Irony, Part One – Bittersweet
When the last Horcrux was found and destroyed, it almost cost Harry Potter his right eye. In the short period of time he allowed for recovery, he made plans with Hermione and Ron to find and kill the most powerful Dark Wizard in a century. The finding part wasn't that difficult, as Voldemort had taken Azkaban, the Wizarding prison as his headquarters a year ago, just after Dumbledore had been murdered. It had taken Harry and his friends a long difficult year to track down and destroy the separated bits of Voldemort's soul that anchored his twisted spirit to the earth. Harry thought that now that they were gone, he could fulfil the prophecy and, at long last, find peace.
Fate was neither kind nor cooperative.
As they planned their attack on Azkaban in the Gryffindor common room, Voldemort brought the fight to them, penetrating the walls of Hogwarts Castle before they could mount an effective defence. Destroying the Horcruxes had weakened the man once known as Tom Riddle to the point that when he assaulted the last safe place afforded the forces of the light, he was half the wizard he used to be. Still, half of Voldemort was more than a match for just about any witch or wizard in a duel to the death, but Harry Potter was no longer just any wizard – he had destiny and determination.
When the trio battled through to the Dark Lord himself, Hermione and Ron worked as a team to ensure that Harry had his shot and when the time came, they stood on the sidelines to make sure that Voldemort didn't escape. Harry was not going to be denied.
The final spell in that duel was unexpected. Harry had learned many spells during the year he'd spent searching for the Horcruxes, not the least of which was a load of Dark Magic. "You have to know what you are facing," Hermione had said in an eerie echo of their former Defence against the Dark Arts professor, Alastor Moody. Harry took the advice to heart, and voraciously learned the spells that Voldemort had discovered many decades prior. Then, he learned how to counter them, and developed a few that the world had not yet seen. As they engaged the enemy of the Wizarding and Muggle world, Voldemort found he could not beat Harry Potter as he was armed and supported by his friends. Voldemort could not Apparate away; Hogwarts' magic trapping him to the place he had fought to enter. When he tried to attack Harry directly, he was always countered. Soon, Voldemort found himself cornered in an unused classroom just down from the Great Hall.
Without pausing to say a single word to his opponent, or to allow him any opportunity to fight back, Harry raised his hand. Hermione and Ron covered him as he conjured up the memories of his friends, his parents, Dumbledore, and everyone that had sacrificed so much to help him get this far. He heard Ginny enter the room and out of the corner of his eye, saw her battered and bleeding face. To the memories he added the love within him for that witch, which swelled to fill him with light, almost blinding everyone in the room before it uncontrollably shot out the end of his hand in a giant pulse of magic. The light surrounded, and then entered Voldemort. As darkness was illuminated with love, Voldemort's scream was heard for miles around. Light shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
All of Voldemort's Death Eaters died that day with their lord, their link with him sealing their fate as a final service to a now dead villain. The irony to all of this occurred immediately after this penultimate event of modern Wizarding history. Just when Voldemort's second reign of terror had ended and the free witches and wizards of the world breathed a beleaguered sigh of relief, Harry Potter was arrested.
"Seize him!" yelled an apoplectic Cornelius Fudge. The former and now acting Minister for Magic had somehow been appointed back to the position after Scrimgeour was murdered. It seemed that no one else wanted the job . Fudge had spent the better part of six months trying to hunt Harry down and arrest him on trumped-up charges. Now, when Harry had spent himself defeating Voldemort, it looked as if he would finally have to yield.
Ron and Hermione stepped in front of Harry to defend him, but Harry, with his last ounce of strength, petrified both of them. Ginny, too, tried to protect Harry, but he shook his head and watched her nod in understanding. If he was going to prison, he would need his best friends and his girlfriend at liberty, free to help him.
"Harry Potter," Fudge spat with a trace of madness in his voice, "you are under arrest for practicing Dark Magic," Ginny gave a startled gasp, "conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to overthrow the government, and the murder of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
Harry smirked as the magical handcuffs were fixed onto his hands and his wand seized. He didn't say a word as they dragged him to Azkaban, placing him ironically in the one that once held his godfather. The last thing he remembered before succumbing to his exhaustion were the trails of wetness on Ginny's cheeks as they led him away.
