag, baby.

(Actually, if you must know, my bag is strapping young men in tights, excessive eye makeup, and loads of jewellery.)

That can be arranged.

Quiet laughter.

Soft kissing.

(Look at that moon. It's been a long time since I could see it like this.)

Reverently, So beautiful tonight.

(It really is, isn't it? I miss being out in the night air so much, even when it's all humid and muggy and groaty.)

I was talking about you.

(Ugh, that was really awful.)

You know you love it.

More laughter.

More kissing.

(You are to die for.)

Don't die for me. Live for me.

(Anything for you.)

I wish we could do this every night. Every day. All the time. In front of everyone. I love you so much…

(I'm sorry.)

What?

(I'm sorry I'm not normal. I wish I could give you a normal relationship, I know it's difficult for you, hiding all the time, from everyone…)

Don't say that. Stop it. Stop it right now. It's more difficult for you, all locked up at home all day. I know you're not used to…

(I know you just want to be normal.)

Yeah...but I want you more.

(You're a celebrity. You could have just about anyone—)

You know I don't want 'just anyone'. You know I don't have eyes for anyone else. Look, is this about her?

(No, not really, but...)

We agreed we wouldn't talk about this.

(Yes, I know...)

You should know that she doesn't mean anything to me.

(It's not that I don't trust you. I just thought…you'd want a chance at…you know, normality.)

She's normal. And you know what else? It bores me. It disgusts me. I don't care about her. I mean, I do, but...I like her, I don't love her. Not like how I love you. It's not the same. You can't compare. She can't compare to you. I don't want anything that doesn't have you in the picture…you know that. And I'm sorry that that means I have to keep you locked up like some deep dark secret, especially after all you've given up…

(I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss my old life. I do. I miss everything. But…this is better. I can feel it in my bones.)

You don't…regret it, do you?

(Do you?)

No. Never. Not one morning goes by that I don't wake up grateful that I have you.

(As long as I belong to you, I'm fine, but still, sometimes, I think…)

Don't.

(Kind of hard not to think. You don't want me as some sort of mindless zombie, do you?)

I don't care what you are. I just want you.

Besides, you know what I mean.

(No regrets?)

No regrets.

(How can you be so sure?)

Because I love you.

(Why?)

You know.

(Tell me again.)

You make me feel so…so…alive.

A vague smile.

Kiss it, tenderly and slowly, pressing each breath to that mouth, like resuscitation.

Happy now?

(You make me happy.)

Good. Now let's go home and play Dashing Ruthless Pirate Captain and Beautiful Young Reluctant Aristocrat.

(I'd rather be the Young Innocent Corruptible Blacksmith.)

That can be arranged.


I began my investigation the very next day. The moment that Harry went to the loo, I nonchalantly headed for his coat, which was in the closet (obviously). Using my super-secret skills of surreptitious spying, I carefully rustled through the pockets. Trash. Well, what else would you expect from a coat pocket, a ring box? I had to settle for a couple of scraps of paper, crumpled like they were hurriedly and carelessly shoved there, and probably forgotten.

I took them into the light, saw what they were. Then my heart pounded away.

I can't tell you whether the feeling was triumph because I was right, or dismay because I was right.

Two ticket stubs for Pirates of the Caribbean, dated for the midnight showing last night. Now, he might have gone with Ginny to see the film, so of course I took that into account.

Some bits of tissue, one crumpled napkin. No lipstick marks, no number written on it. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The other scrap of paper looked like part of a grocery list, written really elegantly, the kind of fancy writing that almost looks like calligraphy, you know, and I didn't recognise it. But I tried not to get too suspicious. It could be completely innocent, after all. Maybe Harry had been doing the shopping for someone else in his building, that kind soul.

This evidence could be easily and rationally explained away.

But no amount of explaining would make the uneasy, gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach go away.


Ophelia's Opticals specialised in everything to do with sight. She sold lenses for Hindsight, Foresight, Second Sight, Love at First Sight. If you were nearsighted, she could give you a dose of Farsight, and vice versa. If you saw the glass half-full, she could make you see one half-empty. If you were pessimistic and bitter at the world, you could buy a pair of Rose-tinted Glasses. People of all ages came to her, with all different sorts of vision problems. It was rumoured that she could even cure the blind. (She couldn't, but she could help them be more visionary.)

Ginny walked into the shop with a purpose, striding straight up to the counter. Ophelia, a youngish-looking woman with long blonde hair streaked with blue, seemed to be cleaning a collection of Third Eyes.

"May I help you?" She asked Ginny, without turning around. Ginny guessed that she must have had Eyes in the Back of Her Head.

"Yes, I'm looking for something."

"Aren't we all," Ophelia replied, turning around to reveal a smile and different-coloured eyes: one violet, the other red.

Ginny blinked. "Well, obviously. But what I need is…"

"You're having relationship problems, I see."

Whoa.

So it really was true that she could see right through people.

"Yes."

"And you fear that your lover is cheating on you."

Or maybe Ginny was just that transparent?

"I want something to show me how I could be so blind."

"I have something even better than that. You want to watch him closely. Follow me."


