The Space Between by YelloWitchGrl



Summary: Harry and Ginny's lives have finally evened out. They've faced trauma, and loss, more than most have, but they've fought hard to find a normal.

If only things could stay that way... Old enemies find new ways to seek revenge.

This story is the sequel to Bound. It would be extremely helpful if you read that first.


Warnings are to be safe. It's probably overkill. Please message me if you have any questions or concerns.
Rating: R starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: Connections
Published: 2014.12.14
Updated: 2017.10.20


Index

Chapter 1: Prologue Part 1
Chapter 2: Prologue Part 2
Chapter 3: Prologue Part 3
Chapter 4: Chapter 1
Chapter 5: Chapter 2
Chapter 6: Chapter 3
Chapter 7: Chapter 4
Chapter 8: Chapter 5
Chapter 9: Chapter 6
Chapter 10: Chapter 7
Chapter 11: Chapter 8
Chapter 12: Chapter 9
Chapter 13: Chapter 10
Chapter 14: Chapter 11
Chapter 15: Chapter 12
Chapter 16: Chapter 13
Chapter 17: Chapter 14
Chapter 18: Chapter 15
Chapter 19: Chapter 16
Chapter 20: Chapter 17
Chapter 21: Chapter 18
Chapter 22: Chapter 19
Chapter 23: Chapter 20
Chapter 24: Chapter 21
Chapter 25: Chapter 22
Chapter 26: Chapter 23
Chapter 27: Chapter 24
Chapter 28: Chapter 25
Chapter 29: Chapter 26
Chapter 30: Chapter 27
Chapter 31: Chapter 28
Chapter 32: Chapter 29
Chapter 33: Chapter 30
Chapter 34: Chapter 31
Chapter 35: Chapter 32
Chapter 36: Chapter 33
Chapter 37: Chapter 34
Chapter 38: Chapter 35


Chapter 1: Prologue Part 1

Author's Notes: Some of this first part will look *very* familiar if you're read "Socks". It's expanded, though, to tell the rest of the story that isn't part of that one. Thank you Arnel for keeping me on the straight and narrow :)


January 2004

“Mine.”

Harry froze in the act of pulling on his jumper to stare at his wife, her finger pointing at his chest. “Excuse me?”

“Mine!” she said again, flicking her finger in a dismissive gesture. “Take it off, Potter. That one is mine.”

He glanced down, wondering what exactly she was referring to. “Uhm…”

“The sweater, Harry! It’s mine.” She crossed her arms and began tapping her toe on the hardwood floor of their bedroom.

Harry needed to tread carefully. She’d been in a foul mood for days and he didn’t want to be on the receiving end of another tongue-thrashing. “Your mum gave this to me for Christmas a year or two ago.”

“Six years, Harry. She gave it to you six years ago. It doesn’t fit you anymore, not since you started working out.” She smirked in a way that told him she appreciated the work outs and he relaxed. She was in a good mood right now and taking the mickey. He had gotten used to her occasional mood shifts over the years of their marriage, but the last few days had been more than a little disconcerting.

He thought back to what she’d said. Has it really been six years already? “It goes on all right.”

“It’s too tight, hand it over.”

“Ginny…”

She sighed in exasperation clearly telling him she thought he was being dense and she was only humoring him. “I nicked that one fair and square a while ago. But, even if I hadn’t nicked it, which I did, and it did fit properly, which is doesn’t, it still looks better on me. Therefore, it’s mine!”

Well, it was only a sweater... He pulled it off and handed it over. He watched in amusement as she slid it over her head and began to roll the sleeves back several times. It looked almost like a dress on her. “It’s too big for you,” he stated flatly.

Ginny raised an eyebrow and a secret, almost shy smile flitted over her face. “It won’t be for long.”

Completely wrong-footed by the comment he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “You’d have to stuff yourself for years to even come close. Quidditch keeps you in great shape.”

She took a deep breath and walked over to him. She reached up and cupped his cheeks before whispering, “Can’t you think of any other reason that I might start to fill out this jumper… especially right here,” she took his left hand with her right and guided it to her lower abdomen.

Harry felt his heart lodge painfully in his throat. Does she really mean… “Really?” he breathed it out, barely more than a whisper. “I thought… you know, wow,” he let out another hard breath, staring into her eyes which were studying him closely. “You’re pregnant?”

Ginny nodded.

He closed his eyes and all of his feelings rushed in on him until he had to pull her into his arms, his anchor and strength through many years, through the good times and the bad. A baby… a baby… he almost couldn’t wrap his mind around it. They were going to wait another year or two, but he’d wanted kids. The longing had only intensified the more now that Teddy was getting older. “Are you happy?” he asked. She seemed happy, but…

“I am,” Ginny replied; her whisper nearly lost against the cotton of his shirt where her head nestled. Her arms tightened slightly. “Are you happy?”

He was terrified. He was elated. He was… too many things to name. “I’m overwhelmed, but in a really good way.” Harry leaned down to nuzzle her neck, right at the collar of his jumper. “That’s going down at the most creative way of telling a bloke that he’s going to be a dad.”

“I didn’t plan it that way,” Ginny admitted with a giggle. “It just sort of came out.”

Harry found her mouth and began a slow kiss that quickly heated up to more. “Merlin, I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she assured him.

More kissing followed, but was halted when Harry had a vision of all of his clothing quickly disappearing from his dresser as her belly rounded with their growing child and her justifying why she needed them and him ending up walking around starkers all the time. His heart constricted and immense joy flooded him. However… “You leave my socks alone. There is no way you can argue that you need my socks.”

“I make no promises. It’s true love when a girl steals your clothes. Didn’t you know that?”

Harry sighed before laughing. To hell with it, he thought. She was so damn beautiful that everything he owned really did look better on her than it ever would on him.

“I’m scared, though,” Ginny whispered.

He nodded against her hair. He was scared, too, but he wasn’t going to tell her that. It was his job to put on a brave front. “It won’t be like last time. We’re not going to lose this baby.”

“I talked to Audrey a few hours ago and she said the same, but I can’t help it.” Ginny let out a sigh and looked up into his face. “I don’t know that I can lose another one.”

Harry cupped her cheek. “Last time was completely messed up. Nothing went the way it was supposed to and the odds were always stacked against Hope living. This time will be different.” He told her confidently.

“I wanted this time to be the more ‘normal’ way,” Ginny admitted, “even though we didn’t plan this baby either.” She laughed and stood on her toes to kiss him. “It’s very different being pregnant and not being bed ridden.”

“You’re definitely moodier this time,” Harry said, remembering the last few days.

Ginny poked him hard in the belly. “Excuse me?”

“Well,” he grinned, leaning down to nip at her neck. “I mean… you’re so beautiful.”

She only eyed him before grinning sheepishly. “I forgot to go get the potion.”

“You forgot?” Harry said, completely bemused. “You’ve been religious about it for the last few years.”

“I know!” She said, turning her head so she could rest flush against him. “I got the owl from Martha reminding me and just kept putting it off because I was busy and… then I forgot.”

“Good,” Harry told her firmly.

She quirked an eyebrow as she glanced up at him. “You’re glad I got shoddy with our birth control?”

“Yes, I am,” he promised kissing her soundly on the top of the head. “Feel free to get shoddy with it any time you like.”

“You are a strange man, Harry,” Ginny said, hugging him tight. “But I’ll keep you.”

Back to index


Chapter 2: Prologue Part 2

Author's Notes: There is one more part to the prologue, then we dive in to the main story. These chapters will be longer, so I'll probably go two weeks between posting. It depends on what I get done. This story is not done, but I have done through chapter 6 so I have a great start on it. It's already massive. But, readers, as you know I do not do unfinished stories. It drives me nuts. I want to do this right, I'm going to take the time to do it to the best of my ability, but that's likely to not be weekly updates.

Thank you so much Arnel!!


May 27th, 2005

“It’s okay, James,” Ginny shushed as she rocked her fretful son as he tried desperately to shove his entire fist in his mouth. She was exhausted. She was beyond exhausted and had, in fact, passed into zombie state weeks ago. James had been a demanding baby, although usually a happy one as well. Once his teeth had started coming at the end of February, when he was five months old, James had turned into a colicky mess. He only stopped crying when he was asleep and he didn’t sleep much. He even cried when he nursed because the pain was bothering him so much. Ginny wanted to cry too because the teeth were making nursing excruciating.

They’d tried pain potions, chewing on cold rags, and even an ointment that Audrey had suggested. Nothing worked. He cried much of the night, leaving her so bleary that she went through her days in a stupor. Harry had tried to help, but James only wanted her and he still had work.

“Here,” seven-year-old Teddy said, handing her the ring sling.

“Thank you,” Ginny told him trying to smile. He was staying with them for the week while Andromeda traveled to Scotland to visit a friend who was ill. One handed she threw it over her head like a sash and fitted James down into the pouch. His crying turned instantly into a low keening. Her lip trembled as she looked at the little boy. “This isn’t how I wanted our week together to go.”

“It’s okay,” Teddy told her, patting her elbow.

It wasn’t really okay, but there wasn’t much she could do about it. Harry was working very long hours at the moment. He’d taken over as Head of the Auror office a few weeks before and the work load had tripled in the transition. Ginny was so tired that she felt sick and like she’d been trampled by a dragon. She’d been running on empty for over a month and it was only getting worse. She’d been looking forward to her week with Teddy. Without warning her lip quivered and she hooked an arm around his thin shoulders and pulled him in close. “I’m sorry. I wanted to have so much fun this week. You’ve got to be deaf by now from all the screaming.”

He shrugged as he hugged her. “I don’t mind. Did I cry like this when I was getting teeth?”

She ran a hand through his short hair and shook her head. “You did cry some but not like this.” His blue eyes met hers and taking a deep breath she willed the energy to come. It didn’t, but she would push through anyway. “Let’s go for a walk.”

“Okay,” he agreed and took the hand she held out. They walked out the back and down the lane. Before they were even halfway down the drive James went limp with sleep and Ginny tucked his head more securely in the cloth so it didn’t flop about. The two talked some about the deer they spotted and the squirrels, but mostly they walked in companionable silence.

They wended their way towards the back of the house and over the bridge. Ginny sat heavily on one of the benches, unable to move another step. She closed her eyes and heard Teddy moving somewhere close by.

“Hope Potter,” Teddy said slowly.

Ginny’s eyes snapped open as the dread filled her. She didn’t want to do this right now, and she’d forgotten that he was getting really good at reading.

Teddy’s eyes met her questioningly and her heart lodged itself in her throat. “Who was she?” He asked hesitatingly.

“She,” Ginny licked her lips and tried to will herself to remain calm. “She was our first child. She died.”

Teddy came over and sat, leaning against her as the tears started to rain down her face. “I didn’t mean to make you cry.” His voice was filled with remorse.

“No,” Ginny pulled him in close and kissed the top of his head. “No sweetheart, you didn’t make me cry. I get sad when I think about her and I’m so tired right now that everything is more difficult.”

“She was born the year I was,” Teddy whispered.

“She… she wouldn’t have been,” Ginny explained gently, swiping away the tears. “She died in my belly. It’s called a miscarriage.”

Teddy looked back at the grave and then up at her. “You want to take a nap?”

“No,” she assured him even as a yawn snuck out. “I want to spend time with you.”

“I want to read a book that Grandma got me,” Teddy said with a grin as he stood and tugged her to standing. “I’ll be able to concentrate on it while you both sleep.”

He half dragged her back to the house she went up to put James down in his cot. Thankfully he slept through the transfer. She fell in to bed, fully clothed, and instantly passed into a sleep filled with vivid dreams.

She woke later and turned towards her alarm clock to find a tray waiting with a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of orange juice. Just by how it was put together Ginny knew that Teddy had made it for her. The tears began to flow again. He was the sweetest, most thoughtful child. She didn’t feel like eating; thought there was a good shot that she’d throw up if she did but she wouldn’t risk hurting his feelings for anything.

Ginny dragged herself up and pulled the tray over to slowly eat the sandwich. Amazingly she felt better after the bit of food and the juice. She carried the tray downstairs and went straight over to give Teddy a hug. James began to scream and with a sigh, she went to get the baby from his room.

Harry arrived home looking worn around the edges just in time to say goodnight to Teddy, and to tuck him in with a story. Ginny lay in bed nursing James, who for the moment was nursing contentedly and not pulling off every few seconds in pain. Ginny had to fight her own cries of pain that the new teeth were causing her tender breasts. By the time Harry got into their room, James had fallen off the breast, into a milk coma.

“Come here,” Harry said quietly as he picked up his son and carried him off to his room.

Ginny dragged herself to the bathroom to get ready for bed. She’d seriously considered just ignoring brushing her teeth as she’d done more than once in the last few months, but she really had to pee and that couldn’t wait. She didn’t know how her mum had done this so many times and much of the time she felt like the biggest failure ever.

She opened the door and automatically glanced at the calendar that was tacked to the wall. What day is it… she tried to add in her head but couldn’t.

Harry came through the door and pulled her back against him, kissing her neck. “Rough day?”

“Mmm,” she agreed, wishing she could just lean back and fall asleep. “What day is it?”

“The twenty-seventh,” Harry told her.

She opened one eye and found the date, which was circled in red. “Potion day.” She sighed heavily and reached into the medicine cabinet for the potion bottles. Because she was nursing she could only take the once-a-month contraceptive potion. If she took a bigger dose it would dry up her milk instantly. She uncorked the vial and downed it in one go. She looked at the bottles in the cabinet and tried to count them, but they seemed to go in and out of focus. Did she have more than she should? Try as she might she couldn’t remember how many she was supposed to have left. It didn’t matter. She hadn’t had a cycle since she’d had James, and there was a good chance that him breastfeeding was keeping her from being able to get pregnant. But better safe than sorry, she thought.

“Come on, Gin,” Harry said gently as he steered her back to bed. “I’ll get up with him tonight.”

“No,” Ginny protested. It was her job. “You have to work tomorrow.”

There was a pause and she glanced over to see him looking at her with concern. “Tomorrow is Saturday. I wasn’t going to work.”

“Oh,” she nodded as if she hadn’t forgotten what day of the week it was. She climbed back into bed, still clothed. She was too tired to get changed.

Hands reached for the waistband of her yoga pants that had become her staple after James had been born and he slid them down. Ginny lifted her hips without even opening her eyes.

He got in next to her and pulled her into his arms. She breathed in his scent.

“Are you okay?” He asked gently as he kissed her temple.

“Teddy asked about Hope,” she explained as she relaxed into the comfort of the bed.

Harry sighed heavily. “I was hoping we had more time.”

She shook her head, but couldn’t fight off the exhaustion anymore.

~*~

August 23rd 2005

Ginny had to keep busy. If she didn’t keep busy on Hope’s birthday she would brood and fall into a deep hole that would take weeks to pull herself from. She cleaned the kitchen, top to bottom, played with James way more than he wanted to be played with, and cooked several meals to have on hand.

She wore herself out and had hours left in the day. She glanced over at James who was banging on her pots with a wooden spoon and fought back a sob. He didn’t know he had a big sister, as he beat a happy rat-a-tat on the pots. He didn’t know that his mummy was hurting and part of her hoped he never would know it. Ginny wished she could keep the pain from him, even as she knew it wasn’t possible.

Ginny looked around, trying to find something else to do and spotted the jogging stroller that sat near the front door. She scowled at it, but looking down at her shapeless t-shirt and baggy shorts she knew she should go for a run.

She didn’t want to run. She was so tired. Even after James had gotten through the initial round of teething her energy hadn’t come back. He’d gotten into the habit of getting up to nurse several times in the middle of the night and they hadn’t been able to break him of it yet, but he was only eleven months old. They still had time.

Sighing heavily she went to get socks and her trainers. She was a couple pounds heavier now than what she’d been when James was born. She couldn’t stop eating, didn’t want to exercise and the weight was really starting to pack on.

James crawled over to her just as she laced up her shoe and she picked him up and pushing the stroller one handed, she made it out the door to go for a run.

Ginny didn’t even make it half a mile before she had to stop. Her stomach rolled as she bent double and put her hands on her knees, trying to fight off the nausea. She was so tired of feeling sick and tired. James needed to sleep through the night.

Tonight Harry is going to have to get up with him, Ginny thought as she turned the stroller and started to slowly walk back to the house. She didn’t care if he had to work tomorrow. She was beat, and couldn’t take much more.

James had fallen asleep in the stroller by the time they made it back to the house. She left it outside and picked James up gingerly to haul him upstairs and lay him in his bed.

She stared down into his sweet, peaceful face and gently ran a hand over his dark locks. He was worth it. Her heart swelled with love as she watched her sleeping son, and knew she’d do it all over again for him. James sighed and rolled over and she quietly exited the room to go get a shower. She stripped in her room and went to the bathroom. Ginny froze as she looked in the mirror.

Her body was gone. In its place was a lumpy, stretch marked, mass that she barely recognized. It was no wonder she and Harry hadn’t made love in weeks. She was a cow.

Fighting off the tears, she showered quickly and dressed again. Ginny crawled into bed and hugged the pillow. She didn’t want to look like this.

But, a gentle voice whispered in her head, you look like this because of your son.

Ginny bit her lip and stared out the window into the fading light of the afternoon sun. Hope’s grave could be seen if she was standing at the window. She’d have given up anything to keep her daughter alive.

It was really unfair that Harry would not want her when she had gotten dumpy for his son.

“Gin?”

She turned scowling to see Harry in the door. “Why are you here?”

His eyebrow raised but he came in and closed the door. “I live here. I wanted to come home early today.” He sat on the edge of the bed looking her. “What’s wrong?”

“You’re a selfish blighter!” Ginny growled feeling so many emotions run straight through that she wouldn’t have been able to separate them to save her life. “I can’t believe you don’t want me anymore!”

His green eyes filled with confusion and wariness. “I do want you.”

“You haven’t touched me in weeks,” she said accusingly, pointing a threatening finger at him. “You can’t just decide you want out just because I got fat! I got fat for you!”

He studied her carefully, like she was a bomb about to go off. “You aren’t fat and you’ve been asleep by nine every night.”

“You’re never home!” Ginny barked out, wanting to sit up but found that her head spun when she tried. “I am so tired and I feel like crap and you’re never here!”

“Yeah,” he said quietly, trying to reach out to her but she smacked his hand away. “I know. It will be finished soon.”

“Just go away,” she breathed out as the tears started to fall. She buried her face into her pillow and sobbed. “I just want this day over with and you’re not helping.”

She heard him get up and start walking to the door. Panic flooded her and she sat enough to chuck a pillow at his retreating back. “Coward!” Ginny shouted at him, glaring at his back. “Can’t even face me crying!”

Harry turned slowly and eyed her speculatively. Something flashed in his gaze, but at that moment James let out a cry. “I’m going to get him.”

“No,” she spit out trying to stand. “He’s my son, it’s my job.”

“You stay there,” Harry said quietly, but with steel threaded through every syllable. Something in his expression kept her in bed. “I’ll be back with him in a minute.”

True to his word he was back a minute later, with James in a fresh nappy and ready for a cuddle and to nurse. She took her son and pulled up her shirt so he could get access as he lay next to her in bed. She had to breathe in deeply as the pain bit deeply into her breast. His latch had been horrible for months; ever since he’d gotten teeth it was painful every time he nursed.

She looked down into his contented face; his cheeks still flushed from sleep and felt more tears come.

Harry stood there silently watching them.

A knocked sounded at the partially opened door. Ginny looked over and blinked at Martha who stood in the doorway. “What-”

Harry didn’t look surprised to see her. “Thanks for coming,” he told the midwife.

Ginny glared at him. He’d called the midwife on her for a bad mood? Did he think she was PMSing? “I don’t need to see you,” she told her, more rudely than she’d meant. “I’m fine.”

Martha came over and ran a hand over James’ sleep tousled hair. “I’m sure you are, but you know it’s best to have a look.” She pulled out her wand and ran in over Ginny who continued to glare at her rotten husband.

Then she muttered a familiar spell and Ginny looked back at the midwife in confusion before her mouth fell open.

~*~

Harry watched Martha run her wand over Ginny, fervently hoped that it was pregnancy that was making his wife nuts and that she wasn’t under the Imperious Curse. After Ginny had gone off on him he’d gone to get James and sent a Patronus to the midwife, begging her to come immediately. He edged slowly over to the bed, studiously ignoring his wife’s glare, so he could see better just as she muttered the spell that would show what was going on. His mind froze at what he saw.

The image of a baby, but not a tiny baby, floated above Ginny’s stomach. This one was a lot longer than his hand. He was sleeping, a hand near his face, with his legs curled up. Harry felt his knees go weak as he sank onto the bed.

James popped his head up and stared at the apparition that was floating above his mummy’s belly. He crawled over and waved a fat fist through the hologram, his hand moving harmlessly through the image.

“Well…” Martha said, starting to laugh. “It looks like you’re having a baby.”

“Oh my…” Ginny whimpered. She looked over at Harry and any hurt feelings he may have had fled at the blank look on her face. He scooted over the kissed her lips, feeling her trembling. “Harry… I’m-”

“Ginny,” he whispered as he ran a hand over her cheek. At least this explained her bizarre outburst. He chuckled. “We’re having another baby.”

“In about four and a half months, by the looks of it,” Martha said genially. She scooped James up in her arms and hugged him in. “You’re a big brother, James.”

Harry and Ginny looked at her too dumbfounded to do more than ask than, “How far along?”

“About twenty weeks,” she told them. “You’ll be due in the first part of January.”

James wiggled and she put him down so he could crawl over to the laundry basket and dump it. It was a favorite game of his.

Harry scooted further back on the bed so he could pull Ginny more fully into his arms. He couldn’t believe it. On Hope’s birthday, the day she’d died, they were finding out about another new life coming into their home. His wife burrowed into his arms and he felt her shoulders shake.

“Do you want to know what the baby is?” Martha asked.

“He’s a boy,” Ginny said as she stared at their sleeping child who looked remarkably like James. “It’s really easy to tell.” She looked up into his face. “We’re having another boy. Oh Merlin…” tears began again.

Martha took her hand and Harry watched the concern cover her face. “You are severely run down right now. All of your vitals are weak.”

Harry felt guilt swamp him as the last several months came flooding back to him. How many days had he worked late? How many times had he let Ginny get up with James when he was crying in the middle of the night? How often had he seen her exhausted and yet still moving through the day? He hadn’t done enough to help her. He’d let her take the bulk of the load at home and the result had been that she’d been so drained that she didn’t even realize that she was pregnant.

She should have been taking it easy, sleeping extra… he thought, guiltily, recalling how much care had they put into keeping Hope alive and yet he’d left her this time to-

“I’m putting you on bed rest,” Martha told her firmly. “You’re allowed to go to the loo, and that’s it. Otherwise you’re in bed.”

“I can’t be in bed,” Ginny protested instantly. “I have James to take care of.”

“You’re going to need to bring in help,” Martha said, brooking no argument. “Ginny, you’re health is not good right now. If you don’t take care of yourself you’re going to end up in St. Mungo’s. I’d rather you be allowed to stay here at home.”

“It’s fine,” Harry said instantly. “I’ll take off from work.”

“Good,” Martha said even as Ginny protested. “You can’t!”

Harry shook his head. “No arguments, I’m on holiday.”

“You just became the head of the department!” Ginny told him tearfully as she rubbed at her brow. “Oh… I’m due just a few weeks before Hermione!” Color flooded her face. “How did I miss this? Why didn’t I feel him moving?”

Fear flooded Ginny’s expression but Martha shook her head in reassurance. “There isn’t anything wrong with this little boy. I’m betting he’s not the jumping bean that James is.”

At that moment James knocked over a picture frame and grinned at them happily. “Dada!”

Harry felt an ache in his heart as he went over and picked up his son. He cuddled James close to him as he heard Martha explain that she’d be back the next morning to do a full exam. Soon he’d have another baby and it was relief and joy mixed with remorse for all Ginny had been through. He took James out into the hallway and sent out a second Patronus, asking Molly to come as soon as Audrey picked up her girls from her.

He needed some time with his wife.

Molly arrived about twenty minutes after Martha had left. He met her at the fireplace. Her face was washed in concern. “What’s the matter?”

“Ginny’s pregnant,” Harry told her as he handed over James who was trying to throw himself from Harry’s arms to reach him grandmother.

“Oh, how wonderful!” Molly smiled as she hugged James, but it faltered. “What’s the matter? You look worried. Is something-”

“She’s on bed rest,” Harry said as he ran a hand distractedly through his hair. It was times like this that he desperately missed his old house-elf the most. Kreacher had lived for two years after they’d moved into Ivy Run before passing peacefully in his sleep. He looked into his mother-in-law’s face. “She’s twenty weeks pregnant.”

Molly’s jaw dropped. “But… why didn’t you tell us sooner?”

“We found out forty-five minutes ago,” Harry told her nodding at her dumbfounded look. “Ginny has been too busy running herself into the ground taking care of James to notice, and I haven’t been any help. I’m going to take off work to look after James, but with today being Hope’s birthday… I just need some time with her.”

“Of course,” Molly said, kissing James’ brow. “I’ll keep him happy so you two can talk.”

Harry hugged her hard and murmured thanks as he went back upstairs. Ginny was still where he’d left her and now that he looked closely, he saw the pallor of her skin and the heavy bags under her eyes. She wasn’t watching him, but looking out the window as night fell. Still, she was so beautiful that she took his breath away. “Your mum is here.”

She nodded.

He walked over as sat next to her, taking her hand and lacing their fingers together. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, not meeting his eyes.

“For what?” Harry asked. He was the one who needed to apologize.

“For calling you a coward… and sniping at you,” she turned her bloodshot eyes back to his and he saw that her brown orbs were filled with regret. “I can’t believe I called you a coward!”

Harry couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing. “Honestly, it was refreshing. No one else has the guts to call me a coward.”

A small smile tugged at her lips. “It isn’t true, though.”

He shrugged. In this case it was true, but he didn’t think she was up for the argument. “It doesn’t matter.”

“What made you think to call Martha?” she asked him curiously, as she licked her dry lips.

“Ah,” he hedged. “Well… I was looking at you and it was as if my Ginny was gone, replaced by an imposter. After you called me a coward it occurred to me that maybe you were being influenced by something else. I was hoping it was a baby and that I wasn’t going to have to call in back up Aurors. That would have been embarrassing trying to explain needing protection from my wife. Between Imperiused and hormones, I’ll take the hormones.”

She crossed her arms. “I should hex you for that.”

“You should,” Harry assured her, trying to sound contrite as he reached for her wand that was lying on the bedside table and held it out for her.

She didn’t take it, just continued to glare at him. “You aren’t funny.”

“Luv,” he smiled wryly as he put her wand back and tenderly kissed her cheek. “I’m very funny. Your sense of humor is gone.”

Ginny sighed heavily and let her head fall back against the pillows. “How could I not know that I’m pregnant?”

“You’ve been too exhausted to even think about it,” Harry reminded her gently, cupping her cheek. “Gin, I’m so sorry I’ve left everything to you around here. I knew you were shattered but I let work get in the way. Maybe if I hadn’t been gone so much we’d have figured it out earlier.”

“How did this happen?” Ginny asked him suddenly. “I know I was taking the potion!”

“Martha counted the bottles before she left,” Harry informed her with a grin. “We have one too many, so it looks like you skipped one. At least it’s harmless if you’re already pregnant, since you kept taking it.”

She closed her eyes. “I can’t do anything right.”

“Hey,” he chided her. “Don’t say that! You’re doing a great job.”

“I can’t remember to take the bleeding potion, and I can’t take care of James and the house by myself, and I can’t even figure out that I’m pregnant.” Ginny started to cry in earnest. Harry pulled her into his arms and lay down with her. “Today is Hope’s birthday… I was so miserable, and I just wanted to stay busy. I tried going for a run so I could work off some of this fat-”

“Stop!” Harry said forcefully. “You aren’t fat!”

“I guess I’m not since I’m almost five months pregnant,” she said with a hiccup.

Harry propped himself over her and ran a hand down her side. “Even if you weren’t, you’re not fat.”

“I am…” she said miserably. “I weigh more now than when James was born! I haven’t got any clue how he got in there.” Ginny put her hand on her stomach, which now that Harry was paying attention looked like a pregnant belly.

Harry bent and kissed her neck suggestively. “If you don’t know how he got in there, I’m obviously doing something wrong.”

“Harry…” she said in exasperation. “Why aren’t you upset with me?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Why would I be upset?”

“Because!” She huffed like it should be obvious to him. “Because I got pregnant again without meaning to!”

He shrugged trying not to look too smug. “I helped with that.”

“Well… because I shouted at you…” her lower lip quivered.

“I deserved it,” he said evenly even as his gut twisted with regret. “You snapped because you’re grieving, exhausted, rundown and pregnant. I contributed to all of those except the grief.”

She sighed and shook her head. “You can’t take off of work. You’re the head!”

“What are they going to do?” Harry retorted. “Fire me? I didn’t want the bleeding promotion anyway! We don’t need the money.”

“You love your job,” Ginny reminded him softly. “You enjoy what you do.”

“I love you more,” he replied honestly. “I love James more and…” he bent as he pulled up her shirt and kissed her stomach. Love swamped him as he thought of this new baby. It never failed to amaze his just how fast he could fall in love. “I love this little guy.” He rested his head on her thighs, and kept him hand on her stomach. “I’m…” he beamed goofily up at her. “I’m going to be a dad again. What are we going to name him?”

“Albus,” she answered instantly, love filling her eyes as she really smiled for the first time.

Harry considered it and nodded. It was a good name. “Al for short, yeah?” When she nodded he grinned and kissed her belly. “Alright, Al. You are a really huge surprise.”

She groaned. “My brothers are never going to let me live this down! Halfway through a pregnancy and I didn’t even know!”

“Nah,” Harry lied. “They won’t say anything. They’ll just be happy that Al is coming.” He was going to have a talk with all of them and make sure they didn’t tease her. Most of the time Ginny could hold her own; this wasn’t going to be one of those times. However, he rather thought they were going to have something to say to him… not her. “Hermione had said that she wished we were having a baby right now, remember? She wants to have a playmate for their baby.”

“I guess,” she muttered, and then let out a noise that was a mixture of ‘uhg’ and ‘oh no’. “I’m supposed to mind baby Rose once Hermione goes back to work! How am I going to do that with two babies?”

Harry shrugged. “We’ve got time to work that out. Maybe we’ll hire a house-elf. Neville told me last week that a few were looking to leave Hogwarts.”

“No!” Ginny scowled at him. “I can do it!” Then her face fell. “No, I can’t. I’m useless as a mum.

“You are not!” Harry said, feeling the prickles of anger seep back in. “Gin, you have to stop this. James’ teething was worse than anything your mum had ever seen! He cried constantly, he didn’t sleep which means you didn’t sleep. Four nights out of five you were up all night, and then the next day he just kept crying. You were pregnant, exhausted, and nursing and now you’re taking a well-deserved break. You made it through that worst, and James is back to his happy, mischievous, energetic self. I am so proud of you for how you’ve handled this and pretty damn disgusted with myself for not helping you more. This is my fault more than yours.”

“You had to work-” she began but he shook his head.

“No, I chose to focus on the job because you seemed like you had it under control, and you did for the most part,” he let out a harsh breath and looked away. “I should have done more.”

Ginny was silent for a long time. “You really still want me?”

“More today than ever,” he promised and came up to kiss her again surprised that she had to ask. “I can prove it if you want.”

“With Mum downstairs?” She shook her head. “Later.”

“You’re always asleep later,” he teased and held on to her. “You know, I didn’t expect it to end up this way today.”

“I didn’t either,” she admitted, stroking a hand through his hair. “I thought we’d go down to her grave and have a good cry. I might still have a good cry, just up here.”

Harry kissed her temple. “We can have that cry together.” He cupped her belly. “Then celebrate that we’re having another baby.”


~*~

Harry stared at his brothers-in-law, well, most of them anyway. Charlie was still in Romania chasing his dragons, but Harry had sent an owl to him and he expected a Howler at some point.

Every face showed the exact same shock as they gaped at him from his kitchen table at nearly eleven o’clock that evening. He’d sent messages and they’d come, well after both Ginny and James were fast asleep.

He stood at the head of the table, waiting for the explosion that he knew would soon follow.

Ron broke the silence first. “You have to be effing kidding me!”

“Ron,” Percy chided gently, but he too was frowning. “How did you get this far in without noticing?”

“Is that why my sister has looked like hell for months?” Bill asked quietly, his voice menacing.

George didn’t say anything at all; he regarded him with a closed expression that Harry knew wouldn’t last long.

Harry sighed and sat down. “I messed up.”

“Damn right you did!” Ron practically yelled, his face going completely red. “How the ruddy hell do you not notice? Here we thought she was just tired from James not sleeping and you’re telling me-”

His stomach churned from the guilt. “I messed up,” he said again even though he knew there was no excuse for it. “I should have seen it, but-”

“Yes, you should have!” Bill growled, standing up and striding away from the table, fury running through every line of his body. He turned and the rage was just barely below the surface. “You’re supposed to be taking care of her!”

“I know,” Harry swallowed hard at the bile. “I let her down.”

“I should beat you senseless for this,” Bill said darkly and they both knew that Harry would let him. It might make them both feel better for what had happened.

Percy held up a placating hand. “Is the baby okay?”

“Yeah,” Harry nodded, more grateful than he could express that his inattentiveness at home hadn’t caused more damage. “Yeah, he looks great. Ginny wants to name him Albus. He’s…” his throat closed as he remembered looking at his sleeping child’s face. “He’s really cute. He looks a lot like James.”

“Twenty weeks though…” Ron hissed out, clearly not ready to let go of his anger. “Harry, Hermione is eighteen weeks pregnant. I couldn’t have missed that fact. This isn’t even the first time Ginny’s been pregnant!”

Harry gazed at his best friend. “I know, Ron.” He could make excuses all he wanted, but the fact was that he’d let Ginny handle everything at home. James had started teething and he hadn’t wanted Harry. She was so capable at everything that he’d let her get on with it. He’d become complacent and it could have cost him his wife and child. He’d never forgive himself for that and he wasn’t going to ever make that mistake again. He couldn’t let her lose another child.

“How did you finally figure it out?” George asked, breaking his silence.

“She, uh…” Harry shrugged helplessly. “She called me a coward and chucked a pillow at me.”

George’s lip twitched. “Well, she was right on that.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “Yeah, she was. I didn’t know how to help with James’ screaming and I let her deal with it.”

Bill started towards him, but was brought up short when George, who hadn’t moved from his seat, grabbed the back of his shirt. “He’s being honest, Bill. We can’t fault him for that.”

“You were supposed to take care of her!” Bill said again, his scars standing out as pale slashes across his red face. “That’s what you signed up for.”

“I messed up.” Harry said again as his culpability ate at him. “I could have cost my wife and child their lives!” He got up. He couldn’t sit through this anymore and he was thankful that he’d made sure that he’d warded the upper rooms so no one would hear this shouting match. “It’s been seven years today since we lost Hope.” Tears prickled behind his eyes and he made no move to fight them. The enormity of just how badly things could have gone was not lost on him and this time it would have been completely his fault. No one said anything and he slowly turned back to them. “Ginny’s afraid you’re going to tease her about this… for not knowing.”

Again four shocked faces stared at him. “We wouldn’t do that,” Percy said quietly.

“No,” Ron agreed, looking sick at the thought. “I’m hacked off at you. She doesn’t need any more rubbish.”

Bill looked uncomfortably close to tears and he turned away. “Definitely not.”

“This is on you,” George shrugged. “You’re going to catch hell for it, and we’re never going to let you live this down, but Ginny… no. We protect our sister full stop.”

Harry nodded, knowing they’d reached an understanding. “Just… I needed to make sure you understood. She’s on bed rest. She’s not as sick as she was when she was pregnant with Hope, but she’s still pretty damn sick.”

“You’re staying home?” Bill said, finally turning back with his features composed. “You’re going to make sure she takes care of herself?”

“Yes,” Harry told him firmly. “I’m on holiday for a few weeks and then if needed I’ll work from home.” He turned back to Ron. “She’s worried about what will happen after with Rose.”

Ron’s face was blank for a moment before comprehension dawned. “She was going to mind Rose for us.”

“Don’t change that plan yet, at least not with her,” Harry stated flatly. “She’s feeling like she can’t do anything right and if you change things, then it will only make her feel worse, like she’s let you down. We’ll work it out, but right now…” his voice trailed off when Ron nodded his understanding.

“I don’t know about you two,” George said mildly. “But after how well she dealt with James I think she could handle just about anything.”

All of them turned to look at him. “What?” Percy asked, frowning slightly.

“Oh come on,” George started to laugh. “None of us could stand hearing that crying for hours on end! It was unnerving; after even ten minutes I’d start to wish my other ear had been blasted off too. I think Ginny’s a hero for handling it the way she did. Then on top of that she was pregnant. She deserves a medal.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. He knew she’d been upset that James was in pain, but it was almost like she accepted that she couldn’t make it better and went on to be as comforting as she possibly could be. He’d come home, his son would be screaming and helplessness would overwhelm him as he rocked this child that he couldn’t do anything for. It was easy now to look back and see just how he’d slipped in to working longer hours; how he’d let the job eat up more and more time. He’d left her to deal and she’d let him get away with it. Harry glanced up towards the stairs and thought that she should have just hexed him and left him to rot.

“That’s true,” Percy agreed after a moment. “Molly and Lucy never cried like that. I don’t know how I’d have handled it.”

Harry closed his eyes for a moment, feeling much older than his twenty-five years. When he opened them again his brothers were all staring at him. “I really do get it. I made a-”

“Harry?” Ginny’s soft call filtered down and they all froze, looking up to see her at the top of the landing.

Harry gave his wand a small flick, removing the Silencing Charms that kept her from hearing them even as he bolted for the stairs. “You’re supposed to be in bed,” he chided gently as he ran up the stairs two at a time to reach her.

Her tired eyes met his briefly before turning back to look down at her brothers and he saw the trepidation. “I needed to use the loo and you weren’t there.”

“Come on,” he put a hand around her waist and tried to move her back to their room.

She didn’t move. “What’s up?”

“I was telling them about Al,” Harry said, grinning at her. “They’re all really happy for us, like I said they’d be.”

Ginny turned to look at him and several swear words filtered through his brain. She knew better. “Why are they really here?”

“I did tell them about the baby,” Harry answered evasively. “Come on, back to bed.”

She looked once more towards her brothers, who were all standing near the table and then nodded, allowing him to guide her back to their room. He tucked her in, his hand resting on the swell of her belly as remorse gnawed at him even further. “Why are they here?” she asked again, covering his hand with hers over their baby. “Why is everyone upset?”

Harry tried to keep his expression neutral but knew from her face that he was failing. “They’re mad at me.” Before she could say anything, he kissed her and silenced her protest. “Ginny, they have every right to be mad at me. I’m mad at myself.”

“I’m the one they should be mad at,” she whimpered as tears filled her eyes. “I forgot to take the potion.”

“It isn’t about that,” Harry correctly gently. “I’m really glad you forgot to take it. I…” he was too choked up to speak, so he laid his lips on her belly.

“I am too. I’m happy about the baby.”

He nodded and met her weary eyes. “This is a guy thing.”

She let out an impatient huff. “Oh, really?”

“Yes, really,” Harry answered back. “It’s the way it goes. When you’re pregnant, it’s on me to take care of you and I bollixed that up completely. I expect the same from them. I expect Ron to be taking care of Hermione and if he weren’t, there would be hell to pay. I need to pay up.”

Ginny studied him for a long moment, and he let her think. He knew she knew this. She’d lived with six boys for so many years and she knew about the code they held themselves to. She knew that when one fell short, they were going to come in and hold the delinquent accountable. “We didn’t know I was pregnant.”

“We didn’t know because I didn’t know how to deal with James’ crying,” Harry admitted as the shame filled him.

“Oh, Harry,” she sighed exasperatedly. “No one knew how to deal with his crying! He drove me completely round the twist before I gave up and accepted that I couldn’t do anything for him but be there.”

“I wasn’t here,” he said flatly. “I let you do all the work.”

Ginny was quiet for a long moment, her brown eyes intent upon his face. “I let you get away with it.”

“Still, though…” he paused at the hurt in her eyes. “Why did you let me get away with it?”

“I…” Tears flooded her eyes as she covered her face in her hands, sobs shaking her whole body. Harry scrambled up to pull her onto his lap murmuring comfort. Her words were muffled by his shoulder, but the still rang through their bedroom. “I wanted to be enough. I d-didn’t want to fail again.”

“You aren’t failing anything,” Harry chided softly. “You’re a great mum, Ginny.”

“I failed Hope,” Ginny whispered and his heart broke. “I wasn’t enough for her.”

Harry felt his own eyes swim and a small movement made him look up to see Ron’s stricken face illuminated in the door. His brother-in-law backed away silently and Harry ran his hand through Ginny’s thick hair. “You didn’t fail her. You haven’t failed James.”

“I can’t do anything-”

“Stop!” Harry shook his head, interrupting her. He wanted to be frustrated, but knew getting upset with her when she was pregnant was not only counterproductive but also useless. She wasn’t really thinking about any of this rationally. “You are an amazing mum, Ginny. George thinks you deserve a medal for how well you’ve done with James.”

She sniffed and gradually the tears faded into a huge yawn. Harry handed her a glass of water from the bedside table and she drank deeply. He knew they had a long road, and that there were wounds here that hadn’t ever healed; wounds that she hid from him and maybe even from herself. For tonight this was enough. He kissed her brow, loving the feel of her in his arms. He reached down and placed a hand on her belly. The second it settled, a small thump hit him and they laughed, both amazed and relieved.

“I guess he does wiggle about some,” Ginny said, rubbing her stomach happily. “Harry?”

“Yeah?” he asked as he helped her settle back down with her pillows.

Her red-rimmed eyes met his. “Tell my brothers they can’t kill you, okay?”

“Got it,” he said with a gentle kiss to her lips. He left; closing the door behind him and putting the Silencing Charms back up. Slowly he made his way back down to the kitchen and found only Ron still there. He looked around questioningly.

“They left,” Ron explained shortly, “We decided I could deal with you.”

He nodded and slumped into one of the chairs at the table. “Ginny says you can’t kill me.”

Ron sat slowly across from him, his expression devastated. “She’s not doing well.”

“No,” Harry agreed, feeling the ache in his gut. “I don’t think I realized just how bad it was. I’m going to speak to Martha tomorrow about a therapist.”

“I was coming up to reassure her,” Ron said, running a hand through his hair and sitting back. “Bloody hell, I can’t believe she still feels guilty over that.”

Harry shrugged helplessly. “We’ll deal with it.”

“You’re on probation,” Ron said dully, staring at him. “We’ve decided that’s all we can do for now. Especially since Ginny won’t let us kill you.”

Harry had expected that. George had ended up on probation first. He’d gotten Angelina pregnant while they’d still been dating. Ginny wouldn’t ever confirm it, but he had a sneaking suspicion that it had happened during one of their hide-and-go-seek games. George had gotten the notice from the Ministry the day that Angelina figured it out, and instead of manning up George had gone on a week-long bender that required most of Harry’s contacts to track him down. After they’d sobered him up, they’d all sat him down to talk to him and let him cry it out with them, mostly over Fred. Then he’d went to the Ministry and they’d arranged for a wedding a few days later. He’d been on probation for months with his brothers after that until he’d proved he wasn’t going to go off again.

“I deserve it,” Harry said hoarsely. “I deserve worse.”

Ron shook his head and eyed him shrewdly. “Harry, I doubt very much that Ginny’s the only one grieving right now. You both should talk to a therapist.”

He closed his eyes as he felt the hot pricks of tears as his daughter’s birthday slipped away.

Back to index


Chapter 3: Prologue Part 3

Author's Notes: I know it's been two weeks! I'm sorry, I've been crazy busy with my other book. I did work some on this, but the other story snagged my focus.

Readers, I finished my second book!!!!! EEK! In 45 days I wrote 113,000 words.

But better still? I'm still completely stunned by this, it's so surreal! My first book is now up on amazon (presale until Jan 20th, 2016), and goes up on other platforms shortly. Go to my profile, find the links. Even if you don't buy... it's just been such a fun journey, and I appreciate everyone's kind words.

For those who do want to buy, it's a special presale price right now, and will go up as it gets closer to release, so if you were buying anyway (THANK YOU!) get it now. I'm pasting in the summary to the new story:
Mia Harper was not prepared for a solar flare to knock out the world's electricity. No one was, although Mia and her fifteen-month-old sister had a slight advantage: their father, a hardcore doomsday prepper, left them a safe haven to help them survive their new reality.

Andrew Greene is Mia's childhood friend. On track to graduate college at nineteen years old, his sharp mind gives him an edge against the competition.

How will the trio survive the harsh winters of Pennsylvania? How will they survive attacks from hungry wildlife? What will they do when faced with perhaps their greatest danger: the other survivors?

Can they live in this new world? Or will their Shelter turn into their grave site?


June 2007

“Harry?”

“Hm?” He looked up from the report he’d been reading in bed, pushing his glasses further up his nose to see his wife walking back in from the bathroom. Her long red hair fell down her back in soft waves and her truly amazing breasts, thanks to Al refusing to wean, were hugged in one of his old t-shirts that came down to just below her knickers. A slow smile spread over his face as he watched her climb into bed next to him and he set the report off to the side.

Her eyes pulled him in, sinking him under the spell she always wove over him. Her face was alight with mischief and something else he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He couldn’t dwell on it too long, though. Her soft lips were calling to be kissed. Before he could kiss her, she spoke. “I don’t want to take the potion tomorrow.”

His brain stuttered for a second, trying to place what potion she meant. Then it clicked. Harry schooled his featured as joy flooded him. He watched her expression and the unnamed emotion became clear. It was nerves. “So… let me get this straight…” he drawled out, saying each word as slowly as he could. “Either we’re going to have another baby or we’re never having sex again. That about it?”

Ginny bit her lip and this time it wasn’t the seduction that it normally was. “That’s about it.”

Harry nodded slowly, pretending to think about it. When her bottom lip began to quiver he gave it up and pulled her down for a kiss, startling a gasp from her. “I guess we’re having another baby,” he breathed against her mouth before deepening the kiss.

“You’re okay with this?” She asked, forcing him back a bit.

He grinned and pulled her in again. “Well, I was hoping you’d forget to take the potion again, but I guess we can do it this way.” Harry laughed and ducked the pillow that came flying towards his head.

~*~

April 2008

Ginny groaned and swayed as she waddled around their bedroom at two in the morning. “I can’t have her now, Harry! It’s too early. Both the boys were weeks late.”

Harry watched his watch counting the minutes between the contractions. “Martha will be here soon. Maybe she’ll stop the labor.”

“Owwwww, bloody hell,” Ginny ground out as she came over to lean against him.

Harry stood and helped her to sway her hips. “She’ll be okay, Gin,” Harry promised, trying to reassure himself as much as his wife. “I know it’s early, but you’re still thirty five weeks along.”

“What if she isn’t?” Ginny cried out as another wave hit her.

Harry checked his watch and started to panic. The contractions were getting really close now. She never had very long labors but at less than forty five minutes this was going to a record. “She will be!” Harry told her firmly. “Do you want to get in the tub?”

“No!” Ginny shouted as she knelt down and put her head on the bed. “Oh fuck this hurts! Why do I always forget how much this hurts?”

Survival of the species, Harry thought, but knew better than to say it. He’d been married for almost ten years now; he wasn’t stupid. There was a call from downstairs and Harry heard Martha making her way up to them. “Ginny,” Martha said coming to kneel down next to her, putting her hand on Ginny’s lower back, starting to kneed her knuckled into her to help relieve some of the pain. “Are you ready to have this baby?”

“Nooo,” Ginny moaned as another wave hit. “It’s too early.”

“We saw her practicing breathing last week when we took a look at her,” Martha reminded her calmly. “She’s telling you she’s ready to come.”

“I want to get in the tub,” Ginny moaned and Harry hopped up, thankful for something to do.

Just as he finished tapping the bath Molly poked her head in. Her hair was liberally streaked with silver now, but her eyes were bright with excitement at her youngest grandchild’s imminent arrival. “Is the bath ready?” She asked.

Harry nodded. “Did you check on the boys?”

“Yes, and they’re still out,” Molly said and winced as Ginny let out an ear piercing shriek. “It’s always amazed me what kids will sleep through.”

Harry walked back in to his bedroom and found Ginny stripped out of her nightgown. “You,” she growled at him. “Get changed!”

It was always like this when she was in labor, but he didn’t take it personally. She was so tough that he knew she had to be in a lot of pain to be crying out and cursing like she was. He’d seen her arm shattered with a Bludger and she didn’t do more than wince and swear at the ref when he said that she had to leave the pitch.

The women left and Harry quickly got into his swim trunks to join her in the tub.

“Oh fuuuck, ouch, damn it!” Ginny said twisting in the water as Harry settled in to help her in any way he could.

“You’re in transition,” Martha told her calmly. “Ginny you’re so close, just minutes. I know it hurts, but you are doing great.”

Ginny awkwardly sat back, resting against Harry with her legs propped up on the bath’s tile wall. “Ohhhhhh!!!!!! OWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!” She screamed. “Pushing!”

“I see her head,” Martha coached. “Ginny, reach down and get her.”

Ginny reached down and seconds later Harry saw a tiny red head pop out into the bath water, followed immediately by her body. Ginny grasped her under the arms and pulled their daughter up on to her bare chest. Ginny burst into tears and Harry had a few of his own running down his cheeks as well as he wrapped his arms around his wife and daughter:

his daughter who was screaming her head off.

Harry sent thanks up to whoever was listening that she was alive and healthy.

“Shh Lily,” Ginny crooned through her tears as she cupped their child to her breast. “Shh, Mummy has you darling. It’s okay.”

“Oh, Ginny,” Molly cried. “You did it, sweetheart.”

Ginny beamed and turned her sweaty face around to Harry’s for a kiss. “She’s okay.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, too choked up to say more.

A few minutes later Ginny was settled back in bed, cleaned up and with a sleeping Lily in her arms. “She’s so small,” Ginny said running a finger down the baby’s perfect cheek. “The boys were huge.”

“She’s five pounds, two ounces, but with a very healthy set of lungs,” Martha promised. “She was ready to come.”

Harry reached out his arms and took his tiny daughter to cradle her against his chest, forcibly reminded of having done this many years before with Hope. Then he’d only needed one hand to hold his daughter. This time he needed both arms and there was only joy with a tiny bit of longing for what could have been. Harry kissed her soft, red hair and told her that he loved her. She yawned her pretty little mouth and turned her face into him.

“I’ve sent word to the family,” Molly said, coming back in carrying a very sleep three-and-a-half-year-old James on her hip. “I also found someone sitting in the hall.”

James looked at his parents. “Did da baby come out?”

Ginny held out his arms for him and he clambered up onto the bed and into her lap. “Yes, do you want to see her?”

“Mmm,” James said noncommittally as he snuggled into his mother’s warm embrace.

Harry brought the baby over and sat down on the edge of the bed to show James his baby sister.

James frowned at her. “She’s all wed.”

Harry chuckled. “You were all red, too, when you were this small.”

James peered around the blanket further and Harry knew he was studying this new creature with interest. “Babies smell.”

“So did you,” Harry informed him very seriously. “You had the worst nappies.”

James grinned proudly at that, his bright brown eyes shining.

Lily started to mew and tried to latch on to her blanket. “Time to nurse,” Harry said, passing her over to Ginny.

“Daddy,” James said holding out his arms.

Harry picked up his sturdy little boy and held him close. “I love you, James. You’re a good big brother.”

James nodded, knowing it already. “I wuv you, Daddy.”

Harry kissed him. “It’s still night time, though. Back to bed with you.”

“Aww,” James whined, but without real heat. His head was heavy on Harry’s shoulder as he carried him down the hallway to his bedroom. After tucking him in, Harry went over to Al’s room to see make sure his middle child was still asleep.

He wasn’t. Al was sitting up in bed, his thumb firmly in his mouth, his stuffed bear clutched tight in his other arm. At two, Al didn’t say much. He mostly let James talk while he watched. Where James would go out exploring, Al tended to hang back and wait. “Hey, Al,” Harry said, walking over to scoop his youngest son into his arms. “Do you want to go see the new baby?”

Al nodded against him and Harry carried him back down the hall. He entered his room and found Ginny alone with the baby and Lily already nursing. Harry came over and crouched down so that Al could get a good look at his baby sister.

Al leaned his dark head in and looked at her. Then he held out his bear for Lily and dropped it on her. She didn’t notice, too intent on her meal to appreciate the generous gift. “Bear,” he told Lily pulling his thumb from his mouth long enough to utter the single word.

Harry and Ginny exchanged startled looked. Bear was Al’s favorite. “You want Lily to have your bear?” Ginny asked gently.

Al nodded, thumb still in his mouth.

“Are you sure?” Harry asked, boosting him around so he could see his son’s small face.

Al nodded again, green eyes meeting green.

“You can change your mind later if you want to,” Ginny told him, holding out her free arm.

Harry carefully put Al next to Ginny and he lay still against her, watching Lily nurse. James would just as likely have hopped down in a flash, but Al was a cuddler and he always had been.

Al reached out a single pudgy finger and touched Lily’s hand gently. “Wiwy.”

Ginny kissed his cheek. “That’s right. Now you’re the big brother, Al.”

Al looked so serious for a moment that Harry thought he might cry, but then he smiled a radiant smile and looked at Harry who felt his heart soar at the joy he saw on his child’s face. “Wuv Wiwy,” he said around his thumb.

“Me too, Al,” Harry promised as he ran a hand through Al’s messy black hair. “I love you too,” he told his son so proud of him for sharing his bear. He’d said it to James, and Al needed to hear it too. “You’re a good big brother.”

Al smiled at him again, but more shyly. Then he carefully climbed over and kissed Lily’s cheek.

Molly, who had just walked back in the room with Martha, burst into tears. Al looked over at his Gran confused but she scooped him up and hugged him tight. “You are the sweetest boy, Albus!”

A moment later Al reached out for Harry and he took his son back down to his bed.

When he got back it was to find Ginny burping Lily. Harry carefully took her and started to pat her back gently as he swayed. After the weight of the boys, Lily felt so tiny in his arms.

He looked at Ginny and she smiled sleepily at him, love, joy and happiness shining from her.

This was more than enough.

~*~

Ten-year-old Teddy stood staring at the clock, willing it to be eight o’clock. He stomped around his kitchen impatiently, huffing out a breath.

“Calm down, Teddy,” his Grandma said from the table, sipping her tea. “Why are you so nervous?”

“I’m not nervous,” Teddy lied running a hand through his hair, which was dirty blond today. “I just want to go!”

“They might still be asleep,” Grandma reminded him, smiling at him over her paper. “Having a baby in the middle of the night is exhausting.”

Teddy shook his head. “James is up at six every morning.”

Smiling knowingly, his grandmother stood and walked over to where he was. He was now almost as tall as her. He’d shot up a lot in the last year. She put her hands on his cheeks. “It will be fine.”

“I know,” Teddy said embarrassed. “I just want to meet her.”

“All right,” she said, kissing his cheek. “You go then. Give the baby a kiss from me.”

Excited, he nodded and ran for the Floo powder. “I will! Bye!” He took out a pinch, threw it in the fireplace and said, “Ivy Run!”

Seconds later he spun to a stop in the sitting room of his godfather’s house. He straightened and then was knocked sideways at the knees by a dark haired blur that yelled, “Teddy!”

Teddy hefted James up for a quick hug. “Hey.”

James bounced down out of his arms and ran yelling to the kitchen. “Teddy’s here, Daddy!”

Teddy made his way around the toy dragons and the train set and walked into the kitchen to find his godfather making crepes. Harry grinned at him. “I expected you hours ago.”

“Grandma made me wait,” Teddy explained, trying not to fidget. Something tugged at his pant leg and he looked down to see that Al had toddled over, his thumb in his mouth. Al held up his arms and Teddy picked him up. “Hi, Al.” Al put his head on his shoulder and Teddy pulled out a chair and sat with him in his lap.

James sat next to him, practically bouncing out of his seat. “Da baby came out of Mummy’s belly.”

“I know,” Teddy said grinning.

James wrinkled his nose. “She smells.”

Teddy saw Harry roll his eyes and he laughed. “You smelled worse.”

“Yeah?” James asked hopefully.

“Oh yeah,” Teddy assured him seriously. “Your nappies made me gag.”

James giggled and dived for the plate of crepes as soon as Harry set them on the table. “One at a time James,” Harry told him firmly and huffing, James just grabbed one.

Harry took Al and strapped him into his high chair before giving him a crepe. “Are you hungry?” he asked Teddy.

Teddy just shook his head. His stomach was in knots.

“Go on up,” Harry told him, nodding towards the stairs. “Ginny’s awake.”

Teddy stood awkwardly and Harry came over, seeming to sense his hesitation. He hugged him hard, holding him in close. Harry was still a head taller than him and his arms always felt absolutely strong and secure like he was being enveloped by him. Ruffling his hair, Harry prodded him to the stairs. “Go on, Ginny wants to see you.”

Teddy walked slowly up the stairs, remembering vividly when James had been born. When he’d first heard that Ginny was having him, he’d been scared that things were going to change for him. He had his Grandma and she was great, but since before he could remember Harry and Ginny had been the closest thing to a mum and dad that he’d ever have. They told him stories about his real parents, and he looked at pictures of them all the time, but it wasn’t the same. They weren’t here to hug him or listen to him or play with him. They didn’t get to say that they loved him and that they were proud of him.

Teddy was proud of them, though. He knew that they died for a really good cause and it hurt to know that he’d never get to know them, but Harry had told him about himself and how he didn’t have his parents either when he was growing up. That had helped.

He walked past a picture on the wall that was taken the Christmas before. Teddy was sitting by the tree holding Al in his lap while James ran in circles around the frame. He stopped at the door to Harry and Ginny’s room, hesitating.

Nothing had changed for him when James was born. Harry and Ginny had still loved him the same, and treated him the same. He didn’t know why this time he was so nervous. He knocked and heard Ginny say, “Come in.”

Teddy pushed open the door and looked at her brilliant smile, the one she always had for him, and felt the fist around his gut unclench. She held out her free hand and he rushed over, into her arms. He breathed in her flowery smell that always meant he was safe and loved and he hugged her, trying not to knock into the baby who was sleeping there.

“Come here,” Ginny said, patting the spot next to her on the bed.

Teddy went around the bed and crawled over next to her. He looked down at Lily and was amazed at how tiny she was. “Can I hold her?”

“You bet,” Ginny said and she helped him cradle the baby. “You’re late this morning.”

“Grandma,” Teddy said, and knew she’d understand because that’s just how Ginny was. He looked back down at Lily’s cute face. “She’s so little and her hair is red.”

“Yeah, it looks like Harry got his wish,” Ginny agreed touching the baby’s soft downy head. “She was a few weeks early.”

Teddy nodded and lifted her up to kiss her baby soft skin. “That’s from Grandma Andromeda.”

“So how does it feel to be a god-brother again?” Ginny asked, elbowing him gently in the ribs. “I hear little sisters are just dreadful.”

Teddy laughed, knowing that’s exactly what her brothers said about her all the time, especially when they were playing games. “I think she’s brilliant.”

Harry walked in, a fine mist of flour clung to his blue t-shirt. “They’re eating like pigs, oinks included, but thankfully your mum just got back so she’ll keep them in line.” He came over and sat on the other side of Teddy. He wrapped his arm around his godson’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “So should we keep her?”

“Yep,” Teddy told him, soaking in the warmth of two the people who loved him most in this world besides his grandma.

“I’m thinking so, too,” Harry said. “You want to spend the night tonight?”

Teddy nodded. Lily stretched in his arms and let out a loud, long, wet fart without even waking up. They all laughed. “James definitely smelled worse,” Teddy said.

“Too right he did,” Harry said, picking up the baby to go change her nappy.

Ginny pulled Teddy in close until his head was on her shoulder and he relaxed into her arms. It was something he’d been doing for as long as he could remember, except now he was taller than her. He didn’t want things to change just because he was getting bigger.

“You’re an amazing kid, you know that, right?” Ginny whispered into his ear.

Teddy shrugged, feeling his cheeks flush. “I guess.”

“You are,” she told him, firmly staring into his eyes in a way that always made him feel like she understood him. “I love you and I’m so glad I have you in my life.”

“I love you, too,” he whispered back feeling his insides squirm with joy. He held on, enjoying this moment with her. Nothing had changed. All was well.

Back to index


Chapter 4: Chapter 1

Author's Notes: Here comes the main story!

Silver Trinket Voting is up! Go vote, even if it isn't for me! :)

Also, check my profile to find the information for my original story. If you like my writing, I think you'll enjoy it. It comes out Jan 20th, 2015 YAY!!!! I'm actually working on the third book in the series.

Thanks for all of your support and the reviews. Let me know what you think of this chapter, okay? We're settling in for a very long journey, readers. The prologues were important to get us here, but now we start the meat of the story.

Arnel, who has read the first five chapters, is saying it's great. I need to get through the edits, but I did get through this one. Thank you to her for all of her help! She also edited my original story for me, which I can't thank her for enough.

Okay, on to the story...


August 31st, 2017

Harry stared blankly down at the note.

‘I know your secret.’

He sighed heavily and looked around his office at Auror Headquarters. The door was closed, and the bustle of the busy office around him was hushed. He glanced at the picture of his kids, including Teddy, which graced his desk. Yet another picture showed himself and Ginny, his hair starting to gray ever so slightly, and lines deepening around his eyes. Ginny looked as beautiful as she ever had, her figure trim, and her hair in a short, red bob that was just long enough for her to tie up in a short tail. They were snogging in the picture. They were usually snogging. It incited James to fake gagging and retching noises every time he saw it, but it made Harry smile. He’d been married for nineteen years, and the fact that he still loved kissing his wife was cause for celebration in his book.

He glanced back down at the note. Harry did have a secret, but it wasn’t the one the note spoke of.

It was the note itself. Only Ginny knew that he still received them regularly.

He rose slowly, feeling the weight of the parchment that had arrived, like all the others, through the Muggle post. He pulled open a file cabinet, and sorted through until he found the right folder. He dropped the note in, along with the nineteen others he had accumulated. He hadn’t told anyone of the second note’s arrival, or any of the subsequent ones. He’d quietly investigated them by himself, and that hadn’t moved the search at all. He’d investigate this one as well, but not yet.

Harry had no leads on the note. He’d thought, at first, that it had come from the woman that had turned his life so completely upside down, but she’d died a long time ago and still the notes came every summer. They didn’t always arrive in the same month, but they came nonetheless.

He sighed wearily and grabbed his cloak. It was nearly five o’clock and both James and Al would be heading to Hogwarts that next morning. It was Al’s first year, which was enough to leave Harry queasy and a little off balance. He wasn’t sure how his small, shy child had managed to turn eleven.

He shook off the wool-gathering. If he didn’t get home shortly to help harass James into packing his trunk, Ginny would have his head.

A knock sounded at his door.

“Enter,” Harry called and hoped that it wasn’t something urgent that would tie him up.

Teddy poked his head through the door. “I was wondering if you’d left yet,” he said as he sidled into the room. “I got a note from Ginny saying I was coming for dinner, and to make sure you left promptly at five.”

“She doesn’t trust me,” Harry grinned as he fastened his cloak. “Weren’t you eating with Victoire tonight?”

“Apparently, they’re shopping,” Teddy informed him, holding out his hands helplessly. “She told me yesterday that her mum is taking her out or something. I’m going to see her off tomorrow, though.”

“Ah,” Harry nodded. He wasn’t entirely sure what that was about, but knew better than to dwell on the things his sisters-in-law did. Only Hermione ever made sense to him, and that wasn’t often. “Well, let’s get on them before we both get murdered. How was Auror training today?”

Teddy shrugged as they walked out to the lifts. “Really interesting,” he said as he explained what he’d learned that day.

They arrived through his Floo to find Ginny sitting at the table drinking a glass of wine, with a sour expression on her face. Lily, Hugo, Rose and Al were all playing a game of Exploding Snap in front of the fireplace, and none gave the two newcomers more than a cursory ‘hello’ before turning resolutely back to the game. The atmosphere in the room was so thick that they couldn’t have cut it with Gryffindor’s Sword.

Harry exchanged a glance with Teddy, who promptly sat down with the little kids so Harry could go sort out his wife.

Ginny glanced up at him and took a long sip from her glass. “He’s all yours. I’m done for today.”

Harry looked up the stairs. “Is he in his room?”

“He was,” Ginny said dismissively.

Harry heard a noise and turned to see Hermione’s head in the fireplace. “I’m home kids, you can come through. Thanks, Ginny!”

“Sure,” Ginny called out, not moving from her spot.

“Bye Aunt Ginny, bye Uncle Harry!” Rose and Huge called out together as they left. Ginny had watched first Rose, then Hugo all their lives. Her job as a sports writer let her work from home much of the time, and when she couldn’t Molly Weasley or Fleur would step in.

As of the next day she would only have Lily and Hugo, and them for only two more years. Time was flying. Harry sighed heavily. “What did he do this time?”

“If it was just one thing,” Ginny growled, pointing at him with the wine glass, “would I be drinking a glass of wine?”

The short answer was no. Ginny had unbelievable reserves for James’ antics, which often brought a tear of joy and pride to his Uncle George’s eye.

That exact trait had been a major focus of Ginny’s years of therapy, in fact. They had lost their first child, Hope, through a late miscarriage. Ginny had been poisoned and Hope hadn’t survived. She’d blamed herself for their daughter’s death, but it was only when she was pregnant with Al did they realize just how deeply the pain was entrenched. Ginny had started therapy shortly after, and her therapist had told her point blank that she needed to get tougher on James, and that letting him get away with things wasn’t serving him, and wouldn’t make up for Hope’s loss. Harry had heard the same speech during his own therapy sessions.

Ginny had turned around completely, and while she wasn’t exactly like her own mum, she did now rule the house with more an iron backbone. However, James’ character was already well cemented by that time. Almost nothing James pulled, and he did pull a lot of hair raising stunts, ever really rattled her. When she was really stressed she’d go out to their back yard and sit by their daughter’s grave. She’d come back in, and tell him that it didn’t matter what he did because he was alive. It was hard to fight with that.

“He turned my clothes pink,” Al said quietly from beside him.

Harry startled a bit, not having realized his son had wandered over. “Sorry?”

“Everything pink,” Al confirmed gloomily. “Mum couldn’t get my pants to turn back.”

“Then,” nine-year-old Lily jumped in as she hopped on one foot across the kitchen tiles, “he relabeled all of Mum’s spices and potion ingredients.”

“That was to distract me long enough to get the Marauder’s Map and your Invisibility Cloak,” Ginny scoffed. “Like I’m stupid and was born yesterday. If he’s not clever enough to sneak them out without me knowing, then he doesn’t deserve them.”

Al shifted from one leg to the other, “Then he-”

Harry held up his hand. “I get the picture.”

They’d never been a household where Ginny had said to the children, ‘wait till your father gets home’. She’d told him that just wasn’t her style and she’d rather deal with it herself. They were a team, partners, and in a partnership if one of them had been driven to drink by the children, the other was honor bound to step in. Harry bent and left a lingering kiss on his bride’s lips, tasting the wine and her frustration mingled together. “Okay, you’re off the clock. Go take a bubble bath.”

“Dinner,” Ginny sighed. “I couldn’t make anything because I had to reorganize the kitchen.”

“Take away,” Harry countered. He turned to his godson, who was smiling sympathetically. “Why don’t you, Al and Lily walk down to the village and come back with something?”

“Sure,” Teddy agreed easily. It wasn’t the first time he’d taken the kids down to the large village. Even for nineteen he was eminently responsible, and Harry trusted his kids with him. He was their unofficial, but recognized, big brother.

Harry went for the drawer and fished out some Muggle money, which he handed over to Teddy. Then he retrieved the Portkey Galleons that Hermione had made so many years ago for him, and handed one each to Al and Lily. They rolled their eyes, but stuck them in their pockets.

If someone snatched them, all they had to do was touch the gold coin and say, ‘home’ and they’d be whisked away to the safety of their house. It had saved Ginny’s life once, and when the children were out of his sight, except for at school, they always had one on them.

“Come on, squirts,” Teddy called out jovially, heading for the door.

Lily ran to him and took his hand. “I want ice cream, too.”

“You’re not supposed to say that until after we’ve left the house,” Teddy teased. “They can still hear us, you know.”

“Pshhh,” Lily blew out as she waved that off dismissively. “Mummy isn’t stupid, remember? She knows I’m going to talk you into ice cream.”

Al grinned back at his bemused parents, and closed the door behind them.

Harry pulled Ginny to her feet and held her close. They swayed a little on the spot and he ran his hand up and down her back, enjoying the feel of her curves pressed against him. “I’m sorry your day was so lousy.”

“It wasn’t all bad,” she muttered in to his chest. “Al is all packed, minus his pants. I called in the expert and she’s trying to get them changed back. If Mum can’t get them fixed, then I’m going to beg Hermione to have a look.”

“If that doesn’t work,” he said firmly, “Al gets James’ pants. They will switch.” The two were very close in size, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

She nodded, “That was exactly what I was thinking. It’s also what I told him, which is why he’s sulking in his room.”

“Let’s just leave him there,” Harry said suddenly. “I think I want a bath, too.”

Ginny cocked her head to the side and stared up at him. “You have to be kidding.”

“Nope,” he assured her. “Locking and Silencing Charms were invented for just such an occasion.”

“You pick the worst times to-”

Harry kissed her deeply, trying to drag her in to the bliss of a nearly empty house. He ran his hands down her back, over her very nice butt, and hoisted her up by her thighs. She wrapped her legs around his waist, and held on to his neck. “I’ll beg if you want,” he grinned against her mouth.

She laughed. “I wouldn’t want that.”

Harry turned and started for the stairs, his wife still firmly wrapped in his arms.

~*~

September 1st, 2017

“What are you doing?”

Teddy broke away from the kiss and glared down at James. “Go away.”

“I will if you tell me what you’re doing,” James said with a sly grin.

“If I have to tell you, then you’re in big trouble, kid. I’m here to see her off, now scram.” Teddy growled as Victoire buried her face in his shoulder. He ran a hand up into her long, soft locks and watched his god-brother run off down the platform, his messy black hair flying up as he ran. “Don’t worry about it,” he said to her, looking into her beautiful blue eyes.

“I know,” she said, her cheeks stained with a charming blush. “It’s just that little twerp is never going to let me forget it.”

Teddy grinned and rested his forehead against hers, cradling her smaller hand in his against his heart. “He’ll grow out of it soon.”

Victoire raised an eyebrow. “You’re sure about that, are you?”

“Well, no,” Teddy replied honestly. “But he’s twelve, so who cares? The adults all know and the littler kids were going to find out eventually.”

Victoire stood on her tip toes and wrapped her arms around his neck. He lifted her off her feet a bit with another kiss. “I’m going to miss you,” she said against his lips.

“I’m going to miss you, too,” he promised, feeling the ache in his gut and wishing they could put off this parting.

“Hogsmeade weekend?” she asked, not for the first time, but he didn’t mind reassuring her.

“Definitely,” he promised. “Write to me when you get there.”

“I will,” Victoire whispered and he lost himself in the feel of her lips one last time.

~*~

“Hang on, Nat, I’ll put it up for you,” her dad said and she struggled in vain to get the trunk up onto the scarlet train as the steam from the engine swirled around them, dancing in between the moving families.

Natalie shook her strawberry blonde hair out of her face, ready to tell him she had it when she tripped on the step, slammed her hip hard and slid painfully back onto the platform. “Owww.” She groaned and knew she was going to have a massive bruise on her hip.

Her dad sighed and hauled her up. Unfortunately, they were used to this. “Are you all right?” he asked. Nat nodded, although she wasn’t entirely certain. “You wait here and I’ll put the trunk up for you.”

Nat nodded and waited. She saw families all around and wished like crazy that her mother could have been there. Unfortunately, when your mother is Julienne Parker a top reporter for Britain’s most respected news station, she had to travel quite a lot. Her dad was there, though, which was a blessing. They’d had to juggle to make sure that one of her parents would be there to get to Diagon Alley the day before and to see her onto the train today, but they’d managed. Her dad, Curtis Parker, her handsome, tall and amazingly brilliant father hopped off the train and pulled her into a hug. “I’m going to miss you so much, Peanut,” he assured her, bending down to kiss the top of her strawberry blonde head. “Who am I going to show my findings to, hm?”

“Hopefully, Mum,” Nat grinned and her dad laughed. Her father was a forensic anthropologist, one of the best, and Nat had spent her childhood traveling with him, being homeschooled and seeing the world. There used to be a TV show in America about a forensic anthropologist who fought crime, but that wasn’t what her father did. Mostly he worked in the background making identifications of old skeletons and often testifying in courts all over the world. Her mother covered the biggest stories around the globe and then spent the down time with them, wherever she and her dad happened to be. It had been a crazy life, but nothing thus far had compared to the wiry man in an eye-watering neon orange suit showing up to give her a letter and explain that she was a witch. It wasn’t the witch part that was odd, though. It was definitely the orange suit.

The whistle blew and Nat jumped. “Dad, I’ve- I’m-”

“I know,” he told her. “I love you.”

“I love you, too!” Nat said, and she scrambled up onto the train. She’d have fallen again if he hadn’t been prepared to catch her. She stood and watched him waving, a lone tear sliding down her cheek. She swiped at it. She’d seen other parents waving, other students also sad. She’d be all right, though. Nat knew how to go new places and meet new people.

Nat turned to her trunk and groaned, amending her thoughts. She might be all right if she could get her trunk moved without killing herself in the process. Grumbling, she grabbed the handle and started to slowly drag the trunk down the aisle of the train, her bruised hip causing her excruciating pain with every step. Natalie’s normally chipper mood and good sense of humor were failing her, probably, she reasoned, because she’d just said goodbye to her dad and hadn’t seen her mum in nearly two weeks.

“Hey, do you need some help?” a hesitant voiced asked.

She fell onto her bum, right onto her bruise, and nearly blacked out from the pain as stars danced before her eyes. She shook her head, trying to clear it, and looked up to see a boy with messy black hair and piercingly green eyes staring down at her. Right behind her was a girl with curly red hair and a decidedly kind face. The boy was dressed in jeans, but the girl was already in the black school robes. “I really could use the help. I’m dead klutzy and I hurt myself getting on the train.”

The boy held out a hand and helped her to her feet. “We’re just in here. You can sit with us if you want-” then he did a double take. “You’re short!”

Nat laughed. He wasn’t being mean. Some people were, but she could tell he was just surprised. “Yep. My mum is tall, my dad is tall… we’re not sure what happened to me, but I’ve always been at least two inches shorter than anyone else my age.”

This boy was a good six or more inches taller than her, though. “I’m Al, this is my cousin, Rose.”

“I’m Nat, err, Natalie, but I go by Nat. It’s nice to meet you both.”

Rose grinned at her. “We’re just in here,” she said, pointing into the compartment she’d just passed. “Go on in and Al and I will sort out your trunk.”

“Oh, I couldn’t let you-”

“It’s all right,” Al assured her. “Anyway, you look like you can barely walk.”

Rose helped her into a seat and she sank into it gratefully. The two hauled her trunk in, but before they could get it lifted up a burly boy, about fifteen and with medium dark skin and black hair poked his head in. “You lot alright?”

“Can you put this up for us, Fred?” Rose asked.

“Sure can,” he said affably and single handedly stuck the trunk up top. “Anything else? Aunt Hermione ordered me to check on you at least once.” He winked at them and Nat saw Rose roll her eyes.

She looked between them and saw the facial resemblance between Rose and Fred even though their coloring was so different. Part of having a father who studied people meant that she was good at picking up on those things. “Are you related?” she asked.

“Cousins,” they all said together. “Our grandparents had seven kids.” Rose explained.

“Oh,” she said. “I’m an only child.” The train hit a bump and Nat caught her breath as the pain shot down her leg.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Al asked, his face showing his concern.

Nat shrugged. “I get bumps and bruises all the time. I’ve broken a ton of bones. I keep falling into the pits my dad works in. It’s all right; I’m used to the casts.”

“Why don’t your parents just heal it for you?” Rose asked and then gasped at Nat’s blank look. “Oh! You’re Muggleborn, aren’t you?”

Nat grinned and sat back. “No idea, maybe?”

“It means your parents aren’t magical,” Fred explained. He pointed to Rose. “Her mum is Muggleborn.”

Al looked to Fred. “Do you know where Victoire went? Maybe she can heal it for Nat.”

“Probably down in the Prefect carriage giving out instructions,” Fred said. “Thankfully I escaped this year.” He pretended to shudder and Rose giggled. “Only prats,” Fred told Nat, “become Prefects. Unfortunately, our cousin Victoire is Head Girl this year. It’s going to make getting into trouble more difficult.”

Al grinned. “You’ll manage.”

“Too right I will.” Fred looked out of the compartment door. “Oi, Molly!”

“Another cousin,” Rose told her.

Nat laughed. “How many do you have?”

“All told there are twelve of us, well, thirteen really,” she amended. “Teddy isn’t technically our cousin, but he might as well be.”

A girl with chestnut brown hair and eyes to match popped her head in. She was already in her uniform and Nat noticed a blue and bronze patch with what looked like an eagle stitched on. Next to it was a silver letter P. “I’m going to be late Fred. What’s up?”

“Can you ask Victoire to come have a look at her?” he pointed to Nat. “She hurt herself and Merlin knows Victoire’s great at healing spells.”

Molly’s face turned instantly to concern and she looked at Natalie. “Are you okay? Should I send her down now?”

Nat shook her head. “I’ll be all right.”

Molly nodded. “I’ll tell her, then. I expect she’ll come down right after the meeting so maybe an hour.”

She left and with a wave Fred followed her out.

~*~

Ginny put her arm around Harry’s waist, and held on. She knew he was going to brood all day over Al’s leaving. Al’s quiet, careful countenance, which was so unlike any of them, had always given him a soft spot in her husband’s heart. He squeezed her shoulders and kissed the top of her head.

Hermione dabbed at her nose. “My baby just left.”

“You’ve still got me,” Hugo reminded her with a grin. He was a few months older than Lily, but they would still be going to Hogwarts together.

Hermione gave a watery chuckled and pulled her son in for a hug. “You’re right.”

Hugo pretended to grimace, but Ginny could tell he liked it.

It was hard losing your siblings to school, but at least Lily and Hugo, who were the last two to go, would still have each other during the wait. Ginny had been all alone, and it had been awful.

“Why don’t we skip school work today,” Ginny said suddenly. Hermione eyed her warily, but didn’t comment.

Ginny was in charge of their schooling and after Rose’s first year with her, she’d backed off on trying to control it. It hadn’t been easy, but Hermione had accepted that Ginny knew how to school the children better than she did. After all, Hermione hadn’t ever been schooled at home.

Lily and Hugo cheered. “Can we go to Diagon Alley, Mum?” Lily pleaded.

“I think that sounds fun,” Ginny said easily. She looked to Ron. “Do you want to Apparate over, or drive with us?”

“I’ll Apparate,” Ron shuddered. “I do not like it when you drive.”

She rolled her eyes, but didn’t otherwise comment. Ron couldn’t drive without magic, and she could. Ginny fished the keys from Harry’s pocket and stood on tiptoes to kiss him. “I’ll see you later, Luv.”

Lily threw herself at Harry, who swung her up into his arms. She planted a noisy kiss on his cheek. “I love you, Daddy. Catch some bad guys for me, okay?”

“I’ll try,” Harry assured her, hugging her in close. “Bye, sweetheart.”

Hermione gave her son a hug, bid him to behave, and she and Harry wandered out to her car, which Hermione would drive to the Ministry, before taking it home later that day. Harry always said he liked Hermione’s driving. She never broke any of the speeding laws, and it was entertaining to watch her get flustered at those who did. Muggles constantly made rude hand gestures at her for driving like an old biddy.

Ginny took the children’s hands and led them out of the station. It was very odd only having two of them.

~*~

“All right,” Nat said, getting down to business as Al and Rose sat across from her in the train’s compartment as they sped away from London. She heard a hoot and looked up to see two owls. “Why are there owls up there?”

“For sending letters,” Rose explained. “Owls are dead useful.”

There was so much she didn’t know, but thankfully these two seemed very friendly and her mother wasn’t a top journalist for nothing. Nat had learned a few tricks through the years. “Right… well, I need to know what’s going on here. I’m hopelessly lost.”

Al shrugged, “There’s a lot to know, but you’ll figure it out.”

“What do you want to know first?” Rose asked.

“Your family,” Nat decided. “Go through it for me, will you?”

They looked at each other then back to her. Rose spoke. “There are an awful lot of us.”

“I have an excellent memory,” Nat told them. “My dad studies people and I like to know where people fit in, so fire away.”

“Are you from England? You accent is different,” Rose said cocking her head to the side.

Nat grinned sheepishly. “I’m from all over really.”

Rose nodded. “All right, well I’ll start at the top,” Rose said, taking a deep breath. “First is that my Gran and Granddad are Arthur and Molly Weasley. They had Bill who married Fleur and they have Victoire, Dominique and Louis.” She paused, studying Nat who was taking it all in. “Do you want to know how old everyone is and what house they’re in?”

“House?” Nat probed.

“We’ll be Sorted into one of four houses at Hogwarts,” Al explained. “Most of our family is in Gryffindor, but we have two cousins in Ravenclaw and one in Hufflepuff. You don’t want to be in Slytherin,” he said firmly and Nat thought he was referring more to himself than her.

“What’s wrong with Slytherin?”

He shrugged. “They’re just not the best people, usually.”

“Stuck up,” Rose added helpfully.

Nat nodded. “All right, ages and houses would be excellent.”

“Well, Victoire is seventeen and in Ravenclaw. She’s the Head Girl, as you already know. Dominique is fourteen and in Gryffindor, and Louis is twelve and also in Gryffindor. Then there’s Uncle Charlie, but he’s in Romania and not married. He works with dragons.”

Nat’s mouth fell open. “Dragons? Really?!”

“Yep,” they said.

“I’ve been to Romania many times and I’ve never seen a dragon there!”

“You wouldn’t have, they’re kept away from Muggles. Let’s see,” Rose said, tapping at her chin. “Then there’s Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey and they have Molly, who is fifteen and is the Prefect in Ravenclaw, and Lucy who is twelve and she’s the only cousin in Hufflepuff. After that is Uncle George. He had a twin brother, Fred, but Fred died in the Battle of Hogwarts.”

Nat frowned, but not at all the details. Those she could keep straight. She had a knack for names. “What battle?”

“Oh, right, you wouldn’t know about that!” Rose exclaimed.

“It’s a relief,” Al muttered.

His cousin grinned at him. “Shouldn’t we tell her that our parents are famous?”

Nat shrugged. “So are mine- at least my mum is famous. It sucks.”

A look of understanding passed between the three of them and they all grinned, each knowing it was in relief.

“About the battle…” Rose paused, thinking.

Al picked up the story. “There was this evil git named Voldemort who tried to kill a lot of people, and my dad was the one who killed him. Uncle Fred died in the last battle.”

“I’m sorry,” Nat said sincerely.

“We didn’t know him, this was years before we were born,” Rose said. “Uncle George was apparently not the same ever again, although he’s still the coolest uncle of them all. Well,” she said fairly, “Uncle Charlie is awesome, but we don’t get to see him much. So Uncle George married Aunt Angelina and they have Fred who is fifteen and in Gryffindor and Roxy, erm, Roxanne, who is thirteen and also in Gryffindor. Then there’s my dad, Ron and my mum Hermione and there’s me, I’m eleven and my brother Hugo who is nine.”

“My parents and Harry and Ginny Potter,” Al told her. “My mum is the youngest Weasley and only girl in the family. I have an older brother, James, who is twelve, but only for another few days. His birthday is September tenth. He’s in Gryffindor, and there’s me, I’m eleven, and my little sister Lily who is nine.”

“That must have been hard for your mum to be the youngest and only girl,” Nat said, pondering it.

They both laughed, shaking their heads. “My mum is tough,” Al told her. “She was a professional Quidditch player.”

“What’s Quidditch?”

“It’s this sport played on broomsticks,” Al started to explain, but Rose cut him off.

“It’s hard to explain. I have an excellent book on it, though, with pictures. When we get to Hogwarts I’ll dig it out of my trunk and show it to you.” Rose beamed, her eyes twinkling. “I want to make my house team, but I’m not sure I will. I’m a fair player, but it depends on the competition. Al’s great, though. I’m sure he and James will play. James might even make it this year.”

Nat cycled through all the information. “Okay, let’s see if I’ve got this straight then…” and she quickly rattled back through all the names and information she’d been given.

Al and Rose goggled at her. “Blimey, you do have a good memory!” Al spit out.

“Only for people and details like that; I have to study hard in other subjects, but I’m great in history. Now, who’s Teddy?” Nat asked.

“Teddy Lupin is my dad’s godson. His parents were killed during the war and he’s nineteen now. He lives with his grandmother, Andromeda Tonks, but Dad and Mum have had him over a lot.” Al smiled happily. “Teddy is excellent. He always keeps James from picking on me and he takes us to do fun things like get ice cream in the village.”

The compartment door opened and a truly stunning girl with long blonde hair and bright blue eyes walked in. Nat was amazed by her. There wasn’t a flaw in her face or her bone structure, which almost never happened. She zeroed in on Nat. “I’m Victoire, the Head Girl. Molly said you got hurt.”

“Yeah, I fell getting onto the train. It’s a nasty bruise.” Nat pointed to the spot on her hip. She studied her. Despite the French name, she had only a British accent.

Victoire’s beautiful face was pinched with concern. “Well, I can relieve the pain a bit, but if it’s bad you’re going to need to see the school matron when we get there. I’ve started studying to become a Healer, but only just.”

“That’s like a doctor,” Rose added at Nat’s blank look.

“I will send an owl to the Headmistress to let her know, so hopefully she’ll have Madam Pomfrey waiting for you. Here,” Victoire bent down next to her and pointed her wand at Nat’s leg. She didn’t say anything, but a pale blue light streaked into her leg and the pain lessened considerably.

“Wow,” Nat breathed out in relief. “That feels so much better.”

Victoire was muttering, still waving her wand and shook her head, clearly not liking the results. “You did a lot of damage. You’ll need to get seen before the Sorting, just as soon as we get there. I can’t believe you’re sitting there so calmly. Don’t try to do much. I’ll send someone along to help you off the train when we get to school. Leave these clothes on, don’t change. I don’t want you to hurt yourself further.”

She turned to Al and Rose. “If you need me, I’ll be up front in the Prefects’ carriage. Just run to fetch me, all right?”

They nodded. “Thanks, Victoire,” Al said and she left.

“She’s really nice,” Nat said, feeling better than she had in hours.

They were both studying her. “Why didn’t you say you were so hurt?” Rose asked her voice wobbling.

Nat shrugged. “I hurt myself all the time. I’m unbelievably gifted at it. I’ve lost count at this points of how many times I’ve been to the hospital and when you’re in some of the remote places I’ve lived, that’s not always fun.”

Shortly after that a squat witch came by with a cart offering sweets. “Want one?” Al asked through a mouthful of chocolate frog.

Nat shook her head. “I can’t eat those things. They make me sick. I brought some snacks.” Al stood up and retrieved the sack from her trunk for her.

“Rabbit food,” Al scoffed at her almonds, carrots, hummus and cheese. “No wonder you’re so small.”

Rose smacked his arm playfully. “Sweets wouldn’t help her get any taller!”

Nat ate a few bites and then put her food back into her bag. She knew she should eat more or she’d start to get dizzy, but the pain was back and it was making her feel sick.

About ten minutes before they arrived at Hogsmeade Station Rose told Al to get changed and Fred showed up to tell Nat that he was going to carry her off the train. Nat groaned. “That’s humiliating,” she said, and then laughed. “Well, it’s always fun to make an entrance, right?”

“That’s the spirit,” he told her as he gently picked her up. Al and Rose followed behind him. “Blimey, you are little! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a first year as small as you.”

Nat winced and had to suck in a breath as he climbed down the train steps. She was afraid she was going to throw up, the pain was so bad. Fred was being gentle, but something was definitely wrong. She’d been hurt enough times in her life to know that something was likely broken. Fred walked over to an older woman in a nurse’s uniform, who had a stretcher and was clucking disapprovingly. “Here you are, Madam Pomfrey. This is Nat.”

“Natalie Parker,” Nat told her as she lay back onto the very soft stretcher.

“What happened?” Madam Pomfrey asked before waving the others off.

Nat heard a booming voice calling for first years and she knew she should be with them, but she was afraid to move. “I fell getting onto the train. I get hurt a lot.”

“I’ll reserve a bed for you,” Madam Pomfrey said, and Nat thought she was probably not joking. She was waving her wand and also muttering like Victoire had done. “Oh dear, it looks like Miss Weasley was correct and you’ve broken your hip socket. I’m glad she sent us that note. I’m going to fix it, and then we’ll take you up to the castle on the stretcher. I don’t want you to injure yourself again before the swelling has gone down.” She waved her wand and Nat felt a momentary zing of pain before the bone mended.

“That’s amazing,” Nat said, letting out a happy sound. “Does this mean I don’t have to wear a cast anymore when I break a bone?”

Madam Pomfrey chuckled and waved her wand, the stretcher moving along with her and Nat on it. “No, no more casts. How many times have you been in a cast?”

“Uhm,” Nat tried to think back, “At least twelve, probably more. I’ve broken both legs twice and my arms several times. Mostly it’s been fingers and toes, though, and those don’t always get a cast.”

Madam Pomfrey glanced sideways at her. “You’re not allowed to get on a broom. When Madam Hooch does lessons you’re to stay on the ground. Understood?”

Nat sighed and nodded even though she really didn’t understand it. She knew that tone, though, and it’s the one her mother always used when Nat wanted to climb a tree or ride a bike. “Understood.”

They passed by a set of carriages and Nat blinked in surprise. “What are those?” She asked pointing to the skeletal horses that were hitched to the carriages.

Madam Pomfrey looked at her appraisingly. “You can see them?”

Nat turned back, confused. “Why wouldn’t I be able to see them?”

The matron shook her head. “They’re called Thestrals. You can only see them if you’ve seen someone die.”

“Oh,” Nat breathed out, amazed. She’d seen several people die. The Thestrals looked horrible but they seemed docile enough. She wasn’t sorry to not be getting in to one of the carriages, though.

Back to index


Chapter 5: Chapter 2

Author's Notes: My book is on sale! Go see my profile for links! I'm so excited, and nervous, and excited and thankful for all of the help and support along the way. GO LOOK! The publishing happening (at this moment it's tomorrow) has kept me insanely busy, plus I'm finishing the third book in the series, then I'll buckle down hard on this story and start knocking it out faster (hopefully!)

But REALLY! Go check out my book! SQUEEE!

Okay, must thank Arnel for all of her help. She's told me that she's loving the story so far, so hopefully you will as well.