Harry awoke to the sound of his cell door opening. Four Aurors walked in, including the newly-named head of the Auror Department, Kingsley Shacklebolt. Harry didn't know if he should be glad of the man's company or wary. The four serious-looking men pointed their wands at Harry and surrounded him. Then, as they gave each other nervous looks, he saw three more people enter the cell.
"'Lo," Harry said with a weak wave from his still-manacled hands.
"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed and took a step toward him. She stopped when two of the Aurors made a swift movement with their wands that indicated she should not go further. She looked torn between wanting to hug him and slap him for petrifying her.
"You alright, mate?" Ron asked sheepishly, keeping one wary eye on the closest Auror. "At least the Dementors aren't back."
Harry gave his best friend a wary grin and then locked eyes with the third visitor. "Thank you," he said to Ginny. Her face was passive, but knowing her as he did, Harry could detect a thousand thoughts going through her mind, none of which featured an intact Minister of Magic.
"Oh, Harry," Hermione gushed. "We're working on getting you released right now. Fudge has just got to let you go. The charges are baseless; the public is demanding your release but he's just not budging an inch."
Harry smiled again and tore his gaze from Ginny. "It'll be all right, Hermione. He has to release me unless he formally charges me in front of the Wizengamot before noon tomorrow. I don't think he has the balls to do that."
Hermione's cheeks flamed red and Ron snorted. "Too right," the redhead said. "Hermione's going to keep trying the legal channels. I'll work on the..." he shot another glance at the Aurors and continued, "...not-as-legal ones."
"Visiting time is over," said Kingsley with distinct authority. The other three Aurors immediately began to push Hermione, Ron, and Ginny out the door. When Harry caught Ginny's eye for the last time, he nodded and she offered him a hesitant smirk. She knew just was that nod meant.
At noon the next day, Harry looked up from where he sat in his cell. Fudge hadn't charged him and Harry was to go free. It was curious then, that no one made the walk down the long hall to his cell. Not a single Auror ventured to unlock the door or to pass any word along at all as to his fate. Harry grimaced at the bars of his cell, knowing that Fudge would not ever let him leave Azkaban, just as Sirius had been railroaded into jail without a trial and without justice. He smiled because he had anticipated this and as soon as his dinner tray was brought at six o'clock, he reckoned he'd leave one way or another.
Dinner was day-old fried chicken and stale bread. Harry could smell it as soon as the outer door to the cell block was opened. There were only three other prisoners in his block; he was the last to be fed.
"Dinner time, Potter," came the gruff voice of the newly-appointed warden. He motioned to the guard and a polished steel tray was pushed into the cell through a slot in the door. "Eat up."
Harry stood and walked to where the tray sat on the broken granite floor. "When am I going to be released?"
The warden snorted. "Never," he replied and turned to walk away.
Harry let out a dramatic sigh that stopped them in their tracks. "Then I guess I'll have to leave on my own."
Harry did not reply. Instead, he held his chained arms out in front of him, recited the three D's and turned on the spot.
A thunderous groan shook the prison on its foundation and then an almighty crack was heard as Harry disappeared. The warden made to pull out his wand, but stopped as he witnessed the impossible. Harry Potter had just Apparated through the most hardened Anti-Apparation wards in the world.
Appearing in a familiar living room, Harry stumbled into the waiting arms of a short, pleasantly scented woman. He lingered in her arms, drinking in the familiar smells of her perfume.
"Perfect timing," Ginny said and held him stiffly in place. "I don't know how in Merlin's name you did it, but you're here."
Harry squirmed in her arms and let her plop them both down on a nearby settee. "Thanks," he said breathlessly. "I don't think I could stand another second. Breaking the ward without a wand takes a lot out of a person."
Ginny gave a shallow smile. "You mean breaking through four layers of Anti-Apparation wards takes it out of you." When Harry gave her a confused glance, she sighed. "Can I ask you something?"
