|SIYE Time:15:08 on 22nd October 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: 96437; Chapter Total: 2985
Awards: View Trophy Room
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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. :)
“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.”
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