Well, I saw Ginny again that evening. She seemed happier than the last time I had seen her…But…I don't know how to explain why I thought this…it seemed a sort of malicious, mean-spirited kind of happy, you know?

Like when you're little and you pull the wings off of the bugs you catch, and you think it's funny to watch them wriggle around a bit, trying to fly.

Or when you're degnoming the garden and it makes you happy to see those little buggers smash into something.

Something like that.

But, I figured that she had spent time with Harry, and that was what cheered her up. Well, good for her. Good for him.

Good for both of them, actually.

"So, how was Pirates?" I asked her.

She turned a blank look on me. "Pirates?" she asked.

"You know, Pirates of the Caribbean. Didn't you just see it?"

"Oh, no," she said. "I really want to see it, though. Orlando Bloom's really hot. Actually, I was planning to see it with Harry. Why?"

"No reason," I told her.

No reason at all.


Running water.

Cold first, then run the hot tap to heat it up – otherwise, it's dangerous, and you might burn yourself, or someone you care about.

Wouldn't want that to happen, now would we?

Light the candles, one by one. The flames give off a soft glow, fragrance fills the room as the oil and wax turn into smoke.

It's ready. Are you?

(Always ready for you.)

Gently, now, gently.

Handle with care.

There should be a warning label, and there usually are, even when it's obvious. Things like CAUTION. DANGER. TOXIC.

There.

These are things that you already know, but sometimes we all need a reminder.

(Will you be joining me?)

Of course. How could I resist?

Strip. You lower yourself into the steaming water, pull the other against your chest. Wrap your arms around the small waist; let the head rest back against your shoulder.

Enjoy this moment, like every one before it, like every one after it.

I love you.

The words come easily. This is something already known, but mosttimes there has to be a reminder.

(I love you.)

And carefully, carefully, you listen for the heartbeat against your own.

Ba-dump.

Ba-dump.

Skin tastes fresh, flesh is sweet.

The back of the neck is particularly inviting – just waiting to be marked in possession, branded as yours. The soft pale hair tickles your cheek, threaded out of silken gold, it takes on a darker shine when it's wet. It seems to absorb the light, casting a halo around that beautiful face. Your very own seraphim, descended onto the earthly realm, just for you.

ba-dump

You run a hand up the smoothness of the torso, fingers tracing the abdominals and ribs and the division in the middle, until you flatten your palm right over where the heart should be.

And carefully, carefully, you feel the heart beat against your own, and that belongs to you, too.

Just for you.

Yours to hold, yours to touch, yours to love.

Now and forever, and not even death can do you part.


The next night, I worked overtime so that I could check out the contents of Harry's desk.

The more I discovered about Harry, the more I realised the less I know about him. Um, does that make sense? Okay, good. So, yeah. All these years of being his best friend and…damn. It was like he didn't tell me anything.

On some parts, I didn't blame him. I was his girlfriend's brother, after all. Maybe he wasn't sure which side I would pick. But…still. How could he keep something so freaking big from me? Obviously, I was feeling rather hurt. How could he question my loyalty?

So, I had no pricks of conscience or whatever about invading his precious privacy. Didn't feel bad at all, nope, not a bit. I deserved to know, after all. It was my right as his best friend of twelve years. I wasn't doing anything wrong.

So I told myself.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't have been better to leave well enough alone. Sometimes I wonder if I should have respected his privacy. Sometimes I wonder…Sometimes means oftentimes and oftentimes I lose sleep.

I know I shouldn't. What's done is done and I shouldn't dwell on it.

But I can't help it. Maybe you can help me out on that.

I really wasn't prepared for what I found, however.

I suppose you'll want to know what it was that I found. Well, it wasn't so much what I found as opposed to what I didn't find.

Let me explain.

When I went to Harry's desk, aside from the neat clutter of paperwork that lay on top of it, there was nothing. Well, nothing other than some quills and ink. There was nothing that had to do with Harry's life outside of work.

Absolutely nothing. On everybody else's desk, there are little ornaments, personal items, pictures or portraits of their family, friends, lovers. Harry's desk showed none of the above. It was stark and sterile and frankly, just plain sad.

I opened each drawer, one by one, but I found that they were all the same: completely empty. It was like Harry simply didn't have anything that he wanted to keep with him. I wondered if he kept all his memories locked at home, in his flat, or if even his sanctuary was as sparse as his desk.

The thought of Harry spending all his time all alone in his flat, completely bare except for a piece of furniture here and there, without another living soul for company, was simply too depressing. Far too depressing to bear. Did he go home to an empty flat? Did he have no one waiting to welcome him home? Did his own voice echo back to him when he thought aloud? Did he just sit by himself, trying to forget? I knew that he carried more scars from the war than he dared show us…and even old scars hurt occasionally. For his sake, I actually hoped that he had a live-in lover, someone to save him from himself.

You're going to think it's silly, but...well, it made perfect sense at the time. I just went out and bought him a present.

I know you want to know what it was. It's kind of dumb. I'm a little…embarrassed by it, but...do I really have to say it? Yeah, I guess you're right. I suppose I shouldn't leave out any details, no matter how small.