Sensing her discomfort, he nodded.
She looked him straight in the eye. "Did you use dark magic to kill Voldemort?"
It was Harry's turn to sigh. A thousand memories rushed through his mind, but he matched her gaze and gave an answer. "No. I've never used dark magic against a person, Ginny."
Her shoulders slumped in relief. "Thank Merlin."
He let her relish the relief for a moment and silently thanked her for trusting him despite her suspicions. "How did you know so much about the wards at Azkaban?"
She snorted. "Being the only sister to a Gringotts Curse Breaker has its benefits. I cased out the defences in the event we had to bust you out."
It was Harry's turn to snort.
She reached over and pulled him into a tight hug, but it was only for a moment. "As much as I'd love to just sit here with you, we need to get a move on. It'll only take a few minutes to track where you Apparated."
He held up his hands in a mute plea to be free of his bonds.
"Right," she said and placed a forefinger and thumb in her mouth. One ear-splitting whistle later, Fred and George popped into the living room.
"Oi!" Fred said as George clutched his chest is shock. "How'd you...?"
"They locked you up!" George added with his usual dose of eloquence.
"Very observant," Ginny said dryly. "He's just Apparated here and needs some help getting these lovely bracelets off. Care to help?"
There was a pause as the two gobsmacked wizards continued to stare at Harry. Fred was the first to recover. "Apparated?"
"That's not possible," said George, and then grinned. "But then, this is our Ickle Harrykins we're talking about."
Fred grinned, too. "Pride of the wizarding world..."
"Apple of every witch's eye..."
"Not to mention the original and sole investor in Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes."
"Boys," Ginny said sharply. "There isn't time for reminiscing. The handcuffs?"
Fred's smirk shifted effortlessly into a mask of concentration. "Right." He turned to George. "The prototype?"
George nodded and they both disappeared with a small crack.
They were back before Harry could coax Ginny's face closer to his, seeing as how he could hardly lift his head, let alone reach up for a kiss.
They got to work immediately, taking an oddly-shaped contraption from a paper bag and attaching it at various points on the cuffs.
"And we'll need transportation away from here as soon as possible," Ginny said as they continued to work on Harry's restraints. "They'll track his trip here soon and we need to be far away before anyone else sees him."
"Not to worry," Fred said distractedly. He rotated a knob on the contraption and George pressed a lever. There was a click and the glow around the cuffs faded.
There was a moment of silence and then an ear-splitting screeching filled the room.
"Bugger!" Fred said and snatched the cuffs from Harry's swollen wrists. "They were alarmed – didn't they trust you?"
George fished around in his pocket and extracted a small, smooth stone. He handed it to Ginny. "This'll take you to our flat. Hold it and say the full name of our late Headmaster."
The alarm seemed to grow in volume and Ginny stood, pulling Harry with her.
The door burst open and Molly Weasley appeared. "What in the name of..." she began and froze when she laid eyes on Harry. Fred and George stood shoulder to shoulder in front of him and Ginny began to recite the Portkey trigger.
"Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore." There was a pull on his navel and they disappeared with a pop.
"Mum," George said seriously as soon as they vanished, yelling over the din of the alarm. "You didn't see anything, did you?"
"Did you?" Fred added, arching his brow for emphasis.
Molly blinked, her mouth open to tell them off and then she closed it. "Of course I did! You two are up to your old antics again. Explosions, screeching handcuffs... Why I thought you two were mature enough to be out on your own is beyond me."
Fred grinned and before a team of twenty Aurors stormed the Burrow five minutes later, the handcuffs were buried ten feet below the surface of the family pond with Molly waxing indignant. Those who didn't know her thought she was incensed with the idea that she would harbour criminals at her house. Harry Potter had escaped.
Harry collapsed immediately upon arriving in the small flat shared by Fred and George. Ginny struggled to position herself under him before they fell to the shabby carpet and was rewarded with the sound of her breath being forcefully expelled from her lungs.
