A huge thank-you to mew-tsubaki for the legendary beta work on this, and for the inspiration to finish off some stories.
Disclaimer: All of this belongs to JKR.
Harry, Ron and Hermione were enjoying the freedom that only a Friday evening could bring with the whole weekend in front of them. As it was such a lovely summer evening, they had Apparated further away from the Burrow than normal so they could walk and enjoy the evening.
"Are you sure that you can handle being away from the bright lights and those gorgeous women for an entire weekend?" Ron was teasing Harry as yet another picture had graced the front of The Daily Prophet that showed Harry next to a young woman. Ron and Hermione were under the assumption that Harry had been thoroughly enjoying himself over the past few years with plenty of pretty young women throwing themselves at him regularly. Recently, they had seen him quite often with a blonde woman about whom they believed that Harry was very serious.
Harry laughed at Ron. He knew that his two best friends thought that he had a very active social life. They probably would not believe the reality. Yes, he was seen with many different women when he had to attend Ministry functions. The fact was, they were usually last minute dates, who tended to irritate and bore him very quickly, which is why he did not see them again. In reality, there was only one woman that he wanted to take to all of these events and spend his time with, but she was taken and had been for the past few years.
Harry was in love with Ginny Weasley and had been since his sixth year at Hogwarts. The trouble was that Ginny had been going out with Dean Thomas then and still was. He hated seeing the two of them together, so he had avoided as many gatherings as he could at the Burrow where he would be forced to watch them be happy together. The only time he allowed himself the chance to study Ginny was when he went to watch her play for the Holyhead Harpies. He would go by himself to the games, usually in disguise so no one would recognise him, and would treat himself to watching Ginny fly.
"I think I'll be just fine, thanks, mate," Harry eventually replied. "I'm really looking forward to relaxing with you guys. It's been ages since we've been able to catch up."
"Yes, it has been a while. They're keeping you busy with missions and training, aren't they?" said Hermione.
"Yeah. I enjoy it, though. Ron's been busy at the shop, too, and I've heard you're revolutionising the Magical Law Office, so I'm not the only busy one," said Harry.
The three friends kept walking slowly towards the Burrow, chatting about general topics and enjoying each other's company. Harry hoped the whole weekend would be relaxed like this.
As the three friends walked into the kitchen of the Burrow, they realised that something was amiss. Ginny was sitting at the kitchen table looking bleak and thunderstruck at the same time. Beside her, Mrs. Weasley had tears running down her cheeks, and standing against a bench Mr. Weasley had his hands in his thinning hair.
"Bloody Auntie Muriel!" muttered Ginny. "What in the name of Merlin possessed that evil old bi.."
"Ginny," warned her father.
"Come on, dad. How can you defend her after this?" retorted Ginny angrily.
"I... I... I... er," he answered, unsure.
"What in the name of Merlin is going on here?" asked Ron
He was answered by silence. After about a minute, Mr. Weasley answered.
"Your great Auntie Muriel seems to have gotten herself into a bit of trouble. You know that tiara she has? Well, apparently it doesn't seem to belong to her as much as she seems to think it does. Muriel's second cousin Violet believes that she should have inherited it and they've been fighting about it since Bill and Fleur's wedding. The tiara seems to be a lot more valuable than even Muriel expected. The only way that Violet will let Muriel keep the bloody thing is if Muriel arranges a marriage between the two families. Violet's great-great nephew is keen to find a wife and Muriel really wants the tiara, so she was glad to oblige. They have made and signed a contract already and Muriel has just sent us a copy by owl to expect a visitor on Monday.
"WHAT! WHO? WHAT!" yelled Ron.
Harry had a bad feeling about this seeing the way that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and Ginny were upset. He looked over at Hermione. She had an anxious look on her face and was absently playing with the strap on her bag. Ron just looked thunderstruck.
Mrs. Weasley quietly continued, "Ginny is the only unmarried female Weasley so it can only be her."
Harry's heart dropped to his stomach. "Who..er..who is the great-great nephew?" He didn't want to hear the answer but at the same time he just had to know.
"Zacharias Smith," answered Ginny despondently.
"WHAT!" exclaimed Harry.
"THAT TOSSER!" Ron spat out at the same time as Harry.
"There's got to be something you can do? Ginny can't be made to marry that idiot just because Muriel wants the tiara," Ron appealed to his parents. Harry was glad that Ron had asked the question he had been about to ask. He thought that his heart must be down near his ankles by now.