You see, I bought him a teddy bear. It's fluffy and white, and really soft, with a black nose and a red ribbon around its neck. It's the kind that you squeeze and it says, "I love you."

Told you it was stupid. Ugh, stop laughing. I can see you laughing, you know. You don't have to pretend for my sake. But…I just thought…now, at least he had something to hold. And something to tell him the words that he couldn't handle when they came from the people closest to him.

The same words that he found so difficult to say.


"Happy Birthday, Harry," Ginny grinned, presenting a package. It was wrapped in lovely pink and purple paper that had unicorns prancing all over it.

"But, Ginny," Harry responded with a slightly confused smile, "My birthday isn't for a week."

"Haven't you ever heard of an early birthday present?" Ginny replied. "I saw it, and was so excited by it – I couldn't wait an entire week. I just had to give it to you."

"Well, thank you. I'm really touched you thought of me."

"I always think of you," Ginny told him, softly.

At this, he looked at her, his expression indiscernible. For a moment, it seemed something an awful lot like pity…but he was probably simply too overcome with love, and didn't know how to express it.

There were several heartbeats of awkward silence.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" prompted Ginny. "Open it!"

"Okay." Harry ripped the paper open to reveal the box beneath. He removed the cover of the box and drew out a gleaming gold Rolex, fashioned in the latest style. Inside the band, it was inscribed 'Harry James Potter. July 31, 2003.' The watch's face told the date and the phase of the moon as well as the time.

"Do you like it?"

"Wow, Ginny, this must have cost a fortune."

Ginny shrugged, smiling ruefully. "Can't buy me love."

"I don't know what to say."

"How about thank you, Ginny, I love you?"

"Thank you, Ginny. I love it."

Ginny tried not to let her smile become too forced-looking. "Well, why don't you put it on and see how it looks?" She took Harry's unresisting hand in her own and fastened the watch, pressing a kiss to the inside of his wrist. He didn't jerk his hand away, but he didn't acknowledge it, either.

He held his hand at arm's length, the way women do when they are admiring an engagement ring. The watch caught the light and reflected it back, glittering in all its glory. "Oh, Ginny…you really shouldn't have."

"Yes, you're right, I shouldn't have," Ginny agreed with a small, genuine, somewhat secretive smile. "But I really, really wanted to."


I arrived early in the morning the next day and I stayed late that night. This way, I could watch Harry come in, maybe see his reaction when he found my present, and then to look around his office some more after he left. I'll be the first to say, my little game was turning into something of an obsession. Ha, beat you to it.

He found my present and it actually made him smile. I felt happy and guilty at the same time. He probably thought it was from Ginny or something, and I didn't say anything. Of course I couldn't tell him that I had bought it for him, that would just be too…well, weird.

We chatted a bit throughout the day, just like normal, so he wouldn't suspect anything. I didn't feel as comfortable around him as I used to. I don't know; maybe it felt like that I really didn't know him anymore. Maybe I thought it would go away once I found out the truth about him.

I wondered to myself if I would be able to smell her on him, or maybe see some sort of sign.

I couldn't.

However, when we were discussing the Chudley Cannons' last game against Puddlemere United, something pale caught my eye. For a second I thought that it was a white hair, and Harry had some recent stress that had put it there. I mean, even though he wasn't even 23 yet, stress can do that to you.

(Hermione's been known to have had several white hairs, but don't tell her I told you that.)

"Hold on a sec, Harry, you have something in your hair and it's bothering me," I said.

He obliged, holding still as I reached over and grabbed it, preparing to yank, but I found that it slid easily out instead.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It's nothing," I told him.

But it was something all right.

I held onto it for a moment, making sure, before I flicked it away –

-one long strand of pale, thin, platinum blonde hair.


Caress. You put your hands everywhere, navigating the planes of the body with your fingertips. It's all familiar territory by now, but every time, you discover something new. Slowly at first, then accelerate, you can never reach that breaking point, never get enough.

(Do you touch her like this?)

No.

Kiss. You kiss the soft lips and kiss the corners of each eye. The lashes brush gossamer against your lips like the edges of butterfly wings. You kiss the temple, outline the curve of the ear with lips and teeth and tongue. Catch the earlobe in your mouth, between your teeth, wonder what it would feel like to tear off and swallow the little bite of flesh, just devour it whole.

You move down the flute of the throat, leave a glistening trail. There's a bit of apple in the throat, lying under a canvas of skin, you'd have to bite through that membrane to get it out.

So silent, compliant, unresisting. It thrills you every time.

Move your way down to the chest, outline with your tongue where the heart should be. You can almost taste the very heartbeat. Ba-dump. Ba-dump.

Feel the ridges of the flat pale stomach, trace the faint shadow of each rib and imprint each muscle. The hipbone is one smooth hard curve, imagine your fingers sinking through the flesh to curl around it.

(Do you kiss her like this?)

No.

And now that you've tortured yourself to the point of insanity and your primal carnality is unbearable,

-hothardthrobbing-

enter that tight body slowly, close your eyes and let yourself feel it, really feel it, and the bliss moves sharply, more like a cavalcade of knives than a gentle wave. Embrace your love and your two bodies move as one.

