The sound of her bedroom door creaking ajar made Ginny look up from the piece of parchment she was studying and smile. 'You're early!'
Harry grinned and crossed the room to perch next to her on the bed, leaning in for a kiss. 'Your mum told me to come up, said you're a bit stressed out. Are you alright?' He smelled like winter - sharp and cold - and his nose and cheeks were pink, his lips cool against hers.
She began to remove the many layers of his outdoor clothing, unwinding his scarf, pulling off his hat, tugging at his gloves, until she was able to undo the row of tiny, off-centre clasps that fastened his Auror robe. 'Yeah. Just wedding stuff, that's all. Mum keeps coming up with people she thinks we need to invite.' She pushed the robe off his shoulders and then, with a flick of her wand, sent it across the room to drape across a chair.
Harry took off his heavy boots, then pulled his feet up on to the bed, settling his back against the pillows. It was a bit of a tight squeeze on her old single bed, but Ginny didn't mind, even if it felt a little odd to be curled up on her childhood bed with her soon-to-be husband.
He put his arm around her and she tucked herself in against his side as he used his free hand to hold the parchment up, studying the increasingly blotted and scored out list of distant relatives that her mum was insistent had to attend their wedding.
'Do you actually know most of these people?' he asked. 'I mean, other than the fact that you all share a surname.'
'Nope,' she said. 'I don't think I've even met them. But you know what Mum's like when she gets an idea in her head. She's adamant the guest list isn't big enough with just our close family and friends, so she wants to invite anyone who has the surname Weasley or Prewett.'
Harry placed the parchment on the bedside cabinet and slid his arm out from beneath her shoulders, turning on to his side to face her. 'Don't suppose it helps that my guest list is more or less the same as yours. I haven't exactly got a lot of family to invite.'
She touched his face, tracing the line of his lightly stubbled jaw. 'It doesn't matter. I'm hoping Mum'll eventually realise we don't care about a big wedding, we just want the important people there.'
'About that ...' he trailed off, and worried his lip between his teeth. 'I - er - well, I want
to invite Aunt Petunia, Vernon and Dudley to the wedding.'
'Oh.' Slightly dumbfounded, she sat up. 'Okay. What made you decide to invite them? You've not spoken to your aunt and uncle since the night you left.'
Shrugging, he pulled himself upright, dangling his legs off the side of the bed and leaning against the wall. 'Five years of water under the bridge. And Dudley's turned out all right, I suppose, as far as I can tell from his letters. It's him I want there really, but I don't feel like we can invite him without inviting his mum and dad. Aunt Petunia and Dudley are my only link to my mum.'
For a moment, he looked much younger than twenty-three, and Ginny gave in to the urge to kiss his sadness away, slipping her arms around his neck and holding him close until she felt the tension leave his body. He broke the kiss after a long moment and sighed, his fingers gently tracing invisible patterns between her shoulder blades.
'I can't hate them anymore,' he said softly into the curve of her shoulder and neck, his breath a damp warmth against her skin. 'It takes too much energy to hate them. I don't necessarily want them to be a part of my everyday life, but I just want some connection to my parents at our wedding.'
'It's ok,' she assured him, as she reached for the parchment to add the Dursleys to the list. 'We should send their invitation by Muggle post, they probably wouldn't appreciate an owl showing up at their house.'
'Well, I wondered if I should get in touch with Dudley and ask him to bring his mum and dad to meet us somewhere, so I can introduce you to them. Get most of the awkwardness out of the way before the wedding.'
Ginny was certain that it would take an awful lot more than a meeting before the wedding to get rid of the awkwardness, but she didn't need to tell Harry something he already knew. Instead, she nodded as she wrote the three names down on the much-abused piece of parchment. 'Sounds like a good idea. I've got a fortnight until the next match, so anytime in the next few days would be perfect.'
Harry grinned at her. 'Thanks, Gin. I'll get in touch with him tomorrow and set something up.'
She returned his grin, and stood up from the bed, holding her hand out to her fiancé. 'Come on, let's go and eat dinner and then go home. I've had enough wedding planning for tonight.'
Harry clung tightly to Ginny's hand and constantly shifted his weight back and forth onto his heels. This was an improvement from his earlier pacing, which had caused Ginny to be tugged along behind him, unwilling as he apparently was to let go of her.
She wrapped her free hand around his arm and rested her head against his shoulder. 'I don't think they're coming, Harry,' she said softly. 'It's been over an hour.'
'I shouldn't have expected anything else,' Harry said, and his voice was a little thin and reedy. He cleared his throat before speaking again. 'Shall we go? I don't really fancy sitting in a restaurant tonight. We could grab a takeaway or something.'
