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Harry Potter Alternate Universe >> Chapter 2: At the Beach by summerpotter

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Chapter 2: At the Beach

The sun blazed overhead radiating its afternoon heat as Ginny descended onto the sandy beach with Annie and Jackson at her side. Annie wore a big floppy sunhat with her long blonde hair billowing in the warm breeze behind her. She covered her eyes in large, stylish sun glasses and wore a thin white dress over her bathing suit. Jackson had already cracked several jokes at her expense, claiming that Annie looked like she walked out of a clothing advertisement. Ginny privately agreed with Jackson that Annie’s big sunglasses and bigger hat were more goofy-looking than fashionable. Jackson wore trunks, the same T-shirt he had on before, and old sandals on his feet. Annie had already designated him to carry the heavy cooler of snacks and drinks they’d brought with them and then led the way to find a nice spot on the beach.

“Here looks good!” Annie declared cheerfully, setting down her large bulky bag and pulling out her extra large beach towel to lie on.

Ginny sat next to her, and Jackson on Ginny’s other side, setting the cooler behind them. Annie was rummaging in her bag as Jackson opened the cooler and cracked open a soda. After chugging the majority of its contents, he then offered drinks while Annie pulled out a beach umbrella. Ginny watched Annie pull it out of the bag with raised eyebrows, wondering if Annie was secretly a witch too. How else had she fit that umbrella into her bag without an undetectable extension charm?

“How did you even fit that into your bag?” Ginny asked with amusement as Annie extended the handle and opened the umbrella to provide them with some shade.

“It’s a handy travel-size!” Annie replied as she burrowed the umbrella’s handle in the sand. She settled onto her towel to remove her wrap and began applying her oily, coconut-smelling lotion to protect her skin.

Ginny opened the soda that Jackson had handed her and took a long drink, revelling in the liquid running down her throat and instantly cooling her. Happy to be at the beach, she pulled off the T-shirt to sit in her bikini top and shorts in hopes to start getting a summer tan. Jackson tugged off his own shirt and began slathering on a white lotion on his arms and legs. Ginny watched with mild interest, wondering if his lotion would do more for his skin than the oil Annie was slathering on.

“Do you need any or are you just checking out my guns?” Jackson asked with a grin when he noticed Ginny’s gaze on him.

Annie snorted at the line and continued to rub her oil on legs and arms.

“No, I wasn’t ‘checking out your guns,’ and no thanks, I put some lotion on at home,” Ginny replied dryly. She was definitely grateful for a sun-repelling charm that she could use instead of that goo. It was making both Annie and Jackson smell like a coconut and appear as if they’d been dipped into grease.

“Okay, then you can help me get my back!” Jackson said brightly, handing her the bottle.

Wrinkling her nose, Ginny reluctantly squirted some of the white stuff into her hand and began massaging it onto Jackson’s back. She was grateful for the protection of the charm her mother had cast on her to repel the sun as even spreading the lotion on Jackson’s back made her hands feel greasy and dirty. It wasn’t long before Annie asked if Ginny would do her back next, and so she agreed only if she could use the same lotion and not mix it with the oil. Annie agreed readily, but jokingly threatened Ginny if her tan came out uneven, she’d blame her for it.

Once her muggle friends were safe from the sun, they sprawled out on their towels to lounge for a bit until they could head into the water. Apparently the lotion and the oil required some drying time before Annie and Jackson could swim. Ginny stretched out on her stomach, appreciative for the shade of the umbrella and the light breeze that brushed against her skin. She closed her eyes and wiggled her toes into the sand, feeling more relaxed than she’d felt in a long time.

“Isn’t this nice? The beach was a great idea!” Annie said brightly from under her big floppy hat.

“I can’t wait to jump in that water,” Jackson said wistfully. “I wish my parents still had their boat. I miss water skiing!”

“Waterskiing?” Ginny asked, but she quickly regretted allowing her curiosity to get the better of her. She honestly felt like an idiot when they looked at her whenever she let it slip that she wasn’t familiar with something.

“Yeah, you know… you hook a pair of water skis to the back of a boat and you get pulled around?” Jackson was smirking like he usually did whenever he had to explain. “Please, please tell me this is not one of the many things I’ll have to teach you this summer? This list is getting a little long, Gin. I love being with you, but we have months, but years.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I’ve just never seen it done before, that’s all. I knew what it was,” she lied coolly.

