Chapter Twelve – Flight and Fight

August 11

Ginny ran as fast as her cursedly-short Weasley legs could carry her. Even if she'd applied for and been granted an Apparation license, it wouldn't have transported her any faster when she was on the Hogwarts grounds. Harry, still probably smarting from the slap he had so richly earned, was making sure she didn't fall behind. As they finally approached the castle doors in the cool evening air, they began to shout for Dumbledore.

Harry shot a spell at the opening to the Entrance Hall. After a worrisome moment, the metal hinges creaked open.

"Professor!" Ginny yelled, only able to get a single word out from breathing so hard. "Dumbledore!" she finally gasped.

They turned a corner and flew up a flight of stairs. Finally, they reached the Gargoyle statue and were surprised to see Dumbledore waiting for them.

"Is there a problem?" he queried.

"Yes!" Ginny managed.

"The hex!" Harry gasped, clutching at a stitch in his side. "It's not...lifted."

Dumbledore's happy visage twisted with concern. "Are you certain?"

"Yes!" Ginny confirmed. "We couldn't – couldn't..."

With a wave of his hand, the Headmaster interrupted and said, "I believe you. There is little time. We must find Reverend Firth immediately." He extracted a sherbet lemon from his pocket and waved his wand over it. "Portus," he intoned. The sweet shook in his hand and then settled. "A finger each, please."

They complied and found themselves back in the Reverend's now-darkened office. The lights were re-ignited with a wave of Dumbledore's hand. Ginny's breathing was back to normal and they began to search for Mr. Firth.

It was only a second before they found him. "I believe he's been attacked," Dumbledore observed.

The Reverend was bound with ropes, had been knocked out, and was stuffed into a small cupboard, barefoot. With surprising strength, Dumbledore picked the man up and sat him on the floor. The ropes were vanished and an Enervate brought him back to consciousness.

"Dumbledore!" he exclaimed. "Malfoy's here. We've got to warn Ha – " but he stopped speaking when his eyes landed on Harry and Ginny's faces.

"Time is essential, dear Reverend," Dumbledore urged, offering a hand to help the man stand. "It is nearly midnight and the hex is still active."

Ginny was casting nervous glances at the clock, which read eleven fifty-eight and blurted, "There isn't time! We haven't been properly married, either!"

Reverend Firth smoothed out his shirt and replied, "Nonsense. Did you go through the ceremony as we discussed?"

Ginny nodded. "Well...yes."

He pointed at Harry, but kept his eyes on Ginny. "And did you mean what you said when you agreed to marry him?"

Again, Ginny nodded. "Of course."

"And did you, Harry, mean what you said?"

Harry straightened and the clock-hand ticked loudly in the office, showing eleven fifty-nine. "Absolutely."

"Then you're married," Firth declared. "It doesn't matter that I wasn't the one performing the ceremony; I'm merely a witness to your vows. It's the hex that's important right now." He found his attaché and pulled a folder from it. "Go on, look."

Ginny extended a trembling hand and took out their Wizarding Marriage license. There, in a single box above their names were two animated blood-Patronuses. The crimson unicorn was nuzzling the rust-coloured stag lovingly as he stood watch. Even their names had changed. No longer did hers say 'Ginevra Molly Weasley'; now it read 'Ginevra Molly Potter'.

"Oh, thank Merlin," she cried, and replaced the document.

Firth smiled, and patted her on the shoulder. "We've not a moment to lose with the deadline." He found his wand in the back of the cupboard and pointed it at the two teens. Dumbledore took a step back as Harry's hand found Ginny's.

When the beam of blue light struck Ginny this time, she felt as if a thousand threads were being pulled from a thousand seams inside her. As the spell faded, the clock began to chime twelve times, and Ginny's heart started to beat again.

"Did it work?" Harry asked and Ginny could hardly bear to hear the answer.

Firth simply chuckled. "Well, I'm afraid there's only one reliable way to find out..."

A smile split Ginny's face, despite the desperate circumstances they found themselves in, and she let out her breath in a rush. "We'll have to let you know, then. Come on, Harry, we have something we need to do."

But Harry wasn't looking at her. "Where is he?" he asked Firth and Dumbledore. "Where's Malfoy?"

Dumbledore sighed. "We've had reports that he's been seen in Hogsmeade, but he's evaded capture for two weeks."

"Reverend Firth, are these your boots?" Harry asked, pointing to a pair under his desk.

"These? No, they must be Malfoy's," he said, lifting them up to examine them in the light of the table lamp.

Harry ran his finger along the heel of the boots, crumbling a clump of clay between his fingers.

"I know where he is. I'm going after him," Harry declared and took out his wand.