You want to be gentle, considering the other's condition, but you can't, you just can't. It's too difficult to restrain yourself. There's too much passion, too much love inside of you, it's as if you'll simply combust into flames spontaneously if you don't express it, don't release it, somehow.

Feel the heartbeat pounding away against your own, and with each beat in near-staccato rhythm, you burn, burn, burn.

You thrust, thrust, thrust, give, give, give, and it's taken, taken, taken.

(Do you fuck her like this?)

No!

After it's all over, stay inside, it's all right, you don't have to let go.

You never have to let go, not anymore.

Listen to the heartbeat slow down in tempo with yours.

(Do you hold her like this?)

No.

It's okay to rest now, regaining breath, you kiss those delicious lips and the pulse point behind the jaw and the corners of each eye. Your bodies fit together so perfectly, you can't imagine ever being apart.

(Do you love her like this?)

No. And I never will. I only love you. Only you. Always you.

(That's all I need to know.)


Both hands trembling, Ginny carefully unwrapped the viewing pool that she had bought from Ophelia, freeing it from the cocoon of brightly coloured tissue paper. Setting it up next to her vanity mirror in her bedroom, she filled it with a vial of Visinia, a vision-clearing fluid. Only a couple more steps and precautions, and everything would be all set.

She only hoped that Harry hadn't taken off his watch in the meantime.

I didn't find anything else for a while, maybe a day or two. I hoped that Harry kept receipts in his wallet, or maybe photos of people. You never know. But I knew that, in order to continue my investigation, I would have to know the contents of his wallet, as well. Even nothing says something.

Now, Harry kept his wallet in the back pocket of his trousers, and I've never been any good at stealthy pick-pocketing. I had to steel myself for…well, stealing from my best friend.

When I went to see him during coffee break, I tripped over the carpet (how clumsy of me) and ran into him, knocking him over (I had always been taller than him). I had to…well…er, grab onto his arse to try to regain balance, but we ended up tumbling to the floor anyway…with me…er…on top of him.

I really don't think the details of the situation are necessary. It was embarrassing enough to live it once, thank-you-very-much. Besides, it wasn't really anything, except stammered apologies and awkwardness as I nervously tried to laugh it off.

My palms felt so sweaty afterwards, and my heart really pounded; so loud, so fast.

But…I got the wallet.

Go me!


Oh God, Oh God, Oh God.

Ginny still couldn't believe what the View Finder had shown her. The images were slightly blurry and out of focus (it didn't much help that she was shaking so much that the table experienced vibrations of seismic proportions, and horribly upset and rippled the surface) and there was no sound (it was only a viewing pool, after all), but it was enough to confirm Ginny's suspicions and deepest fears.

She had lain in bed for the next 48 hours, first in silent shock, then alternating between crying and laughing. How could she be so stupid? Why did this happen to her, time after time? Was she inherently easy for men to prey upon? Was she really that bad of a judge of character? Maybe she had been a lady-killer in a previous life, and was only now atoning for her sins. Why did it have to hurt so badly?

Depression spawned despair, despair spawned the Siamese twins of inflamed anger and righteous rage. How dare he, of all people, do this to her? How dare he betray her like this? How dare he pretend he cared, and then stab her in the back? Et tu, Harry?

Well, it was no use just sitting around, moping. She had been wronged, and now she was going to do something about it. She thirsted for revenge, and she knew exactly how to quench her parched heart.

Calmly, Ginny pulled off her covers and sat up in bed. She changed her clothes and went to the bathroom, brushing her hair and her teeth (not simultaneously, of course). Once she had made herself presentable, she went into the kitchen, picked up the telephone, and dialled a number.

Clytemnestra had invoked the Furies. Ginevra Weasley was going to invoke someone else entirely, but someone who was going to be able to do a comparable amount of damage.

'Hello?'

"Ron!" Ginny said into the receiver. "I have something I need to talk to you about. Desperately."

'There's something I want to talk to you about, too, Ginny,' came her brother's voice, slightly staticky (his cell phone had bad reception), 'I'll be there the second I get off from work.'


The wallet didn't really have much in it (no big surprise there). There weren't even any photos of Hermione or me, or Remus, or Ginny, or anybody. He didn't even have any pictures of himself…

Harry had kept the pictures of strangers that had come with the wallet. They smiled their generic perfect model-smiles at me, waving like they knew me. I didn't know whether to feel offended or sad.

There was a bunch of white papers in the wallet as well as Harry's money, and I think that if you stapled all the papers together, you'd find them to be thick enough to be a small book. They were mostly receipts, some of them dated a year or two ago. Several of them had interesting items, like two-dozen roses or Merlot or Honeydukes chocolates…and I doubt that these had been for Ginny, the Legitimate Girlfriend.

I was torn between congratulating Harry in true manly fashion for being a sly old dog, and killing him for doing something so heinous to my little sister.