Thank you for all the reviews. The next few chapters focus heavily on the kids, but then it gets to be a little more back and forth. Tell me what you think! The story isn't finished, so your input is valuable.

Thanks again everyone and if you read my book, let me know what you think!
~Sarah


Evening Sept 1st, 2017

Harry trudged into his house later than he’d meant to. They’d discovered someone attempting to make Inferi, and the resulting paperwork and media hoopla had taken hours to sort through.

The first thing he saw was his daughter’s bright smile. She was already in hot pink pajamas, with her long hair plaited down her back. He gratefully sank down next to her on the couch, and she crawled in to his lap, for a hug. He didn’t have any idea what he was going to do when she was too big for cuddles. Probably cry.

Lily was so unlike the rest of the family, that he didn’t know how to describe her properly. She was smart, funny, caring, and didn’t have a single ounce of guile to her. She was secure in her place as the baby of a very large, extended family. She was sweet, and so carefree that just being in her presence was like breathing in fresh, spring air. Nothing bothered her for long. Lily was truly her godmother’s replica, except not as batty. Harry missed Luna, but Luna was a free spirit, traveling the world with her husband Rolf.

Harry sometimes wondered if they’d sheltered Lily too much. She didn’t really know of the troubles that her parents had gone through to get to where they were in life, but Lily seemed to encourage being sheltered, so he’d never pushed. Neither had anyone else; Lily had been left to love the world like a fairy.

She looked like Ginny. They had the same coloring and build. Lily was tiny, just like her mum, but in personality they couldn’t have been more different.

They didn’t fight, though. Lily wasn’t a fighter. She had guts, and courage, and she’d speak her mind when she felt called to, but she didn’t ever go out of her way to upset anyone just for the sake of being mean or making mischief. She saw her mother struggle against James, and she didn’t want to add to it.

“I love you, Daddy,” Lily told him grinning.

Harry wouldn’t ever tell her, because she probably knew anyway, that he appreciated that he was still Daddy, and not Dad. He didn’t want to keep her a baby, exactly, but he wasn’t ready for her to be a grown up either. “I love you, too, Lily Lu,” he said shortening her middle name down from Luna. “Did you and Hugo have a good day?”

“Yep,” she nodded. “We went and bugged Uncle George for a bit until he told us to scram. Uncle Ron was working on paperwork, so we didn’t see him at the shop. Then we went to pet the kittens at the Magical Menagerie, and Hugo got bit by a lizard, but he was okay. Then we went to The Burrow to have lunch with Gran and Granddad, then we came home and we spent the rest of the afternoon flying.”

“A busy day,” Harry sighed, enjoying the normalcy that he could give his children. His own life had never been that idyllic. It was a joy knowing it was their reality. Everything he’d worked for had paid off.

Unless the note writer turned out to be a psycho killer, of course. With Harry’s luck they might. But after nineteen years of unimpressive threats, he thought it was unlikely that they’d act now. It hadn’t intensified, and nothing overt had ever happened.

He tugged gently at Lily’s braid. “I think it’s probably bedtime.”

“Yes,” Lily agreed heavily, her big brown eyes peeking up at him through long lashes. “I asked Mummy if I could stay up to say goodnight. I missed you.”

“I missed you, too,” he assured her as he hugged her close and kissed her one last time. “Off to bed with you, then.”

“I want you to come home on time tomorrow,” Lily told him as she stood. “Tomorrow is my day, okay?”

Harry grinned despite himself. He and Ginny had worked out a system where by she’d tell him exactly what she wanted, needed, or expected of him, and he did his absolute best to fulfill it. He was rubbish at subtlety, and this had saved them a lot of heart ache and fights.

Lily had picked up on this early on. Rather than sulking, or getting upset, she simply told him what she needed from him. It was a beautiful system.

“I had a bit of a mess today,” Harry told her honestly. “If I can get it cleared up tomorrow I will be home early. That’s the best I can promise.”

“Okay,” she smiled broadly and skipped off for the stairs. “Night!”

He let his head flop back against the sofa, and let out a long breath.

“Wrapped,” came a voice from his right. He looked over from the living room into the kitchen and saw Ginny holding up her little finger.

Harry shook his head, and chuckled. “Yeah, well, guilty. She’s got everyone wrapped around her little finger. How was I supposed to resist?”

She strode over and sat next to him, pulling his hand onto her lap and entwining their fingers. “Something is bothering you.”

“Inferi, and the idiots who think they can conjure them, but can’t,” Harry grumbled.

Her brows knit as she studied his face. “Something else,” she prodded. “It takes a lot more than idiotic criminals to pull this line out between your eyes,” she said gently, tracing the line with her finger. “Tell me. You’ll feel better.”

Harry sighed and slid down a bit on the couch so he could lay his head in her lap, and let her fingers sooth him as they played through his hair.

Her fingers worked their way through his tension, rubbing at the stress and worry. He didn’t want anything to ruin the tranquility of his home. It was no longer under the Fidelius Charm, but it was still magically protected to the best of the Ministry’s ability. Harry didn’t want his kids living in a prison, cooped up like Sirius had been. But just sometimes…

Ginny fingers danced over his brow. “What’s wrong?”

He pulled his eyes opened and looked up into her beautiful face. The insanity that had always plagued his life had slowed considerably. In fact, for a few years, it was Ginny’s career with the Harpies that had made the press go nuts, rather than anything he’d done. Whatever the note was, it wasn’t a threat at that moment. No one had gone after him for being ‘Harry Potter’ in a long time. Instead it was his title as Head Auror that had made him a target.

The world was peaceful, and he didn’t want to ruin that by telling her. But Harry wouldn’t lie to her, so there was no choice to it. “I got another note.”

“Oh,” Ginny nodded. She didn’t need any other information. She knew what that meant. “Are you going to investigate it?”

He shrugged helplessly. “I’ll try, but I doubt it will go anywhere.” He’d refused to waste any more Ministry resources on the anonymous notes, especially when there was no imminent threat. He’d put their house under Fidelius Charm several times because of the notes. But he’d given up after the fourth one.

“Are you hungry?” Ginny asked.

He shook his head. “Hermione had food sent to my office when she realized we were both going to be there late.”

She laughed and her chuckle was low and throaty. “Poor Ron looked harassed when he came for Hugo. I took pity on him, and fed them supper.”

“You took pity on Ron?” he questioned, raising an eyebrow.

“No,” Ginny waved that off. “Hugo.”

~*~

They arrived at the huge castle and Nat stared up at the lit windows and all the turrets, wanting to pinch herself. She couldn’t believe she was going to get to live here for seven years! They entered through a huge set of double oak doors and Nat was deposited in an anti-room.

“You’ll wait here,” Madam Pomfrey said. “The others will be in shortly.”

She left and a few minutes later a professor with a round face and kind eyes came in with all the other first years to wait for the Sorting. She’d been allowed to get up and Al gave her his arm, helping her to stand. “It’s all right,” she assured him. “I’m just a bit sore. Madam Pomfrey said it’s because I waited so many hours to get healed.”

Al continued to hold onto her as they walked into the Great Hall. Nat was thankful for his arm as she was a bit wobbly, although the room was amazing. It was huge with four long tables and the celling was beautiful, matching the night’s sky that she’d watched on her long ride up to the castle. The same man who had brought in the first years and had escorted them into the hall put an old, singed and battered pointed wizard’s hat on a stool up at the front of the hall and the hat began to sing, explaining all about the four houses. Nat couldn’t really concentrate, though. She was hungry and nervous and even though Al was helping to hold her up she thought she’d rather go lie down. The room was beginning to spin.

Al looked down at her and secured his arm around her more firmly. “You okay?” he asked.

A blond boy with a pinched face was on her other side. He glanced over at them when Al spoke and instantly moved to help prop her up on the other side. “You don’t look so good.”

Rose saw what was happened and said, “I’ll go tell Neville, er, Professor Longbottom.” She pushed her way up to the front and before the professor could start reading names she hurried up to him. Nat could tell Rose knew the man and knew him well even without her having slipped by having said his first name.

He bent down to her and after a few seconds he glanced back to Nat. He motioned to Madam Pomfrey as he walked over, the hat in his hand. “Here,” he said, gently guiding her down onto the end of one of the benches. His face was round and his eyes were very kind. “You’re Natalie Parker?”

“Yes,” she said and he plunked the hat onto her head.

It went straight down to her chin. “You’re going first and then you’re going up to the hospital wing.”

She vaguely heard Professor Longbottom and Madam Pomfrey talking and she said, “I just need to eat. Low blood sugar…” before the hat spoke into her head.

“You’re not difficult to place at all,” the hat said into her head. “Very smart and very kind, but above all you’re got a lot of courage, especially with the life you’ve led.” Then it shouted out loud, “GRYFFINDOR!” and she heard a bunch of people break into applause.

When the hat was pulled off her head so she saw a plate of sandwiches floating before her and she gratefully grabbed one and started to eat. “Thanks,” she said, trying to moderate her rate of eating. “I can’t go very long without eating, and my hip was hurting so badly on the train that I couldn’t each much.”

Madam Pomfrey helped guide her over to what Nat assumed was the Gryffindor table and Nat smiled at Fred whom she sat next to. “I’ll be all right, now,” she assured the nurse.

“We’ll look after her,” Fred told her and Madam Pomfrey went back up to the head table while the Sorting continued.

She looked down the table and blinked in surprise. “Fred…” she whispered quietly.

He turned his brown eyes back to her. “What’s up?”

“Is that a ghost?”

Fred looked down the table and then laughed. “Yeah, that’s Nearly Headless Nick. He’s the ghost of Gryffindor tower. He’s a good sport.”

Nat could only nod faintly and she was shortly joined by several more first years at their house table including the blond boy, Scorpius Malfoy, who had helped Al keep her on her feet. When the hat had shouted his house name there had been a brief pause, as if everyone had been in shock, before the Gryffindors began to clap.

“Scorpius, right?” Nat asked as he sat down across from her.

He slumped and nodded once. “My dad is going to kill me,” he told her quietly.

“Why?” Nat asked.

“I was supposed to be in Slytherin,” he grumbled.

She turned as she heard “Potter, Albus,” and watched as the hat rested on Al’s head for almost a minute before shouting “GRYFFINDOR!”

Al ran over looking happier than she’d seen him all day. He plopped down next to her and nicked one of her sandwiches. “Blimey, I’m glad that’s over. Dad was right; I just had to tell the hat that I wanted to be in Gryffindor.” He glanced curiously at Scorpius. “I thought you’d be in Slytherin.”

“So did I,” Scorpius said miserably. “I’m never going to be able to go home!”

Nat held out a sandwich to him. The plate kept refilling itself. “Here, take a few bites and you’ll feel better.”

He took it and after a big bite said, “Thanks.”

Rose was last, but finally she was called up. “Weasley, Rose,” and no sooner had the hat landed on her head than it shouted “GRYFFINDOR!” and she happily came over to sit next to Scorpius, across from Nat and Al. “I’m so glad!” she said.

Nat goggled in amazement as platters of food suddenly appeared before them, with all of her favorite foods and many others that she didn’t even recognize. She loaded up her plate.

“So Al,” a boy who looked remarkably like him only a little older and with brown eyes said, leaning towards them. “Did the hat want to put you in Slytherin?”

That must be James, Nat thought. She could see that Al’s brother liked to wind him up and from the pink that was staining Al’s cheeks, Nat knew it was working. “Are you James?”

He focused on her, then. “Yep, and you’re Natalie- the one who trips a lot.”

“That’s me,” she agreed affably. It took a lot more than one twelve-year-old boy to rattle her. She’d spent large chunks of her life in war zones and around guerilla fighters. Nat pitched her voice so that it would carry down the table. “Is it true that you got a month’s worth of detentions last year because you came down to breakfast in just your pink flowered underpants?”

Several people laughed. Fred spit pumpkin juice from his nose and James’ mouth fell open. “No! Blimey, where did you hear something like that?”

“A few third years were saying that as they walked by our compartment today,” Nat lied smoothly. “Hmm, amazing how these odd rumors start. Well,” she amended, lowering her voice again so that only those around her would hear, “if it wasn’t a rumor flying about before it certainly will be now.”

A red-haired boy next to James elbowed him. “She got you, mate.”

“Shut it, Louis,” James growled as his face turned beet red.

Ah, Cousin Louis, Nat realized. She could feel Al shaking next to her with suppressed mirth. Rose and Scorpius were openly laughing. James eyed her shrewdly and Nat thought he’d taken her measure. He wasn’t likely to try anything around her for a while.

Madam Pomfrey came over to her as they were getting ready to head up to bed and told her that she would let the house-elves know that Nat needed food regularly and that if she needed food at any time she would simply have to call out for food from a house-elf and one would bring her something.

Nat waited until she was walking up with Al, Rose, Scorpius and the other first years up to what their Prefect had called Gryffindor Tower to ask, “What’s a house-elf?”

“They’re these little creatures who help keep Hogwarts running. They clean and cook and stuff,” Al told her.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get used to all of this,” Nat whispered, but she didn’t really care. This was another new adventure in a life that had been full of them, and she was ready for the challenge. It didn’t even shock her too much when she saw all the people moving about in the portraits.

~*~

“We have our first letter!” Ginny called through the house as she gently took the scroll off the leg of Al’s owl, Nero. She patted the owl and gave him a treat before bidding him to rest for a bit so she could send a letter back. Nero nibbled her finger for a moment before taking off for the perch that they left in the kitchen. Slowly she walked over to the kitchen table and sat.

Lily came scrambling into the room and over to Ginny’s side. “Did he mention me?”

“Yep,” Ginny promised, pointing to the first line. “He says he misses us already.”

“What else!” Lily asked, trying to read over her shoulder. “Mum, please!”

“Hang on,” Ginny soothed. She frowned as she kept reading. “Woah, Harry! You need to hear this.”

Lily huffed as she sat next to her mother, and stared at her. As soon as Ginny heard Harry’s footsteps coming into the kitchen, she began to read.

“Dear Mum, Dad and Lily. We got here safely and I was sorted into Gryffindor, and so was Rose. I miss you already. School is fun, but hard, and it isn’t like home, only don’t tell James I said that.

Rose and me met a girl on the train named Natalie. She fell and we helped her get her things on, but she broke her leg or something. Victoire had to send ahead so she could be seen by Madam Pomfrey. She’s really nice, and she’s in Gryffindor too. James started to tease me, but she put him in his place and James hasn’t said anything to me since. I think she scares him, which is funny ‘cause she’s smaller than Lily and dead clumsy.”

Ginny paused there, and looked up at Harry, a little flummoxed. “How did a tiny, klutzy first year get the better of James?”

“I have no idea,” Harry laughed. “But if so I want to meet her. And learn her ways.”

“Daddy,” Lily rolled her eyes. “Please, I want to hear the rest of the letter.”

“Sorry,” Harry smirked at Ginny. “Please continue.”

Ginny took a deep breath, and read on. “My housemates are Fabien Smithe, but he goes by Smitty because he hates his name. I told him that was my great uncle’s name, though. Then there’s Ansel Leathen, Matthew Kingston, and Scorpius Malfoy. Scorpius isn’t what I thought. He was scared to be put in Gryffindor and he says his dad will disown him. He’s really nice, though, and him, me, Rose and Nat have been hanging out together.

“My first day was fine. Classes were hard, but it wasn’t too bad. I hated History of Magic, but Nat can memorize stuff really fast, so she’s helping. I helped her in Defense, which is my favorite class so far.

“We have flying lessons tomorrow, so I need to get to sleep. I’ll write again soon.

“Love, Al.”

“Scorpius Malfoy,” Harry mouthed. “Oh, Merlin, Draco must be livid.”

“Poor kid,” Ginny said, frowning down at the letter. “I hate that he’s been put in this position.”

Harry came over and rested his hands on her shoulders. “If he was put in Gryffindor, he’s got the courage to go against his family. His house will help him with that. Remember Sirius did that with my dad.”

She patted his hand, and glanced up at him. Ginny read the concern on his face, and wondered if he’d discovered anything about the letter writer. He shook his head almost imperceptibly, like he’d read her mind, and she nodded.

“Can I see the letter, please?” Lily asked, holding out her hand for it. Ginny handed it over, and watcher her daughter’s expressive face as she read through it again quickly. When she looked back up, she looked upset. “His family wouldn’t really kick him out, would they?”

“No,” Harry said firmly. “His dad loves him, Lils, but he’s definitely going to have to get over the shock.”

She sniffed, and turned her troubled eyes back up to him. “I hope he and Al stay friends. Al will look out for him.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. Al definitely would.

~*~

“Madam Pomfrey told me I was not to get on a broom,” Nat told Madam Hooch right before their first broom lesson. “She thinks I’ll hurt myself.”

“Nonsense,” Madam Hooch boomed out. “You’ll do fine.”

Nat doubted that, but she went to stand next to Al. “Up!” Nat said to her broom as she’d been instructed. It zoomed away from her. She knew that wasn’t a good sign since Al’s broom had flown straight up into his hand. Could the broom tell that she was a walking disaster? It was a shame, too. Nat rather thought she’d like flying. She went to retrieve it and mounted it as instructed. They went up into the air a bit, and came back down. That was fine. They did that several more times, but the third time something odd happened. Nat was sitting on the broom, but before it could rise more than three feet off the ground, it suddenly turned over and dumped her onto her head. “Ouch!” she groaned as she sat up. Thankfully she wasn’t hurt, just annoyed. “That’s not nice,” she groused, shaking her fist at the broom. It seemed to be mocking her, though, because it flew away to hide behind Madam Hooch.

Al touched down next to her and Madam Hooch looked dumbfounded. “I’ve never seen a broom do that!” she said, utterly amazed.

“Come on, Nat,” Al said, holding out a hand to her. “Climb on with me.” He pulled her on in front of him.

“Mr. Potter-”

“I’ve been flying since I was one and I often take my sister along with me. We’ll be okay. I won’t go high up.” Al sounded confident for the first time since Nat had met him. She relaxed back into him, his one arm around her waist, the other on the broom.

“All right,” Madam Hooch said reluctantly. “But not high, Mr. Potter.”

“You’re even smaller than Lily and she’s nine,” Al comment and he pulled the broom up in the air.

The feeling was amazing! Nat never wanted to land and she wanted to go faster. “Please, Al?”

“No,” he said chuckling. “Madam Hooch will kill me.”

Scorpius was fighting hard not to laugh ask they walked back up to the castle. “I have never seen a broom do that.”

“The broom can tell I’m a disaster,” Nat told him with a giggle. “It knows how clumsy I am and tried to get away for its own safety.”

“You truly do have a gift for getting hurt, don’t you?” Rose asked.

“I really do,” Nat agreed amiably. “I fell in this mass grave once in Russia, right on top of a skeleton. My dad just about had a heart attack. Told me to go sit in the truck and not move.”

“Ew,” Rose gasped. “What on earth does your dad do?”

“He’s a forensic anthropologist,” Nat explained as they walked through the doors and to the Great Hall for lunch. “He looks at people’s bones to tell how they lived and died.”

“Really?” Scorpius asked his pale gray eyes lit with fascination. “How does he do that without magic?”

Nat piled turkey onto her plate and took a bite before trying to explain. She needed to eat before she could think clearly. “Well, the bones tell a lot. For instance, the bones wear out differently depending on what your job was or where you were born. He can tell about how old someone is just by looking at their teeth. I’m pretty good at it, too, but I do better with living people.” She pointed to Rose and then down the table to Fred. “For instance, I could see in your bone structure that you and Fred are related and that clearly he’s half black and half white.” She turned back to Al. “Although your coloring is similar to James, and you share the same cheek bones, your nose and the shape of your face and eyes are different and I can tell that you’re going to be built more like Fred, more beefy. James is likely to be taller and on the thin side.”

“Wow,” Al said, a little stunned.

“That’s amazing,” Rose agreed and Scorpius nodded.

Nat shrugged, trying not to show what it meant to her. “I have an eye for it… I often helped my dad on missing children cases and using the age progression software on his computer. He still can’t turn it on without breaking it. It’s… it’s not a lot of fun identifying the skeleton of kids, but in a way it’s also really rewarding.”

This time it was Scorpius who spoke. “Wow. I can’t believe you’ve done that. When did you start?”

“I was about six, I think,” Nat said quietly. “My dad and this bloke from Scotland Yard were arguing over whether or not the girl was one or the other. I was playing on the computer in the room with them and I plugged both pictures in and aged them up. It became obvious which girl it was.”

The three of them stared at her in silence for several long, tense moments.

“You’ve had a really interesting life,” Al finally said.

“That’s a nice way of putting it,” Nat said, taking a drink of her pumpkin juice.

~*~

The first few weeks of school were interesting. She went with Al and Rose to have tea with Hagrid, whom she liked very much even though she doubted that he could be totally human. They even dragged a reluctant Scorpius along. Scorpius and Hagrid had stared at each other for several long moments before Scorpius asked him a question about dragons and the tension was broken.

Her classes went well. Not surprisingly History of Magic was her best subject, although it had been a shock to see the ghost that was teaching it. She did all right in her other classes and by October she really felt like she was fitting in. Rose was the best in the year, although Scorpius was no slouch. He and Rose were often in competition to get the best marks and they always had a good laugh about it when one beat the other. She, Al, Rose and Scorpius were friends. Rose had told her why it was such a shock that they were friends with Scorpius, but they all agreed he was a good sport.

Gryffindor house initially held back from Scorpius, unsure as to what he was doing when the Malfoys had so long been in Slytherin. Once or twice some of the older students had made derogatory remarks that Nat hadn’t fully understood. The Weasleys, who followed Al and Rose’s lead on this one, didn’t stand for that and before long everyone knew that if they picked on him they had the entire Weasley clan to answer to. Even James reluctantly backed him up.

The comments from the Slytherins started almost immediately after the Sorting and hit a crescendo around the middle of October.

“Can’t believe a Malfoy ended up in Gryffindor,” one brown haired boy with big ears sneered. “Your father is going to die of shame.”

A blonde girl let out a shrill laugh. “I knew the Malfoy family was going down. None of the respectable families will want to associate with your parents anymore.”

Nat didn’t understand a lot about the blood politics but she did understand societies and the hierarchies in them among the so-called elite. “Yes, Scorpius,” Nat said sweetly. “What a shame you’ll have to stop the incessant inbreeding that this lot is clearly suffering from. Won’t it be a disgrace to not have to marry your first cousin and have a three-eyed baby?”

Al snorted, Rose laughed and Scorpius shot her an amused look. “I dunno. I always fancied a three-eyed baby.”

“You stupid mu-” but whatever the Slytherin boy was going to say was cut off when Al stepped in front of her. “Say it to me,” Al growled fiercely. He wasn’t any bigger, but Nat could see by the expression on the other kid’s face that size didn’t matter in this case.

“You can’t tell from looking at a person if they’ve got inbreeding!” one of the girls said, trying to sound confident but failing.

Nat rolled her eyes at her and lied through her teeth. “Of course I can! It’s clear that your family tree isn’t branching out enough. It’s why your features are so… well… unfortunate.”

The girl flushed and would have retaliated if Professor Longbottom hadn’t walked by at that moment. “Aren’t you all supposed to be in class?”

“Yes, Professor,” they all intoned and he watched as they walked off.

Al wasn’t going to let it go, though. “You leave Scorpius alone or you answer to me and my family. Is that clear?”

“We’re not afraid of you, Potter,” the big-eared boy snapped.

Rose shook her head sadly and rolled her eyes. “Stupid and inbred. Not afraid of Harry Potter’s son or the Weasleys when there are so many of us, including the Head Girl? Idiots.”

They left them standing there and just before they entered Transfiguration, Scorpius stopped them. “Thanks,” he said a little sheepishly.

“You’d have done the same for us,” Al told him clapping him on the back and Nat knew Al was right. Scorpius may not have known why he was put in Gryffindor, but it was apparent to Nat that he had a lot of guts.

~*~

James made the Quidditch team as one of the Chasers and they all groaned when they heard the news. He strutted around the castle for several days before Nat convinced Fred, who was a Beater on the team, to tell her how to turn James’ underpants pink. They stayed that way for an entire week and James, who couldn’t prove she’d done it although he suspected her, had stopped shoving it in everyone’s face that he was on the team.

Rose showed her how to send letters to her parents using the school owls and soon after her parents both decided that they were each buying an owl so that they could always be in touch with her, even when one of them was in America and the other was in Tanzania. Her dad’s reply to her told her that he’d been called back to Britain to help on a case and he’d popped in to Diagon Alley to get the owls. He’d had to explain to the shop owner that he needed owls smart enough not to show up when other Muggles were around, and they’d found two. One was a large barn owl and the other a beautiful eagle owl. The post was always slow because her parents could be anywhere in the world. If her mum was in Ireland then the owls came back fast, but with her dad in Africa it often took the owls weeks. The letters, however, made up for the grueling waits. They were always big fat letters telling her about their lives and gushing about hers.

Nat managed to break her arm only once and land in the hospital wing only twice in the first term. She was certain it was because Al stuck close to her all the time. He was a great bloke and she appreciated it. She’d also figured out that the Hogwarts house-elves were just about the best thing to the place. Any time she felt faint she just called for one and they showed up with food. “It’s like pre-diabetes,” Nat explained. She only got blank looks. “My blood sugar dropped really fast,” she told them. “That’s why the doctors think I’m so small and why I eat so much, although no sweets and not too many carbs.” Again blank stares. She blew out a frustrated breath. “Okay, you know when you’ve not eaten for hours and you’re really starving and sometimes it’s hard to think?” They all nodded. “I get like that all the time, especially when I haven’t eaten in two or three hours. I stop being able to think properly and I fall more. Sometimes I start to stutter or shake-- especially in my hands.”

“Oh,” Rose had said and they’d left it alone.

Back to index


Chapter 6: Chapter 3

Author's Notes: Have you checked out my book yet??? If you haven't, take a second, head to my profile and check it out! There is a FREE preview on many of the sites. Please, please, please at least go look :)

If you have read it, let me know what you think. I want to hear! Good and bad.


Thank you, Arnel, for all of your help!!!

I'm working on my third original right now. Once that is done I'll put more work into this story and might move to posting faster. I'm just very focused on the other story and can't hold two plots in the forefront of my brain. It will happen, though. My track record proves I do NOT leave things unfinished.

Review! Tell me what you think.


Harry walked slowly through the bowels of the Ministry, neither hurrying, nor strolling. He greeted colleagues and chatted amiably as he made his way through the storage rooms that were located in the level below the Department of Mysteries. It was mainly the archivists who worked down this low.

“Afternoon, Mr. Potter,” the head archivist, Maud Blanch whispered.

Harry had never heard her say anything above a whisper. If there was a fire, he was pretty sure no one would know because she didn’t seem capable of shouting. For all that, he liked the older woman, in her jumper with a puppy on the front, and her thin wire spectacles that were the exact gray of her hair. She was pleasant, efficient, and above all, more self-sufficient than any of the Unspeakables in the Department of Mysteries. “Evening, Mrs. Blanch,” Harry smiled blandly. “I need to visit the Auror’s archives.”

“Of course,” she waved him through.

Harry touched his wand to a metal disk in the wall, a routine he was very familiar with. The disk turned green as new spring grass, and he made his way through. If he’d not been himself, it would have turned red and he’d have been blasted by something that George had invented for the Ministry a decade earlier.

He walked more quickly now, bypassing several long rows of book cases, that were full of books, scrolls and labeled boxes, until he reached the one that contained all of his case notes from when he and Ginny had been poisoned nineteen years earlier. He dragged down the familiar box and hefted it over to a large, wooden table.

Harry stared down at the box as bile rose unbidden into his throat. No one was allowed to look in this box. He’d put a hex on it so that if anyone but himself touched it, the other person would be very sorry. It was the same curse used on the prophecies in the Hall of Prophesy.

Slowly, almost unwillingly, he removed the lid to dive once more into the only official record of his oldest child’s short life.

~*~

News came in the first week in December that her parents weren’t going to be home. Her mum was covering a UN peace summit and was sequestered with the other journalists in France. Her dad was stuck in South Africa looking at several thousand year old bones and couldn’t get back to England. Nat sighed. “I’m staying here for Christmas,” she told her friends.

“No you’re not,” Rose said, rolling her eyes. “You can come home with one of us. I’ll send an owl to Mum and let her work that out between her and Aunt Ginny.”

“I wish I could invite you over,” Scorpius said morosely, “but even I don’t want to go home. My dad was livid when he heard I’d been Sorted into Gryffindor. He still hasn’t written to me. Mum says he’ll get over it, but I know Christmas is going to be awful.”

“Want to come to my house?” Al asked, looking concerned.

Scorpius shook his head. “That would be worse, trust me. My dad may not hate yours, but they’re not exactly pals. He’s not going to be pleased when he figures out we’re friends.”

Rose eyed him curiously. “Are you going to let that stop you?”

“No,” Scorpius assured her quickly. “The old pureblood ideal isn’t for me. I’ve always thought it was rubbish. My grandparents nearly lost everything because of You-Know-Who.”

“Voldemort,” Al and Rose said together.

Nat had been told the full story months before and laughed. “How about just calling him Tom Riddle, then?”

It was worked out that Nat would stay with Al’s family for the holidays. Rose’s family was going to be spending a few days with her Muggle grandparents so they weren’t going to be home the whole time.

“You’ll like my parents,” Al told her as they walked off the train. He grabbed her arm and pulled her upright as she nearly fell. He didn’t miss a beat and kept talking. “My mum is a great cook and my dad is really funny. Lily is a lot of fun, too.”

“I’ll see you three later,” Scorpius grumbled as he saw his parents. “This holiday isn’t going to be a laugh.”

“See if you can come over,” Al said to him. Scorpius only shrugged, hunching his shoulders as he walked off.

“Come on, you two,” James hollered and they waved to Scorpius as he walked away.

James was already standing next to two older people and a small, red headed girl. Nat saw with a shock that Lily, for she couldn’t be anyone else, was beautiful. It was not usual for nine-year-olds to already be so attractive, but Nat could tell she would be stunning when she was grown. She turned to study Al’s parents and saw that Lily looked nearly identical to her mum, and Al was the spitting image of her dad although his dad’s hair was starting to gray a bit. She saw the facial discrepancy that she’d noticed between Al and James. James’ face was more along the lines of his mother, but not identical. He probably bore a stronger resembles to a grandparent.

“Hi, Nat,” Mrs. Potter said warmly as Mr. Potter took her bag from Al, giving him a hug. Al had refused to let her carry it, stating she needed both hands to keep herself upright. Nat had laughed. It was the truth.

“Thank you for inviting me,” Nat grinned, trying not to be nervous. “My parents are really grateful as well.”

“It’s our pleasure,” Mr. Potter assured her as they walked to the car. “Al and Rose have told us all about you.”

“We couldn’t let you spend Christmas alone,” Mrs. Potter assured her with a warm smile.

It wasn’t like a normal car, Nat realized quickly. The seats were extremely spacious and all four kids fit well into the backseat. The ride was easy, the four of them bantering back and forth. Nat realized quickly that she was going to love Lily, who was fun and funny and didn’t take anything from anyone. They arrived at a house that was down a long, winding tree-lined drive up to a large, ivy covered walls. Nat followed Al inside, looking around at the home. There was a sitting room off to the right and an open kitchen and dining room towards the back of the house.

“You’re in with me,” Lily told her, and led her up to her bedroom. She had bunk beds with lilac coverings. “I’m on the top,” Lily said as Al followed in, putting Nat’s bag on the bottom bunk.

“I told her to do that,” Al winked at her.

Nat playfully punched his arm as he walked out.

“Come down, you lot,” Ginny called. “The family will be here shortly for dinner.”

“Everyone?” Nat asked Lily who nodded.

“Yep, the whole family gathers the first evening they all get home for the hols. It’s a tradition and we’ve got the biggest house, so we usually host. It takes a long table to seat us all.”

Nat and Lily wandered into the kitchen to find Al’s parents locked together and laughing as they kissed each other. They would have beaten a hasty retreat, but James skidded into the kitchen, sliding on his sock covered feet, and called out, “Gross!”

“Don’t look,” Al’s dad said and James rolled his eyes as they continued kissing. They were a lot like Nat’s parents, so she didn’t mind.

Within thirty minutes the house was full to bursting and Nat was in heaven. She’d never been to a really noisy family get-together. Her parents were only children, all of her grandparents had died before she was born and she didn’t have any other living relatives. Everyone laughed, argued, and enjoyed each other and she instantly felt welcomed.

“What do your parents do?” Bill Weasley asked her during dinner. It had given her a start to see him for the first time. His face looked as if it had been mauled by an animal, although Rose had given her the full story weeks before, so she knew it was a werewolf. It looked like it had been very painful, though.

“My dad is a forensic anthropologist,” which she went on to quickly explain, “And my mum is a journalist; Curtis and Julienne Parker.”

Bill looked impressed. “I’ve heard of your dad. He’s really well respected in the Muggle world, did a lot of work in Egypt while I was there for a short trip a few years back. I didn’t get a chance to meet him, but I’ve always wanted to.”

“I wish you’d have had the chance!” Nat exclaimed. “I’d have met you then as well. I’ve been with my dad pretty much all the time since I was a baby.”

“Really?” Gran Molly probed as she dished more food onto Nat’s plate. “What about your mother dear?”

Nat groaned as she tasted the truly excellent potatoes. “These are amazing!” she exclaimed after she swallowed. “Erm, well, Mum was around as much as she could be when a big story wasn’t breaking. She stayed with Dad and me almost constantly between Cambodia, Australia and South Korea ‘til I was about one, and then Dad took over most of my care with the help of a nanny till I was five and my nanny got married. I traveled around with him to various places while he worked. They wanted me to go to a boarding school when I was five, but I refused. So I’ve been doing homeschooling online.”

“Online?” Roxy asked.

“You know,” Rose said. “My Granger grandparents have that computer that connects to other computers using the internet– you know, online. I showed it to you last summer when we were there.”

“Oh right!” Roxy said, cottoning on.

“But you wanted to go to Hogwarts?” Teddy asked. Nat had been momentarily surprised when she met him. His hair was bright blue, but oddly enough looked natural on him. She noticed that he sat close to Victoire and they smiled at each other a lot.

Nat shrugged. “Can’t learn magic online. Besides, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I love being with Dad and traveling around the world, but I don’t want to be an anthropologist.”

Hermione studied her, in a way that let Nat know that she knew people. “You’re an unusual eleven-year-old, Nat. In a good way, of course, but you talk like an adult.”

Nat flushed but that wasn’t the first time she’d heard it. “Yeah, well… I’ve had a weird childhood and most of my time was spent with extremely brilliant adults, so I had to learn fast to talk to them and ask good questions or they wouldn’t have let me participate and I’d have been bored out of my skull. It’s sad to say that the weirdest part of my life hasn’t been going to Hogwarts, but I love the castle! I don’t have to move all the time and I can make and keep friends. We don’t really have a home of any kind, just a tiny flat we keep in London to store a few things and crash in when we’re in town.”

“How many languages do you speak?” Percy Weasley asked her, pushing his glasses up further on his nose.

Nat bit her lip and looked up at the ceiling, counting. “Erm, thirty or so.” Everyone gasped. “I don’t speak most of them fluently!” she assured them hastily. “Some of them are dead languages, and several are fairly useless unless you’re in a remote part of Africa, but I played with a lot of kids all over the world so I know a lot of slang.”

“What about swear words?” George asked and ducked as his wife tried to slap him upside the head.

“George!” Gran Weasley hollered.

Nat smiled sheepishly. “Much to my father’s chagrin I can curse fluently in several languages. The workers at digs didn’t often censor their tongues, but I don’t use them. My dad always says that it’s better to think up different words to express what you’re feeling.” She sighed. “Dad and I rarely stayed in one place longer than three to six months, but I pick up languages quickly.”

“She’s got an excellent memory,” Rose added. “She can go around the room and name all of you.”

Nat blushed hard and wanted the conversation off of her. “But I can’t fly a broom.”

“That’s true,” Al added laughing. “The broom dumped her off.”

“Really?” Harry blurted out. “You mean you fell?”

“No, it was weird, Dad! She was on and it turned her upside down so she’d fall off!”

“The broom knew I was a disaster waiting to happen, so it shook me off before I could get too high,” Nat added helpfully while everyone laughed. “I love to fly, though! Al’s taken me up a few times.”

“She wanted to go a lot faster than the school brooms can go. Dad’s the one you should fly with on one of the Firebolts.” Al told her. “He can go wicked fast; so can Mum.”

The conversation thankfully moved off her and Nat took in everything, deflecting James from tormenting Al and getting into a lively discussion with one-eared George (he insisted she call him that although Ron dryly referred to him as ‘the holey one’) about the joke shop which George and Ron ran together.

After dinner Nat followed Al to the living room and tripped on a rug, nearly pitching into Al. Al’s reflexes were excellent, though, and he caught her before she could hit her head.

“Do you always do that?” Audrey Weasley asked her, walking over to them. She seemed to be sizing Nat up, literally, taking in her tiny stature. She tucked her chestnut hair behind her eat.

“All the time,” Nat said, trying to keep her sense of humor over it and not get embarrassed. “At least now that I’m in the Wizarding world I don’t have to deal with casts or surgery anymore.”

The brunette cocked her head, looking at her through her glasses. “Did you have a lot of ear infections as a child?”

Nat was flummoxed. “Yeah, I had to get tubes when I was six and everything, but I still get them several times a year.”

“Hmm, would you mind if I had a look?” Audrey asked and explained, “I’m a Healer which is just like a doctor.”

“No, please look,” Nat said and she sat in the chair that Audrey pointed to.

She used her wand and muttered some spells. Victoire had come over and she asked a few questions using words that Nat didn’t totally understand. “You were in Egypt, you say?” the Healer asked and Nat nodded. “Ever in a tomb?”

“Mhmm,” Nat said. “I got lost in one, once. My dad was frantic and it took nearly two days for me to find my way back. They thought I’d been kidnapped. I was only about three and Dad had no idea how I’d gotten away from the nanny, let alone into the tomb. I spent weeks in hospital after that one.”

“Bill, come look at this,” Audrey called to him. “I’m surprised Poppy missed it.”

She pointed her wand into Nat’s ear and Bill whistled. “I’ll be damned. I haven’t seen that curse in years.”

“Curse?!” Nat squeaked as everyone else around her said the same.

“It’s not really a surprise Poppy missed it,” Bill said fairly. “You only get that in Egypt. She’s probably never seen a case before.”

“Curse?” Nat repeated, trying not to sound as hysterical as she felt.

“It’s called Mortuorum Ambulantum. We can fix that,” Audrey assured her. “You’ll probably always have some scarring, but we can lift the curse and get rid of some of the scarring which should help with your balance.”

“Do you have problems with your blood sugar?” Bill asked her. “You’re so small, though, it’s really obvious what it is.”

“She does,” Al said, sounding odd. “You can really help her?”

“Of course,” Audrey smiled. “Let’s do that now, then. No need to put it off when she can barely walk without falling. I need a particular potion for the scars but I can go by Floo over to St. Mungo’s and get that while Bill deals with the curse.”

Bill grimaced. “Come on, Nat, you’re going to want to lie down for this one. It’s going to hurt– a lot.”

“I’ll bring back a pain potion as well,” Audrey said and she went over to the fireplace.

Nat barely had time to register that the woman had disappeared into green flames in the fireplace before she was led over to a squashy sofa. Al followed her over and sat down next to her hip on the sofa, taking her hand. Nat saw Ginny and Gran exchange a glance, but she couldn’t read what they were silently communicating. Rose hovered around, looking concerned.

“Ready, Nat?” Bill asked.

“Ready,” Nat agreed, trying not to be nervous. It didn’t matter if it hurt. If she’d stop falling over her feet all the time it would be worth it.

Bill uttered a spell, but it was forgotten in a blinding flash of pain that was so intense that she could hardly breathe. She squeezed Al’s hand and bit down on her lip, trying to keep herself from screaming. It felt almost like a headache, but it burned and was razor sharp in its intensity. It seemed to drag on for hours, but finally the pain faded and she found herself shaking and a woman’s arms around her, holding her. “It’s okay, it’s all over,” Ginny’s voice floated softly into her ears which were ringing a bit. “You’re all right now, Nat.”

Nat was clammy, the hand in Al’s was limp now, and Ginny was stroking her brow just as Nat’s mother would have done if she’d been here.

“I’ve got it,” Nat heard Audrey say. “Here, Nat, drink this. It’s going to tickle in your ears, but then it will be over with. I’ll give you a pain potion and you can get some sleep.”

Nat drank. It tasted terrible, but the itching that followed was like nothing she’d ever felt. She wanted to claw the sides of her head off. She heard Audrey telling Ginny that the scarring was really bad and that Nat had been cursed so long ago that she didn’t know how much was going to be repaired. Al held one hand away from her head in a strong grip and Nat knew Bill held the other to keep her from scratching while Ginny simply held her. The pain and itching crested and then faded.

Nat was drained in a way that she’d never been before. Something was pressed to her lips and she drank without any real thought. The pain faded to nothing. Then competent, practiced arms were lifting her, carrying her up the stairs, setting her on the bed. She felt a mother’s hands, so gentle that she knew they had to belong to one of the mothers, wiping her brow with a warm, wet cloth. Her shoes were removed, the covers lifted up to her chin and Nat fell heavily into sleep.

~*~

As soon as Nat was in her bed, Ginny pulled Harry in to their room and shut the door. She stared at him.

“What?” he asked, unable to resist running his fingers through her loose hair.

“If that were my daughter,” she said finally, “I’d want to know what happened. We need to find them and try to get them here.”

“Gin,” Harry sighed and pulled her in close. “Luv, I know how you feel, but the red tape involved in getting those sorts of permits would take weeks. I can’t make that happen.”

She sniffed.

Harry groaned softly, and knew he was sunk. Whatever it was about Natalie, she’d pulled a string in Ginny’s heart, and now the thought of her going through this without her parents was reducing his unbelievably stoic wife to tears.

“I’m not crying,” she protested unconvincingly. She didn’t raise her eyes from his shirt, and he was reasonably certain he’d find a wet spot there. “I’ve got allergies.”

“Since when?” he probed. “I’m pretty sure I’d have noticed that.”

Ginny slowly curled her fingers in until they were clutching at his shirt. “Harry… that little girl is in a house full of strangers, and she’s just gone through a very painful healing. I’m asking you to play your Harry Potter card and get her parents here. Tomorrow, preferably.”

When she finally looked up, her eyes were dry, but red. “I don’t know that I can,” Harry admitted slowly. “It would take a lot of cooperation, and most everyone is on holiday right now.”

Her lower lip trembled, even as she bit it and looked away.

Harry swore softly, and pulled her back against him. Every so often something like this would get to her, and she’d be unreasonably upset over something that he couldn’t possibly fathom. Except it always had a root, and the root typically lay not far away in their backyard, in the small clearing along with Hope’s grave.

“Okay,” Harry assured her firmly. He cupped her cheeks and kissed her tenderly. “I’ll make this happen. Between myself, Hermione, Percy and your dad we should have enough connections.”

“Thank you,” she said softly. He could see the gratitude in her eyes, and knew she was glad he hadn’t mentioned her tears. It had taken him a lot of years to learn to read his wife, but he had a reasonable grasp on it now.

He nodded and took her hand. “Let’s go make this happen.”

~*~

Nat woke slowly, and blinked her eyes open to find Audrey Weasley sitting in a chair next to her bed, reading a book. She looked up and smiled kindly at her. “How are you feeling?”

“Odd,” Nat admitted honestly.

“I can imagine. We’ve tracked down your parents to let them know what’s happened. Harry and Ron sent word that they’re bringing them back with them. Hopefully, they’ll be here tonight.”

“Really?” Nat said breathlessly, hope filling her. “You’re sure?”

She smiled kindly. “Well, we can’t be sure they’ll make it tonight. Your dad might not get here ‘til tomorrow, but they’re both thrilled that you’ve been cured, or mostly anyway. I’d like to have another look at your ears.”

“Of course!” Nat said, sitting up slowly. She wasn’t sure if it was her imagination or not, but she thought she might be hearing better than she had ever before, although she was dizzy.

Once again Audrey performed the same exam on Nat. “Well, it’s definitely loads better. Bill and Victoire are going to want to see this if you don’t mind. Victoire has been studying with me to become a healer. Still, you’re not totally better. As I said you had a lot of scar tissue and some is still there so your balance isn’t ever going to be perfect, but you should trip less often.”

“Well, that’s something,” Nat said, thankful for it.

“I’m not sure you’ll ever catch up with your height either. You’re always going to be small for your age, but you should make some progress that way.” Audrey pulled Nat’s hand out in front of her and had her hold it in the air. Nat saw it shaking and knew what that meant. “I’m afraid the blood sugar issue is likely to remain and may even get worse if you’re not careful about what you eat. As I said, you had the curse for years, longer than most people do. It’s actually amazing that one of the curse-breakers didn’t hear about it and have you cured shortly after you came out of the tomb. Bill was telling me last night that they’d healed a bunch of Muggles over the years. Here,” she handed Nat a glass with juice, which Nat drank down, only spilling a little bit with her shaking hands, then a slice of turkey. “Eat up and then you can head downstairs for a late breakfast.”

After breakfast Ginny told Al that he could take Nat up on her Firebolt 2. “Really?” Nat asked, not daring to believe she’d heard right.

“Yes, but Al, you hold tight to her and don’t go too fast. Just fast enough,” Ginny said winking. “I’d take you up myself, but I’m preparing for your parents to stay with us and I’ve got an article to finish.”

The morning would have dragged on if it hadn’t been for flying with Al, James and Lily. Their house was set on sixteen acres and without any chance of being spotted by Muggles they were allowed to fly anywhere within sight of the house.

“Faster, Al!” Nat screamed, throwing her arms up in the air, reveling in the feeling of the cold air stinging her face.

His grip on her waist tightened. “I can’t go faster while holding you and the broom. You hold on tight and I’ll speed up.”

They landed a while later when they heard Al’s mum holler. Nat hopped off the broom and threw her arms around Al’s waist for a tight hug. “That was amazing.”

He hugged her back somewhat awkwardly, but his sheepish smile said he was pleased.

Teddy, still with his blue hair, was sitting at the kitchen table when they piled into the room and Nat did a double take. “What happened to your face?” she asked, sitting across from him and taking a large bite of her sandwich. “Your nose is off slightly and your cheek bones aren’t right.”

He looked genuinely surprised. “I hardly did anything to change them today. It’s supposed to be subtle.”

“Your bone structure doesn’t match, like you’re wearing prosthetics or something. Here,” she stood up and leaned over the table, poking at his nose. “Your nose should end right here, lower down and your cheek bones are down here, but your cheeks are puffier than they should be, considering your weight. Did you do magic to change?”

Teddy winked at her as she sat back, screwed up his face and created a pig’s snout for a nose. Everyone laughed. “I’m a Metamorphmagus, which means I can change my appearance at will.”

“Amazing,” Nat said, really impressed. “If you meet my dad, make sure you do that to him. It will drive him nuts till he figures out what the differences are in your face.”

Teddy grinned. “I’ll do that.”

“So what do you do?” Nat asked before taking another bite.

“I’m in Auror training for another year and a half, which is sort of like a policeman,” he said, also digging into his lunch. “My mum was an Auror and my godfather is the head of the Auror department, so they just let me in.”

“No, they didn’t,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes and ruffling his hair affectionately. “You worked hard in school to get top marks and you earned your place. We’re really proud of you!”

Lily giggled. “Teddy’s going to hurt the bad guys and Victoire will get to patch them up again. They’re quite a match. Are you going to get married soon?”

Teddy’s face went scarlet. “It’s a good thing you’re cute, Lily-Lu, ‘cause that question is getting old.”

“When you have a baby can I mind it?” Lily asked him propping her chin on her hand, her face masked in innocence.

“Lily!” Ginny choked out, trying to inject a scolding note into her tone, but failing when she laughed.

Nat could see Lily was having Teddy on, and he apparently knew it as well. “Funny, Lily… really amusing.”

They cleared the table and Ginny sent them into the sitting room with Teddy while she tidied up some. Teddy grabbed Lily around the waist and hauled her up into his arms, tickling her. “What’s the meaning of teasing me, huh? Just because you’re adorable doesn’t mean you can get away with everything!”

“Just wait until she’s older,” Nat commented, grinning at their antics. “Lily is going to be gorgeous.”

They all stopped and looked at her. “Really?” James asked, somewhat taken aback.

“Oh, yeah, definitely. I wish I had my dad’s computer. I could show you. I tried to learn to draw by hand, but I’m no good.”

“I can draw,” James told her. “I’m really good at faces.”

An impish smirk flitted over Nat’s face. “Get some paper and a pencil, then.”

Nearly an hour had passed and everyone was still standing behind James, except for Lily who was wiggling in a seat across from them. “Can I see yet?”

Nat said “Not yet,” at the same time that James said “No!”

“The eyes still aren’t quite right, right here,” Nat pointed. “They’re still a little too narrow. Yes, like that. Okay, the other one. Excellent.”

“What are you kids up to?” Harry Potter asked and they all jumped.

Nat looked up and saw, to her utter delight, her father standing next to Harry. “Dad!” she yelled, and ran to throw herself in her father’s arms. It felt truly excellent to have one of his hugs again.

“Hey Peanut,” he whispered into her hair, kissing her brow. “I have missed you so much.”

“Me, too,” she said.

Harry’s voice made them both look over at him. He was standing there, looking down at James’ drawing that he held in his hand. “What on earth is this?”

“It’s what Lily is going to look like when she’s eighteen,” James told him proudly.

Nat watched Harry’s hand that held the drawing start to shake and he sat heavily down on the sofa, staring dumbfounded at the picture. “No, no way. I cannot handle having a daughter that’s this beautiful.”

Lily went over to see the picture, perching herself in her dad’s lap. “Wow, I am beautiful!”

Harry groaned and closed his eyes, letting his head fall back. “This is going to kill me, Lily Luna. We’re going to have to lock you up to keep you safe.”

“You’re not locking me up. Mum won’t let you.” Lily put her arms around his shoulders and kissed his cheek, before resting her head on his chest. His arms came around her and he held her tight. “It will be all right, Daddy.”

“I’m not so sure about that. Have you seen how old your Uncle Bill is looking lately?”

“Yes, but Victoire is dating Teddy now and Uncle Bill likes Teddy so that’s all right,” Lily explained patiently.

Harry sighed. “Teddy is still a boy, and boys are not to be trusted.”

“Hey!” Teddy griped good-naturedly. “Besides, you’re the head of the Auror department, Harry. It’s not like just any bloke would ask Lily out.”

“Not to mention killing Tom Riddle,” Nat added. “I’ve heard that counts for something.”

Harry smiled wryly.

“Can I see the rendering?” her dad asked, holding out his hand for the picture. He kept his other arm around Nat and she was happy to stay snuggled into his side. Her dad studied it carefully and looked back at Lily. “This is an excellent job, Nat, as always. I agree that you’ve got her nailed. You drew this?” he looked over to James who nodded. “Quite a talent you have, young man.” Then she felt her dad stiffen as he looked at Teddy who was wearing a playful grin. “What on earth have you done to your face?”

Everyone, except her dad, laughed while Teddy explained.

~*~

Her mother arrived shortly before dinner with Al’s Uncle Ron. Her mother spent several minutes with her before setting to work helping Ginny finish up the dinner preparations. When Nat looked in on them she saw them laughing and talking.

Dinner was fantastic and the conversation flowed easily around them. Her parents knew how to fit in anywhere, but they seemed to have a genuine connection to Al’s family even though they were Muggles. After dinner Audrey and Bill came by to talk about what had happened to Nat.

“Bill Weasley,” Bill said, holding out a hand to shake her father’s.

“Curtis Parker, my wife Julienne,” her father said, studying Bill’s scarred face. “Animal attack?”

“Curtis!” Her mother gently smacked his arm. “It’s rude to ask!”

Bill laughed, “I’d have expected him to ask, Mrs. Parker. Yeah, in a manner of speaking it was an animal.”

“Julienne, please,” her mother said as they sat down around the sitting room. Nat sat between her parents, something that she didn’t get to do often.

“I’m Audrey Weasley, a Healer, which is like a doctor,” she explained. “I noticed yesterday how small Nat is for her age, although she doesn’t appear to have achondroplasia. Then she said she’d been in Egypt which got me thinking.” Audrey smiled kindly at Nat. “Then I watched her trip and noticed just how bad her balance was and I asked to examine her. She told us about getting lost in the tomb when she was three and ending up in hospital for several weeks.”

Her mum and dad both let out a groan. “Those were the longest two days of our lives.”

“Was she average sized before that?” Audrey asked and her parents nodded. “So the recurrent ear infections began after, as I suspected. Most people who are cursed with Mortuorum Ambulantum are cured reasonably quickly, but Nat’s had this curse working in her for eight years, so it’s had time to do some damage. The honest truth is that I’ve never seen a case this advanced and we don’t really know what problems it might cause later on. I’m going to do some research, but it will take time. She might be a unique case. What I see in her ears is that there is scar tissue still present, but it is definitely improved. I will, of course, continue to monitor her in the months and years.”

“Most Muggles who are cursed end up dying,” Bill told them. “The curse attacks the adrenal system, which produces hormones in the body. Another side effect is damage to the ear canal. That leads to balance issues. The victims eventually fall one too many times because of their balance being damaged and fall off a cliff. Because Nat is magical, her magic would have saved her from the worst falls.”

Nat reached for her parents’ hands and held them, not wanting them to be scared. “I haven’t tripped once today, though, and I was able to go over three hours between breakfast and lunch without feeling bad.”

“That’s excellent,” Audrey said, clearly pleased.

Her dad cleared his throat. “So how did you examine her? With your, erm, wand I expect?”

“Yes,” Audrey said.

“That’s when she noticed the curse,” Bill explained, his hands folded between his knees as he leaned forward in his seat. “It’s a relatively common curse in the old Egyptian tombs. The ancient wizards would put it on to keep the Muggles out and doing them in before they could loot the tomb. They’d be cursed with recurrent and severe ear infections that would damage their balance and hearing. Left alone to work it rapidly weakens the adrenal system, which is why she’s hypoglycemic and so small. It might have left scarring on other systems in her body, but we’re not sure. As Audrey said, she’s one-of-a-kind. We’ve removed the curse and fixed a lot of the scar tissue, and Audrey gave her a potion that’s helped boost her glands to start working again, but some of the damage is permanent. She’s probably never going to be tall and her hypoglycemia is still present. But it’s a definite improvement.”

Nat heard her mother sniff and she saw, to her horror that her mother was crying. “Mum… don’t, I’m okay!” She leaned into her mother and wished she could say more.

“Thank you, all of you, for helping her. I’m so grateful,” her mother said.

“Yes, and thank you for coming to get us. Those Portkey things really make traveling a lot faster.” Her dad squashed her into a tight hug. “I’m glad we get this time with her.”

~*~

After dinner, Nat and Al’s parents congregated around the kitchen table drinking tea and talking while James, Lily, Al and Nat sat in the sitting room, playing wizard’s chess.

It was Al verses James. Nat and her father had been playing chess for years, but it was nothing like this. It was entertaining to watch the pieces shout instructions and warnings. She’d played a few times with Al. She was good, but she’d noticed that he and James seemed to have an instinct for playing.

“Ohhhhh,” Lily whispered excitedly. “Al’s got his check mate face on!”

Nat looked and saw the quiet triumph there.

James looked up, noting them and rolled his eyes. “All right, what am I missing, Al?”

Al pointed to the board and Nat saw how in the next move James would be in check mate. Nat wasn’t really paying attention to the game, though; instead she studied his face and the expression there. It hadn’t come over his face until after Al had James cornered. Interesting. “Does he always do that?”

“Yep,” Lily told her laughing. “It drives Uncle Ron nuts. He keeps trying to get Al to hold it in, but he never does.”

Al shrugged, sitting back. “If there isn’t anything that can change it, what’s the point?”

“Let’s spy on the parents,” James said suddenly, a mischievous glint in his eyes. He pulled something that looked like flesh colored string from his pocket and crawled over to the side of the couch.

“If Mum catches you, James…” Lily began but then moved over to him, smiling impishly.

Nat looked to Al for an explanation. “They’re called Extendable Ears. We’ll be able to hear into the kitchen. Mum and Dad don’t want us using them.”

“Oh… neat!” Nat said, taking the one James offered. She watched them snake towards the kitchen and towards the adults. She followed suit and stuck the end in her ear.

“She’s a savant about faces,” Nat’s dad was saying quietly. “I’ve never seen another person in all my years that could look at someone and age them up to whatever age I needed or deconstruct the faces and say who the parents could be or what their race would be. She’s got a gift with faces. She can do it with skulls too, but she’s better with a live face. I only get better results from a DNA test.”

“When did she start doing that?” Ginny asked.

There was a long pause and Nat guessed he was probably thinking back on it. She remembered it vividly. “I really started to notice it when she was three or four. She’d be toddling around when I was working with the sketch artists and she’d always take a look at the faces we were doing. There were times when she’d say ‘das not wight, Daddy. Da nose isn’t long enough.’” He sighed. “I can still remember her saying it, just that way. She was always right.”

“That’s amazing,” Harry said, sounding awed. Nat felt her cheeks flush.

“As soon as she figured out how to use the computer she starting using it to create the faces,” her dad said.

Her mum laughed. “It was good fun to watch her try to teach Curtis how to use the software. She was five! He never did get it. Nat would get anyone working with him to help her learn new things. He had several interns who taught her quite a lot.”

“She’s an amazing kid,” Ginny said again. “She talks like an adult.”

“We took her to a psychologist a few times, especially since she’s been exposed to a lot of things that most children wouldn’t normally see,” her mother told them.

Nat looked over at Al, who was studying her as he listened to their parents talking.

“We didn’t want her to be hurt by the work,” her dad explained. “The doctor spent a lot of time talking to her and said that she’s fairly well adjusted, clearly brilliant, and that she’s very typical of a homeschooled child, especially for an only child. They tend to talk more like an adult and don’t have problems talking to a wide range of people. Nat’s just… different… but in a very good way. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve asked for her expert opinion on several cases and been astounded by the fact that I consider her an expert even though she’s a child and has had no formal schooling on the subject. There are times when I look back and wonder if I shouldn’t have… if she’d have been better at a boarding school, but I believe she can understand just how much she’s helped people and that someday that will mean a lot to her.”

Nat pulled the Extendable Ear from her ear. She didn’t really want to hear anymore. She saw Al do the same and shortly after James and Lily. She crawled back over towards the couches and sat with her back against them, staring into the fire. They all sat around her, Al on her right side. He took her hand in his. “You okay?”

“It was really hard some days,” Nat whispered, seeing the flames dance. “I have seen a baby who had been murdered… well, just her skeleton really. It was tough, but I got an idea of what the parents might have looked like long before the DNA could come back. The police were able to catch them using facial recognition software from the drawing I came up with on the computer. I just… I see them. I see them for what they are.” She shuddered. “It was important work and I’m glad I did it, but I’m never going to get the image of that baby’s skull out of my head.”

Al’s arms came around her first, then James on her other side and finally Lily throwing herself on top of the pile in an awkward and amazing hug. Finally Lily sat back on her heals and asked, “What’s a savant?”

“Genius,” Al said quietly. “Nat’s a genius.”

“Well, we knew that,” Lily said, rolling her eyes and reaching for her mug of hot cocoa. “Why can’t they use normal words?”

“I’m not a genius,” Nat corrected. “I’m gifted, but not a genius. I just have an eye for faces, like my dad said. And,” she added with a small smile. “They didn’t expect us to be spying on them so why would they use easier words?”

“You’re a genius with languages, too,” James reminded her, ignoring her jab that they’d been spying. He went back to the chess board and started to reset. “Can you learn to speak Mermish because I have several questions about the giant–”

“Bedtime, you lot!” Ginny called, coming into the room. She eyed Nat and Al who were still sitting close together on the floor. “You two okay?’

Al answered for them. “Never better, Mum.”

Nat gave her parents hugs and went to bed not long after with Lily. She crawled into bed, snuggling under the soft, warm covers. “Night, Lily.”

“Night,” Lily said. She was quiet for almost five minutes and Nat was almost asleep when she spoke again. “Am I really going to be that beautiful?”

Nat yawned and rolled onto her side. “Yeah, you will be. You already are. As long as you remember that beauty is as beauty does, you’ll have the boys throwing themselves at your feet.”

There was a long pause before Lily asked, “What does that mean exactly?”

“Treat people well or it won’t matter what your face looks like– no one will want to be around you,” Nat explained. “Not that I think you’ll have a problem, though. You’re nice.”

“Still, I’ll remember that.” Lily let out a sigh. “Thanks, Nat.”

“Sure.”

Back to index


Chapter 7: Chapter 4

Author's Notes: Have you checked out the free preview of my book? Check my profile!!!!! Pretty please :D I made the top 50 in young adult books list on amazon. Thank you to everyone who has.

So this story... I haven't written anymore, because quite frankly my head is stuck in the original. Never fear, as soon I'm through with the other, I will focus on this one. Full stop, tons of work on it. Promise. You can show your support for me by reading the free chapter of my book on amazon ;)

I have to thank Arnel for being a rock star beta!

Last, there is THIS chapter and NEXT chapter this still focus heavily on Nat, then it switches. Have patience dear readers, I promise we'll swap it up. I need to get some stuff settled with her first, as I'm setting a stage for a very big, complicated, looooooong plot. It'll be worth it, just hang tight.

Tell me what you think! Thank you for all the fun reviews everyone! ~Sarah


Her parents could only stay for two days, but they were an amazing two days. Nat went flying with Al to show her parents and although they were a tad uncomfortable about it, they quickly overcame it. Mostly, Nat knew, because Al refused to go very fast while they were watching.

Her parents and Al’s parents rubbed along really well and when Rose’s parents came over the night before they left, the six of them stayed up late laughing and talking. Nat heard Ginny say to her mum that it was as if they’d known them forever, which Nat could appreciate. She felt the same way about Al, Rose and Scorpius. There was an almost instant connection between the four of them.

“My turn,” Rose said as Nat fiddled with her dad’s laptop on their last day there. He’d brought it along, ostensibly to show her something he’d discovered on this really old skeleton, but Nat knew it was because he’d lost several files and needed her to find them. Harry and Hermione had fiddled with it till they coaxed it into working in the magical house. She was showing several of the Weasley cousins the aging software.

Rose sat in front of the laptop and Nat took her picture using the computer’s built in camera. She played with it for a while and eventually an image took shape, showing Rose at eighteen. “You look like your mum, but I figured you would. This software is really advanced, too. I can modify the image a lot more than I used to with the older version. It used to take a long time to get an accurate picture and even then it was still guess work with some science.”

“You look good, Rose,” Fred told her.

“What about you, Nat?” Al asked. “You’ve done everyone else.”

Nat went to the desk top and pulled up the folder with her stored pictures. “I did mine ages ago. It’s nothing special, really. I probably won’t change much.” She clicked on the file and pulled it up. “I changed a lot from my baby pictures. If I age myself before I fell in the tomb I grow up to be pretty much exactly like my mum, but something must have gotten mixed up when I got cursed. I didn’t put it together until yesterday what must have happened. See, this is what I’ll turn into now.” The picture had pulled up, showing her straight hair around her small, heart-shaped face. Her nose was too small, her eyes too big, and her cheeks to high and her mouth too wide.

“You sort of look like one of those Muggle pixies that we saw at Euro Disney last year,” Rose told her.

Nat cocked her head to the side. “You’re right, sort of. Mostly it’s in the shape of my face and thankfully without the pointed ears. And this one,” she went back to the folder, “is a rendering from a picture from when I was three, before the curse.” She clicked it and a tall, pretty woman who looked remarkably like her mother, but with her father’s eyes and nose, appeared.

“Wow, that is different,” Al said, whistling.

“You would have been so pretty,” James said and Rose and Roxy both hit him hard. “OW! Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way, I just…”

“I know, James. It’s okay,” Nat said, closing the files, trying to not let James’ words sting. “It is what it is and no sense being upset by it. I’m just glad to know what happened. I was really confused before.” She grinned at them. “So that’s what I did in my free time growing up.”

~*~

Nat had to work hard not to cry that evening when she hugged her parents. “We’re both going to make it back to London for your Easter holiday,” her mum promised. “I’ve already told my boss that’s not negotiable since it’s also your twelfth birthday.”

“We love you, Peanut,” her dad said. “I wish we didn’t have to get back to work.”

The Potter and Weasley kids refused to let her brood over her parents and it was quickly decided that they were going to have a game of what they called ‘midnight hide and go seek’. They Floo called all the cousins and nearly everyone in the family decided to join in and shortly after dinner, Nat found herself dress in all black in the Potter’s large dining room with the rest of the family. They looked like a motley crew about to attend a funeral. Only Aunt Audrey couldn’t come because she was on call that night at St. Mungo’s. Even Teddy had come.

“The rules are simple,” Harry told her. “It’s a normal game of hide and go seek with a few twists. One person is ‘it’ and the rest scatter to hide. The person who is ‘it’ gives the rest of the family a one minute head start before going out to search. The person who is ‘it’ tries to find and tag as many people as possible and those that get tagged also go seek out the others who are hidden. After five minutes of play Gran will call out and those who haven’t been tagged have to leave their hiding places and try to make it back safely here to the table where Gran will be waiting. That’s the dangerous time since it’s easier to get caught then. Either the last person not tagged, or the first person back to the table wins. We play it in pitch darkness and the boundaries are already marked around the yard, through the woods, with red lights. You won’t be able to go past the line.”

“Gran is the referee and her word is final,” Grandad Weasley said cheerfully, donning a black cap over his silver hair.

“Do you do this often?” Nat asked, seeing the excitement on everyone’s faces, including all the mums.

They all nodded. “Every chance we get,” Dominique assured her.

“Who’s ‘it’ first?” Nat asked, but Ron has already put a hat in front of his mother, who drew out a name.

“Percy is ‘it’ first,” she said. “I’ll give the signal in one minute for Percy to start.”

Nat felt Al take her hand in his.

“Go,” Gran Molly said and Al pulled her behind him, out of the house.

Nat couldn’t ever remember having more fun in her life. Her heart raced every time they were nearly caught, and they laughed when they were caught and they caught others and when the dads and Ginny would jinx each other trying to get back first. Nat and Al only once managed to make it back to the table without getting tagged, although Lucy beat them there by about thirty seconds. They sat with Gran Molly and waited for the others to get back, breathless with excitement. “How did you come up with this?”

“It was George, well really it was Luna, but you don’t know her,” Gran told her. “All of them were having trouble after the final battle and grieving. George was really down and Luna told us about this game she and her father would play. By the end of the first night everyone loved it.” Gran sighed, but it wasn’t a sad sigh, more of a remembrance. “It was good to watch. They kept it up, playing nearly every time we all got together. I’ve always been the referee and sometimes the babyminder. Just as soon as Teddy was two Harry had him out there playing as well. Teddy would giggle or talk and give them away, but the others tended to let Harry escape with him, chasing slowly while Teddy shrieked with laughter.”

Nat tried to picture Teddy as a baby and formed a clear image of the toddler in Harry’s arms, running around in the dark. It was a good image. “This is so much fun.”

When they finally fell in to bed, well after midnight, Nat was exhausted and happy, even though she missed her parents. It was Christmas Eve the next day and everyone would be back Christmas Day for presents and a huge dinner. She let out a contented sigh and fell asleep immediately.

~*~

Christmas Eve was quiet around the Potter house during the morning. They’d all slept in late from their game the night before, and they sat around in the living room playing Exploding Snap. They were on their fourth game when the fireplace roared to life and Scorpius stumbled out.

“Hey,” Al said, looking surprised. “I thought you said you couldn’t come.”

Scorpius looked unsure for a moment before sitting down with them. “I’d had enough. My dad isn’t speaking to me, and my mum is mad at him for not speaking to me. She told me I could come over for a while when I asked. I needed to get away from him. Sorry I didn’t send an owl to check before. I was about ready to lose it.”

“Did I hear–”

Nat turned to see Ginny frozen in the doorway, surprise written on her face, but it faded quickly. A small smile came to her lips.

“Mum, this is Scorpius,” Al said, introducing him.

“Hello,” Ginny said. “Al said you might come. I’m glad you could make it.”

“Thank you,” Scorpius said, his cheeks a little pink.

Ginny nodded. “Lunch will be in about twenty minutes you lot. I’ll call you in a few to come set the table.”

“I’m Lily,” Lily said, holding out her hand. Scorpius shook it and said hello.

“You should have been here last night,” James told him. “We played midnight hide and go seek.”

“What’s that?” Scorpius asked, picking up one of the exploding snap cards.

Nat played her next card while Lily explained the game. “It’s so much fun! We’ll have to let you know next time we play.”

“I’ve never had so much fun,” Nat told him, unable to contain her grin.

Scorpius grinned back, and Nat could tell he wanted to try it. “Hopefully, my dad will just disown me and I’ll be able to do whatever I like.”

Before anyone could comment the whole pile of cards blew up, and singed Al’s sleeve.

After lunch they went out back to fly. Nat tried to get on a broom by herself, but once again the broom dumped her off. “That is not fair,” Nat grumbled as she climbed onto Al’s broom with him. “I’m loads better now that I’m not cursed.”

“It’s all right, Nat. I don’t mind,” Al assured her. “We can go really fast today.”

They flew until nearly three o’clock when it started to snow. They went in for hot chocolate and to warm up. Nat sipped at some unsweetened herbal tea, as they sat around the kitchen table, chatting happily.

“I’ve got to go,” Scorpius said finally. “I promised Mum I’d be back by four o’clock.”

“Come back any time,” Ginny told him sincerely and he grinned at her. “We enjoyed having you.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Potter. I’ll see you later.”

Harry arrived home about an hour later and was told about their house guest. He only raised an eyebrow at the name, but seemed reassured by Ginny’s words that he was a nice boy. They ate a quiet supper and everyone turned in early, knowing that the whole family would arrive around ten the next morning for gifts. They didn’t do gifts on the end of the bed like most families. Instead they’d all gather and exchange gifts together around the tree.

~*~

“He was nice,” Ginny told Harry as she chopped onions next to her husband, while he diced potatoes. While she could have done it quickly with magic, they enjoyed this time together to talk and reconnect. There was a very reasonable chance that none of the children would wander in to the kitchen. They’d have been put to work. “Honestly, Harry, I was so surprised, but he’s just a normal kid. He looked so scared, though. I think he thought I was going to kick him out.”

“I trust you,” Harry assured her quietly. “I just…” his voice faded off.

She turned to look at him, trying to read his expression. “What if your grandparents had turned Sirius away? What if Narcissa hadn’t spared your life in the forest? You’d be dead. She saved you by not revealing you to Voldemort.”

“You’re right,” he said firmly, dumping the potatoes in a pot. “I want to get to know him better, though. We should invite him over when I can actually meet him.”

“We will this summer,” Ginny promised, sniffing from the onion odor. “I think you’ll like him, and if he comes during the day I can send you a message and you can come home to meet him.”

Harry nodded slowly. “I went back through the box.”

She frowned, trying to figure out what he meant. “That box?”

“The records of what happened,” he told her quietly. “I looked through all the case notes. I know it can’t have been her who sent the note since she’d dead and I’m still getting them, but I’m constantly drawn back to it.”

“Luv,” Ginny said gently, putting her arms around his waist and pulling him in tight. “You have fantastic instincts. Maybe there is something there to find.”

He sighed heavily, and laid his cheek on the top of her head. “I keep circling back to her, and wondering if she had an accomplice. I thought maybe her sister, you know, Goyle’s mum, but she died a few years ago. I’ve investigated every avenue and I can’t see where else I can look.”

“Do you want to talk to Hermione?” she probed, eyeing him curiously. “She is the Deputy Head of the Magical Law Enforcement, after all.”

Harry shook his head. “I have nothing to go on except those stupid notes. We’ve got no leads on them, at all. She’s not going to have any more insight than we’ve had. I just… I don’t want to make a move without having something.” He ran a hand through his hair, standing it even further on end. “I can’t explain it properly.”

She stood on tiptoes and gently brushed his mouth with hers. “I trust you. You’ll figure it out someday, and in the meantime you’ll keep us safe.”

“More security around the house,” Harry said after a moment pause, not really looking at her now. “After the kids go back to school, so that they don’t ask questions.”

“Lily?” Ginny asked, but needn’t have. She knew Lily wouldn’t question her father doing something around the house. She accepted those things, where as her curious brothers would want to know every detail.

His troubled eyes met hers. “Am I doing the right thing?”

“I don’t know,” she licked her lips, and held his gaze. “I trust you, though. You’ll figure it out, and if you don’t then we’ll realize that it wasn’t worth fretting over.”

“Mum!” James yelled, skidding in to the kitchen. “I’m starving.”

“Set the table,” Ginny and Harry said in unison.

James rolled his eyes, and walked out hollering, “Al! Mum says set the table.”

He was gone before they could scold him.

~*~

The next morning everyone was in for a surprise. Nat, Al and Lily padded down to the living room and found a large, redheaded man sleeping under a quilt on the sofa.

Lily squealed and threw herself onto the man, who grunted and woke up with a start. “UNCLE CHARLIE!!!”

Shortly thereafter Harry, Ginny and James came running in to see what the commotion was about and Nat realized immediately that Charlie was not expected at all this Christmas. After hugs were exchanged and she was introduced, Charlie explained. “Wanted to surprise Mum,” Charlie told them, while Lily snuggled in his arms. “Can’t kip on her sofa if I’m going to surprise her. You were all asleep when I got in last night so I thought I’d just see you this morning.”

They talked and laughed over breakfast. Everyone busted up when Ginny put her freezing hands on Charlie’s arm to warm them up and he started swearing and pushed her over to Harry. Nat grinned as she watched Harry manfully tolerate her freezing fingers on his cheeks. “It’s real love when a bloke will put up with this,” she said winking at Lily and Nat.

“Yeah, not for brothers, Smidge,” Charlie said to her as he walked over to the table to sit down.

Nat was sitting next to Al. She leaned over to him and said, “That’s how big Fred will be in a few years; you too if you work at it. You’ve all got the same general bone structure.”

“Come again?” Charlie asked.

Nat blushed. She hadn’t realized he was listening. “Erm, bone structure… you, Mr. George, Fred and Al all have the same body architecture. I was telling Al that’s what he’s going to look like if he works at it.”

“I thought George told you to call him the holey one?” Ginny mused.

Harry ignored his wife’s joke. “Really?” he questioned, looking skeptical. “Al looks more like me, I think.”

“His face yes, but his body no. James has your build. It’s in the shoulder breath and the width of their bones. James is going to have your build, maybe a bit taller, but Al’s bones are thicker than James’ bones.” She grabbed Al’s wrist and held it up, along with hers. “See how much wider it is? His wrist is over twice mine. Even though he’s skinny now, he’s going to grow into the bones. The bones don’t lie.”

Charlie was goggling at her and Lily giggled. “Her dad is a world famous Muggle bone man. He knows all about people and what they’ll look like and guess what, Uncle Charlie! I’m going to be extremely beautiful, just like Aunt Fleur! Nat showed James how to draw my picture of what I’ll look like. I’m thinking about having twenty boyfriends when I get to Hogwarts.”

Nat had to bite hard on her cheek to keep from laughing and she saw that Lily’s mum was having the same problem. Lily was stringing them along for all it was worth and Nat could see that Charlie had taken the bait. “I don’t think so, Lily! You’re not dating until you’re at least forty.” He turned to Harry, who was looking pale and horrified. “Back me up, here! Maybe she should be schooled at home.”

“I suggested it,” Harry sighed. “Gin says she’s going to Hogwarts.”

“Ginny,” Charlie said, trying to sound reasonable. “Boys are no good. The whole lot of us are rotten to the core. You can’t let Lily go to school! What about an all witches school, then?”

“There aren’t any in Europe, Charlie. She’s going to Hogwarts,” Ginny said firmly. “I went and I was just fine.”

Harry went even paler. “Oh bloody- no, no she’s not going! I know what happened with you and I’m not–” he cut off mid-sentence blushing.

Charlie was glaring at him. “What do you mean you–”

“Excuse me,” Ginny interrupted calmly. “She’s going to Hogwarts you two. She’ll have a great time, maybe have a few boyfriends, play Quidditch, learn something and graduate. End of discussion.” Ginny grinned at her daughter. “Lily Luna, it’s not nice to wind up your dad and uncle. You hold an important position, being the baby girl of the family. They’re terribly frail where you’re concerned. Best give it a rest for now.”

“Hey!” Charlie said, but Harry seemed to agree with his wife.

Nat helped clean up from breakfast and watched avidly as Ginny showed her how magical cooking was different from Muggle cooking. Before long she was back into the groove of preparing food. “We typically had a cook wherever we went. My dad liked to hire local women who often wouldn’t get as good a job otherwise and we always ended up with fantastic local food. I loved hanging out in the kitchen with them, learning to prepare different dishes.”

“You are a fascinating kid, Nat,” Ginny told her affectionately. “You have so many different interests. I can see why Al and Rose are so fond of you.”

Nat blushed. “I’m fond of them, too. I’ve not really had friends that I’ll get to keep for longer than a few months.”

“I heard from Rose and Fred,” Ginny continued, “that you’re part of the reason that James has settled down a bit.”

Nat eyed her warily, not sure if she was in for it or not. Ginny didn’t seem angry, but she could imagine that when provoked that Al’s mum would have quite the temper. “Erm…”

Mrs. Potter turned to her, a twinkle in her eyes and Nat relaxed. “I’m not angry. Fred told me that you convinced him to turn James’ underpants pink.”

“With flowers,” Nat added before snapping her mouth shut. She relaxed when she saw the older woman smiling. “He just wouldn’t stop going on about being on the Quidditch team!"

“I gathered,” Ginny said resignedly. “I love him to bits, but from everything I’ve heard he’s just like his namesake, Harry’s father. You’ve had a good influence on Al as well. When he wrote and said that he’d made a friend who shut James up and helped him stand up to his brother… well, that cinched it. I wanted to meet you. You wouldn’t know it now, but James used to torment Al all the time. I’ve not seen him really pick on him much.”

“James isn’t so bad,” Nat said, resuming cutting the onions, and sniffing back the tears that sprang up from the powerful fumes. “He just needed to remember that he wasn’t the only one who could dish it out.”

Nat tensed for a split second as Ginny’s arm came around her shoulder for a quick half hug, but then relaxed. “Yes, but only Lily, Fred and Dominique have ever dished it back to James. You’ve given Al the courage to stand up for himself.”

Nat kept chopping up onions as she spoke. “I dunno about that… but anyway Al helps me all the time. He’s kept me out of the hospital wing more times than I can count. He’s got excellent reflexes and always manages to catch me before I hit the floor or a wall or the stairs…”

“I’d noticed that,” his mother agreed. Nat glanced at her quickly, not sure how to read her tone, but Ginny went on to another subject. “You’ve led an interesting life. Most kids haven’t ever left their own country, but you’ve been everywhere and you know things most adults will never know. For instance, you seem like a very capable chef, especially for someone so clumsy. You’re very dexterous with your hands.”

Nat grinned. “Thankfully it’s mostly my feet that get me in trouble, not my hands. I love to learn. It keeps life interesting. It doesn’t even matter what I’m learning. A lot of the cooks my dad hired were usually really great about me helping them because most of them had kids so it was refreshing to be around someone who didn’t mind me much. Many of Dad’s colleagues didn’t want me around because they were all confirmed bachelors, or so my dad said.” She dumped a pile of diced onions into a bowl. “I’m glad Dad liked having me there. He’s a great teacher, always willing to show me what he was doing and explain it to me.” Nat froze as she heard a scream from the living room.

“That will be Gran seeing Charlie,” Ginny told her with a wink.

Lunch was served at eleven o’clock and the whole crew tucked in. Nat had convinced Mrs. Potter to let her make traditional Korean orange chicken and everyone was raving over it, much to her delight. She’d wanted to give something back to them for all they’d done for her. They’d taken her in so she didn’t have to spend Christmas alone, rid her of a debilitating curse, and even gave her two wonderful days with her parents. Nat thought that the least she could do was make something for them.

“This is fantastic,” Ron said, already on his fourth helping. “It’s not anything like what you’d get at a restaurant.”

“It’s all in what you put in it,” Nat said, blushing.

After lunch Teddy arrived with his grandmother and they gathered near the large tree in the living room to open gifts. Nat curled up at the foot of one of the couches, laughing with everyone as they opened gifts and threw wrapping paper at each other.

“Here,” Al said, handing her a gift. “This is from Rose and me.”

“Thanks,” Nat said, chewing on her lip and opening the paper to see a small, hand held mirror. “It’s nice,” she told him honestly.

“That’s a two-way mirror… well, four-way,” Rose told her. “I asked Mum to make them for us. You’ll be heading all over the world during the summers and this way we can all talk and keep up with each other. Owls take weeks to make it around the world. Mum says it will work just like Skype or like FaceTime on the iPad. Al, Scorpius and I have one as well. That way Scorpius won’t have to hear it from his dad if we want to talk. ”

Nat’s lower lip began to tremble and tears prickled at her eyes. She felt Rose’s arms go around her shoulders. “Thank you. I… this is the best gift. I didn’t want to wait weeks to hear from you this summer.”

She heard someone clear their throat and she looked up to see Hermione smiling. “I do have a condition on those mirrors. You’re not allowed to use them during class or during detentions if you ever wind up in detention.”

Nat let out a watery giggle. “Deal.”

Nat gave Al and Rose their gifts, something she’d had to badger James into helping her with, but it had been worth it. It was a hand drawn picture of the four of them, Al, Rose, Scorpius and her, aged up to around twenty, standing arm in arm. She’d had James write “To the Future” on the bottom and she’d then had Ginny help her make copies. It had Scorpius on the left, Rose then Nat in the middle, and Al on the other end.

“I wanted to give you something that only I could really give you. I gave one to Scorpius too.” Nat explained, feeling inexplicably shy. She shot James an appreciative look. “James did a good job drawing them for me.”

“It’s great,” Al told her.

“We’ll have to hang on to these until we are twenty and then pose for a camera and put them side by side,” Rose exclaimed enthusiastically. Al stared at her dumbly. “Okay, probably I’m the only one who’ll want to do that.”

Al’s cousin Molly leaned over Rose’s shoulder to look at the picture. “Is this right? Is Rose really going to be that tall?”

“Let’s see,” Charlie said, holding out a hand.

“She’s not that tall, actually,” Nat said sheepishly, casting Rose an apologetic look. “She’s only slightly taller than average now. She just looks really tall next to me. Scorpius will be a little taller than her and Al.”

Fleur took the picture from her husband. “Mon Dieu! Look at them.”

Harry took Al’s copy to examine it. “Most people have to actually wait to grow up to see how they’re going to turn out, or take an aging potion. This is quite a talent you’ve got. How tall will you be Nat?”

Nat sighed heavily. “If I start really growing I might get close to five feet, which is about a meter and a half, but I probably won’t. Odds are good I’ll be a couple inches below that.”

George took it next. “Well, you four make quite the set.”

They were almost done with gifts when Gran Molly stood up to start handing out lumpy packages. “Excellent,” Al whispered next to her. “Weasley jumpers.”

Gran moved around the circle and handed one to Nat. “When I wrote to Rose she said you’re about Lily’s size, but I think it might be a little big.”

“I don’t mind,” Nat said, overwhelmed. “Thank you!” she said, hopping to her feet and throwing her arms around the older woman. “Thank you so much!” The jumper wasn’t even opened, but that didn’t matter. It was currently being squashed between them.

“You’re welcome,” Gran said, holding onto her, and giving her a hard hug back. When they broke off, she didn’t fully let go but cupped Nat’s cheek with her soft hand. “You’re a good girl, Natalie.”

Nat sniffed and opened her jumper along with everyone else after Gran had finished handing them all out. She beamed as she pulled the plum jumper over her head and rolled the sleeves back a bit. It was warm and soft and she felt like she belonged. She settled back on the floor next to Al. She grinned at him and he grinned back before plucking at the hem of her sweater. “It’s a dress on you.”

If Nat hadn’t rolled her eyes and looked away from him for a split second she’d have missed the look Ginny, Hermione and Gran exchanged between them. It was an odd mix between shock and knowing. What does that mean? she thought.

“Nat?” Al caught her attention.

She swatted at his hand away playfully. “Doesn’t matter, Al. I think it’s perfect.”

~*~

Harry and Ginny walked hand in hand up the stairs of their quiet house. The excitement of Christmas was over and everyone was settled in for the night. The kitchen had been put to rights, the presents stored and all was still as the world was blanketed in thickly falling snow.

Harry closed the door behind them and Ginny went over to the bed and crawled in, sitting with her back propped up against the headboard to watch Harry as he changed into sweat pants and a t-shirt. They had been married for almost twenty years and he still had the ability to turn her insides to mush. When he looked over she grinned at him. “What’s up with you?” he asked, pulling on his shirt and padding over. “Are you sleeping in those clothes?”

“Al is completely gone over Natalie,” Ginny told him and she enjoyed watched the shock wash over his face.

Almost instantly his expression turned skeptical. “Come on, Gin,” he shook his as he sat on the edge of the bed and laced his fingers in hers. “They’re eleven. Don’t you think it’s a bit early to be matchmaking?”

“I’m not matchmaking,” she correctly mildly. “Al is a completely different kid around her.”

Harry hesitated, “Well… I mean, he seems like he’s come out of his shell some, but… Ginny, they’re eleven!”

“That is not the son we sent off to school,” Ginny pointed out stubbornly. “I hardly recognized him even though I’ve been seeing the shift in his letters.”

“I guess you’re right,” he said. “She does seem to bring something out in him, but she’s definitely an odd child.”

“Oh, yeah,” Ginny agreed laughing. “But in the best kinds of ways. I didn’t know what to expect when we met her but here she is, this tiny little dynamo who has the poise of someone so much older. She’s funny, smart, respectful and I really like her. I really like her parents, too.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “They were great. Curtis and I had a good time at a pub before the Portkey left. The whole traveling by magic thing didn’t throw him as much as I was expecting.” Sighing Harry lay down with his head in her lap so she could stroke her fingers through his hair. “She is titchy, though. She even makes Lily look like a giant, and that’s not really easy to do since Lily is small like you.”

Ginny scrunched up her nose, pretending to glare at him. “I am not small.”

“Well,” Harry said giving her a once over from his limited vantage point. “Well… not small in certain places.”

“You…” Ginny said, leaning over to kiss him. “You are trouble, Potter.”

“Ah, but you knew that when you married me,” Harry reminded her. “I’ve always been trouble.” They kissed again. “Speaking of marrying me, what do you want to do for our twenty year anniversary? It’s only a few months off.”

Ginny’s mind went almost immediately out to the little grave across the stream, to their first child. When she thought of their wedding, Hope always came to her mind. “Yeah…”

“Gin,” Harry sat up and pulled her into his arms. “I didn’t mean to make you sad.”

“No,” Ginny said, wrapping her arms around his trim waist thankful that he could read her so well. “No, you didn’t. I’m not sad. It’s just hard to believe that if she’d lived that she’d be about to turn nineteen.”

Harry gently kissed her temple. “Time has flown by.”

“The kids are going to ask more questions soon,” she said, burying her nose in his soft shirt. “Honestly, I’m amazed that they haven’t yet. If they do the math they’ll figure out I was sixteen when we got married.”

Harry sighed and pulled her backwards so that they fell back onto the bed with Ginny half-sprawled across him. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

“I don’t want them to know the whole story,” she admitted with a hitch in her voice. “I don’t want any of them to hear just how awful people can be.”

He ran a hand through her hair, letting it fall gently through his fingers. “Then we don’t tell them the full story.”

“We can’t lie to them, Harry,” she huffed. “Just because I don’t want them to know, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the truth. Just… just maybe not the truth any time soon.”

Harry shifted and pulled her more fully against her. “Teddy took it okay,” he reminded her gently. “Well, he cried some, but he understood.”

That had been one of the hardest talks Ginny had ever sat through. Teddy had known about Hope already. He’d seen her grave all his life because he was in and out of their backyard as much as his own. When he’d finally learned to read he’d asked her and she’d told him about the baby they had lost. It was very brief details, but enough that he could understand. When he was fifteen he finally did the math and worked out just how young Ginny had been, he’d gone straight to them for some answers.

Harry had told him the truth. Ginny had tried not to cry, but she hadn’t managed it and by the end of the story Teddy was crying on her shoulder, his tall, lanky frame shaking.

“How did you do it?” Teddy asked. “I’m going to be sixteen soon and I can’t even imagine being in that position.”

Harry had looked at him steadily and had replied softly, “Just make sure you don’t put anyone in that position, yourself included.”

Teddy understood completely.

“Bill asked me to talk to Teddy,” Harry said, snapping Ginny back to the present. “He’s worried about Victoire.”

“What did you tell him?” Ginny said, eyeing him.

Harry shrugged. “I told him that Teddy knows the truth about Hope and that he didn’t have to worry about it.”

Sighing heavily, she nodded and slowly rose up from the bed to change into her sleepwear. “Still, you should have that talk with Teddy before too long. They’re getting to be that age and it’s looking like they’re going to stick it out. I’m sort of surprised at how long they’ve been together.”

“I will,” Harry assured her as he slid under the quilt. “Definitely before she comes home this summer now that she’s of age and finishing school, but let’s go back to Al.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m not saying they’re going to get married or anything. I’m just saying that he’s smitten with her, even if he doesn’t know it and I’m inclined to think that he doesn’t or he’d be shy around her.” Ginny padded back over and crawled in next to him, cuddling up to his side. “Mum and Hermione also saw it. He’s careful with her and very aware of her. Hermione said it’s like watching how you are with me. You really didn’t see anything?”

Harry rolled until he was half on top of her and kissed the tip of her nose. “What was there to see?”

“She loves flying,” Ginny smirked. “He loves taking her flying.”

“Well, if that isn’t a marriage proposal I don’t know what is,” Harry said dryly. “Let’s send out the invitations.”

“You mark my words, Harry. She’s going to have a major impact on him, more than she already has.”

Her husband bent again, nuzzling her neck. “If you say so.”

“I want to go to Ireland for our anniversary,” she told him, tilting her head so he could get to that spot she loved behind her ear. “Let’s leave Lily with Ron and Hermione and spend a weekend away.”

“I was thinking a whole week,” Harry murmured as he made his way down to her collarbone.

“I like the way you think.”

~*~

“Look at the snow!” Nat said the next morning. “It’s so beautiful.”

“Snowball fight!” James shouted as he came into the kitchen and looked out the window. “I’m going to get the cousins.”

The fight was intense and fiercely competitive.

Nat ran across the bridge, over the almost completely frozen stream with Al hot on her heels, snowball in hand. Nat’s foot hit an exposed tree branch and she fell giggling into a pile of snow next to a large oak tree.

Al flopped next to her, laughing. “I think I win this round.”

“You won the last round,” Nat panted. “Come on, we have to get a move on before we get ambushed”. She put her hand down and it slipped on something under the snow. “What’s that?”