Ginny grabbed his arm and stomped her foot. "Oh, no, you don't, Harry Potter. You and I have things we need to take care of. I told you I don't like waiting, and you're not about to make me wait another minute. Dumbledore and the Order can handle Malfoy. It's time to start our honeymoon."

Harry's face never lost its hard look as he regarded her. "No, Ginny. I can't let him come after us again. I know where he is and I can take him out right now."

Hot tears coursed down her cheeks. "Please...don't..."

A resolved expression passed across Harry's face as he shook his head. "I must." Then he was gone with a crack.

Ginny whirled on Dumbledore, her anger boiling to the surface. "How could you let him do this? Why didn't you stop him?"

Dumbledore took a deep breath in the face of her accusations. "Your husband is an adult now, Mrs. Potter. I could no more stop him than I could not stop you from becoming his wife. I will, however, escort you back to the cottage and then see to Harry's safety."

Ginny was hurt, and scared, and lonely. She didn't want to be taken anywhere other than to where Harry was so she could give him a piece of her mind. She knew her emotions were scrambled just then, and she decided that a cooling-off period might be best. "All right. But I want you to make sure Malfoy doesn't kill him. That's my privilege."

August 12

Harry Apparated a block away from a complex of flats in Hogsmeade, an area where he'd ruined a pair of trousers after falling into a mud puddle rich with a very distinctive clay when he'd visited during his sixth year. Walking behind the Post Office, he Disillusioned himself. The flats were converted from an old industrial building, perhaps a mill, and Harry knew they were rarely completely rented-out. It would be a perfect place for Malfoy to hide.

His wand was slippery with sweat, and he gripped it hard as he pointed it at the six-unit building. A soft orange glow emanated from his wand, the revealing spell doing exactly what Mad-eye Moody said it would. Harry looked in the inside of each flat, looking for clues to Malfoy's whereabouts.

All of a sudden, Harry's Disillusionment charm ended and a voice came from some distance behind him.

"Looking for something?"

Harry whirled around to find a pair of cold blue eyes staring back at him.

"I had hoped that you'd discover my...intervention in your wedding plans," Malfoy continued. "It was terribly tedious to recite that wedding drivel, but at least it was for a purpose."

Malfoy's hair was tousled and dirty, his clothes shabby, and there was a hollowness in his face that spoke of too-little sleep. "Azkaban not suit you, Malfoy?"

The older man sneered, and then coughed. "No, Mr. Potter. Though I'm happy to say I'll soon be rejoining my brothers in the Dark Lord's service."

"Is that so?" Harry started to calculate duelling scenarios in his mind. Malfoy wasn't someone to be trifled with, even if he was sick and alone. "How do you reckon that?"

The sneer widened to a leering smile as he looked at his gold pocket watch, and then snapped it shut and replaced it in his robes. "Because it's past midnight and I know the hex wasn't lifted. I was the one who 'married' you and that blood-traitor in the first place. The Dark Lord will gladly take me back into his service when he learns that the Potter line will finally fail."

Not wanting to tip his hand yet, Harry changed the subject. "So how'd you escape Azkaban in the first place? Even with the Dementors gone, the Aurors aren't just going to let you walk out of there for a bag of gold."

"No," Malfoy replied, widening his stance and shifting his weight in a way that told Harry the conversation was about to be over. "It wasn't gold that bought my freedom, but the foolish loyalty of Gilbert Goyle. With no Dementors there, all he had to do was remember to take the Polyjuice potion and I've been free ever since."

Harry gripped his wand tighter as a plan formed in his mind. "Your freedom is about to end, Malfoy. You've come after me and mine for the last time."

Without warning, Malfoy shot a yellow spell at Harry, who ducked but it sliced a gash in his left leg. More spells shot at him, but Harry was able to roll away from the closest of them, and the rest went harmlessly off into a nearby wood.

Harry's instincts took over, and with robotic precision, he began to wear down the older man. Unlike the last time they'd fought, Harry was fit and prepared, while Malfoy was haggard and exhausted. Malfoy cast a Disarming Charm at Harry, who erected a solid shield. The red spell ricocheted off and struck its caster square in the chest. Malfoy gave a surprised scream as his wand was ripped from his hand and he went sailing into a tree.

With careful steps, Harry approached the elder Malfoy. He was about to Stun him, when another voice broke through the night air.

"That will be sufficient, Harry."

Albus Dumbledore walked into the light of a waxing gibbous moon and towards the fallen Death Eater. "I will make sure he is well taken care of."

Harry's breathing sped up, as the adrenaline from his duel began to wear off. "He said Goyle had taken his place in Azkaban."