'Harry? Sorry I'm so late, mate. Long story.'
And there he was. Dudley Dursley. Ginny had heard a lot about Dudley - little of it good - and she had built up a mental picture that didn't match the man in front of her. His dark-blond hair was ruffled, and though he had a solid-looking frame, he was far from overweight.
He held his hand out to Harry, who shook it. 'Nice to see you, Dudley.'
'Same here. Been a while. You haven't changed much.'
Harry shrugged, and Ginny could see the apprehension in his expression. 'Not on the outside, no.' He nodded towards Ginny, and his face softened as he looked at her. 'Dudley, this is Ginny. Ginny, Dudley.'
'So you're Harry's fiancée, then? Did you meet at school?'
Ginny read between the lines of Dudley's carefully worded question. 'Yes, I'm a witch, if that's what you're asking.' She shook his hand, and was pleased to notice there was no hesitation on his part. 'Are your mum and dad on the way?'
He made a face and shuffled awkwardly. 'Um, well ...'
'... they're not coming,' Harry said for him. 'It's alright Dudley, I expected as much.'
'I tried to get them to come,' Dudley said earnestly. 'That's why I'm late. I almost had Mum convinced, but Dad talked her out of it.'
Harry clapped him on the shoulder. 'Honestly, it's fine. You're here. Listen, do you fancy coming back to our place? We can get pizza or Chinese or something. We'll have to take the tube, but it's only twenty minutes away.'
'The tube? Can't you side-along me?' Dudley asked matter-of-factly.
Ginny's jaw dropped, and Harry looked surprised. 'Um, I - I mean, yeah. Yeah, I can. I just assumed you wouldn't want to, you know, what with the whole magic thing and all that.'
'Got used to it when we were in hiding, when it all kicked off between you and Voldemort. We had a couple of run-ins with Death Eaters and had to run in a hurry, so Hestia and Dedalus Apparated us a few times.'
Harry opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, and only composed himself when Ginny nudged her elbow into his side. 'OK, great. Let's find something to eat, and then we'll head home.'
They settled on the chippy just around the corner from the restaurant, and then they found a dark little alleyway to Disapparate from, Dudley holding on to Harry's arm.
Ginny Disapparated first, and Harry and Dudley arrived within a few seconds. Dudley handled the trip with surprising aplomb, stepping back just a little as they snapped into place in the hallway of the flat.
'That'll never stop feeling weird,' Dudley commented, as he let go of Harry's arm. 'Thanks, Harry.'
'No problem. You handle that better than I do, I've never been a fan of Apparating. Prefer a broom, to be honest.' Harry led Dudley into the living room, and Ginny made a quick detour to the kitchen to collect the salt and vinegar.
Harry and Dudley were sitting in a somewhat awkward silence when she walked into the living room, and she sat next to Harry on the settee, her thigh pressed up against his in a silent show of support. He smiled at her, and then began unwrapping the parcels of food.
'So, Dudley,' she said brightly. 'What have you been up to since Harry saw you last? He told me you used to box?'
Dudley accepted a portion of fish and chips from Harry, and sprinkled it liberally with salt and vinegar.'Yeah, I used to, but not anymore. I like running now. Keeps me fit.'
'Harry and I both like running,' Ginny said. 'Harry got us started on it, back when he first joined the Aurors. Harry ran the London marathon last year, and we've both signed up for next year's.'
Dudley seemed impressed. 'Really? I'd love to do a marathon. I've done a couple of 10 k's, I've just got to build up to longer distances. Did you use a training plan?'
They spent the rest of the meal chatting about running and music - a surprising number of Muggle musicians were successful in both worlds - and gradually, the atmosphere relaxed to the point that Dudley was sprawled in one chair, a beer in his hand, and Harry and Ginny were on the settee, her legs across his lap.
Ginny studied the two of them, trying to identify any similarities between the cousins. Dudley was stocky and had constantly flushed cheeks, and his blond hair was fine and limp. Harry was slender and pale, and his black hair was thick and unruly, but she could see their shared blood in the shape of their ears and the curve of their jaws. It wasn't immediately obvious that they were related, but the signs were there for anyone who looked closely enough.
'What do you do for a living, Dudley? I don't remember you ever telling me what you wanted to do.' Harry said. 'Actually, I don't think I ever told you what I wanted to do, either.'