There was something else in there, too – it appeared to be some sort of ad, ripped out from a magazine like Witches' Weekly or Glamour Witch or something like that. When I read it, it filled me with a feeling of dread, though I can't exactly tell you why. I pocketed it, though. I'll have to show it to you…Huh. That's weird. I could have sworn that I had it on me. Oh, well. I must have left it at home. Anyway, I gave Harry his wallet back, saying that he must have dropped it when he went to the loo. He gave me a strange look, but he didn't ask any questions.

I knew that I had talk to Ginny. I was just about to call her when she called me on my crappy Vokia (Hermione had given it to me two years ago and I needed an upgrade), and told me that she needed to talk to me desperately.

I Apparated at Ginny's the moment that I got off work, just as I promised her that I would.

"Ron!" she said, throwing herself into my arms, "Thank Merlin you're here."

I hugged her to me, patting her back the way I used to when she was little and Fred and George had tortured her with another one of their cruel pranks and made her cry.

I could always tell when something was wrong.

"What's wrong, Ginny? Do you want to talk about it?"

"It's Harry," she said quietly, her voice muffled against my chest.

I had figured as much, and I told her so.

"Shhh!" she said, pressing her finger to my lips. When she looked up to me, with her eyes were shining, but not from being wet with tears. She seemed to have a manic gleam in them instead.

It scared the shit out of me.

I'd much rather that she had been sobbing her eyes out. That would have been less painful.

"Follow me," Ginny said. It wasn't like I had much choice.

She led me into the bedroom, where there was a basin, like the top of a birdbath, sitting on her dresser. As I neared it, I saw it was about the size of a sundial, you know, about this big, and inside it had the face of a clock, complete with the date and the phases of the moon. It was covered with a bluish, clear liquid, several inches deep.

She beckoned me closer. "Videre!" she said, pointing her wand at the liquid. It swirled like a whirlpool and shook violently for a moment, then settled. As I watched, the ripples came together and started to form an image.

It was Harry, sitting still, eyes focused at someplace faraway, as if in a trance. His arms moved mechanically side to side, his hands holding something black and curved. It took me a moment to realise that we were watching him drive. (I didn't mention? Harry lives in a Muggle flat. More privacy, I think. Less stalkers and nosy neighbours. But never mind that, he drives, that's the cool thing. He's even given me lessons, and for a while I was really talking him around to the idea of a flying car again.)

Anyway, the face of the clock underneath the liquid read: 7:37.

I glanced at the clock on Ginny's nightstand. It read 7:37.

The pool seemed to focus upon only Harry's face and torso, with occasional glimpses of the surroundings. The images were a bit blurry, but it was obvious what was going on. As we watched, Harry parked his car, got out, exchanged small talk with the doorman (there was no sound) and got into the lift. Once he arrived at his own flat, he unlocked the door with his keys, and, when inside, relocked the door carefully. I guess he really did value his privacy.

I was about to learn just what it was that he valued so much.

Harry took his coat off and hung it up, and then walked toward what must have been his sitting room. I was slightly disappointed that the vision failed to show us the actual setting; I wondered if Harry's flat was actually as bare and sad as I had imagined it. Then, what I saw next chased all thoughts of home décor (or lack of) straight out of my mind.

In the image, Harry's face softened, and he gave a simple, genuine smile, full of nothing but happiness…it was an expression that I rarely saw on him, nowadays. The image wavered slightly – I looked over to Ginny and saw that she had shaken, just a little bit. I figured that Harry didn't look at her that way that often, either, if at all. I quickly looked back at the image to see that he began talking, although I really can't tell you what he was saying – I've never been any good at reading lips. I didn't really need to be able to have that skill, though, because Harry then bent down and pressed his lips to another's. The image shifted to show the lips touching, caressing. I really couldn't see what she looked like, but it was quite obvious that it was a very passionate kiss. Again, the image rippled, distorted – Ginny was clutching onto the edge of her vanity, as if trying to dig her nails into the wood, making the table tremble.

"Oh, Ginny," I said, not sure what to say to her. "I'm so sorry…"

"Don't be," Ginny said, smiling sardonically. "Why should you be sorry? It's not like it's your fault."

"I…I should have warned you," I managed to stammer out. "There were…signs…I should have known…"

"Shhhh," Ginny hushed me again. "Watch."

As commanded, I looked back down at the image in the pool. Harry kissed the side of her neck now, and then behind her ear. Her hair, I noticed, was a very pale, almost-white blonde colour. His mouth hovered close to the girl's ear, and slowly, carefully, his lips formed three little words that even I could read: I love you.

The obvious. The clichéd and overused, except by Harry, who we all thought never said such things.

I looked over to Ginny to see her reaction. She was staring determinedly down at the pool, her eyes blazing. "Keep on watching," she said, without looking up, "It gets better."

Harry kissed her some more, tenderly, and I winced for Ginny's sake as the pool seemed to focus in on every little caress. On my own part, I was feeling more and more uncomfortable, intruding on something very private and very intimate. This was obviously meant only to be between Harry and this girl, and watching just felt so very wrong. Fortunately, after several moments of this, Harry whispered something else into the girl's ear, then he got up. As he went around to the back of the girl and began pushing the back of her seat, I realised with a sudden shock that she was in a wheelchair.

