|SIYE Time:11:59 on 16th August 2018|
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: 92399; Chapter Total: 2687
Awards: View Trophy Room
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.
“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.
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