|SIYE Time:14:08 on 20th November 2017|
The Space Between
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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Fluff, General, Humor, Tragedy
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Death, Disturbing Imagery, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mental Abuse, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Rape, Sexual Situations, Spouse/Adult/Child Abuse, Violence, Violence/Physical Abuse
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.
Hitcount: Story Total: 75576; Chapter Total: 2496
Awards: View Trophy Room
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.
“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.
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