Pushing him off her body, she noticed that he'd slipped into unconsciousness. According to her discreet inquiries to Madame Pomfrey the previous evening, magical exhaustion should have overcome him midway through his Apparation. The fact that he'd made it five minutes beyond that was a testament to his raw power.
Ginny flicked her wand and levitated his sleeping form onto the closest bed. She tucked the covers around him and felt his forehead. Drawing back her hand, she frowned. She ran her fingers through his fringe and pushed the hair back, completely exposing the skin between his nose and hair line. It was perfectly smooth, with no sign of the trademark lightning-bolt scar that had graced his head since he was a year old.
Drinking in the rest of his features, Ginny let her hand caress his cheek and then rest on his slowly rising and falling chest. Dipping her head, she placed a lingering kiss on his lips. "Sleep for now, Harry. We'll get you out of this mess soon."
In a section of London hidden from Muggles and all but a handful of wizards, Hermione was in a snit.
"No, Ron. I need the Ancient Wizarding Law from 1265, not 1567."
She let out an exasperated sigh and shoved Magical Law and You to the side of her increasingly cluttered desk. A headache had been blossoming in her temples and she pinched her thumb and forefinger onto the offending areas to stem the pain. Hermione had always depended on books when faced with a problem (rightfully so, her brain reminded her). This time, however, it seemed that she couldn't sort through them fast enough to find the solution. This time, it wasn't searching for hidden bits of an evil dark lord, but something far worse – navigating the tempestuous and confusion waters of magical law to free her best friend from a fate worse than death.
"I could grab a headache draught," Ron said as he sat the dusty tomb down in the empty space before her. "Remus just brewed one up yesterday."
She let out another sigh, this one less exasperated and more relieved and leaned back in her chair. "No, I just need to relax." She turned her smile to him and was heartened by his answering grin.
His grin quickly turned from amusement to disbelief. "You do realise that those words have never escaped your lips before?"
Hermione crossed her arms defensively and huffed. "I can recognise the need to let my hair down from time to time. You on the other hand could apply yourself a bit more."
Ron snorted and patted her on the head, infuriating her even more. "I'll just go get that headache draught shall I?" he said and was gone without another word.
Hermione huffed again and wrenched open the book in front of her, sending a spray of dust into the air that obscured her vision. She grabbed her wand and muttered an Evacuation Charm that cleared the room and sent the pages of the book fluttering. When the dust cleared, her eyes fell on page that had been randomly opened. Something caught her attention and she began to read faster and faster through the ancient text. She grabbed a quill and spare bit of parchment, writing furious notes even as she continued to read. Her headache long forgotten, Hermione let a ray of hope penetrate the clouds of despair that had been her constant companion for the last two days. She'd have to do some checking, but if what she read was correct, Harry would not only be out of prison in no time, they'd be able to get rid of Fudge once and for all.
A warm breeze gently brought Harry back into consciousness. The warm breeze was accompanied by a rhythmic sound that strongly resembled breathing and he detected a warm weight spread across one side of his body from shoulder to knee. When he was finally awake enough to blink open his eyes, he saw red hair splayed across his chest and instinctively brought his arm around the back of his sleeping companion to pull her closer. She stirred and her breathing hitched.
"You're awake," Ginny said. The fog of sleep on her face did something funny to his insides.
"Looks that way," he replied and pulled her down for a chaste kiss. "We still at Fred and George's place?"
She nodded and much to his chagrin pulled herself away from him and stood. "We need to get something in your belly." She held out her hand and helped him stand. "You've been asleep for two days and even you have to be starved."
Harry nodded and felt the room spin for a second before he found his balance. Fred and George's flat was small and sparsely decorated. A single photo of the entire Weasley family hung on a dull wall by the front door. Upon closer inspection, he saw that Percy had been charmed to stay in the photo, but it looked as though the photographic versions of Fred and George took that as an opportunity to fire repeated, nasty curses at their brother.
The sound and smell of cooking bacon pulled Harry to the tiny card table shoved against the opposite wall. It was crammed between the cold pantry and the stove, so Harry could observe Ginny as she continued to cook what was rapidly becoming a Molly-like breakfast. He secretly hoped that he'd get to see her cook like this very often in the future.