Al frowned and then comprehension crossed his face as he pushed the snow away from a grave marker.

‘Hope Potter 23rd August 1998’

“It’s my sister’s grave. My mum had a miscarriage,” Al explained. “She doesn’t talk about it much and when she does mention it, she cries.”

Nat stared at the name and date, her mind racing as the dates and math started to filter in. She didn’t know exactly how old Al’s mum was, but Nat was reasonably certain she wasn’t more than thirty four or thirty five. “That’s sad. I’m sorry, Al.”

Al nodded, and stood. He held out his hand and hoisted her onto her feet. “It was a long time ago.”

“Yeah,” Nat agreed and watched his face. He didn’t seem to realize that his mum had been a teenager when she’d gotten pregnant.

A snowball hit Al in the back of the head and the fight was back on.

Back to index


Chapter 8: Chapter 5

Author's Notes: I'm on twitter now! If you want to follow me, it's @sarahjaune

Thank you Arnel for beta'ing for me :D

Also, pretty please, go check in my PROFILE! Go look at a free preview of my book. If you like my style, you'll like my book. Give it a chance (the first chapter is FREE!)

Some asked in reviews, and I responded, but here's the LAST bit in Nat's POV for a couple of chapters. We'll have a small POV from her in three chapters or so, but that's it for a while. No way am I making Nat this all powerful something like Dumbledore. Nope, not happening. That kind of character irks me. Anyway, hope you enjoy.

Next chapter has Al's POV in it for some :D


“How was it?” Rose asked Scorpius, her face pinched in concern as she shifted restlessly on her seat. Nat sat next to her as they sped along the countryside back to Hogwarts. Christmas was over. It was time to get back to school.

Scorpius shrugged. “He was a prat all through Christmas. Aunt Daphne eventually blew up at him and told him to get over it and that I could have worse friends.” A smirk flitted across his face. “Then she said, ‘you know, Draco, just like the friends you had during your years at Hogwarts? The ones that nearly got you killed?’ That shut him up and he’s not said anything since. My aunt is basically the only one who stands up to him anymore. He did say that I’m not to mention you three to my grandparents.”

Al rolled his eyes. “Uncle Ron told Rose she wasn’t to get too friendly with you when we were about to get on the train, remember, Rose?”

Nat looked over to see Rose blushing. “Really?”

Rose sighed, “Yes, but I can decide whom I want to be friends with and Dad was joking.”

“I don’t think he cares about you being friends, he just doesn’t want you two to get married,” Al said.

Rose’s face went red and Scorpius looked as though he wanted to throw himself from the train. Nat had to fight hard not to bang her head against the compartment wall. “Al, you just said the exact wrong thing.”

“What?” Al said, clearly confused. “That’s what he said!”

Nat blew out a breath. “He was probably teasing her and while in some cultures kids get married at thirteen, we’re not one of them. They’re not ready to get married any time before they’re twenty-five or so.”

“My dad and mum got married earlier, at twenty I think,” Al told her. “I think Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione were twenty-two.”

Nat stared at him. He clearly doesn’t know, she thought. But she wanted desperately to save Rose from the waves of embracement that she could feel rolling off the other girl. “Yes, but it’s embarrassing. Would you like Rose to tell me all about how your parents had told you not to marry me?”

Al squeaked, before cottoning on to the fact that she’d turned the tables on him. “Oh. Sorry, you two, I didn’t mean to…you know.”

Scorpius clapped him on the shoulder. “The picture you sent me was excellent. I really like the mirror, too. How did you get the owl to me without my parents seeing it?”

“Dad did it,” Al told him. “One of the perks of having an Auror in the family is getting letters to people secretly.”

Rose seemed all too glad of a reason to change subjects and launched into an explanation on the mirrors as the train clacked along the tracks.

~*~

A frantic knock rapped at Harry’s office door, and before he could say anything Hermione sidled in, closing the door behind her. Her short hair was tied back from her face, but the curls were starting to explode out. She looked slightly manic. “I need your assistance.”

“What?” Harry asked standing and grabbing his cloak. He moved over to her, but she still hadn’t opened the door. “What’s up?”

“I got a message from Timons. We’ve had a girl brought in from a raid of an old hut that the MLE was investigating for possible smuggling of magical objects. She’s… oh, Harry, she’s not doing well and her story…” She nattered on rapidly. Tears filled her eyes, but she quickly shut them down. “It’s a matter for the Aurors now, which was partly why I was brought in to liaise. She’s hysterical, and the MLE were having trouble and they wanted the boss to make the call.”

“Slow down,” Harry took her shoulders, looking down in to her shattered face. “What happened?”

“She was being held,” Hermione whispered. “Raped and beaten, Harry. She’s a mess and…”

His stomach did a slow roll. He nodded curtly and led the way out of his office, on his way to St. Mungo’s. “Is Audrey on it?”

“Yes,” she assured him as she hurried to catch up. “I’m hoping you can get through to her, but I’m not sure. I wanted you to see her before an Auror was assigned to her case. You’ll know who is best to handle it.”

Harry didn’t respond. He knew that likely he would handle this case all on his own. He only had one senior female Auror at the moment, and she was on maternity leave. He’d been trying to pull more women in, but with no luck.

They arrived at the hospital quickly, and moved towards the room without alerting anyone that they had arrived. The door to her room was guarded, and the MLE officer, Timons, gave them a nod. “She’s awake, and calm. The Healers gave her something.”

“Thank you,” Hermione said briskly as she gave a quick knock and entered, with Harry behind her.

He saw the instant panic on a face that closely resembled Hagrid’s after he’d first arrived back with his brother, Gawp. She was average height, with shorn blonde hair, and blue eyes that he could barely make out behind the swollen, matching black eyes. It was telling that they hadn’t yet healed the bruising. Her injuries must have been extensive.

Harry held up his hands, and paused. “My name is Harry Potter. I’m here to help.” He didn’t often use his name to his advantage, but this is one time where it would be an asset. Children had been told from early on that he had saved the world. It made people trust him, even when he hadn’t done anything to deserve it.

The girl relaxed slightly. “Coriander Yale,” she croaked out through cracked, dry lips. “Cori.”

“Cori,” Hermione moved slowly over to her. “I told you I would be back. Do you remember?”

“Yes,” Cori said, her eyes flitting between them.

“Can we sit?” Harry asked, giving her all of the power. If she hesitated, he’d back off. His training, plus decades of experience, took over and he didn’t move until he saw her nod. Harry dragged over another chair for Hermione, and they sat to her left. “We’re going to be talking a lot in the next few weeks so that we can bring down whoever did this to you, but I need something to get started on. Is there anything you can tell me right now?” He didn’t expect much right away, but he also knew not to push. She’d been pushed around enough.

Also, if he pushed her, Audrey would box his ears. Percy’s wife was a force to be reckoned with.

Cori took a deep breath, and stared down at her scratched and bruised hands. To his surprise, she started talking. It was a little disordered, but the story that poured forth was so heartbreaking that he could hardly sit still through it. He wasn’t going to need to make notes to remember anything she said, even though he would make copious notes once he arrived back at his office. He was never going to be able to erase the poison that flowed from her, or the horrors of what she’d been put through. How Hermione had stopped herself from crying, he had no idea. He was choked up.

When she finished, he turned to look at Audrey. She’d entered noiselessly during the story, and had waited silently by the closed door. She came forward and ran her wand along Cori’s body, nodding at Harry, indicating that he could go on.

“Do you remember what your attacker looked like?” Harry questioned.

“Somewhat,” Cori admitted quietly.

“We have a sketch artist,” Harry said gently. “He prefers to work from a moment in your memory. We’ve found that it is easier on your survivors.”

Cori gave a short nod, and then looked to Audrey. “Am I pregnant?”

“I think you are,” Audrey confirmed carefully, sitting down gingerly on the side of the bed. “It looks like that’s what’s going on. You’re not far enough along yet for the Ministry to have been alerted, though. I just checked. We probably have a day or two. I’m sorry, Cori.”

Harry closed his eyes briefly, trying to bring back some calm to his thoughts. Then he looked at her straight on. “Here’s what will happen. You will have to marry him if he’s magical, and odds are good that he is, but once that is done you will never have to see him again. He will be in prison for the rest of his life and we can make it so that he can’t contact you. We will do a Muggle ceremony so that the union doesn’t have to be consummated. I have a friend who is a Squib who became a Lutheran pastor and he’s helped me out before.”

He hated this part most of all. He hated having to tell these women what was in store for them, and just how messed up the magical laws really were. No amount of pushing had moved the Wizengamot to change the law.

At least they had a day before she’d be forced into anything.

She sniffed and looked away. “I’m just stuck with no real husband and a baby I can’t care for.”

“You can put the baby up for adoption,” Audrey assured her. “The other, I’m sorry… it’s horrible and unfair and we’ve fought for almost twenty years to get the law changed.”

“I need to tell my boyfriend,” Cori whimpered. “Not that he’d likely want me now, but–”

Harry held up a hand. “You have a boyfriend?”

“Yeah,” Cori nodded.

“What’s his name?” Harry asked her, his eyes narrowing as an idea struck him.

Minutes later, Harry was heading back to the Ministry and down towards the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures to meet one Carter Oldford. He was a nineteen-year-old man, new to the department, and probably one of Teddy’s classmates. Harry walked in and everyone stopped to stare.

“I need Oldford,” he asked, looking around.

A thinner man, medium height with brown hair and black glasses stepped forward looking nervous. He also looked like he hadn’t slept in a month. “That’s me,” he swallowed. “Did you–” but he didn’t seem to be able to finish his question.

“Yes,” Harry answer with a jerk of his head. He looked over to the head of the department, and couldn’t think what her name was. He should know, since she was Hermione’s replacement from when she was promoted, but his mind was a blank. “He’s with me, probably the rest of the day. Official business.”

“Of course, Mr. Potter,” she replied.

Carter followed him silently back to his office. Once they were seated, Harry carefully chose his words. “The MLE found her today. Cori has been put through hell, but she’s alive and she will heal. Unfortunately, it’s likely that she’s pregnant.”

Carter sucked in a breath.

“That means she has to marry her attacker,” Harry told him slowly, and was somewhat gratified to see the tears that remained unshed in the other man’s eyes. That gave him hope. “I have a plan that could save her, but we’d have to move fast and it means your help.”

“What?” Carter asked him instantly, sitting forward a bit.

He took a deep breath. “She needs to be married before the Ministry registers that she’s pregnant. We have a day at most. Once the Ministry is notified officially, she has to marry the biological father. If she’s married to someone else before that happens, then she’s in the clear.”

Carter didn’t hesitate. “I’ll do it. I wanted to anyway, but we were too young.”

Harry bit back a triumphant smile. “She’s pregnant with someone else’s child. That’s going to be a lot.”

“I’ve had three weeks of worrying and wondering,” Carter shook his head. “I don’t care.”

“She also might want to give the baby up for adoption,” Harry informed him.

That gave the other man pause. “Okay,” he agreed slowly. “Whatever she wants.”

“She needs therapy, too,” Harry told him. “She needs lots of support. We’ll need to use a Muggle pastor to marry you. You can’t be soul bound. She’s not physically capable of being intimate right now. It’s going to be difficult, painful, and a hell of a lot of work.”

Carter’s brow furrowed. “You talk like you know from experience.”

“Not personally,” he said grimly. “I’ve had my own troubles, but not this. I’ve just seen a few survivors who made it out without getting pregnant. It’s very difficult for the men in their lives.”

“We’ll go to therapy,” Carter repeated, twisting his hands. “Anything.”

“Do you have enough gold to buy two plain wedding bands?” Harry probed.

Carter nodded without hesitation. “What about her mum?”

“The hospital will have alerted her,” Harry told him. “I want you to go get wedding rings, and get back to St. Mungo’s as soon as you can. Ask for Healer Audrey Weasley when you get there, tell her you’re Cori’s boyfriend. If anyone gives you any grief, tell them I ordered you to come.”

“I will,” Carter said getting to his feet. He stuck out his hand. “Thanks.”

Harry sent his assistant to track down his pastor friend. The Muggles had a lot of paperwork, but his friend knew all the ways they could magically make the paperwork appear all in order. It was still legal, which was all they needed. He then traveled back to the hospital.

Cori’s mother was in the room when he made it back. After a brief introduction, he explained what had happened with Carter.

Cori looked stunned. “Really?”

“It’s up to you,” Harry said in a low voice. “You don’t have to marry him, but I thought he might be a better alternative.”

“I want to,” Cori said, and she smiled tentatively. Then her face fell. “I forgot to tell you something.”

“What?” he asked, coming in closer to her.

Her bottom lip trembled. “There were others, and she didn’t let them live. Most were men and I think a few of them were Muggles.”

Harry’s heart slammed into his throat. “Who… who is she?”

“I don’t know,” Cori shook her head helplessly. “I only saw her once, but she was older. Her men were doing something for her.”

Harry gave her a reassuring look. “We’ll figure it out.” He made a mental note to get Dean to the hospital as soon as he could so they could get that sketch.

~*~

Al turned twelve on January nineteenth, with Rose following along two days later.

“I think Mum and Aunt Ginny planned it,” Rose told Nat over breakfast the morning of her birthday. “I mean, they got pregnant the exact same time. I think they wanted Al and me to have each other.”

Al groaned and dropped his head to the table. “I really don’t want to be thinking about this, you know.”

Scorpius snorted. “Who would?”

“I think it’s interesting,” Rose said, sounding hurt. “I mean, Mum won’t admit it or anything…”

Al made a pitiful noise. “You asked?”

“Of course, I asked,” Rose said indignantly. “I wanted to know. Mum just stalled and promised to tell me when I was older.”

“Maybe one of you wasn’t planned,” Nat speculated. “They wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

Rose nodded thoughtfully. “True. It would likely be Al, since James was so young when they conceived him and my mum never does anything without planning it all out.”

Al started to bang his head on the table.

Scorpius took pity on him and tried to change the subject. “Should we go down and see Hagrid later today?”

Nat ignored this. “Al, it’s not like your parents don’t love you or anything. They clearly do and it could be just as easy to assume that neither of you was planned. Birth control is only about ninety-five percent effective when used properly and that’s only if it’s used.”

“Why do you know that?” Scorpius asked, his lips twitching into a smile.

Nat shrugged. “I spent lots of times in hospitals for broken bones and stitches. Sometimes I’d forget to bring a book and pick up pamphlets or magazines.”

“But Nat, they’d not have used Muggle means,” Rose told her. “Wizards have their own methods and they’re usually more effective than the stuff Muggles use.”

In the exact same tone, Scorpius asked, “Why do you know that?”

Rose grinned mischievously. “Extendable Ears, of course. Roxy, Lucy, Lily and I learned quite a lot last summer. We were spending the night with Lily after Uncle Harry’s birthday party and all the mums were chatting in the kitchen. They thought we’d gone to bed hours before, but we were upstairs talking. Then Lily wanted hot chocolate and we snuck down to get some, and heard them talking, so she ran back up for her stash of Ears and we listened in.” A glint of amusement filled her eyes. “You’d be amazed at just how silly they all get when it’s just them. We learned loads!”

“Don’t tell me,” Al’s muted voice came from where his forehead still rested on the table. “I really, really don’t want to know.”

Nat looked at Rose thoughtfully. “I suppose it makes sense that the Wizarding world would be different. Am I going to run into more surprises along the way?”

“Probably,” Rose admitted. “My mum’s parents are Muggles so I’ve seen both and some things seem really different. I know my mum and dad got married way before my grandparents did. I think wizards and witches marry sooner than Muggles.”

“I think we also live longer,” Scorpius added. “My mum said something about that once. She’s got a few Muggleborn friends, although my dad doesn’t know that.”

“Is your dad really as bad as everyone says?” Al asked, looking up with concern.

Scorpius shrugged as if flicking off an annoying fly and shoveled in a large bite of porridge. “It depends. I think he’s trying to impress his dad. My grandfather Malfoy is an arrogant berk. I hate having to spend time with him.”

Rose placed a comforting hand on his arm. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right. I only have to see them twice a year. My mum’s parents are great and my Aunt Daphne is a kick.” He took a sip of pumpkin juice before continuing. “Mum was in Ravenclaw, but Aunt Daphne was in Slytherin and just before Voldemort took over here her parents left England with her and my mum and moved to America. They knew that if they didn’t join they’d be killed instantly, or worse. They came back after Al’s dad killed Voldemort.”

“What would have been worse?” Al asked, confused. “I mean, if you’re dead…”

Scorpius’ eyes darkened. “My mum and my aunt are both purebloods, you know? There were a lot of Death Eaters they could have been married off to who wouldn’t have been nice to them. It would have been punishment for not supporting Voldemort since they weren’t blood traitors.” He stared down into his plate. “I’d have stayed and fought against them, but I can see why my granddad didn’t.”

“So what about your dad?” Nat asked. “Did he fight the Death Eaters?”

Scorpius laughed bitterly in a way that shocked Nat. She’d never heard a kid make that kind of sound. “My dad and Grandfather Malfoy were both Death Eaters. They were both punished after the war, but since they quit before the end of the final battle they weren’t punished too much. My grandfather likes to pretend that he wasn’t publicly humiliated and he still struts around like he’s some important man because he’s a Malfoy. It’s a load of dragon dung.”

“Your grandmother saved my dad’s life,” Al told him. “Right after he’d been hit with the Killing Curse in the forest.”

Rose looked aghast. “How do you know that?”

“I heard Dad and Mum talking the day after Scorpius came to visit. Mum told him how nice Scorpius is and reminded him that if Narcissa Malfoy hadn’t lied to Voldemort about him in the forest, he’d have been killed.”

“I’ve never heard that,” Rose whispered.

Al rolled his eyes. “It’s not like they tell us much of anything, Rose! We didn’t even know our parents were famous until about a few years ago. We’ve only gotten the general story of the last battle and they’ve never gone into detail.”

Nat looked over at Scorpius and saw that he was clearly stunned. “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” she asked.

“I dunno,” Al said, clearing his throat. “It was just… I dunno. I didn’t know if Scorpius knew.”

“I didn’t,” Scorpius said quietly. “Wow.”

Al shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter. We aren’t our parents. We can choose to be who we want to be.”

Rose looked impressed. “That’s very insightful.”

“Yes,” Nat said dryly. “Who did you hear it from?”

Al grinned sheepishly. “Teddy.”

“Miss Parker,” Professor Longbottom’s voice floated over to them. “The Headmistress wants to see you in her office. Please come with me.” He smiled kindly at her stunned look. “Don’t worry, you aren’t in trouble.”

~*~

“Are you sure about this, Potter?” McGonagall asked him, staring at him above her spectacles.

Harry wasn’t sure about anything. They had the sketch of the woman that Cori had described, and he couldn’t tell for sure that it wasn’t Isabella Crabbe, the insane woman who had used magic to impregnate Ginny and had poisoned both of them. But something in the eyes looked the same. He’d seen the memory, too, in fact he’d brought it along just in case.

When Hermione had suggested asking Natalie to look at the sketch, he’d dismissed it and reminded her that Isabella was dead.

“I know,” Hermione said slowly, her brow furrowed, “but Harry, that child has a gift for this. I swear it’s magical… we don’t have to scare her. You show her the sketch that Dean created, and a stack of photos of various women. If she can match them… well, I won’t go there just yet. It doesn’t have to be traumatic for her.”

Harry hadn’t agreed until he’s spoken to Nat’s mother, who was miraculously in London at the moment. He’d explained Hermione’s idea and told her that he’d lie to Nat about what he was after. Julienne had agreed.

“It will be fine,” Harry said. “I have her mother’s permission.”

There was a knock at the door and Neville came in with the girl. She smiled when she recognized him, before her face fell. “Is everyone okay?”

“Everyone is fine,” Harry reassured her and he shook Neville’s hand.

“I’ve got a class,” Neville said, “but come say ‘hello’ before you leave.”

Harry shepherded her over to a seat, and he sat across from her. “I actually have a favor to ask of you. I need help placing a woman. She was found wandering the streets, and we’re sure she’s magical, but we’re having trouble putting a name to a face. We want to find her family.”

“Oh,” Nat brightened, and grinned. “I can do that.”

Harry pulled out the sketch. “This is the woman, and I have a stack of photos of possibility from missing persons. Some of them are over thirty years old, but I wanted to be thorough.”

“It’s no problem,” Nat said absently as she studied the sketch. “This artist is good.”

“He’s a classmate of mine,” Harry said, and he agreed with her. “We don’t need a full time artist, so he comes in when we do.”

She nodded, her eyes flying over the picture. “Okay, let me see the photos.”

Harry handed her the stack of moving pictures. In it were people he knew couldn’t be guilty, as well as both Isabella Crabbe and her sister, Fiona Goyle.

Nat flipped through them. Some she passed over almost instantly. Others she studied a little closer. She came to Fiona and paused for a full minute. “I want to say that this person is a relative.”

Harry could have fallen off his chair. “But that’s not her?”

“No,” Nat assured him firmly. “But they share a few characteristics that I’d say make them close blood relations.” Harry felt awful, but he kept his face impassive. He’d been living under the hope that Isabella was dead. If she wasn’t…

She kept going. Isabella’s photo came up, and Nat stopped. Thirty long, silent seconds ticked by. “This is her, but it’s at least twenty years old.”

His heart sank. He wanted to ignore her, wanted to dismiss her as a kid, even as his mind slapped him for being stupid. How many times had adults ignored him as a child, when they shouldn’t have? “Natalie, thank you. You’ve been so helpful.”

She smiled happily. “I don’t mind. This is fun for me.” She handed the photos back to him. “I hope that helps you.”

“More than I can say,” he assured her, even if he wished he could erase what she’d said from his brain.

“Off to class with you, Miss Parker,” McGonagall said with a rare, encouraging smile. “You’ve done well.”

As soon as the door closed, the old professor pulled out a scrap of parchment and wrote something down. “Do some research on this, Potter. I think you’ll find it interesting.”

Harry wasn’t sure he was going to find much of interest. He had to get his house back under the Fidelius Charm immediately, and start a massive manhunt for a woman who had faked her own death, and had hidden herself for almost two decades, but he took the slip of parchment and glanced down at it.

On it was written, ‘Augmentum Imaginari’.

~*~

Going home to tell Ginny that Isabella Crabbe wasn’t dead just about broke Harry’s heart. He waited until Lily was asleep before explaining what had happened that day.

“She’s sure?” Ginny asked quietly. “Nat was positive?”

Harry shrugged helplessly. “I couldn’t push her, Gin, but she seemed that way. She knew who her sister was, even though I couldn’t have ever pointed them out as sisters. Also, Minerva gave me a phrase to look up.” He fished the slip of paper from his pocket and handed it to Ginny.

“Augmentum Imaginari?” she studied it, even as her hands shook. “Imagine change? Something like that?”

He nodded. “My Latin is very rusty. She told me to figure out what it meant, but I’ve got no clue. No one I trusted enough to ask at the Ministry knew either. Your dad suggested I go digging through the archives, but I haven’t got the time right now. I dunno why she wouldn’t just tell me what it meant. It was almost like having Dumbledore back, and not in a good way.”

Harry walked over to a cabinet and pulled out a bottle of red wine and two glasses. He poured them each half a glass.

Ginny’s brow furrowed. “You can get me into the archives, right?”

“Sure,” he agreed after taking a sip. “Not the really restricted stuff, of course, but everything else only needs a Department Head to sign off.”

“I’ll find it,” she told him, flicking her gaze up to his.

It was exactly what she did. To everyone else who saw her going in to the archives, it appeared that Ginny was teaching Lily and Hugo how to do research. Much to Hermione’s chagrin, and everyone else’s delight, the kids decided to research the history of Quidditch while Ginny frantically searched for the term.

She’d bring the kids up to say ‘hello’ to him or Hermione sometimes before they went home, and both of them were bursting with fun facts, most of which he already knew, and pages of hand written notes that they’d compiled themselves.

They finished their project on Quidditch well before Ginny had located the Latin phrase, and they presented a well-written report to Ginny, Harry, Hermione and Ron along with a model one evening after supper. Harry had to admit that he was really impressed with all they’d accomplished. Even Hermione had to agree that she’d learned a few things she didn’t already know.

They continued to go down into the archives, and the kids started reading whatever took their fancy. Lily read up on magical creatures, while Hugo fixated on learning about vampires.

Ginny looked for almost a full month, between her Quidditch games and articles, before she found what she was looking for. Harry had contacted McGonagall a couple of times, but she’d either ignored his letters or told him she didn’t know enough to be helpful.

The day she found it, she arranged for Hugo to spend the night so that the adults could talk as late as they wanted without wearing the kids out. As soon as the two little ones were in bed, and their doors warded so they couldn’t listen in, the adults assembled around the kitchen table.

“I’m dying here,” Harry groaned as Ginny leisurely poured herself a glass of wine. “Gin, come on.”

“The phrase refers to a magical gift,” Ginny informed them as she sat down. “In this case, it refers to Natalie herself as magically gifted.”

“Her ability with faces,” Hermione concluded instantly. “When you told me what her parents said, and that she started when she was four or five, well, I knew that something was working there. I’ve never heard of it, though.”

Ron took a swig of his beer and shook his head. “It’s funny to think of that titchy girl as being powerful.”

“It’s her vision that’s so amazing, actually,” Ginny said. She pulled out a long scroll of parchment on which she’d taken copious notes. “Basically, it works like this. She sees people for who they were, who they are, and who they will become. Her dad says she can do that with skulls as well, but I imagine that’s more because she’s been given the chance to practice with him, rather than this inborn skill. Like I can run fast, but if given a trainer, I could eventually run a marathon. If someone is born without legs, they’ll never be able to do that. Do you see what I mean?”

They all nodded. “So other people have done what she can do?” Harry asked her.

“Yes,” Ginny sighed heavily, “but it’s been hundreds of years since the last one was alive. It goes beyond seeing faces, though, and here is where it gets interesting.”

“Yeah,” Ron drawled sarcastically, “what would I do without an interesting plot twist?”

Hermione must have kicked him under the table because he winced. “Go on, Ginny.”

“As she grows, Nat’s ability will grow until she is able to see things exactly as they were before they were magically altered.” Ginny stared around at them as they ingested that bit. “So in effect, if someone like Teddy alters his appearance, she will always be able to see through it. If someone transfigures a mouse into a cat, she will still be able to see the mouse as well as the cat.”

“Holy effing Merlin,” Ron sat back in his chair, completely stunned. “You’re serious?”

“No,” Ginny rolled her eyes, “I’m lying to you for the fun of it. This gift is going to make her not only a valuable asset, but also a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands.”

Hermione rubbed at her temple and shook her head. “If she can see through things, and can see magic at its core, then she’s going to be able to function like Dumbledore being able to see magical signatures, including who performed the magic.”

“Better,” Ginny corrected. “Dumbledore had to teach himself how to do this. This is an innate ability in her already. She’s a natural.”

“But,” Harry closed his eyes, “as smart as she is, Nat isn’t magically powerful overall like Dumbledore. She’s doing well, but she isn’t a gifted in defensive magic. Al’s told us that her best subject is History of Magic.”

They all fell silent at that. Ron voiced what they all feared. “So unlike Dumbledore, if someone finds out that she can do this, Nat won’t be able to protect herself.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Ginny agreed quietly. “This gift has been mostly in one or two old families. The children typically didn’t make it to adulthood. They were kidnapped and exploited. The last one who lived had only one son, who was a Squib and no other magical children so it appeared to have died out there.”

Hermione groaned. “Did you trace them?”

“Yep,” Ginny nodded. “Direct descendant. I spoke with Julienne Parker this afternoon, and she had a genealogy done from some sort of computer program. I was able to find the Squib son on her chart.”

“We have to protect her,” Harry said instantly, and saw his wife shoot him a grateful look. “We need to make sure this stays as quiet as possible while she’s very young, and help her cope. We have to tell her parents.”

The four of them looked around at each other. They’d all liked Al and Rose’s friend, and her parents. Not only that, but Nat had helped Harry realize that his family was in jeopardy. Without her, they might have gone another few years without realizing Isabella Crabbe was alive. Harry owed her. He reached out for Ginny’s hand and squeezed it gently. He didn’t know what was going to happen, but he was pretty sure it was going to be a rough go.

Back to index


Chapter 9: Chapter 6

Author's Notes: Thank you, Arnel, for all of your help! You are a rock star :D

I hope you enjoy the chapter. Please check out my original work. If you look in my profile, you'll see the links to my book. My second book will be on sale/presale shortly. If you like my stories, you'll like my original.

Thank you for all of your support! Let me know what you're thinking about The Space Between :)
~Sarah


Winter melted in to spring as their classes picked up and the competition between the houses heated up. Gryffindor beat Hufflepuff in the Quidditch match, but only just. James was still being annoying about it, but Al was getting better at ignoring his older brother. James’ taunts and jabs didn’t hurt quite as much with his friends around all the time.

He, Scorpius, Rose and Nat walked down to breakfast on the last school day before the Easter holidays to find the post already waiting for them and a big, fat letter for Nat from her dad. “He’s getting me from the train,” she said between bites as she read through it quickly. “Mum will be here on Sunday for my birthday.”

“That will be nice,” Rose said helping herself to some eggs. “Come on, we’re going to be late for Defense.”

They exited the hall right behind James and Louis, and hurried up the stairs. Al held back a bit, not wanting his brother to see him, and none of his friends commented. They all knew that James could be a pain.

The corridor ahead of them was vacant except for a small knot of fourth year Slytherins. One of them was on the Quidditch team, but Al couldn’t remember what his name was. His face looked a bit like a pug’s, a bit squashed.

“Oh, look,” pug face drawled out quietly. “It’s the Potter bastards.”

Al saw James and Louis freeze in front of them. Nat hissed out a slow breath. He glanced over and saw her expression was bleak. She rallied almost instantly and took a step towards the three boys, all of whom were significantly bigger than she was. “Last time I checked, their parents are married.”

“Not because they wanted to be,” the boy laughed derisively. “I’ve heard stories about how they were forced to marry when your mum was sixteen.”

Al’s stomach dropped. What he was saying didn’t make any sense. His parents were in love. It was pretty disgusting most of the time, to be honest. They hadn’t been that young.

“Shut up,” Scorpius growled pretty much in unison with Louis.

“Can’t take the truth?” another boy with brown, curly hair asked them. “At least my parents kept it in their pants before-”

Al didn’t even think. Neither, it seemed, did James. They both ran forward towards the boys, and would have started wailing on them if Scorpius and Louis hadn’t grabbed them.

“Boys!” a sharp voice called down the hallway. “Get to class, all of you. No fighting.”

Al’s vision was red. He wanted to hit the stupid kid for saying something like that about his parents. Scorpius dragged him back.

A small hand fitted in to his, and tugged, and he felt the breath leave him, the anger die, as he followed the trail of strawberry blonde hair, as it pulled him towards their class. He didn’t see which way James and Louis had gone.

He sat in class, not taking in a word of what the professor said, and left in a daze, not sure of where he was going. Natalie guided him in to a vacant classroom and pushed him gently into a chair. He sat. His ears were still ringing.

“Al,” Nat said quietly. “How old is your mum?”

“She’s thirty-six,” Rose said quietly. He looked up at his cousin and saw the devastation on her face. “Al…”

“It can’t be true!” Al blurted out. He couldn’t believe it.

Scorpius’ pale face was even whiter. “There’s this law, Al… if you get pregnant when you aren’t married, then you have to marry the… the other person.”

Al’s mind raced through all the things he knew about his parents, but none of this computed. “My parents love each other!”

“They do,” Nat agreed softly. “But Al, your sister was born in 1998.”

“So?” Al blurted out, a little harsher than he’d meant to. “What does that mean?”

He turned to see tears on Rose’s cheek. “Oh, Al… I didn’t even think about when Hope was born! Aunt Ginny’s birthday is the eleventh of August.”

“Al, if you do the math backward,” Nat said quietly, “She had just turned seventeen when Hope died.”

Al closed his eyes, and felt Rose and Nat hug him. He felt sick. He felt horrible.

He couldn’t wait to confront his parents, and yet he dreaded the train ride home the next morning.

It couldn’t be true.

~*~

Al couldn’t settle. He felt edgy and jumpy as he stared at the clock, waiting to make sure his brother and sister were asleep so he could go talk to his parents. When it finally hit nine, he crept from his room only to find James in the hall doing the exact same thing.

They stared at each other, brown eyes glaring at green. “Go back to bed,” James hissed.

“No,” Al refused stubbornly. “I want to know. You should go back to bed. You’ll only make Mum cry.”

James recoiled, clearly shocked. “I won’t make Mum cry!”

“You always make her cry about everything,” Al hissed, crossing his arms. He didn’t care if James beat the stuffing out of him; he wasn’t going to let his brother win this time. “She gets really sad when we ask about Hope, and you’ll only make it worse for her. I don’t want you to hurt her!”

James’ face went white. “I don’t do that.”

Al simply stared at him. “You’re not stupid, James. Don’t pretend you don’t know how upset you make her all the time.”

James swallowed hard. “I… I won’t. You talk, and I’ll listen.”

“Promise?” Al asked him suspiciously.

“I swear it,” James murmured, still looking off kilter. “I don’t want Mum to cry.”

Al nodded once, and walked down the hall to his parents’ bedroom door. The light shone under the crack, and he could hear their quiet voices. James stood so close behind him that he could feel the heat coming off of his brother. Al raised his hand, hesitated for only a fraction of a second, then knocked.

“Come in,” his mum’s voice called to them, and Al reluctantly opened the door.

~*~

Ginny watched her two sons, both of whom looked pale and drawn, as they made their way into the room. She and Harry were sitting in their bed. She’d known something was coming. They’d both been so quiet when they’d gotten off the train.

She patted the bed, and watched James close the door, before they both climbed on, sitting cross legged and looking at them.

Her two boys, both of whom looked so much like Harry.

“What’s up?” Harry asked them.

They exchanged looks, and it was Al that answered. “We heard something at school.”

Ginny’s heart sank, even as her pulse kicked into overdrive. She knew, without having them tell her, what they’d heard. Her breaths came out in short pants as her vision clouded.

“Ginny!” Harry took her hand.

But she couldn’t hear him clearly. Her ears were ringing, and she closed her eyes.

No. It was too soon. Her little boys shouldn’t have to hear this, not now.

Young legs crawled over, and two little boys threw themselves on her, holding her tight.

“We love you, Mummy,” Al whispered. “Please don’t cry.”

She held on, fought back the tears, and the bile that resignation flooded through her system. It took her a few minutes to get herself back to calm, but finally she managed. She nodded at Harry, who started the story just as he had with Teddy a few years before. The two dark haired children, who looked so alike, but couldn’t have been more opposite, sat back and studied them.

“We were at a funeral,” Harry began, and she could feel the nerves that shook his hand as it held hers. “I was seventeen, and your mum was sixteen. It was just after the last battle. Someone attacked your mum, and I defended her. We both ended up in St. Mungo’s.”

He took a steadying breath, before he continued recounting the story to their children. “While we were in the hospital, a woman broke in and…”

Harry glanced at her, and she read the anguish on his face. It was like rape. They had both felt so violated by what had happened. Neither of them wanted to admit it to the kids.

“What happened?” Al squeaked. He looked terrified.

“We didn’t want to tell you, now,” Ginny admitted and hated that her voice quavered. They were only thirteen and twelve. “We didn’t tell Teddy until he was almost sixteen.”

Al and James exchanged a look. It was Al again who spoke. “We need to know, Mum. Someone at school said stuff. Others know.”

“They don’t know all of it,” Harry said, and his voice sounded a lot lower than normal. “Only a few people know the whole truth, Al. Once you hear it… it’s not pretty.”

James looked like he was going to be sick. He was pressing his lips together into a hard line.

“I want to know,” Al said miserably. “Even if it’s awful, I want to know.” James nodded in agreement.

“The woman,” Ginny haltingly picked up the story. “She used your dad to magically impregnate me.”

Both of them stared at her. “What?” James finally blurted out, breaking his silence. “Like… like not the normal way, but with magic?”

“Yes,” Harry confirmed, misery washed off of him in waves. “Then she poisoned us.”

Both of their faces went blank. “What?” Al looked devastated. “What?! Why would someone do that?”

“She was really ill,” Ginny said quietly, remembering just how insane Isabella Crabbe was, and still remained now that they knew she was still alive. Their house was under the Fidelius Charm again, though, so while the kids were at home they were safe. “She’d just lost her son, and she’d had a very hard life. The why isn’t really that important right now. That can wait. What happened after,” she took a steadying breath, and fought back the tears. “We had to get married, because that’s the law. Do you know–” they both nodded curtly, so she didn’t explain further. “Aunt Audrey cured your dad and me of the poison, or she thought we had been cured. I was really sick, and…”

“Hope didn’t make it,” Harry said through a voice choked with emotion. “The poison stayed in your mum enough that Hope couldn’t live. We lost her when she was seventeen weeks pregnant.”

They both looked shattered. Al started to cry first, but James followed shortly after. Both Ginny and Harry cried with them, holding their sons in their arms.

“I get why you didn’t want to tell us,” James said after a few minutes. His face was blotchy and red, but Ginny couldn’t have loved him more than she did at that moment. She was pitifully grateful that he wasn’t upset that they’d kept it a secret. “Mum… Dad, I’m so sorry.”

Ginny nodded, too choked up to speak as she cupped his damp cheek and kissed away one of his tears.

“We don’t want to tell Lily,” Harry told them. “She’s too little, and this…”

Al shook his head violently. “No, we can’t tell her.”

James’ eyes took on a hard glint. “We’ll make sure no one at school tells her, either.”

“James,” Ginny began reproachfully, but cut herself off when she saw the look in his eyes. Something was shifting there, so she changed tactics. “Just don’t get expelled, all right?”

He nodded once. “Who else knows?”

“The family knows,” Harry said after a moment. “The adults, anyway. A few key Ministry members know, but it has been kept very quiet. We didn’t want that bit to be exposed. If Hope had lived, it would have been crucial that she not know how she got here. Teddy knows, so does Victoire. We weren’t planning on telling anyone else until after they’d finished school.”

They both nodded, and looked at each other, almost like they were silently communicating. “We’ll keep it quiet,” Al said finally, brushing at a stray tear.

“Thank you,” Ginny whispered, pulling her children to her. They were what this bearable.

“You can talk to us any time,” Harry assured them. “We know it’s a lot. We spent a lot of time talking it over with Teddy.”

“Did he cry?” Al asked in a small voice.

Ginny nodded. “It’s okay to cry. You’ve lost a sister, even if you didn’t know her.”

Al’s lower lip trembled, but he held it together. “Did you hate having to get married?”

It looked like it took all of his will to ask, and Ginny marveled at the strength she was seeing in him. “No, Al, we were always going to get married.”

“Yeah,” Harry assured them. “Your mum was supposed to go back to school that year. It wasn’t the time we’d have picked, but it worked out. Marrying your mum was one of the best things I’ve ever had happen to me. I don’t regret that at all.”

“Do you want to talk some more now?” Ginny asked gently, although she suspected they were both ready for bed.

They both shook their heads. “Maybe later,” James replied. His brown eyes looked so overwhelmed that she pulled him to her for another hug. “I love you, Mum,” he whispered into her shoulder.

“I love you, too,” Ginny promised him. You helped me survive all of this, she added silently.

~*~

When his sons had asked him, point blank, why he’d put the Fidelius Charm back up on the house Harry hadn’t lied. He also hadn’t told them the truth. Threats come in all the time. That was part and parcel of being an Auror and they should always be vigilant. Oddly enough it was Al who seemed not to buy it. His quiet, introspective look gave Harry more than one moment of disquiet. After the week they’d had with the boys and them learning the truth about Hope, this felt like one more thing to list of parental worries.

Harry didn’t have time to dwell on it, though. He’d set up a meeting with Cori Oldford at her home in London at nine o’clock on the Friday before his children were set to go back to school. Harry went into the office at eight, retrieved the address from his assistant, Daniel, and headed right back out to walk the ten blocks to their flat. He needed the cool, spring air to clear his head and compose himself for whatever he was going to hear.

Harry checked the slip of parchment as he stopped outside an older, stone building that looked to have been converted to flats decades before. The building was maintained, but there was a faint air of poverty. This was the sort of place that Teddy was looking to move in to, the kind that a new couple would be able to afford. It made him grin. It was the step someone took on their first trek out into the adult world.

He surreptitiously unlocked the front door with a quick Alohomora charm, before making his way up to the second floor. At the door marked 3B, where the ‘B’ was slightly crooked, he rapped smartly.

The door opened to Carter. He looked tired, but otherwise unchanged from when Harry had seen him last at Cori’s bedside.

“Mr. Potter,” he stuck out his hand with a small smile. “Come in.”

He was ushered into a small sitting room with a shabby chintz couch and a single arm chair that might have come from a dumpster the week before. It was clean, but clearly older than Harry was himself.

Cori looked wan as she picked at her nails from her seat on the couch. Harry didn’t reach out, simply sat in the chair across from her so her husband could sit with her. As soon as they were all seated, he saw the tiniest drop of her shoulders as she glanced at Carter and Harry knew he’d made the right call. He’d put in a request for Oldford to be present at home, made sure his boss gave him the morning free, with pay. Carter Oldford was so junior on the list that it was not the sort of leave he could have managed for himself.

“How have you been?” Harry asked as he studied the blonde hair that had been regrown for her along with the blue eyes that still wore the haunted expression that he’d seen weeks before in the hospital.

“I…” she sniffed as stilled her fingers when Carter gently took them. “I miscarried last week.”

Harry checked his immediate response of, ‘I’m sorry’. It was a different situation than many other women. “How are you dealing with that?”

“Confused,” she wiped away an errant tear that trailed down her cheek. “I’m really s-sad, but also relieved. It’s difficult most days. I… I go to my mom’s house and spend my days with her because I don’t want to be alone, but… part of me is very sad.”

“Part of the baby was yours,” Harry reminded her gently. “It’s okay to grieve and be upset if that’s what you’re feeling.”

Cori nodded, but didn’t look up at him.

“Any luck on finding the guys who did this?” Carter questioned after a moment’s silence.

“In that,” Harry was relieved to tell them, “we have a few leads. I was able to get the records from the Ministry about who was recorded as the baby’s father. That’s given us a very good idea of who would have been with him. He’s got a group of blokes he’s been known to associate with. We’re making headway.”

“What about the woman?” Cori probed in a shaking voice.

Harry kept his face carefully neutral. “We have a few leads on that.”

He left forty minutes later after hearing her go through the story again. As near as he could tell, she was part of a group that was being experimented on. Most of the time they took homeless Muggle men, but she was taken by the men and the older women had let them use her. That, in itself, was troubling. What motivations could Isabella Crabbe have had to let them rape the poor girl? Isabella Crabbe was, to coin a favorite phrase of his niece, Roxy, a flaming psychopath. But could she have wanted Cori pregnant or was she trying to pacify the men she’d been with?

Thankfully, Curtis Parker was in London and Harry had arranged a meeting with him that afternoon after Curtis had agreed to examine the remains of the woman they’d thought was Isabella Crabbe. Hermione had brought him into St. Mungo’s that morning and he would likely be at it for another couple of hours in the examination room down in the basement of the hospital.

Harry went back to his office, checked in with his assistant, took the memos, case files and general update on the morning’s happenings, before he locked himself in his office to fill out his report on Cori Oldford.

A knock sounded at his door and Daniel stuck his head in. “Mr. Potter, Mrs. Weasley is here to see you with Mr. Parker. Shall I show them in?”

“Please,” Harry stood as Hermione came in with Curtis. “I thought I was going to meet you at the hospital.”

“We were done early,” Curtis shook his hand and took a seat. He handed over a folder. “I got everything I needed quickly. I can go over the science with you, if you’d like, but I can tell from the teeth that the victim from the fire was no more than twenty or twenty one. Also, although it’s difficult to tell definitively because of the damage from the fire, I would guess that the woman was of African descent.”

Harry glanced at Hermione. “How could we have gotten it that wrong?”

Hermione shrugged helplessly. “Curtis has offered to give the Healers a book to study, but essentially we use magical signatures to identify bodies. It’s typically reliable, but…”

He flipped over the folder and saw two dozen pages of notes in Hermione’s clear, precise handwriting. Harry turned to the pictures and saw the shots done in stills, rather than in typical magical fashion of moving portraits, of the teeth, nose area and a shot of the pelvis. He held it up. “What about this one?”

“You see that the pelvis is not fully fused,” Curtis began, but at the blank look on Harry’s face, changed tactics. Clearly he was used to working with the police. “Basically, as we age the bones fuse and become harden at a prescribed rate of growth, with typically only a few years of wiggle room. I look at the spaces between the bones to see if they’re fully formed. In this case, it was at the very end of fusing, so her hips and teeth together give me late teens or early twenties. Although this woman could have had a child via Caesarian section, her bones do not otherwise indicate that she has born a child.”

“The Caesarian rate among wizards,” Hermione went on, “is extremely low. We call it ‘removing’ here. There is not specific term for it. But when Curtis told me about the birth I went to check in with the midwives and confirmed with Healer Sterling that Mrs. Crabbe did not have the baby removed. He was a big baby born at home.”

“How does she remember things like that?” Curtis asked Hermione curiously as he turned more fully in his seat, his intelligent eyes studying her.

Hermione laughed softly. “I should have introduced you. She’s got a mind like a trap, but as I said the rate is low. She delivers fifty babies a year, maybe one or two need to be removed. It’s the type of thing you would remember.”

They went over the finer details of the body, and Curtis gave him a general idea of whom to search for in locating the real woman that had been burned that night.

He’d known as he closed up his files that Isabella Crabbe was still alive, but having it confirmed was more than he wanted to consider.

He also had concerns for Natalie’s safety buzzing around his brain. Curtis had agreed to let him put up protective charms around their flat, a very nice flat in a posh part of London, but it wouldn’t hold up against anyone seriously bent on hurting the child. They hadn’t yet gone over the issues with Natalie. They’d decided to have everyone over for dinner the next night so that they could talk and discuss what Ginny had learned.

“Mr. Potter?” Daniel knocked at the open door. “Are you done with me for the day, sir?”

“Yes,” Harry grinned and waved him off. “You’re free. Have a date tonight?”

“I do,” the handsome twenty-three-year-old grinned. Ginny’s only stipulation to Harry’s assistant was that it couldn’t be a young, unmarried woman after the previous assistant, a woman older than Dumbledore, had retired.

Harry waved him off. “Tell Blake I said hello, then. I’ll see you on Monday.”

“Thank you, and I will,” Daniel said cheekily. “Ginny sent an owl to remind you to be home on time.”

Ginny’s entire concern had been that Harry not get hit on.

She hadn’t counted on his new assistant being gay. When she’d learned, she’d laughed at her own folly and had become very attached to the young man.

“Got it,” Harry acknowledged as he capped his ink bottle. “Heading out now.”

First thing Monday morning, he’d be opening a task force to start sifting through the records of all the missing and unexplained deaths over the last two decades.

That night, however, was an overdue talk with Teddy after the kids were in bed. With their doors warded against eaves-dropping.

Later that night, with the kids securely asleep in their beds, Harry, Ginny and Teddy sat around the end of the long kitchen table while Teddy tried not to look sick.

Harry wasn’t sure why he was bothering, since he also feeling decidedly green. Ginny was the only one who was unaffected by the conversation.

“We’ve already had the talk, of course,” Ginny finally broke the awkward silence as the light from the candles flickered around them. “But if it’s serious with Victoire–”

“It is,” Teddy interrupted her quickly, his earnest face so like Remus in that moment that it tripped Harry’s grief for his lost friend all over again. “I want to marry her.”

Harry stared at him, a little surprised. He’d known that Teddy was getting serious, but he hadn’t realized it was quite that far along. “Now?”

“No,” Teddy shook his head grimly. “No, she needs to go to school and focus on that. Plus I can’t afford to move out, can’t afford a ring, or anything. I’m definitely finishing my training before I ask her. Then we can decide from there if we’ll get married before that, but… I told her last night that I meant to at some point.”

Absently he rubbed at a chin that needed to be shaved and stared at the nineteen-year-old. “That’s sensible, enough, and will keep Bill from throttling you. You’ll need to ask his permission. That’s big with him.”

“Got it,” Teddy’s skin went even greener at the prospect of facing off with Bill Weasley. “I will.”

“You’re still being safe, right?” Ginny probed delicately. “We can deal with surprises, but the consequences are sometimes difficult to stand up against.”

Teddy’s cheeks went slightly pink as he stared at the table. “We haven’t and we’re not going to.” Finally he met her gaze head on. “I’m not ready to be a dad right now. I’m not ready to support a family. We both… I mean, it’s… it’s not fun, because I really want to be with her, but I’m not doing that to her. The shame and– damn, I’m sorry, Ginny! I didn’t mean–”

Ginny patted his hand as tears threatened. “You didn’t. Someone at school told James and Al about Hope and us having to get married. We had to tell them the truth.”

“Oh,” Teddy breathed out the word rather than spoke it. He shot Harry a questioning glance. “How did they take it?”

“About like you’d expect,” Harry muttered grimly. “About like you did. We’ve been reeling from that. We thought we had years.” He reached over to take Ginny’s hand, wishing he could take away her pain. “Something about marriage that I need you to know, Teddy, something I’m not sure Ginny wants to cop to, but it’s served me well.”

Teddy waited while Harry gathered his thoughts.

“There will be a time when she will be at her most vulnerable, and it’s on you to be the one protecting her, even from herself,” a gentle squeeze to Ginny’s fingers as her eyes told him clearly to go on. “It will be on you to shelter her and make sure she’s safe, that she feels safe.”

“He’s right,” Ginny took Teddy’s hand and linked the three of them. “There are some times when we’re too vulnerable. I do that for Harry, as well, although it tends to be subtler and when no one is there watching. We protect each other’s hearts, keep each other from falling apart, and help pick up the pieces when we do.”

Teddy grinned at them. “You’re why I want to get married. I see how you are and… I want this.”

Later that night, in the dark of their room, both naked and a little sweaty, Harry ran his fingers through her hair and tried to quiet his mind.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked him as she trailed her fingers along his bare chest. “It might help.”

He sighed wearily. “I’m going to fill in the rest of the department on Monday and form a task force, choose someone to head it up.”

Ginny’s decidedly indelicate snort was more informative than words.

“Okay,” he admitted reluctantly. “I’ll probably head it up. I will have someone else checking over my shoulder, though. I don’t want to miss something because I’m too close to the situation. I’m concerned that I’ll miss something.”

“Probably a wise decision,” Ginny murmured as she kissed his bare skin, sending a shiver up his spine. “What did Curtis say?”

“Exactly what we expected,” Harry told her. “It wasn’t Crabbe. So I have the body of a young, dead woman and her family has been wondering about her for the last twenty years.” He couldn’t express the remorse that caused him. It also made him blindingly angry if he thought about it too long. He would find her family, come hell or high water. Curtis had taken a DNA sample from the bones that he was hopeful he’d be able to run through the Muggle police. Harry had made contact with his Scotland Yard counterpart and told him that the request was coming through him.

Her soothing, gentle hand stroked his cheek. “You’ll find her.”

“I thought everything was peaceful,” Harry sighed as he stared at up the darkened ceiling. “We’ve had peace for so many years and now… the smugglers were dealing in potions ingredients, which we know that Isabella Crabbe is adapt in. We haven’t seen an uptick in illegal potions, though.”

“You’ll figure it out,” Ginny said confidently. “She’s got to be getting money somewhere, right? Find the money. That’s what you always say.”

There was a low knock at the door. “One second,” Ginny sat up and quickly grabbed her pajamas while Harry threw on sweatpants.

The moment she was clothed and back in bed, Harry went to magically unlock the door. He pulled it open to find Al on the other side.

“Hey,” Harry tugged him in gently and closed the door. “What’s the matter?”

“Tomorrow…” Al shifted from one foot to the other, his small face screwed up in concern. “With Nat… she’s coming and there’s something wrong. I know it.”

Ginny held out her arms and Al rushed forward towards her. “Come on,” Ginny guided him into the middle of the bed so he could lay with them, his mother’s arms around him as she kissed his brow. “You know we wouldn’t let anything hurt a child, Al, but more than that we know she’s your friend. You don’t have to worry about this, okay? We’re on it.”

“But…” Al’s voice trailed off. “It feels like something bad is going to happen.”

Harry ran a soothing hand over Al’s dark hair. “Your mum and I always keep you safe. We’re going to make sure Nat is safe as well.”

What he didn’t say, screamed loudly through the room. Harry could read the thoughts as though they were printed in a Muggle cartoon thought bubble. “This isn’t like Hope, Al,” he promised his son gently. “Nat isn’t in danger today and you’re going to have to trust us to keep her safe, which,” Harry realized heavily, “is the sort of rubbish that would have made me mad when I was your age. I wanted to be doing, not sitting on the sidelines. Is that about right?”

“Yeah,” Al sniffed in a small voice. Then more forcefully, he added, “If I can help Nat stay safe, then I want to help.”

“You can,” Harry replied and ignored the look Ginny shot him. “You already do. Her curse, while cured, means she’s still a bit of a klutz, right? You protect her from that.”

His son gave him that look that told him he wasn’t fooled. It was very unnerving to see his green eyes, mirroring doubt and annoyance back at him. “That’s not all that’s wrong or you wouldn’t have called a meeting.”

“We wanted to have them over for dinner,” Ginny argued instantly as she shifted onto her side and propped her head up on her hand to see them better.

“But that’s not the only reason,” Al retorted stubbornly. “Something happened.”

Harry searched Ginny’s eyes and saw her resignation. “You’re right, but we want to discuss it with Natalie’s parents first. That’s their right. Can you understand that?”

Al nodded reluctantly. “She’s not going to die, is she?”

“No!” Ginny promised with heartfelt sincerity. “She’s got a gift that some people might like to exploit. We need to protect her from those people, okay?”

Shoulders relaxed and Al swallowed back the obvious fear. “Okay. I can look out for her, too.”

His son… his son’s courage, openness and absolute loyalty humbled Harry. He took Al’s chin gently in his hand and pressed his lips to his dark locks. “I know you can.” Then saying the thing he’d never heard, ever, in his young life. “I trust you, Al. Right now you’re job is to be her friend and to report anything you see to Neville, okay? When you’re older and a bit more trained up, then you can take an active role if you still want to. Is that a deal?”

He hesitated only a split second. “Deal.”

Ginny shot him a look that screamed, ‘what are you doing?’ but Harry knew what it was to have a drive to be in the thick of things. If Al had that same drive, it was best to channel it and help him hone his skills, rather than knock him down. Also, Al wasn’t reckless like Harry had been as a boy. That was James. Al was careful, methodical, and despite what he’d have said even a year earlier, Al was showing him a whole lot of courage. It would be interesting to see what he did with it.

Back to index


Chapter 10: Chapter 7

Author's Notes: Thank you, Arnel, for all of your help!

Readers, tell me what you're thinking, give me feedback. This chapter took me forever to write. I need motivation ;)

My second book is up for pre-order right now on amazon. You can find the information in my profile. Please go check it, and my first novel, out.

As always, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the new chapter!
~Sarah


Ginny stared at Teddy through her open front door and couldn’t fathom that it was actually him. He’d outdone himself in his disguise for their dinner with the Parkers. The only reason she knew it was him was because Harry had warned her how Teddy would present himself, and the house was under the strictest security so not just anyone could get in.

“Who’s that?” James asked pointed as he wandered over and stared at the older gentleman in the door.

Teddy stuck out his hand, “Baxter Hornsby. I work with your father.” Even his voice sounded distinctively different. Gone was the sandy-haired, tall, young man and in his place was a short, solid man of about sixty with dark, slightly gray hair, and light green eyes.

James shook his hand reluctantly. “I’ve never met you before.”

“He works in the MLE,” Ginny explained quickly. “Please, come in Mr. Hornsby. I’d like you to meet our guests. This is Julienne and Curtis Parker and their daughter, Natalie. You know Hermione and Ron Weasley, of course. These are their children,” she pointed around the table. “Rose and Hugo, and these are my children, Al,” she pointed, “and Lily, and of course, James. You remember Professor McGonagall and Professor Longbottom, I’m sure.”

“Of course,” Teddy held out a hand to shake. “How do you do?”

“Er,” Nat held up a hand like she was in class.

Harry walked over with a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses. “What’s up?”

“Why is Teddy dressed like that?” she asked the group at large.

Teddy, unfortunately, faltered and spun to gawk at her.

“I told you,” Professor McGonagall chuckled dryly. “Change back, Mr. Lupin. No point in keeping it up now.”

“How did you know it was him?” Al questioned, astonished, as he studied his godbrother morphing back into himself. Then he spun on Ginny. “Why was he like that, Mum?”

“A small test,” Ginny cupped his chin and grin. “We’ll explain over dinner, I promise. Everyone, let’s sit.”

They refused to comment, despite the nagging of the six children, until they’d consumed the chicken Ginny had prepared for the evening. They dug into treacle tart with abandon as the conversation flowed around them.

“Well,” Harry pushed his plate away from him. “First off, Minerva, Neville, thank you for being here for this. Ginny pointed out that having Nat’s Headmistress and her Head of House in on this conversation would be a smart move, and I agree.” He turned to Natalie, who was staring at him, wide-eyed. “First things first, Nat. We had Teddy disguised because we wanted to see just what you could do. Curtis, could you tell that it was Teddy?”

“No,” Curtis admitted as he took a small sip of wine. “I saw nothing wrong with his appearance, but to be fair, I wasn’t looking for someone to be disguised. When he changed his face before, it was very obvious that something was wrong. This was a total change and a cohesive fit. I’m assuming,” he turned his intelligent eyes on Teddy, “that you chose a real person to mimic?”

“I did,” Teddy smiled ruefully. “It’s the owner of a pub near my grandmother’s house.”

“What did you see, Miss Parker, when you looked at Mr. Lupin?” Professor McGonagall asked Natalie curious.

Nat glanced around the group. To Ginny, she looked a little off kilter. “I saw…” Nat began hesitantly. “I… well, see, he didn’t look right. I don’t know how to explain it. I could just tell it was him.”

“That’s so cool,” James whistled.

Ginny shot her son a quelling look, but James only grinned in response. “You helped Mr. Potter find a missing woman, Nat, after which Professor McGonagall suggested to him that you might have a gift. I did some research,” Ginny pulled out her notes. “We believe that you’ve got a gift called Augmentum Imaginari.”

“What exactly does that mean?” Julienne probed curiously. “Is it going to be a problem? Is that why you asked to put security on our flat?”

“What it means,” Ginny explained carefully, “is that Nat will be able to see through magic and see something to its core. Teddy is a great example. We have another one, although we’re not sure that Nat will know what it was. Al, can you fetch the box from the counter?”

“Sure,” Al hopped up from his seat at the table and scrambled over to get the plain, black box that Minerva had transfigured earlier before Nat’s arrival. He brought it back and at a nod from Ginny, set it before Nat, before taking his seat next to her again.

“What is that, Miss Parker?” Neville posed the question.

Nat stared at the box. “It’s… it’s a box. I don’t…” then she cocked her head to the side and narrowed her eyes a bit. “It should be green.”

“What do you see?” Curtis studied his daughter curiously.

“I don’t know,” Nat shrugged helplessly. “I see the box, but the color looks wrong. It’s supposed to be light green, like lettuce colored.”

Ginny turned amazed eyes on Harry, then to Minerva.

“Exactly,” Professor McGonagall agreed quietly, clearly impressed. “I transfigured a head of lettuce into a black box.”

“Really?” Nat’s wide eyes turned to her Headmistress. “I see a box that’s green.”

“I see a black box,” Rose told. Ginny saw her niece was slightly disappointed, but she rallied quickly. “That’s so neat that you can do that!”

Curtis cleared his throat as he also studied the box. “This sounds like an interesting, er, magical gift. I’m sensing there is a major ‘but’ to this, though.”

“Unfortunately,” Ginny agreed.

Harry scraped at his brow wearily. “It’s exceptionally rare. In this case, it’s rarer than Teddy’s gift for changing his appearance. Because she will be able to see things exactly as they are, it means she can see magic that has been used for illegal purposes. No one will be able to trick her. She can use that as a very powerful asset, however…”

“She could be exploited,” Julienne concluded heavily, her eyes haunted.

“Yes,” Ginny replied softly.

“No one is going to hurt her,” Al piped in stubbornly. He looked at Nat. “We’re going to keep you safe.”

Rose nodded fervently. “Don’t worry, Nat. We’ll stick with you.”

“Secrecy is going to be essential,” Neville told Natalie. Ginny watched him try to conceal his concern for his student. They knew, the adults anyway, how serious it was for Natalie. They would, of course, tell Curtis and Julienne to true ramifications once the children were off to play upstairs. They needed to know, to be aware.

“Is there anything else?” Hugo asked curiously, hopping in his seat.

Ginny waved them off. “Go on. I know you want to show them your new game. Troll Wars,” Ginny explained to the Parkers. “It’s a new game my brother came up with.”

“Let’s go,” Hugo crowed in excitement, sprinting away from the table and ignoring his mother’s remonstration about his table manners.

She watched them go racing up the stairs, all except Al. Ginny watched her son deliberately hang back so that he followed Nat up the stairs and was ready to catch her when she tripped about halfway up. A sharp memory of Al, when he’d been about two-years-old, flashed through her mind. Ginny had been heavily pregnant with Lily and Harry had been stuck at the office later than usual. She’d given the boys a bath and her sweet, little boy had carefully stacked the toys while James had thrown them higgledy-piggledy all over the floor, along with a good bit of water. She’d been so tired, so worn out from the day, but as she looked into his baby face and his brilliant green eyes, she’d seen that her middle child would be a calm in the storm and that the details mattered, greatly, to him. Al showed it now in how he watched Natalie. He’d promised to take care of his friend, and her sturdy, solid little boy was growing into a careful, sturdy, considerate young man.

She shot Hermione a glance and intercepted one from Julienne. All three women had seen what Al had done.

That was interesting…

“So,” Curtis interrupted their silent exchange, clearly having missed what had just occurred. “What does this mean for Nat?”

Harry held up at hand and moved over to the stairs to set up charms to make sure the kids didn’t try to spy on them. “Okay,” he turned back to the group. “Only George could find a way through that.”

Ginny grinned into her glass of wine. “You’re sure he hasn’t taught James, yet?”

“I have a little sway over George,” Harry sighed heavily as he dropped into his seat. “I made him swear not to reveal that secret.”

Ron opened his mouth, but at a silent glance from Harry, shut it with a knowing grin. Ginny would have to worm that out of her husband later.

“Miss Parker’s ability is one that can be learned, of course,” Minerva explained to her parents. “Notable, powerful witches and wizards throughout history have managed to do what your daughter can do naturally. Your daughter is bright, engaging and a good student.”

Julienne smiled sadly. “I’m sensing a ‘but’ coming our way.”

“She’s not magically powerful,” Neville sighed as he rubbed at his eyes and sat back in his chair. “She can learn and remember, but she’s moving along at the pace we expect from our first years.”

Curtis glanced between them, his eyes crinkled a bit as he contemplated them. “It’s odd to hear that my bright daughter isn’t excelling, but–”

“No!” Neville held up a hand. His round face looked horrified and Hermione had to grab his wine goblet before he spilled it. “I don’t mean that. She’s very smart, but she’s…” he glanced helplessly at the Headmistress.

“She’s book smart,” Minerva supplied.

“I know that all too well,” Hermione admitted ruefully. “I knew more about Defense than Harry, but he could outperform me in the magic every single time. I never could keep up. In a test of facts, though…”

“Hermione knew her stuff,” Harry confirmed. “But she couldn’t cast a Patronus until much later than I could. That’s Nat.”

“A Patronus?” Julienne queried with a raised eyebrow.

Harry pulled out his wand, waved it, and the silver stag circled the room. “That’s a Patronus.”

“It’s beautiful,” Julienne whispered in awe as she watched the stag canter around the room. “What’s it do?”

“It’s a magical protection,” Hermione explained as she wiped her mouth with her napkin. “It’s used to ward off a few dark creatures.”

“Nat won’t be able to do that?” Curtis asked in concern.

Ginny felt her heart go out to him. It had be to so overwhelming to leave his child in a world he didn’t understand. “She will! The thing is, Harry could do that at thirteen where most don’t learn until they’re adults. You see the difference?”

“Harry is powerful magically…” Curtis said carefully.

Harry said, “No,” while every other wizard or witch said, “Yes.”

Ginny grinned at her flushed, annoyed husband. “So modest. You’re adorable.”

“Anyway,” Harry shot her an exasperated glance, “we want to be extremely careful with Natalie’s safety. In the normal course of things that wouldn’t be a concern and as long as we are able to keep her ability under wraps it should remain that way.”

“What about the children?” Julienne asked as she glanced around. “We’re asking them to keep a big secret.”

“The kids will keep the secret,” Ron assured her without reservation. “We’re famous and in our lives are a lot of secrets. They’ve grown up with knowing there are certain things they can’t tell anyone. Besides, we need them watching her.”

Hermione reached over to pat Julienne’s hand. “I know this is scary, but our children are the first line of defense since they’re with her all the time. At Al’s age, Harry had already faced the most powerful Dark wizard of the ages twice and won both times. We don’t underestimate our kids, even if we are trying to protect them.”

“They’ll keep the secret,” Teddy agreed wholeheartedly. “One because they care about Nat, but also because they will see it as the honorable thing to do and the kids live by a certain code.”

Ginny shot him a quizzical look, but he didn’t meet her eyes. “You’re taking Nat to Brazil this summer, right? Does she speak Portuguese?”

“Yes,” Curtis confirmed wearily. “And yes, although not well. She’ll pick it up again quickly, but we’ll be at the University much of the time so I don’t expect it to be a problem.”

“I doubt she’ll have any trouble away from home,” Harry replied honestly. “I think it isn’t going to be obvious to anyone who doesn’t know her well that this is what she’s doing and most people will pass it off as your influence, Curtis.”

“Agreed,” Minerva cleared her throat. “I will be working with her a few times a year to see how she is progressing, but I doubt I will be needed to teach her any new skills. Still, while I trust Professor Lucas,” she commented dryly, referring to her replacement for Transfiguration teacher, “I do not know him well enough to let him in on this secret.”

Ginny hid her smile behind her glass of wine. The new teacher had replaced Minerva and had been at Hogwarts for twenty years.

“I have another security question,” Julienne piped in after a lull in the conversation. “Harry is the head of the police, right?”

“Sort of,” Hermione explained to her. “He’s in charge of the witches and wizards that investigate the very serious crimes. A petty crime would be investigated by the MLE, or the Magical Law Enforcement. His branch is more specialized.”

“Okay,” she nodded contemplatively. “How long have you been the Head, erm, Auror? Did I say that correctly?”

“You did,” Harry chuckled easily. “A long time. Teddy was small, I know that. Ginny was pregnant with Al.”

Teddy snorted as he pointed at Harry. “I remember distinctly. My grandmother had to go out of town and I was seven. I was staying the week here while she was gone, and you worked all the time. I only saw you for stories right before bed.”

Harry grimaced as he stood and picked up the plates around him. “He’s right. I worked a lot during the transition.”

“Not to mention James crying all the time,” Ron reminded him helpfully. “I’m still deaf from that and I didn’t even live here.”

“He didn’t cope with teething well,” Ginny explained to the Parkers.

“It got so bad that Ginny didn’t know she was pregnant with Al,” Ron told them with a wink for his sister. Ginny picked up a bun and lobbed it at her brother’s head, but he laughed and caught it, taking a big bite. “She’f za bes of mums to deal wif dat,” he told them through a mouthful of food.

“You’re still disgusting,” Ginny said scathingly while the Parkers laughed.

Hermione shot him a quelling look. “Can we get back to the matter at hand?”

“I need to be going,” Minerva told them as she rose slowly to her feet. “We’re getting a transfer student from America and I still have some forms to fill out for her.”

“This late in the year?” Hermione blinked in surprise at their old professor.

“I’m afraid so,” the older woman sighed heavily and Harry helped her shrug into her traveling cloak. “She and her sister have come to live with their grandparents. She’d been at the Salem’s Witches Institute, but her grandfather is insisting on her starting with us. Thankfully, we have very similar teaching schedules, so she shouldn’t have too many difficulties in integrating.”

“Her sister isn’t starting?” Ron asked, and then shook his head. “Never mind, younger sister, right?”

“Indeed, Ron,” Minerva confirmed.

“The new girl is a second year,” Neville said as he also put on his cloak and ran a hand through his thinning, blond hair. “Thank you for dinner.”

Ginny stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. “Give Hannah our love and we’ll arrange to have dinner again this summer. I think Luna is coming home in July.”

“She’ll like that,” Neville shook hands around.

~*~

Al slumped into his seat next to Scorpius and stared at the corn flakes like they’d done him a personal injury. He knew he was being stupid. No one knew the real reason his parents had been forced to get married, but it still felt like he had a taint. He hadn’t told Nat or Rose when they’d come over for dinner, even though they’d pulled him aside to ask.

Amazingly when he’d explained that he’d gotten an answer and his parents wanted it kept quiet, they’d both respected it. Scorpius had given him the same, after he’d told him when he got back.

He did confirm that they’d gotten married because of his sister, though. That wasn’t a secret.

James wouldn’t talk to him about it, which left Al feeling out of sorts and grumpy.

“You okay?” Rose asked quietly from across the table. “Are you sick?”

“He’s fine,” James interrupted her and reached across her for the bacon, barely avoiding her hand when she tried to smack him.

Nat’s solemn eyes met his and he thought, just for a moment, that maybe she knew what was bothering him, but he shook it off and hunched his shoulders over his breakfast. He didn’t want to think about his mum being violated, or about any of the horrible things she’d had to go through. Just as soon as the summer hols came around, he was going to talk to Teddy. Teddy wouldn’t blow him off and try to act like a tough guy.

The worst part was Al had thought James was coming around and wouldn’t be quite as big of an arrogant berk.

“Attention students,” Professor McGonagall’s voice floated through the hall.

Al looked over, along with everyone else, to see her standing in front of the teacher’s table with the Sorting Hat in her hand and a small girl, close to Al’s age, standing next to her.

“We have a transfer student from America, Caroline Baker. She is in her second year and I will trust that everyone will make her feel welcome,” the Professor said. It was more of an order rather than a request.

Caroline Baker stared straight ahead, but even at a distance Al could tell she was shaking. She had golden blonde hair pulled up in a neat bun, and blue eyes the exact color of the lake. They didn’t seem able to decide between azure blue or slate gray.

“Wow!” James whistled low under his breath while Louis snickered. “Hope she ends up in Gryffindor, ‘cause she’s a–” he froze at the dirty look Roxy was giving him.

“You leave her alone, James, or I’ll make you miserable!” Roxy’s amber eyes flashed dangerously as she glared at him.

James tipped his head to the side and regarded her carefully. “I’m just looking.”

“And if she was Lily and someone was ‘just looking’ like you’re just looking?” Dominque fired back, her brilliant red hair practically standing on end in her ire. “Don’t be a–”

The hat interrupted their quiet argument by shouting out, “Gryffindor!”

The table erupted in cheers.

“Gymnast,” Nat told them. Al glanced over at her and saw her studying the new student. “She’s really fit.”

“Bah!” James spit out, still stung from the girls’ take down. “I could take her.”

“I bet you couldn’t,” Nat rolled her eyes at his brother. “A galleon says she could beat you in arm wrestling.”

James’ sneer was one for the record books. “I’m not fighting a girl!”

Nat’s answering smile was all sweetness. “Good, because you couldn’t take her, I…” her voice faded off as she gaped at the new girl, who had sat down a couple of seats away.

“What’s the matter?” Rose questioned in concern.

“Uh…” Nat swiveled around, looking ill. “I need to, erm, go talk to Professor McGonagall.”

Al rose with her. “I can come.”

“No, no,” she assured him hurriedly as she made her way forward.

Al watched her come up to the side of the Headmistress as she stood speaking to Professor Sinestra in the front of the hall.

The old professor looked at her for a moment, before beckoning her off to one of the anti-chambers from the Great Hall.

“What was that about?” Rose wondered aloud.

“Who knows,” Scorpius sighed as he dug into breakfast. “We’ll ask her in Defense.”

They didn’t get a chance to ask Nat about it until break.

“I saw something on her face,” Nat explained quietly after they’d quickly explained to Scorpius about Nat’s odd power. “I thought I was going crazy, but Professor McGonagall was able to explain it to me and it’s nothing to worry about. She had a magical healing and I could see the before and after, so it was freaky. But,” she continued on a little breathlessly. “I did promise not to tell anyone because her medical records are private, if you know what I mean and it isn’t our business, you know?”

“‘Course,” Scorpius patted her on the shoulder. “So, I have to ask. Are the giant squid’s tentacles all real, because I think he’s had some added on.”

Nat breamed at him while Al and Rose laughed. “Was your holiday okay?”

“It was fine,” Scorpius waved it off. “My mum’s parents came to stay from Greece, along with my aunt Daphne, so Dad wasn’t home much. Aunt Daphne took me to a Muggle cinema and then we went for Chinese take away, which we ate in Hyde Park. My dad would have busted a gut if he’d seen us.”

“I think I’d like your aunt,” Al mused as he could barely picture Scorpius doing any of those things. “We never get to do that because of security.”

“You’ve never been to the cinema?” Nat glanced between them curiously.

“I have,” Rose corrected as she leaned back against the stone of the castle. “My Muggle grandparents have taken Hugo and me, but not Al. With his dad’s work, he can’t exactly go traipsing off anywhere he fancies.”

Al scuffed his shoe along one of the cracks in the walkway, dislodging a bit of moss and dirt. The truth was, while he loved his family, he also knew that there were decided disadvantages to having famous parents, especially his dad. He’d never felt like his dad was trying to overshadow him, but nor did Al ever see a way that he’d be able to come out from the aura of all his father had accomplished.

He thought about his parents, not even out of Hogwarts, but having to get married. Suddenly he couldn’t take it any longer. “Someone poisoned my parents when Mum was pregnant with Hope.”

The bell rang.

“W-what?” Rose hissed out, horrified, as she covered her mouth. “W-what? When?”

“Oh, Merlin,” Scorpius said as his skin went several shades paler, which wasn’t something Al was sure it could do. “You’re joking?”

“You can’t say anything to anyone,” Al whispered urgently. “They don’t want anyone to know!”

“Of course not,” Rose’s eyes filled.

Nat stepped forward and hugged him tight, briefly offering comfort. “Let’s get to class. We can talk later.”

Al trudged back to the castle feeling simultaneously better and worse in equal measures. He’d let his parents down. He’d let his family down. He hadn’t explained everything, nor would he, but…

Rose threaded her arm through his and squeezed gently. “It’ll be okay, Al.”

“Thanks, Rosie,” he replied without feeling. Nothing felt like it would be okay, ever again.

~*~

Harry stared around the conference room that he infrequently used for his Aurors. Typically he didn’t call staff meetings, as he didn’t want to go to them himself, and it was bad form for the boss to be a no-show.

It was, in fact, the same room where he’d sat across from Isabella Crabbe and her sister when Goyle’s mum had pleaded for her son’s release from Azkaban.

Gregory Goyle was still locked up and would be for at least another year. It didn’t matter any longer. His parents were dead now. His aunt Isabella was crazy and on the run, doing Merlin only knew what with potions.

“Sorry,” Kingsley came in with a wave, his deep, sonorous voice resonating through the room. “I was unavoidably detained, Potter.”

“No problem,” Harry wasn’t at all sorry to delay the meeting. The moment the Minister was seated Harry closed and locked the doors, magically sealing them against listening and turned to face his twelve Aurors. Silas Raeburns, the oldest of the crew, had been part of the Aurors the longest. He, alone, remained from the crew that had been active before Voldemort’s reign of terror. His lined, craggy face was still as sharp as it had ever been, but he now sported thick, steel gray hair. He sat straight as he eyed Harry impassively. Harry didn’t know what he’d do when Raeburns retired. He counted on his steady, immovable presence, plus his decades of experience. It was almost like having Moody back, but without the rampant paranoia.

“Say,” Collins, a man a few years Harry’s senior interrupted. “I thought Macmillan would be back by now.”

“She’s asked for another few weeks,” Harry told the group at large. “I’m inclined to give her the extra time to be with the baby, since Susan is our only senior female Auror. I’d rather give her more time now than risk her quitting altogether.”

Thomas Gregory cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable. “That’s the thing, boss. We need more women.”

“I’m aware,” Harry bit back the annoyance. He’d tried, with each seventh year Hogwarts class, to get women to train, but thus far he’d had only one take him up on it and she was still in her third year of training. His niece, Dominique, had told him over Christmas that she was thinking about it, but she was still in her fourth year. “I’m going back to Hogwarts next week, but in the meantime we’ll have to make due.”

Harry glanced at Kingsley and saw the Minister gesturing at his pocket watch.

“Right,” Harry pulled out the heavy box that he’d retrieved from storage from its spot on the floor by his feet and set it on the table. “I’ve got a personal problem that now needs everyone’s attention. Almost twenty years ago my wife and I were attacked. Is everyone familiar with the general story?” He scanned the room and saw no one was giving him a questioning glance. “Right, well, what I need to have everyone understand is that I’m about to reveal details that are pertinent, but I would request that they remain private. My children could be adversely affected if word got out and they are still young. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” a murmur floated around the room.

Harry forced himself to take several slow, deep breaths before he started in on the story. “Ginny and I were attacked with a Blood Boiling Hex and landed in St. Mungo’s. Everyone knew that, correct?” At every nod, he went on. “That’s where the official story moves sideways from the truth. What everyone thinks happens is that Ginny and I acted like a couple of teenagers, she ended up pregnant, and we were forced to marry.” He looked down at his simple wedding band and thought of his beautiful wife and the life he’d made with her. “What really happened, that no one but the Minister knows, is that a woman named Isabella Crabbe used me to magically impregnate Ginny.”

Several sharp, indrawn breaths, a couple of gasps, and a fog of stunned silence filled the room. No one moved as a dozen sets of eyes bore into him.

“Then we were poisoned,” Harry continued the story and fought with every fiber he had to keep his composure. “It was a little known poison called Dolore Tardus. It’s slow acting, and so obscure that it’s a miracle that we were cured. However, the poison was still inside my wife and she lost our baby.”

“Merlin’s beard,” Raeburns muttered at just above a whisper.

Harry closed his eyes briefly before glancing around. “At first we kept it quiet because we didn’t want our daughter to feel like she was unwanted. After, we kept it quiet because we thought Isabella Crabbe was dead and we wanted to protect our future children from feeling like we were forced to be married. At this point, my oldest children are aware of the truth, but our youngest isn’t ready.”

“This…” Collins looked stricken as his brown eyes flashed with sympathy. “I’m sorry, Harry. I have to ask, though. Why are you telling us now? Isabella Crabbe is dead, as you said, so…” his voice faded off as he stared at Harry in horror. “She’s not dead? The recent rape case, the woman that you’ve been taking a personal interesting in?”

“Yes,” Harry rubbed at his brow behind his glasses. “We’ve confirmed that she’s not dead. I’ve had a Muggle expert confirm that the body we found could not have been Crabbe. She was a younger woman of African descent. I’ve got Scotland Yard combing through their missing persons cases, but so far they’ve had no luck. That first year I received a note that said, ‘I know your secret’. Each year, from a Muggle post box, I get a letter. It isn’t always the same time of year, or the same post box and I’ve had no luck in tracing the sender. I now believe it is Isabella Crabbe, but for what reason, I haven’t got a clue. I need help.”

“What do we know?” Raeburns asked him flatly. “We know she took that girl not long ago and let her be raped by men working for her, right?”

“Yes,” Harry confirmed as he pulled out Cori Yale-Oldford’s file. “The information that I have from her is that the men took her and she believes she was kept alive for them to play with. However, her being pregnant might have been part of the plan. We know there were others who were experimented on and didn’t make it. Most of them were older men who she believes were Muggles who might be homeless. They’d be the least likely to be reported as missing. No one lived long. I’ve started to check for potions ingredients, for any illnesses coming in through St. Mungo’s that can’t be explained, but I’m coming up blank.”

Kingsley gazed at him thoughtfully. “What about selling overseas or on the continent?”

“It’s possible,” Harry nodded as he considered that idea. “I didn’t think it was possible to get magical items over the border, but with a powerful enough witch or wizard, I suppose anything is possible. Isabella Crabbe is brilliant. Background on her. Her father wouldn’t support Voldemort, so she was captured, handed over to her soon-to-be husband, who spent weeks raping her until she was pregnant and was forced to marry him.”

Auror Gregory swore under his breath. No matter what she’d done, Harry couldn’t stomach the violence that had been done to her. Gregory seemed to form his words carefully. “How old was she when this happened?”

“She’d just turned fifteen,” Harry said as he forced down the bile. He had nieces that age. “She was a Greengrass, but she and her sister were both attacked. Her nephew, Gregory Goyle, is still in Azkaban for his crimes with helping the Death Eaters. He’s showed no remorse and hasn’t been cleared. His mother died a few years ago.”

“How did you identify Crabbe?” another Auror, Becket Hera asked as he took notes on a scroll.

This was the sticking point for Harry. He had given it a lot of thought, had run it through Kingsley, and had opted to keep Natalie out of it. He trusted the men in the room with him or he’d have fired them. There was no room for a traitor in the Auror department. However, a single slip of the tongue could cost a child her life. All he risked for his children was embarrassment if the truth of his marriage to Ginny got out, but this was serious. So, he lied through his teeth and gave Nat’s dad the credit. “One of my sons, Al, is friends with a Muggleborn named Natalie Parker. Natalie stayed with us over Christmas and I met her father, a Muggle expert in bones and faces. He’s an anthropologist. Is anyone familiar with that term?”

“Yeah,” Gregory nodded. “They study ancient bones.”

“Essentially,” he agreed with a slow nod. “However, Curtis Parker is a world renowned anthropologist and he often deals in recent murder cases, helping to solve crimes. I contacted him and he has some computer program that can make a person look older or younger. He took the sketch that Dean Thomas made from Cori Oldford’s memory, and we were able to confirm it. After that, Curtis examined the remains we had that we thought were Crabbe and confirmed that it was definitely not her.”

“So, we need to figure out what Crabbe is up to,” Raeburns said carefully. “Then we need to figure out how to stop it and bring her to justice.”

“Yes,” Harry nodded towards the files. “I have some notes on what happened to me, but it isn’t a large casefile. We’ve got very few leads and no idea how she’s funding what she’s doing. Also,” he said regretfully, “because we believed she was dead, we didn’t attribute any of our unexplained cases to her. That was a mistake that we will need to rectify. If she’s been murdering people for the last twenty years, we need to pin those on her.”

“You think there are more?” Kingsley questioned, straightening in his seat. The light from one of their fake windows shone off his bald, dark head and Harry met his gaze head on.

They exchanged a silent conversation, a trick they’d perfected in the last decade of working closely together. “I think it would be prudent to check all avenues. I would like to bring in Hermione Weasley. One, because I trust her implicitly and two she already knows the history of what I’ve shared. Do I have any objections?”

Several groans, but no objections. Hermione was thorough, easy enough to work with, and she never showed up unprepared. However…

“She makes us fill out the damn paperwork,” Collins grumbled in annoyance as he leaned back in his seat, tipping the chair up onto two legs. “She’s a stickler about it.”

Harry grinned sympathetically. “I’ll make sure she doesn’t. We need to liaise with the MLE and she’s our best bet as they like her and aren’t too fond of us. They’ll have the information on any stolen potions ingredients and possibly back alley sales that we might not have been alerted to.”

The head of the MLE, essentially Harry’s counterpart, was a man named Helminth Smith. He was Harry’s old classmate’s, Zachariah Smith’s, uncle. If it were possible, which Harry wouldn’t have put money on when he was in school, Helminth was even more unpleasant than his nephew. The old coot had resented Harry taking over the Aurors at such a young age and he’d made sure that everyone knew his objections. No one cared, though. Smith was old money, an old family with ties back to Helga Hufflepuff, and he kept his job for purely familial reasons. He didn’t want it. He was a figurehead blowing steam when the mood struck.

It was really Hermione running the department, along with her other duties, but for pretense sake, it was made to look like Smith was still in charge.

A loud knock sounded at the door. Only Harry’s assistant, Daniel, would be at the door and he knew better than to interrupt unless it was urgent. Harry rose and moved to unseal the door to admit the younger man.

Instead he found Daniel along with one of their newly minted Aurors, Kyle Stebbins. Kyle shot him a nervous glance and held out a note. “We got word from Hogwarts.”

That effectively lodged Harry’s heart into his throat as he unfolded the letter and read.

Body found on the grounds, near the lake. Request Auror Potter to investigate immediately. His son, Albus Potter, was one of the children who found the unidentified body. We do not believe it is a student.

Harry stared at the words and felt his entire world tilt sideways. “Hell. Okay,” he turned back to the room. “Raeburns, Gregory, Collins, you’re with me. The rest of you, we’ll meet again tomorrow if I don’t make it back this evening. Kingsley,” he handed the note over to his boss and waited while the Minister quickly scanned it. “Are you coming?”

The older man nodded. “I need to check in with my office first. I’ll meet you there. Tell Minerva.”

“I will,” Harry said as he shook his hand and went to fetch his traveling cloak.

Back to index


Chapter 11: Chapter 8

Author's Notes: IMPORTANT! My second book releases on April 9th! If you wanted to get a copy for pre-order, it's still 60% off right now. (if you're reading this past 2015 you've missed it!) Links to my books are in my profile.

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Harry and his crew was met at the gates of Hogwarts by Hagrid, who assured him straight off that Al was okay and was currently sitting in Neville’s office with his friends, waiting to be questioned.

“He held up,” Hagrid said as he led the group of Aurors and the Minister around the lake. “He kept his cool. Well, he would. He’s your kid. Rose is upset, though.”

“What happened?” Harry asked as he tried to match the half-giant’s long strides through the grass past Hagrid’s cabin and towards the lake.

Hagrid glanced back and slowed a bit. “From what I got from the kids, they were taking a walk before dinner and found the body in the bushes. Nat says she smelled it, or summit’ like that. I was closest, so Scorpius came to get me and I alerted the rest of the staff. It’s a right mess, too.”

“Any idea who it might be?” Kingsley questioned as he came up along Hagrid’s other side.

“Nat says it’s a white male,” Hagrid shrugged. “She says he’s not a teenager, but couldn’t tell his age without some kind of ray.”

X-ray, Harry surmised. “Okay, did she say anything else?”

“Uh,” Collins butted in. “Are we talking about a student?”

“This is the one who has the father that studies bodies,” Harry reminded the other man and saw them all nod in understanding. “Is the body in bad shape?”

“It’s not really a body anymore,” Hagrid told them sadly. “Tell the truth, I had no idea what I was looking at at first. The smell gave it away, though. You know what I mean.”

“I do,” Harry agreed coldly as they made their way around the lake to the group of professors he could see off in the distance.

The next hour was spent in a routine that was familiar and yet never quite the same twice. Harry’s scan of the body was cursory. The smell was horrible. It was that dead, cloying, rotting stink that could bring bile to his throat even after all this time. The skin had liquefied and was sunk around the body. Maggots were everywhere, crawling over and feasting on the desiccated flesh. Pictures were taken, notes were transcribed, and arrangements were made to transfer the body back to St. Mungo’s.

Professor McGonagall and Neville waited for him off towards the edge of the crime scene while he issued final instructions to his men and conferred with the Minister.

Wearily, he walked over to the professors. “I need to see the kids, now. Kingsley?”

“Yes,” he said in his deep voice as he marched along beside him. “I can’t stay much longer, but I want to hear this for myself.”

“They’re in my office,” Neville told him. “Harry… how did this happen?”

“I wish I knew,” Harry sighed in exhaustion as they made their way up to the castle. He ignored the small faces that peered out at him from the windows and concentrated on every footstep as he made his way to his friend’s office, the office that used to belong to Professor Sprout.

Neville pushed open the door and Harry took in the scene quickly. Scorpius leaned up against one of the walls, his hands in his pockets. His pale face was deathly white, and his hair was slightly disheveled. Al sat on the edge of the desk while Nat and Rose sat in the chairs that Neville had for his students.

They all spun at the adults’ entrance and like a shot, Rose was up and out of her seat, throwing herself into his arms, sobbing hysterically. “Uncle Harry!”

“Hey,” he knelt and pressed her close, soothing his hand over her bushy hair and kissing the crown of her head. “It’s okay, Rosie. You’re okay. I’ve got you.”

Twelve she might be, but she was still his niece and his goddaughter. He’d kissed her tiny cheek the day she was born, had protected her all her life, and he would gladly lay down his life for her. He loved her more than she’d ever understand. She was the child of his best friends, and he held on until she’d pulled herself back together again.

“S-sorry,” she whispered, embarrassed as she swiped the tears from her flushed face.

Harry cupped her thin cheeks and implored her brown eyes to meet his straight on. She looked so much like her mother at that moment that it was like being thrown back in time by a Time-Turner. “You have nothing to be sorry about, do you hear me? That was a horrible thing to go through and there is no shame in crying, all right?”

Rose nodded and led him lead her back to the seat while Minerva conjured up a couple more chairs.

Harry held out a hand to Draco’s son, who eyed him nervously. “You must be Scorpius.”

“Yes, sir,” the boy agreed politely and gave him a firm shake.

“I wish I was meeting you under better circumstances,” Harry smiled sadly. “Please have a seat. Everyone knows the Minister, except Nat. Natalie Parker, this is Minister Shacklebolt.”

Kingsley held out his hand to the little girl and she shook it.

“Use my seat,” Neville offered Harry.

As soon as he sat across from the kids, he studied them closely. The boys looked like they were on the verge of throwing up. Rose was still hot with embarrassment and fear, but Harry saw Al take her hand and give it a squeeze. She shot her cousin a grateful glance. Of anyone, Nat looked the most composed.

“Please tell me what happened,” Harry instructed gently.

The children looked at each other, and it was Al that answered. His son’s cheeks stained pink as he gazed at him, shame faced. “Dad… I told them about the poison and about why Hope died.”

Harry stared at his son, trying to decide exactly what that meant, but he needn’t have bothered. Al’s eyes clearly begged understanding and mercy. “I see.”

“I know you said not to talk about it,” Al went on bleakly. “I just couldn’t keep it in anymore and… I blurted out that you’d been poisoned.”

His son, his quiet, serious little boy… not so little anymore. He’d told him plainly what he’d said to his friends, and from all of the children’s expressions, none of them had heard more. No one looked guilty, and Rose would have. “That’s understandable, Al. I’m sure it’s been on your mind.”

“He said it right before the bell for classes,” Nat went on, sitting forward in her seat as her swing of strawberry blonde hair, fell around her shoulders. She absently pulled a tie from her wrist and pulled the mess of hair up and away from her face. “We went on a walk around the lake so he could explain properly, without anyone overhearing. He told us how you were poisoned in the hospital and that’s… that’s…” her eyes were overly bright as she paused. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Potter.”