Dudley snorted. 'When would you have told me? In between me trying to flush your head down the bog and calling you gay? We didn't exactly have a good relationship like that. But anyway, I work as a bouncer mostly. The pay's good, and I've never been a morning person, so the hours suit. Been thinking about joining the police. I've got a friend in the Met who reckons he'll help me with the fitness requirements and stuff.'
Ginny still couldn't reconcile this Dudley with the one from Harry's stories about his childhood. He seemed - well, nice, and if his hangdog expression was anything to go by, he felt ashamed of the way he'd acted toward Harry. Harry was obviously confused too, because he kept looking at Dudley as if he was trying to work out if he had really changed.
'The police? Be sort of funny if you did join, we could end up working together. You know I'm an Auror, right? I've been doing a lot of work with the Met recently. I did six months at Hendon at the end of my Auror training, to catch me up with Muggle policing policy. Ron and I have had to pose as policemen a couple of times.'
Ginny had some rather happy memories of Harry in his Muggle police uniform, but she wasn't about to share them with his cousin. 'Harry was just saying the other day that the police need more officers who know about the magical world,' she said. 'I'm sure it'd make his job easier.'
'I bet,' Dudley agreed. 'You're a Quidditch player, right? Um ... I can't remember the position you play though, sorry.'
'Chaser,' she told him. 'Yeah, I play for the Harpies, have done since I left school. We won the league last season.'
'I'd love to see a game sometime,' Dudley said. 'Can Muggles watch? I know you have all these spells that stop us from seeing stuff, but if I'm with a wizard or witch, would I be able to see?'
'We have quite a few Muggleborn players who bring their families, so yeah, I can't see why not,' Ginny said. The whole conversation had her wrong-footed - Dudley seemed so comfortable with the magical world, using their terminology quite fluently. 'Our next match is next week, you should come. Harry has the day off, so you could go with him.'
Dudley's face lit up. 'Really? That'd be amazing.' He looked over at Harry, and his eagerness endeared him a little to Ginny. 'Would that be all right, Harry?'
'I never told you about Ginny playing Quidditch,' Harry said, and his voice was hard and flat. 'What's going on, Dudley? You were never this relaxed about Magic. There's something you're not telling us.'
Ginny swung her legs down from Harry's lap and sat up. Harry was tense, in full-on Auror mode, and he was just a little intimidating. It was a side of him she didn't see very often, and it was both impressive and scary at the same time.
'Dudley,' he prompted, and Dudley startled.
'Hestia sends me the Daily Prophet,' Dudley said. 'I didn't hear from you for a couple of years after it was all over, and I ... I was worried. I wanted to know that you were ok, that things had worked out. So Hestia started sending me the week's papers on a Sunday.'
'Oh.' Harry visibly relaxed, slumping back in to the cushions. 'I suppose that's alright, then. I was starting to worry you were an imposter. It's good that you've accepted Magic like that, though, it'll be easier for you at the wedding.'
Dudley took a deep breath, and cleared his throat before speaking. 'About the wedding. Is it ok if I bring a girl with me?'
Harry grinned at him. 'Are you seeing someone? Of course you can bring her. What's her name?'
'Lindsey Diggle,' Dudley said. 'She's twenty-five, I've been seeing her for two years, and she was a Hufflepuff.'
Well. Dudley was just full of surprises, wasn't he?
'Diggle,' Harry said. 'Any relation to Dedalus?' He seemed calm rather than shocked.
'He's Lindsey's uncle,' Dudley confirmed. 'I met her when we were in hiding. Of course, I was a proper little prick back then, and three years younger than her, so we didn't exactly get on at first, but I met her again a couple of years later and we really clicked. And then things kind of just happened from there, really.'
'I can't believe you're going out with a witch,' Harry said, and there was the shock, evident in his bewilderment. He took his glasses off and scrubbed his hands roughly across his face. 'That's ... Dedalus has never said anything to me about you.'
'I sort of asked him not to,' Dudley said, as he reached in to his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. 'I've been waiting for the right time to tell you.' He flipped open his wallet and held it out towards Ginny and Harry, showing them of photo of him and a smiling, pretty woman, who was looking up at him with an utterly smitten expression. 'That's Lindsey.'
Harry took the wallet so he and Ginny could look a little more closely at the photo. 'She was in Cedric's year,' he said, as he handed the wallet back. 'I only remember her because she was one of the few Hufflepuffs that didn't wear a "Potter Stinks" badge. She's pretty.'
Dudley looked at the photo, his fingers tracing lightly over the surface. 'Yeah. Yeah, she is. She told me what happened that year, how you saw that boy die. I'm sorry I was such a little shit to you about it. I didn't know.' He laughed, a harsh, dry little laugh, and dropped his gaze as he tucked his wallet away. 'Probably wouldn't have made any difference even if I had known.'