"Well. We got in touch with Kingsley straight away and he's having one of his legal experts look it over, but it's not promising. Bill is getting the goblins to check it out, as well," Mr. Weasley replied. "In years past, family matriarchs, like Muriel, were legally allowed to arrange marriages. Over the past century or so it hasn't been as popular but it is still legal. Muriel mentioned that her grandmother had a marriage arranged and she was very happy with it."
Harry had been watching Ginny while her father was speaking. She had now dropped her head onto the table with her hands in her lap and her shoulders were shaking. Harry could see the tears dropping onto the table. All he wanted to do was to go and hug her and make everything all right but that seemed impossible.
Suddenly, Kingsley's head appeared in the fireplace. Everyone except Ginny looked around in anticipation.
"It's not the best of news, Arthur," said Kingsley. "The contract is ironclad. The only way that she could not be considered for the marriage is if she were already married."
"What are the consequences if Ginny chooses not to follow the arrangement?" asked Hermione quietly.
"Well, Miss Granger, it's a little complicated. If one or both parties refused, then they will be imprisoned. If one party was willing to follow through with the contract they would need to declare their intentions to the Ministry and they would be spared from imprisonment. Mr. Smith was apparently quite pleased when Violet told him about it and is looking forward to Monday. He said he's always held this family in high regard and is looking forward tremendously to a future with Miss Weasley."
"Imprisoned!" said Ron. "Imprisoned … what the … in Azkaban?"
Kingsley nodded. Mrs. Weasley started howling. Mr. Weasley ran his fingers further through his remaining hair. Harry's heart hit the floor. This was just wrong, he thought. There was no way he was going to let Ginny have to marry Zacharias Smith or go to Azkaban.
"Azkaban!" echoed Harry. "But there are dark wizards out there and Ginny would have to go to that hellhole for not wanting to get married to that prat. That's just not fair!"
"No it's not, Harry. But unfortunately those are the consequences. It's a magically binding contract."
Harry was contemplating all that he had heard and was trying to make sense of it all so that he could find a solution. He could possibly deal with Ginny getting married to someone else if she were truly happy. It would be heartbreaking but he could let her go if she was truly happy. Harry knew she would never be remotely happy with Zacharias Smith. He looked over at Ginny who was still crying, now into her mother's shoulder. Stuff it, thought Harry and he crossed the kitchen, sat next to Ginny and hugged her. Hermione soon joined him. Ron seemed to be rooted to the spot, muttering under his breath.
"So, if on Monday when Zacharias arrives, Ginny is married then the arrangement is cancelled?" asked Harry.
Kingsley nodded once more. "That is correct. The contract does not specifically name Ginny, only the hand of an unwed Weasley witch on the day that the two parties are presented to each other. And as there are no other unmarried Weasley women, the contract would be null and void."
"What about future Weasley girls?" wondered Mrs. Weasley. "What if Bill and Fleur were to have any girls?"
"They will be fine," reassured Kingsley. "The contract is only valid for 5 years. Any underage Weasley girl is not recognised with regards to this arrangement unless they come of age during the five years."
"Well I guess that's something," Mrs. Weasley sniffed.
"That doesn't help Ginny, though, does it" stated Ron.
Seeing that the conversation was over, Kingsley farewelled the group in the kitchen and added that he was always available to help.
Three hours later Harry, Ron, Hermione and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were in the kitchen staring at uneaten food. Even Ron was not hungry! Ginny had disappeared upstairs to her room to be alone. Harry knew that she would be crying her heart out and wanted desperately to go and console her. That would not help the situation, though. There was no way that Harry was going to let Ginny be forced into an unhappy marriage. He had to find a way and he was starting to think that there was only one option.
"Mrs. Weasley. Is Ginny seeing anyone? Does she have a boyfriend?" He knew the answer: bloody Dean Thomas. He guessed that Dean would be a better option than Zacharias as long as Ginny was happy about it.
Mrs. Weasley looked at Harry. "Well as it happens, no. She and Dean broke up a month or so ago. She said that they had been drifting apart for ages. Why?"
Harry was shocked. How did he not know this? So much for staying in the loop. "Well, seeing that Kingsley said that if Ginny was already married, the contract would be void, then I .. I thought.." Harry was flustered and annoyed at himself. Speak clearly man, are you an Auror or an idiot. "I thought it would be better for Ginny to marry Dean who she is .. er ... was happy with, rather than be forced into marrying Smith. I realise she would rather not marry anyone at this stage but it'd be better if she was with someone who she has a chance of being happy with."