He nodded in appreciation, even as his gut clenched involuntarily. “Please, go on.”

“I smelled it first,” Nat admitted quietly, nervously. “I know that smell, although I’m not around it often, but it’s the sort of thing that a person doesn’t forget, you know? There is this body farm in America that… well, never mind that. I know the smell. The body looks to be at least a week dead, and I looked at the soil carefully around the body and I think that it had to have been placed there, and not died there. The ground around the body didn’t look right. It wasn’t trampled or covered in the fluids like I’ve seen at other body dumps.” She shot Rose an apologetic nod. “I’m sorry, Rose. I know it’s awful. If I hadn’t seen it all my life…”

“Tell me about the victim,” Harry gently steered her back on topic. “Age?”

“I don’t know,” Nat shook her head. “I’d say definitely more than twenty. I’d possibly say closer to forty, but I can’t tell without x-rays of the teeth. There was too much flesh, still, and I’m not that good at it. He’s definitely a man. The skull was clean enough that I could tell by the brow ridge and… I can’t explain it, but I’m pretty sure he’s white. He wasn’t a tall man, and from the amount of flesh still around him, I would say he was probably fairly thin, but that’s also a guess because scavengers could have got after him. I saw a…” Nat paused and glanced at the Minister nervously, before turning back to Harry. “Can I tell you everything right now?”

Understanding, Harry nodded. “The Minister is a good friend, one I trust implicitly. He’s been informed of your gift and is helping to ensure your safety.”

“He has a green aura around him,” Nat admitted quietly. “I don’t understand it. I’ve never seen that type of thing, but there’s this green… it’s like that slime green on- no, wait. You wouldn’t know of that television show. It was…”

Horror filled Harry. He glanced at Kingsley and saw the same disgust and recognition on his old friend’s face. Kingsley cleared his throat meaningfully. “That’s extremely helpful, Miss Parker. I think that will give us the leads we need. I’m sure this is difficult–”

“It isn’t, actually,” Nat interrupted him in her quiet, but insistent voice. “That’s not my first body. It’s not even the worst I’ve seen.” Rose squeaked in horror, but Nat appeared not to notice as she continued on. “I may not want to do this as a profession, but I know that I’m helpful in this instance and if I can be of assistance, I will be.”

“Nat…” Al shook his head. “You don’t have to put on a brave face on this one. We all hated it.”

“I hate it,” Nat agreed as she turned to Harry’s son. “I hate murder and I hate the violence. Someone killed that man and that’s what I hate, but death and decay? That’s natural. It’s a part of life. It’s only the bodies of babies that really get to me.”

Minerva’s quick exhalation was the only sound in the room. Harry stared at the remarkably stoic girl sitting across the desk from him and had to marvel at the unbending steel he saw in her. She wasn’t hard. She wasn’t cynical. She was a bizarre mixture of realist and optimist.

Definitely the strangest kid he’d ever met.

The door banged open, making everyone jump. Harry was on his feet, raising his wand, only to freeze when he saw Draco Malfoy positively vibrating with fury in the doorway.

Scorpius swore under his breath, so softly that Harry assumed he was the only one who heard it.

“Malfoy,” Harry gave him a tight smile. “We aren’t quite done yet, but will be in a moment.”

“My son,” Draco drawled quietly as he stepped into the room. “Will not be questioned without my presence. Am I understood?”

“Father,” Scorpius shot his dad an annoyed glare. “I can do this without you.”

Draco gave him a quelling look, which shut Scorpius up. Harry rarely ever saw his former classmate lose his cool. Apparently he could with his son, because his son had fear on his face. He had to stop himself from hexing him on the spot. No one’s kid should quail like that. Vivid flashes of Uncle Vernon danced before his eyes, taunting him.

“I want my son transferred from that house. The people he is associating with are clearly exposing him to dangerous —” Draco’s cool tirade was cut off by Harry’s burst of laughter.

“You’re worried about what’s he’s exposed to?” Harry blurted out, caught between amusement and incredulity.

Draco’s mouth firmed imperceptibly. “I’ve paid my debt to society, Potter. I do not owe you anything.” It was said carefully, with a lot of meaning behind the words.

Somehow, Draco had worked out just how Hope had come to exist and he’d told Harry that he knew. They’d come to an agreement that they were even, with Draco’s silence about Harry’s daughter’s conception, and for Harry saving Narcissa from going to jail.

Harry nodded slowly. “I appreciate that you want to ensure your son’s wellbeing, but this matter cannot be discussed with you present.” He stepped out from behind the desk and gestured Draco out into the hallway. Harry was reasonably certain that he’d have refused if the Minister hadn’t been standing behind him, brooking no argument.

They exited and Harry shut the door, casting a charm on it so no one inside would hear them.

“That’s my son,” Draco hissed meaningfully, pointing at the door.

“I know,” Harry turned to him, rubbing at the ache forming behind his temples. “It’s my son, as well as my niece. I’m fully aware of just how this feels. I’m not legally allowed to discuss this case with you presently, or I would allow you to be there. Your conviction means that, even though he is your son, you cannot be privy to any sensitive details to an ongoing investigation.”

His gray eyes narrowed briefly. He considered Harry for another moment. “I want to speak to my son.”

“We’ll be done soon,” Harry retorted as calmly as he could manage. If the roles were reversed, he’d have wanted to be with Al, and he understood the impotence that Draco had to be feeling at that exact moment. Until he’d become a parent, he’d never quite gotten just how far someone would go to protect a child. He’d done everything he could to protect Hope, and it hadn’t been enough to save her. He’d not failed with Teddy, nor with James, Al or Lily. He faced his former enemy and tried to explain. “I’m not going to hurt your son, or endanger him in any way. I simply need to question him on the events today, and then he is free to go. I will treat your son with the same level of concern as I treat my own.”

Draco’s shoulders stiffened and it was the only visible reaction the other man had. Harry could see the turmoil written clearly over his pale face. He loved his child. He clearly cared, and Harry could imagine that Draco hearing about a dead body being found on the grounds had scared Draco into coming here.

Harry also knew, without a doubt, that Draco had no idea how to reach Scorpius and Draco’s own lack of a positive role model meant he was failing spectacularly at parenting his child. He would have been in the same boat with his children, if not for Arthur Weasley. He glanced down the empty corridor, past suits of armor that quickly snapped back to attention, like they hadn’t been eaves-dropping on the conversation, and saw one of the ghosts float out of the wall, cross the hall, and go through another.

“All right,” Draco replied finally. This time he was fully in control of himself. “I want to speak to my son when you’re done with him.”

“It won’t be much longer,” Harry assured him as he removed the charms he’d placed on the door. This scene reminded Harry that even though he’d be getting a much louder interrogation just as soon as he was back at the Ministry and Hermione tracked him down.

~*~

Scorpius regarded Mr. Potter carefully as he came back through the door, without his father, thank Merlin. As soon as Harry sat, Scorpius took up the story. “Nat said she smelled something and she went to look and then we all saw the body. I wanted to vomit.”

“Understandable, Mr. Malfoy,” Professor McGonagall assured him.

He nodded at the old Headmistress in thanks. “Then Nat told us to back up so we didn’t contaminate anything and she sent me to get Hagrid. Rose was crying and Al was trying to get her to calm down.”

“Sorry…” Rose sniffed.

Scorpius huffed out a short laugh. “I wanted to cry, Rose! It was revolting. I might have if Nat hadn’t sent me off.”

“Me, too,” Al added helpfully with a wink for his cousin. “I wanted to cry.”

Rose gave a watery giggle.

“So, I got Hagrid and that’s the end of it. Nat told the teachers what she knew and Professor Longbottom brought us up here and asked us to wait,” Scorpius finished and sat back in his seat.

Mr. Potter turned to the Minister. “Did you have anything else?”

“Just one question,” the Minister said slowly. “Was anyone around when you found the body?”

Scorpius thought about it. “I think there were a couple of prefects up by the Quidditch pitch and two seventh years snogging further down the lake. We weren’t going much father because we didn’t want to disturb them.”

“Yeah,” Rose nodded fervently. “I didn’t see anyone else.”

“All right,” Harry stood. “You may go. Scorpius, your father wants a word with you. He’d waiting in the corridor.”

Scorpius’ heart sank.

His father stood rigidly outside the door and immediately ushered him down into an empty classroom, where he shut the door and spun slowly to face him.

Rage.

Disgust.

Disappointment.

The story of Scorpius’ life. He shoved his hands in his pockets and eyed his father warily. “I didn’t kill anyone.”

“I want you to in Slytherin.”

Also the story of Scorpius’ life. “That ship has sailed, Dad,” Scorpius sighed. “Can’t you just disown me? It’d be simpler that way. Try for a better son next time.”

“Scorpius!” He glanced up in time to see his father’s outrage. “I do not want to disown you. I just want you to behave in a way that does not besmirch the Malfoy name.”

That was rich. Scorpius didn’t say it, though. His father would explode all over him for reminding him of his past. “I’m doing the best I can.”

“I don’t want you to be friends with Potter or that mu-” thankfully he cut himself off or Scorpius would have had to hex Draco and he wasn’t quite adept enough to get away with it yet.

Someday.

Scorpius met his father’s eyes straight on. They looked so much alike, a lot like Al and his dad. The difference was that Al was a lot like his father, while Scorpius only looked like his dad. It was a pity, too. It shot up any hope Scorpius had that his mum had played his dad false and they weren’t actually related. “I’m never going to be who you want me to be and I don’t care to try. You don’t have to like my friends, but I’m not ditching them to make you happy. I’ll see you at the summer hols unless you send word that I’m to go live with Aunt Daphne.”

“I’m not through with you!” Draco bellowed as Scorpius made his way to the door.

He paused and let the hurt that had him in its grasp run through him. “You were through with me the second you realized I wasn’t the son you wanted me to be, Father.” Scorpius pushed the door open and walked through.

He found his three friends waiting for him.

Nat hugged him briefly, same with Rose.

“Come on,” Al clapped him on the shoulder.

He didn’t turn around to see if his dad was watching. He didn’t need to. He could feel the hate that was aimed at his back.

~*~

Ginny would have paced with Hermione except that one of them had to be calm and sensible and it was, apparently, Ginny’s turn.

“He’ll be back soon,” Ginny held out the glass of water to Hermione. “He’d have said if the kids were hurt.”

Hermione’s hands shook so badly that the water sloshed everywhere. She was in enough of a state that she didn’t even notice. “A body?” she moaned for the millionth time that hour. “Where the hell is Ron?”

Ginny bit back a retort. If she was swearing, then Hermione was in no fit state to be reasonable. “He’s upstairs with Lily and Hugo, remember? He’s keeping them entertained while we wait for Harry to get back from Hogwarts.”

“Harry’s probably at the Ministry,” Hermione turned to march towards the fireplace, the water glass still clutched tightly between her white fingers. “I can track him down there.”

“Or you can wait here,” Ginny grabbed her arm to stop her. “If you go into the Ministry looking like a crazed lunatic, they’re going to fire you.”

Hermione rounded on her, red faced and close to tears. “How can you be so calm!?”

Ginny moved over to pull her sister-in-law into a hard hug. “Because Harry will make sure they’re safe, Hermione. That’s what he does. You know that.”

“You’re right,” Hermione sighed after a moment as she ran a hand through her messy curls. “I’m having a massive meltdown over this. How did our parents stand this?”

“We didn’t tell them,” Ron reminded her as he jogged down the stairs. “We kept everything to ourselves. Personally, I prefer hearing about what my kid is up to.”

Ginny had to agree with her brother. “Are they asleep?”

“Yeah,” Ron confirmed as he slumped down onto the couch, his long legs sticking straight out in front of him as he threw an arm over his eyes. “They’re curled up on Lily’s bed, so I left them there. We might leave Hugo for the night. I’ll put him in Al’s bed after he’s been asleep for a while.”

“That’s fine,” Ginny agreed easily. He’d be back the next morning first thing anyway. She studied Ron’s tired eyes and knew that the same anxiety she was feeling was running through her brother. “Does it feel like something is starting?”

Ron’s easy grin flashed briefly. “Not really, but only because I’m not sure it ever stopped.”

“A fair point,” Hermione murmured as she went to sit with Ron. She curled into his side as he draped an arm around her and kissed the crown of her head.

Ginny wished like hell that Harry was home, so she’d have someone to lean on. Almost as though he was reading her mind, Ron held out his other arm and with a short laugh, she went to lean on his other side.

Sometimes her older brother wasn’t a complete prat. She was really thankful that right now was one of them as she rested on him. Ginny closed her eyes, for a moment, just to try to block out some of the fear.

The next thing Ginny knew, someone was gently shaking her shoulder. “Hmmm?” she groaned softly and blinked her eyes open to see Harry kneeling in front of her. “Huh?”

“You fell asleep,” Harry told her quietly. “Ron?” he poked his best mate in the chest. “Come on, it’s almost midnight.”

“Rose!” Hermione’s eyes flew open as she groped for Harry’s hand. “Is she okay?”

Harry nodded as he squeezed her hand. “I saw her myself, Hermione. I gave her a hug and everything. She’s okay. It was scary and shocking, but she’ll be fine. They weren’t in any danger.”

“Tell me what happened?” Ginny demanded quietly, then listened in stunned silence as he related the details back to her.

~*~

Harry paced around the living room in his best Muggle suit and tried to bury the nausea. He glared at Teddy, who was laughing at him from the sofa while he demolished an entire pack of crisps. He was also in a suit, and he looked a lot like his father at the moment.

“Shut it,” Harry griped as he surreptitiously tried to flatten his hair.

“It didn’t work,” Teddy said around a mouthful of crisps.

Harry flopped down next to him and stuck his hand into the crinkling bag. “What could be taking so long?”

“You’re asking me?” Teddy chortled with an elbow in the ribs. “Victoire takes an hour to do anything. I’ve given up trying to understand them.”

“Ginny doesn’t usually take this long,” Harry reminded him. “Throw on jeans and pull her hair up in a tail with that thing. What’s it called?”

Teddy shot him a baleful look. “You’re a mess. This is sweet, and all, but it’s just Lily. It isn’t like she’s going to turn her nose up at you.”

“It’s her first date,” Harry reminded him. “I’m setting a stage and damn it, Teddy, I never went on any successful dates until after I was married!”

“That’s sad on so many levels,” his godson remarked dryly.

His annoyed glare only made Teddy laugh. “You’re cool as a slug.”

“Why shouldn’t I be?” Teddy pointed out evenly. “I’m secure in Ginny’s love for me, and I know she and I will have a great time. Plus, this isn’t my first date with her.”

Harry compressed his lips and jumped to his feet again, needing to pace some more. His insides were all churned up over this. Bill had introduced the idea of taking his daughters out on special dates to help show them how they were supposed to be treated. Harry had loved the idea, but now that the time had come… “I want her to have really high expectations.”

“Holy Hippogriff, Harry, you have got to calm down. Go take a shot of fire-whisky or something.”

“You were this nervous on your first date with Victoire,” Harry reminded him flatly. “I thought you were going to puke.”

“But Lily is ten,” Teddy reminded him. “Also, I wasn’t worried about the date. I was worried about Bill flattening me. Ginny had already walked me through how to be a gentleman. I had that bit down. If you haven’t figured that out by now, there’s no help for you.”

“Cheeky kid,” Harry rejoined sourly. “I don’t know about this.” There were serious concerns to their safety. They had no new leads on finding Crabbe and no idea what she was up to or any leads on the body that they’d found the week before at Hogwarts. Their best guess was that the older gentleman was a Muggle. Because of his security concerns, he was driving Lily to a Muggle restaurant three towns over and not to one of the wizarding-run establishments that he could have made reservations for. Teddy was taking Ginny to Diagon Alley to a place just down from George’s shop that one of Ginny’s classmates owned. It was upscale eating compared to The Leaky Cauldron.

“Harry?” Ginny’s voice floated down the stairs and he spun to see Lily in a pale blue dress that floated down to her calves. Her bright red hair was up in a sort of bun with riotous curls spiraling down and around her shoulders. Her cheeks were flushed and her brown eyes bright with nerves and excitement.

“Lily…” he breathed out her name and felt his fear fade. He could do this, Harry decided as he moved over to meet her at the bottom step. He stooped to kiss her cheek and take her hands. “You look beautiful, Lily-Lu.”

“Thank you, Daddy,” she grinned up at him as he escorted her over to the corsage he’d bought especially for the occasion.

Harry drove them the twenty minutes to the next town. He kept glancing in the rear view mirror at her, strapped in her booster seat as per the Muggle laws in Britain. She didn’t technically need one. He’d never let the car crash. Arthur Weasley had made too many modifications to the car for that to happen, but it still was prudent to keep up the pretense in case a Muggle policeman happened to pull him over.

“Where are we going?” Lily asked him as she sat very still in her fancy party dress.

“It’s a surprise,” Harry told her with a grin. “But, they do have all your favorite foods there.”

He pulled into the parking lot and heard her excited squeal. “Indian?! Oh, Mummy is going to be so jealous.”

Before she could open her door, Harry was out and pulled it open for her, holding out his hand. “Ladies sit and wait for their dates, Lily.”

Lily giggled. “I’m no lady.”

“True,” he said as he clicked the fob that would lock the BMW and pocketed the key. Hand in hand they went into the restaurant and into the heavenly smells of curry and warm spices.

“Do you have a reservation?” asked the Indian man with midnight hair so dark it was almost blue, at the front asked.

“Potter,” Harry told him. “Table for two.”

“Ah, yes,” the man nodded as he scanned the book. “Please, right this way.”

The moment they were seated, Harry took Lily’s hand and squeezed gently. “Happy birthday, Sweetheart.” He felt so unbelievably blessed to be sitting with her, to see her bright smile and be in the aura of her joy and innocence.

“This is the best birthday surprise,” Lily informed him as she looked around. “I need to turn ten more often.”

“Any time you want a date,” Harry told her evenly, “You just ask. If I can’t, Teddy would love to take you out. I think he’s lonely without Victoire.”

“Are they getting married?” Lily asked him curiously as the waiter brought over wine for Harry and water for Lily.

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. I know you’d like it, but they’re still very young.”

“But sometimes people get married young,” Lily replied as she took a sip over her water and set the glass down carefully. “Maybe they will, too. I want Teddy to be part of our family.”

“Lily…” Harry studied her small face carefully. “Is he your brother, just as much as James and Al?”

She nodded as a small pink tinged her cheeks. “Yeah, but other people don’t see it that way.”

“I don’t care what other people think,” he said quietly. “We’ll always be talked about, and we can’t control what they’re saying about us. We can control how we react, and I don’t want to go along with the crowd. We have choices and I say Teddy is already a part of our family.”

Lily nodded absently and worried at her bottom lip.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked carefully as he set the menu aside.

“People don’t always have good families,” Lily said as she stared down into her lap. “You didn’t have a good family, right?”

Harry felt his insides freeze over as he watched the storm clouds gather on her face. “My mum and dad were great, Lily, but no, my aunt and uncle weren’t good people. Gran and Grandad were amazing and they made me feel loved and accepted. Even if I hadn’t fallen in love with Mummy, I’d have always had them as my family.”

“Okay,” she nodded after a minute and gave him a small smile. “Let’s eat.”

But her comment nagged at him the entire rest of the evening and by the time he was back home and changing from his date, he was itching to discuss it with Ginny.

His wife, however, wasn’t completely surprised. “She’s been worrying about Scorpius, if you can believe it.”

Harry sat heavily on the edge of their bed, his tie held limply in his hand. “She’s got a right to worry there. Draco was fuming when I met up with him at Hogwarts. Scorpius is afraid of his dad, although I don’t think he’s physically abusing him. It’s more that he’s not good enough in Draco’s eyes.”

Ginny sat next to him and saved the tie he was mangling. “I think it’s going to make him stronger. We can’t protect him from that, Harry. We can only give him a break when he wants it. I met up with Draco’s wife last week in Madam Malkin’s when I was getting new robes.”

“What?” Harry blinked in surprise. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it wasn’t a big deal,” she soothed as she stood and started to remove the pins from her hair. Harry watched the tendrils fall with absolute fascination and had to force himself to pay attention to her words. “She told me that she was happy our sons are friends and if she can, she’ll let Scorpius come this summer. I understood that she had to work around Draco and she didn’t need to state it out loud. I was actually glad for that ruddy Ministry ball.”

“The what?” he shook his head, sure he’d heard her incorrectly.

Ginny shot him the look that spoke volumes without her uttering a single sound. “You are useless. You know that, right?”

He couldn’t help but chuckle as he pushed to his feet and strode over to wrap her in his arms and bend to kiss her neck. “We’re going to a ball?”

“Yes, you daft git! You’re getting an award since it’s the twentieth anniversary of the final battle coming up.”

Harry groaned. “How did I miss this?”

“I think I was naked when I told you about it.”

“Ah,” he smiled lazily as he started to work the buttons loose at the back of her gown. “Well, you can’t fault a man for being distracted.”

~*~

“Nat?” Al said as they made their way back up to the tower to drop their bags before dinner. Rose and Scorpius both had to stay after in Transfiguration after they’d somehow turned every scrap of parchment into feathers and Professor Lucas decided to make them clean them up by hand.

“Hm?” Nat glanced up at him confused. “I’m sorry, Al, were you saying something?”

Al sighed and shook his head. “You’ve been distracted for days.”

“Exams,” Nat waved it off. “I want to do well, you know.”

They fell into an uncomfortable silence as they continued to walk. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” she confirmed with an easy smile. “I’m–”

“Natty-gnat!” the voice of Peeves rang through the hallways ahead of them.

“Oh, no,” Al groaned and tried to think of how they could duck out of the corridor.

The poltergeist flew above them, cackling happily as Nat stared up at him blankly. He taunted her, all the time, but she never reacted. Al had no idea how and Peeves seemed to think of it as a personal challenge. “Natty-gnat, tinier than a rabid bat!”

“Clever,” Nat drawled evenly. Al had to pull her out of the way as Peeves tried to drop a book on her head.

“Get stuffed, Peeves!” Al bellowed, finally getting annoyed.

“Peeves doesn’t really rhyme with anything but ‘grieves’ and ‘leaves’,” Nat mused as she continued to make her way down the hall. “I guess we could say ‘No one grieves when Peeves leaves’, but it doesn’t really have a catchy tune to go along with it.”

“Tiny little gnat!” Peeves blew a raspberry at her and flew off into the ceiling.

Al eyed his retreat with concern. “We should move in case he comes back.”

“I hate being called gnat,” Nat shrugged her shoulders, unseated her book bag and nearly tripped when it slid to the floor.

He snatched it up and slung it over his own shoulder. “That’s your name, though.”

“No, g-n-a-t,” she sighed. “I am tiny like a gnat. It’s an unfortunate coincidence.”

“You don’t look like one, though,” Al said as he tried to cheer her up.

“I guess,” Nat mumbled. “I used to want to have people call me Leah, ‘cause that’s my middle name. You know, nothing rhymes with Leah, it’s just lee-uhhhh,” Nat drew it out.

Al studied her as they moved to the portrait hole. “I can call you Leah, if you’d like.”

“It’s okay,” Nat stopped at the Fat Lady. “I don’t need people confused as to what they call me.”

“When it’s just us, then,” Al grinned as he patted her shoulder.

“Password,” the Fat Lady asked with a huff.

“Dragon dung,” Al and Nat said together and she swung open.

They walked in on James having a row with the new girl, Caroline. Her blonde hair tumbled down around her red face as they squared off against each other.

“Oh, yeah!?” James bellowed straight into her face.

“Yes!” Caroline shouted back. “I don’t need your help!”

“You!” James growled and to Al’s horror, he saw the girl step back in fear. Nat gasped, but his brother was too furious to see what he’d done.

Al dropped the bags and sprang forward, pushing his brother away from the girl. “Stop it!”

“Leave off, Al!” James shoved him back a pace, but Al came right back again.

“Go cool off!” Al moved straight into James’ face, eye to eye, until his brother truly focused on him.

James took a deep breath and stepped back from Al. He shot Caroline a furious glare. “Fine,” he said as he stormed off out of the portrait hole.

Al turned to see Nat standing with Caroline who was shaken and on the verge of tears. “I’m sorry, for whatever he did,” he told the girl. “I didn’t think my brother could be that big of a prat.”

Caroline shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Thanks, Al, Nat. I was…”

“It’s okay,” Nat took her arm. “Come on, let’s go up for a bit.” Nat shot him a very clear look that telegraphed that he was to go away.

“I’ll see you later,” Al stuck their bags out of the way and he, too, made his way out the portrait hole. He couldn’t believe what he’d just seen. He’d never seen James that angry, especially not with a girl. If there was anything his dad had pounded into their heads it was that they were never to hit or hurt a girl and yet…

A small noise from an empty classroom drew Al’s attention as he moved over to peer in. James kicked the leg of a desk.

“What the ruddy hell was that?” Al demanded as he walked in and shut the door behind him. “You scared her!”

James spun slowly to stare at him. “I didn’t scare her. She’s too annoyed to be scared.”

“You scared her,” Al argued back. “I saw her flinch, James! I can’t believe you’d scare a girl. What is wrong with you?”

James’ face paled slowly, but she shut his mouth and shook his head. “Get off it, Al. I’m not discussing it with you.”

“You’re not discussing it with me?” Al stepped towards his brother and pulled on every ounce of courage he could muster. “You stay away from her, James, or I’ll make you sorry. You don’t treat girls like that. There’s no excuse for it.”

James’ shoulders sagged and he pushed past Al, leaving him alone in the ringing silence of the classroom.

Al stared off at the retreating dark head and had to fight the urge to write to his parents. He wasn’t a snitch. He needed Louis. If anyone would know what was up with James, it would be his cousin.

Back to index


Chapter 12: Chapter 9

Author's Notes: Thank you, Arnel, for editing!

First off, Thank YOU for reviewing! I appreciate the feedback.

I hope you enjoy the chapter and it answers some questions. Next up is summer for the Potters and some new adventures. Remember, readers, this story is going to be nine years of story line so we have a looooong way to go.

Thank you everyone for checking out my original novels! If you like my writing, you will probably enjoy them. The information can be found in my profile. Click above and PLEASE check out the free preview (even if you probably won't buy). Also, you can follow me on twitter @sarahjaune


“Louis!” Al caught up with his cousin right outside the Great Hall. He turned, the light from a candle in a nearby sconce shone off hair the same copper color as Lily’s.

Louis’s quirked brow said it all. “What?”

“I need to talk to you,” Al grabbed his arm and hauled him off down the corridor.

Louis shook himself free the moment Al shoved him in to an empty classroom. “What’s up with you?”

Al shut the door and stared into blue eyes the same color as his Aunt Fleur’s. “What’s up with James?”

“I dunno,” Louis shrugged, but wouldn’t meet his eyes.

He pulled in a deep breath and tried not to overreact. Louis was lying to him. “I just saw him bully a girl.”

His cousin’s mouth fell open. “He wouldn’t.”

“He did,” Al informed him flatly. “It’s that new girl, Caroline.”

“Oh,” Louis nodded as he looked around the empty classroom. Save for unused desks, there was nothing in the room except the two of them. “She’s weird.”

“At what point did we think weird was a good reason for bullying someone?” Al ground out as he felt his temper rise. He took a step towards Louis and didn’t care that his cousin, although only a year old, was several inches taller. “I’m about to call him out on this one.”

Louis sighed heavily and knocked Al’s shoulder a bit as he dropped down into one of the seats. After a brief pause, Al took another chair. “Don’t call him out,” Louis ran his hand through his hair, making it stand straight up. “You don’t understand about her. She’s gone most evenings. She leaves the castle and then she’s gone all day Saturday.”

“So…” Al left off anything else. It was a bit odd, but not the strangest thing he’d ever heard. “She’s new. Maybe she wants to see her grandparents or her sister.”

Louis shot his a calculating look. “She comes back with bruises, all the time. She’s always hurt.”

That stopped Al’s heart for a moment. “You think she’s being abused?”

“That’s what James thinks,” Louis confirmed. “He’s been a bit of an ass trying to figure out what’s going on with her, but she’s refusing to talk to him. She says it’s fine, but… I dunno. I think she’s doing some kind of sport away from Hogwarts. I heard one of the girls say something to her about it.” Louis sat forward in his seat and poked the table with his index finger. “I’ve told James to let it go, but you know how he gets. He’s been a prat about it and I can’t get him to let it go. I’m hoping the summer helps it calm down.”

“Okay,” Al nodded vaguely. He needed to get James to talk to him, but odds were good his brother would shut him out like he always did.

Exams were coming up and he had to focus on them. His brother’s batty moods would have to wait until they were on break. He did, however, ensure that James left Caroline alone by telling Fred what James had done.

Al might not be able to sort James out, but Fred could.

~*~

“How did you figure out it was Avada Kedavra?” Collins pressed Harry as his temple throbbed viciously. He should have been home hours before, but they got a lucky break with the Muggle police and the body of the man they’d recovered from Hogwarts was a forty-seven-year-old war veteran from London. He’d been reported missing by his daughter, and Army officials had x-rays of his dentals that they were able to confirm.

That meant mounds of paperwork, getting the body out of St. Mungo’s and to the Muggle morgue, and preparing a press statement that wouldn’t cause a panic.

They still had no idea how the body had made it into the school, but Rita Skeeter had posted a lovely article, including a photo of Ginny and Teddy eating out in Diagon Alley. She’d gone on to say that Ginny was about to throw Harry over for Teddy.

Teddy had been horrified. “She’s basically my mum!” was his rambling chant that had gone on for two days after the story broke. Although she’d have been young to be his mother, Hope would have only been ten months younger than Teddy, so it was possible. Ginny had laughed it off and vowed revenge on Skeeter.

Why Harry expected the Daily Prophet to print anything of substance, he didn’t know, but he was also grateful for the reprieve since he had no answers to give.

“It isn’t important how I know,” Harry sighed heavily as he gazed at his, arguably, smartest Auror. Collins was a lot of things, stupid wasn’t one of them. He was also tenacious and loyal to a fault, which meant he was going to gnaw this bone until it was powder. “Listen,” he tried for a modicum of patience. “Suffice it to say, I’m positive. One of the professors is moderately talented in magical signatures and they saw a green haze on the body, which as we’ve previously been informed by great wizards, such as Dumbledore, means the person died from the Killing Curse. This professor wishes to remain anonymous and as they helped me, I’m inclined to give them that privacy. Both the Minister and I questioned them after we questioned the children. You will leave this alone. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Collins replied evenly, clearly seeing he’d been put in his place. Harry didn’t even feel an ounce of guilt for lying about Nat.

He did, however, feel like a lousy father. Ginny had left for a Quidditch match in Russia and he’d had to ask Teddy to mind Lily until he could make it home. He hadn’t seen his daughter since dinner the previous evening. “Listen,” he told the Aurors gathered around the table. “It’s late and we’re all tired. Let’s get some sleep and tackle this again in the morning. I have to drop my daughter off with my sister-in-law before heading into the office, so I won’t be here until at least eight o’clock. Unless you’ve got pressing matters here, everyone else should show up around then.”

He arrived home to the place quiet and Teddy passed out in James’ bed. Harry kissed Lily’s cheek, tucked her in again and was asleep seconds after his head hit the pillow.

The morning was rough. Harry couldn’t get Lily to wake up enough to get dressed so he grabbed clothes for her, hauled her into his arms down to the fireplace and managed to wake her enough to use the Floo to get to Shell Cottage. He followed right behind her and found Lily mumbling to Fleur, who was preparing breakfast for an amused Bill, while his daughter stumbled for the stairs to find a vacant bed.

“Thanks for this, Fleur,” Harry kissed her cheek and didn’t protest as she forced him into a seat at the table.

The fireplace sprang to life and out tumbled Teddy, who looked only marginally more awake than Harry. “You’re here? Lily is here? Merlin…” he dropped into a seat, his head hitting the table with a small thunk. “Saw she was gone and panicked, then remembered you were bringing her here…” his words were cut off by a yawn.

“Teddy,” Fleur slid a mug of tea in front of him. “Do you want something to eat?”

“I love you,” Teddy grinned at her. “You’re my favorite aunt.”

Fleur laughed and ruffled his already disheveled blond head. “You say that to all the aunts.”

“How’s it going?” Bill asked as he set aside his paper.

“Nothing yet,” Harry replied grimly. “Thanks, Fleur,” he told her as he took a plate of eggs and bacon from her. “We were there until midnight last night. Ginny had to leave at five yesterday afternoon, so I sprang Teddy early from training and sent him on to watch Lily and Hugo so she could catch her Portkey.”

“It’s not a big,” Teddy said through a mouthful of bacon. “We had fun. After Hugo went home, we made some dinner and played several games. Where is Lily, by the way?”

Harry pointed towards the ceiling and was amused to see the tender look that Fleur was bestowing on Teddy, who was completely oblivious. Both Fleur and Ginny were both thinking ‘grandchildren’ in the next few years and whether he knew it or not, Teddy, who was now twenty, was a key component in their plans. He’d be good at it, too, Harry knew. Teddy was great with all the kids. Five years, though. Harry wasn’t ready for Teddy to have kids quite yet. “She went back to bed,” Harry told him. “I thought I was going to have to carry her in the through the Floo. She didn’t want to wake up.”

“Is Hugo with Hermione’s parents?” Bill asked as Fleur sat next to him. He took her hand and brought it up to his lips for a brief kiss.

“That was the plan,” Harry agreed as he checked his battered pocket watch. “We need to go.”

Teddy shoveled in another huge bite. “Thanks for breakfast.”

Harry’s morning did not run smoothly. He had to meet with the Ministry’s press secretary to go over the bullet points of what he wanted released to the public, all while trying to maintain the integrity of his investigation.

On top of that, the head of Scotland Yard requested a meeting with Harry. To the Muggles, Harry was in charge of an organization much like MI6. He was, to the Muggle authorities, the leader of a legitimate shadow group inside the British government. This left Harry juggling several balls in order to keep the whole thing running smoothly. His meeting with Scotland Yard did go smoothly, though. He was assured full cooperation and Harry was given access to the missing persons files that he needed in order to try to identify the body of the woman Crabbe had used to fake her own death.

On days like this, when he had a really good excuse to knock off early, he wished he’d rejected the promotion to the Head of the Aurors. It was less risk, but the paperwork was a bloody nightmare and he wasn’t, on his best days, an extremely tactful man.

Picking up Lily from Fleur, taking her home to cook up a quiet meal and spending the evening trying, and failing, to braid her hair so she’d wake up with ‘waves’ was not a bad way to end the day.

“I can just magic waves in your hair tomorrow,” Harry reminded her as his fingers clumsily tried to form the intricate pattern while she sat on the floor at his feet.

Lily giggled. “But this is fun!”

Harry couldn’t argue with that. “What am I going to do when you go to school?”

“Have lots of lovely alone time with Mummy,” she told him happily. “I’m going to miss you, but I am excited to go to Hogwarts. It’s almost the end of the year and then I’ve only got a year left to wait.”

Harry groaned. “You’re growing up too quickly.”

~*~

The ball was in full swing in the Ministry’s Atrium and it was, to Ginny’s way of thinking, just as boring as every other official Ministry function. At least she wasn’t there working.

Harry had received an award, to which he’d nearly scowled at the presenter, a woman that Ginny didn’t know, and now the party had moved into dancing and mingling. Her husband was missing from the dance floor, of course. He might be a brilliant Auror, but the man had two left feet when it came to dancing. Stand in one spot and revolve slowly was Harry’s speed. Ginny had attempted, once, to try to teach him to dance, but Gwenog had forbidden her from doing it again as it risked her being on the injured list. Speaking of her former Quidditch Captain, she’d seen Gwenog Jones across the room.

Still, Ginny had enjoyed dancing with several old school friends and her father. She’d surreptitiously dropped a Canary Cream on Rita Skeeter’s plate as she’d walked by and everyone had enjoyed the spectacle of the infamous reporter turning into a squawking bird.

Now, however, Ginny would have given anything to be speaking with Skeeter, as a very large, powerfully built man snagged her by the hand and introduced himself enthusiastically.

“Dodi Baker!” he schmoozed charmingly as she gazed up, and up, and up into his large square jaw and buzz cut blond hair. His accent wasn’t British, and Ginny had to guess American.

“Er,” she attempted to smile as his meaty hand smashed her fingers. “Ginny Potter. It’s nice to meet you,” she lied through her teeth.

Not a single flicker of recognition. Definitely American. They tended to ignore anything that wasn’t happening outside their own country. That wasn’t actually a detraction in Ginny’s book, but this man oozed self-importance like a slug oozed slime. It came slithering out of every pour to gunk up any unwary passer’s hands. “You, my dear,” Dodi’s voice practically oozed from his lips, “have to be the most beautiful woman in the room.”

Ginny’s brow raise slightly as she contemplated the man’s alcohol consumption. She was, she knew, attractive, but Fleur was standing not twenty feet away and it was tough to win a beauty contest against someone who was part-Veela. “Well,” she hesitated. “That’s very kind of you to say, thank you.” She glanced around, trying to catch one of her brothers’ eyes, but they were all clumped together in the corner of the room studiously ignoring her.

Fantastic.

“I came with Helmenths Smith. He’s a cousin of mine, you know, and I’m visiting him from Boston,” Baker informed her effusively. “When he said about the party, I just had to come and see how the Ministry here gets a to-do together. It’s not like in America, but it isn’t too bad either,” he bellowed in laughter.

“I’m sure,” she gave him a tight smile, trying not to grind her teeth. “Listen, I–”

“So,” he steamrolled right over her, “I said to Helmenths that I simply had to come. I’m looking to start a business up here in London, but the paperwork needed is unbelievable. You have to practically be sleeping with someone to get them to sign the form.”

Ginny had absolutely no idea what to say to that, so she kept her mouth shut while her temper built up a head of steam.

“Then, of course–”

“Excuse me!” Ginny yanked her hand free. “I need to use the ladies.”

With that, she spun on her heels and marched off towards the loo, which was coincidentally right where her brothers were.

“You!” she growled at the four of them as soon as she was in range. “My entire life you annoying prats have interfered, attempted to manage, and strove to protect me and the one time I could have used a save, and not a single one of you stepped up!”

Bill, Percy, George and Ron all turned to stare at her.

“What happened?” Percy asked her curiously, pushing his glasses a bit further up his nose.

“I was waylaid by that man back there,” Ginny waved her hand behind her.

“I saw,” George smiled cheekily. “I thought you could take him.”

She scowled. “I could take him, but I was going to look like an idiot getting away from him and I’d rather one of you look like an idiot for me.”

“Get Harry to fend the men off,” Ron said around a mouthful of hors’ d'oeuvres. “That’s what you pay him for, right?”

Ginny’s temper melted as she leaned against Bill’s side. “I’m sorry. I’m on edge.”

“Understandable,” Bill assured her as he kissed the crown on her head. “You’ve got a lot of things going on right now, what with…” but he let his voice fade off. He didn’t need to say it.

She glanced around, trying to spot Harry, but he was still missing in action. She did see Teddy with Andromeda and Ginny’s parents over by the drinks.

Lily… her daughter was, at that moment, staying with Hermione’s parents so they could attend this function. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Hermione’s parents, but they were Muggles. They couldn’t protect Lily.

“They’re fine,” Ron said as he clearly read her mind. “Hermione went out and used that mobile to call them not twenty minutes ago. They’re both asleep. Relax.”

“I’m not going to relax,” Ginny shook her head. “Not until it’s finished.”

Unbelievably, right after the ladies, the berk accosted her again and asked her to dance. It was on the tip of her tongue to say no, even as he was dragging her to the dance floor.

The man might be huge, but he was light on his feet. Within seconds, he had her spinning around.

“You’re married?” he asked.

“Yes,” Ginny confirmed with a sigh. “To my childhood sweetheart. It will be twenty years soon.”

“No!” Dodi cried, never missing a step. “There is no way you’re that old. You had to be a baby when you got married!”

Practically, she had been. She’d only been sixteen, but she wasn’t about to discuss that with this odious man. “You flatter me.”

“What do you do?”

“I write a sports column,” Ginny said as she resigned herself to the banal conversation. “And, you?”

“I sell books and trinkets, a sort of general mercantile if you will,” he replied.

Blessedly, Ginny spotted Harry coming right for her. She beamed at him and silently promised to reward him handsomely for rescuing her.

It didn’t exactly matter if the wife of a department head acted badly at a Ministry function, but it was frowned on.

Hexing Dodi would have fallen into the ‘acting badly’ category.

“Excuse me,” Harry smiled politely. “I need to steal my wife. The Minister needs a word with her.”

Ginny exacted herself from the big man’s grasp. “Thank you for the dance!”

“Wait, you haven’t introduced me,” Dodi pointed out eagerly. “Dodi Baker,” he stuck out a hand.

“Harry Potter,” Harry shook and Ginny was amused to see the recognition flicker through, plus the perfunctory flick of the eyes up to Harry’s scar. “Excuse us.”

Harry steered her away quickly. “You looked ready to hit him.”

“Self-important man,” she griped in annoyance. “What does Kingsley want?”

“Nothing,” he chuckled as they walked up to the Minister, who was speaking with Hestia Jones. “Kingsley, we owe you for saving Ginny’s life.”

Kingsley’s eyebrow rose. “Surely not,” he commented dryly.

“We owe you for saving that man I was dancing with,” Ginny corrected as she gave Hestia a hug. “How have you been?”

“Good,” she shook Harry’s hand. “I’m actually off.”

They bid their goodbyes and Kingsley gazed speculatively off across the Atrium. “I think dinner as payment sounds good, Ginny. I’ve been having thoughts of that chicken dish you make.”

“It’s a deal,” Ginny said happily.

~*~

“Kingsley!” Lily’s happy cry filled the living room as she threw herself into the Minister’s arms.

Decorum was lost on his daughter, Harry knew, as the older man picked her up and hugged her close. Lily adored the Minister and the feeling was mutual.

“What am I going to do when you get too big for this?” he asked Lily in his slow, resonate voice.

“You have to get bigger, too,” Lily informed him very seriously as she kissed his cheek and hopped down. “Come, I set the table already for dinner.”

“Let me at least say hello first,” Harry tried to interject.

Lily, being Lily, giggled. “He’s not here to see you, Daddy. He’s here to see me.”

“Of course I am,” Kingsley promised as he sat next to Lily at the table.

Dinner was light conversation with nothing more serious said than Lily arguing that the Harpies were better than Kingsley’s favorite team, the Tornados.

After Lily was in bed, though, the conversation turned to heavier matters. Kingsley stared into his glass of wine, twirling the slender stem in his fingers. “I think I’m done.”

Harry sighed heavily. He’d had a feeling this was coming. “No one is trying to oust you.”

“Are you sure, Kingsley?” Ginny reached over to grasp his hand. “I know you’ve been at this for twenty years, but it’s been a peaceful twenty years.”

His dark eyes flashed in humor. “Much of that has been down to Harry, not me. He’s been leading the charge on keeping the criminals. I think it’s time. I rather think I’d like to come back to the Aurors, if Harry will have me.”

Harry sat back in his seat, hearing it creak a bit as he stared in truly stunned silence. “I… don’t know what to say. You’re welcome back, of course, but…”

“I don’t want your job,” Kingsley assured him hastily.

“That’s a shame,” Ginny chuckled. “Harry doesn’t want his job, either. He hates the paperwork.”

He winked at his wife. “Maybe he’ll swap and I can go back in the field.”

“I don’t think so,” Ginny shook her head. “I like you in one piece and we’ve got enough trouble right now.”

“That’s another thing,” Kingsley sat forward and laced his fingers on the table. “This case with Crabbe is going to take a good amount of manpower and I think I want to get into it, again. I’ve missed the investigations and this one is a lot of legwork.”

Harry considered him carefully, weighing what this would mean for his department. It would be a boon, of course. Kingsley was one of the best Aurors they’d ever had. “Who are you looking to replace you?”

“Ideally, I’d love Hermione,” Kingsley chuckled softly. “She’d never do it, but she’d be marvelous. With her brain? We’d have the whole Ministry in shape, but she’s young yet. No, I was actually speaking to Arthur about it not too long ago and he suggested Allison Macmillan. I believe her son was a classmate of yours, Harry.”

“Her daughter-in-law as well,” he told him. “Susan. She’s just back from maternity leave in the Auror department.”

“That’s right,” Kingsley nodded contemplatively. “Yes, Allison is currently head of International Magical Cooperation and I think she’d make a fair leader. But, of course, it’s up for the wizarding community to decide.”

“Whatever you do,” Ginny said as she passed over a plate of biscuits, “you know we’ll support you.”

“Thank you,” he replied honestly. “It will be an interesting transition.”

Harry could only agree.

~*~

Rumors, accusations and wild outright lies flew through the school all the way through the run up to exams. Their security had been tightened around the borders of the school and security trolls had been posted around.

To Al’s mind, the trolls hadn’t done anything but give the castle a funky smell. James wasn’t speaking to him, but he had left the new girl alone.

Nat had insisted that she was an athlete and when he’d questioned her conclusion, she’d smirked and reminded him that she was the one who knew muscle development and kinetics, whatever that meant.

The final run up to exams had made everyone crazy. Al was doing okay in his classes, but he knew he needed to study or he’d never pass with high enough grades. He had no shot of beating Rose or Scorpius, at all, except perhaps in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Al didn’t want to admit it out loud, but he rather thought he was the best in the class, just like his dad had been. It was, however, in moments like this that Al truly felt the weight of his father’s success.

There was no possible way to live up to Harry Potter’s standard, and also no way his dad would want him to feel like he needed to, but Al wanted to be good in Defense, just like his father. It felt… he couldn’t explain it. He only knew that it felt right.

“I do not get this,” Scorpius interjected into Al’s thoughts as they sat at one of the tables in the common room amid the clutter of dozens of studying students and the noises that they made. “The goblins rioted in 1719 because of stolen gold? Help me out, Nat. What was that one, again?”

“Which riot that year?” she asked as she pulled the book towards her and scanned the passage. “That one? There were two that year, actually. Let me grab those notes,” she pulled a journal from her bag and flipped through the pages. “Right, so in that one, which was the second one, the goblins rebelled because the wizards were stealing gold from them. The goblins retaliated by sending out a bunch of explosive bracelets to a ton of prominent wizarding homes in London. The bracelets blew up, causing panic, then they began looting and setting fire to anything they could.”

“How did they get the bracelets to explode?” Al asked her curiously.

Nat shrugged. “They won’t say. I’m assuming it’s because they’re so good with metalwork, but it’s unknown. That was one of the more colorful riots. The Minister, Rowle was his name, ran out onto the street in his burning underpants while his wife screamed at him. He’d apparently put the bracelet on instead of her and it was a bit of a scandal.”

“Why’s it a scandal to wear a bracelet?” Scorpius wondered curiously.

“I think boys should be able to wear them,” Rose agreed indignantly.

“Well…” Nat giggled. “It wasn’t the bracelet so much as he was wearing his wife’s underpants… which were on fire.”

“Oh,” Al shut his mouth and bit at his lip as his face went red with suppressed laughter.

Rose began to chuckle and soon all four of them were in stitches.

“How do you learn these things?” Scorpius wanted to know.

“Letters, old documents, books, and so on,” Nat explained as she picked through her parchment. “Professor Binns has loads of stuff in his office that he hasn’t touched in a long time. I haven’t been through very much of it at all, but he waved vaguely at me and told me, ‘read whatever you want Miss Pfeiffer’. He calls Al, ‘Mr. Parker’, like he’s my brother, but I get Pfeiffer!”

Fred, who was near the fireplace, threw something in and caused a massive diversion as fireflies filled the common room.

“I’m bored!” Fred called to the room at large. “Let’s take a study break.”

One of the prefects tried to shush him, but Fred hopped up on the couch and ignored the prefect completely. “I’m thinking arm wrestling.”

Nat swatted at a firefly that was trying to land on her nose. “He really is bored.”

Fred wandered over and eyes followed him. “Didn’t you tell me that one of the girls could beat me?”

“I don’t know about you,” Nat said fairly. “I said she could beat James, but you should leave her alone, Fred. Everyone’s trying to study.”

Al glanced over and saw the girl in question eyeing them warily.

“What say you, Caroline?” Fred bowed to her regally. “Relieve me of my boredom?”

She cocked her blonde head to the side and considered him curiously. “What will you give me if I win?”

Hoots rang out through the common room as everyone turned to watch and the prefect slunk back into his seat trying not to notice the commotion.

“That’s an interesting question,” Fred tapped his fingers lightly on the side of his face. “I am, after all, the assumed winner. I’m bigger. I play Quidditch, and I’m three years older than you are, so… what would be a good reward?”

“What’s to say you won’t let her win?” one of the seventh year girls called over to Fred.

Fred plastered an offended expression on his face. “I would never throw a match. See, Nat here says I can’t win.”

“I didn’t say that,” Nat grumbled as she continued to write notes on goblins.

“I need to defend my honor,” Fred held his hand up to his heart. “I would say a good reward would be… a prank.”

Caroline choked out a laugh. “I get pranked?”

“Nah,” Fred assured her seriously. “You pick one person in the school and I will prank them for you in a spectacular way. I’ll take all the blame, too, if I get caught.”

“Hm,” she took a moment to consider that. “What do you get if you win?”

Fred winked at her. “One of the girls said you can do a backflip.”

“That’s it?” Caroline laughed with obvious amusement. “You want to see me do a backflip?”

“That’s it,” Fred agreed.

Caroline stood from her armchair and moved over to one of the tables. Al stared in stunned disbelief as they lined up to arm wrestle.

James, who had remained silent through the whole thing, now watched in fascination as Fred told Caroline to say when.

“Go,” she called and the struggle began. At first, Al thought Fred was going to have to win. His arms had to be twice the size of hers. She wasn’t exactly a big girl, but when his arm didn’t move and he could see a slight flush to his dark cheeks, he knew they were in for a fight.

Caroline, who had a creamy complexion, was also turning red as their arms fought, trying to force the other down.

Slowly, very slowly, Fred began to move forward, advancing Caroline’s arm towards the table and a full forty-five seconds after they’d started, every second of which had ticked by like an hour, her arm hit the table first.

“Wow!” Fred shook his fingers out and stuck out his hand to shake. “That was impressive! You want to play Quidditch, right?”

“Nope,” Caroline shook her head. “I need to change out of my skirt, first. I’ll be right back.”

The moment she was gone, Fred dropped into the seat next to James and said, “You’d have lost.”

“Piss off,” James mumbled as he went back to his studies.

Three minutes later, Caroline was back in a shirt that was tucked into a pair of shorts. She eyed the room and called out, “Okay, I need some space. Back up.”

Everyone scattered and Al turned to watch as Caroline took a deep breath, and moved in a way Al had never seen.

She took several running steps forward, planted her hands on the ground, flipped and landed on her feet.

The applause was tremendous.

“Oh,” Nat considered her. “That’s not a standard gymnast move. Interesting.”

“What does that mean?” Rose asked her curiously, but Nat only shook her head

Caroline grinned at them. “Also, because I’m feeling generous…” she swung into a handstand and Al gasped as she stayed in that vertical position.

Then she bent her arms down like she was doing a pushup, back up, over backwards into a sort of backbend, then she stood.

“Wow!” Al gasped in awe.

“That’s really impressive,” Nat agreed. “That handstand pushup is really hard to do.”

“How did you learn to do that?” one of the fourth year girls asked her.

Carolina shrugged and moved back over to her books. “Something I did after school back home in America.”

It took several more minutes for the bedlam to die down for them to get back to studying.

“That was an interesting distraction,” Rose mused as Al tried to force himself to concentrate.

“We need distractions to get through this,” Scorpius sighed as he slammed his book shut. “I hate History of Magic.”

“But you’re never going to forget the riot of 1719,” Al pointed out with a laugh. He glanced over to see Nat staring at Caroline with concern on her face. When he looked at the other girl, though, she was laughing and chatting with her friends. “What’s up with you?”

“Nothing,” Nat shook her head. “Let’s get back to work.

~*~

There was a ball at the castle in remembrance of the last battle. The older students, fifth year and up, were allowed to go to the ball, which meant Al and most of his cousins weren’t invited.

Teddy came, though, and they were able to hang out with him for an hour while he waited for Victoire to get ready. She did look really good, Al thought, as he saw her coming down the stairs of the main entrance hall with a floaty, dark blue dress that Rose told him was navy blue. Al snickered at the look of stunned idiocy that Teddy wore. He gaped at his girlfriend, then moved forward to press his lips to hers.

“Gross,” Al grumbled and turned away, feeling his face flush.

Rose shot him a nasty glare. “It’s sweet, Al! We want them to stay together, remember?”

“Yeah,” he hunched his shoulders. “But she’s my cousin!”

“I’m your cousin!” Rose fired back instantly. “If you dare say it’s gross when I kiss someone, I will punch you.”

Al’s lips twitched. “Deal.”

“Come on,” Scorpius said as he backed away from the door. “My parents might be coming and I don’t want to see them.”

Al did want to see his parents, even though he knew he’d see them again in a week once school was out, but his best mate was pale and grumpy looking, so Al nodded. “Yeah, let’s go raid the kitchens. I’m hungry.”

“I could just call a house-elf,” Nat reminded him as they set off down to the kitchens.

“That’s cheating,” Al assured her as James and Louis caught up with them.

“Going to the kitchens?” Louis asked curiously. “We were just talking about doing that. Reckon they’ll be really busy, though.”

Scorpius threw a companionable arm around Nat’s shoulders. “Nat, here, is hungry and we’re simply helping our friend to get food.”

“Hey,” James whistled in appreciation. “That’s a handy excuse.”

Nat rolled her eyes and tripped over a stone in the floor, nearly pitching headfirst into Rose. Thankfully, Scorpius was no slouch either when it came to reflexes and stopped her fall.

“What was that?” Al glanced down at the floor and began to reach for the white object.

“Stop!” Nat fell to her knees at the object and batted his hand away. “That’s a finger bone!”

“A… what?” Rose mouthed at her. “No…” as what Nat said sunk in. “I can’t do this again.”

Nat shook her head. “This is bleached. It’s older, I’d say at least five years old. Al, I think we need your dad.”

Al swore under his breath. “Okay, I’ll go down to the party and try to find him.”

“What are you doing, young Gryffindors?” a voice floated out of the wall and Al turned to see Nearly Headless Nick staring down at him in his best ruffled collar.

“Perfect,” James said as he took a step back. “Nick, do you know if my dad is here yet?”

“I believe so,” the ghost confirmed slowly.

“Can you go get him for us, please, Nick? Also, Professor McGonagall. I’ve found a finger bone,” Nat sighed as she let herself slide backwards onto her butt. “Try not to alert the entire party, though. We don’t need a panic.”

“Good gracious!” Nick’s opaque hand flew up to his neck. “Yes, yes, of course! I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Nat glared down at the bone. “Why did I have to trip on it? This is lousy. All I wanted was a quiet evening now that exams are over. I wasn’t hungry before, but now I am.”

“Call for an elf,” Al came over and hauled her up and away from the bone. The elves tended to Apparate straight in front of Nat and would, in this case, land on the bone. He leaned her against a wall and she closed her eyes. “Natalie… an elf.”

Her head lulled to the side. “Right, I’m hungry please, elves. Can someone bring me food?”

A massive crack ripped through the hallway as one of the tiny creatures in its Hogwarts stamped tea towel appeared in front of Nat with a plate of sandwiches. “Here we are missus.”

“Thank you,” Al took the plate, grabbed a sandwich and held it up to Nat’s mouth. “Eat.”

She took a bite and then tried to take the sandwich from him, but her hands were shaking too badly at first. “Thanks,” she said around the bread. “I think the adrenaline zapped me and I got hungry faster.”

He wasn’t entirely sure what she meant by that, but he didn’t bother to ask. She was probably too out of it to make any sense anyway.

Footsteps thundered down the hall. Al turned to see his father sprinting for him along with a dozen others.

Rose pointed to the bone as he came to a halt to look down at it.

Harry crouched and ran his wand over it, examining it and Al was struck again how much he thought his dad had the coolest job. James didn’t think so. Al’s brother was already bored and clearly itching to escape, even as he swiped one of Nat’s sandwiches.

“What do you think, Dad?” Al questioned as he came over.

“I…” his father hesitated and to Al’s shock, he saw the grief on his face. “This is an old bone.”

“Nat said that,” Al confirmed quietly. “She said at least five years.”

“It’s older than that,” Harry stood and put a firm hand on Al’s shoulder. “I know who this belonged to. It was a friend of mine from school. I can identify his magical signature.”

“Dad…” Al didn’t know what to say and no one else said anything else.

Harry glanced sharply at Nat. “Is she okay?”

“She got hungry,” Al mumbled helplessly. “We were going down to the kitchens to get food for her, but an elf brought some up for her.”

His father nodded absently. “Kids, this isn’t anything to worry about. It’s from the battle of Hogwarts. I’m a little shocked that it’s in this hallway, especially tonight, but no one new has died. I want you to get back to the common room.”

“Oh, but,” James shut his mouth.

His dad shook his head and went to speak to the other adults.

“I wanted pudding,” James grumbled and he leaned against the wall. “This is rotten luck.”

Al moved back over to Nat and held out a hand, but her pale face and clammy hand told him she was in trouble. “Damn it, we need to take her to Madam Pomfrey.”

“What?” James looked down at her. “She looks ruddy terrible. Okay, come on,” James bent and hoisted her up while Louis grabbed her other side.

Before they could move even five feet, his dad and Professor Longbottom rushed over and conjured a stretcher. “Use your wand,” Harry showed Rose the wand movement. “Point where you want to go, Rosey, and she’ll move.”

“Okay, Uncle Harry,” Rose inclined her head to her friends. “You’re all coming with me, okay?”

“Why do I have to come?” James asked petulantly.

“Because you owe me,” Rose said simply. “Remember the large tarantula that you–”

“Got it!” James called as he chased after his cousin.

“I guess I’ll see you in a week,” Al said to his dad. “You’re going to take the bone?”

Harry nodded and hugged him briefly. “Is Natalie okay?”

“This happens sometimes,” he held out his hands in defeat. “Sometimes we don’t catch it fast enough and Madam Pomfrey needs to pump her with fluids and sugar. She’ll be okay in a few hours.”

“You’re a good friend,” Harry clapped him on the shoulder. “I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Al tried to hide his absolute joy and spun to chase after his friends.

Back to index


Chapter 13: Chapter 10

Author's Notes: I know, I know! It's been forever. Things have been a little crazy here, and might be for the next several months as my house is going to be under a massive construction project. Please be patient and leave reviews! :D

For anyone wondering, my third original book is in edits right now!!!! Stay tuned for more information.

Thank you, Arnel, for all your help!


Summer came and Al was equal parts glad to be home and missing his friends. James oscillated between moody, surly git and obnoxious older brother. He did, at least, have Rose, Hugo and Lily to hang out with when James was being an obnoxious prat. Nat went straight from the train to get on an airplane to fly to Brazil. Al and Rose spoke to her using the mirrors that they’d all received for Christmas, but with the time difference it was difficult to find times to talk.

Two weeks after the end of school, his parents threw a huge dinner party for all their friends and family over the weekend. Everyone was there, including his entire family, Teddy and his grandmother, the minister, Neville and his wife, and Luna and her family.

Luna and Rolf had only returned to England the week before, so this was the first time he’d seen them in almost a year. Al loved Luna, very much, even if she was a bit odd. Her husband was one of those brilliant types who lost the thread of conversations, often, and constantly used words that Al had no hope of understanding.

Their twins, Lysander and Lorcan were pretty cute. They both had their mother’s blonde hair and their father’s hazel eyes. Everyone loved the twins who were fun to play with, but the girls especially glommed on to them.

This worked in Al’s favor, as his cousin Victoire was attached to the toddlers, which mean he could pry Teddy away from his girlfriend.

He dragged his god-brother off into the trees, away from everyone else.

“What’s up?” Teddy asked the moment they were out of earshot.

Al glanced down at his trainers and tried to think of what to say.

“Ah,” Teddy intoned, cottoning on. He sat down in the grass beneath a tree and leaned up against the trunk. “Come on, this is probably going to take a bit.”

Al sat a few feet away and leaned against his own tree, drawing his knees up to his chest. “James is being an arse.” It wasn’t what he’d meant to say, but it had come out anyway.

“I expect he is,” Teddy agreed as he picked up a twig. “Everything that’s happened, Al… it’s a lot to take in. Your parents, your dad in particular, have had a rough go of things. It was difficult for me to deal with, and I was a lot older when I found out.”

There was a stinging behind his eyes that Al didn’t want to acknowledge for fear it would only grow. “I guess I always knew that I had another sister, but… she was murdered.”

“Yes,” Teddy agreed slowly. “She was. She and I would have been raised together, and we’d probably have been pals. You, James and Lily are like my siblings, but you’re all so much younger than I am. I can remember your mum being pregnant with you. I held you, Al. I look out for you guys, but Hope would have been different. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss that until I understood what I’d lost. I have Victoire, and she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but as kids she was a baby for the longest time.”

Al sniffed and picked at his laces. “My parents had to get married.”

Teddy snorted. “I think that’s the least of our worries. They love each other so much. I envy that. I want that, you know? I think I’m going to have that with Victoire, but I have to tell you they’ve set the bar high.”

“I think,” Al said slowly as fear and anxiety ate at him, “that Dad put up the latest round of protections around the house because the woman who attacked them is still on the loose. Something he said made me think that, and Aunt Hermione made those Portkey socks that work like the Galleons do and will get us home if we’re kidnapped.”

His god-brother’s expression remained forcibly neutral, but Al knew him well enough to know it was confirmation without breaking a trust with Al’s dad. “You don’t need to worry about it,” Teddy told him flatly. “Your dad is the best at what he does. You’re safe here.”

“It isn’t enough to be safe,” Al complained, his fear swapping over into annoyance. “This is my family, and I–”

“Wait,” Teddy interrupted, holding up a hand for silence. Al waited while Teddy struggled under something that seemed to tear at his heart. “Listen, I’m the big brother, here, right?”

Al nodded, thankful that it wasn’t James. Technically it was, but James abdicated that role when it came to responsibility. Being a royal pain in the arse was the only big brother role that James took seriously.

“You’re twelve, and it isn’t on you yet,” he leaned forward and met Al’s eyes head on. “You’ve got enough on your plate with school, dealing with James, and I know you’re looking out for Nat. Let this one go for now. I’m not saying,” he interjected quickly, reading Al’s mutinous expression, “that I’m sidelining you forever, but come on. Your parents never had a normal childhood, and I can promise you that the one thing they’d really love is if you kids didn’t have to grow up too quickly. Can you understand that?”

He mulled, and thought, and mulled and finally nodded. He could understand how his parents would want him to have a safe, normal, happy childhood. It was something they’d never had, and he would dare to guess that they’d likely do all in their power to shield them from what could be traumatic events. “It isn’t exactly working out that way, though.”

“I know it isn’t,” Teddy sighed heavily and kicked at a small rock. “Let’s get back to Hope, okay? It sucks. It flat out sucks that you’ve lost your sister, and that she never had a chance to grow up. It’s horrible that someone would do this to your parents. It’s scary to think that someone might still be out to get them, but you have got to keep in perspective that your dad killed Voldemort. Voldemort was true evil. He was powerful, dangerous, and unbelievably sadistic. You haven’t been taught the full picture yet in school, but you can find the books in the library. There’s a particularly good one called The Rise and Fall Of The Dark Arts. There are two versions of that book, one was completed about ten years ago. Find a copy of that and read it. When you have a full understanding of just what your dad has accomplished, it will help you accept that you’re safe with him, and also help you understand why you should let him think he’s sheltering you. You have no idea how much he loves that Lily is so innocent and untouched by all of this. Al, she’s a breath of fresh air from our jobs. I can be having the crappiest of days, and one hug from her and it’s all gone.” Teddy paused for a single breath. “If it was me, and I hope it is someday, I’d do the same with my family.”

Al felt his shoulders hunching under the unspoken reprimand. Teddy wasn’t being mean, or harsh. He was simply reminding Al that, as a kid, he didn’t know everything. Most of the time, though, it seemed to Al that he knew next to nothing. “Do you ever feel like Dad is overshadowing you?”

“Nope,” Teddy shook his head firmly. “First off, he’d have to stand in my light to do that, and he never would. He wants me to succeed and do better than he does, although he’d never want me to struggle under the weight that he has. He willingly put his life on the line to make sure we can live in peace. I aspire to be as brave and as dedicated as he is, but the bottom line is I hope I never have to prove myself in the way he did. If we get there, again, then my family and everyone I love will be at risk. I’d rather be an ordinary Auror, living a relatively quiet life, than a hero.”

Al ran his hands through his hair and leaned back against the tree. A single tear slid traitorously down his cheek. Immediately, he found Teddy’s solid arms around him as several more tears forced their way out. Nothing was said in the minute it took him to pull himself back together.

“I love you, kid,” Teddy ruffled Al’s hair. “Give James time, okay? He’s stuck being a git for a while, but he is your brother and you have to make allowances for him.”

Teddy moved back over to his tree as Al said, “He was picking on a girl.”

“Then he likes the girl,” Teddy informed him without a single moment’s hesitation. “He’s going to be one of those who has no idea what to do with himself.”

“That’s stupid,” Al muttered, even as a grin tugged its way across his mouth. “I told Fred, and he warned James off. The girl is… she’s different. She’s American.”

Teddy cocked an eyebrow and opened his mouth to speak, but a voice came from the edge of the wood. “Teddy? Al?”

“Here, Ginny,” Teddy called back and hauled himself to his feet.

“It’s time to eat,” his mother’s voice said in a tone that brooked no argument. It was time to go in.

~*~

It was the shouting that woke Natalie from her sleep. It was the banging and screaming that had her reaching for her backpack, the one that held her wand. “Dad?” she whispered into the darkened room, but heard nothing. She glanced around, but saw only the crack in the shade over the window that let in the light from the capital city of Brasília.

Curtis Parker been out late at a dinner with some colleagues from the University at the restaurant in the hotel, and had told her she could go to bed. Where was he? What time was it?

“Cale-se!” someone hissed out. Her Portuguese, while still rough, could translate that one.

Shut up!

Nat flung herself to the floor and crawled under her bed, dragging her backpack with her. With trembling fingers, as the doorknob rattled, she pulled her wand free, and, on impulse, grabbed the two-way mirror that her fingers had grazed. She was in sweatpants, which thankfully had a large pocket. She shoved the mirror in, and after a moment’s hesitation, also threw the wand in. If she was going to be taken, there was no way she could fight.

Where was her father?!

Nat bit hard on her lip to stifle the surprised gasp as the door was forced open. Seconds later the bed was wrenched up, and she was grabbed roughly by a man dressed in camouflage fatigues.

“Ela está aqui,” the man called over his shoulder.

Before she could get a good look at him a dark bag was thrust over her head, and a sweet, sickly smelled filled her nose.

The world went black.

Her next awareness came with a pounding headache, a roiling stomach and the smell of damp, rotting earth.

Her wand was sticking her painfully in her side, but otherwise her limbs felt heavy and a little numb. She didn’t speak, didn’t move, as she tried to take in her surroundings.

The smell was wet, of earthen buildings and forgotten caves, but there was a slight tang of fresh air, so there had to be ventilation somewhere.

Fear licked hungrily at her, wanting to draw her into a romping game of panic and tears, but she bit hard on her lip and forced herself to focus.

Sounds… she heard a small drip off to her left, a slow, melodic trickle on water. No insect, no birds and as near as she could tell, there were no humans in the near vicinity.

When she finally wiggled her fingers, it was to find that she wasn’t bound as she’d have expected. Undoubtedly, the men who had taken her hadn’t seen her as a threat. Nat was tiny, just a child.

How little they knew.

Natalie pulled in a deep breath and tried not to think about her father. She needed a way out, and thank goodness, she’d managed to grab her ticket to freedom.

“Hello?” Nat choked out through a phlegm-filled throat. Nothing. “Olá?”

No response.

Nat pulled the mirror from her pocket and cleared her throat. She really hoped she could reach Al, but Rose would do as well. “Albus Potter,” she whispered into the mirror.

The mirror sprang to life as dancing, dazzling lights played around the room and the world spun until it showed a darkened bedroom that she knew to be Al’s.

Nat glanced around her again, quickly, trying to spot a sign of the time of day, but there was none. If it was night in England…

“Al!” Nat bit out more urgently. “Al, you need to wake up!”

A groan came from somewhere off the glass of the mirror as the image shook roughly, coming to show Al’s sleepy face, his eyes hardly slits in the dim light. “Wuzamatter?” the words came out, blurred together.

“I’ve been kidnapped,” Nat managed to say through the rush of emotions, namely gratitude, that overwhelmed her. “I need your dad!”

For a second he didn’t move, then his eyes popped open, fully alert and he was off and running.

She heard, more than saw, Al’s frantic cry for Harry, heard the quick explanation, and saw Harry Potter’s face fill the mirror, even as he was shoving on his glasses.

“What happened, Nat?” he asked her urgently. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay,” Nat assured him. “I was sleeping in my hotel room in Brasília, and some men broke into my room. They put a hood over me, and I think they drugged me because I feel a little sick and it was nighttime when they got me.” She paused, trying to work her brain into a slower thought process so she’d stop babbling. “I’m underground somewhere. I can’t see the sun. No one is around me, and I don’t know where my dad is.”

“Okay, Nat,” Harry said evenly. “I’m going to get you, or at least ensure that someone is there to rescue you. It’s going to take a while, but we’ll get you out of there. Cooperate with your captors and pretend like you don’t understand a word their saying, okay? Do not, under any circumstances, let them know you’re magical. If they’re Muggles, we don’t want them to be spooked and kill you. If their magical…”

“I understand,” Nat promised him.

“I’m going to end the call and head straight to the Ministry, but I will have the mirror will with me. I want you to wait about twenty minutes, count if you have to, and then call me back if the coast is clear. Can you do that?” his intense eyes scrutinized her, even through the mirror.

She nodded, “All right.”

The mirror went blank and Nat shoved it back into her pocket. She ignored the debilitating tremble in her hands as she finally allowed herself to be afraid, and began to count.

~*~

Harry’s arrival at the Ministry was only moments before Arthur, Hermione, Percy, Kingsley, and about a dozen others who were on the alert system that Harry had activated.

By protocol, everyone converged on the conference room outside the Auror’s office, the only one that had a fireplace attached to the Floo Network.

“I need Brazil,” Harry barked at his assistant, Daniel, the moment he saw the young man walk through the door. “She’s in the capital city.”

“Yes, sir,” Daniel answered as he knelt at the fireplace and tried to raise someone.

“What’s the situation?” Kingsley asked as he took his customary seat at the head of the table.

It was not typically the Aurors that dealt with British wizards being kidnapped overseas. It typically fell to the head of the International Cooperation or, in some instances, Helminth Smith as the head of the Magical Law Enforcement.

He was currently on the receiving end of a death glare from the obnoxious Smith and an annoyed stare from the head of Magical Cooperation, Adina Kaiser. Adina was, on the whole, a good sort. She was reasonable, fair, and a genius. She was about fifty with nut-brown hair and matching eyes. She had the sort of thin, pinched face that one might expect to see on a pixie, but she was a tall woman, about Harry’s height. It gave her an odd, mismatched appearance.

“I know I’m overstepping,” Harry told Smith, trying to sooth egos so he could ensure their cooperation. “The child who has been taken is the daughter of Dr. Curtis Parker. He recently completed work for the Aurors. It is possible the child was taken because of his work with us. In this case, I will take point until such time as we prove that isn’t the case. We haven’t made contact with Dr. Parker yet, nor have we heard about a ransom.”

It was a sticky situation, asserting his control over that of the other department heads. In terms of rank in the Ministry, Helminth outranked him. Harry was, for all intents and purposes, on the same level as Hermione, who was Deputy Head of the MLE. However, a change that Kingsley had instituted after he’d become Minister was to reorganize the office hierarchy so that the Head Auror had complete autonomy. The only person who could overrule Harry was the Minister himself. Harry had the authority to take over any investigation at any time, for almost any reason.
He didn’t often use that power, because it tended to generate ill-will among his colleagues, but in this case he was going to keep that right to have his fingers straight in the pie. What most of the people in the room didn’t know was that Nat’s powers could make her a serious security risk for them.

Arthur shot him a curious stare, but nodded in approval. Harry grinned weakly at his father-in-law, appreciating his support and the encouraging smile that graced Arthur’s lined face.

“I would like to know how you were alerted,” Adina put in.

“That would be the mirrors, right?” Hermione said as she sat on the edge of her seat. “I made the children two-way mirrors for Christmas last year. The girl is friends with my daughter, and we knew that she would be traveling all over the world when she wasn’t in school. It was the only way they could keep in touch as owls will take weeks or possibly a month to reach her.”

“Exactly,” Harry pulled the mirror out and set it on the table. “She is supposed to be contacting me shortly, as long as the coast is clear.”

“I have Brazil,” Daniel turned his head to inform Harry. “They have a man who speaks excellent English, and he’s requesting permission to come through.”

Harry glanced towards Kinsley, who nodded slowly. “Have him come through.”

Daniel’s head went back through the fire for another thirty seconds, before standing and taking a step back. “I’ll get tea, Mr. Potter, and then try to find the girl’s mother.”

“Thanks, Daniel,” Harry waved the young man off. Daniel had clearance, but he would not be part of the discussion.

A moment later a large, powerfully built man spun to a stop at in the grate and stepped out. His skin was the color of mocha, with brown hair and thick, wavy brown hair trimmed very precisely. He glanced around the room, his eyes fixing on Harry, who felt his gut relax a bit. He knew this man. “Philippe,” Harry moved forward to shake his hand.

He’d met Philippe Alverez several years before when they’d been on holiday in Brazil for the Quidditch World Cup. Ginny had been working, of course, so in their free time Harry had mingled with some of the foreign heads of state. Philippe was his Auror counterpart in Brazil.

“Potter,” the man shot his hand firmly. “What happened?”

“We’ve had a child abducted,” Harry told him quickly. “She’s twelve, and her name is Natalie Parker. Her father has done some work for us, but he’s a Muggle. I believe he’s lecturing at one of the Universities in Brasília. We’ve not been in contact with him, but Natalie has a magical mirror that she shares with her friends. She contacted my son to get me the message that she was in trouble.”

Philippe rubbed absently at his cheek. “Do we know who took her?”

“She’s not seen them since she was snatched, but she says she thinks she was drugged,” Harry explained.

“Probably Muggle, then,” Percy frowned, his eyes full of concern behind his horn-rimmed glances. “Otherwise she’d have been rendered unconscious with a spell.”

“Agreed,” Harry added with a quick glance towards his brother-in-law.

“The problem is,” Helminth interrupted them. “You do not have clearance to go to Brazil, Potter, nor can you operate in a foreign country. Even for a Ministry employee, we do not call out the entire staff to rescue one person.”

Harry only spared him a sideways look, then went back to speaking with Philippe as if they hadn’t been interrupted. “She’s got a trace on her, of course. Can you use that to find her?”

“It’s possible,” Philippe said as he turned back to the Minister. “How important is this?”

It irked Harry that they could so easily dismiss the life of a child, but if she was in the hands of Muggles, it wasn’t a simple law enforcement case. There were channels and paperwork. Kingsley took a deep breath and studied his hands. “Her father has sensitive information about an ongoing investigation. We do not want him to be in a compromised position. If he and his daughter are able to be retrieved safely, we want that to happen. We can’t guarantee that she was taken by Muggles, and we need to react as if this were the worst case scenario.”

Harry’s attention, along with everyone else, was diverted back to the mirror as it came to life with Nat’s pale face shining through, and her tiny, fragile voice, saying, “Harry Potter.”

~*~

Seconds had never moved so slowly for Nat. She had to focus on her counting, and breathing, or she’d break down in tears.

The images kept flowing through her mind, replaying like a horror movie. The first time she’d seen a man die she’d been six. He’d been shot five feet from her. His face had frozen in a mask of pain before he crumbled to the ground.

It was his abused wife who’d killed him.

When she was seven, she’d seen a child trampled by cows in India.

When she was nine, Nat had watched helplessly as a man fell into a dig pit. It normally wouldn’t have been fatal, but he’d hit his head on an exposed stone wall. He’d never opened his eyes again.

The year before she’d gone to Hogwarts, when they’d made a short trip into Syria, she’d seen a woman shot by local fighters.

The fighting was supposed to have been limited. It wasn’t the war zone it had been even a year previous.

Her father had whisked her away from that country just as fast as he could, and they were leaving behind children she’d played with, girls her own age who would soon be sold as child prostitutes to pay bills.

Nat couldn’t blame her father for pulling her from the situation, nor could she forget the look of utter despair on the children’s faces.

Their dark, beautiful, soulful eyes haunted her now. The eyes were sometimes dead, even though the child still lived; but others were old, much older than their years.

It was time.

Nat cleared her throat again and stood on shaking legs to move to the short, wooden door. “Hello? Is anyone there?” She pounded her palm against the door, then waited. There was no sound, but the drip of water on stone and earth.

She sighed and moved back to her place on the floor, heartsick and scared stupid. Her dad was missing, and her mum would be worried sick.

Her dad might be dead.

Nat cleared her throat and held up the mirror. “Harry Potter,” she whispered into the glass and watched the lights swirl.

Seconds later, his face appeared through the glass. “Natalie? Are you okay?”

“I’m okay,” she sniffed as gratitude poured out of her. “I haven’t seen anyone.”

“We have someone from Brazil here, Nat,” Mr. Potter went on. “We’re going to try to use your trace to track you down, which means I’m going to need you to perform magic for us. It doesn’t have to be big, just shooting sparks will do it, but I want to try something first. Can you get your wand?”

“I have it,” Nat held it up so he could see.

“Okay,” Mr. Potter nodded in relief. “I want you to walk over to the door. Can you see a keyhole?”

Nat moved over to the door and examined it with her fingers in the dark room. Her palm brushed a door handle, but didn’t find a lock. “It doesn’t seem to have one.”

“But it’s locked?”

“Yeah,” she showed him as she tried to pull the door open.

“I want you to try the unlocking spell. Do you remember that one?”

“Alohamora,” Nat repeated as she pulled out her wand. She pointed it at the door and repeated the spell. Nothing happened. “It didn’t work,” she grunted as she pulled on the handle.

Harry’s face gave nothing away. “I don’t want you to worry, Nat. There could be a lot of reasons why that particular spell didn’t work. Namely, that there is no key and it’s locked with a big slab of wood on the other side, okay? I want you to count every five minutes and perform a spell. If you need to contact me, I will have the mirror with me. Don’t worry,” he went on in a low, soothing voice that guided her towards feeling less panicked. “We’re going to get you out of there. I’m waiting for your mum, then I’m heading to Brazil myself. In the meantime, the Brazilian Ministry is working with their Aurors to attempt a rescue. I’m friends with their Head of Department and he’s a good man. We’re coming for you.”

“Okay,” Nat replied in a trembling voice.

“Every five minutes,” Harry reminded her. “I’ll see you soon.”

She nodded as the mirror went black.

Natalie moved back to her place against the wall and began to count.

~*~

Contacting a Muggle establishment from inside the Ministry had been impossible up until Hermione. Hermione ran into several instances when it would have been helpful to use a telephone. She’d petitioned the Ministry to investigate and was turned down, saying they were not Muggles and would not behave in such a way. She appealed directly to Kingsley, who had granted her permission to investigate the problem.

Though she’d been sneered at, mocked and ridiculed, Hermione had soldiered on much to Harry’s amusement and her husband’s bafflement. Arthur, learning of her aspiration to hook the Ministry up, had taken up the challenge.

The first problem was shorting out the electronics, but Hermione had fixed that by finding an old rotary phone. The next had been shielding the wires from magic, but it turned that heavily shielded cable that Hermione was able to appropriate from the British military, was enough to keep it from being shorted out. The one phone resided in the Minister’s office and could only be used by his express permission.

George was now using the same shielding technology, much to the Ministry’s chagrin, to make a lot of money on new gadgets.

Julienne Curtis was in Australia according to her boss at whatever television station she worked at, and Daniel had no luck in convincing them that they needed to contact her until Harry pulled the phone away from his assistant and said it was life and death.

Unfortunately, that didn’t resolve anything because she was still half a world away. She did, at least, know that something had happened and they received word that if she heard from Curtis, she was to call the Ministry directly to let them know.

“I thought the telephone was a stupid idea,” Kingsley admitted when Harry hung up. It was only himself, the Minister and Daniel in the office. “Don’t tell Hermione I said that; she’ll have my hide.”

Harry wanted to laugh, but the situation was too dire. They had word out to the Muggle Police in Brazil that there was a problem, but so far they’d been unable to locate Curtis.

“Sir,” Daniel said hesitantly. “I’ve had word from Ginny asking for an update. Can I let her know? Your kids are going spare, apparently.”

Harry considered the younger man. It was nearly four in the morning and they’d yet to receive confirmation that Harry was cleared through the Brazilian Ministry to travel. “Yeah, but go to my house. I’d rather you tell her in person. Then get some sleep and head back in.”

“I’ll come straight back,” Daniel said solemnly as he headed out.

The second he opened the door, Adina walked right in around the young man. “I’ve had word, Harry. You can head out. The paperwork is now in order and Philippe said he is waiting for you.”

“Thanks, Adina,” Harry nodded briefly and headed for the door to move down towards the fireplace that was connected up for international travel.

“Harry,” a voice from the hall stopped him and he turned to find Arthur waiting for him.

Harry paused and waited for his father-in-law to speak.

Arthur took a deep breath and glanced around, making sure they wouldn’t be overheard. “You’ve ruffled a lot of feathers on this one, and I think it was the right call. People are going to be curious as to why you went to all the trouble for Nat. They’re going to speculate and ask questions. Be careful, son.”

Harry’s heart jolted in fear, even as his body hummed with the thought of action. “I understand.”

“Good luck,” Arthur clapped him on the shoulder and Harry made his way to the correct fireplace.

Traveling to Brazil was not unlike traveling anywhere in Britain. The only problem was that it took minutes, rather than seconds, to come through to the other end.

Philippe was waiting for him, along with the Brazilian Minister of Magic, a woman whom Harry had only seen once years previously. She was a stately woman with iron hair, streaked with dark threads, and sharp, brown eyes. She was diminutive in size, but one look at her left Harry with the impression that she was not a woman to be messed with.

“Mr. Potter,” she said with crisp, precise English that still hinted at an accent. “We are happy to have you. We have a team, right now, working to retrieve the girl, but her father is still missing. I’ve alerted the Muggle authorities and they have launched a search. Your colleague, Mrs. Kaiser, has been most helpful in using your trace on the girl.”

“Please,” Philippe held out a hand. “I’ll take you to our meeting room.”

They left Harry to wait, mostly by himself, in a large, sparsely furnished room while the local MLE narrowed in on Nat’s position. Every so often someone would poke their head in to smile at him, but as almost no one spoke English, he was left to his own devices.

The minutes crawled by like an eternity.

Finally, two hours after he’d arrived, Philippe burst in and motioned him to follow. “We have her location.”

~*~

Nat had fired sparks off forty times, at the instructed five-minute intervals. She’d not seen anyone, nor heard anything. Her head ached. Her stomach hurt. She was starving, and her blood sugar was in the toilet.

The silence was driving her mad. The counting was making her crazy. The loneliness and fear had won and she was now in a full out panic.

Several times she’d forced herself to not pick up the mirror and make the call, reasoning that there was nothing that talking to Mr. Potter could do.

It didn’t help that the drip, drip, drip was driving her crazy, or that the cold was seeping in and she was shivering violently. Her sweats were damp and nothing she did helped. She was too weak to move, to try to warm herself up.

Finally, she gave in, because she knew she was close to losing consciousness, and thinking was taking all of her effort. She pulled out the mirror. “Harry… Potter,” she whispered.

His face shone through, with weird lights all around him. She blinked, trying to focus and it registered in the back of her head that she had spots before her eyes. “I’m hungry,” she said before he could even speak.

“We’re nearly there, Nat,” he huffed out, clearly running. “Just hold on and we’ll get you to–”

Her hand dropped, too heavy to hold up anymore and she felt herself sliding sideways, even as the door burst open. She saw men she didn’t know, rushing for her.

She wanted to protest, wanted to fight, but there was nothing left in her except the rushing in her ears and the cold, clammy feeling that always preceded her passing out.

The world went blank.

~*~

Harry hung back, as ordered, even though it contradicted everything in him. He was used to being in charge, used to diving in when he felt the need to. Here, in Brazil, he had to hang back and be grateful they’d let him come at all. “She needs food immediately,” he said again to Philippe. Harry had completely forgotten about Nat’s need for food on a regular basis in the chaos of simply trying to find her. “I think she passed out.”

“I’ve alerted a Healer,” Philippe assured him. “She’s coming straight off and should be here any moment.”

A man shouted something to Philippe, who replied in Portuguese. The rapid exchange went straight over Harry’s head, so he kept his eyes fixed on the house.

Nat was, apparently, somewhere in that house, and from her description Harry had to assume there was a cellar or underground basement of some sort. The house was apparently deserted, which did not leave Harry with a good feeling. He’d have expected some guards.

There was a soft pop from his left and a young woman, several years Harry’s junior, appeared next to them. She was dressed in light blue robes that looked clinical.

Philippe greeted the young woman, and motioned to Harry. “She doesn’t speak English, Harry. Can you give me a rundown of what we can expect?”

“She was cursed by something in Egypt,” Harry began, and waited for Philippe to translate. “If she needs the exact name, I can get it. But, basically, her blood sugar drops.”

“I’m not sure how to translate that,” Philippe said with a frown.

“She gets hungry fast and passes out,” Harry rephrased it.

After a quick exchange, the Healer smiled at him encouragingly.

“I think we have it,” Philippe turned as his men shouted something. His eyes widened. “I think we have your missing Muggle, too.”

Moments later, a man appeared leading a stretcher with a bloodied Curtis Parker on it, unconscious. Right behind him, came a man with Nat in his arms. The tiny girl was miniscule in the huge Auror’s arms.

Harry let out of a sigh of relief as the Healer moved into action to triage them before moving them to the local magical hospital. Harry knew, from experience, that he would not be allowed near them until the Healer had cleared them. One too many run-ins with his sister-in-law, Audrey, had taught him that.

Harry glanced at Philippe. “Can I examine the building?”

Philippe held out a hand. “We shall do this together.”

Absolutely nothing about the kidnapping made any sense. The building was an abandoned farmhouse well outside the city, right on the Tocantins River. No magic, except for Nat’s, was detectable on the premises, and yet something about it struck Harry and decidedly wrong.

“It had be Muggles,” Philippe assured him slowly, but Harry could tell his heart wasn’t into the statement.

“Something is off,” Harry shook his head as he gazed around the dusty, unfurnished upper room. “I don’t like this. Something isn’t right about this.”

Philippe’s dark eyes studied him for a long moment. “I can’t argue with that. I have no proof of anything magical, which means I can’t launch an investigation, but I agree. It feels like this is… I can’t think of the right word.”

“It’s a set-up,” Harry supplied. “Someone made everything look like this so we’d think it was Muggles. But why? Why do this?”

“This child,” Philippe cocked his head sideways. “You’ve gone to a lot of trouble for this child.”

“She’s my son’s best friend,” Harry met his eyes straight on. “She’s been a guest in my home. What would you do for your son?”

“The same,” Philippe conceded. “But, I have to ask, because I’m starting to wonder. Is there more?”

Harry sighed heavily, knowing he had to give the man something else or the questions wouldn’t stop. “My family is being threatened, Philippe. Curtis Parker is helping me. I owe him, but he also has sensitive information that could hurt my family. I can’t let that fall into the wrong hands, if it hasn’t already.”

Satisfied, Philippe nodded. “Let’s go to the hospital, then. Hopefully, they will be well enough to talk by now.”

“Good,” Harry agreed as they made their way down the rickety steps. “Can you let someone know on my end that things have ended well?”

“It’s already done,” Philippe assured him as they emerged into the newly dawning day. Harry glanced at the sun that was cresting the mountains in the distance and marveled at the landscape around him.

Brazil was a beautiful country.

He walked over to Philippe who grasped Harry’s arm to pull him into oblivion and lead him to the hospital, where hopefully Harry would get some answers.

Back to index


Chapter 14: Chapter 11

Author's Notes: I would like all of you to give my beta, Arnel, a big round of applause! I sent this chapter to her, and less than four hours later, she sent it back!

This is an intense chapter, and I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you think.

Remember to be patient. This story has like ten years still to go. It's a long road.

I updated quickly this time, because I know I was late on my last one.

I'm in final edits for my third original novel. Please, pretty please, go to my profile and check it out! Amazon has a free preview of the story. My only payment here is reviews, which are awesome, but actually contributing to my household with profits from a book is very nice as well.

Thank you, and much love! ~ywg


The news at the hospital was not what Harry wanted to hear. Curtis was brought around quickly, but he was kept isolated while the Healers worked to figure out exactly what had happened to him.

Audrey had sent word to the hospital about Nat’s condition, and the Healer in charge came out after an hour looking extremely grim. She spoke in rapid Portuguese to Philippe.

The Auror turned troubled eyes back to Harry to translate. “She says the girl was given something. It worked for a while to keep her alive, but she was in major organ failure when we got to her. In another hour she’d have been dead.”

Harry’s heart skipped a beat. “Are you able to help her?”

Another conversation flowed around him, but it was their faces he tracked, not the words. The eyes told the story he needed.

“It is not good,” Philippe answered slowly. “She will need medical attention for weeks, maybe months. She’s going to need a feeding line. I don’t know if you’re familiar.”

“I am,” Harry nodded. “My wife had one when she was pregnant with our first child.”

Hope. The child who hadn’t made it.

Philippe translated that for the Healer. “She says,” Philippe explained to Harry, “that the child will either need to stay in the hospital or be cared for by Healers.”

“Can she be moved?” Harry asked quickly. If at all possible, he needed to move Natalie back to England and keep her protected until they could figure out what happened.

“Maria says she will be stable enough to transport by Portkey tomorrow, but she would like a Healer to travel with her,” Philippe said carefully. “You can treat her in your English hospital.”

Harry sighed and nodded. It would be Audrey, then. He’d need to make the arrangements shortly.

Natalie, however, was not going to St. Mungo’s.

“Do you have any idea when I can speak to Dr. Parker?” Harry questioned the Healer.

Philippe waited for the response, then told him, “She says maybe an hour. They’re finishing up treatments with him.”

Harry shook her hand and smiled wanly at the woman. “Obrigado,” Harry said with feeling. “I said that right, didn’t I?” he grinned at Philippe, who smiled back.

“Close enough,” Philippe assured him as Harry sat to think, and ponder just what the hell was going to happen now.

Forty minutes later, Harry was allowed in to see Curtis. The man was patched up, for the most part, and sitting up in a bed. Harry strode over and shook his hand. “I’m glad to see you alive.”