“Would you do it? I don’t peg you for an athletic kind of girl,” Annie asked sceptically.

Ginny fought a smile. Not athletic? Annie or Jackson would never know how good she was at Quidditch, or how many times she’d been sent to the Hospital Wing to heal a broken finger or to be tested for a concussion.

“Yeah, it sounds fun,” Ginny replied with a shrug. She’d try this water skiing without complaint- how hard could it be? It sounded like all you needed was balance, which would be a lot easier and less dangerous than a fast-paced game of Quidditch with players zooming around at break-neck speeds fifty feet or higher above the ground with lead balls pelting after you.

“Cool, well I’m sure I’ve got friends around here with a boat,” Jackson said thoughtfully. He gingerly ran his hands down his arms and legs and then got to his feet. “Okay, I’m good, let’s go swimming!” He was off to the water before Annie or Ginny could stand up, let alone agree that it was time for a swim.

“I like him better when he’s reserved and quiet. I don’t know what to do with him like he’s off like a kid in a candy store!” Annie mused, getting to her feet as Ginny shimmied out of her shorts and Annie left her floppy hat on her towel.

“You should see my brother Ron in a candy store,” Ginny said with a chuckle, remembering the first time their mother let them into a candy store and how Ron had run every which way, pleading to have everything and anything in sight. Ron and Jackson were alike in that neither appeared to have much restraint when they wanted something.

She paused, suddenly remembering her mother’s repeated insistence that she not go anywhere without her wand. Glancing back at her bag where her wand was hidden, she hesitated but then remembered she was wearing a two-piece bathing suit and there was nowhere to hide it. Besides, it wasn’t likely a Death Eater was going to pop up in the middle of the water, and more than that, she’d be in big trouble if it got away from her under the water.

Ginny was startled out of her thoughts by Annie’s screech of protest when Jackson recklessly splashed water as he ran toward them. Ginny had just looked up when she met the same fate and her worries over leaving her wand left her in one fell swoop as the cold water hit her.

“That’s chilly!” Ginny laughed, wiping the water from her eyes. Unlike Annie, she didn’t intend to stay mostly dry. She never understood why some girls got all dressed up and then refused to let their hair or their faces get wet when swimming. She moved deeper into the water with confident strides in spite of the cool temperature.

Jackson just laughed as he continued to pelt Annie, chasing her and eventually tackling her under the water. Ginny laughed at them, quickly dunking herself before she too would be tackled. Jackson released Annie and then hurried back out to deeper water where he dove under the light waves and swam a little farther from the girls.

Annie stood, pushing her long hair from her face with a smile. “He’s so dead…” she mumbled amusedly, looking for Jackson as she and Ginny moved deeper into the water.

“Why don’t we come to the beach every day?” Jackson asked loudly when he resurfaced. “I forgot how much I loved swimming!”

“Because we’re all too lazy to move our butts all the way out here,” Annie answered dryly. “But I do think we need to come here more.” Her attention was momentarily lost as three older and attractive men hurried past, laughing and calling out at each other. One of them waved at Annie with a big grin and stopped to say hello.

“Annndd we’ve lost Annie,” Jackson said wryly to Ginny, moving closer to her. “Race me to the buoy line?”

“You’re on!” Ginny agreed brightly. “Three-two-one- GO!” They both dove into the waves, leaving Annie behind to chat with the tall blonde man.

Ginny had never taken swimming lessons as a kid, but her parents and her brothers had taught her the basics. She wasn’t particularly skilled at the sport, but she was able to free-style fairly well and with some speed. She wasn’t surprised when Jackson still beat her easily to the buoy line.

“Loser,” Jackson chided teasingly.

“Maybe I let you win,” Ginny answered a little breathlessly, making a mental note that she may need to start working out again.

He pushed his hair from his face, his eyes alight with excitement. Ginny was a little caught off-guard by the happiness radiating from him, and the way the light played off the water droplets on his skin and his hair. He was grinning at her widely and Ginny had to admit it was hard to not smile back at the goofy expression on his face. His excitement at the little things was endearing.

“I wish you wouldn’t. I like a challenge. Race me back for real this time! Do you want a head start?”

“Are you guys coming back or do I have to come all the way over there?!” Annie was shouting at them. The tall blonde guy was nowhere to be found and Annie was standing waist-deep in the water, her arms folded across her chest.