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley looked at Harry and then both started crying again. Mr. Weasley escorted his wife out of the room saying that he would try to get her to have a lie down and maybe a Calming Draught.
Hermione looked at Harry. "Of course. But I don't think Ginny would want to marry Dean any more than Zacharias. In fact, I think that Dean and Susan Bones are now an item. If only there was someone else. Harry? No. Sorry. You and Helen. No. Sorry."
Ron looked at Hermione like he could not believe what she was saying. "Harry! Marry Ginny. No way. What would he do about all his other girls?"
Hermione stared at Ron in disapproval. Harry just frowned and then he slowly smiled, jumped up and ran out of the room.
"Ginny. Can I come in?"
Harry was outside Ginny's bedroom wanting desperately to talk to her. He had a plan. He did not think that Ginny was going to think it was too great, but she might think it would be a better option.
Ginny slowly opened the door. Her eyes were puffy, her face red and blotchy and her hair was all tousled as if she had been running her fingers through it regularly.
"What, Harry? I don't really want to talk just now. In case you haven't noticed, this has not been a great day. And I thought it couldn't get any worse after today's training." Ginny was understandably cranky and ready to hate the world.
"What happened at training?"
"Couldn't catch the Quaffle to save myself and I got hit twice by the stupid Bludgers. One in the ribs and one on my knee. Just not my day."
Ginny walked over to her window, leaving the door opened. She motioned Harry inside. Once he had walked a few steps he flicked his wand and the door shut. After muttering some words, the room was silent.
"What in the name of Merlin...?"
Harry decided to get straight to the point or he may never have the courage to say it.
"Look, Ginny, I know it's been a horrible afternoon but I have an idea. You may not like it, but it's got to be better than Smith."
Ginny collapsed onto her bed. Harry thought that it was better not to join her there and sat down near the window and looked at Ginny. He took a deep breath. Come on, Harry. Out with it. You can do it. Be brave. It is just Ginny. He was feeling very nervous. He did not want to tell her too much and totally embarrass both himself and Ginny.
"Right. Well you know how Kingsley said that there's only one way not to marry Smith and stay out of Azkaban?"
"Well I originally thought that maybe you and Dean could, like, get married." Harry could not believe he was saying this to her. "But your mum said that you and he ..." The words would not come out. He looked at Ginny hopefully.
Ginny shook her head. "No way. I couldn't. Not him either."
Harry sighed with happiness. At least that is something, he thought.
"Well, then, I thought. If there's no one else. Howaboutme?" It came out so quickly that he did not know if she had heard or understood him.
"You? Planning on rescuing me again are you, Potter? What about your girlfriend? What about all of your girlfriends? You are always looking so happy next to one of them in the papers. Why would you possibly want to do this?"
"I didn't realise that you read those articles," Harry replied.
"How could I not see them, when they are slap bang on the front of most papers and magazines very regularly? How do you remember them all? I wouldn't want to deprive you of your active social life, Harry. You seem to be having a ball."
"Actually, Ginny, the girls are not an issue. I don't have a girlfriend."
"What about the latest pics with the girl from your office? I thought the Ministry would frown upon two co-workers dating."
"Helen is not my girlfriend. We just work together. She's going to be an excellent Auror. I'm just training her. She has a boyfriend, in fact. A Muggle who's quite famous, actually. Plays football. Very pretty looking. I've seen her photos."
"So then you are happy to give up all those pretty witches and Muggle ladies, too, I've heard, for your best mate's little sister. You seem to enjoy being with lots of women, Harry. Why would you want to give that up?"
"Ginny. My social life is nothing like it's made out to be, honestly. You should know how much the papers exaggerate things."
"Come on, Harry. Your name is always linked with someone. Surely there are quite a few ladies out there that you'd rather be with? Why sacrifice your social life for me?"
"It really wouldn't be a sacrifice, Ginny."
Harry looked at Ginny, wishing for the hundredth time that the papers had not exaggerated his love life so much. Should he tell her how he really felt? How he has felt for years but was too busy saving the wizarding world to be able to tell he?. No, come on Harry. Be honest. You were too worried about being rejected to tell her. Maybe today's news was the opening that he had been looking for, for a long time.