"Ginny…she's…" I searched for the right word, "she's…she's…an invalid."

"You could say that," Ginny said, eyes still glued to the visions floating on the liquid.

"But…don't you see?" I said. "That was why Harry never mentioned her to us." It was making more sense now.

Ginny simply replied, "Could be."

"He must really love her," I remarked softly, not really meaning for Ginny to hear. I immediately regretted saying it out loud, of course.

"Nn," said Ginny.

I tried to recover my statement as another thought came to me. "Has it ever occurred to you that you're the 'Other Woman'?" When Ginny didn't say anything, I kept on going. "He keeps this one locked away in his flat, he never mentions her…But he seems to feel some sort of obligation to her…Let me tell you something: everything I've found says that he's been with this girl longer than he's been with you. Why go out with you at all if he really loves her? Maybe, to him, your relationship is an escape. It's the one that counts."

"I did consider that, actually," Ginny said quietly, still watching the image. Harry had lifted the girl in his arms and placed her, gently, upon the bed. "That would have been an interesting twist," she continued, "But…why doesn't he kiss me like that? Why doesn't he touch me like that? Why doesn't he ever tell me that he loves me?" I watched, frozen, as the vision zoomed in to show him kissing her again. "It doesn't matter, really, who he was with first. It's not me that he loves."

The image rippled once again, reforming to show Harry's fingers slowly undoing a button. He kissed her neck, her shoulder, and his hands moved lower…

"Ginny, I think we've seen enough," I said. I felt like a dirty pervert, a Peeping Tom, invading a moment that should have belonged to only two people. It wasn't right, we shouldn't have been watching this. I reached for my wand to perform a finite incantatem.

Ginny stopped me, grabbing my wrist suddenly, saying, "No, no, no. I want to see them fuck."

"What?" I choked. That was just plain wrong, and I must have heard her wrong, because I just knew that she couldn't have said what I thought she said.

"You know, fuck. Have sex, shag, bump tummies, have it away, bunk up, do the nasty, make whoopee, have a little how's your father. Insert Peg A into Slot B until the desired results are achieved….I could go on like this, you know. Do you need me to?" she asked, almost innocently.

"NO!" I cried. In that one moment, she just traumatised me for life! GYAH! I still can't believe she SAID those things!

"Just keep on watching," she told me. I tried to tear my eyes away from the image in the pool, but I found that I couldn't. You know, morbid fascination and all that - like watching an accident happen in slow motion. You want to see how it happened, who got hurt, and then inspect the damage. Feeling extremely voyeuristic, I watched as Harry finally undid the girl's shirt to reveal, a smooth, pale, completely flat chest.

My reaction exactly.

She was a he.

"Told you it got better," Ginny said, finally looking up at me. "Now do you see?"


Ginny watched with sadistic satisfaction as her brother staggered away from the View Finder, falling backwards onto the bed.

"I never…Harry…gyah…" Ron managed, ever-so-eloquently.

"It figures, doesn't it?" Ginny laughed bitterly. "I sure know how to pick them, don't I?"

"Ginny…that's awful…"

"Tell me about it."

"I mean, I'm sorry…are you all right?"

I'm all right," Ginny responded softly, "now that you're here."

Ron's protective older brother instincts instantly kicked into action. "That's so…perverted! It's sickening! I can't believe he could do such a thing. Especially to you! I can't believe he never said anything…Ginny, forget him. Dump him on his sorry arse and move on!"

"I will, Ron, believe me. But, first…I have other plans."

"What are you going to do?"

"Aside from castrate him?"

Ron winced. "Erm…yeah…"

"I actually don't know yet. But he needs to be taught a lesson."

"I completely agree, but don't you think that we should confront him, first? Let him explain himself, at least."

"What's there to explain?YOU saw it! My freaking boyfriend is a freaking faggot, and not only has HE been hiding in the closet, he's been hiding a chuffing invalid, too! He's been using me, Ron! He KNEW how I felt about him, and he's been playing me!" She looked at Ron now, smiling joylessly. "He's been fucking with me without ever even fucking me. I can't stand for being used, Ron. I won't stand being used. Not this time."

She wiped her eyes viciously on the back of her sleeve. "Not again."


The owl:

Dear Harry,

I was thinking that maybe we should go out for dinner on Thurs., to celebrate your birthday. We haven't spent any time together at all lately and I want us to have a chance to talk...I think it would be best for the both of us. Respond ASAP.

Love,

Ginny

The reply:

Dear Ginny,

You know, I would love to go out to dinner with you, but I really have to work. I've been a bit distracted lately and now I've a lot of paperwork that I need to finish up. I know, it's awful, esp. on my birthday, but it's out of my control. There's no help for it. Really sorry. Maybe we could do something Friday night, w/Ron & Hermione?

Love,

Harry


In the days afterwards, I didn't know how to feel, how to act around Harry. It was like I didn't even know who he was…It didn't change how I felt about him as a friend, but I know that things were different, even if I didn't want to admit it. I avoided talking him when I could. Sometimes I pretended not to see him. I felt guilty, like I was the one who had something to hide, not him.