“We’re coming back!” Ginny called back. “Okay, Jackson… you’re on!”

Jackson smirked. “Three-two-one- GO!”

Ginny threw herself back under the water, pulling and kicking as hard as she could. She still lost the race when they resurfaced by Annie but she’d definitely put on more speed that time. Now able to stand, she found herself nearly knocked off her feet by Jackson who had thrown his arm around her, and shook her shoulders in reassurance.

“Better effort that time… you came so close to almost not sucking, Gin!”

Ginny gasped and shoved him playfully. He pushed her back so she tumbled into a wave and onto her butt. She got back up and shoved back, knocking him under the water. Annie shrieked again when a splash of water hit her, and Jackson lifted Ginny up, scooping her above the water.

“So you do have a bit of fight in you!” Jackson said teasingly, his arms tightening around her.

“Put me down, Jackson!” Ginny yelled out, half-breathless, half-laughing. She was very aware of his hard muscles around her exposed flesh and it was making her a little uneasy.

“Not until you say you surrender. Otherwise I’ll toss you to the sharks.”

Ginny wriggled as hard as she could but to no end. “Fine, I give, I give!” Jackson grinned at her and tossed her anyway. When she resurfaced, Annie suggested they head back to the towel to relax a little before Jackson killed Ginny and before she caught hypothermia.

“How are you cold?” Ginny asked confusedly. “The water is beautiful.”

“Annie needs some more fat on her bones,” Jackson answered innocently. “She’s got no insolation.”

“You’re a jerk, Jackson,” Annie retorted calmly.

“I’m hungry anyway, let’s go in! Annie, what kinds of sandwiches did you bring?”

“I brought ham and cheese sandwiches, chips, and sodas,” Annie replied, ticking them off on her fingers. “I always get really hungry when I swim so I packed a lot… which is good considering neither of you two remembered to bring anything.”

They began their walk back to the shore, moving around other swimmers and families who were crowding into the beach to spend the hot afternoon by the cool water. Annie was moving ahead of Jackson and Ginny, more eager to leave the water than the two of them. Ginny stumbled into a hole in the sand and would have fallen onto her face if Jackson had not caught her.

“Thanks!” Ginny said gratefully, flexing her ankle hesitantly, but was relieved to find that she hadn’t hurt herself.

Jackson chuckled. “I used to be one of those kids who dug holes in the sand under the water. I’d sit far away and watch people fall into it. That’s probably what just happened to you.”

Ginny looked around for such a kid. “So you’re saying some kid is laughing at his idea of a hilarious prank right now?”

Jackson slid his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him as they continued to stride through the waves. “Yeah… If you’d actually fallen, he probably would have come closer to have a laugh at you. It’s not as good unless they trip and fall over. I’ve just saved you from humiliation caused by some eight-year-old boy.”

Ginny laughed, only half-listening as part of her brain worked at why Jackson was suddenly being more ‘touchy-feely’ lately. “Well thanks for catching me. You’re my hero today… I’d be so upset if I’d twisted my ankle this summer.”

He turned to look at her with the same startlingly bright expression on his face. In the startlingly sunny weather, his lips tugged into a crooked smile and the water dripping off his muscled body made her heart skip a beat. No wonder Annie always teased Jackson about being hit on all the time- Jackson did have an attractive body under his faded T-shirts and baggy jeans. “I’d be your hero any day, Gin!”

Ginny smiled faintly, allowing the words to wash over her as she realized that Jackson still had his arm around her moments after. It felt a little strange, but not wrong. Jackson was sweet, attractive, nice, and most importantly, he made her feel normal. He generally seemed to like being around her, and if Ginny was right, he was flirting with her so naturally. It was more attention than she’d had in over a year, which also made her feel pathetic- was she actually that starved for Harry’s attention? The answer was a grudging yes but it also made her realize that Jackson’s arm around her was not what she wanted.

His fingers brushed the skin on her arm and Ginny was sure a slight blush was creeping up her neck. Jackson was definitely an interesting guy. Unfortunately, his touch wasn’t what she wanted, and it brought the uneasy feeling back. She did not want Jackson to get the wrong idea if his arm around her was more than just his way of expressing friendship.