“I’m glad to be alive,” Curtis admitted gruffly. “I’ve gotten a general idea of what happened. Thank you for saving my little girl. I…” he broke off long enough to clear his throat. “I guess you want to hear what happened.”

“I really need to know,” Harry agreed as he pulled up a chair and sat. Philippe stood, immobile, at the edge of the room. A witness, but not part of the interrogation.

As Curtis was a Muggle, and not even a citizen of Brazil, things were complicated, to put it mildly.

“I was having dinner with a colleague and a friend he’d brought along,” Curtis told him. “Nat ate with us, but then said she was tired and wanted to go to bed. We were only down in the lobby, so I didn’t think anything of it. She’s twelve, after all.”

It was a reasonable, safe decision. They were staying in a nice hotel, with security. His daughter, while young, was not a child and could be close to the age in which she could be a minder for other children. However, Harry knew it was a decision that Curtis would second-guess for years to come.

“So,” Curtis went on. “My colleague, whom I’ve known for years, was a little off all through dinner. I didn’t really register it at the time, but something seemed different. He drank way too much. I excused myself, at one point, to use the loo and the other man followed me.”

“What did he look like?” Harry probed as he scribbled down some notes on a piece of parchment.

“That,” Curtis sighed heavily and let his head fall back against the pillows, “is the weirdest part in the whole story. I can’t remember what he looked like.”

That was not entirely unexpected. “That’s fine. What happened after you went to the loo.”

“Things were a little fuzzy, but,” Curtis told him slowly, “I think he wanted me to transport something back to England for him. He ended up frustrated with me when I said I wouldn’t do it. He hit me, and told me that they’d kidnapped Nat. I lost it and I think I attacked him. Everything went blank after that.”

“He is showing signs of magic being performed on him,” Philippe confirmed. “But, for whatever reason, the spells did not work well. I imagine they did not send a very skilled wizard after him. It begs the question of who put the Imperius Curse on his colleague, because it surely was not the man who was with him.”

Harry’s foot tapped as he thought through all the implications. There were a million different explanations that presented themselves as ripe, ready for the picking. Now that they knew this was not a Muggle kidnapping, the person could have been a smuggler. It would be easier, Harry assumed, for a respected Muggle professor to traffic goods into England, possibly as research materials. He’d have to check on that.

It could also be that they wanted to question Curtis about Harry.

The least likely was that they found out about his connect to Harry and wanted to question Curtis about the body that he’d examined for the Ministry.

Harry rubbed hard at his scalp, trying to ease out some of the tension that was killing him at the moment. There was no good way of looking at it.

“Can you check on Muggle postal operations here, Philippe?” Harry asked the other Auror, as he glanced back over his shoulder. “We’re having a smuggling problem on our end. This might be a link we can look into.”

“We have to bring in the International Magical Departmental head,” Philippe grumbled.

“I know, but,” Harry pointed out as he stood. “It could be a simple matter, rather than some major conspiracy.”

It was a huge conspiracy, and he felt a small twinge of guilt for not telling his friend about it, but right now they had nothing to go on. There was nothing to be gained from telling Philippe about Isabella Crabbe.

“Curtis,” Harry turned back to the other man. “I strongly urge you to come back to England. I also need your permission to take Natalie back. We need to make sure she’s looked after, as she’s pretty sick.”

“I can’t go yet,” Curtis shook his head. “I have a contract to finish and a class to teach. I need to be here. You know what I mean,” he went on in a low voice. “I don’t run from danger. I face the truth, and I tell what happened to people who have died. That’s always made me a target, but Natalie can go. I know you’ll protect her, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all you’ve done for us.”

It made Harry extremely uneasy to leave Curtis here, but he was a grown man and made his own choices. However… “Philippe, are there private security agents here in Brazil? Any that you would suggest.”

Philippe looked surprised, but nodded. “Yes, we have a fellow recently retired from active duty as an Auror. He’s now on his own. I could make contact.”

“Do that, please,” Harry said. “Also, I need word sent that Audrey Weasley is to come here to supervise Natalie’s transfer back to England. Should I do that, or can it be arranged?”

“I will ask one of the secretaries here at the hospital to make the call,” Philippe assured him.

“Excellent,” Harry said as he pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment and quickly wrote out a note.

Audrey- I need you in Brazil to bring Natalie back to England. She will need care in the exact manner as Ginny did while pregnant with our first. Please arrange the Portkey accordingly. Yours, Harry

He handed it off to Philippe who nodded, and after a quick scan, left.

“How’s Nat doing?” Curtis asked.

Harry couldn’t control the worry that had been plaguing him over the child’s health. He cast a Muffliato Charm, to ensure they weren’t overheard, and sat again. “It’s not good, Curtis. She’s going to need intensive care, which we will provide at my house. You must not let anyone here know that she’ll not be transferred to the other hospital. It will raise too many red flags.”

“Do you think the same woman who is after you sent the men after us?”

“I don’t know,” Harry groaned as he rubbed at his eyes. “Being associated with me has always been dangerous, I’m sorry to say. It looks like you’ve been caught up in it.”

Curtis was silent for a long moment. “It doesn’t appear to be your fault, though.”

“I attract trouble,” he shrugged helplessly. “There are some days I feel like the biggest arse for having kids at all. They’re paying a heavy price. But Ginny wouldn’t have stood by and not had children, so that was that. She wanted babies. Come to that, I did, too.”

“We didn’t think we’d have a child,” Curtis explained as his eyes traveled back in time. “Nat was a complete surprise, but a good one. She’s the best little thing…”

“I’ll keep her safe,” Harry clapped him gently on the shoulder and surreptitiously removed the spell. Curtis didn’t notice a thing. “Still, though, the investigation into your abduction might lead us to new leads on the case of our resident nutter.”

“Potter?” Philippe’s voice came from the door. “The child is awake and asking for you.”

“Can I see her?” Curtis asked quickly.

Philippe shook his head gently. “In another few hours, Mr. Parker. You’re not well enough yet.”

After he’d promised to give Curtis a report as soon as he could, he went to see Nat. Her tiny, elfish face was dwarfed in a bed meant for adults as a tube fed a continuous drip into her arm, much like an IV in the Muggle world. For a moment, Harry flashed back painfully to his wife, just over four years older than this child, with a tube in her arm as she fought to keep their baby alive.

It was all for naught.

Harry shook off the grief and focused on Nat, who did not appear to be awake. He sat with her and took her hand. “Al and Rose send their love. They’re worried sick about you.”

“M’kay,” Nat murmured sleepily. “I hurt.”

Harry glanced sharply at the Healer, who held out a placating hand.

This one, it appeared, spoke English. “We are giving her mild potions for the pain. We cannot give her more until her body has healed a bit.”

“Are you sure we can transfer her?” Harry asked as he glanced back at the listless child.

“Yes,” the Healer, a woman around sixty nodded confidently. “She will be strong enough tomorrow. She’s responding well, but this will be a slow treatment to make sure her organs do not suffer any lasting damage.”

“Do you know what was given to her?” Harry asked the Healer as Nat’s head lulled and she fell asleep.

“It was not something we have seen before,” the Healer admitted slowly. “What we do know is that she was given a potion that it meant to revive someone who has been without food for a long time. Then, it appears that she was given another potion that we are attempting to analyze right now. She was initially drugged with a Muggle compound called Chloroform, which is what put her to sleep. That is short acting, though. She would have needed to be sedated another way.”

Harry nodded slowly, trying to take it all in. “As soon as Healer Weasley arrives, please explain all of this to her. I want Natalie’s transfer to be as seamless as possible.”

“Of course,” the Healer inclined her head.

~*~

Al couldn’t take his eyes from Nat’s pale face as she lay on the bottom bunk in Lily’s bedroom.

“Come on, Al,” his mother whispered gently as she placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. The weight of it was reassuring and solid. “She’s going to be okay.”

He couldn’t quite reconcile that fact. Nat had been brought straight to his house with his Aunt Audrey just a few hours before. She’d been installed in with Lily, while a clear pouch hung from a pole near her, putting food into her body.

Nat looked so pale, so fragile.

His mother knelt next to him and cupped his cheeks. “Your father had to hold a vigil like this for me, when I was pregnant with Hope. It’s scary watching someone we care about suffer, but I need you to hear me, Al. She’s going to be okay.”

“I don’t know how to believe that,” Al whispered into the quiet room. “Is here mum going to be here soon?”

“Very soon,” Ginny assured him. “Aunt Hermione is picking her up from the train station or… that place they fly into.”

“Airport,” Al supplied through a throat that felt a little scratchy. He’d heard Nat talk about airports a lot.

Ginny rose and pulled Al from the room. “Let her sleep, okay?”

Al reluctantly followed his mum out into the hall, but it was with a heavy heart that he made his way down the steps. He found his aunt still in the kitchen, making lists on parchment.

“Do you remember most of this, Ginny?” Audrey asked as she focused on the page in front of her.

“Sadly,” Ginny sighed.

Audrey’s head flew up and moments later, she had Ginny in her arms. “I’m sorry, luv. I know that’s a painful topic.”

“Mum?” James came in from the back and stopped at the sight of the two women in front of him.

Ginny plastered on a smile that Al could tell was completely fake. “Yes?”

“Neville is here,” James shifted from one foot to the other. “He says he needs to talk to Dad, but I told him what happened.”

Lily came in, leading Neville by the hand. Al saw his sister’s fear was written all over her expressive features.

Al could also see the concern written plainly on Neville’s round face.

“Is she okay?” Neville asked he closed the door behind him.

“She’s getting there,” Audrey nodded grimly. “I’m making up her potions and feeding bags right now for the next two days.”

Ginny sniffed. “Al, did you move your stuff in with James?”

“I didn’t yet,” Al told her. “I will soon.”

He would be sharing with his brother while Mrs. Parker stayed with them, so she could have a room to herself. They could transform his parents’ office into a bedroom, but it was easier for him to share with his brother.

They could make do for however long Nat needed. Al had resolved to ignore every single stupid thing that James was bound to say.

“Her mother is coming?” Neville questioned, looking between his mum and his aunt.

“She’ll be here soon,” Ginny agreed. “How did you hear?”

“Oh!” Neville shook his head. “I forgot why I came. I ran across some letters that were exchanged between my mum and Harry’s. I only have Lily’s replies, so I thought Harry might want them. I’m sure my mum’s letters were destroyed when…” his voice trailed off as he pulled a bundle of letters from a coat pocket.

Al stared at the aged parchment, his mouth hanging open slightly. No one moved.

His grandmother… the one his sister was named for… his grandmother’s words and thoughts were on those pages. No one could really tell him about her, or what she’d been like. He knew that she was brave and loving, but very little else was known.

“Neville…” Ginny’s voice was full of awe and wonder. “Where did you find them?”

“My gran had them,” Neville shrugged in resignation. “She didn’t exactly love my mother, so she never went through her things. She locked them up in a vault at Gringotts. It’s only now that I’m starting to sort through all of it, what with us selling our house in London.”

“Wait,” James butted in. “You’re moving? Where are you going?”

“Hush,” Ginny waved at her son. “We’ll tell you about that later. Neville isn’t leaving us, I promise.”

Al knew that Neville’s grandmother had died a few years before, but he’d only met her a few times. She was a funny lady, though. He’d never quite known what to make of her. She wasn’t ever mean, but she also never really smiled.

“Anyway,” Neville set the bundle on the counter, and it might as well have been a priceless artifact for the reverence that was given to it. “I am sure Harry is really busy with everything, so I’ll leave these. Hannah and I will come to check on Nat in a few days, okay? I’ll also let Minerva know what happened.”

“Thank you,” Ginny whispered, as she skirted around the counter to give him a hard hug. “Nev, only you know just how much this is going to mean to him.”

Neville let out a long, painful sigh.

Moments later, he was gone, with Ginny staring after him, clearly troubled.

James reached for the bundle, and Ginny immediately swatted his hand.

“If you touch those before your father, James, you will never fly a broom again. Am I understood, young man?” Ginny’s glare was fierce and brooked no argument. “Your father has never said a single word to his mother, not once. You do not have a right to touch those unless he says you may.”

James looked from the letters, then back to their mum. Finally, he nodded and backed up. “It’s a shame he doesn’t know what it’s like to have his mum yell at him.”

“Jamie…” Ginny slipped back into a childhood name for him as regret filled her face. “I’m sorry, James. We’re all very on edge right now.”

His brother stuck his hands in his pockets and turned, walking away and up the stairs.

“He’ll be okay,” Audrey murmured comfortingly as she slung an arm around Ginny’s shoulders. “It’s a very tough age.”

“You’d think I’d know that with how many brothers I had,” Ginny groaned and turned to Al and Lily. “Are you two okay?”

Lily didn’t hesitate to throw herself into Ginny’s arms, wrapping her hard in a hug. “I miss Dad. When can he come home?”

“Soon,” Ginny crooned into Lily’s hair. “He needs to find all he can in Brazil before he comes home.”

Al didn’t move forward. He felt rooted to the spot, but his aunt came straight for him and hugged him hard. “I’m going to make sure she gets better, okay? I know what she means to you.”

Al reluctantly wound his arms around Audrey’s waist and tried to pretend a tear hadn’t just slid down his cheek.

It didn’t feel like anything was ever going to be okay again.

~*~

Every lead he’d followed in Brazil, from questioning the wait-staff in the restaurant, to Curtis’ clearly confused colleague who had dined with him that night had turned up nothing.

The logical conclusion was that Curtis was being asked to smuggle, probably by whoever was working with Isabella Crabbe.

But…

“This is too neat,” Philippe complained to Harry as they made their way through the Brazilian Ministry of Magic. “It seems like someone stupid attempted to smuggle something to England.”

Twenty years previously, Harry had assumed that a dumb snatcher had attacked him and Ginny. He’d assumed that the moron had made a mistake and that’s why they’d ended up in St. Mungo’s. They’d worked on the assumption that it was all an accident, not a carefully orchestrated plan, plotted out by a brilliant, twisted woman.

Harry had been critically wrong, and he wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice. He had twenty years of experience, plus countless sleepless nights going over and over the details that had led to Hope’s death to fall back on. “If I had to guess, I would say that this is a red herring.”

Philippe gazed at him quizzically. “I don’t think I know that term.”

“It’s a rouse, or a bluff to try to distract someone from seeing the real problem. We shouldn’t have had an easy time finding Natalie,” Harry went on as they moved towards the fireplace that would take him home. “This was planned. Nat was left with her wand, which made her almost simple to find. They had no guards. It looked, at first, to be a Muggle kidnapping, but that was also misleading. We’ve been had, but I don’t know why.”

That was, at least, the simple truth as they stopped before the fireplace. Harry had no idea what Isabella could be up to or why. He didn’t have the first clue as to what she was trying to accomplish. If she was brewing potions, she needed ingredients. In order to get them, they had to be acquired illegally. In order to get them illegally, she most likely had to search for sources outside of England. If Isabella wanted to send him off on a wild goose chase, this was a convenient way to do it.

If she was aware of his involvement with the Parker family, then she could have targeted Natalie to ensure that Harry would be involved in the investigation.

It meant that Harry had played straight into her hands, but there was little choice on that. He couldn’t have done otherwise.

Harry shook Philippe’s hand. “Thank you for all of your help.”

“You’re welcome,” Philippe replied solemnly. “I will keep an eye on your friend. I hope the little girl is okay.”

He really, really hoped so as well.

Harry threw some Floo powder into the fireplace and stepped in. “Ministry of Magic, London, England.”

The spin of the Floo sucked him into another place.

He arrived to chaos. His assistant was waiting for him. Daniel, much to Harry’s shock, was clearly exhausted and disheveled.

“Minister Shacklebolt needs to see you immediately,” Daniel told him as he handed over a file and they took off, out of the conference room, and towards the bank of lifts.

“What happened?” Harry asked him quickly as he hit the button and turned back to the young man.

Daniel shook his head sadly. “They exhumed Colin Creevey’s body. I don’t have the details, sir.”

Harry’s heart stuttered for a moment as he thought about the lost boy. It had been his finger that the children had found at Hogwarts. “All right,” Harry told him soothingly, as the doors of the elevator slid open. He stepped in and turned back. “I need you to go home, sleep for eight hours, shower and then come back. You’re no good to me if you’re falling down.”

“But, sir,” Daniel protested instantly, only to halt when Harry raised a hand.

“You go home. This is not up for discussion,” he finished just as the lift doors closed.

Harry blew out a breath and was thankful for the late hour and the silence around him. He flipped open the folder, one he saw was a Muggle police report on a missing woman. The report was beginning to yellow around the edges, but the woman, a black woman about twenty, stared back at him through blank eyes.

He saw the note, scribbled in what he knew was Arthur Weasley’s hand, that said, ‘May be our missing woman who was switched.’

Arthur had taken up the challenge of sorting through the Muggle records sent over from Scotland Yard. If this was her, and Harry had a sneaking suspicion, that Arthur was correct, then that was a tick off of one of his unsolved mysteries.

Harry exited the lift and moved quickly down to Kingsley’s office. He found Hermione, Arthur and Percy crowded around, waiting.

“What happened?” Harry asked and he entered and closed the door.

“Colin’s right hand is missing all the fingers,” Arthur said sadly. “It appears that he was dug up from the Muggle graveyard near his parents’ home, and his fingers removed.”

“Then,” Percy sank heavily into one of the seats. “He was reburied. We can only assume that someone else has those other fingers and is waiting to plant them.”

Kingsley nodded in agreement. “I believe the message is clear, that somehow she can get to the children. That’s what she wants us to know.”

That left Harry in the horrible position of having to either find out how, or possibly close the school. “We’re going to assume she planted the other body as well, the one that was found down by the lake.”

“We’ve had news on that man, actually,” Hermione said as she fished out a sheet of parchment from the stack she was holding. “He has a nephew who is a wizard, one that we’ve had in custody a couple of times. Right now the nephew is in hiding, so we’re going to assume he’s involved.”

“That’s just sick,” Harry grumbled as he quickly skimmed through the details. “This is just unbelievable.”

Kingsley rose to his feet. “I can’t step down right now.”

“I was going to say that,” Harry grinned sadly. “We can’t have a new minister in right now. That’s asking for a lot of trouble.”

His friend nodded to everyone in the room. “It’s late and none of us has slept well. I suggest we all go home, get some rest, and tackle everything again tomorrow. We have over a month to improve the security at the school. We know how to do that.”

Harry nodded and left with the others. He was so ready to go home.

~*~

Ginny stared at the dark ceiling of her living room and counted heartbeats like some would count the minutes. The house was silent, save for the ticking of an old clock. There were times, like now, when it felt like the only safe place on the planet was here in her home.

But even here, bad things could happen.

She sighed heavily and shook away the maudlin thoughts that were a perpetual drumbeat in her brain. Julienne was asleep upstairs, after having spent a good amount of time with her daughter.

Natalie’s feeding line was all set to get her through the night. There would be no need to check on her, because there was a monitor on her, like one that Ginny used on her sleeping children when they were infants. If something happened, Ginny would be woken by a noise from her wand.

She hadn’t seen Harry in three days, so she waited by the fire. She waited for her husband to come home from what was likely some of the longest, most stressful days of his career.

Ginny didn’t know how she felt about everything that had happened. Julienne was overwhelmed by the magic involved in order to keep her daughter alive, but she hid it well. Ginny’s children were upset and scared about their friend being hurt. Nat was a pale shell of herself. Whatever was given to her, and Audrey had yet to figure it out, was making Nat violently ill.

However, it wasn’t an illness that showed on the outside. When the Healers in Brazil had said Nat was in organ failure, Ginny hadn’t understood what that meant and it seemed that the Brazilian Healers didn’t realize the implications either.

Nat’s condition had deteriorated after the Portkey had dropped Audrey and Nat in Ginny’s living room. It took Audrey several hours to stabilize the girl, and they’d nearly given in and taken her to St. Mungo’s.

In the end, it was Slughorn who had come through for them. Audrey had contacted the old Potions Master and explained the situation. Ginny didn’t understand exactly what they’d done next, but they’d used some kind of antivenin to arrest the damage. Audrey had forced Nat to throw up. Blood had come out, along with some kind of damaged capsule.

Audrey explained that the capsule had likely been eaten away by Nat’s stomach acid, only to release venom into her system. Now came the laborious task of putting Natalie’s body back together, when she was already in a fragile state to begin with.

The only blessing was that Nat was a witch, and Audrey had assured Ginny that they could repair the damage. This wasn’t anything that time, care and potions couldn’t fix.

Harry still didn’t know about the toxins. Ginny hadn’t had the heart to tell him when he was so far away, unable to do anything.

The fireplace sprang to life. Her husband, her Harry, slowly stumbled from the ashes and with a sigh of relief, collapsed next to her on the couch, pulling her tightly into his arms and kissing every inch of her that he could reach. “If you want to leave me for someone else that isn’t a magnet for nutters,” Harry whispered into her chin-length, “I will completely understand.”

It was an empty offer, since they were bonded for life, but she appreciated the sentiment. “I want only you,” she reminded him as she cupped his cheeks. “It’s always been you, Harry. I don’t want to live this life with anyone else.”

“How is everyone?” Harry asked her quietly, tenderly running his hands up and down her arm.

“Nat is finally over the worst,” Ginny recounted. “There’s more to that story, but we’ll wait on that. For now, everyone is okay. I suggest we get some sleep and I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.”

She ached all over, but she managed to pry herself from her seat, and held out a hand to him. “Come on, luv. Let’s get some sleep.”

He didn’t resist as she led him upstairs to their bedroom.

The chaos in the house the next day was more than a little daunting. To top it off a house-elf showed up at the front door from Hogwarts. “Polly is my name, ma’am,” the elf, a younger one by the look of her, with a tiny little voice and huge green eyes, told Ginny. “I is here to clean the house and do the cooking, ma’am. Mr. Potter says I is to take over.”

Ginny wanted to throttle her husband. She also wanted to cry with relief, because everything was falling apart around her ears. “Polly, I appreciate that, but–”

“I isn’t allowed to leave, Mrs. Potter,” Polly shifted nervously from one foot to the other. “Professor McGonagall says I is to stay until term begins.”

“Well,” Ginny ran her hand through her hair and let out a defeated breath. “I guess we’d love for your help, Polly. We have a Muggle in the house, though, so I want to warn her that you’re here so she isn’t startled.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Polly bobbed and moved into the house, immediately setting to work on the disaster that was the Potters’ kitchen.

Julienne did not scream when she saw the tiny elf, but she did turn a very interesting shade of white. “Oh… uh, hello.”

“Hello, missus,” Polly bobbed very politely, before shoeing an annoyed James from the kitchen. “I has a snack ready in a few minutes, Master James. You is to wait.”

Ginny let out a low whistle. Clearly, Polly had dealt with James before.

“The scones I like?” James asked her hopefully.

Polly nodded indulgently. “Only if you is patient.”

“All right, then,” her son said as he exited the house.

“Well,” Julienne commented with a sidelong look at Ginny. “You might want to think about hiring her on permanently.”

Ginny had to laugh. “You’re not kidding. I’ve never seen such a forceful elf. Even our old elf, Kreacher, would have struggled to kick one of us out of the kitchen.” She remembered her old friend fondly. “He’d have done it, though. But he was older and crotchety.”

She tried to corner James to talk to him, but her son was being slippery and evading her at every turn. Nat woke up for the first time since she’d been in England, which had Al and Lily excited. Rose and Hugo, who were over as well, were all up with Nat to help keep her company until she fell asleep again.

James, however, walked off into the woods and didn’t want to come back when she asked.

Ginny gazed at his back, and decided to leave it for Harry.

~*~

Harry arrived home to find a warm plate on the counter waiting for him, and his surly son seated at the table, glaring at him.

“Where is everyone?” Harry asked as he brought his plate over to sit across from James.

There were times when he thought James looked just like him, but at the moment, he looked a like Bill, before Bill was attacked. James wore the same grumpy, stubborn scowl that Harry had seen more than once on his son. Oddly enough, though, he rarely saw the same look on Bill.

“Mum says I have to talk to you,” James grumbled, as he hunched in his chair. “She stuck me to the chair and says I can’t get up.”

Harry blinked. “She… she stuck you to the chair?”

James tried to rise, but neither his chair, nor his butt, moved. “It’s not funny!” his son shouted.

He fought valiantly to compose his features, and managed to hide all but a tiny smile. “Do you know why Mum stuck you to the chair?”

“It’s the letters,” James retorted. “She’s mad that I said I wanted to read them.”

Harry hadn’t read the letters yet, but he doubted seriously that that was why his wife had stuck their son to a chair. He didn’t have time for the letters, or the right frame of mind, to tackle what would undoubtedly be extremely painful words, but they weren’t a pressing issue at the moment. “I see. You want to read them?”

“She’s my grandmother!” he bit out stubbornly, with a huff of indifference. “I know you didn’t know her, but I have a right to see them, too.”

Harry considered his son for a moment. It was, he knew, self-absorption that left James unable to see what his words and actions were doing to his father. He was young, still, thirteen, but there was a time and place to grow up.

That time was rapidly approaching.

Harry flicked his wand as he rose. “Please stay there,” he instructed gently.

James nodded warily, and stretched out his legs a bit, but stayed at the table.

Harry, meanwhile, went quickly to the office to retrieve the bundle of letters. His child’s brown eyes were wide with astonishment as he stared at them. Harry set them before James and resumed his seat to continue eating. “Go ahead and read them.”

James hesitated, his eyes narrowed. “Is this a trick?”

“No,” he promised around a mouthful of chicken. He was starving. “I probably won’t be able to read them for a while. She was your grandmother. You don’t know her, and I didn’t know her. If it means that much to you, please read them. I’m sure you’ll be careful with them.”

His son didn’t move. “You don’t want me to.”

“I want you to read them eventually,” Harry assured him as he met his son’s gaze head on. “If it means that much to you to read them first, then go ahead. This isn’t something that we should be fighting over. Natalie nearly died, James. We have bad people trying to get to us. I’m not going to throw a fit over a bunch of letters from a mother I don’t remember. You mean more to me than something that petty. She’s gone and her words won’t change that, but you’re right here, alive. You need me, and my mother is beyond needing anything. I love you too much to fight over this.”

James’ lower lip trembled slightly as he turned his eyes back to the letters. For a long moment, James didn’t move and Harry watched him carefully, waiting to see what he would do.

Slowly, James’ hand moved out towards the letters and Harry thought for a brief second that he hadn’t reached his son. But then, his thin hand pushed the letters across the table towards Harry. “I’m sorry, Dad. I was being selfish.”

“You’re forgiven,” Harry replied evenly. “Now, this isn’t about the letters, James. Something else has been bugging you for a while. Are you ready to talk about it?”

Never, in a million years, did Harry think this child would open up to him. James was always his closed off wall, the one that exploded rather than let the air out a little at a time. He didn’t communicate.

Nevertheless, for whatever reason, James opened his mouth and poured out his heart. “There’s a girl at school named Caroline. I think she’s being abused.”

Of all the things that Harry thought would come from his mouth that was never even on his radar. “Why do you think that?”

“She’s… she’s always got bruises. She leaves school several times a week,” James rushed on, sitting forward in his seat. “She’s totally bubbly one minute, then the next she’s crying by herself in a classroom. If someone scares her, she sort of curls in a ball! I remember you talking about a kid that was being abused… but she won’t talk to me, or anyone. She hates me.” Petulance and sheer bafflement were the only emotions Harry could read clearly on the teen’s face.

“Do you want me to have Aunt Hermione look into it?” Harry asked him gently.

“No,” James shook his head. “I asked her and she told me to butt out.”

Harry cocked his head to the side and had to wonder if his son wasn’t the littlest bit interested in this girl. “You don’t know what to do about her.”

“No,” James scowled.

“My best advice, James,” Harry went on in a deliberately measured tone, “is that if she has been abused, you need to back off and let her come to you. People who are abused have a lot of things done to them. Let her have the choice to say yes or no. Be friendly, stick up for her; otherwise just leave her alone until she’s ready to talk.”

James stood abruptly and shook his head. “Whatever.”

He stomped off towards the stairs.

It was more than Harry typically pulled from his son, so for that moment, Harry would call this a victory. It would have to be enough. For now.

Back to index


Chapter 15: Chapter 12

Author's Notes: Thank you, Arnel, for beta'ing!

Also, please PLEASE check my author's profile to find my original stories for sale. Pretty please!!! :D


Despite the fact that James didn’t want Harry to speak to Caroline’s parents about being abused, now that he was alerted to the possibility, he had to take action. Harry notified Hermione, who ran the staffing on those sorts of issues. It came back to Harry that the child and her sister had been removed from their previous home because of the death of their mother and suspected abuse, although no charges were filed. Interviews had been conducted in the home when the children had first arrived in England, but someone would visit again to do a wellness check.

That duty dispelled, Harry dove back into trying to figure out why Natalie had been taken. He’d hoped, at first, that the poison she’d been given would give him an inkling as to what Isabella Crabbe might be up to, but that ran dry. It was a little known poison in Europe, but common in South America because the ingredients were more readily available.

After weeks of fruitless searching, and no new leads, Harry had to table to investigation. It was frustrating to no end.

Nat was still on a feeding line, but she had been well enough after a week that her mum had gone back to work. The addition of their newest member, the house-elf Polly, had made the load of having Nat there not only do-able, but easy. Ginny was free from cooking or cleaning, and Polly was clearly enjoying being with a family. When Harry had contacted Minerva to ask about a house-elf, Polly had jumped at the chance. She was refusing to be paid, which stuck in his craw, but she so obviously enjoyed what she was doing that it didn’t leave him feeling too guilty.

This left Harry at odds with himself. He had no reason to put off reading his mother’s letters except that part of him was still strangely reluctant.

James, however, was going to stage a protest if he didn’t soon.

So, on a clear evening in mid-July, Harry took the bundle out to the bench near his daughter’s grave and sat to read.

He unfolded the first one slowly, trying to prolong the inevitable.

Dear Alice-
I was so thankful to Dumbledore for suggesting that I write to you and I hope you do not mind that I am doing so. I know we were a few years apart in school, but I will always remember how kind you were to me when I was a first year. Now we are in the same position. It has been very lonely here, even though I have James with me. I am used to a fast pace and all of the activities that have been a part of my life since graduation. I am adjusting to being in the house all the time, mostly because I’m too tired to do more than be pregnant. No one told me it would be quite so exhausting. James is restless. He’s worried about me, so it has put him on edge. I don’t know what to say to reassure him. Nothing in our lives is guaranteed.

I do hope that you and Frank are well and that things are smooth with your little one. I know that having to take a sabbatical from the Aurors must be very difficult, even if you are excited about the baby. Do take care and be safe.
-Lily Potter

Harry stared at the words, the handwriting, the script he could still vividly remember from the first time he’d seen it in Sirius’ room in Grimmauld Place.

With hands that were steadier than he could have imagined, he moved on to the next letter.

Alice-
Thank you for replying. I’m going spare! James has taken to pacing and I want to throw things at him. This is hormones, right? I’m not turning into a nutter, right? I know what you mean about Frank’s mother, and I’m sorry she is giving you a hard time. Family can be very trying. My parents have both passed now, so it is only my sister and her husband. My sister is trying under the best circumstances, but her husband is unbelievable. I’ve never met someone so narrow-minded! I thought Petunia was difficult. My sister is also having a baby, and I thought we might be able to bond over the experience, but it isn’t happening. She doesn’t want her child exposed to mine, and she’s accused me of trying to upstage her. It’s so ridiculous! I’m sure you’ve guessed, but we didn’t exactly plan for this to happen. I thought James was going to faint when I told him. He was a rock, though. Sirius told me later that he cried when it was just the two of them. He’s very excited now, but the fear of what we’re facing with the world the way it is, is just unbearable sometimes. In a way, though, I’m so very thankful for the baby. I have wanted children and part of me thinks that if we’d waited until a safer time, we might never have had children. Does that sound silly or naïve? Sometimes I feel like that.

Please give Frank my regards. We will be finding out the gender soon. Are you going to find out?
-Lily

Harry sighed and packed the letters in. He’d read the rest some other time. If he were honest, especially once he’d had children of his own, he’d have bet that he hadn’t been planned. It was difficult to swallow that his birth, not something his parents were looking for, was what set off the chain of events that led to their deaths.

Still, it was rewarding to see this glimpse of his parents. He’d been more than a little panicked when he’d learned, at the age of seventeen, that he was going to be father. Harry glanced to Hope’s grave and felt a small prickle in the corners of his eyes.

“Harry?” Ginny’s voice floated towards him in the darkening evening air. She sat next to him and took his hand. “Are you all right?”

“I’m not sure what I am,” he admitted sadly. “I know I’m tired.”

“About that,” Ginny squeezed his fingers lightly. “We’re leaving.”

He cocked his eyebrow and stared, sure he hadn’t heard her. “Excuse me?”

“I have it all arranged,” she leaned in to lightly brush her lips to his. “I even packed your bag. We’re going to France for the weekend, to that little place on the beach that Bill and Fleur inherited from her parents. We’re not taking the kids.”

Harry eyed her skeptically. “What, exactly, are we going to do with the kids, then?”

“Teddy and Victoire are spending the weekend with them,” Ginny informed him.

“Uh,” he could see several pitfalls with that.

“Teddy is sleeping on the couch, and I told Victoire she could use our bed,” Ginny went on like he hadn’t made a sound. “Victoire already knows how to handle Nat’s needs with her feeding line. Polly will still be here handling the house. Teddy is here for security, but they’re not leaving the grounds. Plus, I spoke to Nat’s mum not even an hour ago, and she’s fine with that plan. Our entire family is close by, Harry. You’re exhausted and so am I. We need to get away. We missed celebrating our anniversary.”

Harry leaned his head against Ginny’s and breathed in her familiar, comforting scent. “I don’t know about this.”

“We’re going,” she replied firmly. “If I have to stun you and drag you along, we’re going. I want to sleep in, drink too much and make love to you without having to lock the damn door. We’re going.”

“Well,” he grinned as his lips moved long her jaw to her neck, “when you put it that way…”

~*~

Teddy crossed his arms and glared at his unrepentant godbrother. “Do you really want to do that?”

“What?” James asked innocently, sticking his hands behind his back.

A large snap came from the kitchen and the Dungbomb flew out of James’ hand and into Teddy’s.

“Thanks, Polly,” Teddy told the elf.

“You is welcome,” she called back. “Master James will go to bed now.”

James glared between them before heading off towards the steps.

The moment the house was quiet, Polly excused herself for the tiny room in the cupboard under the stairs. Teddy flopped on the couch and groaned as Victoire curled into his side, wrapping a slender arm around his waist. “Do you think they left us to do this just to cement that we don’t want kids right now?”

Victoire laughed her melodious laugh and kissed the spot on his chest where her head rested. “It wasn’t that bad, you know. At least no one is in diapers.”

“That’s true,” he said with a yawn as he rubbed a hand up and down her arm. “I still can’t believe your parents said you could do this. I thought I was going to be on my own when Ginny suggested it.”

“You really needed me here for Nat’s care, though. Mum was okay with it,” Victoire reminded him. “That usually means it’s going to go that way. Dad’s putty in her hands.”

Teddy couldn’t help the amused grin as he could just picture how that conversation had gone. “That’s how it’s going to be for us, huh?”

“I’ll make sure you’re very happy with losing,” she giggled unrepentantly. “I promise.”

He kissed her, trying not to get too caught up in the moment. It didn’t hurt that he was exhausted. “I am beat! I swear I’ve minded children before, but James was just a rat tonight.”

“He’s hurting,” Victoire murmured. “I can see it in his eyes. I don’t think he knows how to talk about it.”

Teddy shifted a little, trying to pull her in closer. There were a lot of times when he wished he could race through the next few years and start his life with Victoire, but at the moment he was thankful they weren’t completely there yet. It was daunting. “I tried to talk to him. He ran off.”

Her fingers traced a lazy circle on his shirt causing gooseflesh to erupt all down his arms. Teddy sucked in a steadying breath and tried to remind himself that there were four kids upstairs, none of whom were likely asleep yet. He glanced around the spotless living room and let out a low groan. “You’re… really trying to drive me nutters, aren’t you?”

“It’s a perk,” Victoire assured him, silently giggling. “I’ll stop, though.”

He almost regretted it until he heard the faint sound from Victoire’s wand that meant it was time to change Nat’s feeding bag.

“Go on up to bed after you see to that,” he whispered as he kissed her. Teddy would have offered to help, but she’d have turned him down anyway. Victoire was already in school to become a Healer, and she wanted to get as much experience as possible. Unfortunately due to budget cuts, Healer training was now offered only via tuition, so Victoire had needed to take out a loan from the goblins. Bill and Fleur had offered to pay for it, but she’d discussed it with Teddy and they’d decided together that they wanted to try to make it on their own. It felt like the right thing to do. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she purred as she rose gracefully and headed up the stairs.

Teddy watched her go and reflected that it was going to be a long, long weekend. He fluffed up his pillow, grabbed a sheet off the end of the bed, waved his wand at the lights and fell almost instantly to sleep.

The next day Lily talked him into going on a picnic for lunch with food that she’d prepared herself. She even ran it by Victoire, who thought the whole thing was utterly adorable.

Lily had him haul a full hamper while she carried a blanket and they made their way out into the yard to set up away from the house.

The entire time, Teddy couldn’t help but wonder what Lily was up to.

It wasn’t until she’d set everything up, that Lily broke down. “James was crying last night.”

“Oh,” Teddy breathed out the word. “You heard him?”

Lily nodded as her lower lip trembled. “I went in to talk to him, but he told me to beat it.”

For someone as sensitive as Lily, Teddy knew that her brother’s rejection would cut straight to the heart. “James is at a really hard age, Lily-Lu. Plus his head is stuck up his bum.”

“You need to talk to him,” Lily gazed up at him with those big, doe eyes, the exact same color as chocolate, and he knew he was sunk. Just the littlest bit of moisture, and he was a goner. The damnedest thing was Lily had no clue, at all, that she could so easily manipulate the situation around to what she wanted.

“I tried to talk to him,” Teddy told her honestly. “I can’t make him talk.”

Lily’s lips turned into an adorable pout. “Big brothers are hard work! I only have you three, but Mummy had six. How did she manage them?”

Privately, Teddy suspected Ginny did so by sheer force of will. That was just how Ginny was made. She was a powerful witch, with just the hint of a mean temper if someone made her mad. Lily had her moments, but most of the time the child in front of him was like a pixie, flitting happily through her life. “You and your mum aren’t the same people, though. What she did won’t work for you.”

“I guess,” Lily agreed as she glanced off across the yard. “I like having you and Victoire here.”

Her cheeks went a little pink, making the light smattering of freckles stand out even more. “What’s up?”

“Are you two going to get married?” she blurted out quickly.

“I think so,” he smiled easily. “It’s definitely looking like that’s what will happen. It’s what we’ve both wanted for a few years.”

Lily’s smile was absolutely lovely, showing promises of the beauty she was going to be. “I like how you are together. You’re always touching, and hugging, and you pay attention to her! I want that someday.”

“You’re going to have it,” he told her without a moment’s hesitation. “Boys are going to be flocking to you. I don’t have to worry about that, though. James is going to be all over that.”

She scrunched up her nose in thought. “I don’t mind that so much. I know it bothered Mummy, but I think it’s wise to listen to my brothers about the boys around me.”

Teddy’s mouth dropped open. “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” she nodded, lost in thought. “I’m not a boy, so I don’t really know how boys think. If one of you told me a boy was not good for me, I think I’d probably listen. Everyone wants me to be happy, so they’ll try to protect me from someone who is mean.”

He started to speak, stopped, then cleared his throat. “That’s a remarkable way of looking at it.”

“Plus,” she added as her expression fell just a bit. “If I am as beautiful as Nat says I’ll be, then a lot of boys will only want to date me for my looks and I won’t like that. Did you like Victoire because she’s so beautiful?”

“No,” Teddy assured her with absolutely certainty. “I appreciate her beauty, Lily-Lu, but it’s her heart, courage and brains that I fell in love with. If she had only been a pretty face, I wouldn’t have been involved with her.”

This was turning into one of the oddest conversations he’d ever had with anyone. Most girls he knew were extremely independent and insisted on setting their own courses. Lily, despite a mother who was fiercely independent, was forging her own path along a different track.

Reassured, Lily took a bite of her sandwich. “Good! I want people to love me for my heart and not my face.”

“They will,” he said quietly. “You’re so sweet, Lily, that it would be difficult not to appreciate it. But, uh, you do know that most girls don’t want be told what to do, right?”

She shook her long, red hair. “I don’t want to be told what to do, either! I just want advice. I trust everyone around me to give me advice. Even James would know a prat if he saw one, since he’s one himself.”

Teddy burst out laughing, it pealed out until he had to hold his sides. “True.”

“When do you think you’ll get married?”

He almost answered, almost told her that he was currently saving for a ring and hoped to be able to ask her in a few months, but instead he shoved a sandwich in his mouth and left her wondering. He still had a full year of Auror training left, but after that he would be ready to help support her while she finished her schooling. That was the goal.

He’d also been informed, casually but firmly, by Fleur that weddings took a year to plan.

As far as hints went, it was one he knew he was going to need to heed. Or else.

He finally managed to pin James down, almost literally, Sunday morning. Ginny and Harry weren’t due back for several hours, yet, but he wanted to make sure they had enough time.

After shoving James into his bedroom, closing and locking the door magically, he turned to stare into eyes that were the same shade as Lily’s but held none of her innocent joy. “Talk to me.”

“About what?” James fell back on his bed and glared at him.

“You can’t keep this up,” Teddy told him gently as he made himself comfortable at the end of the bed. “I know you’re hurting over what happened to your mum and dad.”

His mouth compressed into a tight line and he glanced away.

“It was rape,” Teddy went on and for once when he spoke about it, he let his feelings show on his face. “Your parents were essentially raped and you’re smart enough and old enough to have figured that out.”

James’ face turned bright red as he flew to his feet and paced across the room. The anger washed off of him in long, rolling waves, filling the room with the heat and oppressiveness. But this was what Teddy was hoping for, so he waited.

“I hate this!” James finally shouted at the top of his lungs. “I hate the whole fucking situation!”

It was the first time he’d ever heard that word come out of James’ mouth, but he let it ride. “Tell me.”

“I just–” James froze as he balled his fists and his entire being vibrated. “We’re never safe! We’re always under lock and key because of Dad and now we have this shitty person trying to harm us, and I can’t have any friends over from school without a lot of planning and…” he swallowed hard. “My mum nearly died because of that bitch and now I have to know that I drove her so crazy, crying all the time, that she nearly died when she was pregnant with Al!”

“Wait a minute!” Teddy sat forward, holding up a hand. “Who told you that? Your mum was not that sick. She just needed bedrest.”

“I heard Aunt Audrey talking about it with Gran,” James muttered as his anger deflated.

“This isn’t your fault,” Teddy informed him quietly. “Do you blame your dad for all the bad stuff that happens to him?”

“No,” James sighed, but Teddy couldn’t tell if he meant it. “I don’t like all the restrictions in our lives.”

Teddy shook his head. “You’re just going to have to suck that up until you’re seventeen, kid. I know that’s hard, but look at it from my point of view. Do you think I liked that my parents were killed when I was an infant? Do you think I like what life dealt me?”

Shame. James’ expression telegraphed it straight out. “No. No, you’re right. I don’t like that my mum gets hurt, though.”

“Your mum is a seriously tough woman,” Teddy reminded him. “She takes care of herself and she chose to be with your dad.” But instantly he knew he’d said the wrong thing.

James’ ire flared right back into life. “She didn’t choose him, though! She had to marry him!”

“She chose him years before they were married,” he retorted with conviction. “The fact that they love each other as much as they do tells me that they were always going to be together. You have to let that one go or it’s going to make you crazy.”

His godbrother continued to pace restlessly around. “There’s this girl at school.”

This, Teddy knew, was another major part of the problem. “Al mentioned her.”

“She makes me crazy, too,” James grumbled as he leaned against the wall and slumped down to the floor. “I act like an arse when I’m around her and I can’t seem to stop myself!”

“Find a girlfriend when you get back to school,” Teddy suggested with an amused smile. “You’ll soon forget about her.”

“I don’t fancy her!” James shot back. “I think she’s been hurt.”

“I didn’t say you fancy her,” he said agreeably. “I’m just saying that if she makes you this nutty, it’s best to avoid her. Getting a girlfriend will help with that.”

“I do sort of think one of the Ravenclaw Chasers is worth a second look,” James conceded.

Teddy waited a long moment. “Are you ready to quit being a prat to everyone around you? None of us signed up to be your dueling dummy, you know.”

“Yeah,” he grinned sheepishly. “All right, I’ll try to quit. Can I see if Louis can come over?”

“Sure,” Teddy waved his wand and unlocked the door. Adding Victoire’s baby brother to the mix wouldn’t add too much to the insanity. Plus, James had opened up. It was a start.

~*~

“You need to have this in at least another few weeks, Nat,” Audrey Weasley told her as she checked her over in early August.

Nat sighed and flopped back in her bed, the place she’d been for more time than she’d care to remember. “I’m tired of being sick and tired.”

“I know,” Audrey patted her hand consolingly. “I am sure that you’re going to be well enough to go back to school.”

She eyed the Healer. She heard a major ‘but’ coming her way.

“But, you may have to keep the feeding line longer.”

“No,” Nat closed her eyes and tried not to cry. “How come?”

After a long silence, Audrey explained. “Your body is still recovering from the poison. You weren’t healthy to begin with, Nat. It’s almost always going to take you longer to recover from major illnesses.”

Nat stared down at her hands and nodded. “Okay.”

“It won’t be a big deal,” Audrey assured her. “You can use the backpack that we’ve modified to hold it. It will come down your sleeve and most people won’t even notice.”

She’d have loved to argue, but they had created a way for her to walk around without the pole that normally kept the feeding bag. Before that she’d been practically bedridden. At the time, Nat hadn’t cared because she’d been too exhausted to move, but now she wanted to get out a bit more. They’d found a way. The small backpack had a soft latch in it that could keep the magical bag upright and flowing into her body. Nat knew that Muggles had similar contraptions for patients with feeding tubes, so she supposed if they could manage it, so could she.

“Scorpius is here,” Al called out as he skidded into the room. “Are you done yet, Aunt Audrey?”

“We are,” Audrey said with another gentle pat on Nat’s hand. “Let me help you with the backpack.”

The only problem would be carrying her school bag and wearing the backpack, but as she explained it to her best friends, both Al and Scorpius promised to help her out.

They played Exploding Snap for a while, then chess. By the time dinner rolled around, Mr. Potter was home and debating with Scorpius and Mrs. Potter over if the World Cup winners had cheated.

Ginny was of the opinion that Uruguay had been robbed of the cup.

Right in the middle of Harry telling her she was wrong, Nat fell asleep.

~*~

Ginny held her finger up to her lips and pointed out that Nat was out. “Let’s get her up to bed,” she told Harry.

As soon as they had Nat settled, Ginny turned to dinner. “Are you going to be able to stay to eat, Scorpius?”

The boy nodded. “My father is in Germany until next week, so he won’t know I’m gone.”

She tried to hide the sadness that his words inflicted on her. “All right, then.”

At dinner James, who had had a remarkable turnaround from the difficult grump he’d been for the first part of the summer, suggested a game of hide-and-seek since Scorpius was there.

Soon enough her home was overflowing with her nieces and nephews. Thankfully, after a long nap, Nat was even able to come down and enjoy the fun.

As she gazed at Harry in between one of the games, she mouthed, ‘this is good’. He grinned back, but it wasn’t meeting his eyes.

They’d located the woman’s family, the one that Isabella Crabbe had used to fake her death twenty years before. Harry had a meeting with them early Monday morning at their home in Kent and it was weighing on him.

But, for now, there was peace in the childish game. It was enough that they could spend this time together.

The summer was flying by. Curtis Parker came to stay for a week along with his wife. He kept trying to thank Ginny for caring for the child, but as she told Curtis, it was exactly what she hoped someone would do for her child. She could do no less.

~*~

Harry stared down at the copy of the report he’d just received from a man in Hermione’s side of the office on his visit to Caroline Baker’s home. Nothing was reported amiss. The child seemed to be fine, and they would do another well check at Christmas. Whatever it was that had set James off, Harry couldn’t push it any further.

And yet… he tapped a finger on the page, unsure of what he could be missing. Obviously, if this child’s safety was in question, that was of paramount importance, but that wasn’t what was nagging at him. The home was reported to be fine, not perfect, which was great. They were making an effort while not putting on a front. Harry couldn’t name what was bothering him, but it left him in the uncomfortable position of going over the… he had to check the name, Penelope Douglas. He’d need to go over her head in order to investigate this himself.

There was just something nagging at him that he couldn’t name. He rose slowly and made his way from his office.

Daniel looked up from some paperwork. “Are you off, sir?”

“I need a word with the minister, then I might be out of the office for the rest of the day,” Harry sighed as he donned his cloak. “You can head out when you’re done.”

“All right,” Daniel agreed reluctantly. “Send an owl if you need something.”

Harry waved and made his way up to Kingsley’s office, only had to wait a moment with his secretary, then entered to see the older man looking as exhausted as he felt. He closed the door and set Douglas’ report in front of him.

“I have a problem, politically speaking,” Harry explained while Kingsley’s quickly scanned the report.

“This is a child abuse investigation,” Kingsley held it up. “That’s not exactly your area.”

“I know,” Harry agreed, “but something about this child is setting off all my alarms. I want to interview her myself.”

Kingsley rubbed wearily at his brow as he sat back in his seat. “You’re going to cause waves in the MLE. You’re already causing waves.”

“I know,” Harry agreed heavily as he sat forward and laced his fingers, studying them, but not really seeing them. “I’ll back off if you want me to.”

“If I wanted you to back off,” Kingsley retorted, “I wouldn’t have promoted you to the Head Auror position. I need someone like you with tenacity and great instincts. Go, interview the kid, but take Hermione with you. We want witnesses, and we also want it to appear to the MLE that you are keeping them in the loop.”

“Okay,” Harry replied. He made his way quickly to the lifts and pressed the button, waiting for the doors to slide open. The problem was that he was unlikely to gleam any more than the investigator had unless… he froze as the doors slid open, a crazy, completely unorthodox idea suddenly coming to mind.

Harry stopped in to inform Hermione of what he was doing, to which she called him a nutter, but agreed to meet him at Caroline Baker’s home in an hour, then he made one quick stop before heading home.

He found the house in the typical level of chaos for a rainy afternoon. There were games everywhere and the noise level was close to deafening as not only his kids chattered happily, but also Rose, Hugo, Nat, Louis, Fred, Lucy and Roxy all crowded around the expanded kitchen table playing a game that Rose and Hugo had received from Hermione’s parents. Whatever it was, they were all shrieking in laughter while Ginny worked in their joint office and Polly doled out snacks, clearly in seventh heaven.

“Hey, Dad,” James grinned at him. “You’re home early.”

“I need a quick word with Nat, then I’m off again,” he told them easily, trying to keep it light. “No one is in trouble, guys, just a logistics question.”

Nat rose and shrugged on the backpack that held her feeding bag. It was all black, but oddly enough had a small, purple butterfly that Lily had stitched on for her to make it prettier. “Save my spot,” Nat called out to the group as they slowly made their way up to his office.

“Hey,” Ginny blinked in surprise as she saw them come in. “You’re home early.”

“I needed a word with Nat,” he told her, conveying more without saying a word. “None of the bigger girls are here?”

“No,” Ginny laughed and waved that off. “Fleur and Angelina took Mum, Dominique, and Molly out for a spa day of some sort. That’s why we’re inundated with kids at the moment, but with Polly here it isn’t even work. I offered to do something and she kicked me out of my own kitchen.” She stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “Thank you for hiring her for the summer.”

It had been one of his better ideas. Admittedly, it had been his father-in-law who had suggested it. “I just need the room for a few minutes,” he told Ginny.

“No problem,” she breezed on out. “I’ll get myself a snack and make sure no one spies on you.”

Harry had thought this through carefully as he watched Nat sit in one of the seats. “I have a professional favor to ask of you,” he began. Then he paused, unsure if he was doing the right thing. Harry could now see plainly how easy it had been for Curtis to fall into asking his daughter for help when he was working on new skeletons. The child just had this way about her.

He took a deep breath and pulled a mouse from his right pocket. He’d placed a spell on the creature moments before entering the house. He’d bought the mouse ten minutes earlier in Diagon Alley rather than conjuring it. He’d needed a live born mouse, not one created from nothing in order for this to work. Otherwise all she’d see was his conjuring. “What do you see on the mouse?”

She cocked her strawberry blonde head to the side and studied it, then held out her hand for it. The moment she touched it, she gasped. “It’s… wow. It’s got like a heat haze around it, do you know what I mean by that?”

“I do,” Harry agreed. It was that distortion of light waves caused by heat on objects that made it appear as though the object was moving.

“But, it also has sort of tiny blue sparks traveling through it,” she said as she held up the docile mouse for inspection. “I’ve seen this before.”

Harry’s breath caught. “Have you?”

“Yes,” she nodded as her blue eyes flicked up to his. “One of my house mates, Caroline Baker. Except the one time the blue sparks were really strong around her. Also, she’s had other colors around her head, like reds and purples. She’s always covered in spells. I told Professor McGonagall but she says that Caroline is part of a sport and is magically healed often. I think she’s a competitive cheerleader.”

He opened his mouth to ask another question, but then thought better of it. He had to meet Hermione shortly, and things had just taken a serious turn. “Thank you for this. Nat, if you ever see that thing with the blue sparks on anyone again, you need to let me know immediately, okay?”

Alarm crossed her tiny face. “Is Caroline okay?”

“She will be,” Harry rose quickly to his feet, and raced out.

He Apparated to a spot down the hill from the home where Caroline lived and saw Hermione waiting for him in the light afternoon drizzle.

“Well?” she asked quickly, nervously.

Harry nodded dejectedly. “Nat made the connection without my even asking her to.”

“Oh, dear,” Hermione chewed at her bottom lip and pushed a stray wild hair from her face. “Her grandparents are Delmar and Elizabeth Compton. It was their daughter who married Caroline’s father, and she has a sister who will be in Hugo and Lily’s year.”

Harry gave a sharp nod and they made their way up to the house. Delmar and Elizabeth –call me Betty– were the typical small, watery-eyed grandparents that one might expect to find on any street in England. They were friendly, but there was definitely something sad about them.

Harry shook Caroline’s hand and studied the tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed thirteen-year-old. She was definitely the type to have caught James’ eye, but she was also poised and more than a little aloof. She moved with an athlete’s grace and confidence.

“You look like your sons,” Caroline commented carefully.

“I hear you don’t much care for James,” Harry grinned to show her he understood completely.

She smiled back, a little warmer than before. “He’s not my favorite. Al’s okay, though. This is my sister, Honor.” Caroline pulled a girl out from behind a tapestry.

Where Caroline was fair, this girl was dark, with hair almost coal black and hazel eyes so deep they were almost brown. She was a little chubby and tall for her age. She stood awkwardly off to the side, trying desperately not to be noticed. “It’s nice to meet you, Honor.”

“‘Lo,” was the entire response they received before she bolted for the stairs.

“She’s really shy,” Delmar explained sadly. “Poor mite has been through a lot. Please sit and have some tea.”

“We need to do something first,” Harry explained. “I need to ask for your trust and patience because what I’m about to do is extremely unorthodox.”

“It’s not illegal,” Hermione added quickly. “But, we have some concerns about Caroline’s safety.”

The grandparents glanced at each other in alarm. “What’s wrong?”

“We have a small idea of what could be wrong,” Harry said as he pulled out his wand. “Are you ready, Caroline?”

Her face glazed over in a look he’d seen more than he’d care to remember and she tried to run. Harry immobilized her, levitated her, and placed her on the settee before anyone else in the room could react.

“I’m sorry about this,” Harry said to the spluttering, horrified grandparents. “She’s not responsible. Just a moment.”

He waved his wand over the child, waited until he felt the pull of the magic, and removed the Imperius Curse from her. She let out one long shudder before her eyes popped open wide in horror.

Back to index


Chapter 16: Chapter 13

Author's Notes: GO VOTE!!! It's Silver Trinket Award time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you haven't already, go to your account info page and vote. Vote for me, vote for someone else, but let your voice be heard. :)

Thank you Arnel for beta'ing!!

Also, thank you all who have bought my book(s)! I'm getting close to my third being published. Stay tuned for details, and if you want to learn more, please visit my page for links.

I hope you enjoy this chapter. I'm giving you a nice breather, no nasty cliffies to fall off of this time. :)
~Sarah


“I just don’t understand,” Betty Compton wrung her hands incessantly as she paced back and forth in the waiting room at St. Mungo’s. Harry had given up trying to get her to sit down and speak to him. The older woman was beside herself with her granddaughters both being examined thoroughly by the Healers. “How could this have happened? Why would someone do that to Caroline? She’s such a lovely girl!”

“Betty,” her husband attempted, again, to sooth her nerves. “We need to sit down and talk to Auror Potter.”

Betty paused and reluctantly turned to sit next to Delmar. Harry was grateful to see them join hands.

“Who would have access to Caroline?” Harry questioned as he glanced between them.

“No one,” Betty promised quickly, sitting forward and tapping her index finger hard on the table between them. “Her father wouldn’t have been above using her, but Donald hasn’t been in the country! We’d have been notified.”

Harry couldn’t imagine doing that to his own kids, but knew there were some seriously twisted individuals out there. “What does Donald do?”

“He’s a business man of sorts,” Delmar explained sadly. “The Americans have a sort of mafia. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the term, Mr. Potter. I only know from my daughter’s explanation. We had the Death Eaters and they had their Liens du Sang. I don’t know how it started, my Lucy never knew either.”

He jolted slightly at the name, the name of his sweetest, shyest niece. “I see.” Harry had heard of the Liens du Sang. It was not a racially motivated group, much as the Death Eaters had been, but they were no less brutal. Their motivation was all money and using magic to gain more wealth. It was very typically American. “So, your former son-in-law is a member?”

“As far as we know, yes,” Betty chewed at her lips nervously, wringing her hands yet again. “We barely got the girls away from him. The only reason we were able to was because their house-elf brought them to us, and we were able to convince the Ministry to put Donald on the no-travel list for Britain. He hasn’t even bothered to contact us, but the girls…”

“It was horrible,” Delmar blew his nose loudly into a hanky. He turned red, angry eyes to Harry who could read clearly the impotence and rage. “The girls were badly beaten, both of them. Donald had forbidden the house-elf from treating their wounds. We didn’t know Lucy was… was…” he straightened himself through sheer force of will. “Lucy, my little girl, she… she killed herself just the night before and Donald hadn’t seen fit to tell us. After we saw the girls, we tried to press charges, but we couldn’t make anything stick internationally. The girls were traumatized, but they were both very vague on the details of how they’d been hurt. He’d done something to them, given them something so that they could only remember the fear of the beatings.”

Harry swallowed hard against his bile and revulsion. How could anyone do that to a child? Let alone their own child? “I’m so sorry.”

“We were just thankful he didn’t come for them,” Betty explained quickly. “So, we didn’t want to press the issue. We’d already lost Lucy, and we didn’t want to lose the girls as well. We hardly ever saw them as it was, when they were little. Donald was so controlling, but you’d never know it to look at him. He looks like a big stuffed bear and he can be so charming. Well…” she dabbed at her swollen eyes. “Do you know how long it will be?”

“I don’t,” Harry murmured apologetically. “I do know that I trust the Healer overseeing their care with my life and with the lives of my children.”

Delmar nodded gratefully. “I haven’t seen Caroline cry like that in months, Mr. Potter.”

“Please call me Harry,” he replied evenly. “I am not going to press charges against her for smuggling in the fingers. There is no way a twelve-year-old could have raided a grave. It’s simply not possible. Whomever did this planted them on her so that she could lay them out in Hogwarts.”

“It was your son that found the first one, right?” Betty asked cautiously. “Is he okay?”

“Al?” Harry gave them his first smile, albeit a wry one, of the day. “Yeah, he’s a tough kid. It takes a lot to rattle him. “We will keep this quiet, too, so that Caroline isn’t tainted by any scandal. I’ve heard she’s an athlete.”

“She’s a cheerleader,” Betty explained and something in her relaxed. “It’s very popular in America, you know. She’s so strong! In a way, I think Caroline was her father’s favorite. She had his coloring and her mother’s good looks, plus she was upbeat and outgoing. Being a cheerleader is a status symbol, you know. I think she went with it because it made her father happy to brag about her to his friends. Of course, in America they have magical teams as well as Muggle, but here in the UK there are only Muggle teams. Carolina uses the Floo network to travel to our home several times a week and either Delmar or I take her to her practices. It seemed to really help her, you know? Cheering makes her smile.”

Harry only had a vague notion of what a cheerleader was from his time with the Dursleys. He’d have to ask Nat when he went home to fill him in. She seemed to be familiar with the sport. “You said Caroline was distraught when she first got to England. When did that change?”

The older couple regarded each other, both seeming to consider how best to answer. “I believe it was a week or two after she started at Hogwarts and had started cheering,” Betty replied hesitantly. “I thought, at the time, that she was excited to be doing what she loved again, but now… now it does seem like she came out of practice a different person. It was impossible to tell, though. She was sweaty and exhausted, but overjoyed at nailing part of a routine.”

“It’s a lot like dance,” Delmar explained quickly, “but with tumbling and gymnastics. I agree, though. She left broody that one day and came back in a better mood. Honor is still struggling. She won’t open up.”

“We’ve had her talking to therapists, of course,” Betty assured him. “But, she’s just so beaten down, the poor lamb. Her father never liked her. She looks nothing like anyone in the family, and I know Donald accused Lucy of playing him false. But… Lucy said she was his.” Tears rained down through the lines on the older woman’s face. “She’s his, Mum, that’s what Lucy said. I know,” Betty sobbed hard, but forced the words out, “because he’s the one raping me.”

It was another hour before Harry was allowed in to question Caroline, but he couldn’t get much out of her.

“She was a mess, Harry,” Audrey told him sadly. “I had to give her something for the panic and she dropped off almost instantly. I’m sorry, I know you were looking for answers.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Harry eyed the exhausted-looking girl in the bed. “I’m not going to be upset that you put this thirteen-year-old child’s welfare above my questions. I trust you. I do need to speak to her once she’s over the worst.”

“Her body is… it’s a mess, Harry,” Audrey whispered in horror. “I’ve seen sports injuries, but she has healings that could only come from when she was a small child. Arm breaks on top of arms breaks that have left their marks on her growing bones. It’s a miracle that she can even move, let alone do what she does.”

“What about Honor?” Harry asked after a long silence. He couldn’t even absorb what he was hearing. He’d have to sleep on it.

Audrey shook her head sadly. “She’s the one who is the worst off in this. Her condition is… it’s bad. It’s very bad. It looks like a lot of her injuries were left to heal on their own, like she was being tortured.”

“Oh, damn it,” Harry scrubbed hard at his face, feeling the rough stubble that would need a shave soon. “What the hell was their father doing to them? What kind of parent does this?”

Audrey swiped at a single tear. “I know I’m going home to hug my babies a little tighter tonight.”

“I need to speak with Hermione before I can call it a night,” Harry sighed as he rubbed at the tension in his neck. “She’s running interference with the press right now so I don’t have to.”

Audrey looped her arm in his and steered him towards the door. “You know, if it was anyone but Hermione in her position, your job would be so much harder.”

“Don’t I know it,” Harry said as he imagined the number of times he’d have ended up hacked off at the press and walked out on a press conference. “If I’m honest, I’d quit if she did. I can’t handle it. When she was on maternity leave with Hugo, I was ready to turn my wand on myself. Kingsley ended up stepping in for me so I didn’t strangle Helminths Smith.”

No one loved Hermione’s boss, least of all Hermione, but she was adept at dealing with the old man and keeping him out of the way so he couldn’t do more damage. Hermione beautifully and flawlessly manipulated the man into thinking he was actually useful, while mitigating any of his decrees.

“I need a good night’s sleep,” Audrey yawned. “I can’t believe school starts again next week. Did you know Ginny took most of the kids shopping today? By herself?”

“Well,” Harry added fairly, “they’re all a lot older. Lily is the baby of the group and she wouldn’t ever run off.” He didn’t add that when he’d received word that they were traveling to Diagon Alley shortly after he’d left the Compton’s home with Caroline and Honor for St. Mungo’s, he’d assigned two Aurors and a Hit Wizard to tail them. Ginny wouldn’t be upset, exactly, that he’d assumed she’d need protection, especially since she’d had so many children with her, but neither was he going to rush to tell her about it.

Audrey stood and kissed his cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Yeah,” Harry dragged himself towards the office the held the fireplace so he could get back to the Ministry and hopefully debrief with Hermione.

By the time he crawled into bed that night, Harry wanted to cry from the heartache and grief he’d witnessed that night. He couldn’t imagine being so scared of a man that they’d let him get away with beating his daughters, just to ensure that he stayed out of their lives. He had confirmed with Hermione, though, that Donald Baker was forbidden from coming to the UK and that the Ministry was set to alert the Compton’s if their son-in-law came anywhere near them.

Tomorrow he’d need to go to the cheer place, wherever that was, and interview the coach to see what he could find out. It was unlikely that the Muggle woman who ran the gym would know anything, but it was a box he needed to tick.

“How bad was it?” Ginny asked as she snuggled into his arms and kissed the underside of his chin.

“Their father made the Dursley’s look positively loving and cuddly,” Harry told her. “I really can’t talk about it, Gin. I want to, but…”

“I understand,” she held on to him and didn’t let go until he had fallen fast asleep.

Harry made an appointment to speak with the director of Caroline’s gym at ten the next morning and met up with the woman in her office while a squad of pintsized girls practiced rolling and dancing out on the mats of the main gym.

“I’m Scarlet Tuttle,” she smiled and firmly shook his hand. She was a woman in her mid-forties with bleached blond hair, red lips and extremely intelligent blue eyes. “What can I help you with?”

“I need to know if anyone has come around asking about Caroline Baker,” Harry explained as he showed her a badge that she would take as a Muggle police badge.

Scarlet sat back in her seat, which creaked beneath her. “Except for her grandparents and sister, no one comes to watch her practice.”

Harry pulled out a card with the number that would connect her to the Muggle phone in Kingsley’s office. “If you ever see anyone around her, especially a man, I need to hear about it.”

Scarlet took the card slowly and studied it for a moment. “I heard about her father. You’re worried about him.”

“I don’t know if it’s her father or someone else,” Harry told her honestly. “I just need eyes on and around her.”

“She’s a sweet girl,” Scarlet inclined her head. “I have some girls that are full of hysterics and don’t want to put the work in, but not that one. She’s hardworking, driven and she keeps her nose out of other people’s business. She’s talented, too. It’s unusual to see someone so poised at her age. I typically don’t get flyers to do those stunts until they’re at least a few years older, but not Caroline. You can put her up in the air and it’s like she could fly.”

Harry gave the woman a tight smile and rose, thanking her for her time. Caroline could, of course, fly and with her magic, she wouldn’t be seriously hurt in a fall, but it still took nerves and guts.

By the time he made it back to the hospital, Caroline was awake. Harry saw her downcast features and wished he didn’t have to press her. He sat in a chair close to her bed, with Hermione off on the other side, the only two witnesses to her statement.

“I know what you want to know,” Caroline said before he could speak, “but I don’t remember who gave them to… to me,” she faltered. Her blue eyes flicked up to his, awash with pain and startlingly cerulean in her red-rimmed orbs. The misery simply flowed off of her. “I can’t believe I did that!”

“You didn’t do it,” Harry reminded her gently. “Someone else made you.” He leaned forward to hand her a handkerchief, but she flinched wildly back from him. He paused for a moment, studying the fear on her face. “Are you actually afraid of me?”

Caroline would have shredded her sheets if they were made if paper. Her hand fidgeted in the fabric as her foot tapped restlessly. “I… no. No, but I can’t seem to help it. I remember things now that I didn’t before you removed the curse. My dad beat me.” She broke down in sobs, heartbreaking sobs that shook her thing shoulders.

Hermione rose and put a comforting arm around the girl. “We’re not going to let him get anywhere near you, Caroline. I personally added your father to our list of those not allowed to enter Britain, but I also went the extra step to ensure that the Muggles were notified as well. He can’t come in, not legally, and we have a very good detection system in place, all right?”

Caroline finally accepted the cloth from Harry and wiped her eyes. “I feel so bad about this.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Harry said again. “Just because someone used you does not make you guilty. I know someone who was used as a little girl and it took her a long time to get over it, but Caroline, it made her so strong. You will be okay and you need to believe that we do not blame you and no one will find out your role in this, not unless you tell them personally.” Harry thought of Ginny, thought of her lying in the Chamber of Secrets and nearly dying. What had happened to Ginny, who she’d hurt, had been a horrible weight around her neck, but the woman he’d married was as tough as they came. They’d been refined by the trials of their lives.

“You won’t tell James?” Caroline asked in a tremulous voice.

Harry shook his head. “He won’t know a thing.”

~*~

Nat didn’t want to brood. Her dad had made it to see her off to the train, and she did have her friends around her, but she still had the feeding line in and Madam Pomfrey had retired.

She still couldn’t quite wrap her head around that one. Professor Longbottom and his pretty wife, Hannah, had come to dinner two nights previous to meet her and go over the feeding line with Healer Weasley.

Now, here she sat next to Rose while Scorpius and Al sorted their trunks, and she still had her backpack next to her with the bag.

“It’ll be okay,” Rose said confidently. “No one will care, Nat.”

“We’ll have Fred beat the stuffing out of anyone who says anything,” Al laughed as he flopped into the seat across from her.

The compartment door slid open just as the train began to move and they waved their final goodbyes to their family on the platform. Fred, now in his sixth year, stepped in. “What am I going to do?”

“Take care of anyone who pokes fun at Nat,” Rose informed him.

Fred nodded. “Too right I will. No one picks on our Natalie. Now, I have a bit to share because we need to take the mickey out of him for it.”

“What?” Rose wondered curiously.

“James has a girlfriend,” Fred raised a dark eyebrow. “It’s that Ravenclaw Chaser, Veronica something.”

Nat knit her eyebrows as she tried to place the name, but nothing came to mind. “I don’t recall her.”

“I think she only played in that one game when you were sick,” Al told her thoughtfully. “How did he get a girlfriend so fast?”

“Nerves like a troll’s,” Fred chortled as he slid the door open. “Brains, too. Well, anyway, just wanted to let everyone know so they’d be on the lookout to take the piss out of him.”

“Is your hair getting darker?” Nat wondered, staring at Scorpius’ head. “It’s starting to look a little darker to me, but maybe that’s the light.”

He shrugged his thin shoulders and shifted uncomfortably. Both Scorpius and Al had grown a few inches in the last year and they were entering what Nat thought of as the awkward stage of puberty. She didn’t say that, though. She knew they wouldn’t thank her for breaking it down for them.

“I think it might be,” Rose agreed. “It’s not white anymore, more sandy colored.”

Scorpius glanced away from them for a moment. “I really don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay,” Nat said after a moment’s silence. He’d looked so much like his father before that she could only imagine that it would be a relief to have his hair changing, but still…

The compartment door opened to reveal Caroline standing nervously before them. Nat blinked in surprise. The confident, upbeat girl they’d known before was gone, replaced by someone who looked as though life had taken a Beater’s bat to her head. She was still perfectly put together, as beautiful as she had been before, but there was something about her eyes and the tightness around her mouth that gave her away.

But oddly enough, the dancing blue lights she’d seen before around the other girl were gone.

“Can I talk to you?” Caroline hesitated, but came in quickly and shut the compartment door behind her. She dropped into the seat next to Rose and began to pick at her fingernails, which Nat saw were raw and bruised.

“What’s the matter?” Rose questioned as she rested her hand on top of Caroline’s, stilling her fingers.

“I don’t want everyone to know,” Caroline said quietly, “but I needed to apologize to you. I was… do you know about the Imperius Curse?”

“Sure,” they all answered at once. They’d all heard stories, especially from Al’s older cousins, about what it had been like during the war.

Caroline pushed at her perfectly pulled back hair, as if a stray hair had dared come loose. “I was under it last spring.”

A very loaded silence filled the compartment as a lot of things fell into place for Nat. The dancing blue lights… “Oh, Caroline… I’m so sorry.”

“It’s me that’s sorry,” she rushed on quickly. “It was me that put the finger bone in the corridor. I didn’t know until I came out of it, but… I’m so sorry!”

Rose put her arms around the older girl while the boys shifted, uncomfortable at the tears. Nat kicked Al’s shin and glared at him meaningfully when he winced.

“Er, it’s okay, Caroline,” Al said, gazing at her desperately as if trying to read Nat’s mind to figure out what he was supposed to say. “We know you didn’t mean to do it.”

“Yeah,” Scorpius jumped in nervously. “It’s fine. No harm done.”

It took them ten minutes to get Caroline calmed down enough that she could head back to her friends. They promised her that they wouldn’t tell anyone, including James.

“I should apologize to him, too,” she sniffed as she stood at the door, “but I just can’t. He’s…”

“A berk?” Rose suggested helpfully. “We won’t tell him, Caroline. He doesn’t need to know. It wouldn’t make a dent in his thick head, anyway.”

“He has a girlfriend,” Al blurted out, clearly looking to keep the conversation moving.

Caroline opened her mouth, then snapped it shut again. “Well… uh… that’s good, then. Maybe it will keep him out of my hair. I’ll see you later at the feast.”

They watched her go silently. It was almost a full minute before Rose said, “Wow.”

~*~

“It’s so strange not to be going to school right now,” Victoire commented as she and Teddy made their way, hand in hand, down the long stretch of beach from the house she’d grown up in.

Teddy knew what she meant, but was also extremely grateful that they weren’t going to be separated again this year. It had been bad enough the last two years. The air around them blew warm and smelled of the tang of salt and brine, and brought back in floods memories of playing with Victoire on this very beach throughout his whole childhood. There were times, like now, that it felt like their lives were moving so slowly, and yet they had made it this far and were still a long way from where he really wanted to be.

Soon enough, though.

He was nervous, which was ridiculous. He’d been ready to vomit when he’d spoken to Bill and asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Bill had hugged him hard, not letting go and with a voice not quite steady, had told Teddy that he could ask, but that he’d better take care of his little girl.

Just the day before, Teddy had asked Harry to go shopping with him to buy an engagement ring. Harry, while happy with the purchase, had pointed that he was rubbish at buying jewelry and had suggested that they bring Ginny along.

So, they’d gone, dropping Lily off with George at his shop and made their way down to the jewelers. Lily had no idea what they were doing. Teddy felt a little bad that they’d lied to her and told her they were doing something at the bank that she wasn’t old enough to participate in, but none of them was entirely sure that Lily could keep it a secret.

Ginny had found the ring. It was a small solitary diamond on a simple band, but the cut made it sparkle. It was just a little out of his price range, but Teddy knew that it was one that Victoire would love, so it was worth it.

He might never move out of his grandmother’s house, but Andromeda was happy to have him with her, at least for now. He knew he’d be able to afford a flat by the next summer, which was all that mattered.

“Are you okay?” Victoire’s voice pulled him back from his musings as she came to a stop, her bare feet digging in to the sand close to the spot where Harry and Ginny had been married twenty years before.

Teddy couldn’t help but grin down into her lovely eyes. Her answering smile was more than enough. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” she replied simply, raising onto her tiptoes and resting her hands on his chest so she could kiss him.

Teddy wanted to forget about the rest of the world, lie down in the sand with her and never stop kissing, but that wasn’t their reality. The only effective method of birth control was a potion, which was illegal to make yourself, and only available to married couples through a midwife. There were rumors of a spell, but if one had ever been developed, it was not widely known, although the Americans were apparently working on it.

It was still a subject that made Hermione’s face turn an impressive shade of red. If she was really in a mood, she’d even swear over it.

Which meant that in their antiquated world, he still had a year to go before he was free to touch, kiss, and love the woman before him.

Speaking of which…

Teddy pulled back a bit and dropped to his knees before her, taking her hands in his as he kissed her knuckles. Victoire’s stunning blue orbs filled with unshed tears as she kept her gaze fixed on his. She knew what he was doing, but it mattered to her to go through the steps and Teddy found that he wanted to give them to her, to make her happy in this way.

“I have loved you for a long time now,” Teddy said through a voice choked with emotion. He fought hard to regain his composure, though. He needed to get through this. “I think I’ve loved you since the day you were born, and every day since. But over time it has grown into love of your character, and your wit. I love your intelligence, your humor and your unimaginably giving heart. I love you for the girl you were, the woman you are, the one you will become. I want to marry you, to love you as my wife and the mother of my children. I want to be your home, your family, and a man you can count on every day in the good times and the bad.” He pulled the ring from his pocket and held it up for her. “Will you marry me?”

Victoire fell to her knees and threw her arms around his neck, trusting him to keep them steady and upright, which was another thing he’d have promised if she’d needed it. He didn’t need to say it, though. She already knew.

“Yes,” she whispered against his mouth as her tears cooled on his cheeks. “Yes, yes, yes!”

They told her parents first. Fleur cried and talked about dresses. Bill clapped him on the shoulder, but didn’t have much else to say that hadn’t already been said.

They traveled to tell his grandmother next. Andromeda cried. She was older, beat down by such a hard life, but this news gave her a lift and Teddy was glad to give it to her. Because it wasn’t too late, they went to Molly and Arthur’s next, and when Victoire showed them her ring, it was a repeat of the experience with her parents.

They saved Harry and Ginny for last, although Teddy didn’t know why, but since they already knew what was coming, he knew it wasn’t going to be a surprise.

They used the Floo network to travel to Ivy Run and it was a jubilant Lily who tackled Teddy and demanded to be picked up, despite being ten and nearly too big for such things.

“Hey,” Ginny walked in, drying her hands on a rag. “We just finished dinner, but we have some left if you’re hungry.”

The look Victoire gave him, the one of undisguised love for him, was enough to reduce him to his knees.

Lily was his baby sister. She was the baby of their family and it still humbled him that Victoire was secure enough in herself and him, that Lily hopping into his arms and demanding his attention didn’t throw her off her stride. She saw the big picture, and knew that his love and care for these his adopted siblings meant he was that much closer to being ready to be a father.

With the way their lives and careers were going, it was probably going to be at least five years before they could have a child, but that was okay. He was looking forward to having her all to himself for several years.

Teddy planted a noisy, wet kiss on Lily’s cheek and dropped her down to her feet where she laughed and swiped spit off her face. “You’re gross!”

“Yes, yes I am,” Teddy agreed with a laugh. “Lily-Lu, what’s on Victoire’s finger?”

Lily’s eyes went wide as she took her cousin’s hand and saw the ring. “You’re getting married!” The shriek was enough to break glass, but everyone laughed, cheered and cried.

Harry hugged him hard. “Congratulations, son. Your parents would be so thrilled.”

Teddy fought down the sting that meant he was close to tears and hugged him back. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

~*~

The first few weeks of school were interesting, in that James was so wrapped up in his girlfriend that he completely forgot about everyone else around him. It was, in Al’s opinion, the best possible scenario.

There were Quidditch tryouts and Al, Rose and Scorpius tried, but were passed over for older kids. It wasn’t totally unexpected, so none of them were too upset. They still had a lot of years to make the team and right now the team was all sixth and seventh years, except for James, who was the youngest. He had made the team again as a Chaser. Fred was also back as a Beater.

Nat was still using a feeding line. His Aunt Audrey had come up to see her personally after a couple of weeks and had decided that it was staying in. Nat, who had thus far taken everything in stride, had cried. Rose had been helpful, though, giving her a hug.

It left Al feeling like a useless sack of slugs. He and Scorpius were matched sets, really. They couldn’t fix it, but they had kept anyone from saying anything to her about the thing. She didn’t need to eat at meals, but Nat still went down with them and picked at the food when she felt like it. The only positive side of it was that Nat hadn’t ended up in the hospital wing for her blood sugar once. She had no fainting spells, no shaking and no weird moments where she forgot where she was.

“I know it’s better for me,” Nat grumbled on that first day after she’d been told it was staying in, “but it’s such a bother.”

After that day, though, she was back to her old self. Nat made a point of them all hanging out with Caroline in the common room whenever the girl was by herself, which happened more frequently than it had the previous year.

The year before Caroline had instantly made friends with her bubbly, happy, and upbeat self. She was clearly popular and used to being so.

Now, though, while Caroline always looked, on the outside, like everything was perfect in her life, the moment one of the boys came near her, she’d become edgy and jumpy. This left a lot of the kids avoiding her or poking fun at her to the point that she’d lost a few of her friends.

She explained to them about being a cheerleader and why she left school so frequently. There were competitions in the spring and she’d be entering them with her team.

Nat and Rose had determined that they were going to go.

Defense was still Al’s favorite subject in school, more than any of the others, although he also really liked Herbology, too, but that could be because his godfather was his teacher.

But unlike the year before, when things were weird, scary and sometimes completely disgusting, it seemed as though they had all mellowed out.

Then in the first week in October, right before one of the Hogsmeade weekends that Al still wasn’t old enough to enjoy, James broke up with his girlfriend.

For days on end, he was a mopey, useless, twit that no one wanted to hang around.

Then he found another girlfriend, this one a Hufflepuff.

“At least they aren’t in our house,” Roxy had muttered darkly at dinner one night as the girl in question blew James fake kisses across the Great Hall, while everyone around him pretended to vomit.

“If I am ever that disgusting, please kill me,” Scorpius told his friends in a low undertone. “This seems like too much work.”

Nat quirked at eyebrow at that. “What’s work about it?”

“The trying not to be sick, work,” Scorpius sighed as he stabbed a sprout with his fork.

~*~

“James has another girlfriend,” Ginny sighed as she read over the letter from Nat, of all people. She’d never expected that her best source of information was going to be one of her son’s best friends, but she was thankful for it. She glanced over to where Harry was pulling off his robes. “Hang them, please. With Polly back at Hogwarts, the laundry is back on me.”

Harry hung his robes and padded barefoot over to the bed to crawl in and hug her around the middle, laying, to her sitting up. “Maybe we should hire her full time.”

“Hermione would disown us,” Ginny grinned down as she ran fingers through his thick hair. “Well, not completely. She’s mellowed over the years. But Polly wants to be where the kids are, and here we only have Lily. If we were having another baby, I’d be all over that.”

“Do you want to?” Harry glanced up at her curiously. “We could still, you know. We have a few years yet.”

“You are a lovely man to offer,” she shook her head. He meant it, too. Harry hadn’t taken anything to convince to have more babies. He’d loved the experience of having and raising their children. It was Ginny who’d wanted to stop at three. They’d had the money to have more without any additional strain to their finances, but she’d felt like three was a good number, especially because she still wanted a lot of time for Teddy. “I think we’re going to tough it out and wait for those grandbabies. I’ve already got Fleur sending me owls about planning the wedding. I had to remind her I didn’t want to plan my own and she could have full reign. Poor Victoire. Her mother does have her opinions.”

Harry chuckled softly as he shifted to rest his head in her lap. “So what else does Al say?”

“No, this one is from Nat,” Ginny explained as she glanced back at the note. “I’ve only had one letter from Al, and none from James, so we’re right on target there. Nat’s written a couple of times. Apparently that girl, Caroline, is struggling because of what she’s been through. That Imperius Curse, while horrible, did at least help her to forget all the troubles she’d had in her young life. This is just so sad, Harry.”

Harry ran his thumb along her cheek, trying to sooth her. “I know, luv, but she’s getting therapy for it at the school. It’s the best they can do right now.”

“I wish you had answers.”

“Believe me,” he grumbled, “so do I. Not having made any headway on this investigation is driving me mad. I’ve checked, though, and Donald Baker hasn’t been in the country. I can’t get a straight answer out of the Americans what he’s been up to there, either. They have just as many problems with corruption as we do and he has deep pockets.”

“If they’re connected…” Ginny began as she stared across the room at the moving photograph of her and Harry on their wedding day. “If they’re connected,” she said again with a sigh, “I just don’t see how. What would this American have to do with Isabella Crabbe? It has to be a coincidence that she used his child. Also, if he was abusive, wouldn’t he want to dump the children? He clearly didn’t want them.”

“It’s not that simple,” Harry told her sadly. “The abuse is about control and right now he has no control over those children. He may have beaten them and done God only knows what to them, but he had them in his control. Now that they’re away from him, he’s probably going to try to find a way to get them back. No, I’m betting that he’s biding his time. It’s the same with abused wives. The men keep trying to get them back, sometimes killing them just so no one else can have them. They’re possessions, not people.”

“That’s so sick,” Ginny gasped in revulsion. “How can people do that to another human being?”

“I have no idea,” he murmured as he hugged. “Okay, let’s get off that topic. What else does Nat say about our wayward children?”

“Al tried out for the Quidditch team but didn’t make it,” Ginny skimmed down. “She says he’s okay with it since a good portion of the team graduates this year, so next year the field will be wide open. Also,” she kept reading until she found something interesting. “Oh, that’s nice! Molly has won an award in potions. I’ll have to send her a letter.”

Harry laughed softly. “At least someone in the family is good at potions.”

“Yep,” she stopped as she reread a paragraph. “Oh… wow.” Ginny couldn’t help the burst of laughter. “Fred, apparently, spiked the entire Slytherin table so that everyone grew violently purple hair. George is going to be so proud. He wasn’t caught, either. That’s something.”

Harry kissed her stomach lightly. “Anything else?”

“Nat says she’s still using the feeding line, but that Al has been a great help to her,” Ginny paused as she considered the girl’s words. “He is gone over. I’m convinced of it, now.”

“You keep saying that, Gin,” Harry sighed heavily. “But we have no idea what our children are going to do next week, let alone a decade from now. A lot can happen between now and then.”

“A lot will happen,” she agreed as an ominous feeling settled into the pit of her stomach. Ginny tried to shake it off, but it didn’t want to go now that it was firmly lodged there. “I just want them to live easier lives than we had.”

“It’s been mostly good the last fifteen years or so,” he reminded her. “How about we stop talking about our children’s love lives for a bit,” Harry said in a husky, inviting tone as he pushed her t-shirt up a bit to get to her bare skin.

She forced a smile and reminded herself that borrowing trouble never did her any good. “How about we do just that.”

Back to index


Chapter 17: Chapter 14

Author's Notes: First off, thank you Arnel for beta'ing!!!

Are you ready to shoot me yet? I know the wait was long between chapters and I'm so sorry about that! It's been bugging me, too, I promise! BUT I finished writing my fourth novel and rather than continue to split my brain between the two stories, I pushed through on that one so it could go to editing.

REVIEW! Tell me what you think! Keep me motivated to write the next chapter. I'm not kidding, the more you're engaged, the more motivated I am to keep going. Ask questions if you have them.

Also, thank you for the Silver Trinket award! I really didn't expect to win one, so that was super sweet and awesome :)

Thank you again for all of your support and stay tuned, because my third novel is releasing shortly :D If you haven't checked out the first two, go see my profile for links!
~Sarah


It was a change of tone, Harry thought with a shiver of dread that left him cold. He reread the note again, the one that Isabella Crabbe must have sent him, as she’d done every year.

This year it had been late, not arriving until early November. He’d been ready to write it off, but no, it was here and it didn’t say, ‘I know your secret’ as it had every other year.

He stared at the scrawled words and tried to fight down the urge to rush to Hogwarts.

‘If I can sneak a rotting body in, what else can I do?’

A knock sounded at the door and Daniel popped his head in. “Sir, there’s a dragon in London.”

“A…” for a moment, Harry’s mind went blank. “Excuse me?”

“Yeah,” his assistant grimaced. “The Magical Creature Department has it mostly under control, but I was told to let you know just in case they need to call in back up. There’s a Head of Department meeting up in the Minister’s office shortly, also. I was told to remind you.”

He’d forgotten. Harry shoved the note back into the file and came to his feet. “Okay, I’m coming. How did a dragon get to London?”

“It was being transported to America,” Daniel sighed heavily as he handed over a report. “It broke free and hurt at least one of the handlers. Still, though, it’s only a Welsh Green, so at least it isn’t one of the more vicious ones.”

Harry shook his head sadly and made for the lift. It was not a complication he needed that day, although admittedly, these sorts of things were relatively rare and would require much of the senior ministry to deal with it.

Kingsley was retiring in a matter of days and the votes for the new Minister were currently being tallied. Thus far it was appearing as if Allison Macmillan, the woman Kingsley wanted as Minister, would be stepping in. The other candidates were a farce, as far as Harry was concerned. Arthur had declined to run, which Harry thought was a relief. It wouldn’t make his father-in-law happy, although Harry felt like he could be a good leader.

But Arthur, too, was close to retiring.

Time moved, seasons changed, and people left. It was odd, in a lot of ways, for Harry to know he was older now than Remus had been. Remus, who hadn’t lived to see his son crawl, but as a child Harry had looked up to both Remus and Sirius, searching them out for comfort and reassurance. He saw now, as pushed the button for the lift, that Remus and Sirius were often grasping at straws, trying to figure out what to say to this child that was cursed from day one, even though they didn’t know the exact nature of it. Nothing, absolutely nothing, about Harry’s childhood had gone along any sort of normal path and Harry knew now that that sort of impotence to affect any change in Harry’s life had to drive Sirius and Remus mad.

Harry understood, now, just why Molly had attempted to keep them safe. He wanted nothing more than that wrap his children up and never let go, but he remembered too Dumbledore’s words that it was folly for the old to forget what it was to be young.

So the note, the note that was designed to impose fear upon him had worked. Isabella Crabbe was telling him that she was able to put a dead body at Hogwarts. She had access to two of his children, plus most of the children in his family. If he reacted as Molly would have, he’d pull his children. So, it was with great reluctance, he remembered that the teachers and staff were not the only ones that could and would protect the castle.

Cedric’s face flashed into his mind just as the doors slid open, so it took him a second to realize that Hermione was standing at the lift doors, staring at him in stunned horror. It took him a moment to realize he hadn’t pushed the button to go to the next floor and had been standing in a completely still lift for at least a minute. He hadn’t even realized Hermione had been on his floor.

“What’s wrong?” Harry asked as she joined him in the lift. In her hand was a piece of parchment that was shaking gently. “Hermione? Were you looking for me?”

“Helminth Smith has been named Minister of Magic,” Hermione hissed through clenched teeth.

Harry shook his head, sure he’d heard her incorrectly. “No, it was going to be–”

“It’s not her!” Hermione interrupted furiously, her eyes a little bright as a single curl sprang from a pin. She pushed it roughly behind her ear, but only managed to knock another few loose. “This is a disaster, Harry!”

He couldn’t wrap his brain around it. Smith was an idiot. Smith was worse than Fudge who had, at least, managed to do some good. He wasn’t stupid, but Smith was. He was the worst form of narcissist that Harry had ever had the misfortune to work for. They were doomed. Not only that, but he hated Harry. “Fancy quitting?”

Hermione’s dry stare said plenty. “I don’t run from a challenge and neither do you.”