Every night, I would go to Ginny's right after work, telling Hermione that I was working overtime, which was partially true. Ginny had made me promise not to tell anybody, especially not Hermione. I think Hermione had a right to know, just as much as I did, but Ginny was Harry's girlfriend and I could understand if she wanted to keep it to herself for a while. And…she needed my support.

At least, that was what I told myself.

We watched Harry and his lover in the viewing pool each night. It must sound really perverted. I felt really perverted. I still feel really perverted. I don't know why we did it. I'm not a voyeur in the least...at least, I don't think so. I'm so ashamed to admit it, but that was what we did.

I think Ginny was looking for a reason that Harry did what he did, the motive behind his actions, and I think maybe I was looking for a possibility that there had been a mistake, that I had misinterpreted something.

Of course, neither one of us found what we were looking for.

I tried to get Ginny to go talk to Harry, to confront him about it. She would only shrug and say, "I gave him his chance."

Whatever that meant.

I basically let Ginny call all the shots, which, now that I look back at it, might not have been the best of ideas.

I knew she was planning to finally do something on Harry's birthday.

"Ron, I have an idea," she told me.

Her eyes were lit up like Christmas lights and she smiled, but it had a nasty feel to it.

"Let's throw him a surprise party."


(Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you…)

Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me…

(Close your eyes.)

Close your eyes.

(Make a wish.)

Make a wish.

I wish that…

(Don't tell me, stupid, or else it won't come true!)

Okay, okay!

(Now blow out the candles.)

Blow out the candles.

(Why are you grinning like that? You look really idiotic, you know.)

Because my wish came true.

(Really?)

Yeah…I already have everything that I could possibly wish for.

(Ugh, that's so cheesy! Can you be any more moronic?)

Laughter.

Soft kissing.

I love you.

(Mm. Me too.)

That's not what you're supposed to say!

(But I do love me, too.)

God, sometimes you're such a fucktard.

(Haha. Love you too.)

Seriously now?

(I love you.)

Always?

(Always and forever.)


I don't know why I went along with her.

Maybe I shouldn't have.

Ginny had spent an entire afternoon baking Harry a double-layer Black Forest cake. It was painstakingly decorated, with sugared violets and buttercream and red icing that said: 'Happy Birthday, Harry.' She insisted on taking it to him in person.

I had never been up to Harry's flat before, even though I knew the address. He had gotten it a little while after we graduated, and had always warned us not to visit him there. We respected his wishes, of course. Harry's flat was his sanctuary, his place to go to be alone, his Fortress of Solitude. Now I knew that was where he hid all his secrets.

The doorman let us in after Ginny told him who we were, and we rode the lift up. Once we were there, Ginny pulled out a vial of something from the pocket of her coat. It must have been some sort of Diss…Diss…you know, that potion that makes things melt? Yeah, that's it, Dissolution Solution. It was the Dissolving Thing, because she used it to melt the locks and bolts that kept the door locked shut. I guess it made sense, because Harry was probably smart enough to put Anti-Alohomora Charms on the door.

Once we were inside, I finally got a chance to see the furnishings of Harry's flat. It wasn't all barren like I imagined at all, not one bit. If anything, it was the opposite of barrenness. It seemed lavish, overdone. There was a thick Persian rug upon the floor, the furniture was carved from dark wood, intricately designed, with red velvet cushions. The curtains seemed to be velvet, too. Everything looked really expensive, but it made me feel…suffocated. It felt too rich, too overwhelming.

On the table was another birthday cake, chocolate with strawberries, with a slice missing from it. Next to it, there was an empty plate and one fork, and one very large, very sharp knife.

Before I could stop her, Ginny grabbed the knife.

"I honestly didn't know that he already had a cake," she said to me, her voice a low whisper, "Do you think he'll have some of my cake, anyway? You know, just to be polite."

She sank the knife into her own cake, carving a slice. She grinned. "Hate for him not to have his cake and eat it, too."

When she pulled the knife out, it was all covered with crumbly, rich chocolate and red icing, like blood and mud.

I didn't know what to say.

With cake in one hand and the knife clutched in the other, she headed towards the bedroom. I followed her, of course. What else could I do?

I had to make sure that she didn't do anything…stupid.

"Surprise!" Ginny cried cruelly, sarcastically, as she used her knife hand to fling the door open. Then she gasped and made a small choking sound, as if she had sucked the word back from the air, where it stuck halfway in her throat. I saw her fall back against the doorway, slumping down, crushing her beautiful cake against her dress.

I ran into the room, wondering what had happened. What I saw made me freeze in my tracks…I just stood there, gaping uselessly, my mouth hanging open like some goddamned clot.

It was really bizarre, though, I'll tell you that. I didn't register it at the time, but it all seems so clear to me now, as if I had mentally picked out every detail and memorised it in a still-frame. Moments before it turned to shock, the look on Harry's face was one of supreme contentment and bliss... I had never seen him as happy as that, when he was holding Draco Malfoy in his arms.