Stealing a glance at him, she wondered if Jackson actually had feelings for her. It was nice to know that she was wanted; every girl should feel wanted. Owing to the fact that she’d felt so empty and so alone for so long, Jackson’s attention was flattering and exciting. She couldn’t deny that there wasn’t a small part of her that wasn’t impulsive and curious about Jackson. Was he a good kisser? Was he a romantic-type of boyfriend?

“Is that Ginny?!”

The voice made both her stomach drop and the arm around her shoulder feel as if it weighed ten pounds. She didn’t want to look up but her eyes shot up instinctively anyway at the mention of her name. Her eyes found the owner of the loud, blunt voice and she groaned inwardly as she spotted her brother on the shore, pointing like an idiot.

Looking away almost immediately, she gently shifted away so that Jackson dropped his arm from around her and she kept walking, deciding to ignore Ron for now. She could just kill him. And he wouldn’t be alone- he would never come alone for a day on the beach. More importantly, why was he here? He knew she was here with her friends which made her suspect he had deliberately come to spoil her day.

She and Jackson reached their towels and sat down. Ginny twisted her hair and squeezed the excess water from it nervously. Annie began chatting cheerfully, oblivious to the moment that she and Jackson had just shared, and oblivious to the fact that while Ginny was looking at her, she wasn’t taking in one word that she was saying. All Ginny could think of was the sound of Ron’s voice, and feeling a foreboding sense of dread at having Ron walk up, flanked by Hermione and Harry. Fate was just cruel sometimes.

Ginny sighed heavily and looked up again warily, watching Ron, Hermione, and of course, Harry, walk toward her. Ron looked relaxed, perhaps even confident, which irritated her all the more. Hermione looked worried and while Ginny figured that Hermione probably protested their trip to the beach, she clearly hadn’t been able to stop Ron and his bull-headed ideas. It was Harry’s look that made her nervous as there was no possible way to tell what he was thinking with the blank expression he wore. Had Harry seen Jackson with his arm around Ginny? Would he be angry? Would he feel jealous? Would he feel betrayed that she moved on without saying anything to him? Or worst of all, would Harry even care?

Harry rarely expressed anything that would suggest he cared about having her around, but then again, Ginny had seen him glare at Dean before. Would Jackson make him jealous and provoke him into one of those rare moments of expressing what he was thinking? She’d been both fascinated and irritated by Harry’s jealousy during her fifth year as she couldn’t understand why Harry only noticed her when she was already with someone else.

“Hey Ginny!” Ron called again loudly, waving and sounding very cheerful.

Ginny waved back, forcing herself to smile, though she was sure it was not a happy one. Annie and Jackson looked over now, noticing the approaching trio. Jackson pointed at them with his thumb and raised his eyebrows at her.

“Friends of yours?”

Ginny nodded grimly. “Yes, and the redhead is my brother.”

“Your brother! So we finally get to meet someone from your family!” Annie exclaimed happily, but Ginny didn’t respond. If her friends were meeting Ron and Hermione alone the situation would not have been so bad. She was irritated with her brother, but she could handle Ron. It was the fact that Harry was here that made it so terrible–how could Ron drag him into this if he had seen Jackson with his arm around her?

“Hello Ginny,” Hermione greeted, though her voice was strained and her eyes pleading. “Mind if we join you?” Her eyes darted to Jackson and Annie too, as if asking their permission as well.

“It’s so bloody hot. We thought we might as well come down here, meet your friends and cool down,” Ron told her matter-of-factly. He unrolled a beach towel that he carried under his arm and set it across from Ginny’s without waiting for an invitation.

“Oh, of course! It’s great to meet you!” Annie said, pushing her sunglasses up onto her head. “I’m Annie, and this is Jackson.”

“I’m Hermione, and this is Harry, and Ginny’s brother Ron. The three of us go to school together.”

Jackson and Harry shook hands first, and then Ron and Jackson clasped their hands. Ginny frowned when Jackson winced at Ron’s grasp- was Ron really going to be this petty?

“How was the water?” Hermione asked as she took a seat on Ron’s left.

“A little chilly, but it feels good in this heat,” Annie replied. “It’s so nice to meet some of Ginny’s friends. She’s a strange one, but we love her.”

“Yeah, she’s strange alright. Half the stuff we talk about she never seems to understand. Where has she been hiding from the world?” Jackson asked teasingly, gently nudging Ginny with his elbow.