Once they had eaten breakfast, Ginny steered him to a love seat in the living room. She snuggled her head onto his shoulder and began to twirl her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck, sending little shivers of pleasure down his spine. "I was really scared for you, Harry," she said softly. He wondered if she meant when he was duelling with Voldemort or when Fudge had taken him prisoner, but her fingers soon pushed all thoughts from his mind. "When you didn't petrify me, I was thought it was because you didn't trust me. But when you were in Azkaban, I realised that it was because you did trust me and that you needed me."
She lifted her head and looked him in the eye. "I like to be needed." She regarded him with an intensely gentle gaze, as if searching for confirmation that he did indeed trust her.
"Ginny," he said, taking her hand. "You are the only one I trust. I mean, I trust Ron and Hermione, too, but with you it's... different."
She smiled and nodded. "I understand."
"I knew you would."
They sat there for a while longer before Harry made to stand. "I need to go get some things at the Ministry. I'll be back in a little while and then I need to leave the country for a few months to let things sort themselves out. Can you get some clothes and things for me?"
Ginny frowned. "What do you mean you are going to leave? I waited for five bloody years for you to notice me, so I reckon I'm a fairly patient girl, and then I waited another year for you to kill Tom, but I'm done waiting, Harry Potter. I don't care if you're a fugitive and we have to run for the rest of our lives, I'm not ever going to sit on the sidelines again."
Maybe it was the fierce look on her face that made him reconsider what he was about to do, or maybe it was the fact that he knew she'd react this way. Whatever the reason, he was extremely glad that he didn't have to face the future on his own. "I'd hoped you would feel that way." She smiled again, the secret smile that she reserved for only him. "Fine, then. Can you get our stuff ready to leave the country?" he asked with a smirk.
He stood and she came with him. "I'll be back in a tick." Then he strode over to the small fireplace, threw in a handful of green powder and was gone in a flash.
Appearing in a cloud of green flame at eleven o'clock in the morning in the atrium of the Ministry, Harry Potter stepped out of the Floo in a dignified manner for the first time in his life. He casually brushed the lone speck of ash from his robes and strode to the elevator at the end of the hall. Several witches and wizards gave him curious glances as he passed. He nodded or waved to each one and as soon as he made eye contact, they fled -- eyes wide in recognition. It wouldn't be long before everyone knew he was there.
The elevator dinged at the correct level and Harry stepped off the lift and into a hail of spells. It wasn't luck that his shield had already been erected, sending each bolt of light back toward its caster. Having been completely caught off guard by the strength of his shield, the Aurors and MLE officers that had ambushed him were all stunned, petrified, or otherwise impeded before Harry had taken two steps forward.
The bad thing was that Harry's magical shield was now almost completely spent and he didn't have the energy to cast another one. It would take all of Harry's skill to get to the containment unit at the end of the level and find his wand. Once he had that, however, it would be relatively easy to create a Portkey (the only spell that he couldn't perform wandlessly) and be on his way back to Ginny.
Another spell was fired from his right and Harry ducked, running forward and into the maze of cubicles. Three wizards appeared on his left and Harry was just able to conjure a shining golden metal shield before their spells slammed into it and send Harry barrelling into a cubicle wall. He held his own and sent a wandless Stunning Spell at the three men.
Regaining his footing, Harry resumed his march to the end of the hall. Something snapped, like a piece of fine thread, as he placed his foot down and he dropped into a rolling ball, barely missing a burst of flame that leapt from the two cubicle walls on either side. When he completed his roll, he came up with the shield facing forward and immediately felt the clanging of repeated spells hitting its now dented surface. He swiped his hand under the shield, sending a wide-swath Cutting Hex into the knees of his attackers. There were several cries of pain and he glanced over his shield to see that the coast was clear.
He ran through the final set of cubicles and, not meeting any further resistance, made it to the Head Auror's office.