Harry shifted uncomfortably. 'We were kids. You've grown up since then, it's done with.'
'Mum and Dad - well, mostly Dad - blame you for me going out with a witch,' Dudley said, as he set his empty beer bottle down on the table. 'Reckon that you corrupted me somehow.'
'It is kind of my fault, I suppose. If I'd not been left with your mum and dad, then you wouldn't have had to go into hiding, and you wouldn't have met Lindsey.' Harry smirked at his cousin. 'I wish I could have seen your dad's face when you told him.'
Dudley chuckled. 'I thought he was going to pass out on me. He's being a git about it though, refuses to meet her, and Mum's going along with what he wants. I'm sure Dad thinks I'll dump Lindsey if he carries on for long enough, but I won't. I love her.' His smile was shy, and his already ruddy cheeks flushed even darker. 'We're talking about moving in together.'
'Have you thought about if you'd live in a Magical or a Muggle area?' Ginny asked, as Harry got another round of beers.
'As close to Diagon Alley as we can afford,' Dudley said. 'On the Muggle side though, I don't really like the charms that let me see Magical stuff. They make my skin itch. Be hard to live in Diagon Alley without them.' He yawned, and looked over at the clock. 'Suppose I should head off now, it's getting late. Could I be a pain and ask you to Apparate me home? I'm just around the corner from the restaurant we met at.'
Harry stood up, pulling on his coat. 'Course I can. Gin, I won't be long. Will you stick the kettle on for us?' He leaned in to brush a soft kiss against her lips.
'I'll have a cup of tea waiting for you,' she promised, as she turned to kiss Dudley on the cheek. 'Nice to meet you, Dudley. I'll let you know about the Quidditch match, and you'll have to bring Lindsey around one evening, we'd love to meet her.'
Dudley put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently. 'Thanks, Ginny. I'm glad Harry's got someone like you.' He transferred his hand to Harry's arm. 'See you soon.'
The two of them disappeared with a small pop of displaced air, and Ginny set about tidying up the small amount of mess left over from dinner. They hadn't bothered with plates, so it was easy enough to screw up the paper wrappings and banish them to the kitchen bin.
She'd just finished making two cups of tea when she heard the sound of Harry Apparating back into the hallway. 'Tea's up,' she called out, as she carried the mugs into the living room.
Harry dropped onto the settee next to her, accepting the mug she held out to him. 'Thanks, love.' He blew across the surface of the scalding hot liquid, then took a cautious sip. 'He's different now,' he said. 'He's nice.'
'Yeah, he is. He seems like a good man.' Ginny curled her legs underneath her and Harry held his arm out for her in an invitation to cuddle up to him, which she did. 'You ok with this evening? It must have stirred up a lot of old memories.'
Harry went quiet for a moment. 'I can't quite get my head around the fact that he's seeing one of us. He used to hate magic, he was scared of it, and in a way I can't blame him, because every time he came into contact with it, it was used against him. He never got to see magic like I did, as something amazing. Of course, Aunt Petunia and Vernon were mostly responsible for him hating magic. And me.'
'Are you upset that they didn't come?'
'I'm fine. I didn't really expect them to turn up, so that's no great loss. I'm glad Dudley did, though. We're never going to be best mates, we don't have enough in common, but at least I know I can sit in a room with him and have a civil conversation.' He set his mug down and traced his fingers up and down Ginny's arm, making her shiver with anticipation. 'We had a chat back at his place. He's going to try and persuade Petunia to come to the wedding, but I told him not to get stressed out about it, that he's the one I care about being there.'
His fingers moved up to stroke the line of Ginny's neck from jaw to shoulder, and she closed her eyes as he followed his fingers with his mouth. 'Oh - ok,' she all but moaned. 'That's ... Harry ...'
She could feel his smirk against her skin as his lips brushed against her collarbone, and he pressed her back into the cushions and settled between her thighs. 'Two months, Gin. Two months, and you'll be Ginny Potter.' He smiled at her, and she threaded her fingers into his hair.
'Can't wait,' she said, pulling him back down against her, revelling in the warmth and weight of him, and overwhelmed by just how very much she loved him.
She was glad he had invited Dudley back into his life. Harry valued family above all else, and counted the Weasleys as his own, but she knew he'd felt the absence of a link to his mum. Dudley represented that, and his presence at the wedding would be Harry's connection to his lost parents.
'I love you,' she whispered, and then there were no more words, just moans and sighs and surrender to one another's touch.