Eighty Seven Days: Sweeping Misconceptions
The familiar kitchen of Grimmauld Place was full of the mouth watering smells of Kreacher's cooking when Ginny stepped out from the flaring green flames.
Harry was sitting alongside the long scrubbed oak table; he was wearing a pair of comfortably shabby old black jeans, a little frayed at the cuffs, and her favourite t-shirt. The faded green t-shirt, with its now rather worn Holyhead Harpies logo, was beginning to split at the seam under his left armpit. The split had been increased in size when he'd last worn it. That had been entirely his fault. He'd teased her and she'd tickled him through it and he'd pulled away with her finger still inside. He hadn't repaired it, she noticed, but she hadn't expected him too; he was hopeless at most household spells.
Harry's feet were bare and his curled toes were gripping the edge of one of the kitchen chairs. He was rocking back on the two rear legs of the chair on which he sat, pushing himself into a precarious point of balance and holding himself mere arc-minutes away from tipping.
Ginny smiled a greeting at her fiancé, but got absolutely no response. She looked at him curiously. He had not looked up when she'd arrived; he had not acknowledged her at all. Harry was ignoring her. It would be deliberate; there was no doubt that he was teasing her. Nevertheless, it was something which could never be tolerated.
There was a large pile of newspapers and magazines on the table beside Harry, and he was busily reading ... she stopped and looked again to make certain that her eyes weren't deceiving her … he was busy reading Rogue the most trendy of the current crop of witches fashion magazines, a magazine whose tagline was "Muggle fashions for with-it witches". Her curiosity was piqued. It was a magazine he would never ever read, unless he was forced to.
Ginny dropped her Harpies kit bag on the floor. The padded thud wasn't loud, but it was enough to attract his attention. He looked over the top of the magazine, pretended to be startled by her arrival, and grinned at her.
'Hi, Ginny,' he said, his eyes twinkling.
'Looking at the underwear adverts, Potter?' she asked playfully.
'Should I be? Do you want me to make a few suggestions about what you should wear under your wedding dress? I've got a few ideas already, none of them substantial. Would you like to hear them, later?' he asked.
He lowered the magazine slightly, his face full of mischief. 'You will have to wait. I'd be grateful if you didn't interrupt me for a few minutes. I'm reading a very interesting factual piece. It's all about…' he glanced down at the page, 'the forthcoming wedding of the Harpies famously feisty flame-haired temptress to the nation's most eligible bachelor.' He looked into her eyes and asked, 'I wonder why they stopped the alliteration at flame-haired? Couldn't they think of another "F" word or two … flouncing floozy, for example.'
So, he's in one of those moods, is he, she thought, as she watched him prepare for her riposte.
'Those words are taken, Harry, didn't you know? Lavender and Romilda are fighting for exclusive rights to the flouncing floozy headline,' Ginny told him archly. 'So the real issue is the typo.'
'Typo?' he asked.
'Isn't it obvious?' she asked. 'You are inot/i eligible, they must have meant something else, negligible bachelor, probably.' She dismissively flicked her hand at him.
Harry burst out laughing. Throwing down the magazine he allowed his chair to topple forward onto all four legs and sprang to his feet. Ginny simply waited as he took two strides, pulled her into his arms and gave her a familiar, but no less pleasurable, welcoming kiss.
'Hello, flame-haired temptress,' he said. 'How was training?'
'Training was straining, and draining, and it was raining,' she replied, making him chuckle. 'It's good to be home after a rotten day. But, I'll tell you all about it later, Harry. You're obviously busy, and I want to know what's going on here.' She kissed him again, this time more slowly, savouring the moment.
'Hello, ineligible negligible bachelor,' she said. She grinned at his puzzled expression. 'Let's be honest, Harry. You haven't been "eligible" since the battle and neither have I, despite the rumours and various attempts to magically force the contrary on us.'
Harry smiled as he finally understood. 'Did you know that you are a fashion icon, too?' he asked playfully. He waved towards the magazine he'd just discarded and stepped back to take a look at her.
'Of course,' Ginny agreed. 'I always look my best, even when forced to wear the only dry clothes left in my locker.'
She, too, stepped back. Holding her arms out to her sides, she twirled.