Harry halted upon seeing the man seated behind the oak desk. Kingsley Shacklebolt idly twiddled his wand at the wall and a sheen of red light surrounded Harry. "It's the failsafe shield," Kingsley explained. "No one can get past it, not even you."
"Let me go," Harry warned. "You know I'm innocent."
Kingsley smirked. "Yeah, I know you aren't trying to destroy the government, but I got orders and they say I have to arrest you and chuck you back in Azkaban."
"Bollocks on your orders." Harry felt his rage build inside him and then he heard Ginny's voice inside his head. Just as when he defeated Voldemort, he felt her presence calm him and give him focus. He reached out a finger and touched the shield, but retracted it as soon as he did, a sharp electrical shock coursing up his arm.
"I wouldn't try that if I were you," Kingsley explained. "If you surrender, I can help you. If you resist, then there won't be much I can do. It'll look like you really are trying to take over the Ministry."
Harry wasn't listening, however. He reached out with his magic, sensing the construction of the spell that was holding him. He sent his senses with the magic and focused on one particular spot. A separate part of his brain recognized how similar it was to the spell Voldemort used to protect the locket Horcrux. Instead of blood, however, this spell required something else to disarm it.
Opening his eyes, Harry smiled. "Let me out, or I'll not be gentle with you, Kingsley."
The Auror simply chuckled. "I don't think you appreciate your situation, Mr. Potter."
At that moment, Harry jammed his wand hand into the shield, feeling the waves of electrical shocks flow into his body. He opened his magic to it, pulling the latent energy into himself, and the shield blinked and fell.
His breath coming in short gasps, Harry pointed his now glowing red arm at a completely gobsmacked Kingsley. "I - warned - you." Then he let the magic loose and watched as the Head Auror crumpled into a heap on his office floor.
Without wasting a second, Harry leapt to the rows of locked cabinets along the back wall of the office and briefly wondered how he was going to know which one held his wand. Then, in a flash of inspiration, he extended his hand and summoned it. There was an instant reaction. One of the drawers burst open and his wand flew into his hand. Harry waved it, summoning the rest of the contents of the drawer into his hand. Then, he pointed it at a half-used pack of chewing gum and watched it shudder in his hand. Touching it with a finger, he was swept from the Ministry.
When Harry landed back in Fred and George's flat, he felt his knees give way but was once again caught by Ginny's deft and amazingly strong arms. "Have I told you how much I love you?" he asked.
Ginny's face glowed pleasantly and she shook her head. She guided him to the love seat and sat down with him.
"Well, I'm a right git," he replied and produced a padded velvet box from among the things the Ministry had taken from him. "How about I make it up to you?"
Her eyes flew open in shock as he flipped the lid to reveal an engagement ring. "Marry me?"
She gaped at him, speechless while he held the ring. "I – I – I wasn't expecting this!" she finally managed.
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "You were right, Ginny. What you said earlier about wanting to come with me wherever we go in the world. I... I want that too."
Ginny's face softened and she took the ring from the box. Harry lowered his arm and watched as she regarded the single diamond. "I don't know," she said and put it on the appropriate finger, watching the light play with the facets. "I was never big on diamonds or keen on big weddings." Her eyes met his and a glint of mischievousness sparkled back at him. "Mum will want to invite every relative and plan every detail to the nines. You know how she was with Bill and Fleur."
Harry nodded solemnly. "Good point. I guess we'll just have to get married in secret, then." Feeling the blood returning to his legs, he stood and extended his hand to her. "Shall we?"
"What?" she asked, but took his hand anyway. "Elope?"
"Yeah," he replied and shoved the ring box back into his robe pocket. "How about tonight?"
"Tonight?" The shock was back on her face. Harry rather liked surprising her.
"What time is it in Paris?"
Ginny looked at her watch and Harry took the opportunity to summon their suitcases from their spot near the door.
Harry snaked an arm around her, took the suitcases with one hand and idly thought about his destination. "Perfect." Then, he Apparated them to the continent.