Dumbledore nodded. "Goyle has already been apprehended and placed in custody elsewhere." Ropes sprung from the Headmaster's wand, binding Malfoy tightly. Then another spell was fired and Malfoy slumped into unconsciousness. Dumbledore turned back to Harry and said, "Right now, you have more pressing matters, the most important of which is a very irate bride waiting for you on the grounds of Hogwarts."

With a groan, Harry nodded. "I'm in trouble, aren't I?" he asked.

"I'm afraid so, Harry. The sooner, the better, I always say." He produced a lemon sherbet and handed it to Harry. "It's the same Portkey as before. Just tap your wand and say, 'Safe'. It'll save you a long walk from the village."

Taking the sweet, Harry contemplated Apparating to the Maldives instead, or somewhere equally far away from Ginny. In the end, however, he knew he couldn't, and tapped the sweet. "Safe."

A very weary and wounded Harry walked from the Castle towards the cottage and his wife. He was exhausted from his duel with Malfoy and from being up since seven the previous morning. Even the prospect of consummating his marriage with Ginny seemed like a distant sunrise that threatened to break over the mountains, but never quite made it.

Despite the slow gait imposed by his bleeding leg, he reached his destination and unlocked the door. It was dark inside, save for a single torch burning on a sconce over the fireplace. Even in the darkness he could not mistake the angry look on Ginny's face. She sat on a chair that she had turned to face the door. Her arms were folded tightly across her chest and a crossed leg was bouncing rhythmically in the air.

He closed the door and stood fully in the living room.

"Oh, good," she said with forced sweetness, "I'm glad you're not dead, because now I'm going to kill you." She stood and rushed at Harry, but stopped when she saw the blood on his trousers. "W-what happened to your leg?"

She bent low to examine him and whipped out her wand. "Malfoy," he said through gritted teeth. Ginny's healing technique was none-too-gentle. "Got me with a cutting hex when I wasn't expecting it."

Ginny finished her impromptu healing job and stood. With balled fists at her side and fiery eyes, her anger returned with full force. Her cotton nightdress clung to her body and her hair was a wild tangle that distracted Harry. "Since you're a dense prat, and don't know why I'm angry, let me tell you what you did, Harry Potter. I promised to obey you today - you promised to love me and take care of me." She had backed Harry into the corner by the unlit fireplace and was jabbing her finger into his chest. "Yet, the first time I needed you to honour those promises, you went haring after Malfoy instead!"

"B-but I had to," he pleaded. Anger was starting rise in his chest and he took in a heated breath. "If I hadn't gone after – "

"NO!" Ginny interrupted. "I know your destiny, Harry, but I've got to come first sometimes. There is an endless supply of bad, evil men in this world, but only one woman who's pledged herself to you. If we're going to make this work, you've got to stop acting like you're the only one in this relationship."

Ginny's words had all the impact of smacking into the ground when flying flat out. He abandoned the quick retort he'd crafted about how she should be grateful for his protection when he realized she was right. He felt his own anger drain out of him. His head drooped and his shoulders slouched. "You're...right. I shouldn't have left you, Ginny. I'm – "

At that moment, Ginny began to cry. He took a step towards her, extending his arms for a hug, but she stepped back. "N-no, Harry. Not now," she said before turning to the slam the bedroom door behind her.

Harry let out a weary breath and slumped into Ginny's chair… Why wouldn't she even let him apologise?

He sat there for what seemed like the rest of the night, trying to work out how he was going to get himself out of his mess. A faint glow on the Eastern horizon told him that the sun was only an hour or so from rising.

Finally, Harry rose and slowly made his way down the hall to the cozy bathroom. Harry worked as quickly and silently as possible to remove the sweat and grime that he'd earned that day. Was it really less than twenty-four hours prior that he'd been struggling into his dress robes at the Burrow? Finally, he stood nervously at the bedroom door, still not completely sure how to approach Ginny, or how she would receive him. He turned the knob carefully so it made as little sound as possible. His shoes were left in the living room, as he padded silently to the lump-less side of the bed – they hadn't even got around to talking about who would sleep on which side. He removed his dressing gown, then slowly lifted the duvet and slipped underneath.

As his breathing slowed, Harry noticed that the light outside was steadily growing. Soon, a single beam of sunlight found its way between the drapes and the window frame, touching the bathroom door, even as it moved towards the floor. It was time for him to make amends.

The space between them was cold. Ginny's breathing was regular, but Harry could tell by its rhythm that she was now awake. Feeling brave, he shifted his leg across the space between them, penetrating the cold until he found her foot. When Ginny didn't move, Harry breathed an inner sigh of relief. Evidently she wasn't mad enough to hex him any more.