“We don’t need the money, though,” he pointed out as a pit formed in his stomach. The doors swung open to an extremely somber group. Harry had to stop himself from turning tail and going back down to his office as everyone stared at him.

The only person who looked happy was Helminth himself, and… Harry blinked as he spotted his former classmate Zachariah Smith. He had not aged well. The boy had grown from a blond-haired, brown-eyed, fit teenager into a pudgy, bald man in glasses. His grin was still every bit as smarmy and smug as Harry had remembered.

“Ah,” Helminth paced around the room, his hands behind his back. Harry had to fight not to react to the man. His very existence set Harry’s teeth on edge. Ron had, at one Ministry party, called Helminth a horse’s ass, but Harry had told him that was unfair to the horse. Helminth normally sat on his bottom, watching everyone else work and fret, but today the thin man was enjoying taking up space in the room, making everyone watch him.

Kingsley, who had been in the background, gave Harry a small grimace.

“You may be excused,” Helminth said to the former Minister. “I’m sure you have work to do down in your old department.”

They could have heard a pin drop. Harry opened his mouth to say something, but Kingsley shot him a quelling glare. “Yes, of course, Minister. Congratulations again. I shall see everyone later.”

The moment Kingsley was gone, Helminth turned to Hermione. “This is a Department Head meeting, Mrs. Weasley. You are not needed. I’ve already appointed my replacement.”

Hermione took a short breath. “Of course, sir,” she smiled at him and Harry knew she was thinking about pinching his nose. “I have a report for you about the dragon.” She handed over the paper and left. He dropped it on the table, not even bothering to look at it.

“Now,” Helminth indicated a chair for Harry to sit in at the long table. He almost didn’t. It went against everything in him to sit on command for this berk, but he moved over to seat himself. “The Ministry has been run by one man for a number of years now. In the wake of the war, my predecessor was a stabilizing influence, but it is time to build again, to make the Ministry strong once more.”

That was when Harry tuned him out.

The speech went on for almost an hour.

Harry didn’t know how long it lasted, because ten minutes in his assistant sent him a memo that he was needed downstairs and left, but Arthur informed him later that Zacharias was now Hermione’s boss. Zacharias had no experience, at all, in the MLE and had, as far as Harry knew, been a clerk down in Magical Transportation. He also learned later that Helminth would be requiring regular reports and was demanding audits on all activity.

Harry wasn’t worried about any of that, though, as he sat in a conference room. His entire focus was on the woman who had been kidnapped from a street in the village near her home.

Veronica Sinestra. Harry hadn’t ever met her, but she’d been close to Teddy’s age and he did know her.

Harry stared at her parents, Leanne and Miles Sinestra, a couple in their late forties with only the one child. Veronica had recently celebrated her twenty-first birthday. Leanne was Deputy Head of the Department Magical Accidents and Catastrophes. Her short, dark hair was a little disheveled as her dark, frantic eyes pleaded with him. The redness bore testimony to the amount of crying she’d done. Miles worked for Gringotts, and was as fair as his wife was dark. He seemed to be aging with every moment that Harry spent with them. “She was going to the market this morning? Does she have a job?”

“No,” Leanne said as she nearly tore a handkerchief to shreds in her wrestles hands. “She… she had worked at Gringotts for a few years, but she was quitting to get married and h-have a family.”

Harry felt the ache in his gut as he pictured the girl. “Have you spoken to her fiancé?”

“Yes,” Miles leaned forward in his seat as the wood creaked beneath him and held out a pleading hand. “His name is Stephen Davies and he’s a good man. He’s a Quidditch player, and he’s in Russia at the moment, but he’s trying to get a Portkey back right now.”

Harry felt something in his gut unknot. It was often a family member, specifically a boyfriend or husband, in a missing person’s case. It didn’t happen often, but with an alibi as tight as being in Russia, he knew he didn’t have to grill the fiancé the moment he was home. “When she didn’t come home, you went to look?”

“I did,” Miles told him. “I thought it was weird when she was an hour late, but I needed to get to work and didn’t want to leave until I knew she was okay. I just had this feeling, you know? Something didn’t feel right. I found the groceries on the side of the road. I knew something was wrong, then. I didn’t like that Leanne wanted to go to the market, but I thought it was Muggles that might try to harm her and she could look after herself well enough against them, but this…”

Harry knew exactly what he meant. Although it was not impossible for her to have been ambushed by Muggles, it was so rare that a Muggle could overcome a wizard, that it was not the standard answer in any assault. “Was there anything with the groceries?”

“Just the note that they told you about,” Miles indicated the parchment in front of them.

His gaze shifted to the note, even though he’d already read it at least twenty times. The handwriting alone was enough to tell him exactly whose quill had been put to the parchment.

‘So much easier than sneaking into Hogwarts’

It sent a shiver up his spine. “We’ve already got Aurors coming the area, looking for any clues,” Harry told them. “I know you’ve been told almost nothing, but that’s because it’s part of an ongoing investigation. I will not jeopardize your daughter’s safety, but I need to protect the information we have which is why I am not filling you in completely on the backstory of who we are looking for.”

He took in a deep breath and wondered in this would be just like the girl, Cori, who had been taken and raped. Harry sincerely hoped it wasn’t the same case, but his gut was telling him that they would find her in close to the same situation. The question was why, though, and what was the purpose? If Isabella Crabbe had to keep her cronies cooperative by supplying them with rape victims, what did that say about them? What truly didn’t make sense was that, even though she was a skilled potion maker and would have access to the birth control potion, she hadn’t seen fit to give it to Cori, leaving Cori to get pregnant.

That was traceable by the Ministry. They’d have known who the father was within a few weeks and he’d have been prosecuted after being forced to marry her.

Nothing, nothing, was making any sense to him. Whatever her aims, or goals, Harry was as lost as the poor parents in front of him. “I need to see Mr. Davies the moment he’s back in England.”

“He’s coming straight here,” Miles promised him as a single tear slid down his cheek. The stoic man didn’t even try to cover his grief and fear.

A knock sounded at the door and Arthur poked his head around. “I need a word.”

“Yeah,” Harry waved his father-in-law out. “Can you two excuse me? I promise that if we hear anything, someone will be in immediately. I’ll be back shortly.”

The wife leaned into her husband and wept.

He led Arthur into his office and shut the door, facing the old man. “What’s up?”

“It’s not good, Harry,” Arthur sighed heavily and sank into one of the chairs. “No one I talked to was going to vote for Smith. Not a single person! I’m not sure how he managed to become Minister, but I don’t trust the results.”

Harry perched on the edge of his desk. Office politics were not his thing, and he had a case to solve. “My plan is to ignore him.”

“He’s not going to let you ignore him,” Arthur fired back, his cheeks flushing in temper. “He’s going to make all our lives more difficult.”

“He can try,” Harry shrugged, completely unconcerned. “He is my boss, but he doesn’t have grounds to fire me and frankly I’ll quit before I bend to him.”

“He made Zacharias Smith the new head of the MLE,” Arthur pointed out quietly.

Harry swore softly, turning away. “He won’t last long.”

“He might,” Arthur reasoned. “I think we need to talk about this, as a family.”

“I can’t right now,” Harry pushed off from his desk. “I have a missing woman and a lot of work to do. Smith can try to interfere in my department, but he’ll be sorry if he tries.”

Harry pulled the door open and strode from the room, pushing the new Minister from his mind. He had important things and actual work to focus on, while all around him the Ministry began to stumble into a new level of normal, marked by unease, fruitlessness, and general grumblings about the new way that things were being handled. Or mishandled, depending on who one spoke to.

A week later they still hadn’t located Veronica and it was starting to look like the might not. It was only through chance that they’d saved Cori during a raid. Harry had spoken to Cori again, and found her happy, recovering and expecting a baby in early spring. She didn’t have any other insights to add that might help. Harry hadn’t wanted to press her at all, but Veronica’s life was in danger. He’d let it go, though, after wishing the young woman and her husband well.

Veronica’s fiancé, Stephan, was a mess. He’d answered Harry’s questions, cooperated when needed, but was easily angered at the lack of progress and tended to lash out when he was frustrated. He wasn’t happy with the investigation, which Harry fully understood. He wasn’t happy about it, either.

“The Minister wants to speak to you,” Daniel told him after Harry made it back into the office one morning a few days later. He’d only gone home to change, eat, shower and sleep for two hours before heading back in to keep going on the search. “He’s insisting.”

Harry ignored the memo that Daniel was holding out for him. “I’m busy. Let him know that he can wait or come see me later this afternoon.”

“I’m the one catching hell for this,” Daniel told him bluntly. “He’s threatened to fire me. There’s a Muggle saying, you know. ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’.”

Swearing under his breath, Harry grabbed the memo. He knew that phrase and knew he wasn’t being fair to his assistant. “Okay, I’m going. I’ll be back in ten.”

Harry made it to the lift without being stopped once. The one person who’d looked like they wanted to say something, turned tail at the scowl on his face. He went up one floor and marched over to the Minister’s office. “He wants to see me?”

“Take a seat,” the secretary said with a small tremor.

He studied the woman, one who’d worked for Smith for years, and cocked his head to the side. She was pinched around the mouth and eyes, but there was something else there, something he couldn’t name. “I’m not waiting,” Harry replied firmly. “He’ll see me now or I’m going back to work.”

“I…” she faltered and Harry fought to remember her name. Beverly… Betty… Bonnie… he shook it off. He wasn’t likely to remember. “Just one moment,” she told him as she rose to knock at the door. She was barked at and she flinched visibly.

Alarmed, Harry moved towards, but she held up a hand. “He’s busy. You need to wait.”

“He can come find me when he’s done being busy,” Harry shrugged it off and made for the office door.

“Potter!” the voice bellowed through the room and he turned to see Helminth standing in his door, glaring at him angrily. “I need a word.”

Harry almost retorted with, ‘then be available’, but thought better of it and made his way to the office. He sat and nearly smiled when he realized when Smith glared at him for being so impertinent. He kept his mouth shut, though, and waited.

“I do not like how you are handling the current crisis,” Helminth began smoothly. “I believe that your lack of progress on the case is a concern.”

Harry felt his heart trip over a bit, but he continued to maintain his silence.

“I have concerns that you are too close to the situation and would do better with someone else overseeing it. I have a couple of people that I will be sending to your office to–”

“No,” Harry replied coolly, cutting him off.

Smith’s ears turned ever so slightly pink. “You do not get to say no.”

“I do, actually,” Harry smiled evenly. “I have complete autonomy so that if there is corruption in the upper levels of the Ministry, the Aurors remain free to operate to bring back order.”

“I have rescinded that law,” Helminth told him smugly. “You will now be subject to oversight.”

There were a lot of things that Harry loved about his job. He loved the excitement. He loved the mystery. He really loved helping people and bringing justice to those who didn’t follow the law. He’d never loved, and never tolerated, the political games. “I’m tendering my resignation,” Harry stood, feeling the pit of guilt, knowing he was leaving the department in a bind. “Effective immediately. I’ll go pack my things.”

Without waiting for a response, he strode for the door.

“Wait!” the voice called out to him, but he didn’t stop.

Harry told his staff, quickly, what had happened. The only blessing was that Kingsley, as a newly reassigned Auror, had seniority and the role of Head Auror automatically fell to him. There was no getting around that. It was a centuries old practice.

Daniel told him he’d pack up his stuff and have it shipped over to his home, which allowed Harry to make a break for it.

He wanted out. He wanted air. He wanted…

Harry found himself striding down Diagon Alley towards Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and his best mate.

One look at Harry’s face, the moment he entered the shop, and Ron called out to George, “Hey, I’m taking an early lunch.”

George swore at him, but he too could see the thunderclouds on Harry’s features. “Yeah, sure.”

They had a favorite Muggle pub that they frequented. It was a quaint, out of the way, hole in the wall that no one else seemed to know about. Without having to say anything, Harry and Ron Apparated to a grove not far from the small village and walked the ten minutes down to the pub in silence.

Ron bought them each a pint and sat with Harry. “You ready to tell me?”

“I quit,” Harry said after a long drink of the amber liquid.

“You’re kidding me,” Ron whistled in awe. “I thought you’d die in that office, hopefully eighty years from now.”

“Smith tried to pull rank,” Harry shrugged off just how badly that had bothered him. “He demanded I come to his office and then wanted to make me wait. I had things to do, and I wasn’t going to listen any of his rubbish. He wanted control of the Aurors, so I quit.”

“I wish Hermione would quit,” Ron clicked their glasses in salute. “She’s a nutter over this whole thing. I swear she’s sleeping there half the time, trying to fix ruddy Zacharias Smith’s mistakes. We don’t need the money, but she likes the work… or she did.”

Harry felt his temper rise dangerously. He wanted to throw something. “Hermione should have been made the Head. It was her right and she’s the most qualified.”

“I know,” Ron snorted into his drink. “She is playing nice, trying to get along with that worm, but I don’t think Hugo has seen her in almost a week.”

“Please tell me you didn’t point that out,” Harry said to his best mate.

Ron shook his head, red hair that was just a tad too long covered his eyes before he could push it out of the way. “I’ve learned a few things over the last several decades. The most important lesson has been when to keep my trap shut around my wife. She doesn’t need the guilt, but if it goes on much longer I am going to have to say something. I had my son asking me this morning when Mum was coming home. Ginny says he’s been extra grumpy, too, during the day.”

“Shit,” Harry breathed it out and downed the rest of his beer. “Your dad wants to have a family meeting.”

“It’s probably time,” Ron agreed. “Should we let Mum coordinate it?”

“Ginny will,” Harry sat back in his seat and contemplated another round of drinks. “You know she doesn’t like sticking those big meals on your mum, not with her lumbago acting up.”

Ron nodded and signaled for another drink. “You tell me when, and I’ll stun Hermione and drag her from the Ministry.”

~*~

“I can’t believe Dad quit,” Al said for what felt like the hundredth time. From the annoyed sigh from his cousin, it was probably closer to the thousandth time. “Well,” he glared at Rose, “I’m sorry, but I just thought he’d stick with it. He loves his job. Loved,” he corrected.

“We’re hearing a lot of funny rumors, though,” Rose reminded him as they made their way up to the hospital wing to visit Nat.

Scorpius shook his blond head in disgust. “I asked my dad about it, which was a mistake. I should have left that one alone. He sent me a snarky reply about keeping my head in the books since Rose is beating me in Transfiguration.”

Rose snorted, giving her silent opinion of that.

Al was top in Defense, Rose was top in Transfiguration, and Scorpius was stomping on them in Charms. Far and away, Scorpius was best in the class. The only other class with such a large achievement gap was History of Magic, the prize for which went to Nat and that was because she was the only one who gave a pixie’s fart about paying attention to Professor Bins. Still, Al was forced to admit, Nat was really good at the class and tended to make it interesting. She’d started giving fun lectures on various topics, which were starting to draw a regular crowd every Friday night in the common room. History, in her hands, came alive and was very funny.

“Do you think she’ll get that feeding line out today?” Rose asked as they neared the hospital wing’s door.

“I doubt it,” Al sighed heavily. “Not with her nearly collapsing this morning.”

Nat’s bag had run out in the middle of the night, hours before it should have, and when she’d stood to go to the loo, Nat had crumpled to the floor. Thankfully, Rose had been there to see and had called for help.

Natalie had missed most of their morning classes.

“I don’t know how she does it,” Scorpius told them. “If it were me, I would be so mad about having to haul that thing around with me.”

Al was forced to agree with him. He pushed open the door and saw her on the bed, tiny and a little pale. Nat smiled at him and it sent a small thrill through his belly that he quickly squashed flat. “Are you okay?” he asked her.

Hannah came out and Al forced himself to remember that she was Madam Longbottom, and not Hannah at school. “Oh, good,” she smiled her cheerful smile that seemed to light up her round, pretty face. She tucked her short swing of blonde hair behind her ear and ushered them forward with the crook of a finger. “Nat, here, has been really bored today. You three can visit for a while before dinner. Call if you need me.” She left them to pull chairs over to Nat’s bed.

Unlike Madam Pomfrey, Hannah didn’t hover and fuss. Al missed the old matron, but had to admit that the new one was a very nice change, plus he knew his godfather was a lot happier having his wife here with him all the time.

“How are you feeling?” Rose asked Nat as she took her hand. “You look a little sick, still.”

“Yeah,” Nat leaned her head back against the fluffy pillows and sighed. “It’s been a rough day. I keep getting sick. Madam Longbottom figured out what happened, though. Apparently the bag had a hole in it and it leaked out. She’d never heard of it happening, but it could have been accidentally cut or something.”

Rose’s expression changed swiftly to understanding. “Your pillow was wet! I noticed that but didn’t think anything of it.”

“Yep,” Nat spit the word out with a heavy emphasis on the ‘p’. “So, now I’m stuck here through today. What did I miss in classes?”

“Not much,” Scorpius assured her. “We have your stuff, though, if you feel like making any of it up tonight.”

Nat shook her head and closed her eyes. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to. Maybe this weekend.”

The professors, all of whom were aware of Nat’s condition, would give her the extra time to work through it. She would, in due course, get to all of her assignments, but it had been explained to them by Healer Weasley that Nat was fragile and would need special considerations when it came to her school work if she was ill. It didn’t hurt that Nat was always polite, helpful, and never milked the situation unless she needed to.

If it had been James, Al doubted that the teachers would have cut him any slack.

“I hate being in here,” Nat said quietly. “She says the line isn’t coming out before January, which means I can’t go home.”

“You can come to my house,” Al reminded her. “We’ve already arranged it with my parents and your parents can come stay, too.”

“I know,” Nat licked her lips and sniffed a little. “I’m sorry, I’m just… tired. Have you heard anything else about your dad?”

“Nope,” Al told her. “All I know is that he’s driving Mum nuts. Lily says he needs to find a job because he keeps trying to fix things around the house that Mum doesn’t want him to fix.”

Rose’s lips twitched into a reluctant smile. “I bet Uncle Harry will be back in the Head Auror position soon. Most of the wizarding community is calling for him to come back, what with that woman still missing. Did you see the paper? Her poor fiancé looks like he’s lost a stone.”

“I dunno,” Scorpius replied skeptically. “The new Minister is starting to make it sound like all the bad things were Harry’s fault and that stupid Rita Skeeter is not helping.”

“I just don’t understand how he was elected in the first place,” Al said thoughtfully. “I mean, no one wanted him and everyone thinks he’s a joke. How did he get the job? He wasn’t even popular.”

“You can’t rig the voting, right?” Nat asked them.

Scorpius nodded. “It’s a lot like anti-cheating spells we use for exams, here. You can’t get around them, so everyone knows they can trust the vote.”

“Can we start a petition for a recount?” Nat wondered, but not with any enthusiasm.

“It doesn’t really work like that,” Rose said sadly. “Once the vote goes through, it’s there until enough people get mad and want to chuck the Minister out.”

“If he gets much worse,” Scorpius grumbled as he glanced around to make sure the matron wasn’t listening, “we should fake a scandal to get him out.”

“Or find an actual scandal,” Rose giggled. “He probably has at least one.”

“How would we manage that?” Nat asked them. “We’re just kids and we’re stuck here in school.”

“Uncle George,” Al and Rose said at the same time, as if the answer should be obvious. Al smirked at her consternation.

“Don’t worry, Nat,” Al assured her consolingly. “If it gets that bad, we won’t even have to ask. He’ll already have a plan.”

~*~

Teddy hurried through the hospital’s corridors, trying not to panic. He didn’t even know exactly where he was going, but he couldn’t manage to stop himself long enough to ask.

All he knew was his grandmother was here and he needed to get to her.

“Teddy!” a voice caught his attention and he spun to see Audrey Weasley coming down the hallway. Her face was maddeningly neutral.

“Is she okay?” he demanded, skidding to a halt near the woman. He could remember, vividly, when she’d been so tall and he’d looked up to her. Now, though, he stood a good half a head above her.

Audrey took his arm and guided him down another corridor and opened a door, ushering him in. Victoire sprang to her feet and rushed to him, her face very pale and soaked in tears. She threw her arms around him and cried as he held on.

Teddy stared at the woman in the bed, her face sunken and colorless.

“She’s very ill,” Audrey explained gently. “I don’t know that it’s going to be long.”

He couldn’t take it in. He’d seen her just that morning. Teddy held fast to Victoire, needing the stability and warmth that she offered, knowing he’d fall apart if she wasn’t there. “What’s wrong with her?”

“I…” Audrey hesitated. “I don’t know,” she admitted reluctantly. “It’s like she’s been poisoned, but I can’t detect anything. I honestly can’t find anything wrong with her, except that she’s gravely ill.”

“How long?” Teddy asked her as he and Victoire moved as a unit to the bed so he could hold his grandmother’s hand. This woman, this strong, amazing woman, who had raised him his entire life, lay dying. She’d survived the loss of her family, her husband, her daughter and son-in-law and now… he had no idea how to go on without her, no clue what to do or say. He felt rudderless and adrift and it scared him straight to his toes.

Victoire gripped his arm and kissed his shoulder. He felt her tears, her grief as poignant as his own, soaking into his shirt and his center shifted straight again.

The door behind them opened and Harry and Ginny poured in with Lily and Hugo right behind them.

His parents, the ones he’d looked to, rushed in to hold him tight while Victoire hugged a sobbing Lily.

This, his family, his anchor in a bad storm, held him through the hours until Andromeda Tonks breathed her last breath and moved on to the next great adventure.

The next several days were a blur of funeral preparation and dealing with the estate. Harry helped him sort through most of the paperwork, along with Bill. It hit Teddy as it never had before that he had no blood relatives left on this planet, none who would willingly stand with him. But the men who worked tirelessly with him, his father in all but blood and his soon-to-be father-in-law helped put straight everything that needed to be taken care of.

It turned out that Andromeda’s house was mortgaged to the hilt, something she’d never mentioned to anyone. They discovered, much to Harry’s great ire, that she’d done so to continue to take care of Teddy and not have to work when he was younger.

“She could have asked me for money!” Harry fumed as he continued to sift through the documents. “Teddy, I had no idea… I’d have paid everything off if she’d said something.”

Ted Tonks, Teddy’s grandfather, had been the primary source of income. Upon his death, all Andromeda had had was the house.

“Harry,” Bill interjected quietly as Teddy stared numbly at the mounding paperwork. “You didn’t know and she didn’t want to ask. I’m sure if it had been dire, she’d have said something. As it is, we sell the house and call it even.” The look Bill shot him said a lot more than that, but Teddy had no ability to try to interpret.

His heart was too tired to care. The only comfort was in those around and him and his fiancé, who spent as much time as she could with him, holding him and letting him grieve. Ginny had insisted he move in with them for the time being and he’d done so, more to make her happy, but now he knew it had been the right decision. It was difficult to fall into a dark hole when so many people were holding him up. He spent an hour with Lily on the couch the night before, while she sat reading. He played with his sister’s soft hair and enjoyed her small giggles at the silly adventures of Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle. After she’d gone to bed, and Victoire was finally off her shift at the hospital, they’d walked into the village together, hand in hand, just to get out into the cooling air of an oncoming winter.

A loud clack pulled Teddy back to his grandmother’s study. Harry nodded curtly and shoved papers into a bag he’d brought along.

“It’s important to know how to deal with this,” Bill told him quietly, placing a firm hand on his shoulder. “I know you’re in a fog right now, but you need to know. I had to deal with all of that stuff after my brother was killed because my parents just weren’t capable and neither was George. As the oldest, this sort of thing is going to fall to you.”

Teddy gave a curt nod and refocused on the task before him as Bill ran him through estate laws and all that needed to be dealt with.

It soon became apparent that even with the sale of the house, Teddy was going to be saddled with an extremely large debt. Cold fear clenched at his gut as he tried to work through how he could pay that off and still get married.

There really was no way to make it happen.

“Stop it,” Harry told him firmly, snapping him out of it. “I’m dealing with the money. There’s no need for you to. We wouldn’t be doing this now if she’d said a single word to me about needing money.”

“No,” Teddy shook his head, ready to argue as his pride prickled.

Harry took him by the shoulders and shook his head. His green eyes bore straight into him. “You are my child, my responsibility. You have been nearly every day of your life. If you think, for one moment, that I’m going to let you derail not only your life but also Victoire’s, you have another thing coming. Your grandmother was in debt because of your care as a child. Your care as a child was my responsibility. End of discussion. If I didn’t miss her so much, I’d be bloody furious with her for keeping this from me!”

He wanted to fight, wanted to tell Harry he’d make it work somehow, but with the salary he currently made, there was no way that he could pay it off. Once they added in Victoire’s debts from becoming a Healer, they’d be sunk. Mostly, maybe selfishly, Teddy didn’t want to have to tell Victoire that he couldn’t marry her. He desperately wanted her in his life, in his arms right then and there. He didn’t want to put it off even longer. It wasn’t fair to her. “Okay, thanks.”

Harry hugged him hard. “I love you. I know you feel like an orphan, but–”

“I don’t,” Teddy replied immediately, a little surprised. “I still have my parents here, but she is, was,” he corrected with a lump in his throat. “She was a lifeline for me and I don’t know how to work without her there every morning, but I still have you and Ginny. I maybe miss my parents at times, but I always had you. I always had my grandmother. I wasn’t alone or… I’ve always had a big family and I still do.”

“Good, I’m glad you know that,” Harry replied with a long sigh. “We’re going to be here with you, every step of the way, and until you’re ready, you’re living with us. After that, we’ll find you a flat.”

He didn’t have a clue how he’d be able to afford it, but he’d have to look. Teddy thought it might be possible to find one in Muggle London.

A knock sounded at the door and Ginny poked her head in. “The kids and I are done packing up the photo albums.”

Harry stood and crossed to her, kissing her tenderly as he swayed with her in his arms.

No, Teddy was not an orphan. He wasn’t alone in this insane world, and he wasn’t going to be grieving by himself. He had so many people who loved and cared about him.

Hugo wandered in, skirting around his aunt and uncle. He plopped into the seat next to Teddy and said, in a small voice. “I’m really sorry, Teddy.”

“Thanks, Hugo,” Teddy replied in a hoarse whisper as he clapped the lad on the back. Hugo surprised him by throwing his arms around him. Teddy held on to the boy and fought back another wave of tears.

Back to index


Chapter 18: Chapter 15

Author's Notes:
MY THIRD BOOK IS ON SALE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Go to my author's page and find the links, please! Please! Help support the work I do that pays the bills, while also enjoying the work I do here for free!!

Thank you Arnel!

Also, this chapter is coming out only a week after the last one as an "I'm sorry" for the long wait between 13 and 14 and because it was super easy to write. I was asked for a lighter, fluffier chapter in a review. I hope this fits the bill.

Tell me what you're feeling in the reviews! I do listen. I'm taking what you say seriously. I have a lot of stuff to get through in this book and it's going to take a long time to get there. If it gets too heavy or depressing, say something. Me adding in a chapter to what will be a story that's upwards of half a million words long (or more) isn't that big of a deal. We're going to be working on this one for a long time yet. Like years. I want to say soap opera like, in that the story just keeps going, but that brings up all kinds of weird images in my head, so let's say this is like a long running TV show. If we need to take a little time off from the main story to have some fun, that's absolutely allowed.

REVIEW! (and please go check out my books!) Please!
Thanks everyone!
~Sarah


Teddy gazed around the tiny, dingy flat and had to admit it was no palace. Victoire’s small hand slipped into his and squeezed. “It’s perfect.”

He couldn’t help but laugh as he gazed down at her. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing because I think you might need glasses.”

She led him over to the third-hand couch and had him sit next to her. She rested her blonde head against his shoulder and sighed in contentment when he put an arm around her shoulder. “That table over there was the first one my parents had in their home. That table saw so many happy memories and it has the scars to show a long life of trials that only give it character, and right there,” she pointed to a box they’d yet to unpack. “Those are your grandmother’s dishes, Teddy. Those are the dishes that your mum ate off of as a child and that means she is here, and Grandma Andromeda is here with us. Your bed,” Victoire went on as a smile began to tug at his lips, “Is brand new and it’ll be just for us. It was really nice of Aunt Ginny to buy that for you as a house-warming gift.”

Thinking about her and that bed was not helping him anyway. “Uh…” he cleared his throat. “Yeah.”

“I have been thinking about it,” Victoire went on, not seeming to notice that his temperature was going up. “This isn’t the place we’ll have our babies, or where we’ll have fancy dinner parties, but this is the perfect place to gather with our friends from Hogwarts and look back on in ten years and think about how poor we were, and it didn’t matter because it was just you and me.”

Teddy brushed a kiss on the top of her head. “You’re right. It’s a place to start.”

“Yes,” she nodded and leaned further into him. “This whole flat is filled with things from people who love us and who want us to have a good life together. So, I think it’s perfect.”

She was right, of course. She usually was and she tended to see the better side of things. Teddy still missed his grandmother horribly, but getting to move into his own place felt like another step towards being the independent man she’d wanted him to be. By July he’d be a fully qualified Auror and his salary would take a huge boost, but just as that happened, he and Victoire were getting married and they’d have added expenses plus starting to pay off her loans from becoming a Healer. They would be poor as the proverbial church mice, but they’d have each other every day.

And every night.

Teddy tried to shake that off, but as if she’d read his mind, Victoire boosted herself up to kiss him, running her hands into his hair and holding him captivated by her soft lips. He skimmed his hands along her waist to guide her hips until she was straddling him on the couch and she would have no trouble knowing just how badly he wanted her. She let out a low purr as she settled more firmly into his embrace, deepening the kiss until he couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. All he knew was Victoire, and her scent and the curves of her body pressed against his chest.

Merlin, he loved her so much.

The simple thought had him pulling away and holding on, trying desperately to stop the wild pounding in his heart. “We have to stop.”

She didn’t reply as she sucked gently at the pulse on his neck.

Teddy groaned and tried to keep himself focused. “Luv… please… you’re… wow…”

Victoire sat up a bit so her blue eyes could meet his. The passion that he read there nearly undid him. “I want you. I want us to do this.”

“I do, too,” he replied throatily, stating the obvious. “But we can’t risk it.”

“We…” she hesitated and chewed at her lip. “We can do other things that don’t risk pregnancy.”

All sorts of wonderful images filled his mind, but he shut them down. “I don’t know…”

“I really want to,” Victoire said, but this time she sounded surer of herself as she climbed from his lap. He wanted to weep at the loss of her body on his, but his eyes went huge when she knelt before him.

“What…” he tried to think, tried to focus. “Your dad is going to kill me.”

Which was his only objection. It didn’t matter that they were engaged or adults. That didn’t matter, at all, to Bill Weasley.

“My dad is not going to know,” she reminded him as her pale brow arched. Victoire’s smile was radiant. “I have been waiting for this and we can do this without any risk of pregnancy. This is our place, Teddy… no one else’s. Please, I want to.” She cocked her head to the side. “Then, you can return the favor.”

“Ginny will know.” Because she would. She had a knack for knowing.

“Aunt Ginny has lots of very fun stories and she was married at sixteen,” Victoire informed him with a tiny laugh as she ran her hands up his thighs. “You’re already twenty and she’s not a hypocrite. If you really don’t want to, then we’ll wait.”

Teddy was a lot of things, but an idiot was not one of them. “We just have to be careful.”

“We will be,” she promised as her nimble fingers found the button on his jeans. “Now, stop arguing with me and enjoy.”

He did stop arguing. When it was her turn, he carried her to the bed because she deserved the bed when he explored her body for the very first time. The most beautiful sight on the planet had to be the love of his life coming completely undone under his touch.

Later, much later, when Victoire was back with her parents and he went to pick up another box from Ivy Run, Ginny gave him the once over and the small smirk that crossed her lips told him she did know. All Teddy could think was he wanted to be that all knowing when he was a parent.

~*~

James turned into the unused classroom at the sniffling noise, then nearly turned right back around when he saw Caroline crying in a corner, practically curled into a ball. She spotted him, though, so he stopped and waited while she swiped furiously at the tears on her cheeks.

He didn’t know why he did it, but his feet propelled him until he was sitting next to her on the ground, watching the flames of embarrassment flicker over her flushed face and puffy eyes.

There were no words that he could think to say that wouldn’t make the situation much worse. That, at least, he knew was the biggest issue with him. But now that he was on his second girlfriend, he thought he was starting to appreciate just when to keep his mouth shut around a girl. They tended to blow up over the stupidest things.

Caroline’s gaze flicked up to his, then back down again.

Finally, though, he couldn’t take it. “Do you want me to go?”

Her shoulders shrugged, which he took to mean as, ‘no’.

So he waited in the uncomfortable silence, not sure of what to do. Part of him wanted to get up and leave, but that seemed like it might make things worse and he really didn’t need to make things any worse between them. It was already strained and tense in the common room and during classes. He still didn’t know what to do about this girl, but he was fourteen and in his third year. He needed to figure them out at some point.

James really wished that girls weren’t so complicated. His cousins who were girls weren’t complicated. It might be because most of them were older than him and tended to smack him if they felt like it. He still had no idea why they felt like it so often, but now that he was getting older it had mostly stopped.

Roxy would still cuff him upside the head on a regular basis. She said it was good for him and James doubted that she’d ever stop, even when he was a head taller than her.

He really liked that he was getting taller. Annoyingly, Al was shooting up, too, and they were holding steady at the same height and Al weighed more than James did now.

“I’m sorry.”

James’ head snapped up to look at the girl and swallowed hard as her pretty eyes met his briefly. “For what?”

“It…” she hesitated. “It was me that put the bone in the corridor last year.”

For a long moment, he couldn’t remember what she was talking about. Then it hit him and shock flooded through him. “You did?”

“I was under the Imperius Curse,” Caroline muttered miserably. “Your dad took it off of me.”

James stared at her for a long, long time, unable to process what she was telling him. “My dad…”

She nodded and pushed a lock of her long, straight hair behind her ear. “He’s really nice.”

“Yeah,” James agreed, even though he wasn’t really sure what he was agreeing too. He was still too stupefied by what she’d told him. “What…” he shut his mouth when he realized he didn’t know what to ask.

“I don’t want everyone to know,” she said with a small hitch. “I’m sure you want to tell everyone it was me, but I don’t–”

“I won’t tell anyone,” James sat back, affronted that she thought that. “Did you tell Louis?”

His cousin had been there with him when Nat had tripped on the bone.

“I did,” she sighed and rested her cheek on her knees. “You’re… you’re the last one. I didn’t know how to tell you, to tell you that I’m sorry.”

It burned in his gut, sticking into him that she’d told him last, but he didn’t know why that ate at him so much. “You don’t have to say you’re sorry. You didn’t do it on purpose.”

Her eyes, the same blue as a sky right after a summer storm, were filled with pain so poignant and James had to look away. There was something about this girl that left him defensive and out of sorts… but still he was drawn to her. If he’d had to words to label it, it would have been something like tenderness or concern, mixed with a healthy dose of ire.

James’ hand moved automatically to brush at a tear on her cheek, but her startled gasp and flinch left his hand frozen between them. His fingers curled back and he let his hand drop. “Who hit you?”

She shook her head as she covered her face. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters,” he said as rage filled him. He had to fight hard not to raise his voice.

Caroline stood on shaking legs and headed for the door. At the last moment, she turned back. “I’m sorry, James.”

Then she was gone in a swing of blonde hair, leaving James more confused than he’d ever been in his life. Even when his girlfriend found him ten minutes later, he couldn’t begin to explain to her what he was doing on the floor of an unused classroom.

One look at her pinched expression, and James knew he couldn’t tell her the truth. He took her hand and smiled what he knew was the kind of charming smile that made her melt. “It was nothing, Kara. I just needed some time to think. My dad quitting his job and all…”

Thankfully, she bought it.

~*~

“You didn’t need to come help, Mum,” Ginny said to her mother as they prepared dinner that night for the family. They’d meant to have this dinner weeks before, but with Andromeda’s death, things had been pushed off while they all learned to cope with it. Ginny still couldn’t believe she was gone. She’d been closer to her own parents’ age and it was crippling to think of losing her parents now. Poor Teddy had taken an entire week off from training, but now he was back into it, using the work to push through the pain.

“I wanted to help,” Molly assured her as she peeled potatoes with her wand. “You know, I never thought you’d be the one to cook. You were always so determined not to do anything I did.”

Ginny laughed softly and gently nudged her mum with her shoulder. “I used to think a lot of things, but I grew up and realized that there were more important things than running away from stuff just so I’m not pigeonholed.” She took a deep breath. “So… Harry’s not working.”

“He’s driving you up the wall, right?” Molly mused as she put the potatoes in a pot. “Yes, I love your father but I’m not looking forward to him being at home all the time. I’m sure it’s going to be quite the adjustment.”

“I feel bad about it,” she admitted with a sheepish grin. “He wanted to paint the house, the Muggle way mind you, and ugh, Mum, I just about lost it! I didn’t want the house to stink like Muggle paint when we could just wave our wands and make the walls another color. He’s enjoyed flying with the kids a lot, but I have to take them in to do lessons and then everyone’s upset with me like I’m the bad guy.”

“Send him to work at George’s shop,” Molly suggested reasonably. “Make him get a job.”

Ginny shook her head and stopped what she was doing to turn more fully towards her mother. “He needs to be investigating. That’s what makes him happy.”

“Then he should do that on his own, freelance,” Molly told her simply. “Dumbledore did it.”

“Harry is not Dumbledore,” Ginny pointed out, knowing she was stating the obvious. “He’s powerful, but not like that. Dumbledore couldn’t be contained.”

Molly considered the problem for another moment. “Is Kingsley coming tonight?”

“Yes,” she confirmed, hoping that Kingsley would have some good news for them about the investigation into Isabella Crabbe, but not holding her breath. Ginny was reasonably certain that if anything had been solved, Kingsley would have stopped by to say something before now.

“Let’s just wait and see what he says when we talk,” Molly said after a long pause. “I think it will be something Kingsley is interested in Harry doing. Not a single person I’ve spoken to put their quill mark next to Smith’s name when they voted.”

That was the consensus that Ginny had as well. “It’s not supposed to be possible to cheat the voting parchment.”

“But,” Molly reminded her, “it is something that Harry can spend his time looking into. If someone did cheat, to get Helminth into office, then he can figure it out. He’s tenacious that way.”

That was very true. “You’re right.”

“Another thing I never expected you to say, my love,” Molly assured her with a broad smile on her lined face. “I never had those fun years where you would rebel against me and we’d battle over the boys you wanted to bring home. I used to think that we would when you were a toddler. You climbed bookcases and if you didn’t want to eat your sprouts, there was no one who was going to make you. I saw all that strong will and I was sure that you were going to be the biggest handful as a teenager.”

“That wasn’t the way it happened, though,” Ginny said as her hands stilled and she stared into the half-finished mix. “We were at war all those years, plus after the Chamber of Secrets I wasn’t the same ever again.”

“And you were in love with Harry,” her mother reminded her. “Your focus was on him and how you felt about him.”

“I dated other boys,” she reminded her.

Molly shook her head sadly. “They were just placeholders for you. None of them actually touched your heart.”

Ginny put down her wand and went for the wine, pouring them each a glass. She didn’t care about cooking at that moment. “You know, I used to think there was no way he’d ever look twice at me.”

“I still don’t know that I understand that,” Molly replied honestly as she took a sip of wine. “You’re smart, brave, and beautiful, Ginny.”

“When I saw him as Harry Potter,” she said, trying to figure out how to explain it to her, “I didn’t think there was any way I could be smart enough, brave enough, or beautiful enough for him to notice I was alive. It was so difficult to believe that he’d look at ordinary me, the one who had nearly killed a bunch of people in my first year, and see anything worth loving. But,” Ginny smiled sadly at her mother’s devastation, “I learned to love myself again. I learned to respect who I was, and more importantly I learned to see him as Harry, just a man like any other. Granted,” she chuckled dryly, “one with a few more tendencies to get into trouble than others, but still…”

“Just a man,” Molly agreed. “I couldn’t have asked for a better husband for you.”

Ginny had to agree. “And now I have to worry about Lily, although I admit I don’t worry overly much.”

“No,” her mum grinned broadly and turned back to the cooking. “Lily is not headstrong, nor is she gullible. She’s the prettiest little duck, but I think she will find a nice, young man to settle down with and have a good life. She doesn’t fight things.”

She could only hope that Lily’s life was smooth sailing. Thus far her daughter had no life ambitions, although she liked the idea of creating new spells and charms for healing people. She’d seen her aunt working on them, and thought that it was fascinating, but she was still so young. “I can’t believe she goes to Hogwarts next year. What will I do without her and Hugo?”

“Cry,” Molly assured her confidently. “That first day you’ll cry a lot, maybe even the whole first week. I bawled for quite a while after you’d left. It’s a grief that is filled with joy and sorrow, but then you learn to live with the hole that is left in your life and you find new ways of filling your day.”

“I could work more,” Ginny mused as she heard the door from the back of the house. She turned and saw Harry coming in. “Hi.”

“Hey,” he stepped up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissed her on the neck. “It’s starting to smell good. Can I help?”

“I have a job for you,” Molly told him simply.

“Mum!” Ginny sighed in exasperation.

Molly waved her off and turned to Harry, who stared at her, a little nonplused. “As your mother, it is my duty to inform you that if you’re not going to have gainful employment, I have chores at my house that you can see it. Idle boys have always been boys in trouble in my experience. Our shed is falling down and needs to be rebuilt.”

A slow grin crept over Harry’s face. He turned to Ginny. “You’re ready to kill me, aren’t you?”

“Well,” Ginny chewed at her lower lip, then decided to be honest. “Yes. I need you out of my hair.”

“I see,” he kissed his wife soundly. “Okay, Mum, I’ll get to that shed next week. But, do you want some help in the kitchen?”

Ginny prodded him towards the door. “I’m enjoying a glass of wine with my mother while we cook. You’re not wanted.”

He winked, clearly not affronted. “Okay, I’ll be outside, then, with Arthur.”

The moment he was gone, Ginny turned to glare at her mother. “Really?”

“Well, it’ll give you a break,” Molly told her, completely unrepentant. “And I do need that shed rebuilt. If your father does it, he’ll end up in St. Mungo’s and I’ll have Audrey glaring at me for letting him do it.”

She had to concede that her mother was probably right. “Teddy’s totally moved out now. He got the last of his stuff last night.”

“Has that been hard?”

Ginny didn’t know quite what it was. “He’s just so grown up. I know he and Victoire are itching to move to the next phase, but there are times I wish I could tell them to slow down and enjoy their time now. But, that’s easy for me to say since I was married so early.”

“You were a different woman, though,” Molly reminded her gently. “You’d just lived through war and tragedy. We were all damaged. You were mature beyond your years.”

“I was supposed to be a mother at seventeen,” Ginny’s eyes strayed to the window that overlooked the back garden. She saw Harry and Arthur tending to the plants out by Hope’s grave and felt a pang that was so bittersweet now.

“You were a mother at seventeen,” Molly reminded her. “You were a mother to Hope and you were Teddy’s mother. When you weren’t in training or at a game, you had that little boy here with you, just as often as you could. I marveled at you, my love. I don’t know that you ever saw that. We were all so worried and protective of you, but you’ve always been so strong.”

“Mum…” Ginny felt the funny prickle behind her eyes and into her nose that told her she was really close to tears.

Molly cupped her cheek and stroked at it with her thumb. “Do you remember how the boys used to have that council where they’d put each other on… what was the word?”

“Probation,” Ginny recalled. “Harry was in hot water when I was pregnant with Al because I was so sick.”

“I remember talking to Bill afterwards,” Molly said as her eyes lost focus. “He was so scared for you, so angry with Harry. I tried to scold him for being so hard on Harry, but he looked at me and said, ‘Mum, you don’t understand. We watched her nearly die once already because of a baby and it was his job to protect her. He left her to deal with James all on her own.’”

It hadn’t been exactly like that, but it was close enough. Harry was a lot of things, but perfect wasn’t one of them. When faced with a child that would not be consoled, and no experience in parenting, he’d hid at work. It had taken years of therapy to come to terms with what had happened. She’d never blamed Harry for dropping the ball when James had been tiny and colicky. Ginny had known, from day one, that Harry would struggle to learn to be a father because he’d never had a good, consistent father. She’d accepted that, but to her brothers, who’d always had Arthur there, his behavior was unacceptable. They didn’t see that Harry was starting from nothing and they wouldn’t accept less than stellar for their baby sister. She could understand where they were coming from, but had a better perspective. After Al’s birth, she’d given Bill a piece of her mind and reminded him of just how far Harry had come.

It also hadn’t helped that Teddy had been a remarkably good baby, so Harry’s standards for what a baby was supposed to do were extremely skewed. James had been, and still remained, their most difficult child. Speaking of Teddy… no. Ginny mentally shook herself. She was not bringing up anything with her mother. Molly would lose it if she thought the kids were doing anything but holding hands. Her mother was still extremely old fashioned. “I have heard James is on his second girlfriend this year.”

“Yes, I heard that, too,” Molly sighed as she dumped potatoes in a pot. “Lucy wrote me a nice, long letter last week and let me know all about the doings at Hogwarts. That boy is going to be just like his grandfather, you mark my words.”

That was a scary thought. “Of course,” Ginny pointed out as she mulled that over, “if he finds a lovely girl to settle down with that will be okay.”

“You never met him,” Molly reminded her. “I only did once, and I can assure you that he was wild. Even after they were married, I heard stories about him and Sirius. It was challenging taking Sirius seriously,” she paused as her brows knit. “You know, that’s more difficult to say than one would expect. Sirius seriously… well, anyway, knowing his past I had a hard time not seeing him as reckless. Those two had a reputation. Lily was said to be a calming and stabilizing influence on him. I think she must have been a very strong woman to stop him from running around.”

Ginny thought it was more likely that Lily’s tenacity for wanting things her own way had won James over. She simply wouldn’t bend when James was behaving like an arse. “We have some letters from her to Neville’s mum. Did I tell you about that?”

“No,” Molly said in surprise. “When did you get those?”

“Last summer,” Ginny took a long, slow sip of wine. “Harry learned that he wasn’t a planned baby.”

“Well,” Molly had to laugh at that one. “Honestly, darling, how many of the babies were planned? They were so young and the world was in such a state? You and Percy were planned. That’s it. You planned for Lily, but the others? Nope.”

Now that she thought about it, Ginny felt the amusement bubble up. “Let’s see. Victoire was planned, Lucy was planned, Rose and Hugo were planned and… yeah, Lily. So about half of them.”

“Exactly,” her mother agreed. “Babies come when they’re going to come. We don’t always have a say in that.”

As they gathered around the table that night, all her brothers and their wives, minus Charlie, plus Kingsley, Ginny couldn’t help but be grateful that they were so close that this group had the cohesion of long standing friends, as well as family. Teddy and Victoire smiled at each other in a way that she knew spoke of further intimacies than they’d shared before and she was glad for them… and hoping that one of those unplanned babies didn’t make an appearance. Still, she trusted both of them and their good judgement. She thought they’d likely be careful. Ginny also thought that Fleur might have an inkling of what had occurred with the couple, but if she had, she was keeping it from Bill. Bill had mellowed a good bit in his years, except when it came to his daughters. If Victoire or Dominque were involved, his brain devolved into that of a stampeding Hippogriff.

Lily and Hugo were not terribly happy to be sent up to play once they’d finished eating, but they trudged along, knowing it was futile to argue. Harry put up several protective charms to stop them from listening in on the conversation, but Ginny knew that Lily wasn’t likely to anyway. Hugo might, though.

“I think,” Arthur said as soon as they were sure it was safe, “that we need to take a closer look at this election. Something is rotten with it.”

They were all seated around the long, wooden table that could expand to hold the entire family.

“I shouldn’t have retired,” Kingsley said on a long, slow sigh. “I had hoped that Macmillan would come in and I knew she’d do an excellent job of supporting Harry, but Smith… I really wanted him pushed out, but he’s got all that family clout.”

“What he’s doing in the Auror department is just obnoxious,” Teddy added as he twirled his wine glass between his fingers. “I’m not even involved in most of the oversight, but it has all the Aurors annoyed and on edge. We still have no leads on finding that missing woman and now another is gone.”

Ginny’s heart clenched. “When did that happen?”

“Yesterday,” Arthur said sadly.

“What can we do, though?” Ron asked them. “George and I have been talking about it–”

Angelina shook her head, cutting him off. “No.”

“But, babe,” George turned to his wife, who glared back stubbornly. “It might be the only hope we have of finding some answers.”

“No,” Angelina pointed a finger at him. “If you want to be sleeping on the couch for the next five years, then you go right ahead, but this is reckless and premature, not to mention immature.”

“Can I ask?” Bill interjected.

Hermione nodded, looking alarmed. “Yes, what are you two talking about?”

“We have this plan to oust him as Minister,” George told him. “It was actually Fred’s idea. He and the kids came up with it and sent me a coded message.”

“It’s a damn stupid idea,” Angelina interjected. “I’m extremely annoyed that your son thought that was a good use of his time while at school.”

George shrugged that off, totally unabashed. “I actually think it’s brilliant. He gives me hope that he’ll continue in the family business.”

“Please,” Bill held up his hands. “Someone explain before we all agree that it’s a damn stupid idea.”

“See,” Ron picked the story back up, shooting his sister-in-law a nervous glance. “The kids thought that creating a scandal around the Minister would be enough to get him to resign. They wanted it to be something embarrassing that would force him out of the Ministry, but wouldn’t be enough to land him in Azkaban or in any legal trouble. As Fred put it, he’s an idiot, not a criminal. They reckon, and we all agree, that if the voting was rigged, it wasn’t done by Smith, but by someone who wants to use him as a puppet.”

“But the question is who,” Hermione reminded Ron. “We don’t know who.”

“We know who,” Harry sighed heavily. “It’s Isabella Crabbe. We don’t know why or if Smith knows he’s being used.”

“Okay,” Hermione nodded in acquiesces. “What was Fred’s idea?”

George chortled. “See, this is the kicker. It’s already happened. Nat told him this story about a one of the Muggle royals being caught on one of those, what do you call them,” he turned to Hermione. “Recording somethings?”

“Tape recordings?” Hermione tried to fill in.

“Yeah, something like that,” George nodded enthusiastically. “The bloke said something nasty about a reporter being an idiot, or something like that. It’s the sort of thing that Smith likely does, but we don’t know because we never record things like that except with a Quick Quotes Quill.”

“How,” Hermione rolled her eyes to the ceiling, “do you propose to record the Minister saying something embarrassing, though? None of those things will work in the Ministry.”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” George waved it off confidently. “We have that system you used to get the telephone to work and we can make it work on other devises.”

“I’m not sure that you will, though,” Hermione narrowed her eyes, lost in thought. “They’re extremely sensitive. You might just pick up the sound vibrations from the magic in the air.”

Everyone stared at her blankly.

“Never mind,” Hermione shook her head as a flush spread over her cheeks. “The point is that it’s not a good idea, and I don’t think it will work.”

“Thank you,” Angelina held up her glass, toasting Hermione. “I can always count on you to be sensible and keep these idiots out of prison.”

“I think Harry should look into the voter fraud.”

Everyone turned to Ginny.

“Come again?” Harry linked their hands under the table.

“I think you should try to figure out how the voting was rigged,” Ginny said again. Then she turned to Kingsley. “Can you commission a special, independent review?”

“It’s not exactly in my prevue, even as Head of the Aurors,” Kingsley turned to Hermione. “What do you think?”

She tapped her fingers rhythmically on the table. “It could work. If we have enough support from the department heads we could form a commission. Or, we could start a public call for it.”

“We need the press on board,” Ginny agreed, which was more her area. “I can get a few people to push stories about the election, calling it into question. We could do informal polls, seeing if the numbers add up. My impression is that Smith won by a landslide.”

“It was steep,” Arthur agreed sadly. “Something like ninety percent of the voters.”

“Wait a minute,” Victoire turned to her grandfather. “Do people know that it was that much?”

He shook his head. “That’s not supposed to be public information.”

“Okay, then,” Victoire smiled at him. “I think it’s time that leaked to the press. That, right there, would get everyone wondering.”

“She’s got a point,” Harry told Arthur.

Molly patted her husband’s shoulder. “You’ve been a good employee, but you’re about to retire. I’m not sure we can risk your pension.”

“Screw the pension,” Harry shook his head. “If anything like that happens, you know we have the money to make up for it.”

“Harry…” Arthur began, but Harry shook his head.

“No,” Harry’s jaw firmed. “I have money, which means you have money. We’ve been through this. You’re my parents and I love you. I can’t ask Percy to lose his job now, not when his kids are still in Hogwarts.”

Percy shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Technically, I’m not privy to that information anyway.”

“It would be me or Arthur,” Hermione told Harry.

“You don’t need that job, either,” Ron pulled her hand up to his lips as he gazed at her in concern. “It’s causing nothing but stress in your life right now. You really should let Zacharias Smith go down in a flaming ball.”

“He’s right,” Fleur agreed pointedly. “It is not your job to clean up his messes.”

Hermione pinched her lips together and said nothing.

“Hermione can’t take the fall,” Bill said to his father. “She’s got a good shot of being Minister someday and she’d do a damn fine job of it. Harry’s right, Dad, you should leak that to the press in an interview. If you are fired, we’ll pick up the slack. You took care of all of us for all those years, working hard and sacrificing. None of us would mind doing the same for you.”

Arthur turned to his wife and Ginny watched their silent exchange. She knew, even before her father spoke, what the outcome was. “I’ll arrange an interview for you,” Ginny told him quietly. “I have a friend who is really good and she’ll do the story justice.”

The dinner broke up twenty minutes later and it was with exhaustion that Ginny climbed into her bed, feeling a little sick at the thought that her father’s long, good career might go up in smoke.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Harry told her as he climbed in beside her.

She didn’t want to think about it, though. “I was talking to Mum about when we were at Hogwarts.”

“Were you?” he asked as he kissed her shoulder and wrapped his arm around her middle.

“I used to think you’d never see me as anything but this skinny, freckly redhead,” Ginny reminisced and was extremely thankful to no longer be that same girl. “I thought there was no way I could compete with someone like Cho Chang.”

“Oh, how little you knew,” Harry grinned. “That whole crying thing…”

She snorted and turned to face him so she could trace her fingers over the familiar plains of his face. “Lily is definitely a crier and yet you never run from her tears.”

“Well,” he reasoned fairly, “I’m used to her crying and I’m not exactly fourteen anymore. Besides,” Harry kissed the tip of her nose, “I would do anything to put a smile on Lily’s face. She’s my little girl, the only girl, so she gets special consideration.”

“We were talking about Lily, too,” Ginny told him as she closed her eyes. “She’ll be so easy. She’s not going to date the wild boys. There isn’t a rebellious bone in her body, which means that if she didn’t have all those brothers and cousins, she’d be easy to take advantage of. Since she does have them all looking out for her, including Hugo who is going to be just like Ron, we’ll be fine.”

“I dunno,” Harry said after a moment’s pause. “I think with her tender heart, she could be led astray. I’m still worried.”

“You’re going to worry,” she knew that one as certain fact. “But she, at least, won’t be hampered by the insecurities that plagued me. Merlin, I was so sure I was going to die loving you and you’d still never know I existed. I was going to end up married to some poor berk I didn’t really care for. I actually imagined myself feeling sorry for him, whomever that ‘him’ was.”

Harry burst out laughing. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope,” she grinned at her own folly. “I was dramatic at fourteen. I was this big time martyr in my own head. I think I’d convinced myself that if I didn’t believe you were ever a possibility that it wouldn’t hurt as much when you went out with other girls.”

“Did that work?”

“Not in the least,” Ginny sighed as she let her hand creep down his side. “I couldn’t give up on you. I just knew… I don’t know how I knew, but I knew you were the one, you were it for me. There probably could have been other girls for you, but you were my one and only.”

“No,” he replied simply. “There was never going to be anyone but you. From that first kiss, I was hooked. You held my heart without any effort and you kept it safe, even when I didn’t know that’s what I needed. I didn’t understand then, but do you remember when you came to get me from the foot of the tower after Dumbledore fell?”

“Yeah,” she turned her gaze back to his. “I took your hand and pulled you back to the castle.”

“You didn’t really have to pull, though,” he reminded her. “I wanted to go, because I knew that wherever you were leading me was where I needed to be. I would have followed you anywhere, Gin. My heart was already tied to yours then. The thing I feared most was losing you. I could risk losing Ron and Hermione more than you, even though I didn’t know it at the time.”

She wanted to cry. Ginny’s heart swelled under the influence of his words until all she felt was amazing gratitude. “You never told me that.”

“I don’t think I really understood it for the longest time,” Harry admitted honestly. “At the time I couldn’t have said that I’d pick you over Ron. That would have been too difficult. Now, though… now I know that I’d pick you and Ron would tell me to pick you. Hermione wouldn’t thank either of us for that, though, so I’m thankful I don’t have to choose.”

“Me, too,” she assured him. She pressed her mouth to his and let her hand wander further south. “Now, we’re going to play a game where I get to touch you in ways that only I get to touch you and only I have ever touched you. How does that sound?”

“Really bloody brilliant,” he groaned against her mouth.

Back to index


Chapter 19: Chapter 16

Author's Notes: Are you ready to mutiny yet? I am so, so sorry about this. The chapter took forever, I'm in the middle of editing one book, and starting another series of books (this time for kids) and yeah, I know some fanfiction authors only update once every few months (or years *cough*) but I do try to be very consistent. My goal was every two weeks, but it's not happening like that. I am still trying, still plugging away.

Keep reviewing! It keeps me motivated. Seriously, it does. I enjoy the interaction, even if you've got some suggestions for making the story better. This is how I learn.


“Don’t be nervous,” Ginny told her father as they headed for the small back room at a Muggle pub. Ginny had placed a call to reserve this particular room, knowing it would be well concealed. The owner was a Squib and someone Ginny had worked with before when meeting, in secret, with various Quidditch players who didn’t want to be on the official record.

Her father shuffled after her as they wended around the crowded bar, completely ignored by the other patrons. Ginny waved to the large woman manning the tap. “Hello, Sally.”

“Ginny,” Sally inclined her head. “I’ll be back for drinks in a bit.”

“Thanks,” Ginny called back as she pushed open the back room’s heavy door.

Her colleague, Brian Wallach, watched them enter. He was a thin man with thick, wavy black hair that he kept cropped short. Today he was in a perfectly tailored Muggle suit. Being Muggleborn, he did a very good job of blending in when needed.

He was, typically, the man that The Daily Prophet used when Muggles were involved.

Ginny moved over to shake his hand as the other man rose to an impressive height. “Thanks for meeting us, Brian. Have you met my father, Arthur?”

“I have once, I believe,” Brian shook Arthur’s hand as they all sat around the small, round table. “I am interested in what I’m about to hear. I also know that your career is on the line, Mr. Weasley, and I will do my upmost to protect you. This is an important story.”

Her dad cleared his throat and finally spoke for the first time. “I appreciate that.”

Ginny took his hand, hating that his voice cracked from nerves. “Just tell Brian what you’ve found out.”

Arthur nodded as if ticking through a list in his head, which Ginny supposed he was. “The first part is that I’ve seen the tick marks for the election. It’s verified by a few of us on staff and it’s not good. Smith won by ninety-two percent, which the other candidates splitting the last eight evenly. That, in itself, is odd, because I have never heard of the trailing candidates having matching numbers. The votes were identical between the others.”

“That’s very odd,” Brian agreed as he took notes. “Who else has access to those votes?”

“Just a few of us,” Arthur told him. “Senior Ministry can gain access, but most won’t. The problem is that of everyone I’ve spoken to, and it’s been a lot of people, no one voted for Smith.”

“I’ve taken an informal poll as well,” Brian said, glancing up. “It was not good numbers. The exit polls were saying Macmillan.”

“That’s what I thought, too,” Arthur sighed heavily, then froze as a knock sounded at the door.

“That will be Sally,” Ginny told her father reassuringly. “Let’s get you a beer. I think this will go better that way.”

Once they all had drinks, they set up magical protections and went to work. “Smith is working to restructure the Ministry. With his landslide victory, which was highly unexpected, he’s feeling like he has to answer to no one.”

“Why did Harry Potter leave the Ministry?” Brian asked the question that Ginny knew was coming, and had refused to answer.

“Kingsley Shacklebolt set up the Head Auror to be answerable to no one but the Minister of Magic. This was done,” Arthur explained in a measured tone, “to ensure that the Aurors could not be corrupted. Under another Head, the Aurors might have been a problem, but Harry Potter is not a politician. He has no ambitions to rise further, or take over. He could have, on any number of occasions, but like Dumbledore before him, Harry wants to do what he does best. That’s not running the Ministry. I have personally witnessed him passing off the parts of the job that he didn’t like on many occasions.”

“Can you give me an example?”

“Dealing with the press,” Arthur smiled grimly. “He hates that, which is odd since his wife is a member of the press. No, Harry would typically beg someone like Hermione Weasley to make the press statements for him. He wanted to investigate, capture the criminals, and keep us safe. That was his job, in his view. The first day that he was in office, Smith demanded that Potter be answerable to him. Smith changed the regulations and dictated that Harry would have to run every decision through the Minister, rather than having some room to use his discretion. Shacklebolt asked for the highlights, while Smith wanted control of every detail.”

Brian nodded as he continued to scribble furiously. “I’ve met Potter a few times. I can’t imagine that went over too well.”

“He quit immediately and walked out of the Ministry,” Arthur informed him. “He was our best chance of catching whoever is taking these women, but now he’s gone. He didn’t feel the office had the integrity to continue, so he wouldn’t participate.”

“Has any progress been made in getting the women back?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Arthur told him simply. “They’re still looking, but that sort of information is kept very closely guarded so that the women’s lives are endangered further. I’m saddened that the best Auror we’ve had since Mad-Eye Moody was driven from the Ministry because he knew it would be corrupted under Smith. Several senior Ministry officials have asked the Minister for an enquiry about the election, but he is refusing.”

Brian waited a beat, seeming to take that in. “The Minister is refusing a request for an investigation on the election?”

“I do not believe, for one moment, that Smith rigged the election,” Arthur told him with absolute sincerity. “I do think, though, that something odd went on. No election has been a landslide like that, not even when Kingsley came in right after the war.”

“What do you think of the new Minister?”

“Well…” Arthur cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. “I do not believe that he is bringing the Ministry together to work as a team. In this time of crisis, with women being abducted, I feel we must work as a cohesive unit.”

Brian nodded and held up one finger to finish his notes. “Do you have any thoughts on Zacharias Smith becoming the Head of the MLE?”

“He is an incompetent twerp,” Arthur spit out as his face went bright red on that. “You can quote me. He’s causing a lot of damage and if Hermione Weasley weren’t sweeping up his messes, the Ministry would be in dire straits. It’s a clear case of nepotism and Smith has no qualifications for the job.”

Brian’s grin spread slowly. “Thank you for your time.”

~*~

“Did you see that article in The Daily Prophet?” Lucy asked as she came over to the Gryffindor table holding the article in question. She spread it out before Roxy, who happened to be sitting close to where Al, Nat, Rose, and Scorpius were sitting.

It was the last day before the winter hols and Nat was more than ready to get out of the school, even though she couldn’t go to her parents’ flat in London. She would, at least, get to see them for a few days. She was still hooked up to the feeding bag because of the mishap where the bag had been cut. After an intense interview by Madam Longbottom of the girls in the dorm, one of Nat’s dorm mates admitted she might have knocked into it in the middle of the night on her way to the bathroom. She hadn’t been sure so she hadn’t said anything.

Because of one lousy mistake, Nat was stuck as a medical freak for at least another month. Her attention, which had wandered, jumped back to the matter at hand when Rose elbowed her in the side. “Sorry?”

“We were discussing the article,” Rose told her. She frowned in concern. “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” Nat sighed as she glanced away. “Just tired. I’m ready to go.” It was an understatement. She was exhausted and not sleeping well. Every time she closed her eyes, she had horrible nightmares.

Everyone stared at her with concern. It was Fred who acted, though. “Right you are then, Nat. Let’s head up to see the nurse.”

“No,” Nat shot him an annoyed glare. “I’m fine! I’m just tired, that’s all.”

“Just tired with you means you’re likely to pass out,” Scorpius pointed out fairly.

Nat stood and stepped over the bench. “I’m fine. I’ll… I’ll see you all later.”

She stomped off, heading towards the dorm. Nat hated being out of sorts with anyone, for any reason, but that’s all she’d felt recently. It was miserable being so helpless, so sick all the time. She didn’t want people to continue to pity her.

“Leah,” came Al’s voice from behind her.

Nat turned as she watched him jog up to her. He’d taken to calling her that, sometimes, true to his word. Peeves still called her ‘gnatty-Nat’ on a regular basis, though. Oddly enough, though, Al never said it when anyone else could hear them.

“You don’t have to go with me,” Nat protested immediately. “I can make it on my own.”

Al shot her a puzzled look. “I know you can. I wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh,” she felt her face flush as they continued up the main staircase. “What’s up?”

“I spoke to my dad about Caroline’s cheer competition thing and he said no,” Al sighed. “I didn’t expect him to say yes, but still. He said with security the way it is that we’re not going anywhere.”

Compassion swamped Nat. She knew what it was to have to be cosseted, but it didn’t make it any easier to bear. Al had no choice on whether or not he wanted to explore the world around him. “You won’t be twelve forever, you know.”

He grinned a little at that. “Says the person who is also twelve.”

“Yes, but what I mean is you’ll be an adult eventually, and,” she added when he would have protested, “once you’re not quite the novice at protecting yourself, he’ll let go a little. Right now if someone kidnapped you, the best you could do was to shoot sparks at them.”

Al looked for a moment like he wanted to protest, but eventually he just shrugged and let it go. “I’m glad you’ll be with us for Christmas. James is being a prat about his girlfriend, Kara. He is mad at Mum and Dad for not letting her come to visit.”

“But they let me,” Nat pointed out. “Of course, my parents are Muggles, so they’re no threat.”

“You were also let in before the threat got worse,” Al reminded her. “Poor Lily won’t get to have any of her school mates over to stay.”

~*~

Harry stared at the train as it slowly pulled to a stop at the station. He’d nearly insisted on the children using the Floo Network to get home but Ginny had reminded him that they’d enjoyed the train rides, and with Nat’s feeding line, the Floo could be trickier. She wasn’t exactly a graceful child.

He’d insisted on Lily staying at home, with Teddy. Ever since he’d left his job, he’d become paranoid and more and more on edge. Something always seemed to be nagging at him, watching him, waiting for something.

“Would you relax?” Ginny groused next to him. “Your edginess is making me edgy.”

Harry let his brow rise in answer.

“Fine,” she said as the train pulled to a stop, “but do try to smile at the children as though you’ve missed them and this isn’t a big chore for you.”

He felt instantly stung. “I didn’t say–”

“Smile, damn it,” she ordered through her own smile. Harry noted that her teeth were gritted together.

He did try to smile as the doors slid open and children poured from the carriages, happy and chattering. It would be good to have his children home again.

Plus, the house-elf, Polly, had asked to come back. Harry had attempted not to jump for joy over it. The story that Arthur had given had set off a firestorm, and now the wizarding community was in an uproar, demanding an inquisition. Minister Smith, however, was stubbornly refusing to cave, even though he was essentially committing political suicide.

Harry had started his own investigation, exploring how the voting was set up and trying to work out if there was any way to falsify an election’s results. He felt a bit like the fake Moody, back during the Triwizard Tournament. The pretend Moody had laid out exactly how one might fool the Goblet of Fire. He would have known, of course, since he’d been the one to do it. Still, though, Harry was finding a couple of ways that someone might be able to stick in another candidate and the easiest way to do that was through the ballots.

He had no real answers yet, but Harry was forcing himself to put that aside for the day and enjoy his sons being home.

They emerged slowly from the train and Harry saw why, instantly. Al had his arm around Nat who looked decidedly green.

Before he could even move forward, Audrey rushed forward to get a better look at the girl. “We need to get you home.”

“I think I got motion sickness,” Nat said barely above a whisper.

Audrey waved her wand over Nat and immediately the girl sighed in relief. “Better?”

“Much!” Nat grinned. “Thanks!”

“Hey,” Harry hugged Al first, before turning to try to locate James. His son, however, was attached at the lips to a girl he didn’t know. “Uh…”

Al glanced over at them dismissively. “He’ll be up for air soon, Dad. Just ignore him.”

“Er,” Harry wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about that. “Right. Did you have a good term?”

“Not too bad,” Al nodded as he turned around to help Rose bring her bag down.

“Hi, Uncle Harry,” she beamed at him before racing over to throw herself at her mother.

Harry turned back to Al and was startled to see that his son was a couple of inches taller than he’d been in September. “You’re shooting up.”

Al pointed down towards his trousers and Harry saw, to his amusement, that they barely covered his socks. “I noticed, Dad.”

“You could have written for more trousers,” Harry pointed out as he stepped aside so Ginny could hug Al.

“We’ll have to go to Diagon Alley, I suppose,” Ginny agreed as she observed her son. “Goodness! Nat said you were getting growing, but I didn’t expect this much! Look at you!”

Al blushed and shoved his hands in his pockets. “It’s not a big deal.”

Nat came over to them and touched Harry’s sleeve. He glanced down at her in concern and saw her face was ashen. “What?”

“That man,” she whispered at barely above a whisper. “He’s covered in that blue light, the one I told you about with the mouse. He’s… he’s staring at you.”

Fear and adrenaline rocketed through Harry, but he mastered his impulse to spin and begin firing curses. He needed to think this through, and think about it quickly. “Don’t look at him, Nat.”

She turned her elfin face up to his and he watched her force a brittle smile. “He has brown hair and a black cap on his head.”

Harry smiled back, reassuringly, even though he didn’t know what he was going to do.

“Harry?” Ginny asked softly, and he heard the thousand questions she had.

“You stay here with the family,” Harry told her. “Wait here, I’ll be back.”

Harry turned and saw the man Nat had pointed out, but he couldn’t see his face. He’d turned and was walking away from them at a very fast clip. He took off after the man, wondering why this person was under the Imperius Curse. Harry had to wonder, too, why the man had been studying them in the train station. What had he been waiting for?

He dodged around other families, trying not to knock into anyone. He didn’t acknowledge any attempts of those trying to gain his attention. His whole focus was on the man speeding away from him. Harry nearly bowled over a grandmother who screeched indignantly as he ran full out towards the barrier towards to the platform. Harry lost sight of him as he moved through the divide into the Muggle world and by the time Harry skidded through, the man was gone.

Harry spent another ten minutes trying to find the man, but was forced to give up and go back for his family. By the time he arrived back at the train’s platform, only his family and Ginny’s brothers remained, watching the kids, who waited anxiously.

“Anything, Dad?” Al asked him the moment he was back.

“I couldn’t find him,” Harry answered quickly. “Let’s get to the car and get home. Bill,” he glanced to his brother-in-law. “Can you ride with us?”

Bill nodded. “Let’s go.”

The drive home was the longest of Harry’s memory. Surely the car could move faster than this, but it seemed to take forever. Bill and Ginny kept a lookout around them as Harry drove, but they finally arrived back at Ivy Run without a single incident.

Audrey met them there, along with Polly the amazing house-elf. Audrey hustled Nat off to examine her, while everyone else brought the trunks in. They were supposed to be having dinner at Ivy Run that night, and thankfully Polly already had preparations underway.

Ginny stared at the kitchen in wonder as the little elf dove through all the fixing. “I want to help her,” she said to Harry, who came up behind her to link his arms around her waist. “I really do, but she keeps shoeing me away.”

Harry bent to press his lips to his wife’s neck, luxuriating in the soft feel of skin there, even as his mind fled off to other things. “I need to go see Kingsley.”

“Yeah,” Ginny agreed. “Invite him for dinner, and you’d better not be late.”

“I promise,” Harry told her earnestly.

It used to be that walking into the Ministry at any time was a simple matter of just walking in. Now, he had to go through the security desk and put on a visitor’s badge. He smiled at the security man and waited while his wand was checked.

Harry shook off his annoyance at having to wait. He had, after all, quit in a spectacular fashion, so this was all to be expected.

By the time he made his way up to the Auror office, though, he was ready to be done with this. Daniel had stayed on as the personal assistant to the Head Auror, and the moment Harry rounded the corner, the young man grinned. There was something behind Daniel’s eyes, though. “Hey, do you need him?”

“Yes, if he’s free,” Harry said, then added quickly, “actually I need him even if he isn’t free, but I can wait a few minutes.”

“He’s busy at the moment, but he should be free soon,” Daniel informed him.

The second he finished speaking, Kingsley’s door opened and the man appeared with the parents of Veronica Sinestra, the woman who had gone missing when Harry was still in charge. They met his gaze, but the grief there was all Harry needed to see to know that the news was not good for their daughter.

His gut clenched horribly, in sympathy with them.

“Again,” Kingsley said quietly. “If we hear anything else, I will let you know. We’re still looking, though. Finding her and the other girl are our main focus.”

The man, and Harry had to struggle for a moment to remember his name was Miles, turned to Harry. “Are you still looking?”

“I can’t,” Harry answered helplessly. “I could be arrested for interfering.”

“What about as a private consultant?” his wife, Leanne questioned desperately. “We need to find her.”

Kingsley stepped in. “I really wish he could help us, but the Minister has enacted strict rules.”

Miles’ face went bright red.

“As someone who isn’t involved in the Ministry, anymore,” Harry told them in a low undertone. “I would speak to Brian at The Daily Prophet about the limited resources the Minister is allowing for your case.”

Kingsley shot him an annoyed glare. “Just do not reveal any of the sensitive information if you do.”

“No, I won’t,” Miles held out his hand to Harry. “Thank you for the suggestion.”

The moment they were gone, Harry was ushered into what used to be his office. He flopped down into one of the seats and rubbed at his sore temple. “Natalie Parker spotted a man at the train station today.”

“I expect there were a lot of men at the train station,” Kingsley commented dryly as he sat down, too.

“This one had the dancing blue lights around him,” Harry informed him quietly. A light of recognition and alarm flashed in Kingsley’s face. “I tried to chase him down, but he got away. We did manage to get all the kids safely home, though.”

“That’s not good,” Kingsley agreed heavily. He scrubbed at his face and Harry saw the exhaustion etched on his face. “The article in the paper has definitely made an impact here, but it wasn’t the one we were hoping for. Smith has doubled-down on not forming an inquiry, despite the public pressure. We’re at odds over it. His decree that no one can interfere from outside the Ministry has left our hands tied.”

Harry shrugged that off. He wasn’t above looking into the mess, despite the Minister. He would, however, do better with their support. “I want to unofficially report a man under the Imperius Curse, but of course, not officially because we can’t give Nat’s secret up.”

“What a mess,” Kingsley groaned. “Alright, I’ll put out a warning saying to be on the lookout for family or friends acting oddly. This wasn’t how I wanted to spend the day.”

“Cheer up,” Harry rose. “Ginny says you’re coming for dinner.”

Kingsley grinned then. “That does make it better.”

~*~

Teddy stared at the report as his fingers shook and numbness overtook his whole body. He sat on the couch in Harry and Ginny’s living room, unable to fully take in the words on the pages that Audrey had given him. Victoire sat next to him, with her hand on his leg. “Teddy?”

“Poison,” he told her. “My grandmother was poisoned.”

A sob burst from Victoire and she threw her arms around his neck. “I am so sorry.”

Ginny came to sit on his other side, rubbing at his back. She didn’t say anything, though.

There really were no words.

It was not the sort of thing one wanted to learn about three days before Christmas. At least all of the kids were in bed. He was struggling not to cry, as it was. It was odd to hurt so much at the same moment he was absolutely numb and couldn’t move.

Harry crouched down in front of him as Audrey sat in the chair across the room, her hands twisted together to hide the shaking. “We’ll find her.”

“I know,” Teddy agreed as he shut his eyes and forced back the grief.

~*~

“Happy Christmas!” Lily called out merrily as she hopped down from the top bunk, practically landing on Nat’s legs. “Come on!” she poked at Nat.

Nat tried to force her eyes open but all that happened was a yawn. “It’s too early.”

“It’s almost breakfast,” Lily informed her genially. “I know that doesn’t mean much for you, but still.”

“Okay,” Nat waved her off. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

Hopefully her parents would be at Ivy Run by lunch, then they would stay for two days.

Nat didn’t want to move, though. She was warm, comfortable, and exhausted. There was nothing about the feeding tube that made her feel well. It kept her alive, and going, but it also doled out potions to try to repair whatever had happened to her in Brazil, and it left her weak and drained more often than not.

A knock sounded at the door and Al poked his head in. He smiled and came over, holding out a hand. “Come on, time to get up.”

She let him pull her up, mostly because it was easier that way. He was now almost a head taller than she was. Nat stretched before unhooking the backpack from the side of the bed and shrugging it on. “Okay,” she said after it was situated. “Let’s go.”

Christmas Day was lovely. The snow fell softly outside, blanketing the world in a winter wonderland. Her parents made it just before the roads became too clogged to drive, thankfully. Most of the Weasley family was there, too, apart from Al’s Uncle Charlie.

Nat sat on one of the couches near the windows and watched the snow fall while people laughed and chatted around her. She turned when the couch cushion next to her depressed and saw Audrey Weasley studying her in concern. “You know,” she said to Nat, “when I first met you I thought that you were the happiest child I’d ever met. You were resilient, self-aware, and always upbeat. That’s not you anymore.”

“No,” Nat agreed sadly. “I don’t have the energy for it anymore.”

Audrey nodded thoughtfully. “When you’re better, though, you will again. I think. It’s safe to say you are a unique case, but I think you’ll be alright once we can get you stable.”

“Do you know how much longer?” Nat asked, unsure if she really wanted the answer.

The Healer smiled sadly. “It all depends on your body, I’m afraid. I think, though, that your mood could help you heal faster. Have you heard that a positive attitude can speed healing?”

She had heard that, more than once, but at the moment there was no way to drudge up a positive attitude. “I don’t know how to fix it.”

“What’s the worst part for you?” Audrey wanted to know.

“I think it’s not being able to eat, and not having much energy,” she said after she’d thought about it. “I miss food, but eating can make me feel nauseated more often than not.”

“Do you know what has happened, though?”

“What?” Nat asked hesitantly.

“You have gained two pounds and you’re almost an inch taller than you were in August,” Audrey informed her with a grin. “That’s a major growth spurt for you.”

Excitement flickered to life in Nat’s heart. “Really?”

“Yes, really,” Audrey confirmed as she patted Nat’s hand. “I don’t want you to lose heart, okay? I know it’s hard, but you’re making a lot of wonderful progress. I think that we’ll be able to take you off the feeding line by March, at the latest, but you need to try to boost your spirits, okay?”

“Okay,” Nat agreed with an answering smile. She turned back to the snow and felt her heart lighten even further. She wasn’t tall, by any measure, but being taller meant she just might not standing out quite so much. That was a very good thing.

~*~

“Maybe we should leave the kids at home,” Ginny told Harry as they prepared to head to Diagon Alley. Al really needed new clothes. He was so tall, now, that nothing he owned was decent anymore. “You could go with Al, and I could stay here.”

Harry had thought about that, more than once, but all the kids were excited for the trip to London and they only had one more day until they would head back to Hogwarts. “I leave it up to you.”

“Ugh, alright,” she clipped her hair back and examined it in the mirror over their dresser. “They all want to go, so we’ll go.”

“I think we’ll be fine,” Harry said confidentially. “Things can happen in Diagon Alley, but it will likely be crowded today, and we won’t be caught alone.”

“You’re right,” Ginny came over to wind her arms around his waist. “You spoke to Ron, right? He says he’ll come with us?”

Harry pressed his lips to her brow and almost told her just to stay home. He squashed the urge, and said, “Yes, he said he’d watch my sorry bum.”

It had been a quiet few days, but that wasn’t to say things couldn’t still go wrong. Nat’s parents had come and gone. They’d had nearly a foot of snow fall around their house, and Nat had practiced using the Floo between their home and The Burrow, just to make sure she could with the feeding line.

It turned out, she couldn’t. The weight unbalanced her so much that she tumbled out, so they’d removed the feeding bag and someone else carried it through while she traveled alone. The whole summer, after she’d been brought back to England after her kidnapping, she’d been quiet and withdrawn, but she was starting to get some of her spark back. It was good to see.

Harry and Ginny walked down the stairs, their hands linked, to find Al and Lily battling it out in wizard’s chess. Harry could already see from Al’s expression that he was going to win. He watched Lily glance up and snort in disgust. “It’s like you’re gloating!”

“I’m not gloating!” Al retorted indignantly. “I just know I’m going to win in three moves.”

“Call it check mate and grab your coats, kids,” Ginny told them all as she moved over to Nat to help her remove the feeding bag. “Okay, are you ready for this?” his wife asked the small girl.

Nat smiled confidently. “I can do this… as long as James or Al goes first in case I fall out again.”

James snickered and went for the pot with the Floo powder. “I’ll go, then. See you there!” He took a pinch, threw it into the lit fire, and called out, “Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes!” In a swirl of green flames, he was gone.

Nat took a pinch and repeated the process.

“I’m up,” Ginny told Harry, before Al, then Lily went. Harry took a pinch himself and stared, for just a moment, at the flames. A tiny niggling tugged at his gut, but he didn’t know why. He shook his head. He couldn’t think about it just then, anyway.

George’s shop was packed as they made their way down from the vacant flat. Off and on George had attempted to let the flat, but anyone who moved in never stayed long. The noise from the shop could be canceled out with spells, but the smells from George’s experiments when he and Fred had lived there seemed to be stuck to the walls. Nothing they did could quite rid it of the fragrance of rotten eggs, burnt popcorn, and smashed ants.

They waved to George, grabbed hold of Ron who had been helping out a customer, and wandered out into the busy street where light winds knocked small bits of powdery snow around the street. Harry kept close to Nat and Lily, while Ginny stuck with James and Ron had Al.

Each of the children was wearing the Portkey socks that Hermione had created. If they were taken, they simply had to mutter the passphrase, which would activate the Portkey. They’d be whisked immediately back to Ivy Run.

Also, brilliantly, because none of them were the Secret-Keeper for Ivy Run, if someone were trying to tag along for the ride, the enchantments around the house would zap them, leaving them lying in a heap outside the perimeter. No one was exactly sure what would happen to the person, but they all were reasonably certain it wouldn’t be pleasant.

“We’re heading to Madam Malkin’s first,” Ginny told Ron. Ron already knew, but thanks to two decades with Hermione, he’d learned to shut his mouth. Ginny was already on edge, as was Harry, so she was liable to hex him if he’d said, ‘I know’.

They went into the shop, which was blessedly warm, and Ginny conferred with Madam Malkin over Al’s robes. “I think they need to be a little long. He’s growing so quickly.”

“Mr. Potter?” Nat came over to him. She pointed to a stuffed chair in the corner. “I’m going to go sit.”

Harry examined her with concern. She looked a little paler than usual. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said with a tight smile. “I’m just a little winded and cold.”

“Okay,” Harry nodded to Ron.

Ron turned to see. “Yeah, I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“Thanks, mate,” Harry replied as Lily grabbed his hand. He glanced down at her laughing expression. “What’s up with you?”

“There’s a dress!” she pointed over towards a display.

Harry cocked his head to the side, not even bothering to look. “Am I going to get in trouble if we go look at it?”

“Yes,” Lily assured him solemnly. “I probably have way too many. Can we have a look anyway?”

“Why not?” Harry agreed, taking her hand as Ginny hauled James over to have him measured as well. James shot his mother a mutinous glare, but submitted to the measuring when she threatened to turn his hair neon-red.

The dress Lily was eyeing was a very pale green. It shimmered a bit as she ran her fingers along it. “I could wear this for Teddy and Victoire’s wedding, you know.” She turned her big, brown eyes up to him, pleading in a way that he knew meant he was sunk. “It’s practical and pretty.”

“Merlin, help me,” he groaned as he took it down from the rack and handed it to her. “Go try it on.”

Lily squealed and ran for the fitting rooms.

Ginny rolled her eyes when she saw what had happened. “You are the biggest softy, Harry.”

“It makes her happy!” he protested immediately. “It’s not as though she’s spoiled.”

They left the shop almost an hour later with shopping bags in hand and Lily practically bouncing with every step. “Can we go look at the kittens?”

“Uncle Ron needs to get back to work,” Ginny reminded her daughter. “We have already–”

Natalie screamed.

The next few moments slowed to a crawl. Harry spun to see a man grab hold of her, the same man he’d seen in the train station. Nat tried to throw him off, which knocked him off balance enough the he was unable to Apparate away with her immediately.

Harry pulled out his wand and shot a hex at the man, trying to miss Nat. She ducked down onto the ground, curling into a ball. People around them panicked and started shouting and bellowing for help, adding the confusion and din. The man fired back, but Harry deflected it with a jinx, which nearly bounced back onto the attacker. That was the split-second chance that Harry needed. He Stunned the man, who went down immediately.

His heart slammed into throat as he ran for Nat. She had tears streaming down her face as he hoisted her up into his arms. She was twelve, but no bigger than a seven-year-old. Harry passed her off to Ron, who’d run forward. “Back to my house,” he barked to his best mate.

“Got it,” Ron took the girl. “We’ll get a message to Audrey, too, just in case. I’ll see them to your place and wait there with them.”

“Thanks,” Harry turned back to the man and kept his wand on him as Ginny hurried the other kids back to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.

He’s known something was going to go wrong. Harry had had a feeling, but still. This left him with a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.

What he feared most, what he hoped was not the truth, was that Nat was now the target of some plot.

If they were very, very unlucky, someone had discovered that was an Augmentum Imaginari. They’d learned that she could see magical signatures, and magical concealments. If that had happened, Nat’s life was now in very grave danger.

Harry felt a stab of anger. He’d been a marked child, through no fault of his own. The fury roiled as Aurors Apparated into Diagon Alley all around him. No one should have their childhood ruined this way. No one.

Back to index


Chapter 20: Chapter 17

Author's Notes: First off, thank you to Arnel for the quick turnaround in editing!

Readers, are you done with me yet? It's been a month of insanity in my home. We had a scheduled remodel of our house (which needed a new roof) and we started, the weather was fine, just a teensy bit of rain predicted. Then the hurricane hit and while we weren't directly impacted, the storm system brought in a ton of rain and my house was damaged. The ceiling collapsed in my sons' bedroom. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but this time that should have been a lot easier turned into very late nights of work and no time to write. If you want to see a picture, you can check out the one I posted on twitter @sarahjaune

So, my house is coming back together now, and I finally had a spare moment to write and I wrote the whole chapter yesterday. 6500 words! I was that determined not to make you wait any longer.

But, anyway, back to the fun of this chapter. It's a bit of a recap, but I think we could all use it. We're making a step forward and taking half a step back, in some ways. God willing my house won't take any more water damage and I'll be able to get back on an every other week posting schedule! What a mess. I assure you I'd rather be writing.

Last, but not least, my fourth novel comes out shortly! It's already out on selfy, actually. Otherwise, it's a spooky tail that's perfect for Halloween and I hope you will give it a chance, because I'll admit it- I need the money. My kids have no flooring in their bedroom :-/ Also, my first novel is only $2.51 on amazon if you've been putting off checking it out. If you like how I write characters, you will fall in love with these.

The Webs We Weave summary:
It's easy to say that curses do not exist, or that ghosts and demons are fairy tales, until the fourth man you've dated has died and your innocent childhood crush ends in leukemia.

Thus is the life for Carolina Richards. Most girls plan weddings rather than attending funerals. Where most people see a forest, she sees demons in the trees.

Now she must make the hardest decision of her short life: choosing between the life of another, or losing the only thing that has ever made her happy.
https://sellfy.com/p/Iqql/
http://www.amazon.com/Webs-We-Weave-Sarah-Jaune-ebook/dp/B0155PJRPS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

***
As always, review and tell me what you think!


Harry kept his wand trained on the man he’d just Stunned as chaos swirled around him in dancing clouds of people, snow, and panic. Fear and anger warred bitterly in Harry’s gut, but he ignored them as he had for his entire career. He’d trained hard to learn to fight back against the urge to react emotionally rather than rationally. It was, Harry knew, what Hermione had been trying to get him to do the entire time they were at Hogwarts, but both he and Hermione had learned hard lessons. Harry’s instincts, his gut reactions, and his emotions were valuable tools when it came to fighting Dark wizards. But a cool head and steadfast logic would almost never steer him wrong. So he ignored the acid in his gut as he thought about the fact that Nat had nearly been snatched and waited for the teams that he knew were coming to back him up.

The Aurors and Hit Wizards arrived within moments, as Harry knew they would. They worked quickly to secure the man. Harry turned his attention away from the man, finally, to see Susan Macmillan staring at him. It was strange to know that she was head of this, and not him.

“Harry,” she said quietly.

“He tried to take a child,” Harry explained flatly, leaving his feelings buried deep inside. “I’d seen him at the train station when I was getting the children from school. I reported it to Kingsley. We exchanged spells just now.”

She tilted her head to the side and a single strand of dark, red hair fell across her cheek. Susan barely noticed it as she tucked it behind her ear. “I see.” Her tone said more than was spoken aloud. She did see. She was one of his better Aurors, much to Harry’s surprise and chagrin. When Susan had joined up, after the war, Harry had assumed she’d wash out. She’d been in the D.A. but Susan had never stood out to him, except as the niece of a great witch. She’d quickly proved her merit, though, and had earned everyone’s respect. Susan had a quick, agile mind that processed information and nuance quickly. What she lacked in aggression, she made up for in speed. She might not be who Harry would have sent in first, but as follow up to note the details, she was always sharp. He respected her immensely.

“I will discuss it personally with Kingsley, but the girl is safe,” Harry said under his breath, so only she would hear. Then louder, he added, “Let me know how I can help.” Then he took a step back, loathed as he was to do it. It felt wrong. He was supposed to be in there, right in the middle, but he couldn’t help the note of pride as he watched the Aurors that he’d trained perform their jobs, quickly interviewing everyone on the street to ascertain what exactly had happened.

The stories all lined up. The man grabbed a little girl, most assumed she was about eight-years-old, and Harry had come to her rescue. Harry had sent the girl off with Ron Weasley.

A flash went off somewhere to Harry’s right, but he barely paid it any mind. The press was always swarming around a big story. It would have been odd if someone from The Daily Prophet hadn’t been there. A small niggling of amusement flitted through him as he realized that it was no longer his job to give a statement to the press; or rather nag Hermione until she did it for him.

It felt like Hogwarts all over again when it came time for homework. He’d try, then Hermione would correct it. If he failed enough times, she ended up doing it for him. Harry sobered as he realized that was exactly what Hermione was doing for Zacharias Smith, her new boss. It was one thing for Harry to be rotten at speaking to the press. It wasn’t the main focus of his job, but Zacharias was actively damaging relations between the various departments and leaving Hermione to deal with the aftermath.

He shook his head, coming back to the present scene. The suspect had already been removed. Harry was not questioned further on the street, for which he was thankful. Susan came over to formally ask him to come back to the Ministry to make a statement, and Harry agreed. He had to focus most of his efforts on staying calm and in the moment, while his brain raced over all the possibilities. Nat was clearly the target. It was obvious that she’d been the one they’d been trying to secure.