It took them an hour to track down Bill and Fleur in Paris. Ginny had only written to him a handful of times since they were married and only remembered snatches of the address. When they told them of their plans, Fleur was delighted, but Bill was stern and insisted that he talk to Ginny alone.
It was over in a few minutes, by which time Harry had declined Fleur's offer of coffee six times and cringed as she fussed over his pallid complexion. "You seemply need to get more sun."
"I'll try, Fleur," he said graciously. "Azkaban wasn't exactly a resort."
"Non," she agreed. "Take Ginny somewhere nice. Be good to her."
Ginny appeared then, her face red and contorted with anger. "Let's go, Harry," she said stiffly.
Harry stood and looked from her to Bill, whose face was just as red. "Are we going alone?"
"No," Ginny said. "Bill and Fleur are coming, too, but I had to threaten to try out a brace of new curses on him."
Bill looked like he had bit into a lemon while Fleur simply chuckled. "I will call ze Minister. See you zer in an hour?"
"Thanks, Fleur," Ginny said, her colour slowly returning to normal. "Make sure the git is dressed nicely."
Bill poked out his tongue and Ginny rolled her eyes. "Come on."
They made a mad dash through a Muggle formal shop for clothes and then to a flower shop for a bouquet. Ginny was a simple girl and so their clothes reflected her tastes. Since neither of them spoke French, they had to use a Translation Charm, but Harry must have flubbed it because the flower shop owner chased them out after Harry complimented him on his selection.
"I think you said he looked like a pig," Ginny said with a giggle.
They wound their way through the streets of Paris, while Harry squinted at the street signs. "Why didn't you say anything?"
Ginny giggled again. "I only know enough French to know you screwed up, not enough to get you out of it."
There it was. The sign matched the one on the slip of parchment in his hand and he led her down the alley and into a dusty pub that was concealed from Muggles. Le Revolutiόn was the entrance to the French Ministry for Magic. Fleur had assured them that Harry would not be arrested for his outstanding charges in Britain and contacted the Minister's office to let them know that they were coming.
Following the instructions on the parchment, Harry ordered a red wine from the bartender and lifted the glass above his head. "Viva La France!"
A door popped open behind the bar. The man opening the door ushered Harry and Ginny inside.
The interior of the French Ministry building was much different from the British one. Thin, tall windows reached from the floor to the ceiling, allowing a copious amount of light into the spacious hall. A wizard with a beret and a set of flowing purple robes was waiting for him.
"Mr. Potter? Miss Weasley?" he asked without the hint of an accent. They nodded. "Please follow me this way."
Obediently, they walked behind the wizard into a room just off the long hall. The room was small, but opulently decorated.
"Please change here and proceed to the next room when you're ready." He left through the same door they'd entered from and shut it behind him.
Ginny took her dress to the changing screen and ducked behind it. Harry followed suit, stepping behind another screen and soon, they were facing the door to the chapel.
"Ready?" she asked, slightly breathless from the rapid changing.
"You can still back out now," Harry offered, smoothing down a crease in his dress robes.
Ginny whacked him with her hand. "Prat. I told you I'm not going anywhere without you."
Harry smiled and fought down the pack of Hippogriffs that had Apparated into his stomach. "Let's do it."
They opened the door and stepped into the small chapel. There were three or four golden pews facing a small altar behind which an elegantly dressed man stood looking expectantly at them. Fleur flashed a stunning smile as they entered and rushed forward to greet them.
"Eesent eet wonderful?" she said and kissed Harry on both cheeks. "You were at my wedding, and now we are at yours."
Bill glared at them from the front of the hall, but it was the two other bodies that shocked Harry.
"Mum? Dad?" Ginny asked in surprise. "What... how?"
She rushed into her mum's arms and was crushed into a loving embrace. "Oh, Ginny. Why didn't you tell us?"
Harry watched as Ginny traded hugs with her father and explained the situation to them. "We knew the Ministry would trace the Portkey to Fred's flat, so we left straight away."