Keeping contact with Ginny's foot, Harry rolled over into the frigid sheets to look at her. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "Everything you said was true. I was stupid and proud and worst of all I was reckless with your feelings."

Ginny still didn't move and a stab of panic shot through Harry.

"Yes, you were," she answered after some time, relieving Harry immensely. Ginny rolled over as well, but towards Harry, until their faces were close. He felt her other foot rest on top of his, creating a sandwich of feet under the blankets. Her expression wasn't hard any more, but it wasn't soft, either. "You hurt me, Harry."

In that fraction of a second, Ginny's face crumpled ever-so-slightly and tears pooled around her eyelids. "I try so hard to understand what it's like to live with your burdens, but still, I just..." she paused and squeezed her eyes, sending the pooled tears onto her nose and pillow. "It hurts, Harry."

Harry found himself nodding and a flash of something appeared in his mind – understanding. It was only a simple impression, but that feeling went deep and stirred up long-ignored emotions. "I'm sorry that I didn't place you first, Ginny. I'm not the only wizard who could have tracked down Malfoy, and I failed my first husband test miserably, Ginny, I..."

Ginny's finger shot out from the covers and pressed against his lips, silencing him. "Wait, Harry. I need to tell you something first." Harry's mind protested at her actions, wanting only to finally be relieved of the burden he had been carrying. Emotions were swirling around in his mind so fast, he could barely keep track of them, and he knew he needed to tell her before the power of it faded away.

Harry nodded and she began. "We've been through a lot in the past couple of weeks and there have been some rough patches, but I think that now – now, I can honestly tell you that our love will be able to overpower any problems we're going to face." A small curve appeared in the corners of her mouth and she looked away briefly, her wet lashes causing Harry's stomach to flip. "I know I didn't treat you very well, either," Ginny continued. "In the beginning... Though you have to admit, you were a bit of a prat."

They shared a laugh and Harry nodded, raising a hand to push her hair back from her forehead. "I was a prat. I'm sorry for that." After listening to Ginny, and seeing the relief in her eyes, he knew that was all he needed to say, and that anything more would likely be too much.

"I forgive you. For everything," she said. "But, Harry. I need to tell you one more thing. No matter what happens between us, because you're going to be a prat again at one point or another, and I'm likely to spout off how stupid you are for something you've no idea about..." Ginny trailed off, her eyes boring into his as if trying to communicate something important. He sucked in a breath. "What I'm saying is...I love you." She wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her head into his chest, letting her emotions loose.

When she had regained her ability to speak, she looked back up and said, "I love you, Harry Potter, and even if I wanted to stop myself, I couldn't ever stop loving you."

Then she kissed him.

Ginny's warm, soft lips were on his in a way that he had never experienced. Harry, being inherently opportunistic, returned her kiss with all the tenderness he felt for her. She had given herself to him willingly, had sacrificed the rest of her childhood to him and was now offering her heart without reservation. Ginny's lips parted and Harry's mind exploded.

"Ginny," Harry said, panting as he broke the kiss. "Ginny, words aren't enough to tell you how much I love you. I've loved you for only a short while, but it seems like I couldn't love you any more than I do right now." He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against hers, their breath mingling together, her taste slowly disappearing from his lips.

When Harry opened his eyes, he saw something primal in Ginny's eyes. "We don't have to stop at kissing anymore, Harry," she said. "You know that, don't you?" Her hands found the skin of his bare chest. She pushed her hand around until it found his shoulder and then onto his back. She seemed to be relishing the contact as much as he was. Her eyes found his again and the glint in them sent all rational thought out of his mind. "There is one more duty that my husband has to take care of..."

"What's that?" Harry asked breathlessly.

Ginny pushed him so that he was on his back, and reached her arm over his torso, propping herself up on it. Despite his severe sleep-deprivation, the contact was driving him crazy. "It may be something that you'll have practice over and over again before you get it right."

"Okay," Harry agreed, not sure he could find a word in his head that was more than two syllables.

"Close your eyes," she commanded, and Harry obeyed. If Harry had ever doubted Ginny's heritage, those doubts were soon obliterated. Magical was the only way to describe what they did together that morning and Harry hoped that he would be allowed many opportunities to work long and hard at fulfilling this duty.

The End

A/N: It has been a great privilege to work with Kokopelli, AMulder, Sherry, Ara Kane, XiaoXiao, and others in the writing of this story. The reviews I've received have been, on the whole, uplifting, and analogous to the icing on a particularly tasty chocolate cake. Thank you for reading this little indulgence of mine.

I have already written some disconnected drabbles from this story that feature Harry and Ginny at Hogwarts and will post them sometime in the future. Don't expect there to be any kind of plot to them, unless one hits me over the head between then and now.