He was escorted, as was protocol, by one of the junior Aurors, a man who had only qualified two years before. He tried to smile at the man, who Apparated with him to the Ministry’s main entrance so Harry could register as a visitor to the Ministry, but his face felt like it was glued in place. Harry could only hope he wasn’t scowling. “How have you been, Sam?” Harry asked as they waited for Harry’s wand to be checked. Sam was a big man, beefy and extremely muscled, but he was also fast. It was one of the reasons Harry had taken him on to train.

“Not too bad,” Sam said as he plastered on a huge grin. His teeth were the most noticeable thing about him, as they were brilliantly white. It was always striking to Harry, since his face was otherwise a dark, chocolate brown. His brown eyes were exhausted, though, telling the tails of the hours that the Aurors must be putting in on the missing women’s cases. Harry didn’t ask about how that was going. Sam wasn’t allowed to tell him, and he didn’t want to put the younger man in an awkward position. “It’s not the same, but we’re managing.”

They didn’t say anymore as they took the lifts up to the Aurors’ offices and Harry sat himself at Daniel’s desk. He had no idea where the personal assistant was, but was reasonably certain he wouldn’t be miffed if Harry used his chair.

“They’ll probably want you in the conference room,” Sam told him, “but they’ll insist I check that it’s available first.”

“No problem,” Harry assured him mildly. It was all an act. Inside his heart was still racing. They’d been having such a good day and now…

“I’ll be right back,” Sam said awkwardly as he shifted his bulk from one foot to the other.

Harry waved him off, not in the least surprised by what was happening. Five minutes later Sam was back to tell him the conference room was empty and he could wait there.

Harry sat in one of the large, comfortable chairs and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

He paced a little, but mostly he sat and he thought through all of the things that had been going on for the last twenty years.

The list of events were not random. His classmate, Vincent Crabbe, was killed in the Room of Requirement, which set his mother off.

“No,” Harry shook his head as he whispered the single word. It went further back than that. It went back to the Greengrass family when Oscar Greengrass had married Beatrice Fudge three-quarters of a century before. Harry could picture their family tree better than he could his own, because in that tree lay secrets, lies, betrayal, and heartbreak. All of it had led to the death of his oldest child, Hope, and was the key to whatever was going on now. Oscar and Beatrice had had three children, Oswald, Fiona, and Isabella. The first war against Voldemort had broken out while Fiona and Isabella had still been at Hogwarts, and Oscar had dithered about whether or not he’d wanted to join the Death Eaters. In the end, he’d decided not to and his daughters had been kidnapped by Voldemort in retribution for the pureblood Greengrass family’s lack of support, and they’d been given to men significantly older than they were.

Fiona and Isabella had been violated; raped until they were pregnant. The law, as archaic and misogynistic as it was, stipulated that they were required to marry the father of their child.

Fiona Greengrass had married Lucas Goyle and they’d had one son, Gregory. Isabella, meanwhile, had been forced to marry Samuel Crabbe. Their son, Vincent was the trigger in all of this.

Oswald Greengrass, the eldest of the three children, meanwhile, had married Virginia Bode and they’d produced two daughters. Daphne had been Harry’s classmate, and she’d never married. Draco Malfoy, however, had married her younger sister, Astoria. Their son, Scorpius, was one of Al’s best mates.

It was a complicated, and twisted, web that melded together.

Fiona had died a few years before. Lucas Goyle and Samuel Crabbe had both died in the war. The only ones still alive from that grouping were Gregory Goyle, who was still in Azkaban. He was up for parole soon, but Harry didn’t know if he was going to get it. That left Isabella Crabbe. She had been presumed dead, and likely she wouldn’t have minded dying after the life she’d lived.

Isabella was the only one among them with any kind of brain. Oswald might have been smart, Harry didn’t know. He’d never met Draco’s father-in-law. Oswald had taken his two pretty daughters and skipped the country when Voldemort was reborn. He’d learned from his father’s mistake and hadn’t risked his daughters’ lives or sanity. Oswald’s refusal to support Voldemort, especially with pureblood daughters that were not, strictly speaking, blood-traitors like the Weasleys, meant they were supposed to toe the line and support the Dark Lord. Daphne and Astoria’s removal to America had been all that had saved them.

Or had it? Scorpius didn’t seem to feel that his father was treating Astoria very well. Harry wouldn’t have suspected that Draco would be violent with his wife, but there was pressure, on all sides, and in this tangled web…

Isabella had been brilliant at potions, but as she’d never graduated from Hogwarts, they’d initially dismissed her as the one to have poisoned Harry and Ginny, which had ultimately led to Hope’s death. What Harry had learned about Isabella’s life was that she’d learned to play dumb around her family, while she secretly taught herself to be a potions master. She was brilliantly gifted, perhaps even a genius, when it came to potions. Her one joy in life had been her son. At seventeen, Harry hadn’t fully understood that because it had been Crabbe, after all, and he’d essentially killed himself with that fire he’d set in the Room of Requirement. Crabbe had none of his mother’s brilliance, or intelligence. He’d been a regular chip off the old block; an exact replica of his father. But Vincent had been the one good thing in Isabella’s life. He’d been her one joy and with him gone, she’d lost any reason to live. She’d poisoned her husband first, after securing the poison from Bellatrix. The only reason Harry knew that was because Draco had heard his aunt talking to someone about trading for the poison. Bellatrix had made Isabella promise to use the poison on Harry if she had the chance.

Well, she’d certainly arranged the chance.

But first, she’d needed to practice and Isabella had no love for her abusive husband. Harry wasn’t entirely sure he blamed her for that one. Samuel Crabbe had gone to St. Mungo’s where Audrey had researched the poison until she’d found the cure. Crabbe had gone on to fight at the battle of Hogwarts, where he’d died because of his weakened state: the poison robs a person of health and vitality, slowly killing the body until there was no way to repair it.

If Audrey hadn’t figured out that Harry and Ginny had been poisoned early on, they too would have been permanently afflicted.

After her revenge on them, and her failed attempt to kill Ginny after she’d miscarried Hope, Harry had assumed she’d died.

Except for the notes…

Notes came, still, once a year saying, ‘I know your secret.’ Every year someone, and Harry knew now that it was Isabella, had sent that note. He didn’t know what secret she referred to, exactly. It could have been Hope’s conception, of course, but Harry wasn’t ashamed of that anymore. He did want to protect his children, but knew that if it came out they would handle it. The boys were already dealing with it. Lily would take it badly. It would hurt her deeply to know how her parents had been used, but she would make it through.

If that wasn’t the secret, then Harry didn’t know what it might be.

Harry pulled out his battered pocket watch and saw that he’d been sitting for almost two hours. That wasn’t completely unexpected, of course, but this was still pushing it.

His mind flashed back to Cori, the first woman who had been taken. She had been found raped and she’d clearly been experimented on. She’d miscarried a baby, too. What had been the aim there?

Harry just couldn’t see what Isabella might be up to. She had a lot of reasons to hate and a lot of people to be angry with, but she wasn’t actively trying to kill him or seek revenge. Maybe she was over getting revenge on him. There was always that possibility, although Harry doubted it. Typically people who were bent on getting back at someone stuck it out until it was over, or everyone was dead. Now she was after Nat, but Harry didn’t know why she might want her. On the outside, Nat appeared to be a harmless child. There should be no possible way that anyone had figured out her secret power to visually detect magic. The only people who knew were those he trusted completely. His own children were acutely aware that if they told Nat’s secret, her life was in danger.

Harry thought that the kids had told Scorpius about Nat’s secret, but Harry’s gut told him they could trust Draco’s child. Besides that, Harry was certain that Draco had nothing to do with Isabella’s crazy scheme. The Malfoys were still trying to gain back their former glory after the last war and Draco was more about image than he was about purifying the Wizarding population. That wasn’t to say that they’d suddenly let Scorpius marry a Muggleborn, but they were a lot quieter now about their collective narcissism. It was difficult to see Draco taking up a cause with a woman who was so clearly off her rocker.

Harry stood and stretched, moving around the room. He was, thankfully, calmer now than he had been a few hours before. He admitted it was more difficult when the kids were involved, first with bodies being left at the school, then Caroline Baker being put under the–

Harry froze mid-step as the face of a large, blond man filled his memory. Why, though? The name came back, Dodi Baker. He’d met a man with hair the same color as Caroline’s, with the same last name. Her grandparents had said his name was… Harry struggled, trying to recall the exact details, but they failed to surface. Also missing was where he’d met the man. It nagged at him, right in the back of his brain. It was tantalizingly close, and yet just out of reach. Where…

He shook his head, knowing it wouldn’t come to him until he was ready. Caroline had been under the Imperius Curse and someone close to her had likely put it on her. She hadn’t recalled seeing her father, but from what they’d told him about the man, he was evil enough to have done it. He’d beaten his children and possibly murdered his wife. There was nothing to suggest that Dodi wouldn’t do something horrible to other people outside his family. Plus, he was supposed to be part of the American mafia, the Liens du Sang. All of Harry’s attempts to find out more about it had been met with dead ends and people too afraid to speak. The mafia would be the perfect way to smuggle potions ingredients, though.

If Isabella Crabbe was cooking up illegal potions, she wasn’t leaving a trail of money in any location that Harry had been able to detect. If she was using people to experiment on, she wasn’t taking many of them. It certainly wasn’t as though people were going missing like in the days of Voldemort, and Isabella didn’t seem bothered by blood status.

There was a point to all of this insanity. There was a plan, and if there was a plan that involved the Liens du Sang, then there was money involved. Harry hadn’t learned much, but he knew that their primary goal was money, with blood-status coming up a very distant second. The Americans were funny like that. If it served their purpose, then pureblood status meant something. If it didn’t, then no one bothered to mention it. America was more of a melting pot than England, anyway.

The door opened and Kingsley walked in, looking completely stunned. Harry strode over to him quickly. “What happened?”

“You are not going to believe it,” Kingsley told him in a dazed voice.

Harry didn’t quite believe it. In the time he’d been in the conference room, The Evening Prophet had been delivered and en masse, without a single thought to coordinate, half of the wizarding population of Britain had stormed the Ministry. It was a miracle Harry hadn’t heard a thing, because the entire Atrium had been filled to the brim with angry witches and wizards, demanding not only that Smith step down, but that Harry be reinstated.

The headline story had read that a little girl had nearly been kidnapped from Diagon Alley. The reporter, Brian Wallach, had stated that without Harry Potter’s quick actions, she would have been gone. He pointed out, yet again, that things were falling apart under Smith’s supposed leadership. He cried foul at the appointments Smith had made, all in the name of nepotism. He pointed out that no one had actually voted for Smith, but somehow he’d been elected. Brian had then gone on to demand action from the public to get the Ministry back on track.

It turned out that the Wizarding community had had enough, and they’d taken up the call to action. At the demand of an armed, angry mob the records for the election had been revealed. At a show of hands, not a single person admitting to voting for Smith. Everyone, instead, said they’d voted for Allison Macmillan, Justin Macmillan’s mother, and Susan Bones Macmillan’s mother-in-law. The call was put out immediately for her to take the job and in a stunning turn of events, Helminth Smith was out, Allison was in. The first thing she’d done, after coming forward to speak to the crowd, was to promise to reinstate Harry Potter as an Auror. Kingsley had immediately stepped aside, as he still wanted to be mostly retired, and Harry was brought down to show his unity while a humiliated Smith snuck out of the Ministry.

Then came the part that Harry absolutely hated about his job. They wanted him to speak. “I am not up to date on all of the case files,” Harry explained to the waiting crowd. “I do have every confidence that Kingsley Shacklebolt did as good of a job as I could have done in my absence and he has agreed to personally brief me until I can catch back up.”

A woman in the back of the crowd shouted out, “Will there be more kidnappings?”

“I would say,” Harry began, then stopped to think through what exactly he wanted to say. He didn’t want anyone to panic over the situation. “I would say that I am not confident we can stop another kidnapping with the limited information we currently have. It appears that only women and girls are being targeted, right now, but we do know men have been targets in the past. We are linking cases together as we speak. I do not want to jeopardize our ongoing investigation by revealing too much, but I will say that you need to be cautious. I do not think we are in a repeat of previous Dark times.”

“Is the child okay?” This was shouted from the back of the room. An older gentleman waved his hand, trying to catch Harry’s attention. “The one who was nearly taken today.”

He didn’t know if Nat was okay, but since he hadn’t heard otherwise he had to assume. “She is fine.”

“Do we know why they wanted her?” the older man asked.

“I’m not going to speculate on motives at the moment,” Harry explained quickly. “First, because we do not have a clear idea of the motives and second because I do not want to endanger the investigation or the possibility of getting the two women back. They deserve my discretion, and I hope you will understand and respect that. I think that the child was attacked because she was an easy target. If help hadn’t been there, she would have been easy to grab. I am urging everyone to be cautious, but I am also not saying that you should hide in your homes. It’s very unlikely that you will be targeted.”

Harry accompanied Kingsley back up to the holding cell where the man who had sparked a revolution was being held.

“There’s a small problem,” Kingsley confided as they moved to the guarded door. The room was warded so that Apparation was not possible inside the room, but there were still two Aurors standing outside, waiting for them. There would also be a guard in with him.

“What’s that?” Harry asked.

“He only speaks Portuguese.”

Harry stopped and turned to stare at Kingsley. “You’re kidding me.”

“I am a bit, actually,” Kingsley gave him a wry smile. “He’s pretending not to speak English, but with how he’s listening to us I know he does understand. We didn’t get much out of him.”

“I expect not,” Harry muttered as his mind raced back to Brazil and Nat’s original kidnapping. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Yes,” Kingsley nodded. “Yes, I am.”

Harry acknowledged the two Aurors on duty with a wave. He appreciated their congratulatory smiles, but his mind was still firmly on the matter at hand. He pushed the door open and found Sam standing guard.

“Thank you, Sam,” Harry said with a nod.

“No problem,” Sam assured him. “Do you need anything else, sir?”

“Not right now,” Harry replied as he took a seat across from the disheveled man with dark hair and tanned skin. His eyes were a dark blue and there were definite rings under his eyes.

Harry waited until they had the room to himself, and he pointed his wand at the man, lifting the Imperius Curse that Nat had said he was under.

The man flinched backwards, sucking in a large amount of air like he was pulling through a straw. He blinked, turned to look around him. “What happened?” he asked in accented, but flawless, English.

“We would really like to know that, actually,” Harry said as Kingsley took a seat next to him. His former boss didn’t say anything, though. Kingsley’s presence was often enough to intimidate a prisoner into talking. He had a way about him. Harry was only threatening if someone knew his story, which, of course, most people did. “You were following my family and you tried to snatch a child in Diagon Alley. Do you remember that?”

“I…” the man hesitated as fear flooded his features. “I don’t, no. Am I under arrest?”

“Yes,” Harry told him immediately. “But, depending on how cooperative you are, we might be able to arrange something. You were under the Imperius Curse, which means you were not fully liable for your actions. That weighs in your favor.”

He stared at them. “What do you want me to do?”

“First, we need your name and a little bit about you,” Harry informed him.

“Frederick Weise, but most people call me Freddie,” he blurted out quickly as his eyes darted between them. “I was born in Brazil, but went to school in America. My parents died when I was young and I went to live with my aunt in Pennsylvania. I’m twenty-eight and I’m an American citizen.”

Harry’s lips twisted into a grimace, but he forced his features to relax. If Frederick was American, they would have to contact the American wizarding government today. The Americans were a pain in the arse about their witches and wizards when they were abroad. “We will be sure to let your county know, but what would help us out the most is if we could see into your memories.”

“My…” Freddie paused, looking extremely unsure. “What about them?”

“Do you remember anything from when you were under the Imperius Curse?” Kingsley inquired.

The answer, was of course, no. He would remember almost nothing if the person who put the curse on him didn’t want him to remember. But that didn’t mean the memories weren’t there.

“Let me put it this way,” Harry told the man, leaning forward. “If you’re really innocent, then giving us those memories will be no problem. It’s a show of good faith, if you will.”

After a long pause, Freddie asked, “Are you going to look at everything in my past? I haven’t always been the best…”

“We have some specific memories we’re looking for,” Harry said, dodging the question neatly. He had two specific instances in mind, actually. “Those are the only ones we’re looking for. If we find you were ordered to take the girl in Diagon Alley, then you will be released and sent back to America.”

Freddie gave a curt nod. “Alright.”

Harry entered the memories with a mixture of trepidation and excitement fifteen minutes later after they’d retired to the head’s office. It was strange to be back, but it also felt right. Kingsley made a short crack about clearing out his meager belongings, but it was the right break in the mood they both needed. Neither of them was sure what they were about to see as Harry pulled out the Pensive that he’d liberated from Hogwarts a dozen years back. He hadn’t exactly stolen it. He’d simply explained to McGonagall that he was interested in a permanent loan. The surface swirled with images as Harry emptied the vial into the shimmering surface. “Here goes nothing,” Harry said under his breath as he bent his face towards the basin.

Freddie’s form came into focus and Harry saw they were in a dimly lit bar. From the writing on the wall, he guessed America, because the adverts appeared to be the sort that Americans went for. Freddie was standing next to a man, with a dartboard above his head. It had one lone dart sticking out of it, and it practically brushed Freddie’s dark locks. Freddie’s eyes were blank and his face expressionless. The man, who appeared to be a middle aged, balding grandfather type had his wand out, but concealed in the folds of a thick overcoat. “I need you to go to Brazil,” the man explained to Freddie. “There’s a girl there that we need. You’ll have to take her from her father, but he’s a Muggle. You won’t have to worry about the, and you will have help in Brazil. I will arrange for someone to meet you at the Brazilian Ministry entrance.”

“Okay,” Freddie agreed in what, to Harry, sounded like a robot voice.

“You will take her to a house and hold her there until we can fetch her back to England,” the man told Freddie. Then, blessedly, he muttered, “that will be our only chance.”

The memory shifted and Harry watched Freddie, who was watching Curtis Parker, Nat’s father, in the restaurant. Freddie was not alone, though. There was another man with him. This man was darker than Freddie, but not by much. His hair, however, was slightly silvered around the edges. The two made sure to keep out of sight of the table, but could also watch Nat, her father, and his colleague who were dining together. Harry saw Nat leave the dining area and Freddie followed after his companion motioned for him to go after her.

“I will subdue the father,” the older man told Freddie. “I’ll get rid of the coworker and meet you out back after you secure the girl.”

Freddie nodded and followed Nat up to her hotel room. From there it was simple to break in, kidnap her and secret her body out of the hotel.

How he removed Nat had bothered Harry. The Muggles had surveillance equipment, but they’d seen nothing suspicious. Freddie placed Nat’s limp body in a rolling suitcase and wheeled her from the hotel, as though he was checking out of a room. No one noticed. No one commented, and more importantly no one tried to stop him.

It was so simple, but extremely clever.

Once he met up with the man, they loaded the suitcase in the back of a large lorry, next to Curtis’ prone form.

“No trouble?” the other man asked Freddie. “Curtis went to the toilet shortly after you left and I was able to take him from there, dumping him out the bathroom’s window. I then jinxed the coworker so that he forgot he was eating with Curtis, paid the bill, and went to bed.”

“No trouble,” Freddie said absently. “Chloroform worked like you said it would.”

They drove for over three hours before reaching the home that Harry knew all too well. It was the house that he’d seen them rescue Nat from months before.

Freddie watched, dispassionately, as the other man levitated the bag down to the locked cell. He unzipped the bag, pulled the small girl out, and dosed Nat with something from a vial that he’d had in his pocket.

“I will stay here and guard them,” the man told Freddie. “You will go back and inform them that we have her and we’re waiting for an extraction team. Tell them I was able to snatch the man, as well, so we should be able to get some information from him.

Freddie nodded and left, Apparating away the moment he left the house. There the memory went blank.

Harry and Kingsley rose from the pensive and stared into the inky darkness.

“They removed his memory from there,” Kingsley sighed heavily. “Which means they didn’t care if we saw what happened up until that point.”

“It didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know,” Harry agreed bitterly. “We know how they got her out, but not what they gave Natalie. We still don’t know why they wanted her, or why the guard wasn’t there when we arrived.”

“What we do know,” Kingsley said slowly, “is that Natalie Parker cannot go back into the Muggle world. Whether it was their intention or not, we know that they want her and that the only real way to get her is through her parents.”

“But somehow she planted a body in Hogwarts,” Harry reminded Kingsley. “She could get Nat at school, unless…” his mind raced.

A lot of leads went back to America, including Caroline.

“Caroline might have brought the body in,” Harry said after a moment. “If she’d been under the Imperius curse, they might have been able to instruct her into transfiguring the body or concealing it long enough to get it in.” Even as he said it, though, Harry dismissed the idea. It was difficult magic that no child would be able to do, apart from someone like Dumbledore. It was impossible for Caroline to have done it.

“The security isn’t what it used to be on the castle,” Kingsley reminded him. “We relied heavily on Dumbledore to maintain the level it was at before the war. After his death, certain things fell by the wayside. I would say that it isn’t impossible to sneak anything in, if you have enough time and skill.”

It was a scary thought. “But they didn’t go up into the castle.”

“No, I think the castle is better guarded than the grounds,” Kingsley said as a knock sounded at the door.

“Enter,” Harry called out and Allison Macmillan poked her silver head in.

She was a woman of average height and weight. Her eyes were sparkling blue in a gently lined face. She was a few years younger than Arthur and Molly, and still commanded a presence. She smiled as she stepped in and closed the door. “What news?”

“Not much,” Harry said heavily. “We didn’t learn more than a few logistics. It does appear that he was not culpable for the kidnapping, though. He was under the Imperius Curse and was definitely ordered to snatch the child.”

Allison nodded thoughtfully, staring intently at Harry with very intelligent eyes. Harry had the uncomfortable thought that this was exactly what Hermione would still be doing to him in forty years. That kind of brilliance only grew sharper with age, cutting out all the things that they knew were fluff around the edges. “Do you know why the girl was targeted?”

“No,” Harry answered truthfully. He had guesses, but no solid leads. He knew he would have to fill the new Minister in eventually, but right now he didn’t want to overload her. Allison had enough on her plate. “This is much bigger than a few incidents right now, but I would rather we go over it later when we have time.”

“I can respect that,” Allison replied as she turned to Kingsley. “You’re going to hang around for a while, right?”

Kingsley nodded. “I’m going to work part-time with the Aurors, but I will be available if you need me. The job of Minister gets easier after the first few weeks.”

“I’m firing Zacharias Smith tomorrow,” Allison said after a brief silence. “I think I’ll put Weasley in his place, since she was doing the job anyway.”

“Good choice,” Harry said, “and not because she’s my sister-in-law.”

“She’s the most qualified,” Allison shrugged. “I would be doing the Ministry a disservice if I placed anyone else in the head’s position. I do want regular reports from you,” she told Harry, “but you can deliver them verbally or have your assistant write something out.”

Harry smiled sheepishly. “I’ll keep you in the loop. Speaking of which, we have to contact America. We have one of their wayward citizens.”

It was almost dawn before Harry made it home. He wouldn’t be able to sleep for very long, but he needed a change of clothes and a shower. More than that, though, he needed to wrap himself around his wife and inhale her sweet, flowery scent.

Ginny barely stirred when he climbed in behind her. Harry rarely worked late like this any longer, but whenever he did, she always slept through him coming back home to her. He liked that he could watch her sleep for a few minutes. She was still so beautiful and it gave him an ache in the gut to know he’d been blessed to be bonded to this woman. He wouldn’t have chosen anyone else, but for as angry as he was at Isabella Crabbe, he had to thank her for forcing him to marry Ginny. It could have been so much worse. Isabella’s intent was to destroy them, but as she’d never loved fully, she didn’t understand that nothing she did to them was going to pull them apart.

Ginny was his rock, his home, and his love.

She sighed in her sleep, snuggling further back into his chest. She’d been instrumental in getting him back out into the world, trying to get him to figure out how the vote had been rigged. Harry still had no idea how the voter tablets had been rigged. They were supposed to only register one vote per person. The witch, or wizard, walked into the booth, stuck their thumb on the name of the person they were voting for, and the vote was counted. The only thing he could imagine was that they’d been confounded as they walked in to vote for the wrong person, but the area was supposed to be heavily guarded against that sort of thing.

“Harry?” Ginny’s sleepy voice interrupted his musings. “You were there late.”

“You’re once against sleeping with the head Auror,” Harry told her as he kissed her brow.

Ginny laughed softly and stretched, rubbing her bare feet against his calf. “I heard there was an uproar. Mum came to tell me about it. I’m really glad, Harry.”

“How are the kids?” Harry asked her as he rested his face next to hers.

“They’re okay,” she said softly. “They were all scared. I think the scare set Nat back a little, but Audrey came immediately to see her. She is sleeping now, of course, but she might sleep through tomorrow. Audrey gave her a potion to try to help relieve the stress.”

He nodded, knowing she’d feeling his nose robbing against her cheek. “We have new information. It looks like Nat can’t go back into the Muggle world with her parents, at least not until she’s able to defend herself properly.”

Ginny groaned. “Her poor parents! That’s going to be so difficult for them.”

Harry didn’t say the next part, because he knew he didn’t have to. Just as Harry had been taken in to the Weasley’s home, he knew they’d give Nat a place to crash as long as she needed it.

“We’ll keep doing what we’re doing now, then,” Ginny said what he was thinking. “We can maybe see about creating a safe place for her in the Muggle world to stay with her parents.”

“I’m not sure we’ll be able to get the permits,” Harry reminded her. “We’d have to explain why we wanted to put those protections on a Muggle dwelling.”

They both fell silent as they contemplated the problem.

“We could buy a second home,” Ginny said thoughtfully. “Maybe a beach place.”

Harry chuckled as he thought that one over. “You mean, we buy the place and they can use it when she’s home?”

“Yes, exactly,” Ginny said, warming up to the idea. “I think that’s a great idea, actually. We could have a nice vacation home to get away to and they can have a place to still be a family. You’ve been talking about doing that for ages now.”

He wanted to remind her that she’d constantly said they didn’t need to spend the money since they could use Bill and Fleur’s vacation home any time they wanted. They had the money, that wasn’t the problem, but Ginny was still thrifty. She’d been poor most of her formative years and it had stuck with her. She didn’t want to spend money unless they had to.

“We can do that,” Harry said after kissing her cheek. “I like the idea and I think the Parkers would appreciate the chance to have as a family. I’d be able to protect the home any way I wanted to without anyone questioning why I was doing it. It’s assumed I would have security.”

“What would you do without me?” Ginny said with a grin.

“Bang off the walls, I’m sure,” he said as he kissed her deeply.

Back to index


Chapter 21: Chapter 18

Author's Notes: I managed to update faster this time! Thank you Arnel for helping me out with editing!

Also, pretty please, go check out my novels! My first novel, Shelter, is on sale for a limited time for just $.99! Less than a dollar! You can find it on amazon. My author's name is Sarah Jaune and the links are in my profile. Please help support my writing by going to see a preview of the books! You don't need a kindle to read, you can download to a web browser. Also, if you find my book's page on goodreads you can enter to win a free signed copy of my first book.

Last, but absolutely not least, my latest novel (a story of ghosts and demons to keep you up at night!) is on sale as well for $2.99! It's a Halloween treat. Summary:
It's easy to say that curses do not exist, or that ghosts and demons are fairy tales, until the fourth man you've dated has died and your innocent childhood crush ends in leukemia.

Thus is the life for Carolina Richards. Most girls plan weddings rather than attending funerals. Where most people see a forest, she sees demons in the trees.

Now she must make the hardest decision of her short life: choosing between the life of another, or losing the only thing that has ever made her happy.

**
I hope you enjoy this chapter! We're going to close one part of the mystery soon-ish, but other bits will continue on for a good, long while. Review and let me know what you think! Also, I know this story is a monster in length. I appreciate everyone who is sticking with it.
~Sarah


Buying a beach cottage in Devon was one of the easier things Harry did that week, mainly because he had nothing to do it with. Rather, after the kids were back at school, he handed the job of the cottage off to Ginny, who happily went around with Luna and her twin boys to go about and inspect homes. Ginny’s rational was that Luna was so rarely in England that she wanted the time with her good friend and that any home that could withstand the young twins, received the gold seal of approval.

It was a good theory. Lily and Hugo went along one day with Ginny. She’d expanded the car so that all four children would fit, even with the car seats, but Lily had been in such a grumpy mood that Ginny decided to send their daughter off to stay with Fleur for a few days, while Hugo went to spend his days with Gran Weasley.

To say that Lily was upset over the attack on Nat would be a major understatement. Early in the morning after the attack, Harry had awoken to his daughter climbing in to bed with him, straight into his arms where she cried on his shoulder for a solid hour.

Harry hated tears. He hated that he couldn’t fix what was wrong so that Lily would feel better. There was nothing for it but to hold on until the grief and fear had crested.

When Lily arrived back after her time with her aunt, she was definitely in a better place. Fleur had that effect on her youngest niece. The two were bonded and Fleur seemed to understand Lily better than anyone. It helped that Victoire was still living at home, and Lily was able to help with the wedding plans. She was full of stories about creating favors and picking out cakes. Fleur and Lily, apparently, made several cakes to test out for the wedding so that they would have the perfect flavor. Harry appreciated what Fleur had done for Lily. He knew that they made all of those cakes to keep Lily occupied, and that the favors for the wedding were made up this early just so Lily could keep herself busy.

He just wished they given him some of the cake! Harry had lunch with Ron, George, and Bill in Diagon Alley one afternoon where they told him about all the cakes Bill had been bringing for them and just how delicious they all were. Harry had to push that off to the side. He liked treacle tarts better, anyway, and it was a simple matter of smiling at Molly and asking nicely for him to have one delivered to his house.

Harry had been putting Teddy out into the field more and found that, like his mother, Teddy was going to be a good Auror. Harry was already sure of it. He wasn’t arrogant, as Harry had seen others try to be. Teddy was willing to learn, to be mentored, and when it came down to it, he had guts. He would dive in when needed. It did, however, remind Harry that he was putting Remus and Tonks’ son on the line every time he sent him out into the field and at this late stage in Teddy’s training, he was going out into the field with the seasoned Aurors.

Harry knew he had to get used to it now. Things could radically change, but if the questions that Al was asking him after the attack were any indication, his younger son was going to follow in his footsteps and become an Auror.

But at the moment, Harry had more problems than Teddy, or even Al. With the kids safely back at Hogwarts, he had to turn his concentration fully towards finding the two women who were missing.

He’d finally been given the details on the second woman. Her name was Jaylyn Teresa. She was a black girl who was two years out of Hogwarts and she hadn’t been seen in two months. They’d had no reports of her anywhere, and no indications if she’d left willingly or had been kidnapped. Harry re-interviewed her mother and found that it was out of character for Jaylyn to be gone from contact for so long, but that her daughter was a free spirit who liked to travel. There were no magical records of her leaving the country, so Harry had teams going to attempt to find Muggle records of travel, which didn’t always document when a person went somewhere. Jaylyn did have a passport, as her father was a Muggle professor at Oxford, but he claimed to have no knowledge of his daughter’s whereabouts.

The only crucial piece of the puzzle was that there had been a bitter divorce between Jaylyn’s mother and father. Because she had married a Muggle, Mrs. Teresa could divorce legally. There was no soul bonding. Also, because she was magical, she could remove her daughter from her husband and he would never find the child. The Ministry did have strict rules about such practices and could remove the child from the magical parent, but most of the time the Muggle parent did not seek to fight through the Ministry. It was intimidating enough, and despite their best efforts to ease the burden on the Muggle parent, it was still daunting to walk into the Ministry and claim their parental rights.

Their first break in Jaylyn’s case came a week after Harry was back in his position as Head Auror. He received word that the Muggle records had turned up a hit that she’d taken a train to France several months before, but there was no evidence of a return trip. Harry was in a tough spot. He could ask the French Ministry to do a search for her, apply for special permits to send one of his own Aurors, or assume she had left willingly and was not a victim of a crime. He didn’t really have the man power to send an Auror to France, and he knew that the French government wouldn’t give it more than a meager effort. The only option that Harry didn’t see as on the table was letting it go. He couldn’t let it go, not with Veronica Sinestra a confirmed kidnap victim.

A knock sounded at the door and his assistant, Daniel, stuck his head in. “Something came for you, sir.” He held out an envelope with a plain, red, wax seal, and from his expression, Harry could see that something was wrong with the younger man.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked as he rose to retrieve the note.

“It came by crow,” Daniel explained. “I thought it was a small, black owl, but it was definitely a crow. When I took the note, the bird evaporated.”

Harry stared at him, stunned. “Right, clear out then. If you don’t hear from me in five minutes, send Shacklebolt in, alright?”

“Yes, sir,” Daniel replied, not needing to be told twice. He left, closing the door smartly behind him.

Harry ran his wand over the note, trying to detect anything, but apart from the faint hint of some seasoning, the note was free of magic. It would have been nice if Harry had had Nat on hand to look at it and know if it had been tampered with, but these were skills that Harry had possessed for many years. He wasn’t, however, as good as Dumbledore. No one was, to be fair, but since he understood his limitations, Harry knew he could be mistaken on the innocence of the parchment.

Deciding not to delay any longer, Harry broke the wax seat and unfolded the parchment. On it were coordinates that Harry thought were Muggle latitude and longitude numbers. He stared at them, unsure of what to make of it, except that it would be a specific location and someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to make sure he received them. They had to mean something.

Then he noticed the post script.

Come Alone.

~*~

Al hated History of Magic. The only redeemable thing about the class was that Nat loved it and could get them through the exams, and he wouldn’t have to continue on after fifth year. He only had three and a half more years before he could give it up. Fred had explained at breakfast that they would be selecting their subjects for the following year and they would do well not to pick divination because the professor who taught it, Professor Trelawney, was a dingbat of the highest order.

That was fine by Al. Unfortunately, Rose, Scorpius, and Nat were all set on taking Arithmancy which sounded very difficult.

“I think I want to take Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, and Care of Magical Creatures,” Rose had told them. “I don’t want to miss out on a class with Hagrid.”

“You only need to pick two subjects,” Fred had pointed out to his younger cousin. “That’s a lot of work.”

“Will our schedules allow all three?” Scorpius wondered.

“Yep,” Louis had told them as he reached across the table for the kippers. “But really, you don’t want to do that to yourself. James and I are only taking Care of Magical Creatures and Muggle Studies. Those seemed to be the easiest. It gives you more time for the other classes.”

“I want those three classes, as well,” Nat told Rose, completely ignoring what Louis had just said.

Which left Al sunk. If he didn’t take those classes, he’d be without his friends and loathed as he was to admit it, he didn’t want to do any classes without them. That meant a lot of extra work next year.

A small elbow knocked him in the ribs and he turned sideways to see Rose’s eyes dart between him and the front of the class.

“What?” Al hisses, annoyed that she was trying to get him to pay attention in this class.

“Binns asked you a question,” she told him quietly.

Damn.

Al turned to smile sheepishly at the ghostly professor. “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t hear you.”

History of Magic was the last class before dinner and Al was always loosing track of time while his stomach rumbled ominously. Normally Binns didn’t seem to notice that they were even there.

“I asked, Periwinkle, if you know who started the Giant War of sixteen-ten,” Binns said, clearly annoyed.

“Nope,” Al replied, not even bothering to pretend to think about it.

Binns nodded. “Very well.”

He went back to reading his translucent notes, which had been about a Muggle secrecy act.

Al shook his head in amusement. He couldn’t even work up the energy to care. All he needed to know was that wizards had been cruel and horrible to magical creatures, Muggles, and each other. The whens and whys were just an added bonus.

Besides, Nat could tell him anything he needed to know.

The second they left the class, Al shivered as a gust of frigid wind whipped through the corridor, leaving them all huddling together just to stay warm.

“Let’s get up to the common room,” Scorpius said through chattering teeth as a group of fourth year Ravenclaws passed in the opposite direction. “We can drop our stuff and wait there until it’s time to eat. I wonder if it’s still snowing.”

Al turned to a window and saw that it was indeed still snowing. “Yep. I wonder what we’re up to now.”

That morning there had been over three feet of snow on the ground. All outdoor classes had been canceled and the Quidditch match, Slytherin verses Hufflepuff was due to start early the next morning.

Scorpius seemed to be thinking what Al was. “They’ll never be able to play in this.”

“They can’t cancel, though,” Al reminded him.

“If someone dies it’s going to be a major problem,” Nat sighed as she wordlessly handed her bag to Al. He was used to that at this point, and he didn’t mind. By the end of a long day, Nat was often too tired to carry her school bag and her feeding bag.

Al slung it on his shoulder and continued on as though nothing had happened. “Quidditch isn’t cancelled for anything, especially not snow.”

“But this is an abnormal amount of snow,” Nat pointed out. “I can’t even go to the game if they hold it! The drifts are well over my head.”

“That’s not really saying much,” Scorpius laughed as he held a hand above Nat’s head.

She grinned back and stood up on tiptoes as the light from a wall sconce bounced off her strawberry blonde hair. “I guess not.”

“I’m going,” Rose said decidedly. “If they hold it, I’m going. I want to see if I’d be able to tough it out. If I’m going to make the team, I really need to be committed.”

“I am not that committed,” Nat assured her. “I will sit in the common room and drink herbal tea next to the fire while you three shiver through the game.”

The next morning, the blizzard was still roaring around outside and the storm had dropped another foot of snow, putting the piles over two meters in some places. They ate breakfast together before Nat wished them farewell, waving cheerily as she headed back up to the warm common room.

“You know, I reckon Nat has the right idea,” Al told Scorpius quietly as they piled out onto the cleared path.

They all three gazed up at the snow banks off to either side and Al couldn’t help but imagine them tumbling down onto the students. It was with relief that they made it to the stadium and climbed up to their seats, which were covered in snow. Al, Rose, and Scorpius brushes off the benches, but the second they sat, the wet started to seep into their trousers.

“Oh, this was a bad idea,” Rose shivered as she scooted closer to Al. She motioned to Scorpius to scoot closer to her, as well, on her other side.

“We’re going to keep you warm?” Scorpius questioned, bemused as he did what she wanted.

A low whistle blew before she could answer.

“Is that the start of the match?” Rose had to practically yell to be heard over the howl of the wind.

“I think so,” Al confirmed as he squinted through the swirling snow. He knew that players were out there, somewhere, playing, but for the life of him he couldn’t see more than a few splashes of green and blue, which had to be the players’ uniforms.

They sat through the game, unable to see or hear anything for ten minutes before Rose said, “This is stupid.”

Glad that Rose had made the pronouncement, Al nodded. “Let’s go back.”

They weren’t the only ones. Only a few of the diehard Quidditch fans weren’t already streaming down the stairs to head back to the castle. They almost tripped over Caroline as they made their way down the icy steps.

“Sorry,” Al told her, grabbing her arm to keep her from falling.

He hated that he saw her flinch. Al let go as soon as he was sure the older girl wouldn’t fall.

“It’s okay,” she shuddered as she hunched her shoulders. “I don’t know what I was thinking! I don’t even like Quidditch that much, but I thought…”

“We do like Quidditch that much,” Rose informed her as they began the hike back up to the castle, “and we’re not staying. This is madness.”

“They should have called the game,” Scorpius agreed. “They can’t hardly see to play and the Snitch might be lost for days out there. Someone is going to get sick.”

The warmth of the Entrance Hall was absolute bliss compared to the battering they had been enduring outside. “Oh, thank goodness,” Caroline sighed as she pulled her scarf down away from her wind-chapped cheeks. “What are the odds on us getting hot chocolate from the kitchens?”

“Excellent if we can track down Nat,” Scorpius said as they turned up the great staircase to head to the common room. “Hopefully, she’ll have seats by the fire saved for us.”

But when they arrived back at the common room, Nat wasn’t there. Al’s heart skipped a beat when he saw the empty room.

“Maybe check up in your dorm?” Al asked as he tried not to panic.

Rose didn’t need telling twice. She sprinted for the stairs and was back a minute later, saying Nat wasn’t there.

“We need to find her,” Al said as he forced himself to think. Then it hit him. “Polly, I need you.”

A moment later, the house-elf appeared with a loud crack, startling his friend. Al knelt before the small elf. “Do you know where Nat is?”

The house-elf shook her diminutive head. “I will go find her, sir.”

“Please,” Al said, trying not to beg. “She might be hurt. She was supposed to be here. We’re going to look, as well, and try to alert the staff.”

With another crack, the elf was gone and Al spun to his friends. “We have to find her!”

The four of them took off, back out of the portrait hole and ran straight into his cousin Dominique. She had her bright red hair up in a bun and her blue eyes sparkled, just as his Aunt Fleur’s always did. “What’s up?” Dom asked as she noticed their panicked faces.

Before Al could speak, Rose filled her in on the situation.

Dom, who was one of the Gryffindor Prefects, understood quickly. “You four look, I’ll find a professor. I just saw Neville not four minutes ago!”

“Wait!” Al snagged her arm before she could take off. “If something’s happened, you shouldn’t go alone.”

“He’s right,” Rose nodded fervently. “I’ll go with Dom, you three stick together and search from here to the Hospital Wing. It’s likely that’s where she’d go if she wasn’t in the common room.”

“Okay,” Al agreed as his cousins took off back down the stairs and he, Scorpius, and Caroline headed down towards the hospital wing.

All Al could think about was his father’s last words to him before they’d used the Floo to get back to Hogwarts.

“Watch out for Natalie, okay? She’s in danger.” His dad had been so serious when he’d said it, too.

Fear, anger, and panic coursed through Al as they ran full tilt towards the hospital wing. He glanced left and was amazed to see Caroline keeping up with them, not even winded.

It was too bad she didn’t want to play Quidditch. She was clearly a supreme athlete.

They skidded to a halt outside the hospital wing door moments before Polly popped up next to them.

“She’s in there, sir,” Polly pointed towards the door as Al yanked it open.

Al found Nat folding up bandages, sticking them in a pile.

She appeared to be perfectly fine. Nat blinked her blue eyes, glancing between them. “What’s wrong?”

“You…” he was too winded, and too stunned to speak.

Scorpius crashed onto a bed, laughing hysterically. Or hysterically laughing, Al couldn’t tell which. “You gave us all a fright, Nat! We thought someone had snatched you.”

“No,” she shook her head. “I was bored, so I came up here to help out. Madam Longbottom said I might any time I liked. You really thought I’d been kidnapped?”

The door burst open again, this time spilling in Rose, Dom, and Neville.

Al just shook his head and flopped onto the bed next to Scorpius. He was really, really glad they’d been wrong, but that didn’t mean his heart was ready to stop racing just yet.

It was only then, as his head lay back against the pillow, that he heard the low, sonorous rumble from outside the castle.

~*~

Harry stared at the warehouse in Ireland, unsure if it was abandoned or not. It appeared abandoned, but that didn’t always mean much. This was the place the coordinates had told him to go. He was here alone, although the rest of his team knew where he was and they were all standing by, ready to assist if needed.

It was extremely stupid to meet like this, but he didn’t have a lot of options. He hadn’t told any of his family what he was doing, because he knew they would be, understandably, panicked.

Harry walked slowly towards the two story structure that might have once been an airplane hanger. It looked to be the sort of thing he’d have seen in an old Muggle movie on the telly. The walls were sheet metal that was mostly gray, but had distinct patches that were starting to rust through. Broken window panes lined the south facing wall, the one that led up to what had been a road at one point. The grass was currently taking over, popping up through cracks in the tarmac, at least what he could see through the patches of snow. The grass, most of which was withered and brown in the chilly air, danced gently in a small, chilly breeze. It was snowing like mad up in Scotland and Harry knew Hogwarts was drowning in feet of snow, but the storm had only skimmed them, before slamming the north with ferocious tenacity.

It was supposed to have let up already, but it was holding on, stalled above Scotland. Harry had heard Hermione worrying over it that morning during a staff meeting between them and the new Minister.

Harry wasn’t worried. Hogwarts had seen plenty of snowstorms.

He cast the Homenum Revelio spell on the building and found that only one person was inside. He marched on, wand raised, ready for whatever awaited him, or so he thought.

Harry pulled the heavy, rusting door open a crack and peered inside. He blinked when he spotted Jaylyn Teresa wrapped in a thick, heavy down coat that was the color of warm honey. Her dark face was ashen and she appeared to have lost at least a stone. The last picture Harry had seen of the girl, she’d definitely had a rounder face. Her dark eyes were haunted and darted nervously around as she stood waiting for him to approach.

“We’ve been looking for you,” Harry informed her quietly as he took measured, careful steps to reach the fidgety girl.

A lone tear slid down her cheek and she pushed at it with the palm of her hand. “I’ve been really stupid.”

He stooped ten feet from her and waited. “Do you need help?”

“I’m going to be killed if they find out,” she told him flatly. “But… but I know where the other girl is being held.”

Harry’s heart leapt, but he forced himself not to react. “You mean Veronica?”

Jaylyn nodded as another drop of regret traced a line down her face. “I thought it would be better this way, but it’s not. Here,” she held out a slip of paper. “She’s supposed to be killed tomorrow. They figured out she’s infertile, so she’s useless to them.”

Harry took the paper, realizing it was a receipt from a market. On the back was another set of coordinates. “Let me get you home,” he pleaded softly.

Jaylyn shook her head. “If I don’t come back soon they’ll know something is up. You have almost no time to get her back safely. If… if I send another raven, come meet me back here again as quick as you can, okay?”

Harry opened his mouth to object, because he didn’t want to use this young woman as an informant, but she Apparated away before he was able to say a single word.

Harry stared down at the coordinates, his mind racing, and turned on the spot, vanishing into thin air.

He made it back into the Ministry, and up to the Aurors’ office, in record time, hurtling down the corridor to find his team. The grabbed Macmillan, Raeburn, and Gregory and the four of them located the coordinates on a map, figuring out that it was part of an old Muggle development. They all stood around the conference room table, staring down at what might be their last chance to save a girl’s life.

“We Apparate here,” Harry pointed to a location just off the coordinates. “It looks like that’s a stand of trees. Hopefully no one will notice us arriving. After that, we see the lay of the land and move in.”

The conference room door opened and Kingsley stuck his head in. “I need a word, Potter.”

Harry opened his mouth to object, then realized that Kingsley was eyeing him in a way that meant they really needed to talk.

“So,” Harry turned to his team. “I trust you three to do this. You have whatever resources you need. Raeburn,” he nodded towards the senior Auror. “This is yours.”

“We’ll get her out, Potter,” the older man assured him.

Harry moved to the door and hated that he was going to have to trust that they would. Whatever Kingsley had for him was going to be very important.

They were barely in Harry’s office when Kingsley told him, “I figured out the money trail.”

Harry sat behind his desk and waited for Kingsley to take his own seat.

“Donald Baker, otherwise known as Dodi, has been entering the country legally as a Muggle with a Muggle passport,” Kingsley informed him bitterly. “What’s more he has filed papers with the Muggle authorities to get his kids back. He’s pressing to have his in-laws arrested.”

Harry was out of his seat before the words had left Kingsley’s mouth. The older man waved him down. “You took care of it?”

“It’s done,” Kingsley promised. “We had no trouble with the requisite to tamper with the Muggle records. The children’s medical exam at St. Mungo’s was enough for the Minister to approve it. No, he will not gain custody. The oldest is still at Hogwarts, of course, and we have moved the youngest and her grandparents to a safe location. I took the liberty since this all came about while you were meeting the girl. That’s quite a shock, by the way.”

“To put it mildly,” Harry agreed dryly. “Anything else? You mentioned money.”

“Yes,” Kingsley pulled out a thick stack of papers that had definitely been printed using a Muggle printer. “We know how he’s getting money into the country, and it’s through a Muggle venture. He bought a national chain of stores that Muggles shop at frequently. He’s also to move large amounts of goods and capital into the country without anyone being the wiser.”

Harry growled in frustration as he read through the sheets before him. “How on earth did he pull this off without our knowing?”

“That’s the best part in this,” Kingsley grumbled sourly. “I just found out that he’s Helminth Smith’s cousin.”

Harry’s eyes rose slowly to meet Kingsley’s. “Bloody hell!”

“Quite,” the other man agreed. “Smith couldn’t have rigged his election. He was always too big of an idiot, but the head of the American Leins du Sang? He’s a crime boss. If Donald Baker didn’t know how to do it, he could have hired any number of people to rig the election so that his cousin would win and continue to shield him.”

“We should bring Smith in for questioning,” Harry said as he clenched his fist in fury. “I can’t believe…” but the words faded off because, of course Harry could believe it. Nothing about Smith didn’t scream smarmy or untrustworthy. He’d been a thorn in Harry’s side for decades now. “We should wait until after we have Veronica back safely.”

“Agreed,” Kingsley told him. “You’re not going on that raid, right?”

Harry was supposed to be the Head, which meant most of the time he stayed behind. It was exactly what Ginny would want him to do, but she’d understand if he didn’t. Being married to his best friend was like that. They understood you better than anyone else. He flipped absently through the stack of papers, trying to work through the rage that still filled him. He froze when he flipped past a picture. Harry went back to it, staring at the big, blonde man with the buzz cut. He had a massive, square jaw that was so cartoonishly American that it was almost laughable.

Harry had seen those blue eyes. He’d seen this man, too, but mostly he knew those eyes. Caroline’s eyes. Where had he seen…

Then it hit him straight in the chest, more painful than a punch to the gut. “This man was at the Ministry ball!” Harry exclaimed as he held up the photo to Kingsley. “He was harassing Ginny, and I went to save her from him. We came over to you after that, do you remember?”

Kingsley’s eyes went wide. “Maybe we should talk to Ginny about–”

There was a loud, single rap and the door burst open, spilling Daniel in. He was pale. “There was an avalanche at Hogwarts! They need help!”

Harry was on his feet and running again before he even knew it.

~*~

Al stared out the window in horror as he saw mountains of snow sliding down over the Quidditch stadium, knocking over the goal hoops, tumbling the stadium seating over as though they were nothing more than twigs. Al gasped in horror as he saw students flying, limbs waving, down into large embankments of snow.

Most of the professors were in the stands!

“Neville!” Al cried out as his godfather skidded up next to him.

Neville swore and took off out of the hospital wing. “Get help, Al! Call the Ministry!”

Al didn’t need telling twice. He ran into Hannah’s office, noting the Matron wasn’t there, and grabbed the Floo powder off the mantel. He tried to calm himself enough to light the fire but his hands were shaking so badly that he couldn’t form the words.

“What’s wrong?” Caroline asked, coming in behind him.

Al shook his dark head and called out to the house-elf. “Polly, I need a fire!”

The elf appeared next to him, nearly scaring him out of his wits, snapped her fingers and the fire sprang to life in the grate. Al threw the Floo powder in and called out, “Ministry of Magic” before sticking his head in.

It was the work of two minutes to secure help. He pulled his head free and found Nat and Caroline working to fix up the hospital wing beds. “Where are the others?” Al asked them as he came back into the ward.

“Went down to help,” Nat explained as she rang her hands and glanced back out the window. “I’ve never seen anything like that, Al! The snow shouldn’t have done that! There isn’t enough of it.”

“I know,” Al agreed as the suspicions he’d been harboring for several minutes solidified. It was a distraction and he knew exactly why. He stared at Nat. “You need to hide, okay?”

Nat shook her head.

“You need to go, Leah,” Al said as he took a step closer, totally forgetting that Caroline was there. “If someone is after you…”

“It’s me,” Caroline whispered, making Al jump. He turned to look at her and saw she was white as a ghost. “My dad sent me an owl a few days ago. He’s… he’s…” She started to cry.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Al demanded, a little outraged that she’d kept it to herself. “That should have been reported.”

Caroline shook her head. “He said he would kill everyone around me, including my grandparents, if I didn’t do what he wanted. I burned the letter, though. I didn’t sneak out of school like he told me to. Now he’s gone and done this,” she wailed as her arm swung out to encompass the snow.

Al didn’t have much time to think. Any moment, Ministry personnel would be streaming through to help aid in the search for buried students. “It… okay, you two go hide. Polly, can you hide them?”

The little elf nodded happily. “Polly is happy to help young master. I is hiding them very well. We won’t be found.”

She held out her miniscule hands to the girls and they each took one. Moments later, they were both gone.

It wasn’t a second too soon, because the fire roared to life behind him and his Aunt Audrey was leading the charge.

The chaos that ensued was tremendous. Every able bodied student was sent to help dig through the snow. The younger students, the few who hadn’t been at the game, were told to stay in the Great Hall, but Al ignored them. Instead, he followed his father out into the blinding storm to help search.

His brother was out there, somewhere. Most of his cousins had been outside as well.

Al spotted Hagrid first, mostly because he was the biggest one moving around. His dog, Lulabelle, was sticking her dark head into mounds of snow and pulling students up using her powerful jaws. Hagrid hadn’t had that dog very long, and she was only a puppy now, but at seven feet tall Al couldn’t even begin to imagine how large she’d be when she was full grown.

“Stay back!” his father ordered as he fell in line with all the other adults from the Ministry who had rushed to the school. They all move their wands and Al was left to wonder how they all knew what to do, and how to do it. The snow started to melt and black coats began to emerge from out of the pure, white snow. The moment someone is revealed, typically lying unconscious, another person rushed forward to bring them out.

Al could barely stand to look at the white faces of the people coming from the snow. He wanted nothing more than to rush in and help, but what if they weren’t just knocked out… what if they were all dead.

Without thought, Al turned to see Aunt Audrey running her wand along a small girl. He rushed over to see that it was a girl from his year that he didn’t know very well because she was in Ravenclaw. Audrey glanced up and noticed his expression. “She’s okay,” she reassured him. “Most of them are just knocked out. It was a hard push.”

Al didn’t know for sure, but he thought that if a Muggle had been hit like that, they’d have been… more than knocked out.

Something, Al didn’t know what, itched at his back. It wasn’t a feeling, exactly, but… he turned, scanning the world around him, but saw nothing. There was nothing to see except for acres of snow and frantic searchers. He tried to crane his neck to see the trees beyond, but there was nothing. Where had the snow come from? He turned back to stare up at the castle in the distance and noticed the convoy of people that was levitating the injured into the castle. The rooves of the castle were still coated in snow… a lot of snow. Al narrowed his eyes and kept searching for something. He didn’t know what.

Then he saw it. There was a speck, it must be a person, passing through one of the towers close to Gryffindor Tower. It was too large to be a student, Al was sure of that. Or if they were a student, they had to be in seventh year. The person’s head went well above the window and Al knew that window was over six feet tall.

“Dad,” Al turned to see his father helping a fourth year from the snow. He firmed his mouth into a thin line and said more loudly. “I’m going up to the Great Hall, okay?”

“Go,” Harry waved him off.

Al almost felt bad about lying to his dad, but not enough to change his mind. The second he’d gained the castle, Al took off at a run the window where he’d seen the large man. He thought briefly about trying to find his friends, too, but didn’t want the man to get away from him.

He ran past Gryffindor Tower and saw the Fat Lady still in her frame. She yelled something at him, but he didn’t slow down until he was right outside the corridor. Al stopped and poked his head around, but unsurprisingly, there was no one there. He crept along, trying to hurry as quietly as he could. He passed the place where the Room of Requirement was hidden and kept going. He knew all about that, thanks to Fred. Uncle George never hid anything from his kids, unlike Al’s parents who didn’t tell them anything.

James had finally managed to steal the Invisibility Cloak and the Marauders’ Map– Al’s brain froze.

The map. Loathed as he was to turn around, as painful as it was to think about abandoning the identity of the unknown man, that map was key to finding everyone. It showed everyone on the grounds, everyone buried in the snow.

Al spun and raced off for Gryffindor Tower and almost slipped when he tried to stop before the Fat Lady. “Bat Dung!” he gasped to the Fat Lady.

“Yes,” she sniffed. She hated the password, but one of the prefects had set it, so she swung open and Al took off for his brother’s trunk, hoping James had left the man in his room.

Ten minutes later, Al raced back down to his father, waving the map. Harry’s face lit up with relief as he snagged it from Al and quickly started directing the rescue efforts to the correct locations.

Al was ushered, none too gently, back up to the Great Hall by his aunt and he plopped down next to Rose, who was pale and shaking. “They won’t let us help.”

“I know,” Al nodded. He didn’t really expect that they would. They were thirteen… well, almost thirteen. “Have they found James yet?”

“Not that I’ve seen,” Dom said from her seat across the table. “Molly didn’t go to the game, thankfully.”

Al couldn’t keep it in any longer. “I saw someone sneaking around upstairs.”

They all looked at him, Dom, Scorpius, and Rose. “What do you mean?” Scorpius asked him.

He stared at the pale boy and shook his head. “It was a big guy. It had to be an adult, because he was huge. I saw him walking up by that corridor that leads to the Room of Requirement.”

“Where’s Nat and Caroline?” Rose said in a panic as she gripped his arm. “I just realized–”

Al felt his stomach drop as he realized the colossal mistake he’d made when he hadn’t warned his father about that. “They… they’re…” he cleared his throat and said, barely above a whisper, “they’re hiding. Polly has them safe.”

Al rose shakily to his feet. “I need to go find my dad.”

None of the adults paid him the slightest attention as he left the hall. Seconds later, Scorpius caught up with him. “Safety in numbers,” he assured Al as they made their way back outside.

Al spotted his dad and nearly cried out when he saw James in Harry’s arms. Al sprinted down to them just as James blinked his eyes open. “James!” Al called out, practically crushing his brother in a fierce hug. He hadn’t let himself think about how worried he’d been until just that moment.

Unbelievably, and truly it was Al would think later that it was James’ concussion, but his brother hugged him back. “‘M okay,” he slurred the words a bit as Harry finally set him on a stretcher.

“We’ll get you up to the castle,” Harry told him and Al was unsurprised to see the fear and worry on his father’s face.

“Dad, I need to tell you something,” Al blurted out urgently. He glanced around at everyone, but no one was paying attention. “I was with Caroline Baker before the avalanche and she said she had a letter from her dad.”

His father’s face, if it was possible, went even paler. “Where is she?”

“She and Nat are hidden,” Al explained quickly. “Polly hid them after Caroline told me. But Dad–”

Harry was already turning towards the castle and Al had to grab his arm. “I need to speak to her, Al.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Al shook his head and pointed up to the castle. “I thought I saw a big man up there. I think someone is in the castle and look at the snow,” he pointed towards the rooftops.”

His father turned to see what he was pointing at and realized why Al was so upset. “The snow didn’t come from the roof.”

“It didn’t come up from the forest, either,” Al replied with a shake of his head. “Someone had to do this, create all this snow. I think…” he didn’t say it, because it sounded stupid to say it out loud.

“I want to hear,” his father encouraged gently, and Al could see that Harry already knew.

“I think it was a diversion,” Al mumbled.

Harry nodded. “I agree.”

Back to index


Chapter 22: Chapter 19

Author's Notes: Nov 18th, 2015: I am participating in a podcast on Nov. 21st!! I will be answering fan questions about my writing, publishing, original stories, plot lines, new projects, as well as fanfiction, and so on. If you have a question, please visit my facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sarahjaune OR email me at sarahjaune03@gmail.com

The podcast will be available shortly after and you’ll be able to find the link on my facebook page or on twitter: https://twitter.com/SarahJaune

Thank you Arnel for all of your help! Also, please see my Author’s Profile to find links to my original works. I love fanfiction, but paying the bills is also pleasant. Thanks again! ~Sarah

May Contain Triggering Material!!!!


Harry’s mind raced as he quickly ran through the possibilities. If the girls were really hidden, then he could leave them be and continue on with the rescue of the students in the snow. Harry had a lot of faith in the little house-elf’s ability to hide them. If anyone could keep them out of the way, it would be the elf who had worked in Hogwarts her whole life. If it was Dodi Baker running through Hogwarts at that very moment, he would be at the disadvantage. He hadn’t gone to Hogwarts, and thus wouldn’t know his way around.

But…

“Where else should we be looking?” someone called to Harry, which snapped him out of his thoughts.

The map would be helpful in tracking down whoever broke into Hogwarts, because Harry was sure that Al was right. His son had seen someone and there was no way this much snow should have fallen in the location that it had.

But the map was needed to save lives right now. Harry handed the map to Neville. “Keep going, Neville. I have to go check something out.”

Neville nodded, not even surprised as Harry took off towards the castle with his son and Scorpius trailing along behind him. He nearly told the boys to head back to the Great Hall. It was exactly what Ginny would have wanted, not to mention Draco, but he didn’t, mostly because he knew how much he’d hated having adults shove him to the side.

Dumbledore had given him a chance to prove himself, and right now he was with Al to help guide and protect him.

“Where did you see the man, Al?” Harry asked as they bounded up the steps.

Al pointed and took the lead, running along until they came to a deserted corridor. “It was that window,” Al said, pointing towards it. “I saw him there and his head was at least to the top of the window.”

Harry examined it and realized the man Al had seen had to be several inches taller than himself, at least. That was how large Dodi was, but it was reckless to break into Hogwarts. It was also nearly impossible, although not completely. The school was hooked up to the Floo Network, but it was monitored to make sure that nothing unauthorized happened.

There was no way… Harry stopped his racing mind and forced himself to think. Caroline was a cheerleader with a Muggle team, meaning she used the Floo to get home on a regular basis to attend practices. That meant her grandparents’ home was connected, which meant that Dodi Baker simply had to break into his in-law’s home and he would be able to get to the school without it raising too much suspicion.

It was so simple, so easy, yet a major flaw that none of them had seen. They’d left the girl to continue with her sport because she’d been through enough trauma and no one had wanted to take away something she loved, but that had left a gaping hole in the security around the school.

Kingsley had told him they’d removed Caroline’s grandparents and her sister from the home. There would have been no reason to leave security to watch the house. Not only that, but they didn’t have the manpower to leave someone at the house.

“Dad?” Al asked, interrupting his thoughts. “What should we do?”

Harry turned from the child who looked exactly like him, to the pale version of Draco with slightly darker hair. Harry hadn’t noticed before that Scorpius’ hair was starting to darken. He was intelligent, it was clear from his sharp, gray eyes, but the one thing that Harry didn’t see on Malfoy’s son was malice. There was nothing mean, condescending, or flat out rude about this kid. He simply wanted to help.

There were a lot of things they could do. They could search the castle, but with the size of Hogwarts, that would be a nearly impossible task. They could go back to rescue more students from the snow. They could verify that Caroline and Nat were both safe, but that might lead them to be in danger.

Harry was stuck without a way around it. Without the map, he had no idea where to search. If the man was searching for Nat or Caroline, likely Caroline, then he would possibly have a way to track her down, but there was nothing like that in the magical world, and no Muggle object would work in the magic-filled castle.

He needed to speak to Caroline and try to figure out what her dad was up to. “Let’s go to your common room.”

That, at least, could be searched and cleared.

They walked quickly back down to the common room and Harry smiled at the Fat Lady. “How have you been?”

“I have been well,” she told him primly, smoothing down her skirts. “Password?”

Harry held up his hand. “Is anyone in the common room or dormitories?”

The Fat Lady blinked in surprise. “No, Mr. Potter, it is quite empty at the moment. All the students who weren’t hurt are in the Great Hall.”

“I am going in and I want you to admit no one to the common room,” Harry explained quickly. “In fact, I would rather you made yourself scarce and didn’t come back for a while.”

“I cannot abandon my…” her voice trailed off. “Very well. Password?”

“Dragon dung,” Al and Scorpius said together.

The portrait swung open and they all climbed in, shutting the portrait behind them. Harry cast several charms on it, closing them into the room.

Now the only way in or out, apart from the fireplace, would be with a house-elf and Harry was going to solve the first one immediately. He took a tiny packet from his pocket and opened it as he moved over to the warm, crackling fireplace. He knelt, threw in a small pinch and said, “Ministry of Magic, Office of Magical Transportation.”

Within moments, he had made the arrangements to shut down the Floo Network in, out, and between the various fireplaces in the castle.

Minerva might not approve, but as Head Auror, it was his right to take control for safety reasons. He grimaced as he thought about the possible scolding she would give him. Or maybe not. She tended to agree with him on safety.

Harry straightened and put his packet of Floo Powder back in his pocket. “Polly, I need you to bring the girls to me.”

Nothing moved for a moment. For a single heartbeat, he thought that something might be wrong, then with a loud pop, the girls appeared, holding the hand of the little elf.

“Mr. Harry Potter, sir,” Polly squeaked with a small curtsey.

Nat sank onto a couch, looking decidedly green. Caroline’s face was as white as a ghost. “Are we safe?”

“No,” Harry shook his head. “I may send you back into hiding shortly, but I had questions about that letter your father sent you.”

Caroline sat next to Nat, while the boys hovered behind the girls on the couch. Harry sat as well, hoping to put the girl at ease. “What do you want to know?” she asked hesitantly.

“I want you to tell me, as much as you can, what it said,” Harry explained.

“I didn’t read it closely,” Caroline admitted while staring at her feet. “I skimmed it, then burned it, but basically he said that if I didn’t meet him outside the castle he would hurt my family. I warned my grandparents the last time I went for cheer practice, but they said not to worry about it.”

Harry bit back his annoyance that her grandparents not informing the Aurors that Donald had made contact with her. Since Dodi was not supposed to be in the country, he could understand why they might take it as an empty threat. But still, if she was supposed to meet him… “When was the meeting set for?”

“Uhm,” she chewed nervously at the side of her thumb, which Harry saw was red and raw. “Two days ago, I think.”

It was enough time for him to cook up some scheme in order to break into the school, and to cause a diversion. “Do you think he is coming after you?”

“I don’t know,” Caroline admitted miserably. “He never wanted me before. I can’t imagine what he wants from me, now, except to use me. I was nothing to him except a prize to show off when it was convenient.” She gestured to her face, and Harry felt intense rage at her implication.

Caroline knew that the only thing that made her father care, at all, was her pretty face. She knew she was worthless as a person to the man who had helped give her life.

“You know he’s sick, right?” Scorpius said to her. “It’s not you. My grandfather is pretty insane, as well, but nowhere near as bad as yours. You have to ignore him.”

“You’re worth more than that,” Nat agreed, taking Caroline’s hand.

She nodded, but didn’t speak.

“Was there anything else?” Harry asked her gently.

Caroline shook her blonde head, and gazed up at him with eyes raw from pain. “If you have the chance, kill him.”

Harry sat back in his seat, stunned at the venom of her words. “Caroline…”

She shook her head and turned away from him and Harry saw a girl that was utterly broken. Acid filled his gut at a sudden, horrible thought. He couldn’t ask it, though, not in front of the other children. Harry hoped he was wrong. There were many, many types of abuse. He knew that Caroline had suffered physical and emotional abuse, but…

No. She was checked for that at St. Mungo’s. She could have still been abused in other ways, but Harry was sure she hadn’t been raped. It wasn’t much comfort, but it was something.

Still, Caroline had every reason to wish the man dead.

“Okay, I want you all to stay here,” Harry told them. “No one comes in, no one goes out. Polly,” he turned to the little elf and wished suddenly that she’d agree to work for him fulltime. “I am going to ask you to take me from this room, then come back in and wait with them. If they need to be moved to safety, can you do that for me, please?”

“Yes, sir,” Polly assured him, holding out a hand.

“Stay here,” Harry reminded them, not that they had a choice. They were locked in as surely as everyone else was locked out.

A second later, he was outside the common room. He righted himself, then instinctively ducked a jet of red light that nearly hit his chest. “Go!” he hollered at the elf, who was gone a moment later, while he rolled and brought his wand up, ready to defend himself.

There was no one there.

Harry stood warily, gazing around the corridor, while he kept his back to the wall.

“That way!” a voice said from behind him, coming from the Fat Lady’s portrait. It wasn’t the Fat Lady, though. This was definitely a male voice and one Harry recognized all too well.

Sir Cadogan.

“Which way?” Harry hissed quietly.

“To your right,” Sir Cadogan blurted out in exasperation. “Can’t you see him?”

Harry bit back his frustration and scanned the walls, trying to spot something, anything, that could be a large man throwing jinxes at him.

This was stupid. “Come out, Baker!” Harry called. “I think we’re beyond hiding from each other.”

The man appeared suddenly, as though from thin air, his wand held in his hand. He didn’t use it, though.

This was definitely Donald Baker. The big, powerfully built, blonde man smiled pleasantly at Harry. “I am here for my daughter.”

“You can’t have her,” Harry replied, equally pleasantly. “You’ve lost all rights to her.”

“She’s mine,” he said forcefully. “I have heard all kinds of stories about the great, wonderful Harry Potter. You’re a bit of a nothing in America, of course.”

Harry had a fleeting thought about moving to America, just so he could be a nobody for once, but he forced himself to focus. Baker was trying to distract him. “What’s the end game in this, Baker? What do you hope to gain from grabbing your daughter?”

“Can’t I simply miss her?” Baker said as he started to circle Harry, who still had his back pressed to the wall. “She is my life, of course. I miss her and her sister dreadfully, especially now that my wife is gone. My wife’s parents never liked me. I’m simply trying to get them back, you see.”

Harry wanted to ask if Caroline was the real target, but he knew he wouldn’t get the truth out of this man. He also didn’t want Donald to know just how much Harry had learned. “Donald Baker, you are under arrest.”

“Only if you can catch and keep me,” the big man said with a vicious swipe of his wand.

~*~

Teddy listened carefully to Raeburn’s instructions as they observed the location where the girl, Veronica, was supposedly being held captive in the low, one story shack that didn’t appear to be much of anything. The boards along the side appeared to be rotten and falling off and there were several holes in the windows.

“I make out four people in there,” Susan Macmillan told them quietly. “I’m not detecting any traps between us and the front door, but I’m sure the door will be jinxed.”

“Here’s what we do…” Raeburn explained quickly.

Teddy was still in training. He was still a novice. He’d never done anything this dangerous before, but this was why he’d become an Auror.

The plan was simple. It was carrying it out that was going to be difficult.

“Are you ready?” Auror Gregory asked him.

No. “Yes,” Teddy lied as he closed his eyes and waited for the transformation.

“Remember to watch for traps,” Macmillan reminded him. “We’ll be right behind you, okay?”

Teddy nodded, too nauseated to speak.

He marched for the door in a body that felt nothing like his own. He wasn’t this tall, broad, or blond. He didn’t wait to be let him. He flicked his wand at the door, sending it flying open and marched in like he owned the place.

Three men jumped to their feet, wands raised, only to lower them when they saw who it was. Or rather, who they thought it was.

“What are you doing ‘ere?” barked a short, fat man with no hair and skin that appeared smooth as a baby’s bum.

“Watch your mouth,” Teddy growled, thankful that his modified vocal cords dropped his normal voice down another couple of notes. The trick was the American accent. He’d never been fantastic at accents, but at least American was attainable. When asked to sound French, he butchered it so badly that he Fleur had actually thrown a newspaper at his head.

He glared around at them and strode in, slamming the door shut behind him.

They all took a step back, clearly not looking for a fight with him.

“Didn’t go well, Baker?” one of the others, a man with a full beard and absolutely no fat on his tall, lanky frame. “Did the avalanche work?”

“It worked,” Teddy bit out, trying to keep the words short. He had to verify that the girl was alive and, hopefully, get her out so the team could storm the place and capture them.

“So, uh, where’s the girl? She’s going to do her nut if you don’t have the girl,” the first one commented.

Teddy pulled out his wand and Stunned the man. “Fuck off.”

Unbelievably, it worked. The man slumped over and the other two didn’t even bat an eyelash. Their assessment of Donald Baker’s character had been spot on.

“Any more stupid questions?” Teddy wanted to know of the other two.

They shook their heads.

Then, the skinny one handed Teddy a gift. “We saved the girl for you like you wanted.” Clearly, he was hoping to placate Teddy. He waved his hand vaguely towards a back door.

Teddy forced a cruel smile and strode for the backdoor. He couldn’t believe they were going to pull this off. He banged the door open and the girl jumped in terror as she stared at him.

“No!” she cried, trying to curl into a ball as Teddy slammed the door shut behind him.

He knew that the other Aurors would be listening in with Extendable Ears, waiting for this. The second Teddy Apparated away with the girl, they’d rush in.

“Shut up, you stupid bitch!” Teddy glared, coming towards her. She was manacled to the wall, unfortunately. He flicked his wand, releasing the restraints.

She tried to scramble away from him, but the poor girl was emaciated and clearly weak. Her dark hair hung limp around her thin face, but there was fire in her yet. “No!” Veronica screamed, lashing out at him. She sprang to her feet and Teddy caught her. He held her tight and concentrated and Apparating to St. Mungo’s.

The hospital had a specific room set up for just this purpose. It was empty, save for a bed along the wall. Veronica screamed shrilly as Teddy deposited her on the bed and transformed back into himself.

“You’re okay!” he assured her, holding up his hands for peace. “My name is Teddy Lupin. I’m an Auror and you’re in St. Mungo’s. You’re safe.”

Veronica’s eyes glazed over as she curled into a ball and began to sob hysterically. Teddy covered her mostly naked body with a blanket and went to find one of the Healers. Many of them had been called to the school to help deal with the crisis there, but a few were still on duty. He found a woman that he only knew by sight and explained the situation.

Then he turned back to the room, knowing he needed to take a statement as soon as she was able.

Teddy allowed himself only a brief smile. Yes, he’d been part of saving this woman’s life, but her life was never going to be the same again. There was no celebration there.

Susan Macmillan joined him before he was able to question Veronica Sinestra. Veronica’s parents and her fiancé, Stephen Davies, all rushed into the hospital just minutes after Teddy contacted them to let them know she was safe. It was heartbreaking to see how broken she was from her ordeal. She had asked for a moment alone with her fiancé, and he’d come back out to get them, pale and shaken, but clearly determined.

Teddy thought he knew what that was about. He’d heard in the briefing that Veronica was going to be killed because she was unable to have children. He didn’t know how he’d have reacted if Victoire had told him that. It wouldn’t have changed his love for her, and he’d still marry her, but it would definitely be a blow. They both wanted children.

“I’m just glad we have you back,” Stephen kept saying to Veronica. “We’ll deal with everything else that comes.”

The story that Veronica told Susan, while Teddy observed, was unbelievable.

“They took me from the market,” Veronica explained quietly. “I was taken to that place where you found me and they forced me to drink a potion. Then the men took turns raping me. They… they tried to induce ovulation a few times,” she said through a thick, veil of tears, “but nothing happened.”

Susan nodded sympathetically. “Do you know what the potion was for?”

Veronica shook her head. “There was another girl at one point, but I think she was working for them. There was an older woman, too, but I only saw her once. She seemed to be the one giving orders. But that one, the American that you were pretending to be,” she nodded towards Teddy, “he was also in charge. I think he had all the money. You’re…” her voice trailed off, but Teddy knew what she was asking.

“I’m a Metamorphmagus,” he explained quickly. “I’m really sorry about shouting at you. I needed to stay in character to make sure we could get you out safely.”

She seemed to be swallowing back something completely vile. “He liked raping me. He enjoyed torturing me, got off on it, the sick fuck.”

Stephen leaned over her and gently pressed his lips to her bruised forehead. “I’m so sorry, luv.”

Veronica smiled up at him, almost as though she couldn’t believe her luck that he was still there with her. “I made it out.”

“We’ll let you get some rest,” Susan said, bringing the interview to a close. “We will have more questions later, but for now I want you to have some time with your family. We will leave a guard on duty, just in case, but I do not think you’re in any danger here in St. Mungo’s.”

After some goodbyes, Teddy was left to stand guard outside the door for several hours before being relieved by another Auror.

He made his way from the hospital and walked back to his place, letting his mind wander through uncharted territories. He’d done his job, exactly how he was supposed to do it. He’d saved a life for the first time.

Teddy felt good about it, but couldn’t stop the pain from the look in Veronica’s eyes when she’d thought he was Donald Baker. It was fear and loathing that was so potent, it still felt like a gaping wound in his side. Before he knew it, he was outside his flat, climbing the steps to unlock the door.

The smells that greeted him were warm, fresh bread, some kind of meat, and a sweetness that could only mean Victoire. He smiled as he dropped his keys on the sideboard and went to find her in the kitchen.

She was stirring something on the stove, her back to him, even as she flicked a grin at him over her shoulder. “Hey. You’re home late.”

“You’re here,” he sighed happily as he wound his arms around her waist and hugged her from behind, bending to kiss the nape of her neck. “Merlin, you’re like chocolate right now. I needed your smile.”

Victoire set her wand aside and turned in the circle of his arms to wrap him in a tight hug, kissing him tenderly. “I just knew you’d need me tonight. I told Mum and Dad that I had to go, but I’m not sure they noticed anyway. Did you hear about the avalanche?”

“I did,” he nodded as he swayed gently. “Is everyone okay?”

“No one has died, thankfully,” she informed him quietly as the wonderful aromas wafted around them. “But a couple of the kids are badly hurt. Dom wasn’t in it, but Louis was. He has frostbite and a concussion, but Aunt Audrey sent word that he’ll be okay.”

Teddy let out a small sigh of relief that their family was all going to be fine. He kissed her again, wishing he could simply forget the world with the woman in his arms.

The world, however, wouldn’t be forgotten.

“Tell me,” Victoire prompted. “Tell me what you can.”

He did, at least the parts that he was able to share. There would always be secrets between them, things that he couldn’t divulge due to Auror rules, but he could unburden enough that he knew he’d sleep tonight.

It was only another few months and he’d never have to say goodbye to her, only goodnight. “Let’s eat,” Teddy said after another moment. It would come soon enough.

~*~

Harry deflected the first curse, parried with Expelliarmus, which Baker blocked. Harry expected this, though, and in his momentary distraction, fired off the Full Body-Bind Curse. Unfortunately, Baker was ready for him and blocked it with a Shield Spell.

A moment later, he was gone. Harry straightened, unsure of what exactly had just happened.

There was only one explanation and that was a Portkey.

Harry swore softly under his breath and checked the area around the portrait hole. Nothing.

It was one more thing they’d have to protect the castle from. The rules had been relaxed a bit since Voldemort’s downfall. After all of the Death Eaters had been rounded up, there wasn’t as much call for keeping the school locked down like a prison.

Leaving the kids locked in the common room, Harry went back down to the rescue.

It was nearly three hours before he was able to speak with Caroline about her father, and then all he was able to learn was that he was a rotten bastard. Harry already knew that much.

He didn’t push, though he suspected that she would need to spill those secrets at some point. After assuring himself that his kids, plus his nieces and nephews were all fine, he left the school via the front gate and Apparated back to the Ministry to learn that Veronica Sinestra was safe and in St. Mungo’s.

He didn’t like Raeburn’s tactic of using Teddy to gain entrance to the building. It could have gone horribly wrong, straight from the off, but he had to admit it was a clever gamble and he was glad that his godson had acquitted himself admirably.

Harry made it home to a nearly silent house. Lily and Ginny were both sitting at the kitchen table, mugs of tea in their hands, when he appeared in the fireplace. Lily cried in relief when she saw him and ran for him, practically throwing herself into his arms for a big hug. “Are they okay?”

“Yes,” he promised as he kissed her brow.

Unbidden, the image of Caroline’s damaged, hate-filled eyes flew through his mind. Caroline’s expectation of her father was that he would hit and abuse her. She’d likely never ran to Dodi Baker for comfort or reassurance. She’d never known his love or had trust in him.

It was so unbelievably sad that Harry felt his eyes sting from it. That child was in for a rough road. If she and her sister ever made it out of this to live a normal life, it would be a miracle. Harry’s childhood had been, by all accounts, miserable, but at least his aunt and uncle never violated him. They’d abused him, but he’d never had to worry that one of them was going to treat him so inappropriately that he’d wished them dead.

He’d just wished them far away from him.

“Harry?” Ginny’s voice broke into his maudlin thoughts. “Are you hungry?”

She looked pale and tired, worn down from all the stress and worry. Harry had a fleeting thought that this was what Molly Weasley had gone through when Voldemort had been powerful.

Or maybe it had been worse.

Whatever it was, it was definitely wearing on them.

The worst part was they were no closer to ending this than they had been the day before. The only bright spot was that they’d saved everyone, including Veronica.

And Minerva hadn’t been too cross that he’d sealed all the fireplaces and wasn’t letting up on that any time soon.

~*~

“Hey.”

James turned from the common room fire towards the small voice that was calling from the darkened, seemingly empty room behind him.

His head throbbed amazingly, even though Hannah had told him he should be feeling better right now. The pain was too much, though, and he’d wandered down in the middle of the night to stare at the dying fire and try to build up the energy to go get more headache potion.

What he didn’t need right now was Caroline Baker. She always made his head ache more as he fought to find things to say to her that wouldn’t make her cry.

He felt himself shift away from her, more annoyed than he cared to admit. James felt like dragon dung and he didn’t want to be tiptoeing around this girl who left him confused and… he didn’t know what, exactly, but it wasn’t a nice feeling.

The couch dipped a little as she sat on the other end. “I couldn’t sleep, either. Are you okay?”

“No,” he bit out, still not wanting to talk.

He half expected her to get up and leave, but she didn’t. James shot her a sideways glance and noticed her chewing on her thumb. It was bleeding. “Stop!” he told her, swatting her hand away from her mouth. He took ahold of it, even as she tried to pull away, and focused on the raw skin. “Bloody hell, Caroline! Look what you did to yourself!”

She did look, but if she cared she didn’t show it. Caroline continued to pull on her hand until he let go, and she folded her fingers together in her lap, keeping them still.

James waited, but she seemed unable to speak, so he went back to watching the fire.

They sat in silence for a good ten minutes before she spoke. “I’m sorry for the avalanche. The whole thing is my fault.”

It sounded as though every word she spoke was unbelievably painful to utter. James didn’t even bother to turn her way. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard today. You didn’t make your father do that.”

“I should have just gone to meet him,” she went on, like he hadn’t said anything at all. “He’d have what he wanted and that would have been the end of it.”

“Until he used you to get to us,” James pointed out spitefully. He cursed himself silently, wishing he’d kept his mouth shut. “Sorry,” he muttered, feeling like an arse. “I didn’t mean…”

“There’s no point in any of this,” Caroline told him in a tone that screamed resignation. “You have no idea… there’s no point. I should just give up and let him take me. He’ll eventually kill me like he killed my mom, but I already feel dead anyway. There’s no point in fighting anymore, not after all that’s happened.”

Suddenly, his head didn’t hurt anymore. It was as though he’d been struck by lightning, and the only thing he could think about was the burn that centered in his heart, straight where the jolt had gone in. James turned to face her now, fierce and angry. “Stop it! You’re not dead! You’ve already survived him.”

Caroline’s eyes closed as silent tears streamed down her cheeks. “I wish he was dead. I wish I was dead.”

He wanted to ask why she was telling him, of all people, any of this, but the words wouldn’t form. Nothing came out of his mouth, even when he forced it open, trying to pry words from his numb lips. The anger evaporated into fear.

“My sister wants to kill herself,” Caroline sobbed, still with her eyes slammed shut. “I did, too, but I told her we’d live for each other. I can’t do it anymore. I hurt too much.”

James let out a slow, aching breath. “Okay.” He stood and reached down to gently take her hand. He tugged until she stood, and led her out towards the portrait hole.

The fact that she didn’t even question him was unbelievable. She didn’t pull her hand from his, as he pushed the portrait open and stepped out to see Neville standing guard.

“James, what are you–” he began, then blinked as he saw Caroline.

“We’re going to see Hannah,” James told him softly. “It’s…”

Neville sized them up, but Caroline’s tears, plus her refusal to meet anyone’s eyes seemed to settle the matter. “Straight up there, yeah?”

James nodded. Whatever Caroline was going through, it was too big for him. She needed more help than that. He was only fourteen and knew nothing about… whatever this was.

They walked slowly, silently.

“I don’t want to go,” Caroline admitted after a minute. “But, I think I have to.”

“I think you do, too,” James agreed.

“I didn’t tell your dad everything,” she said as she pulled him to a stop. “I can’t tell anyone what happened.”

James stared down into her beautiful face, with her red, puffy eyes and tried to think of how to make this right. There was nothing he could do, though. “You can tell my dad anything. He’s… he’s the perfect person to tell.”

Grief, so raw, rushed over her that James had to fight not to reach out and hug her. If it had been Lily, that’s what he’d have done. Well… if he was honest, James would have only done that as long as no one else was around to take the mickey out of him. He knew what Caroline would do. She didn’t like to be touched. He was still shocked that she was holding his hand, but odds were good she’d try to flee if she wasn’t, so he suspected it was the last part of her that was going for self-preservation.

“You are so lucky,” Caroline hiccupped as she swiped at her face with her free hand. “My father is… God, he’s such a bastard. He’s a sick, sick, bastard.”

He waited, not sure he wanted to know, but absolutely sure that if she wanted to share that he would listen.

Caroline inhaled deeply and waved at her face. “He thinks I’m beautiful, you know. ‘Caroline, at least you’re beautiful, because you’d be a useless idiot otherwise.’ That’s what he’d say to me.”

James honestly couldn’t imagine it. She wasn’t stupid.

“He’d tell his friends about me, but ignore my sister, Honor,” she went out, letting out the poison. “Then he’d whisper it to me in the dark.”

Icy horror filled him as he realized just what she was implying. James squeezed her fingers lightly, reflexively, but it seemed to snap her from whatever place she was in.

Embarrassed, Caroline turned away. “What’s the point in living after that?”

“It wasn’t your fault,” James croaked as he fought not to cry. “He’s the one who’s wrong in this. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“You British have this sense of purity,” Caroline said bitterly. “You have this code that everyone lives by because of this blood status mania and you know what?” she turned back to glare at him like it was his fault. “I’m never going to fit into that, all because my father thought was I was beautiful.”

“No!” James shook his head frantically. “That has nothing to do with you! That’s not your fault!”

She almost pulled away from him, but he tightened his hold. “Let go.”

He wanted to do what she asked, but James knew her life was at stake. “As soon as we’re at the hospital wing.”

“I don’t want to go,” she pulled again, but not enough to break free. James was sure she was stronger than the effort she was making.

She was mad, now, but it could switch back to destroyed at any moment.

Slowly, James stepped towards her. Moving carefully, he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her to him.

After only a few seconds, she broke down sobbing on his shoulder.

Eventually, he managed to get her up to Hannah, who gave Caroline a potion to help her sleep.

The next morning, James learned that she’d been removed to St. Mungo’s for further evaluation.

Neville found him later and commended him on what he’d done.

The words meant nothing, though. All James was left with was the memory of this girl who had been utterly destroyed by her father, the man who was supposed to protect her.

All while James had always been a total arse to his own father.

He sought Al out later on and made a point to talk to his little brother as though they were friends and James hadn’t spent his entire life being a berk to him. Al, although a little confused, went along with it.

There was nothing like a midnight confession to give him perspective, and the perspective James was left with was that he really didn’t like the person he’d been most of his life.

It was time to change that.

Go up and read my author's note please!!!!

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Chapter 23: Chapter 20

Author's Notes: This is a difficult chapter. Just warning you now.

If you want to read the transcript of my podcast, you can read it here: http://knitterwithkids.blogspot.com/2015/11/q-with-sarah-jaune.html

Thank you Arnel for beta'ing.

Let me know what you think. This chapter went in a way I didn't expect.


Chapter 20

“She’s not doing well,” Audrey sighed miserably as she rubbed at her brow. The dim lights of the private ward in St. Mungo’s were meant to sooth, but instead always gave Harry eyestrain from trying to see everyone. “We’ve had a few of the trained therapists in with her, but she’s not opening up. The potions are helping, though. I took another look and you were right.”

Dread filled him until it was almost bursting from Harry. “She’s been raped?”

“He healed it,” Audrey bit out in disgust. “That’s why we didn’t see it before. It was subtle. He’d beat them, leave those wounds to fester, but it’s almost like he couldn’t stand just how sick he is, so he healed her bruises from the rapes. Merlin, Harry, it’s bloody sick.”

Harry, quite simply, wanted to vomit. Her own father… “I need to speak to her if you think she’s ready.”

Audrey shrugged helplessly. “She said she wanted to speak to you, but I can’t see that you’ll get much more out of her. She’s a mess.”

Harry nodded, understanding completely as he pushed open Caroline’s door. The little girl sat in the bed, a book in her lap. She stared off towards the walls, though. She turned to see him, her blue eyes red-rimmed and achingly raw with emotion. He moved in to sit on the stool by her bed, and her resignation was almost too much for him to stand. “Hello, Caroline.”

“Hi,” she sniffed as she glanced down at the book, seemingly surprised that it was still there. She closed it and set it off on her side table. “I didn’t tell you everything.”

“That’s okay,” Harry assured her gently. “You can tell me now, or later. We have time. I understand why you held some things back.”

Caroline chewed at her bottom lip, which was bruises and puffy. This was clearly something she did on a regular basis. “He never did it to Honor. If he had, I’d have tried to kill him. He said he only wanted me because I am so beautiful.”

Revulsion and bile clogged Harry’s throat and he had to fight them both back so that he could remain focused on the girl before him.

It didn’t matter how many times he’d heard this same story. It never, ever, became any easier to take in.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Harry told her.

She smiled a little. “That’s what James said. He told me to tell you, but…”

It still left him a little stunned that James, of all people, had been there to help this girl. He hoped that it meant his son was really, and truly, starting to grow up. He was fourteen, after all, but he’d been spoiled much of his life. He’d never really had to deal with anything. It had been exactly what Harry had wanted for his children, but it did have some unintended consequences. “There is no ‘but’ in this,” he told the girl. “You are blameless.”

Caroline hunched her shoulders like she didn’t really believe it. “I need to tell you about my father. I know I have to, but it’s just so–” she cut off her words and stared straight ahead of her. “My father likes to be the best. He saw having a beautiful wife as the best thing. He wanted a son, but there was only myself and Honor. My mom couldn’t have children after Honor, but I don’t know why. My father wanted us to behave perfectly and when we didn’t, he beat us. My father wanted to be the wealthiest, so he stole when he couldn’t easily earn. He hires henchmen to do his dirty work for him, bullying and intimidating people into doing what will make him rich and powerful.”

None of this surprised Harry.

“My mom started drinking to ease her pain,” Caroline admitted quietly. “It was so bad dealing with him that she wanted to escape from him. He raped her. We heard him doing it. I think he liked that, actually.”

The matter-of-fact way that she put it was revolting.

“Then he started in on me,” Caroline said. “He’d come into my room and he’d tie me up, rape me, then heal it. He didn’t want me to forget. He’d whisper that I was beautiful and I was his. I belonged to him. I…” Tears poured down her cheeks as the poisonous words spilled from her lips. “I lied before when I said he didn’t care about us going. He didn’t care about Honor. He never cared about her, because she wasn’t something he could be proud of. He didn’t see how great she is. But, I think he didn’t fight hard to get us back, at first, because he had me under the Imperius Curse, and also because he didn’t want me to spill his secrets. If his friends knew he’d been raping me,” Caroline continued as her fingers restlessly kneaded the blanket, “they’d have been horrified. That’s just not something people are okay with.”