Ginny raised her eyebrows at Jackson, wishing that he wouldn’t touch her anymore. “I am not hiding from the world… I just don’t pay attention to that kind of thing.”

“Where do you guys go to school?” Annie asked curiously. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of you around here.”

Ginny pretended to scratch a spot on her leg as she tried to come up with an answer, but Harry was quicker on the uptake. “It’s a small private school in Scotland. We’re home only at Christmas so it’s no wonder we look like we’re from another planet when people talk about the newest music or movies.”

Jackson and Annie both looked very surprised with this new piece of information, and Ginny hoped that they wouldn’t be too interested in hearing about their school. The more she had to lie about her life, the more she felt she was trying to be someone she wasn’t. She’d tried to avoid lying for the most part so as to not feel any guilt. Whenever she had to tell a little lie, she tried to move the conversation away from the topic. She wasn’t friends with Annie and Jackson to make up a whole other person named Ginny Weasley; her friendship with Annie and Jackson was about being normal for a little while. It was about having a life outside the dark things that had happened, outside the strain of the war, and the loss. It was about making friends and feeling like a regular teenager when she wasn’t quite so sure what her life would be like now.

“Well maybe Annie and I will have to come visit you in Scotland!” Jackson suggested. “I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland.”

“It is really nice,” Hermione interjected, earning her a dirty look from Ron who clearly did not believe encouraging muggles to visit at Hogwarts was a good idea.

“That’s probably not a good idea,” Ron said bluntly, confirming Ginny’s suspicion. “Ginny’s dated a lot of blokes there… a lot of jealous exes… not a good situation.” As if he were doing Jackson a favour, he looked apologetic as he shrugged at him. “Sorry, mate.”

“Ron!” Hermione and Ginny snapped at the exact same time.

Annie chuckled at the tension and stretched out on her towel. “Wow, Ginny… and here I thought you just hadn’t met many guys worth your attention or you were shy.”

“I haven’t dated a lot of blokes,” Ginny corrected darkly, itching to reach for her wand to hex Ron’s mouth shut.

To her horror, Ron innocently began ticking them off on his fingers. “Well there was Michael Corner, Dean Thomas, oh, and Harry here…”

“You two dated?” Jackson interrupted in surprise, looking between Harry and Ginny with raised eyebrows.

Harry was looking at Ginny now, although his expression was unreadable. Ginny nodded uncomfortably, wishing the sand below her would give way and she’d be swallowed up. In spite of her wish to be anywhere else, she met his gaze to prove that she wasn’t ashamed of her relationship with Harry.

“Yeah, Harry and I dated at school.”

There was a long awkward silence when no one seemed willing to speak. When loud, tinkling music suddenly rang across the beach, they all looked over, grateful for the distraction in their conversation.

“The ice cream truck is here!” Jackson exclaimed cheerily, startling Ginny who jumped slightly at the enthusiasm in his tone. Ron was looking around with interest just as Jackson grinned down at her. “Let’s get some!” He tugged on Ginny’s arm and pulled her up.

Behind them, Ginny heard Hermione hiss that something about not having the ‘right money,’ and she assumed it was to Ron. Ron never passed up on the opportunity for a snack, especially a cold one on a day like today. With a glance behind her, she noted Annie talking to Hermione now, and the boys remaining sitting in the sand. It would just be her and Jackson.

Great, she thought grimly. Let’s give Harry another reason to think I’m dating Jackson.

“What kind did you want? It’s my treat,” Jackson offered with a friendly smile.

“I’m not sure,” Ginny admitted. She knew some of these muggle trucks had a variety of cold treats that were all supposed to be delicious. Truthfully, she didn’t think she could stomach ice cream right at that moment.

Not wanting to insult Jackson who was dragging her off to the truck, she said “Well, anything, really…”

At that, his smile widened and he reached for her hand between them. His fingers laced with hers and he squeezed gently, as if gauging her reaction to this new touch.

“Sorry for the obvious distraction,” he said nervously, his cheeks turning pink. “I’m not good at this… especially not in front of your ex.” He glanced back at Harry again before returning his smile to her.

Before Ginny could say anything, he asked “How long did you date him anyway? Was it serious?”