'Miss Weasley is wearing: a pair of scuffed old trainers; joggers with grass stains on the knee, and; the first ever official Holyhead Harpies sweatshirt she was issued with, which, due to an administrative error when she first started at the club is, in fact, two sizes too big for her.' She had raised her voice to an unnatural pitch and was speaking in the excited whisper of the Wizarding Wireless Network's most famous fashion guru. Bringing the backs of her hands together under her chin she swept them down and apart in a gesture intended to show off her attire.
'The washed out blandness of the old Harpies green training outfit has been accessorised by a large tea-stain and some brown sauce smudges on the chest, courtesy of a clumsy reserve Beater, whose name I will not reveal to spare Miss Cardie's blushes … oops, sorry…' She smiled as Harry laughed and continued. 'The additions were made during the lunchtime tactics discussion. In addition, the right sleeve is marked with … what on earth iis/i that?' Ginny stopped and cautiously sniffed her cuff. 'Ah, it's broom wax, a particularly unpleasant, if not to say excretiating colour…'
'Don't you mean excruciating?' Harry asked, still smiling. Ginny stood on her tiptoes and attempted to walk like a fashion model on a catwalk.
'It looks very much to me like something has excreted on my sleeve, Harry,' she said, grinning. Returning to her fashion critic's voice, she continued. 'The nasty brown stain does, however, serve a useful purpose. Rogue readers may be unaware of the remarkable aphrodisiac effects the smell of broom wax has on a certain negligible bachelor.'
'Not exactly broom polish, just brooms, and you,' Harry corrected her.
Ginny smiled and dropped from her tiptoed stance. Striding forwards she perched on the edge of the table, left leg on the floor and right leg swinging idly. She swept an enquiring arm over the pile of newspapers and magazines.
'What on earth is all this stuff?' she asked.
'It's the product of an Auror Office sweepstake, Ginny. It was Lavender's idea,' he said. He looked despairingly at the periodicals. 'It cost everyone a Galleon to enter, and looking at all this lot, I think everyone has. Half of the money will go to the winner; the other half, to the Auror Office Benevolent Fund. Everyone who entered had to bring in a newspaper or magazine containing an article about us. Lavender collected them, collated them, rejected any duplicates, and made anyone who tried to submit an already submitted magazine, find something else. She also took note of who submitted each of them.'
His eyes met hers, and she noticed the slightly desperate look on his face. 'It's now my job to judge them. The one containing the least accurate article about us will win the money. When I said yes to Lavender I thought that there wouldn't be many entries, and that judging would be easy. But every single one of these contains lots of elementary mistakes.'
'That really shouldn't surprise you,' Ginny told him, smiling in understanding. Once Harry agreed to do something, he'd do it, and he'd try to do it to the best of his ability.
'True, but look at this lot!' He looked helplessly at the cluttered table. 'Every one of them is full of mistakes, and there are dozens of them! A lot of it is simply sloppy work; Quidditch Weekly even managed to get our birth years mixed up. But, it's going to be difficult to decide on a winner. Do I choose the most mistakes, or the biggest mistakes?' Harry frowned in resignation. 'I'm beginning to feel a bit guilty, too,' he admitted. 'It's supposed to be anonymous. Lavender hasn't told me who submitted which magazines, but…'
'But you're not stupid. You know the people you work with,' she said. She rifled through the magazines, reading out some of the titles. 'Cheat: scorching celebrity news! or, as Lavender calls it, the only news worth reading,' she said, glancing at the cover. There were two separate cover photographs, and they has been arranged so that the photograph of her (drunk and in a revealing top) faced a photograph of an angrily shouting Harry, who was embracing a weeping Hermione. Even the cover photographs told a lie.
Harry grumbled, and Ginny wondered what was in the notorious gossip-magazine, but moved on to some of the others. 'Advances in Magical Law Enforcement, that can only be Susan's. Puddlemere Forever is probably Bobbie's. Knitting Today must be Phillipa's, and Essential Arithmancy, can only belong to Terry, because no one else outside the Department of Mysteries understands that stuff.'
Curious, Ginny picked up the penultimate magazine she'd mentioned and looked at the cover. 'Wow, the matching sweaters Mum gave us two Christmases ago have made it onto the cover of Knitting Today, Mum will be pleased! But…' She stopped and stared at the other magazines. 'Harry, we're on the cover of all of these, even Essential Arithmancy! They're using the photo the Harpies released a couple of weeks ago. Why in Merlin's name are we on the cover of Essential Arithmancy?'