“You know this is all his fault,” Harry reminded her carefully. “He’s the one who is sick and demented. No one is going to hold this against you.”

“My father will be after power and money,” Caroline concluded, ignoring what he’d said. “Whatever is going on, he sees a chance to get even richer and gain even more power. You can count on that.”

Harry stared into her shattered blue eyes, on a face that was pale and sunken in. “If I can, I will kill him.”

He’d never promised that before. He’d never wanted to be a murderer, but he also knew that for a man like Donald Baker, there was no prison that would hold him forever. He had too much money, too much clout, to be pinned down. Dodi had seen to that himself. The only way this girl and her sister would ever be safe would be if their father was dead.

Dodi would never forgive the insult of this girl abandoning him. It was a stab in the back that told Dodi he wasn’t actually the best, and Caroline knew it.

“Are you doing okay here?” Harry asked her.

Caroline nodded and turned away. “I like it here. I like school, too, but I needed a break. There’s too many people and wearing a mask all the time is exhausting.”

As Harry left her room ten minutes later, he had to wonder just how many people wore masks just like hers every day to hide the gaping wounds that had been inflicted upon them.

It was sickening to even consider.

~*~

Ginny couldn’t concentrate on the game. It wasn’t as though it was a major game, or anything, because the Cannons vs Puddlemere was essentially just a matter of ‘when’ the Cannons lost. They would lose. They always lost.

Ron was an idiot for still supporting them, and now he sat glumly beside her while Puddlemere Chaser, Bebe Specks scored yet another goal, putting the score to four hundred sixty to ten.

Sadly, the ten points for the Cannons had been when the Puddlemere’s own Keeper had accidentally kicked the Quaffle into his own hoop.

“You shouldn’t have come,” Ginny reminded him as she bounced her knees, trying to warm up. It was February and so bloody cold that she feared the tip of her nose would fall off.

“It’s fine,” Ron told her through gritted teeth. “There’s still time.”

Ginny managed to not roll her eyes, but it was a close thing. Many times Ginny would be given two tickets for a game, and Ron always came to watch the Cannons.

It was a blood bath, though. This was the worst year the Cannons had had in almost a decade.

Still, it was a nice diversion from her regular life which was basically falling apart around her. Ginny hadn’t wanted to admit it at first, but there was really no way to deny it now. Harry was never home. He still wasn’t home, actually. Teddy was spending the night at Ivy Run to be with Lily. She could have gone home with Hugo, but Teddy had offered and Lily missed her god brother.

Harry’s obsession with Isabella Crabbe was taking up his every waking moment. He was spending most of his nights working through tips that came in from the public. He used countless hours trying to piece together just what Donald Baker was trying to do in England and how they were related to each other.

He’d missed the fact that his wife was upset. She didn’t blame him, exactly. Ginny hadn’t had the heart to tell him she needed more from him when she knew, quite simply, he didn’t have any more to give. He’d been like this through their whole marriage, but never had a problem run this long. Even Voldemort had only been in a body for three years. He’d been much more dangerous, but it had been a significantly shorter duration.

Ginny also knew that Harry felt guilty about everything. He’d been part of Isabella’s son dying, even though Vincent Crabbe had lit the fire that took his life. Harry hadn’t been there for the years of abuse that had driven Isabella crazy, but her son’s death had sent her over the edge. As a result, she’d nearly killed Ginny, and had killed their daughter, Hope, in an attempt to exact revenge. Harry desperately wanted to keep them safe.

He thought that working all hours was going to do that.

“Are you okay?” Ron asked her suddenly, jolting her from her maudlin musings.

Ginny nodded, not wanting to burden Ron. Hermione had confided to her that she and Ron had been fighting a lot. It wasn’t exactly unexpected, because they’d always fought a lot, but Hermione was definitely starting to wish the fighting would end. There was no divorce, though. It was comforting, and also extremely frustrating. A soul bond couldn’t be undone.

Ginny wasn’t entirely sure Hermione wouldn’t just go off the deep end and murder Ron in her sleep. They fought over money, working hours, and Merlin only knew what.

“Hermione told you, didn’t she?” Ron said in a voice so low she almost missed it.

She didn’t answer. She didn’t need to. Hermione was one of her best friends and her sister.

“We’re not…” Ron began, but cut himself off. “She’s working all the time, you know. Now that she’s the head of the department, we never see her. It’s not really a marriage if you have no idea what’s going on in your spouse’s life.”

It was one of those oddly insightful things that Ron sometimes spit out and Ginny couldn’t do more than nod. She did understand that. When they’d been younger, so much of their lives had been dominated by passion. It was easier to skate through the rough patches where apathy and presumption that the other person would always be there, no matter how much they were neglected. Once the reunion happened, it was fireworks and magic, typically in bed. Now, after twenty years, Ginny knew that these parts were not to be taken for granted.

She would still have a husband at the end of the day. The soul bond ensured that neither of them could leave, but it didn’t mean they’d like the other person. It didn’t mean that Harry wouldn’t look at her with resentment, or Ginny stare at him in anger. They didn’t have to like the person they were living with. That was how a lot of couples ended up living alone.

It wasn’t the way Ginny wanted her relationship to turn out, but Harry wasn’t in a place to hear her. He was drowning in the horrors of the case, and just how enormous the problem was. Something had happened with one of James’ classmates. Ginny couldn’t know the details, because those were private. That was fine. But Ginny didn’t need divination to see that whatever had happened to that girl was so horrible that Harry was not the same anymore. She only had to let her imagination run from there to figure out just how bad it had been for Caroline Baker.

She’d had a letter from James not too long after that which had been full of the news that he’d broken up with his girlfriend and had decided to be single for a while. He’d written, ‘don’t worry, Mum, I was really nice to her when I ended things,’ which Ginny wouldn’t have believed if she hadn’t received a letter later that week from Nat telling her that something was wrong with James because he seemed to be a completely different kid. He was being unbelievably nice.

“We’re falling apart, too,” Ginny blurted out, a little shocked that she’d actually said it. “Harry, and I are struggling. It’s this case…”

But it wasn’t just the case. They’d been in the habit of taking each other for granted for too long.

“Let’s do a swap off,” Ron suggested. “You have that beach house, right? Let’s each take a week’s vacation and go. The other gets the kids for the week.”

Ginny snorted. “You honestly think either of them will agree to a week off?”

“No,” Ron shrugged. “If she won’t go with me, I’ll go without her and think. It’s been too much recently.”

She watched with dispassionate interest as a Cannon Beater smacked the referee on the arm and the ref spun away for a moment, before coming back to shout at him. “Okay, that’s a plan.”

Harry hadn’t wanted to go. When she’d said she was going without him, though, he’d changed his mind and had put in the request to take the week off.

Ginny liked the beach house. It was small, cozy, and just as safe as Ivy Run. The air smelled of salt and new beginnings which was exactly what she was hoping for. She dropped the food off in the kitchen, while Harry took their bags upstairs. By the time he arrived back down with her, she’d opened a bottle of wine and poured him a glass.

Harry’s dark brow rose as he accepted it. “We’re getting started early?”

“It’s never too early when you have deep things to discuss,” Ginny informed him. Harry’s brows drew together, but she pointed to the fireplace. “Build up a fire. I’m going to set supper to cooking, then we’ll sit and talk.”

It was only the work of ten minutes before they were lounging on the couch in front of a roaring fire. She’d deliberately sat far enough away so that she could see him as they spoke, but close enough that she could stick her cold feet under his leg to warm them up.

At this point, Harry was starting to look panicked. “What’s up?”

She chose her words very carefully. “I need to know where your loyalties lie,” Ginny told him, taking a sip of wine.

Stunned, Harry gaped at her. “What are you talking about?”

“What comes first in your life?” Ginny asked him, rephrasing the question.

“You do,” he assured her quickly. His expression shifted seamlessly from confusion, to annoyance, and back into a careful mask of reassurance. “I don’t know why you’re asking this.”

She knew him so well. She’s known him for thirty years, now. Ginny could have easily taken the bait and gone straight into anger, but there was no point. Ron would get angry with Hermione. They would row, loudly, because that was how they worked. That wasn’t Ginny’s style. She didn’t mind a good fight, but she’d rather argue a person down with reasoned arguments than screaming. “If I came first in your life, Harry, I’d merit at least an hour a day of your time. I kept track this last week,” she explained. “Apart from the time we slept next to each other, we interacted for a total of fifty-seven minutes in the last seven days.”

“No way!” Harry shook his head. Then he went still, and his face went pale. He wasn’t a stupid man. He wasn’t petty, or unfair. He was reasonable.

But he was also single-minded and stubborn when there was a problem.

Unfortunately, he was missing the problem that was right in front of his nose. “Oh,” he sighed as he rubbed at his brow. Harry reached for his glass and downed half of it in one go. “Damn it.”

She reached out with cold fingers and threaded their hands together, much as they’d done when they were first dating. They’d needed each other, then. They’d moved together, pulled by their own gravity which drew them to link hands, to touch shoulders, to smile as though there was nothing else in the world but them. “I need you to remember to put us first, Harry. I know how much this case means to you. I can see just how badly it is eating at you, but if we fall apart it’ll be for nothing. Your daughter has stopped asking for you. She’s just assuming you won’t be there for her.”

It was a low blow, but one he’d absolutely needed. Stricken, Harry pulled her onto his lap, nearly spilling her wine as he buried his face in her neck and held on tight. “I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”

Ginny had heard that before, though. She wished she weren’t so cynical, but he’d let her down many times. He was a great husband, a great father, but he let work consume him too easily. She’d wait to see just what he did.

~*~

Nat stared at Mrs. Audrey Weasley, trying not to cry. “It’s March already,” she reminded the Healer as the sun streamed weakly into the hospital wing at Hogwarts. “I’m supposed to be going home for the Easter holidays soon.”

“I know,” Audrey said as she patted Nat’s hand. “I just think we should wait a little longer to take your feeding line out.”

Nat shook her head. “I can’t go to the beach house with my parents if it isn’t out! I can’t spend time with just them if…” she pressed her mouth into a hard line, biting her cheek so she wouldn’t completely lose control. “I think my emotional well-being would be better served by being able to spend the hols with my parents.”

Audrey sat back, her brow raised thoughtfully. “Alright. We’ll give it a try. One week here at school, but if you aren’t maintaining, you go straight back on the feeding line. Deal?”

“Deal!”

An hour later, Nat was feeding line free for the first time in many, many months. She couldn’t help but grin as she made her way down to lunch. It was a Saturday, so no classes, and she was already caught up on her homework. Today she was free of the strings that held her back. There was an American Disney movie where the character sang a song about it, and Nat happily whistled the catchy tune all the way down to the common room. No sooner had she reached the correct corridor than she spied James coming from the opposite direction, his eyes on his trainers, hands shoved in the pockets of jeans.

Caroline still wasn’t back from St. Mungo’s, but that didn’t surprise Nat. During their time hiding from her father with the house-elf, Polly, Nat had figured out just how badly Caroline had hidden what was done to her. James, it was rumored, had been the one to take her up to see Mrs. Longbottom before she was removed.

Ever since Caroline left, James had been, to put it simply, odd. It had been as though the real James had been plucked from the school and an alien spawn had replaced him. It wasn’t to say James was always in a great mood. Generally, he’d been moody and sad, but the difference had come from how he’d treated them. Before, if he’d been in a bad mood, James would have taken it out on Al, just because. There didn’t need to be a reason except that Al seemed to be James’ punching bag.

Now, though, he just quietly kept his pain to himself.

He was changed.

Nat smiled at James, trying to read what mood he was in. “Hey.”

James glanced up and gave her half a grin. “Hey, Nat.”

They came level to the portrait of the Fat Lady. Nat cocked her head to the side. “Are you okay?”

James shrugged, then seemed to notice her for the first time. “You got rid of the feeding line?”

A mile-wide smile split her face. “Yes, just now.”

“That’s great,” James told her. He didn’t move towards the portrait hole, though, just shifted from one foot to the other, his eyes drifting back to the floor.

Nat studied him closely, trying to figure out just what to say. “You’re not really okay.”

Heat flashed in James’ brown eyes, but he shrugged it off quickly. “It’s nothing.”

“I miss Caroline, too,” Nat told him simply. “But she’s better at the hospital. She needs help.”

He didn’t respond.

“She’s hurting herself,” Nat pointed out, trying to make a dent.

James opened his mouth to argue, but shut it again and remained silent for a long time. “What do you mean?”

“Her fingers,” she reminded him. “She was chewing on them. It’s a way of dealing with the pain. You hurt yourself in one place to forget the pain of something else. It’s better she’s in the hospital so that doesn’t get worse.”

He looked sick, now. “You don’t know…”

Nat nodded and tucked a strand of her strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. She didn’t know exactly what Caroline had been through. “She’s not ever going to be the same as she’d have been before her father.”

James shifted again and flicked his eyes up to hers. “Do you want to go get some hot chocolate?”

He seemed so sad, so beaten, that Nat could only nod. “Come on.”

She led him towards an empty classroom and plunked him down into a chair and called out for a house-elf for hot chocolate for him, and tea for her. Polly arrived moments later with a pop, bringing with her sweets for James, and tea for her.

He sat and drank thoughtlessly and Nat rather thought he was regretting asking her to do this. Talking was not something James did easily.

“You’ve been different,” Nat pointed out, knowing it was obvious to everyone.

He shook his head. “I’m just trying not to be a complete arse. Caroline’s story sort of made me see what a stupid berk I’d been.”

“We’re here to help, you know,” she said after taking a sip of her warm tea. “We’re your friends. Al is glad you aren’t picking on him constantly.”

James laughed humorously. “I used to think that was such fun to make him mad. I wanted to see how far I could take it before he broke. Now the thought makes me sick. If I was anything like her father–”

“You weren’t,” Nat assured him, interrupting. “But you might have been.”

If she’d slapped him, Nat thought dryly, her hand probably would have hurt less. There was some kind of connection between James and Caroline. There was something there that tinged the air, making it charged when they were together. Nat didn’t know if it would end up as good friends or as something more, but what she did know was that the James of last year was dangerous for the girl who was still in St. Mungo’s. He’d have crushed Caroline.

This one, though… this one stood a chance of being a force for good. “She’s going to need people around her who are going to be there for her, no matter what. That kind of abuse makes people do the most erratic things. She’s going to try hard to push you away. She’ll be irrational, moody, and a pain because it’s really hard to trust.”

“How do you know this?” James questioned her, narrowing his eyes contemplatively.

“I took a couple of psychology classes from Yale online,” Nat explained. At his blank stare she laughed. “It’s this Muggle university in America. They have a lot of their classes online.”

Nothing.

“The internet?” Nat reminded him. “You can watch a video of the professors teaching classes.”

Nothing.

She shook her head with a grin. “Never mind that, the point is I was interested in the human brain and how it worked through trauma so I found the information and studied it.”

“How old were you?” James asked in amazement.

“Ten,” Nat told him as she looked up at the ceiling, trying to remember. “I think. What I’m trying to say is that Caroline will be challenging to be friends with after this. What she’ll need is people around her who steadfastly support her. You haven’t been good at that before.”

There was no point in sugarcoating it. Nat knew that bluntness was what was needed.

James considered this as he ran his fingers along the worn grain of the wooden desk. “What if I don’t think I can do that?”

“Then you need to not be close to her,” she said carefully. “You can be friendly, but don’t try to be her good friend. Her good friends are going to be in for a great deal of drama if Caroline is going to survive this.”

“She has to survive it!” James blurted out fiercely.

Wordlessly, Nat reached over to take his hand. “A lot of people don’t. Being alive isn’t the same thing as surviving and thriving after. Like I said, she’s never going to be the same.”

She let go and sat back, letting her words sink in. She’d never dealt with someone like this long-term, but she’d read plenty of blogs online that detailed what it was like. For about three months she’d been very fascinated by the world of teenage girls who were in real schools, not traveling the world being homeschooled as she was.

James sighed and after a long pause, said, “Okay. I… I want to be her friend. If I start messing up, you’ll tell me, right?”

Nat smiled. “I can do that.”

~*~

“Are you going this week?” Harry asked Hermione as they filed out from the conference room after their weekly morning meeting with Minister Macmillan.

Hermione shrugged. “I really can’t spare the time.”

Two weeks before, Harry would have said the same thing. He’d have told Ginny that the office needed him and that he wasn’t doing the case any good if he wasn’t there.

He’d also have pointed out that Isabella Crabbe was a direct threat to their family. Now, however, he knew that the real threat to his family had been himself. “You should go.”

Hermione’s lips pinched together, and Harry knew he wasn’t going to get anything else out of her. “When is your talk with the seventh years?”

Change of subject. Divert. That was Hermione. If she didn’t want to talk about it, she’d sidestep the problem. “After the Easter holidays,” Harry told her. “I’m not sure we really need any more at the moment, but we could use another woman. Susan is still our only female on the team. Hermione, you need to get away.”

“I’m not discussing it with you,” Hermione told him primly as she pushed the button for the lift. “I can’t believe Ginny told you–”

“Ginny told me nothing,” Harry retorted sharply. “What I’m seeing is you’re having the same issues that I am. This job isn’t everything. It’s just a way to pay the bills, and frankly neither of us needs the money. The job isn’t worth blowing up your family.”

The lift doors opened and Hermione entered. There were others on the lift, so Harry didn’t say any more. He went back to his office to catch up on a mountain of paperwork and deal with the rest of the annoying bits of being the Head Auror.

They’d had no word on Isabella Crabbe and Donald Baker seemed to have gone underground. The only progress they’d made was discovering that the men they’d captured when Teddy had rescued the woman from the small shed was that the men weren’t British.

The simple brilliance of that was unbelievable. If they’d been Brits, they’d have been registered as such. If those men had made a British woman pregnant, they’d have been dragged in and forced to marry. When Isabella had brought in help, she’d brought in men who could fake a British accent. They were given free-reign over the women they held, with no possible legal consequences unless they were captured.

The goal now, clearly, was they wanted women to be pregnant. The men they’d captured wouldn’t speak. They’d proved resistant to truth-telling potions because they didn’t know what was going on. All they knew was that they were allowed to rape the women, holding them captive, until they were pregnant.

It begged the question of what on earth was Isabella trying to accomplish? She wanted wizards, because these men were magical, to try to get a woman pregnant. She could have done that with just a spell. She didn’t need them to have sex.

But then again, Isabella was buggered in the head. She was certifiably insane, and she’d been raped by her own husband.

But the goal of getting a woman pregnant… what was that about? Why did she need pregnant women? Why not just kidnap an already pregnant woman?

A knock sounded at his closed office door.

“Enter,” Harry called out and to his surprise, Hermione came in, shutting the door behind her. He watched as she seated herself across from him. Her posture was stiff, her chin in the air. “Are you okay?”

Finally, she said, “No. I think you’re right. Ron and I are falling apart. I honestly don’t know why we married in the first place. We fight all the time. We’ve always bickered. We never have any peace in our house. It’s miserable. Part of me wants to let the whole thing fall apart.”

He nodded slowly. “You married him because you love him and he loves you. You have a long history together.”

Hermione shook her head and a stray curl came lose, hanging down her cheek. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t have the energy to fight this anymore. I’m too tired from fighting him. But we’re stuck because we have a soul bond. Half the time I want to move out.”

Then she burst into tears.

Harry handed over a tissue from the box he kept on his desk for crying witnesses and waited for her to collect herself. “Hermione…”

“You and Ginny are much better suited,” Hermione sniffed as she dabbed at her red eyes. “Your personalities don’t clash. I’m afraid that if I go away with Ron to the beach house we’ll figure out we really aren’t meant to be together forever, and we’ll decide to split houses.”

“That’s not what Ron wants,” Harry reminded her. “He loves you, even though you drive him mental. I think if you two make the commitment to work it out, you can. You probably need therapy or something, but you can do it.”

She laughed bitterly. “We’ve been in therapy before, Harry. It never works. He ends up accusing me of being too rigid and a workaholic, while I can’t stand the fact that he never takes anything seriously.”

“He takes a lot of things seriously, and you are a workaholic,” Harry pointed out with the shake of his head. His exasperation was starting to leak out. “Hermione, he takes your family very seriously. Family has always been a key part of Ron’s framework. He’s a family man. You can’t tell him he doesn’t take that seriously and not expect him to be offended and put out. You work a minimum of sixty-hours a week on a light week.”

“Oh sure, so it’s all my fault!” Hermione sobbed as she sprang to her feet.

Harry rose, as well. “If you can’t see your own faults in this, there’s something wrong. That’s not the Hermione I have known all these years. I don’t think you take your marriage seriously enough.”

“I do!” she cried, pointing at him. “You aren’t there, Harry! You’re not there to hear all the ways he makes me feel like I’m less than…” Hermione shook her head sadly. “You don’t know.”

“I do know that Ron thinks you’re the smartest person he knows,” Harry said quietly. “If you’re feeling like he’s saying something else, then something is being lost in translation. You need to get away for a bit and fix your relationship. If it falls apart, I’ll be able to point and say that you didn’t try at the end, but Ron did.” Now he smiled, a little ruefully. “You wouldn’t want him to win that one.”

Hermione gave a watery laugh. “Childish, Harry, but… you’re right.”

~*~

Isabella stared out of the window of the small room where she liked to sit and think. She liked the quiet here. She liked being alone with no one to bother her. Sadly, the oaf was in residence, so her tranquility was meager.

She had plans, big plans. She ought to have been working on them, but there was brilliance in finding the silence. She had hit a small stumbling block, to be sure, but it was only a temporary setback.

She would have her revenge. She’d waited this long, and it might be years yet, still, but she had years. It would be years until the one she wanted would be ripe, ready to pick. It was so perfect that he’d provided her with the perfect victim.

Her hands were aging. They didn’t cut potions ingredients as smoothly as they had in the past, but that was no matter. They worked. Her brain was as sharp as ever, honed to a razor’s edge by years of living in fear and torment.

She didn’t enjoy the method that Baker had insisted on employing to achieve their goals. The women didn’t need to be tortured, although certainly it kept the men in her employ happy enough.

She’d needed Baker. She’d needed his funds, and he, in turn, wanted what she was going to create. She was sure she’d succeed and when she did, she would have the whole of the wizarding world at her feet. They’d all be under her spell without even knowing it.

It was simple brilliance, but first she needed to make it work. She had five years minimum before it would be important, but upwards of ten to get it right.

Time.

Isabella sighed and turned when she heard the loud footsteps of the perverse man she’d taken up arms with.

Donald Baker was a pedophile and a murder. He was, quite simply, everything Isabella had hated about her own husband. She couldn’t wait until the moment she could stab him in the back.

She rather thought she would do so literally, with a sharp, hot blade, slicing his spinal cord so that she could watch him slowly bleed to death, unable to move to help himself.

It was with that thought that Isabella was able to create a false smile for him. First, she needed the money to continue to fund research for her project. Next, she needed his worldwide distribution network and clever marketing in order to spread the product to every magical person on the planet.

If it worked, and she had no reason to suppose it wouldn’t, they would be wealthy beyond their wildest dreams when they figured out just what had been done to them, or more importantly, to their children.

“Shouldn’t you be working?” Baker barked out.

Isabella flicked her wand and sent an absent curse towards the odious man. Used to this, he blocked it with a laugh.

“I am taking a break,” Isabella told him primly. “Besides, we have no one to test upon at the moment.”

“We will shortly,” Baker waved that small problem aside. “I’ve arranged for a couple of girls to be smuggled here from abroad. No one will miss them, not even when they’re dead.”

This was why she kept this man around. He’d likely fiddled with his daughter more times than could be counted, but he did have his uses.

Too bad he was such a pervert.

“I will set to work on the latest modification of the potion then tomorrow,” she said flatly. “Make sure they don’t touch the girls until it is ready.”

“Don’t dawdle,” Baker told her as he turned his back and strode for the door. “They won’t wish to wait long.”

He meant that he didn’t wish to wait long.

Baker could have found a girlfriend. He could have paid a prostitute, but the sick man preferred to take his women by force.

When he said he’d found girls, Isabella rather thought he was being literal. None of the foreign girls were likely to be over sixteen. That wasn’t how he liked them.

Dispassionately, she turned back to gaze out onto the rolling hills of the English countryside. He was still useful, so for now he would live. A few girls were always going to die anyway.

Her son would have his revenge upon Potter, even if it was from the grave. Isabella would make sure of that.

In the process she would bring down the entire corrupt system in England. It was, as they said, a win-win.

She smiled.

Back to index


Chapter 24: Chapter 21

Author's Notes: PLEASE READ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Thank you Arnel for keeping me honest!


Ron stared out the window of the beach house, without taking in anything around him. He didn’t notice the half-finished beer in his hand, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore mere feet away, nor the smell of wood polish from whoever had cleaned the house last.

He stared, with one hand in his jeans pocket, the other with the mouth of the beer bottle hanging limply between two fingers, and contemplated the end of his family.

Hermione hadn’t come.

Ron hadn’t really figured she would come. She had given up already, Ron knew. He wasn’t stupid or blind. Somewhere along the line, his wife had begun to value her job more than their marriage. Her job was giving her more of what she needed than Ron was.

Unfortunately, she wouldn’t talk to him about it. Hugo had been acting out more at home, which left Hermione staying in the office later and later. Ron couldn’t really blame her for that. Kids seemed to have an innate ability to sense when the ship was sinking and rather than help, they defaulted to pouring on more water just to ensure the whole thing went down faster.

It wouldn’t be Hugo’s fault if Hermione moved out, or more likely she kicked Ron out, but there was no denying that his son was adding fuel to the fire. He didn’t blame him, though. Ron had never once doubted his parents’ love for each other. He’d never once thought that they would be anything but solid and happily married, not even after his brother’s death. The stress of that, the heartbreak, would have been crushing to Ron.

He valued family. He wanted to fix this, but without even a little crack to peer through, he wasn’t going to see what was going on in his wife’s head. They’d been married for a long time now, but there were still moments when he didn’t understand her at all.

The front door, which was to Ron’s back, banged open, startling him. Ron spun to find a furious Hermione glaring at him.

“Hey,” he said as he set his beer down on the kitchen counter and waited for the explosion. He knew that expression.

“You,” Hermione began, punctuating the word hard as she slammed the door closed and marched over to him, poking him in the chest. “You left!”

Ron shrugged and stuck both hands in his pockets, just to make sure he didn’t react by throwing the bottle against the wall. He was angry as well, but his had simmered into unbelievable hurt. Given half a chance it would boil over again, which wouldn’t help anyone.

Also, Ginny would be furious if he hurt her house.

“I told you I needed a vacation,” Ron reminded her quietly. “You said you were too busy. I told you I was going anyway. What’s the problem?”

“The problem, Ronald Weasley,” she informed him in an ever higher pitched voice, “is that I made it home to see that my son was gone, and so were you!”

He quirked an eyebrow. “I left a note. Didn’t you–”

“I found the bloody note!” she bellowed as she threw the crumpled ball at him. He hadn’t even realized she’d been clutching it in her fist. “You had no right to–”

“Stop right there,” he ordered her quietly. “I have every right to go on vacation. Most of Hugo’s care has fallen to me, so I arranged for his care. If you don’t want to leave it that way, you’re free to pick him up from Angelina and George.”

Hermione blanched and glanced away from him as her cheeks reddened. She didn’t say anything.

“Are we done?” Ron asked her. He hated dancing around the subject. He hated feeling as though he was walking tightrope with her on every issue. If she was planning on them splitting up, then he wanted to know now.

“I haven’t…” her voice trailed off as she studied him closely, taking a step away from him at whatever she saw. “You want to move out?”

“Not particularly,” he admitted honestly. “But this isn’t really a marriage anymore, Hermione. We’re at odds when we do see each other, but rarely see each other as it is.”

Her color rose even higher as she spun away to march over to the wine cabinet. With shaking fingers, she poured herself a generous glass of red wine. “So this is my fault for working too much?”

Ron rounded the counter, grabbing his beer as he went, and sat at the table.

This might be the table where they discussed their breakup. It was an incredibly heartbreaking thought, but there was no point in denying what was happening. After a minute, Hermione sat across from him. They both stayed silent for a minute.

“I love you,” Ron informed her simply. “I always have, and I always will, but you are unhappy. I’d like to work to save our marriage, but I can’t do that alone.”

He knew it was the wrong thing to say the moment it came out.

Hermione tossed her hair back in outrage. “You think I’m not trying?”

“I think you’re not home enough to try,” Ron said with resignation. “I know your job is important to you, luv. I get that you’ve always been ambitious and you want to help people. But at some point, it switched over in to being the thing you loved more than me.”

“That’s… that’s not true,” she denied fervently.

“Tell me you love me, then,” Ron told her.

She hadn’t said it to him in several months.

Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but her eyes glazed over in tears. “Oh, God…”

“Yeah,” Ron sighed as he reached over to take her hand. “What do you want to do?”

Tears filled her eyes and dripped silently down her cheeks which were steadily growing paler. “I want to fix this.”

“Are you sure?” he asked urgently. He didn’t want to drag this out. “I need you to be willing to meet me halfway on this. I can’t do this without you.”

She nodded and swiped at her tears with the heel of her free hand. “Yes.”

Ron nodded and sat back in his seat, letting her hand go. “I need to know what’s been going on with you.”

She shrugged helplessly and took a sip of her wine. “I don’t know. I’ve been really swamped at work.”

Ron arched an eyebrow and shook his head. “Try that again.”

“I have!” Hermione protested, but it was short lived. “I’ve let myself be swamped at work. Ginny says I have no boundaries.”

He personally thought Ginny was right, but didn’t say so. In taking sides, he’d learned that it was always better to take his wife’s side over his sister’s.

“I really want the new minister to succeed,” she admitted quietly. “Minister Macmillan has been great for us so far, but it feels like she’s meeting resistance from some areas.”

“This has been going on longer than that,” Ron said shortly. “This isn’t about the politics, anyway. Even when you were back in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures you didn’t work like this, and that was something you were passionate about.”

Hermione worried at her bottom lip and wouldn’t meet his eyes. “We had small children. They needed me at home more than now.”

“Hugo still needs you at home,” he pointed out flatly. “He’s been missing you. He knows something is wrong.”

Her eyes filled again. “I don’t know what’s wrong, Ron. I don’t know why I haven’t wanted to come home. You haven’t done anything.”

“Are you taking this week off?” Ron asked her softly.

“I can’t,” she shook her head. “It’s a busy time and…” Hermione stared at him as he held up a hand to stop her.

“If you can’t take the time to try to work on this, then there is no point in trying,” Ron informed her. “I’ll take a week here to think things through and then we’ll decide who is moving out.”

“No!” Hermione wailed in fury. “You do not get to make ultimatums like that! Not after all we’ve been through.”

Anger burned again, low in his belly, and the first hints of his own rage leaked through. “We’re not doing this to our children anymore! We have barely six weeks until Rose is home. I want this settled. I want Hugo’s life to be settled. As I’m the primary one looking after them, I think you should move out into a flat. With all the overtime you’re working, you’ll certainly be able to afford it.” More venom than he’d intended leaked out and she recoiled as though he’d slapped her.

“You want to take my children?” Hermione shook her head.

“I want your children not to wonder if they’ll have a parent to tuck them in at night,” Ron said, jabbing the wound harder. “They can’t count on you, Hermione. You’re never around.”

Hermione snapped her mouth shut. “I really hate you right now.”

Ron let out a slow breath, one he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “But?”

She covered her face with her hands for a moment, then pulled her hair back away from her face and glanced out the bay window that faced out onto the beach. “But you’re right.”

“What are you going to do about it?” Ron questioned, unsure of where this would go.

“I’ll go home and pack a bag,” she sighed heavily. “I’ll send in an owl saying I’ll be here. I can’t ignore the office completely, though, Ron. We have a psychopath on the loose.”

He could work with that. “We’ll work on our problems and try to fix this?”

She nodded once and rose. She hesitated before she said, “I haven’t eaten all day. Can you make something while I’m gone?”

“Sure,” Ron agreed as he stood as well.

Hermione walked around the table and tentatively kissed him. Her eyes held pain, sorrow, anger, but also a tiny bit of hope.

They had a long road to go, Ron knew as he watched her head for the door, but he really hoped this was the first step towards a better place than they’d been.

It could get much worse, but Ron really hoped it wouldn’t come to that. All he could do was hope and fight to keep his family together.

~*~

Harry arrived home from work, almost on time, which was better than he’d been doing for months. They had no leads on Isabella Crabbe. They had no leads on Donald Baker.

They’d also had no kidnappings reported. It was a lull, but Harry would take it. He’d had a huge lull in the years between his daughter, Hope’s, death and Crabbe’s reemergence into his life.

Then one major success that Harry could claim was seizing all of Donald Baker’s assets in Great Britain. Every avenue of Muggle capital that he’d built up, the Ministry of Magic had taken as their own.

They’d received word from Baker’s American attorney saying that lawsuits were in the works, but the English legal system didn’t work that way and it would net Baker nothing to try.

They’d had no word from Baker himself.

Caroline was finally back at school. She’d gone back the week previous, and from what Harry was hearing, had fit back in. She was far from well. She continued therapy with a therapist that traveled to the school to see her. Her sister, Honor, was also in therapy but during his interview with the little girl, Harry hadn’t learned anything new. It seemed that Caroline had been right and her father had never sexually abused his youngest child.

It was a small comfort.

Honor and her grandparents continued to reside in a safe house, guarded by Aurors around the clock.

The reason Harry was late was that he’d taken the seventh year’s Defense Against the Dark Arts class to tell them, as he did every year, about the war against Voldemort. He also pitched that they were looking for Aurors, but had no takers.

It was a pity, but he would keep trying every year.

Harry pushed open his front door and called out to his family. He heard a good deal of laughter from the kitchen as he hung up his cloak and made his way around. To his surprise, he found not only Ginny and Lily, but also Teddy and Victoire. “This is a surprise,” he said with a grunt as Lily threw herself at him. He couldn’t quite believe his little girl was eleven now. She’d be gone to Hogwarts the next year.

It boggled the mind.

“We’re having takeaway,” Lily informed his as she dragged him to the table.

“It smells good,” Harry said as he kissed his niece’s cheek and moved to Ginny to pull her in for a full out snog. He’d been making a point of doing that more often.

Ginny laughed and poked his belly. “Beer or wine?”

“With pizza? Definitely beer,” Harry told her. “Thanks,” he said as he took the bottle and made his way over to the open boxes. “I don’t know whose idea this was, but it’s brilliant.”

“Mine,” Victoire admitted. “It’s been a long week.”

“How is training going?” Harry asked as they dug in to their dinner. He ran his hand along Ginny’s thigh under the table, until she met his hand with hers and they linked fingers.

“It’s good, but exhausting,” Victoire said after a huge mouthful of pizza. “I’m really glad Mum is handling most of the wedding details, because I couldn’t imagine adding anything else into my schedule. I know it will be worth it,” she said with a beaming smile at Teddy, “but we have a long, hard slog before we get to enjoy the benefits.”

“Even then it’s still sometimes a slog,” Ginny laughed as she handed Lily another slice of pizza. “It’s really easy to get caught up in work.”

Teddy inclined his head. “You’re in the run up to the world cup now.”

“True,” Ginny agreed. “We have a few months of play, yet, but I’m not taking an active role this year. The very last playoffs are right around your wedding so I’ve arranged to have another reporter take over come June.”

Teddy and Victoire exchanged a look. “Sorry, Aunt Ginny,” Victoire said earnestly.

Ginny waved that off. “Don’t be sorry! I do this job for something to do and because I love Quidditch. I love both of you more, though, so I’m happy to be part of your wedding.”

They would be more than part of it. They were Teddy’s parents in the truest sense of the meaning. When the mothers were escorted in, Ginny would be one of them. Teddy’s only living family, his grandmother, had been murdered.

They’d still never caught her killer, although Harry was reasonably certain it had been Crabbe. He just couldn’t prove it. Yet.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Harry assured them, “although maybe not as much as you are.”

The look Teddy sent Victoire’s way was so raw, so intense, that Harry had to glance away. It was a private look, but one he knew all too well.

The moment was broken by Lily announcing, “I want a baby.”

Everyone turned to stare at her. She looked confused at their stunned silence.

Ginny seemed to recover first. “You’re eleven, Lily-Lu.”

Lily burst out into giggles. “No! I mean, I want them to have a baby,” she informed them as she pointed towards Teddy and Victoire. “I’m tired of being the baby of the family. It’s someone else’s turn, now.”

Teddy let out a snort. “Lily, you’re in for a long wait. Victoire has two more years of training to get through to be a Healer.”

“And we’ll be in that small flat,” Victoire added. “We could have children there, but it’s not ideal.”

“Ouch,” Harry turned to Ginny, who had kicked him under the table. “What?”

Her pale brow rose pointedly as she stared at him, but for the life of him, Harry couldn’t think of what she wanted him to do. Casting her eyes up to the ceiling, she said, “The money, Harry.”

“The… oh!” It finally occurred to him what she was talking about. “Right, the money.” Victoire and Teddy both appeared mystified. “We have money for you for the wedding.”

They both continued to stare mutely.

“We set aside some money for Teddy, then for the other kids, for when they get married. You can have it, if you–”

“No,” Teddy said firmly.

Victoire smiled, but shook her head. “We’re going to do this on our own.”

“Are you sure?” Ginny asked quietly.

“Positive,” Teddy promised.

“Can I have some money?” Lily asked hopefully.

Harry turned to his daughter in amusement, “When you get married.”

“What do you want money for?” Teddy asked as he leaned over to ruffle her hair.

“I’ve observed,” Lily told them very earnestly, “that when one has money, there are more options available in life. I want all of my options to be open just in case.”

There was a small beat of silence before they all burst out laughing. She was so serious that it Harry could only laugh.

“So,” Ginny said after she’d wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes, “are you sure you still want the beach house for your honeymoon?”

“Yeah, I think that’s best,” Teddy said with a sigh. “Victoire is only getting three days off as it is. We’ll both continue to work and train, but we’ll have the beach at our feet when we’re off work in the evening.”

“I have managed to arrange all my shifts to be day shifts,” Victoire explained to them with a rueful grin. “It will at least ensure that we get some time together.”

“We didn’t have a honeymoon at first,” Ginny recalled as she glanced towards Harry. “I think we didn’t really get away until a year after we were married. But it was a different time and place.”

“True,” Harry said as he stood to retrieve a bottle of wine. He didn’t want to think about their first year of marriage, or what they’d lost. He especially didn’t want Lily asking about it. “Who wants a refill?”

~*~

Al couldn’t take much more of studying. In fact, he’d already made up his mind and fled out into the sunny grounds to enjoy the late spring day and all the fragrances that went with it.

Everyone else had stayed to study, but Al was done.

It was a Saturday and Quidditch had been over for a week. The Quidditch Cup had been won by a margin of twenty points by Slytherin, which had annoyed James to no end. Even his brother’s unbelievable personality makeover couldn’t compensate for the loss of the season. Gryffindor had come in second, well ahead of Ravenclaw, with Hufflepuff in at dead last. Again.

Al really hoped he could make the team the next year. He wanted to be part of the Quidditch team, but if he was honest, Rose was better than he was. Scorpius liked Quidditch, but had no desire to play on the team.

Al half thought that was because his father wanted him to try out for the team. Whatever it was, Scorpius was not having it.

He moved slowly, not in a rush, down the lawn towards the lake. His friends were signed up for three extra classes the following year. Al had, reluctantly, done the same. It was going to be brutal. If he did make the Quidditch team, he wasn’t sure how he’d keep up with practices and the extra homework.

A bird screeched overhead and Al glanced up at the hawk that soared over him, and towards the forest. He followed it with his gaze as it flew over Hagrid’s hut.

Smoke curled from the chimney of the small, wooden house. On a whim, Al followed the bird and went to pay a call.

He knocked at the door and heard a scraping as Hagrid stood. He pulled the door open and a grin split his face. “Albus Potter, haven’t seen you in weeks.”

“Sorry,” Al apologized. “Exams and all.”

Hagrid nodded, then stepped back.

Al made to walk in to the hut, but stopped at the sight of Caroline sitting on the floor with Hagrid’s puppy, Lulabelle draped over her.

Caroline’s troubled, blue eyes met his and he smiled as he stepped in and sat down at Hagrid’s table.

Lulabelle, who was has hyper as a dog could be, didn’t move away from the girl to greet Al. Instead she stayed put, bigger than Caroline, but still in the girl’s lap.

He couldn’t help but stare. It was so odd.

“I like her,” Caroline told him unnecessarily as she stroked the russet colored fur.

“I’ve been tellin’ Caroline, here,” Hagrid explained to Al as he poured him a cup of tea, “that she should get a dog.”

It was the strangest visit to Hagrid Al had ever had. The more time he spent there, the jumpier Caroline became. The jumpier Caroline became, the more the dog nudged at her. Al cut his visit short, only staying for the one cup of tea, and made his way back up to the castle, unsure of what he’d accomplished by skipping out on studying.

He made James in the entrance hall. “Hey,” he said to his older brother.

“You saw Caroline?” James asked without preamble.

“Yeah, she was with Hagrid,” Al informed him in surprise. Then it hit him. “The map?”

“She disappears sometimes,” James informed him as he glanced away. “After everything that happened, I checked once and saw she was down there. She was difficult to spot because the dog is always right on top of her. Since then, I’ve just assumed that’s where she’s gone.”

“I think the dog helps calm her down,” Al told him. “She was sitting on the floor with Lulabelle.”

James nodded absently. “Listen,” he said after a moment. “Sorry about the Quidditch thing. We worked really hard, and I felt like I didn’t play as well in this last game.”

It stilled stunned him worse than a curse to the chest in class to have James treating him like this. However, he tended to agree with James that his brother hadn’t played his best. He wasn’t going to patronize his brother by pretending otherwise. “You’ve had a lot on your mind.”

James shook his head. “I can’t let the outside world change how I play.”

“I don’t want you to tell me what Caroline said to you that last night,” Al told him flatly. “It’s none of my business, but I know it must have been really bad because you were more shaken up by that than when we learned about Hope. But, James,” Al put his hand on his brother’s shoulder and was surprised to see James’ brown eyes filled with anger. “She’s not your responsibility, you know. The teachers are helping her.”

“I know,” James mumbled and glanced away. “She’s avoiding me, too. I think she’s embarrassed or something.”

“Give her space, then,” Al pulled his brother around and hauled him back up to the common room. “Come on, we both have exams to pass.”

~*~

“Stop staring,” Harry hissed in Ginny’s ear.

Ginny shook her head and ignored him as she continued to observe Ron and Hermione while they waited on the train’s platform for the Hogwarts Express. “It’s getting better,” she whispered to her husband.

“What is?” Lily asked softly as she stared up at her mother curiously.

Ginny cupped her daughter’s chin and brushed her lips against Lily’s forehead. “Never you mind.”

She stared down at Lily’s brown eyes and her beautiful face and thought, even though she knew she was biased, that she had the loveliest daughter in the world.

“Nat’s coming home with us, right?” Lily queried again, for the hundredth time.

“Yes, she’ll be with us until August,” Ginny reminded her. She would be there through the wedding mid-July, but as it was only a small, family affair, it wouldn’t be a problem. They’d be able to trust everyone in attendance. Molly had wanted a bigger party for her grandchild’s wedding, but wisely agreed that they had no idea how to ensure everyone’s safety. It only took a reminder of what happened at Bill and Fleur’s wedding for Ginny’s mother to see sense.

So Nat would be with them. Nat’s parents had asked them to take her, as otherwise Nat would have been in Liberia with her father. It was not the sort of place one could take a child at the moment, especially not one who was still fragile and vulnerable.

Ginny hadn’t minded, though. The girl was easy to have around. She was helpful, bright, and kind. That was all Ginny could ask for in a houseguest. Come August, her parents had both arranged time off to spend here in England with Nat at the beach house.

“There’s the train!” Lily cried out as she ran from Ginny to grab Hugo’s arm. Her cousin didn’t even seem to notice as he, too, was waving at the oncoming locomotive.

“It’s another year gone,” Ginny reminded Harry thoughtfully. “We’ve been married almost twenty-one years now.”

“Your parents are approaching two-hundred years, right?” Harry quipped, then laughed as she prodded him in the side. “I still can’t believe Lily leaves us this fall. She was a baby a minute ago.”

Ginny studied her daughter as she hopped on Hugo’s back so she could see over the crowds that were surging around them. Hugo was turning into his father, indeed. Where Lily was still a tiny thing, Hugo was sprouting up, no longer even close to Lily’s height.

Ginny was reasonably certain he was taller than Rose, but she’d know for sure in a few minutes.

Hugo laughed as he hoisted Lily up, while they continued to wave.

An agonizingly long three minutes later, Al was in her arms, followed swiftly by James, then Nat, then Rose, and so on. Ginny laughed as she caught snippets of conversations, and questions that were fired rapidly around her.

She saw, but didn’t draw attention to, Harry directing one of his Aurors to a blonde girl that Ginny had to assume was Donald Baker’s daughter.

She was very pretty, but strikingly thin and clearly not attempting to take care of herself.

James, however, caught where Ginny was looking. “Let me introduce you, Mum.”

The gaggle of kids moved over to swamp Hermione, Ron, and Fleur, so Ginny went with her son towards the girl.

James smiled at her, but Caroline seemed to only shrink in on herself. “Caroline, this is my mum. Mum, Caroline. She’s a friend from school.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Ginny assured her as she held out a hand to shake.

Tentatively, the girl reached out with icy fingers and whispered in an American accent, “Hello.”

Harry stood back from them, keeping the Auror away as well.

“Hagrid has this puppy,” James went on as though the whole situation weren’t awkward, strained, and frankly heartbreaking. “He named her Lulabelle.”

Ginny snorted out a laugh. “Of course he did.”

“Lulabelle is kind of a menace, actually,” James told his mother. “She’s still a puppy, but she’s huge. She’s bigger than any of us, and during class she sometimes tries to jump on us. The only person she’s gentle with is Caroline. It’s like she’s a dog whisperer or something.”

Caroline’s eyes lit for a single moment, but then it was gone. She looked behind Ginny towards the group of kids. “Your sister starts next year, right?”

“Yeah, Lily,” James confirmed. “Why?”

“My sister, Honor, does as well,” Caroline added in a low voice as she made the first human gesture Ginny saw from her and reached out to take James’ hand. “Al says your sister is really nice. Can you ask her to sit with Honor next year on the train? Honor is going to struggle with making friends.”

James, although surprised, nodded quickly. “Sure, I will. Lily is really sweet. She’d be happy to, same with my cousin, Hugo. They both start next year.”

“Thanks,” Caroline said as she let go and turned to move towards the Auror. She glanced behind her one last time. “See you next year, James.”

“See you,” James called out as he gave half a wave. The moment she was out of earshot, and with the Auror, James demanded, “Where are her grandparents?”

“In hiding,” Ginny said into his ear so no one else would hear. “Your dad didn’t want her on the train. He was actually going to escort her home personally, but she begged to be allowed to go this way.”

James’ troubled expression touched something in her. She’d seen the changes in her son, but it was still unsettling.

Ginny caught sight of Al, Rose, and Nat saying goodbye to Scorpius, although they’d be seeing him again in a week. Ginny had corresponded with Scorpius’ mother, Astoria, to arrange for her son to spend a few days with them.

Ginny rather liked Astoria, even though she wouldn’t have said that when they’d been in school together. On the whole, the woman had become a type of ally to her in her quest to get their kids together. Ginny rather thought that Astoria was happy with the route Scorpius was taking.

Bracing herself for the noise, Ginny rounded up her children and herded them towards the car with Harry close by, keeping a firm eye on all the people around them.

They were attempting not to scare the kids more than they needed to, but it was difficult when so many things had gone wrong in the last few years.

However, they made it home without incident and walked in to find the house smelling of cooking ham and Polly, the house-elf, already installed in the kitchen.

Ginny had been wondering if the tiny creature would come again. Clearly, she needn’t have concerned herself. “Hello, Polly,” Ginny greeted her cheerfully. “It smells amazing. Kids!” she called out before they could dump their stuff. “Put everything away first.”

“Alright,” James called out as he hauled his trunk upstairs.

“Leave it,” Al told Nat. “I’ll come back for it in a minute.”

“I have it,” James said as he sprinted down the stairs and grabbed her trunk for her.

Ginny stared in disbelief as her oldest hauled the trunk up the steps and out of sight.

“He had a hard year, miss,” Polly told Ginny in a squeak.

Ginny turned to the elf and stared at her big eyes which were fully of worry. “What do you mean?”

“His friend is very sad,” Polly said, but then went back to cooking.

She let it go. There was no point in priming the elf. She’d rather hear it from James, himself, if he had something to tell.

Harry came up behind her and slipped his arms around her neck. She breathed in a warm feeling of comfort as he pressed his lips to her neck. “You smell better than the ham,” he told her, “but only just.”

Laughing, she turned and boosted herself up so she could press her lips to his. “You’re going to pay for that.”

“Promise?” he asked against her lips.

Ginny didn’t have to wait long to hear from James, and when it came, it was a shock.

She’d decide to plant tomatoes out in their back garden that year, although she couldn’t honestly explain why. Ginny didn’t exactly like gardening and tomatoes weren’t her favorite food. It ended up being endless hours of weeding.

Today was no exception. The kids had started a kind of Exploding Snap tournament and the whole of the downstairs ended up smelling like burnt farts. After complaining about the smell, James had fessed up to getting the cards from his Uncle George. At that point, Ginny had retreated from the house, donning her big, floppy hat to protect her face from the sun, and went to deal with the garden.

“I should have planted peas,” she muttered as she pulled up yet another weed. She at least enjoyed peas immensely.

“I think we need chickens,” James’ voice said from behind her, startling her so badly that she let out a small scream.

“You scared me!” she complained as she watched him come sit on the ground beside her.

“I didn’t mean to,” he said with a grin. He might not have meant to, but he clearly still found it funny.

Ginny waited for him, seeing plainly that he needed to collect himself. James fidgeted with a weed before finally plucking it up and throwing it into her small pile.

“You can talk to me,” Ginny assured him gently.

James shook his dark head. “I kind of promised not to tell.”

“How about if you tell me how it made you feel,” Ginny suggested as she tried to work around that. She didn’t want him to break a promise, but she also knew he wouldn’t be able to keep it inside. “I don’t know what happened, James, but I saw your father’s face after he came back from talking to Caroline. He was destroyed. It takes a lot to rattle your dad, but whatever happened to her, it hit something in Harry.”

James picked up a twig, stuck it into the ground and dug a small hole in the brown earth. “If… if I tell you how I feel, that’s not breaking my promise.”

“I don’t think it is,” Ginny replied honestly. “I don’t think she’d expect you to keep it all inside, not when it’s eating at you.”

“It shouldn’t be eating at me,” James told her bitterly. “It wasn’t me that it was done to.”

Ginny waited for him to go on, knowing he would when he’d found the words.

“I felt like…” he said slowly, starting off haltingly. “I felt like I’d been hit in the gut, you know?”

She nodded. “I’ve had that happen before.”

“I was so mad at her father, Mum,” he admitted reluctantly. “I think I could kill him if I saw him.”

Ginny closed her eyes briefly. She knew that James was speaking from the heart, but he had no idea what it would be like to kill someone. It wasn’t something that a person could just come back from.

She knew, however, that Harry had promised the same thing. He’d promised to kill Donald Baker.

Harry’s feelings towards Isabella Crabbe were complex and layered. The woman was a product of countless years of abuse, of torture, of subjugation, and finally of losing her son. She was brilliant, but also certifiably insane. Harry would kill her since she’d been the person who instigated the death of their daughter. If pushed, Ginny rather thought he’d want her dead. But if the option were there to put her in Azkaban, or even into a secure cell in St. Mungo’s, she thought he would do that. If they could make sure that she couldn’t escape, that would likely be enough for Harry.

But with all that Baker had done, Harry was ready to kill the man. It didn’t shock her that James felt the same way.

“He’s a horrible man,” Ginny said slowly.

“He’s the worst kind of man,” James spit out angrily. “I just want to strangle him for what he’s done!”

Ginny watched her son jab the stick into the earth again, but he didn’t break it off like she thought he might. Instead he found another, then another, lining them up until he could lean a leaf on them, creating a sort of hut.

“It also made me feel ashamed,” James said when he’d finally finished his creation.

Shocked, Ginny stared at him. “Why?”

“Because of how I’ve acted,” he told her quietly. “I’ve been a toe rag, Mum. I know I have been.”

She opened her mouth to contradict him, but ended up closing it again to think about what he’d said. “You haven’t always been the easiest to get along with,” she finally agreed diplomatically. “But I can see the changes in you.”

He shrugged. “I’m trying. I can’t just be an arrogant berk all the time, taking everyone around me for granted. I assumed, all along, that if I needed help, you and Dad would be there. I just assumed it, even though I haven’t done anything to deserve it. Caroline sat next to me, chewing her thumb until it was bleeding, and then…” James’ voice cracked as his eyes went bright from tears.

“Oh, Jamie,” she pulled off her gardening glove and cupped his cheek. “There are people in this world who have been so damaged by what’s happened to them, that they’re difficult to be around.”

James sniffed and shook his head. “I want to be her friend. I feel…”

Words failed him, but she knew because she knew Harry. “You feel protective of her.”

“Yeah,” he confirmed. “She’s avoiding me.”

“I need to tell you something,” Ginny went on softly. “I absolutely want you to be friends with Caroline if that’s what you want, but there are hard truths that you will have to live by.” When she saw she had his full attention, she went on. “Caroline is going to be hurting and broken for a long, long time. The only person that can fix Caroline, is Caroline herself. If she’s not trying, she’s never going to get there. Now,” she went on before James could interrupt, “she may be trying and failing. It may be one step forward, two back, and that’s okay. The road to recovery is never short, not after such unspeakable trauma, but you have to understand, James, that she’s going to be difficult to be friends with.”

Her son deflated before her eyes. “I’m not good enough for this.”

“No one is good enough,” Ginny assured him sadly. “But she is worth being friends with. She, and every other victim, deserves to have friends and family. She didn’t ask for this. She’s going to push you away a lot. She’ll cling other times. She’s going to be a broomstick ride of emotions, first up, then down. You only have to be two things.”

Hope flared in his brown eyes, eyes so like Lily’s and yet the expression was one Lily would never have. Lily didn’t know or understand the world. James, sadly, was learning all too quickly. “Yeah?”

“Two things,” Ginny repeated for him. “The first is that you need to not change. You have to be stable, steady, ready to be there when she comes close. This isn’t something easy, though. It’s going to be exhausting never knowing where you stand. You might also never see her succeed in getting better. I’m sorry,” she said as she took his hand, much as Caroline had at the station. “I want to tell you it will end beautifully, but that’s not real life. I hope it does, though.”

“What’s the second thing?” James asked her hesitantly.

“You need to be a friend,” Ginny said sadly. “Not a boyfriend. She doesn’t need that sort of complication in her life until she’s put herself back together again.”

James’ expression was so sad, so bitter, that it looked completely out of place on a fourteen-year-old. “I doubt she’ll ever want a boyfriend, Mum. After what she’s been through? I couldn’t do that to her. I just want to be her friend.”

Ginny very much doubted that, but she didn’t contradict him. They’d made some progress. She hoped they’d have a lot more in the years to come. “Okay, then,” was all she said as they continued to weed the tomatoes. She smiled as her heart warmed at the sight of James’ features, which were starting to go angular as he grew into the man she knew would resemble Harry so much. It was a good day.

PLEASE take a moment to read my author's note above! Very important!

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Chapter 25: Chapter 22

Author's Notes: It's been a monstrous wait, I know. I had to finish a book before I wrote this chapter. Thank you to Arnel for beta'ing.

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I hope everyone enjoys the nice break in the tension and action of this story. We'll get back into it in the next chapter as the kids go back to school. Let me know what you think!


Chapter 22

Al squinted into the dark as he crouched low, stalking after his prey. It was a moonless night, which absolutely didn’t help, but it also meant he wouldn’t be spotted either. They had to be around here somewhere… He inhaled deeply, holding his breath and only letting it out in slow, deliberate exhalations. He wanted to hear. His ears were his best weapon at the moment.

A tiny snap of a twig, feint, but definitely there.

Al turned his head slowly, centimeter by centimeter, trying to see what had made the noise that–

A blur from his right caught Al by surprised as a dark figure slammed into him, pinning him to the ground with a bellow of, “Run!”

Al attempted to push Scorpius off of himself as Nat and Lily ran around the two heaped boys, but it was no good. As wiry as he was, Scorpius was strong.

“Get off!” Al laughed as he pushed at his best mate. “You’re cheating.”

“I am taking one for the team,” Scorpius informed him jovially as he sat back and inclined his head. “I may be out, but you know Nat was never going to make it to base otherwise.”

Al smacked Scorpius hard on the shoulder. “Tag, and what about Lily, eh? There’s nothing wrong with her.”

Scorpius shook his head and pushed to his feet, holding out his hand. “I was raised a gentleman.”

“You were raised to be nasty to Potters,” Al reminded him as they started around the house. “You’re just having fun thumbing your nose at your father.”

“I have no argument to that,” Scorpius said as he stopped at the edge of the path. Under his breath, he said, “Fred is over behind the tomato plants, but mind them. Your mum’s already told your dad off from when he got too close.”

Al watched Scorpius ran back for the house. Admitting defeat was not the worst lot to be cast. Inside Al’s kitchen was his Gran, who would be baking biscuits and all kinds of other sweets to feed a rowdy cast of family members. Al half wished he could throw the game and head back in as well. He was a bit peckish.

The best part of the whole night so far, apart from Molly taking down the entire family in the first round of play, had been watching Scorpius completely unwind here. Al knew what his friend would be like come September and it wouldn’t be good. Scorpius would have had months of relentless bullying from his own father, who didn’t seem to grasp the concept that the bullying wasn’t working to turn Scorpius into the man Draco wanted him to be.

Here, though, tonight with Al’s family, everything was different. They were able to relax, have fun, eat way too much food, and count down to Teddy and Victoire’s wedding. It was only two weeks away and then Teddy would officially be part of the family. It made Al grin, even as he spotted his father and dove after him.

~*~

“Where are we going?” Victoire demanded as Teddy dragged her further back into the woods behind the house. He was a man on a mission, though, and didn’t do more than grunt as they ducked under a low branch. “Teddy?”

“A little bit further,” Teddy said quietly. “Lily is ‘it’ so we have time. She’s careful.”

She was at that, Victoire knew as they skirted around some more trees. “I doubt she’ll look for us out here.”

“I’m absolutely not worried about Lily finding us,” Teddy promised as he stopped and in a single fluid motion, pulled Victoire flush with his body. He sealed his mouth to hers, pressing her up against a large tree so that she had the bark biting at her back and Teddy’s solid body pushing at her front.

It surprised her, but not terribly, that he’d wanted to get away like this. They’d been watched closely by her father over the last several weeks. Victoire had previously been spending lots of time at the flat they would share in a few weeks, but recently her dad had made up a million excuses for why she needed to be home. She’d missed this with Teddy. She’d missed the intense passion and all the things they’d done together.

In fact, they’d done almost everything except consummate their relationship.

Desires swirled through her belly, ringing out ache after exquisite ache until her whole body pulsed. Teddy’s hands swept up and down her body as he pressed her further back into the tree, rocking into her as his lips left her mouth to trail down to her neck.

“Merlin…” his ragged voice came through the pounding in her ear. “I want you so badly.”

Victoire’s only response was to fist her hands into his shirt to keep them from exploring the way she wanted to. “My dad is out here somewhere.”

“I know,” Teddy groaned as he gentled his kisses and tried valiantly to steady his breathing. “Two weeks… two weeks and we could ditch out on the game and go home.”

“Or stay here,” Victoire reminded him.

“Do you know,” he laughed as he cupped her cheeks and peppered her face with light kisses, “that Fred reckons he was conceived out here during a game?”

She felt her eyes widen in astonishment. “Really?”

Teddy nodded. “He heard Angelina say something to George in a fit on temper that hinted at as much.”

“Well,” she said as unbidden images filled her mind. “Let’s not repeat that, right?”

He grinned as she ran her hands up into his blond hair and directed his mouth back in for a kiss.

“I found you.”

Teddy turned slowly at Lily’s voice as she stood just five feet from them, smiling impishly. Her red hair was caught up in a tail at the back of her head. “I will give you anything if you go away and pretend like we weren’t here.”

Lily considered them for a moment. “Uncle Bill is back at base. You have maybe five minutes before he’ll set out to find you.”

Without another word, she turned and headed off, melting back into the trees.

“She is the sweetest kid on the planet,” Teddy mused. “When you think about the melding of Ginny and Harry, it sort of boggles the mind that they’d produce Lily. If we end up with one half as good as her, we’ll have it made.”

Victoire’s heart, already so full, burst with happiness and joy. She was so lucky, so blessed, to be marrying Teddy. He wanted what she did. He valued what she did. He loved her for who she was, faults and all. He was going to be an amazing husband and an amazing father. Victoire buried her head against his neck and cried a little as he held her. Teddy probably had no idea why she was crying, or that it was because she was so happy, but that didn’t matter.

When she needed them, his arms were always there.

~*~

The look that Victoire was giving Ginny was a lot more pensive, maybe one could argue more understanding, than she was used to from her niece. Chaos swirled around them as children ran screaming after each other in the continued game, but here they stood together, together and yet separated from the chaos at the kitchen table, which served as the base.

“When you were about one,” Ginny explained quietly, needing to spill out the nostalgia, and some of her pain, on a young woman who was ready to hear it, “I had Teddy out there to play.”

“He’d have been about three, then,” Victoire said quietly as she turned her full attention on her aunt.

“He was,” Ginny smiled fondly as she closed her eyes against the clutch of pain in her chest. “You were asleep by that point. Audrey was practicing being a mum by putting you in the cot we had upstairs. I had Teddy out with me and he had this stick that he was pretending was a wand.”

Victoire’s reaction was as Ginny would have predicted. “Aww! That’s adorable.”

“It was,” she chuckled in agreement. “We had this game where we’d hex whichever of the uncles was ‘it’ for that round.”

“You still do that,” Victoire noted dryly.

Ginny shrugged, completely unabashed. “It’s my sworn duty as the baby sister. I was required to dump Ron on his arse as many times as I could. It was important for Teddy to learn our traditions.”

“Naturally,” her niece agreed with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

Her mind flashed back to that moment in the bushes with the three-year-old Teddy and spotting her husband. Ginny could still picture it as though it had happened moments before. “Teddy said something like ‘bang’ and I tripped Harry with my wand. The two of us ran for the house.”

“I bet Uncle Harry let you win,” Victoire said.

“He did,” Ginny confirmed. “Harry came in, wrapped his arms around me and…” she let her voice fade off.

“He pinched your bum, right? He likes to do that,” Victoire noted.

Ginny laughed; she couldn’t help it. “Cheeky girl, but yes, he did. I sat at the table with Teddy and thought about all I had missed out on when Hope died. Teddy fell asleep in my arms and I mourned my daughter while I was so grateful for that little boy who loved me unconditionally. I was his ‘Ginny’ and that meant something. It gave me purpose.”

“Oh,” the younger woman sniffed as her eyes filled. “Aunt Ginny…”

She pulled in a couple of breaths and forced herself to focus on what she needed to say. “Life is going to throw a lot of things at you, but in a few weeks you’ll be marrying one of the best men I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing,” Ginny said as she took Victoire’s hand and saw the smooth skin of youth next to the fine, tiny lines that were appearing on her own hand. “Together you will be amazing, even when things get rocky.”

Victoire moved quickly into Ginny’s embrace, now so much taller than her aunt, but still the child that Ginny had loved for nineteen years. “I love you,” Ginny promised.

“I love you, too,” Victoire cried softly onto Ginny’s shoulder as she held on tight.

~*~

Mrs. Potter said, with a lot less patience than she’d had even ten minutes before, “I didn’t even want to plan my own wedding! Why are you doing this to me?”

Lily, who was sitting next to Nat, giggled. The wedding was now just thirteen days away and nerves were very frayed.

It was, Nat realized, a lot like watching a tennis match. They kept going back and forth with each other, neither willing to give even an inch.

“If you would just tell me which one you liked better, then I would stop asking,” Fleur said, yet again, as she waved two nearly identical swatches of pink fabric in front of Ginny’s face.

Ginny, who had been attempting to get lunch on the table, slammed her sauce spoon down in annoyance. “Can’t you ask Audrey?”

Fleur’s beautiful face firmed into what Nat knew was stubborn resolve. “She is busy and they are our children.”

Ginny hesitated, which Nat thought was remarkable. “Should we put a wager on what will happen when Lily gets married? What are the odds that I’ll be involved in that down to picking colors?”

“She won’t care,” Lily piped in, while both mothers ignored her, still stuck in their heated battle over blush rose over petal pink.

The back door to the kitchen opened and Harry came in with several ripe tomatoes. “They’re looking good, now,” he said to no one in particular, completely unaware of the heated tension of the room.

“Harry,” Fleur called out in a dangerous soft tone. “I have a question.”

The expression of absolute glee on Ginny’s face was so funny that Nat had to bite her lip not to laugh.

“What’s up?” Harry asked as he turned around. His face froze at the sight of the swatches.

“Which one do you like better?” Fleur demanded, a little more forcefully than she had with Ginny.

Trapped now, like a caged rat, Harry studied the swatches as though they were a lion ready to pounce. “Erm, which one do you like better?”

“No!” Fleur pointed threateningly at his chest. “I know that trick. You will pick one.”

From next to Nat, and behind her aunt’s back, Lily silently motioned to the one on the left, petal pink. Harry’s gaze didn’t betray that he’d seen, but when he pointed to the correct swatch, Fleur grinned in delight.

“See? Harry has excellent taste,” Fleur assured Ginny smugly.

Harry grabbed a beer, kissed Lily’s cheek with a quiet, “Thanks,” and beat it from the kitchen.

It went on and on like that, but Nat and Lily left shortly after to track down the boys for a fly around the back gardens.

“Everything all right?” Al called out as he landed his broom. Scorpius circled just above them.

“Fabric swatches,” Nat explained. At Al’s blank look, she explained, “your aunt Fleur wanted help picking colors and your mum wasn’t too happy about it.”

“She made Daddy pick,” Lily giggled over it.

Al exchanged a glance with Scorpius. “Right,” he drew the word out. “Should we fly, then?”

“Let’s,” Nat agreed as she hopped on the broom behind Al.

~*~

The clock’s rhythmic tick, tick, tick was the loudest thing in the entire house except maybe the silent disapproval of the adults sitting around Scorpius.

He wanted out of there. The Potter’s house, of which he was allowed into the Fidelius Charm, was full of warmth, chatter, and food that didn’t make Scorpius want to retch. It still left Scorpius in shock that Mr. Potter gave him the secret to the house.

They trusted him. Him! Scorpius hadn’t yet heard a single kind word from his father’s mouth about Harry Potter, yet Mr. Potter never, ever, said anything negative about Draco Malfoy.

Resentment stirred up the fish that was sitting heavily in Scorpius’ gut. Really, if he could make himself puke all over the table it would be absolutely worth whatever his father would do to him.

Scorpius missed his aunt Daphne, but she was out of the country again.

His grandparents had come to dinner.

All of them.

Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy sat on one side of the table, politely ignoring Oswald and Virginia Greengrass. Draco sat at the head of the table, with Astoria at the foot.

Scorpius had been bidden to sit at Lucius’ left. He hadn’t wanted to. Grandfather Lucius tended to hex when annoyed.

He knew his parents had liked each other well enough when they’d married, but that it had mostly been an arranged marriage. Oswald had taken his daughters to America during the worst of Voldemort’s destructive march through England, but that hadn’t been to escape being a pureblood. It was simply that he’d known Voldemort was crazy.

Oswald had seen, first hand, just how badly his sisters had been treated by Voldemort during the first war. Scorpius’ great aunts, Fiona and Isabella, had been married off to Death Eaters when they had still been in school. Fiona Goyle had died years before, and they’d assumed Isabella Crabbe had been dead as well. Now, though, Scorpius knew that his great aunt was hunting down Al’s family.

It was sickening to think that he shared any blood with that woman.

“How was the term?” Grandmother Virginia asked, breaking the silence and startling Scorpius so badly that he accidentally threw his fork.

Draco glared at him in annoyance. “Was that entirely necessary?”

Scorpius almost said, “Yes,” but decided against it as he saw his father’s expression. “The term was excellent, Grandmother,” he replied politely. He couldn’t say he liked Virginia, as he didn’t know her well, but she’d always been polite to Scorpius so he returned the courtesy. “I made top marks.”

His father’s sniff, almost silent, told Scorpius exactly what he thought about that.

He and Rose had tied for first in almost everything. It wasn’t a true win in Draco’s mind. It certainly wasn’t acceptable in Lucius’ view, something that Scorpius had been made aware of upon his return from the Potters. Not that Lucius knew where Scorpius had gone. If he’d known about that, Lucius’ head might have come off.

As entertaining as that would have been, somehow Scorpius had stopped himself from telling the old man.

“I didn’t take the top in History of Magic,” Scorpius told them. “I lost to another girl in my class.”

In fact, Nat had trounced them all in that subject.

Oswald cleared his throat. “You will need to work on that.”

“I’d have to stay awake through class, first,” Scorpius replied with absolute composure.

It wasn’t quite the explosion that Scorpius hoped for, but it did get him excused from the dining room. All in all, not a bad sort of punishment as Scorpius went to find his four-way mirror so he could call one of his friends.

~*~

Ginny heard the silence more than anything else. “Any idea what they’re up to, Polly?” she asked the tiny elf as they worked together on creating pastries for the wedding that was just under a week away.

“No, madam,” Polly shook her head so that her tiny ears flapped a bit. “It’s just the girls upstairs, though. The boys are out attempting to set up a trap.”

“Excuse me?” Ginny’s momentary distraction from whatever the girls might have been up to sharpened into annoyance. “What trap?”

Polly glanced outside nervously. “They is trying to trap a rabbit in a cage.”

“Why?” Ginny asked, aggravated, then shook her head. “No, never mind. I’ll deal with them later.”

She marched up the stairs just as Lily pushed out of the bathroom, excitement written all over her face. “Mummy! I was coming to get you.”

That was typically not a good sign, but Lily didn’t look even remotely upset. “What’s up?”

Lily pulled Ginny into the bathroom, cramming her in with Rose and Nat. Ginny knew instantly that it was Rose who was upset, simply by the pinched line of her mouth. “Rosie?”

Rose shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, unwilling to talk.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Nat assured her friend.

A very strange mixture of pity and understanding flooded Ginny’s whole body. “You got your first period.”

Rose nodded as her lower lip trembled.

Ginny moved over to hug her close as a torrent of tears broke free from the girl. She was thirteen, now, so it was expected, but that never made it any easier. Ginny ran her hand over Rose’s curly, auburn locks, whispering soothing words of comfort. “It’s really okay. Did you find the pads under the sink?”

“I knew where they were,” Lily piped in.

“Don’t t-tell anyone,” Rose begged her through her sobs. “Please, Aunt Ginny!”

“I won’t,” Ginny promised as she moved back a bit to face Rose. “But sweetheart, you have to understand that this is a big part of life. It’s the most important part, in fact. Life doesn’t happen without this. At some point you will feel okay talking about it.”

Rose shook her head and glanced down at the floor.

“You do need to tell your mum, though,” Ginny told her gently. “She’ll be hurt if you don’t.”

“Okay,” Rose sighed.

“When do you suppose I’ll get mine?” Lily wondered aloud.

Nat piped up immediately. “You’ll start about two years after your breasts begin developing. I’m still flat as a board, so I expect I have at least another two year wait.”

Lily gazed down at her chest. “I haven’t got anything either.”

“You’re young yet,” Ginny reminded her as she hoped they had plenty of time. “I started when I was thirteen. How about we go down and get some chocolate? That always makes me feel better during my cycle.”

“Daddy will know, though,” Lily told her seriously. “He says he has to tiptoe around you when you break out the chocolate.”

“We’ll just have to finish up before he gets home, then,” Ginny said as she led the way from the bathroom.

Whatever James, Al, and Hugo were up to would have to wait for a bit.

~*~

James glared at his brother. “You aren’t taking this seriously.”

“I’m not taking it seriously?” Al spluttered out a laugh. “We’re trying to catch a rabbit.”

“It’s eating Mum’s garden,” James reminded him. “It’s been driving her mental.”

Hugo bent down and stared into the metal trap. “I dunno how this is supposed to work, but it doesn’t work. Can’t Uncle Harry just charm the garden? I mean, you don’t have gnomes or anything.”

“He said he tried,” James told his younger cousin for the fourth time as he fought not to lose his temper.

“Well, it seems to be set,” Al said as he eyed the trap. “I think we can agree we gave it a go and head inside. It’s hot and I’m hungry.”

James could have argued that the trap was not set, and didn’t appear to be doing anything, but as his father could just summon the rabbit, he decided to let it go. He was pretty sure his dad had only set them this task to keep them out of the way, anyway.

The moment they walked into the house, James knew something was up. His mum and the girls were all sitting on the floor of the sitting room, eating chocolate and biscuits. At the sight of the boys, they all stopped laughing and glared at them.

“Er,” Hugo froze next to James.

Al didn’t hesitate. He grabbed his brother and cousin and pulled them towards the stairs. “We’ll be in my room,” he called down to his mother.

The moment the door slammed on Al’s bedroom, James spun to him, feeling like someone had hit him with a bat. “Chocolate.”

“Yeah,” Al agreed nervously. “I thought that was two weeks ago!”

“Maybe it was Rose,” James said as he glanced back at the closed door. “She’s about that age.”

“What are you two talking about?” Hugo demanded testily. “Why were they so mad at us?”

James clapped his cousin on the shoulder. “You know what a period is, right?”

“The thing at the end of a sentence?” Hugo said with a roll of his eyes. “Yes, I know what…” his voice trailed off in horror. “Oh.”

“Yeah, oh,” James agreed. His dad had talked to him and Al about periods years before. That was something that was cool about their dad. Things that most fathers wouldn’t talk about, Harry would. He explained everything to them and told them about their mother’s thing for chocolate when she had her period.

He could still hear his father say, “It’s not joke, either. They truly do feel like rubbish when they have their period, so you need to be extra nice. You’re not a pleasure to be around when you’re sick and they go through this every month.”

“It can’t be Rose,” Hugo said as he interrupted James’ thoughts.

“Why not?” Al wondered. “I suppose it could be Nat. She’s the same age.”

James shook his head. He was the oldest and it was on him to be the mature one. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We’ll let them have their alone time and keep out of the way.”

“I dunno about girls,” Hugo said as he sank onto the bed. “It just seems like a lot of work to be a girl.”

James and Al exchanged a silent look. Neither of them said it, but they both wholeheartedly agreed.

~*~

Harry sat on the bed watching Ginny change into her pajamas later that night, unsure of what exactly had happened in the house, but knowing enough to know that it had been important. “Are you going to tell me, then?”

“I promised Rose I wouldn’t,” she said as she gave him a meaningful look over her shoulder.

Unfortunately, he had no idea what it meant. “And…”

“We ended up eating chocolate on the living room floor.”

Chocolate on the… oh. Harry sucked in his bottom lip and felt the stubble that he hadn’t bothered to shave off that morning scratch at his upper lip. “Isn’t she a bit young?”

“Same age that I was,” she reminded him as she turned and strolled over to him. They were eye level this way, with him sitting at the edge of the bed and her standing. Ginny pushed him backwards, then crawled up to straddle him.

Harry stared up into her warm, brown eyes and said, “Please tell me we have years yet before Lily gets her period.”

“We have years yet before that happens,” she assured him as she bent and kissed the tip of his nose. “Why didn’t we have six children?”

Surprised, Harry ran his hands over her hips and down to her bum. “We still could if you’d like.”

“I’m being serious,” Ginny told him as she lay down on his chest, resting her head under his chin.

He ran his hands up her back, under her top. “So am I, Gin. We’re not exactly ancient, you know. Thirty-seven is a little bit older than most new parents, but we still could.”

“I’ll be thirty-eight soon, and you thirty-nine,” she pointed out flatly. “We’re done. I’m happy to wait for the grandchildren to come along.”

Harry fell silent as he counted her slow, even breaths against his neck. “You wanted to stop.”

“But I can’t remember why,” Ginny told him. “I know I did, but I was so tired all the time that much of those years are a blank.”

He chuckled deeply. “Well, there you go. You were too tired to handle more; that and you got better at remembering to take your birth control. I spent several years expecting you to forget again and for you to say, ‘hey, I’m pregnant. Oops.’”

Even as she pinched his side, she said quietly, “I think I didn’t want to be like Mum, but I’m starting to see that Mum had the right idea.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well,” Ginny tilted her head up to kiss the underside of his chin. Her shifted weight, while not uncomfortable, did make certain parts of him beg to shift his focus away from what she was saying. “We have all this family around us and we have all of this support because my parents had seven children. We’ve lost Fred, but we have so many people who have our back if times get hard. I just can’t imagine not having that, and if we’d had six children, we’d have had the same.”

Harry thought about it, but not too much because his hands were moving of their own accord up her stomach. “We do have the four, though, so it’s not like we we’re impoverished.”

“Charlie arrives in two days,” Ginny said, then moaned as his hand went even higher.

“Let’s just not think about your brothers for right now,” he suggested as he guided her onto the bed and rolled on top of her. “I have a better idea.”

~*~

Teddy pointed over towards the sofa where Charlie and Lily were curled up together, fast asleep. “How long have they been like that?”

“Since he arrived a couple of hours ago,” Ginny told him quietly. “I know I should wake them for dinner, but they both look at peace. Do you remember how she did that when she was a toddler?”

“Yeah,” Teddy said as he took a stack of plates to set the table. The wedding was in three days and all he wanted to do was be at his own flat, enjoying dinner with his fiancé. Instead, he was here at Ivy Run because Victoire was being kept cloistered by Bill. He couldn’t stand another minute of the silence of their tiny flat.

Better to be where the noise was, plus then he didn’t have to cook a meal for himself. Teddy could have gone to any of the homes, except for Victoire’s. He’d been informed that they were doing final fittings on her wedding dress and he was to stay away.

“I bet you’re ready for this to be over,” Ginny said as she reached over to squeeze his hand.

Frustration welled up inside him as he went to grab silverware. “I miss her. That’s what’s been the worst part in the run up to the wedding. I barely get to see her.”

“It will all be over soon,” she promised him. “I know the days are dragging a bit right now, but you’ll have your stag party tomorrow night. That will be fun, right?”

If he was honest, the real answer would be no. He and a mate from school were going to a pub with Harry, Ron, George, Charlie, and Bill.

“Bill is being an overprotective git,” Ginny told him flatly. “I know it has nothing to do with you, though, and everything to do with him letting go. He was a prat when I got married.”

“You were sixteen and pregnant,” Teddy replied dryly.

“Through no fault of my own,” she agreed. “But he remembers that all too well and knows exactly what it’s like to be a young man.”

It left Teddy with the uncomfortable realization that Ginny knew exactly what he and Victoire had been getting up to. Three more days… well, two and a half at this point. It was Wednesday night and they were getting married Saturday morning.

Teddy wanted it to be Saturday night where there would be nobody trying to step between them.

“Just remember she’s worth the wait,” Ginny said as James, Al, and Nat came down the stairs together.

“I’ll go wake them up,” Teddy said as he pointed to the pair on the couch.

Charlie, who hadn’t really aged, was still a huge, beefy man with more muscles than anyone Teddy had ever seen. He had scars, too, all over his body. Lily, who wasn’t exactly a large child, looked miniscule next to her uncle.

“Time to get up,” Teddy said with a laugh as he kicked Charlie’s shoe. He was a little surprised that Lily would be sleeping in the middle of the day, but then remembered that several of her cousins had spent the night last night. Undoubtedly, the girls had stayed up for hours talking and no one had slept well.

Charlie grunted and yawned hugely as he nudged Lily. “Lily-Lu.”

“No,” was all Lily said as she buried her face into his side.

“No, you don’t want to get up?” Teddy asked in amusement.

The look she gave him was not that of an eleven-year-old, but more of the little girl which she was rapidly outgrowing. “Bed.” She held up her arms for him, just as she’d have done a few years before.

Teddy plucked her up and resisted the urge to grunt. She wasn’t heavy, not even four stones, but she wasn’t six any longer. “I’ll be back,” he called to Ginny as he carried his baby sister up to her room. The moment he set her on her bed, she curled into a ball and waved her hand vaguely in the direction of her comforter.

As he pulled the covers up it hit Teddy with the force of a ton of bricks. This was likely the last time he’d do this. She was heading to Hogwarts in two months. Lily was going to be old enough to mind Teddy’s children whenever he and Victoire had them.

She was growing up too fast.

All of the sudden, three days didn’t seem like that long of a wait.

~*~

“I’m not nervous,” Victoire said from her seat in Ginny’s bedroom as they finished the last touches on her hair. The golden locks fell in long curls down her back with her fringe pinned back by some elaborate combs that were Fleur’s. Her dress was simple, white, and made from satin. It flowed all the way to the ground and hugged her slim figure as though it were tailor made for Victoire.

“I’m nervous,” Ginny told her with a laugh.

“Bah,” Fleur shook her head as she finished up the final touches. “You look perfect,” she told her daughter with a loving smile.

“Thank you, Mum,” Victoire said as she studied her reflection.

“Now if you’d only worn the–”

“No,” was Victoire’s reply.

There came a knock at the door and Bill poked his head in. He stared at his daughter as his eyes grew suspiciously bright. “We’re ready,” he told them as he cleared his throat.

“Alright,” Ginny made her way to the door as Fleur followed along down the hall.

They had a large marquee out back, much as they’d done for Fleur and Bill’s wedding, but here at Ivy Run it only needed to be big enough to hold immediate family and four of Victoire and Teddy’s closest friends.

Things had been quiet in the last month, but there was no sense in tempting fate.

James waited for Ginny, ready to escort her down the aisle. “Thank you,” she said as she took her son’s arm. It still startled her to have to look up into her son’s eyes, but he was rapidly shooting up in height now.

He was so serious, but there was still a little of his old fire left as he walked her to the front towards her seat. Behind her, Louis did the same for his mother.

Teddy moved up to the front, with Harry by his side, while Dominique made her way forward in a pale, green dress, carrying a bouquet. Dom was just as lovely as Victoire, Ginny saw. Her eyes danced in joy as she made her way forward.

Then the music, which Ginny hadn’t really noticed until that moment, swelled further and Bill stepped forward with Victoire. Ginny’s eyes spun to Teddy’s and what she saw was enough to melt the whole of the artic. The awe, the wonder, the joy, and yes, the heat was raw and intense on his face as he studied his bride.

There were words. The little man who performed weddings, who had to be at least four hundred years old at this point, said things in that strange voice that almost sounded to be singing rather than speaking.

Ginny cried. Fleur cried. Bill cried. Molly cried. Arthur blew his nose loudly. Harry seemed to be biting hard on his cheek to keep from crying.

The little tufty-haired man waved his wand and a shower of stars fell around the figures, entwining them together as they were bonded for life.

Ginny felt a fluttering in her heart, as she realized that the son she’d helped raise for Tonks and Lupin was now a legal part of their family. He probably always should have been, but his last remaining family member was not there. Andromeda was gone. She cried for that, too, as she hugged an uncomfortable James and wept on his shoulder.

“Mum,” James patted her awkwardly. “Get a grip, please,” he hissed out. “You’re embarrassing.”

She let out a watery giggle as she kissed his cheek and felt the beginnings of stubble there. Ginny cupped his cheek. “I love you, Jamie.”

“I love you, too, Mum,” James said as the family flooded out to hug everyone else. “Can we eat now? I’m starving.”

~*~

They were supposed to be dancing, but Teddy was struggling to keep his lips from finding Victoire’s. Her little brother kept making gagging faces behind them so that only Teddy could see.

“Louis is laughing at us,” Teddy whispered into his beautiful bride’s ear.

“He’ll get his,” Victoire grinned up at him. “You’re my husband.”

He felt a bit like an idiot just by how big of a smile spread across his mouth. “I know I’m going to get used to that at some point, but right now it’s just brilliant.”

They had eaten, they’d danced, they’d talked to everyone…

“You’re ready to go,” Victoire said with an arched brow.

He could have denied it, but there wasn’t much point to that. They only had a few days off from work and training before they both had to get back to it. “I’m really ready to go.”

“Let’s go then,” she said as she took his head.

Teddy did not see that ending well. “There is no way–”

“This is our party,” Victoire reminded him. “We can leave when we want to.”

It didn’t quite work out that way. It took another half an hour to extract themselves from the rest of the family and use the Floo to get to the beach house.

Then everything blurred in a rush as Teddy swept Victoire up into his arms and attempted to carry her to the upstairs bedroom while kissing her and endeavoring to not run into the walls.

They laughed as he flipped on the light and Teddy set her down, running his hands up into her long hair. “I love you so much,” he said between kisses. He fumbled at the back of her dress, but couldn’t figure out how to undo it.

“There is a hidden zipper,” she told him breathlessly.

They laughed their way through removing the fancy clothes until there was finally nothing between them. The two fell onto the bed in a tangle of kisses and limbs as the world around them faded to just the two of them.

Victoire’s gorgeous mouth curled into a smile as she ran her hands through his hair. “I want you.”

They melded together, two into one, and moved with breathlessness and heat.

The only thing that bested making love to his wife for the first time was waking up in her arms a few hours later and knowing he could do it again and again.

They lay in the dark, warm bodies pressed together as Victoire rested her head on his chest. “We’re the first.”

He knew what she meant. They were the first of their generation to marry. “I guess we are.”

Victoire’s long, slender fingers traced a pattern over his chest. “Do you know what I was thinking as I swallowed the potion that would prevent me from getting pregnant for a year?”

Teddy didn’t, but he could imagine. Victoire was leaning heavily towards midwifery. “What?”

“I didn’t want to take it,” she admitted quietly. “I knew it was the best thing. I knew we wouldn’t be able to support a baby for at least a few years, but I still didn’t want to take it. We don’t even have any babies around us for me to babysit because we’re the oldest. We’re the first.”

Teddy kissed her brow gently, leaving his lips on her skin. “Just as soon as we aren’t flat broke, I promise.”

“I know,” she said as she yawned. “It used to be possible for one person to work and the other to stay home. That isn’t really the case anymore. We both have to work to make it.”

It was the unfortunately truth. The only one of the family that didn’t work was Fleur, but that was because Bill was so high up at Gringotts that he was paid well. Ginny didn’t have to work, but that was because of the Potter fortune. Harry didn’t have to work, either, come to that.

They lived in different times.

Teddy wanted to give Victoire everything she wanted, but he also knew that a few years of working together to build a life were going to be good for them. He used his nose to nudge her chin up so he could kiss her again as somewhere out on the beach the waves crashed and the gulls cried.

He held his wife and knew he was home.

Back to index


Chapter 26: Chapter 23

Author's Notes: I have another book coming out the first weekend in March 2016 called The Pursuers

Please go to my profile and take a look! My book, The Overseer's Son, is only $0.99 on amazon. I really need help getting the word out.

If I can get enough book sales through here, through all of you sharing on facebook, writing reviews, etc, then I'll take a request for a one-shot to post here for you. I never do this, but if we can see sales pick up I will make the time and devote the energy. Otherwise I have to spend more time sewing and not writing because money ;)

Thank you all for everything! Let me know what you thought of this chapter. We'll get back into the heavier action next chapter.

Thank you Arnel for beta'ing!!!


The bills were going to do them in, Teddy was sure of it. This was not how Friday nights were supposed to go. On top of Victoire’s student loans to become a Healer, they had rent, food, and utilities in this Muggle flat in the armpit of London. Teddy stared at the bits of paper and tried to force himself to focus on them. It didn’t work. All he saw was the shabby kitchen around them, and his stomach rumbled while Victoire cooked. It was like his brain was rebelling at the impossibility of it all. They’d only been married a month and already Teddy was seeing that being an adult was going to be tougher than anticipated. He’d been functioning well enough on his own, but they’d committed to paying for part of Victoire’s loans now, rather than waiting until after she was finished.

He had a stipend from training. She was paid a small allotment for working after classes in the hospital. It was just not enough. “I think I’m going to see if George could use me for a few hours on weekends.”

Victoire turned from the stove with a slight frown on her face. “It’s that bad, huh?”

“It’s that bad,” he agreed as he stretched and went over to take the spoon from her so he could continue with the sauce. They traded off cooking nights, although it was often more of a matter of who was home first. That was always a toss-up. “Take a look.”

She studied the papers in much the same way that he had. “It looks like you’re right.”

“I didn’t really want to be,” Teddy mused. “I have another year until I’m done with training and I get full pay. You work half the weekend anyway, so it isn’t like I’m missing out on time with you. Your shoes are beyond magical repair, and my wand needs to be replaced. We simply need more money.”

Victoire glanced over to the door where her uniform shoes sat waiting for the next day. Healers had specified modes of dress and she’d bought them second hand when she’d started training. Victoire had been keeping them alive through will power and spells, but they were ready for the bin. When she turned back to him, it was with a rueful smile. “No one said it would be easy.”

Teddy turned off the stove and pulled her into his arms. “I think they told us it would be bloody hard, but so far the worst part is figuring out how to pay for it all.”

“I didn’t really appreciate just how much I had when I lived with my parents,” she said thoughtfully as she boosted onto her toes to press her lips to his. “But I’d still rather be here with you and poor as we are, than back home.”

He grinned against her lips and deepened the kiss. “We could forget dinner.”

“We should eat since we can’t afford to waste food,” Victoire reminded him. Sadly, she was right.

They ate, they talked, they cleared up, then went to bed because that was the best perk of being married.

The next morning, bright and early, Victoire reported to the hospital and Teddy headed out to Diagon Alley to see his now official Uncle George about a job. WWW wasn’t open yet, but Teddy knew George would be in already. He knocked at the shop’s door and when George saw who it was, he came to open it.

“If she’s chucked you out already, I can’t help you,” George told him as he ushered him into the shop. “Come on, let’s have a cuppa.”

Teddy waited until they were settled at a table in the back room before asking. “I need a part time job.”

George’s face stayed impassive as he studied him. “What’s up?”

“Victoire’s student loans have put us over,” he told his uncle. “We could shuffle off the debt until she’s done with school, but you know how the goblins are. They don’t like debts, and we don’t want to be indebted to them for longer than we have to.”

Understanding washed over his face. “How many hours were you looking for?”

Relieved, Teddy explained the situation. “I’ll take whatever you can give me, honestly. I’ll do anything.”

“That’s good because all I have left are the jobs no one wants,” George laughed broadly. “You can start now.”

~*~

“We’ve had nothing from Crabbe,” Auror Gregory reported to Harry. It was the middle of August and things were extremely quiet in the office. Normally that would be excellent news, but it left Harry edgy and constantly on alert. Harry was sure that Isabella Crabbe was up to s