"Look, Ginny. I know I'm just your brother's mate and you're not interested in me at all. Merlin knows, you were going out with Dean for long enough. But I do like you Ginny. I have always considered you a good friend and an important part of my life. I think you are a great Quidditch player. I love watching you play."
"You watch me play? I didn't know that you came to the games. You should have told me. I could have gotten you some good seats."
"It's okay. I like sitting quietly and watching by myself. Easier to concentrate on the game."
"Oh, okay. So you think that we'd be happy together, do you?"
"Why not? You could move to my place. Have your own room, of course. Come and go as you like. Definitely keep playing Quidditch. We're friends. I'm sure we could get along. Wouldn't that be better than having to live with Zacharias Smith? And I'm sure he would expect you to share a room and much more."
Ginny shivered. "Don't make me think about that, please." Ginny sat quietly for a few moments and the looked straight into his eyes. "What about love? What about sex? I don't know what to do, Harry. This is just a hopeless situation."
"Ginny, I know you don't love me. I don't expect you to fall in love with me. We're friends. I wouldn't force you to do anything you didn't want to do. You know that surely. We could make this work. Couldn't we?"
Ginny nodded. "I guess that I have to do something. I'm sure as hell not going to marry Smith. I guess I have to do something before Monday." She looked up at him, biting her lip. "So are you thinking that we should elope?"
"Well... that's the general idea. We could go and get married this weekend. Ron and Hermione could come as witnesses. Then we come back and tell your parents. To everyone else we could just make up a story that now you are single, we've realised that we're desperately in love and couldn't wait any longer to be married."
"I suppose that could work. But before I agree, there's just one thing."
The next thing that Harry knew was Ginny in his arms kissing him. This was what he had been waiting years for. He put one arm around her waist and pulled her in closer. His other hand snaked through her sweet smelling hair. Harry was in heaven. He did not want this to stop. Ginny's hands moved from his shoulders to his waist and then under his shirt. Oh sweet Merlin, Harry thought. Both of their mouths opened as the kiss deepened and their tongues flicked against each other. Harry groaned and tried to pull her even closer. Ginny moved her hands from his back to his muscular stomach and started circling them up his chest. Harry had no idea how long they had been kissing, but he knew he'd happily do this forever. Gradually they pulled apart, both looking dazed.
"What? Why?" stammered Harry.
"Just checking. You are one hell of a kisser, Potter!"
"Likewise, Weasley. But why?"
"Well, I don't really want to marry someone that I have no chance of being attracted to, now do I? I just needed to know that there's some hope."
"Hope. Hope of what?"
"Happiness. Fun. I don't want a solitary life, you know."
Harry was shocked. Things were definitely looking up.
"So what now?" asked Ginny as she picked up her wand and with a flick brought out a bag and started packing various clothes and personal items.
"I guess we could go to my place and sort out some details there. Ron and Hermione can help. They've been trying to have a weekend away. Maybe this could be their chance. What should we say to your mum and dad?"
"Probably best just to say we're working on something. The less they know for now, the better. They'd rather find a different way out of this, I'm sure. But there's really no time for that now."
"You're WHAT?" exclaimed Ron and Hermione at the same time.
"Harry and I are eloping and we need your help."
"But..." Ron was clearly not happy with this plan.
"What else could I do, Ron? Harry is a good friend. He's not going to stop me from doing the things I love. We can be happy. I'd much rather spend my life with Harry than Zacharias. I can't think of anyone else that I'd prefer to do this with in this situation. He's your best mate. Surely that's got to be a good thing?"
Ron turned to Harry. "What about all those women? You've been really enjoying life of late, mate. Do you really want to give all of that up?"
Harry groaned. "Ron. How many times have I tried to explain to you that the papers put my love life well out of proportion? Truly. It's not a problem. I'm happy to do this and no this is not me doing the noble thing and rescuing her 'cause I can. I want to."
Harry smiled at Ginny and she gave him a cheeky grin in return. Since they had arrived at his house, Ginny seemed to have relaxed. Maybe she is just resigned to the fact that this is really going to happen, Harry thought.
"Time to get things organised. Hermione, could you please find us someone that can legally marry us tomorrow? We need to make sure this is done properly."
"If you're sure that this is definitely what you both want to do, then okay."
"We're sure," Harry and Ginny said together.
"Okay. Ron, come and help me."