'Magazines with our photo on the cover sell better, apparently,' he replied. 'There are a couple of articles about us inside, too. One is about the statistically significant effects of Potter/Weasley cover photos to sales, and the other is about how your goal scoring patterns correlate to my case closure rate. The authors seem to be trying to prove cause and effect, and I suspect that Terry thinks they are wrong. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to start on that article; I'm going to have to ask Hermione to translate it for me. I got lost in the squiggles long before the first backwards 3,' he admitted ruefully.
'Backwards 3?' Ginny asked.
Harry opened the magazine and pointed to an "ε" symbol. 'It's apparently something called an epsilon and according to the notes it represents an extremely small, but positive quantity. Perhaps it means you!'
'Cheek,' said Ginny, playfully slapping his arm. 'I'm not extremely small; I'm almost five foot two!' As she spoke, Ginny glanced past Harry and noticed that Kreacher had turned away from the stove. The elderly house elf's arms were folded and he was staring at the cluttered kitchen table.
'What's for dinner, Kreacher?' Ginny asked.
'Kreacher has prepared lamb shanks in a rosemary, mint and red wine sauce, mistress,' the house elf said, 'with crushed potatoes, and an assortment of vegetables.'
'And it was ready for my arrival, thank you,' said Ginny. 'But Harry has cluttered the table with his silly magazines and you don't want to interrupt us, even though we're only chatting, and teasing each other. Sorry! I'll clear the table and Harry will set it.'
'Mistress,' Kreacher protested in alarm. 'There is no need…'
'It's been a cold, wet training session and I'm starving, Kreacher,' said Ginny firmly. 'You concentrate on serving the meal, and we'll do the rest.'
She waved her wand, and the magazines and newspapers floated from the tabletop and neatly stacked themselves onto one of the many unused chairs.
Harry grabbed cutlery from a drawer, goblets from a shelf, and an already open bottle of red wine from the bench.
'Been drinking alone, Harry?' Ginny asked, moving to sit opposite Harry and taking her cutlery and a goblet from him.
'Kreacher needed some red wine for the recipe,' Harry explained. 'And according to the Muggle wine guide Hermione bought for me last Christmas, this is a good wine for lamb.'
'It's also a very expensive wine to use for cooking, Harry,' said Ginny as she examined the bottle of Guillaume Gilles Cornas. 'What's the special occasion?'
'Tonight, my fiancée is dining with me,' he said seriously as he poured a generous quantity of the deep red and pungently earthy wine into her goblet.
'Tonight and almost every night,' said Ginny, laughing. She raised her goblet and tapped it against his. 'To us. Cheers,' she said. 'Less than three months to go, Harry, we'll be married before you know it.'
'Cheers,' said Harry. He hesitated, and then continued haltingly. 'We do eat together a lot, but not always here. We eat out, or at your place, or at The Burrow, too.' Harry smiled at his house elf as Kreacher placed two laden and steaming hot plates in front of them. 'Thanks, Kreacher.
'Yes, thanks, Kreacher,' Ginny added. 'This looks delicious, and it smells delicious, too.' The house elf scuttled away, a contented smile on his face and Ginny turned her attention back to Harry.
'Are you okay?' she asked, knowing full well that he wasn't. Harry had got himself worried about something.
He smiled apologetically. 'I finished work at lunchtime, Ginny, and I've been reading these magazine articles all afternoon. They've made me think about … about us. The Witch Weekly article was all about the romance of us "making a home together". But as I read it, I realised that we already have. We've already done all of the practical stuff. The last time we redecorated, we chose the décor together. From bed sheets to furniture, this is already our house. And at least half of your clothes are here. Really, practically, this is your home. You know it is. When you arrived, you even said "It's good to be home after a rotten day." I know that you've got your own place…. And I know that you don't sleep here every night…. And we aren't married…. So legally it isn't your home.' He paused. 'This is my house, and you're my guest, but I've never treated you like a guest. The copy of Witch Wedding talks about great romantic gestures, and wining and dining, and wooing and stuff. I've never really done that, either. Sorry.'