A lump began forming in her throat. She really hated having to turn someone down and knowing that you were the reason that they were unhappy. “Jackson…”

His hand was warm around hers and she glanced down at it, her stomach churning with mixed emotions. Jackson was very sweet, and not to mention good-looking. But he was a muggle: he didn’t know her or anything about her life. Probably the worst part of it all was that Harry was no more than twenty feet away from them and she wouldn’t put it past Ron to call attention to Jackson holding her hand without any consideration to Harry’s feelings.

Ginny pulled her hand from his with a shaky exhale, hoping that Jackson would understand. She was beginning to see how much of a tangled mess she’d gotten herself into. Jackson fancied her, and he was purposely flirting with her in front of Harry, whom he just learned was her ex in order to make a bold statement about his feelings.

“No?” The pain of the rejection was written across his whole face.

“No, I’m sorry… I just can’t do this.”

Jackson nodded, his lips pulled into either a strained smile or a grimace; she wasn’t sure. He laughed awkwardly and shrugged it off as if it were nothing.

“I’m sorry. It was too fast and I just sort of sprung it on you. I’ve had a bit of a crush on you since I met you. Ugh, I should have asked before doing that. I just... like you. A lot. And I wanted to do something about those feelings soon…”He grinned at her sheepishly, his cheeks a brighter pink now.

“No, it’s okay. I’m sorry that I don’t feel that way. And it’s so complicated…” How to explain this to him without telling him the truth or hurting him? Yes, she found him attractive, and nice, and sweet, and really, if things weren’t so complicated, if she didn’t feel like she was betraying another man, and if she was one hundred percent positive that she and Harry were finished, she might have given Jackson a chance one day.

Then again, they practically lived in different worlds. Heck, they did live in different worlds and as much as she wanted to feel like a normal teenager, she was Ginny Weasley: a witch, a sister who had lost a brother, a friend who had lost so many friends, a young woman who’d seen and done a lot, and a girl who was in love with a boy who didn’t show any interest in her. How was Jackson ever supposed to know the real her unless she came clean about everything?

“Is it him?”

Ginny followed Jackson’s eyes to Harry guiltily. It was never a good idea to involve your ex with another relationship and so she just repeated: “It’s complicated.”

“No, sorry…that’s none of my business.” He forced another pained smile. “Look, can we just forget this whole thing? I don’t want to lose you as a friend.”

“Sure,” Ginny whispered in a weak voice.

They stepped up to the window where a young man took their orders of two chocolate swirl cones, and Jackson paid without question. They were handed two cones and Ginny took hers, feeling more guilty than ever at the distracted look on Jackson’s face.

She hated leaving it like this — when it would have to wait until later when they had a chance to really talk. She wished she had time to think of something to say to make him feel better. They walked back to their towels in an awkward silence. Ginny licked her ice cream cone sadly, wondering if she’d lose Jackson and Annie as friends because it would be too awkward to hang out together anymore. It wasn’t fair! She hadn’t expected Jackson to suddenly declare he had feelings for her, nor had she expected that her brother would barge right into an afternoon on the beach and make things even more messed up than they already were.

“Now I’m staying with Ron and Ginny for a few weeks,” Hermione was telling Annie as they drew nearer.

Annie was clearly dedicated to learning more about her friends. She turned to Harry next curiously. “And what about you, Harry? What do you do?”

“Harry’s in training to be one of those policemen like me,” Ron interjected on Harry’s behalf, clapping his friend on the back. Harry’s lips twitched at the half-truth. A policeman was probably as close to the truth of his training to be an Auror as was possible.

Ginny had just stopped next to her friends when Harry piped up. “Yeah, in fact, I should probably head back to the house,” Harry said, checking his watch. “I need to go and change before I head in to training tonight.” He got to his feet and he met her eyes briefly; it wasn’t difficult to see the pain there.

“Oh no!” Annie said sadly, looking quite disappointed that Harry had to leave. “Well, how about this… my cousin’s band is going to be in town soon. He’s really talented and I can get us all in to the pub. We could all hang out and have some fun.”

Ginny almost laughed aloud at this idea being labelled as something ‘fun’ for the six of them to do. To have Jackson, Harry and Ron in one room seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. Jackson on the other hand, smiled and nodded, stating that he’d been saying they should go hear a band for a while now. Ginny licked her quickly melting ice cream again so that she wouldn’t argue the point.

“You all have to come,” Annie announced, looking around to Harry, Ron, Hermione and pausing on Ginny. “It’ll be a lot of fun, and it’ll mean a lot to me and my cousin to have more people supporting him and his band.”