Of course, my attention was focussed on Malfoy. Malfoy, the sole heir to a multimillion-galleon fortune who had mysteriously disappeared five years ago, hadn't changed a bit since I last saw him…to all appearances, that is. He just laid in Harry's arms, his eyes wide open but seeing nothing, with the most chilling expression on his face – this vacant, vapid, vague smile.

I never thought a look of happiness could be so utterly horrible... but aren't dead things always horrible?

At least now I know why they never found the body.

And, like strands of cobwebs, that silvery, white-blonde hair was everywhere.

Surprise.

And that's the whole story, from beginning to end, to the best of my memory. I've tried to keep everything pretty much word for word...I hope what I've told you can help you in…treating…Harry.

You can help him, right?

He will get better, right?

Yeah...I know. I hope so. And he's a good guy.

Good guys always win.

...Right?

So…when do you allow visitors? When...do you think he'll be ready...for company?

Friday?

Sunday?

Tomorrow?


That night, she is straightening out the sitting room when she notices a slip of paper lying innocently upon the floor. She picks it up and heads over to the wastebasket, but pauses to read it, first, to make sure that it is nothing important. It is a carefully ripped-out old advertisement for some sort of miracle cure, the kind one often found in the Daily Prophet or Witches' Weekly.

'Amor numquam morit,' it reads. 'Preserve your love forever. Not even death can do you part.'

She blinks in confusion, stares at the paper for a while, at its soft, furry edges where it had bade farewell to the rest of the page and at the crease that runs through the centre, which, when folded along, gives the paper the appearance of the wings of a bird as perceived by a child. And when she runs her fingers over its face, somehow she imagines that she can feel another's touch there, too. It makes her shiver.

It has been kept well, despite its age, so it must have been very important to somebody at sometime, and the significance is easy to figure out. This ad promises safety, security, assurance of love, everything for everyone who has ever harboured doubts about their relationship. Who doesn't want to preserve their love forever?

She laughs a bit to herself. What a load of crap. One can't expect a magical cure to fix all the problems that occur in a relationship – only those involved can do that. Love makes the magic, not the other way around. Nothing can last forever, and you can't expect love to. A healthy relationship requires effort and compromise on the part of both parties. You have to make it work in order for it to last.

Still…sometimes, she can't help having her own doubts and insecurities. He has never been a fully attentive, perfect boyfriend, but she's been working on him, slowly but surely. But…the one-sided effort is tiring. He's damn stubborn and goddamn pigheaded, and they quarrel a lot, almost a bit too much for their relationship to qualify as 'healthy'. He seems more and more distracted as of late, he keeps secrets from her, he sneaks around, he lies. He's hardly ever home. Sometimes she questions if he really does love her as much as he says that he does.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to just make all that disappear? To only have that love, that delicious happy feeling, remain? Wouldn't it be wonderful to never have to worry about the strength of your relationship, and to have each time as beautiful as the first time?

Ha.

"Honey, I'm home," calls Ron, who just entered the door. "Did you make dinner yet?" He is late, as usual. "What are you looking at?" She looks up at him, with his flaming red hair and bright blue eyes, and she thinks about how she still loves him, despite all the reasons she has not to. Love is beyond reason and rationality, after all.

"Oh, nothing," she says, folding it carefully, tucking it away into her pocket.

Eternal love. What a sweet, naïve concept. Naïve, yes, that's the word.

But…wonderful.


You sit alone now, staring disconsolately at the horrid white walls. You've never felt more alone in your life.

You were promised forever, but in the end, he still left you. Just like everyone else did. Just like everyone else will.

How could they do this to you? After everything you've done for them…they don't even let you have the only thing that made you happy.

They don't want you to be happy. They never wanted you to be happy.

And now they've left you all alone, all alone and lonely.

Well…not completely. As a cruel and heartless joke, someone has dropped off a present, but did not come in to see you. You wonder who it was that cared enough to give you a present, but not enough to visit you.

It is a stuffed animal, a teddy bear, the kind you see in the window of any toyshop that you find. Nothing special about it. Nothing special at all.

The fur is soft and pristine white, the black nose hard plastic. You can see your own reflection in the pale ice-coloured glass eyes. It stares stoically back at you, completely soulless. They expect this dead thing to keep you company? What the hell is wrong with them?

You squeeze it, and it says, in its lifeless, toneless, pre-recorded voice, "I love you."

Squeeze.

"I love you."

Squeeze.

"I love you."

Squeeze.

Squeeze.

Squeeze.

"I

"I

"I love you."

It suddenly occurs to you that this is the same animal that appeared on your desk not so long ago. Maybe he sent it.

The thought lessens the burn of loneliness.

Squeeze.

"I love you."

"I love you."

"I love you."

(I love you.)

(I love you.)

(I'll always love you.)

(I'll love you forever.)

You hold him close, and listen for a heartbeat.

Ba-dump.

Ba-dump.

Ba-dump.

Smile.

Amor numquam morit.

-finis-

Author's Note: I tell everyone that my closet is where I keep the bodies of my exes. I imagined they'd smell after a while, but if you could preserve them… If you truly love someone, it doesn't matter if they're absent, handicapped, ill, or dead, even. To you, they'll always be very much alive…