Harry thoughtfully took his first mouthful of food. Ginny gave him an understanding smile.
'You have, Harry, in your own way,' she told him. 'I don't want to be your guest. And if you suddenly turned into a romantic, if you started showering me with flowers, or writing poetry, I'd begin to worry about you.' She caught the look in his eyes, and laughed. 'Oh, Harry, you have! You've bought flowers, haven't you?' She asked as she, too, began to eat.
He nodded, and swallowed. 'They're upstairs, in the sitting room. I was going to give them to you later.' He sighed. 'I'm hopeless, aren't I?'
'Don't be silly, Harry. Thank you, it really is a nice gesture, but you didn't need to make it. Which magazine do I have to thank for that?'
'Yes,' Harry grinned. Ginny was puzzled, but only for a second.
'Witch Magazine,' she said. 'Now shut up and eat, Potter. It looks like you've still got a lot of work to do, and I was hoping for an early night.' She took a second mouthful. 'Kreacher, this is absolutely wonderful,' she called.
They had been eating in thoughtful silence for a few minutes when Ginny spoke. 'I think that I know what you mean, Harry,' she said. 'We've been together for so long that, in a way, the wedding is nothing more than a way of making us legal. Look at it this way, when we're married this will be our house, not yours, and you'll be able to get your hands on my enormous b-b…' she hesitated. The moment Harry lifted his head in surprise and stared at her, she continued, '…bank account, whenever you want.'
He snorted with laughter.
When she finished arranging the huge bouquet in the crystal vase, Ginny carefully centred the vase on the small glass table in front of the sitting room window and turned to face him. Harry was sitting on the large sofa watching her, admiring her. The fact that she was still in her scruffy old training gear did not seem to bother him. She was far from her glamorous best, but Luna's words from their visit to the wedding dress shop came back to her: 'Harry thinks that Ginny is beautiful whatever she's wearing…' Luna was right, again.
'The flowers are beautiful, Harry. Thank you,' she said
'So are you,' he said, as though he'd read her mind. 'How was your day?'
She strode across to the sofa and jumped onto it, straddling him. Running her fingers through his untidy hair, she brought her lips down to kiss his scar. He gently placed his hands on her hips.
'Three words: wet, miserable, uncoordinated,' she told him, 'Gwenog is a great trainer, but we're still struggling to fill her position. Actually, that's not true, we've got four decent Beaters, but they don't understand each other the way Gwenog and Blodwen did. The Beaters are playing as individuals, not a pair, and it's throwing the rest of us off. But, I'm hoping that my day will improve.' How was your day, she thought, he always asks, and he always listens to my answer, and that's worth more than flowers and fancy talk. She thought back to her own bad days, when her form had dropped, when the fans had heckled. He had listened to her complaints about training, about tactics, and about the fickleness of fans. Her lips hungrily sought his.
As they kissed, Harry's hands found the hem of her sweatshirt and began to lift it. She clamped her elbows onto her ribs and pulled away from him.
'Work first; play later. That was the agreement,' she reminded him. 'You have to decide on a winner for your office sweepstake.'
This is work,' he told her, pulling up the front of her sweatshirt to reveal her bra. 'According to iQuidditch Weekly/i you have a Quaffle tattooed over your heart. I don't remember seeing it, but I thought I'd better check, just in case.'
Ginny laughed and swatted his exploring fingers away before they managed to change her mind. 'Good excuse, Harry. But no! Let's look at these magazines.' She grabbed his still grasping hand and stood, hauling him to his feet.
'You still owe me for calling me negligible,' he said, trying a different line. 'I was deeply hurt by that remark.'
'No you weren't, Harry,' she told him. 'But you have given me an idea for later.'
Harry's eyes gleamed wickedly. He picked the wine bottle from the sitting room floor and re-examined it. 'It's all gone,' he said. 'Do you want to open another bottle?'
'No, thanks, I'd rather have a coffee,' Ginny told him.
It took Kreacher only moments to arrive with a cafetière of strong Italian coffee, a jug of cream, two cups and two glasses of water.
Soon they were lying side-by-side in front of the fire resting on their elbows while sipping coffee and looking through the final few magazine articles. Harry had shuffled sideways and his hip was resting against hers. She was idly caressing his right calf with her left foot.
'Why haven't I seen your tattoo?' he asked as he closed Which Broomstick.