“Alright,” Ginny agreed at the excitement in Annie’s voice, hoping she didn’t sound too put out. With how angry Harry had looked, she didn’t doubt that Harry wouldn’t go anyway.

“We’ve got to check our work schedules,” Harry told Annie, gesturing at himself and at Ron.

“How late can you work?” Annie asked with a laugh. “It’ll be an after nine pm type of show at a pub. No excuses, boys…” she smiled confidently and turned to rummage in the cooler for another drink.

“Alright, I need to head off,” Harry said dully, taking several steps backward. Ginny looked up at him, anxious to catch his eye. She opened her mouth to say something and perhaps he noticed because he finally looked at her again, holding her gaze for several moments.

Ginny couldn’t read his expression, nor did he say anything to suggest it, but in those seconds he’d looked at her, she knew that he’d been turned around when Jackson had taken her hand, or perhaps Ron had managed to point out Jackson and Ginny in the water earlier. His expression was stony, and he averted his eyes quickly. Either way, something was up and Ginny could feel the guilt beginning to close in on her even faster.

“Maybe we should go back with him,” Hermione murmured to Ron in an anxious voice behind Ginny.

Harry shook his head, his voice deadly calm. “No, it’s okay. Stay awhile. I’ll be out late anyway.” He picked up the small bag he’d brought with him and slung it onto his shoulders. “I’ll see you later…”

Before she could stop herself, she began to follow him away from the group. “Harry!” Ginny called out anxiously, desperate to do something- anything — to rid herself of the panic that was now drowning her. She’d hurt Jackson, and now she’d hurt Harry. Harry, who was the last person she had ever wanted to hurt, and it was all because she’d allowed herself to enjoy the attention of someone else for a few minutes. This had happened because she was too scared to say anything to Harry whenever she’d had a chance.

She chased after him, feeling her ice cream dripping down onto her hand. Ignoring the sticky liquid, she called after him loudly enough so that he’d hear her. “Harry, I hope you’re not leaving because of what Jackson did. You have to know there’s nothing between us.”

Harry waved her explanation away and shook his head, continuing on his way back up the beach. “It’s fine… it doesn’t matter. I’ll see you around, Gin,” he called back over his shoulder in that same oddly calm voice.

“Harry, please don’ storm off like this.”

He spun around but continued walking backwards, a cold indifference on his face. “I’m not storming off. I’ve got Auror training, and I’ve got to go. It’s fine, we’re fine.”

Ginny reluctantly fell back and watched as he walked away from her, knowing that it was certainly not fine as far as Harry was concerned. She fought the childish urge to throw her ice cream at the back of his head until he was out of range. She wished he wouldn’t leave, but she couldn’t blame him for not wanting to stick around. She’d been selfish to think it was okay to let Jackson get away with being so flirty with her, but she’d been ignoring the little signs and teasing comments for weeks. How could she have not realized that Jackson wanted more? She’d been waiting for Harry, and blaming their lack of a relationship on him for so long, but really she was just as bad as him for avoiding that particular conversation. And if Harry had any doubts about what she wanted, he would really be thrown off now.

She returned to the group to find Jackson eating his ice cream and staring out over the water, Annie looking up at her in confusion, Hermione looking at her in pity, and Ron eyeing her as if he wanted to start shouting some sense into her. She dropped onto her towel passed the cone to Ron without a word, hoping that her offer would be enough to silence him at least until Annie and Jackson left.

“Are you all right?” Hermione asked in a low voice.

Ginny looked over at her, wishing for the first time that she could talk freely, and that she wasn’t surrounded by Annie or any of the other muggles. Sadly, the freedom she felt in the muggle world now felt more like an imprisonment to her.

“I’m alright,” she replied weakly, trying to tell Hermione with a look that they’d talk later.

“Your friend seems a bit put off,” Annie said worriedly. “Is he alright?”

Hermione nodded and sighed. “Harry’s just going through a rough patch. He’s been very distracted lately.”

Ginny pulled her towel up around herself, wishing that she could talk to Hermione and Ron and tell them everything. She could feel Jackson’s eyes on her, probably piecing two and two together, but at the moment, she didn’t care. He might as well realize that Jackson would have had to eventually find out how deep her feelings ran for Harry. Perhaps if he realized it on his own, it would be easier than him having to hear it.

How had things become so messy?

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