Mr. Weasley gave Harry a stern look. "I would have preferred to arrive at this day under different circumstances." Harry wondered if perhaps Mr. Weasley did not believe his innocence. "However, seeing as how you are a wanted man in England and given that my daughter has granted her permission to marry you, I can't begrudge either of you a bit of happiness. It's been too long since anyone has had any."
Harry felt his hand being shaken, and a gentle shove toward the altar. In a daze, he took Ginny's hand. They exchanged quick, but meaningful vows read to them by the Minister, who, it turned out, was the French Minister of Magic. By sheer coincidence, he was the only one authorized to perform magical marriages who was available on a Saturday.
When the Minister pronounced Harry and Ginny husband and wife, Harry jerked himself out of the numb stare he'd fallen into and was thoroughly kissed by Ginny. Fleur and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley clapped loudly, the latter wiping happy tears from her eyes. Even Bill managed to clap a bit now that his parents were there to approve.
Ginny wiped his lips with the cuff of her dress, heedless of the red stain that remained on its once white surface and beamed at him.
Their family, Harry's family surrounded him in a ring of congratulations. Unfortunately, Harry knew his time there needed to be short. "We really need to leave," he said after signing the marriage certificate and handing it to Ginny. She folded it and slipped it into a concealed pocket in her dress.
"Where are you going to live?" Bill asked, the guarded expression returning.
Harry shrugged. "When I can come back to England, I'll – We'll probably look for a flat somewhere." He gave Ginny an amused look, finding it wonderfully strange that he was not alone and would never again have to be.
"Where are you going to go now?"
Harry shrugged again, but Ginny answered for him. "That's for us to know, brother of mine. Honeymoons are supposed to be secret and this one even more so."
Bill seemed mollified at this and simply nodded.
"If you are ready?" the French Minister asked.
Ginny gave her mother one last hug and Harry watched as she said a tearful goodbye to her father. Harry was most unprepared when Mrs. Weasley pulled him into a strong embrace.
"Take care of her," she whispered fiercely into his shoulder. "She really loves you."
"I will," Harry whispered back, a prickle of tears welling in the back of his eyes. "I know."
They quickly followed behind the French Minister and into a hidden cupboard behind the altar. Soon, they were in an efficient office with no furniture save a single file drawer. On the wall above the file drawer were about two dozen city names.
"In the top drawer is a one-time Portkey made from a sandstone pebble," said the Minister. "Hold the pebble in your hand and think about the city you wish to go to. Then, tap your wand on the pebble and it will be programmed with the destination. You will have one minute before it activates."
Harry gave Ginny a nervous glance. "That's it?" he asked suspiciously.
"That's it," he said with a slight bow. "I will now return to my office. I'm sure I won't have the slightest idea who has taken this Portkey when my assistant informs me it is missing. Good luck."
The Minister winked, gave another bow, and then disappeared through the same door they had entered.
Looking at each other again, Harry shrugged at Ginny. "Where to, Mrs. Potter?"
He could feel heat creeping across his cheeks as he said it, as if he'd crossed some invisible line. It felt too soon, but Ginny looked pleased. "Say it again," she said.
"What, you didn't hear me?" Harry replied.
"No, I want you to call me Mrs. Potter again! I don't care where we go as long as I'm there with my husband."
The heat bloomed more predominantly upon his face. "Yes, Mrs. Potter." He averted his gaze to the cities displayed on the wall. "Athens?" he asked tentatively, trying to divert his thoughts away from the floating feeling he got every time he thought of Ginny as his wife.
"Too close," she said with authority.
There was a pause and she seemed to consider it for a moment before, "Perfect."
He took the stone from the drawer, thought Auckland, and tapped the Portkey with his wand. They stood there, hand in hand, Harry holding the stone, Ginny holding their luggage and waited for the Portkey to activate. In that moment, Harry held his breath and hoped that as bad as his past had been, his future with Ginny would be filled with an equal measure of happiness.
End Part One
A/N: A nod to my pre-beta Kokopelli, who has in a fit of graciousness completely evicerated and then carefully re-built the first few paragraphs of this installment. And that was after going through five or six re-writes by me. Cheers, John.