'I'm not letting you re-examine me, Harry,' she told him. 'You are not getting under my sweatshirt until we've finished.'
'Different tattoo,' said Harry hopefully. He reopened the magazine and showed her the article. He twisted onto one elbow and moved his free hand down to caress her bum.
'I have broomstick on my buttock,' she spluttered. 'If I had one, you'd think I'd have noticed, wouldn't you, but who'd want a broomstick tattoo? But if you're a good boy, Harry, you can make sure it's not there, later.' She slapped his hand away, closed the magazine and threw it onto the "definitely-not-a-winner" pile.
Harry sighed. They lapsed into silence and continued to read for several more minutes.
'I think that it's going to be Rogue, after all,' said Ginny. 'Who'd have thought that Cheat would have fewer mistakes than Rogue?'
'Yes, but Cheat's are bigger,' said Harry in annoyance. 'All of these people we're supposed to have been with. I've never even heard of this Bronwen Griffith I'm supposed to have had a "passionate fling" with. And when did you lure Cormac McLaggen into a broom closet?'
'The whole Cheat article is nonsense, Harry, but it's not actually inaccurate.' she said slowly. She watched his face carefully, and kissed him before he could protest.
'It isn't,' she said, her face only inches from his. 'Read it carefully. It's "anonymous sources told us" reporting. They never actually claim that any of it is true. It is "alleged that Ginny was very close to several fans" and "there where whispers about Harry's relationship with old school friend Hermione Granger". Everything they say is, in that sense, true. It was alleged, there were whispers. They simply don't bother saying that the allegations and whispers were a load of bollocks. They must have had their lawyers look at it,' said Ginny with certainty. She shuffled slightly further from him in order to better gauge his reaction. He looked thoughtful, and didn't attempt to contradict her.
'If they report allegations as allegations, we can't do anything about it. Even the Cormac story is true, remember? I did lure him into a broom cupboard at Hogwarts. And the conceited cretin thought he knew why. But Katie and Demelza were there, too. It was the year you were Quidditch Captain, and it was just after we'd won the cup, just after we got together.' Ginny's eyes sparkled happily at that memory. 'The idiot intended to pose with us for the "Winning Team" photo, despite the fact that his only contribution to our victory was to make us lose us the only game he played in, by knocking our very fanciable Captain unconscious. I acted as decoy. Katie and Demelza stunned him, and we locked him in the broom cupboard until after the photograph had been taken. You know how unbearable he was about being on the winning team. We only won because we'd finally listened top his advice, apparently. Had he been in the photo, he'd have pushed his way to prominence.'
'I'd forgotten all about that. So, the winner is Rogue, unless Hermione tells us that the Essential Arithmancy article is complete rubbish,' concluded Harry. 'The Rogue article is dreadful. Although you could argue that, as the entire thing is about the wedding of Harold James Potter and Ginerva Mary Weasley, it's not actually about us, but about two different people,' he said with a grin.
'Do you know who submitted it to the sweep?' asked Ginny.
'One of the trainees, I think,' said Harry. 'Possibly Trudi Pepperell, but probably Anne Wright.' He glanced back down at the article. 'The only error free section is where it talks about "the happy couple's forthcoming nuptials on Saturday 24th May". I'd have been happy if they'd managed to get the date wrong.' He smiled wickedly. 'Is it just me or does "nuptials" sound a bit naughty? Fancy some pre-nuptial nuptials, Ginny?'
'The secondary meaning of nuptials is breeding, and I suspect that you knew that, Harry,' she told him. 'I suppose that we're done here, now. You tidy the magazines away. I'll be back in soon.'
She kissed him lightly on the cheek, sprang to her feet, and dashed from the room before he could stop her.
When she returned, a few minute later, she peered around the door. The magazines were in a neat stack on the floor, although he was still browsing through one of them.
She carefully adjusted her negligee. It was short and low cut and so transparent that it was difficult to justify calling it black. She pushed the door open, leant a shoulder against the doorframe, and asked, 'What am I wearing, Harry?'
His face was a picture. Pleasure, astonishment, lust, and confusion fought with each other, and then his sense of humour caught up too.
'A negligible of course, in every sense of the word, what else would you wear for a negligible bachelor?' he told her, laughing.