|SIYE Time:2:23 on 16th January 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: 78622; Chapter Total: 2338
Awards: View Trophy Room
Are you ready to mutiny yet? I am so, so sorry about this. The chapter took forever, I'm in the middle of editing one book, and starting another series of books (this time for kids) and yeah, I know some fanfiction authors only update once every few months (or years *cough*) but I do try to be very consistent. My goal was every two weeks, but it's not happening like that. I am still trying, still plugging away.
Keep reviewing! It keeps me motivated. Seriously, it does. I enjoy the interaction, even if you've got some suggestions for making the story better. This is how I learn.
“Don’t be nervous,” Ginny told her father as they headed for the small back room at a Muggle pub. Ginny had placed a call to reserve this particular room, knowing it would be well concealed. The owner was a Squib and someone Ginny had worked with before when meeting, in secret, with various Quidditch players who didn’t want to be on the official record.
Her father shuffled after her as they wended around the crowded bar, completely ignored by the other patrons. Ginny waved to the large woman manning the tap. “Hello, Sally.”
“Ginny,” Sally inclined her head. “I’ll be back for drinks in a bit.”
“Thanks,” Ginny called back as she pushed open the back room’s heavy door.
Her colleague, Brian Wallach, watched them enter. He was a thin man with thick, wavy black hair that he kept cropped short. Today he was in a perfectly tailored Muggle suit. Being Muggleborn, he did a very good job of blending in when needed.
He was, typically, the man that The Daily Prophet used when Muggles were involved.
Ginny moved over to shake his hand as the other man rose to an impressive height. “Thanks for meeting us, Brian. Have you met my father, Arthur?”
“I have once, I believe,” Brian shook Arthur’s hand as they all sat around the small, round table. “I am interested in what I’m about to hear. I also know that your career is on the line, Mr. Weasley, and I will do my upmost to protect you. This is an important story.”
Her dad cleared his throat and finally spoke for the first time. “I appreciate that.”
Ginny took his hand, hating that his voice cracked from nerves. “Just tell Brian what you’ve found out.”
Arthur nodded as if ticking through a list in his head, which Ginny supposed he was. “The first part is that I’ve seen the tick marks for the election. It’s verified by a few of us on staff and it’s not good. Smith won by ninety-two percent, which the other candidates splitting the last eight evenly. That, in itself, is odd, because I have never heard of the trailing candidates having matching numbers. The votes were identical between the others.”
“That’s very odd,” Brian agreed as he took notes. “Who else has access to those votes?”
“Just a few of us,” Arthur told him. “Senior Ministry can gain access, but most won’t. The problem is that of everyone I’ve spoken to, and it’s been a lot of people, no one voted for Smith.”
“I’ve taken an informal poll as well,” Brian said, glancing up. “It was not good numbers. The exit polls were saying Macmillan.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” Arthur sighed heavily, then froze as a knock sounded at the door.
“That will be Sally,” Ginny told her father reassuringly. “Let’s get you a beer. I think this will go better that way.”
Once they all had drinks, they set up magical protections and went to work. “Smith is working to restructure the Ministry. With his landslide victory, which was highly unexpected, he’s feeling like he has to answer to no one.”
“Why did Harry Potter leave the Ministry?” Brian asked the question that Ginny knew was coming, and had refused to answer.
“Kingsley Shacklebolt set up the Head Auror to be answerable to no one but the Minister of Magic. This was done,” Arthur explained in a measured tone, “to ensure that the Aurors could not be corrupted. Under another Head, the Aurors might have been a problem, but Harry Potter is not a politician. He has no ambitions to rise further, or take over. He could have, on any number of occasions, but like Dumbledore before him, Harry wants to do what he does best. That’s not running the Ministry. I have personally witnessed him passing off the parts of the job that he didn’t like on many occasions.”
“Can you give me an example?”
“Dealing with the press,” Arthur smiled grimly. “He hates that, which is odd since his wife is a member of the press. No, Harry would typically beg someone like Hermione Weasley to make the press statements for him. He wanted to investigate, capture the criminals, and keep us safe. That was his job, in his view. The first day that he was in office, Smith demanded that Potter be answerable to him. Smith changed the regulations and dictated that Harry would have to run every decision through the Minister, rather than having some room to use his discretion. Shacklebolt asked for the highlights, while Smith wanted control of every detail.”
Brian nodded as he continued to scribble furiously. “I’ve met Potter a few times. I can’t imagine that went over too well.”
“He quit immediately and walked out of the Ministry,” Arthur informed him. “He was our best chance of catching whoever is taking these women, but now he’s gone. He didn’t feel the office had the integrity to continue, so he wouldn’t participate.”
“Has any progress been made in getting the women back?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Arthur told him simply. “They’re still looking, but that sort of information is kept very closely guarded so that the women’s lives are endangered further. I’m saddened that the best Auror we’ve had since Mad-Eye Moody was driven from the Ministry because he knew it would be corrupted under Smith. Several senior Ministry officials have asked the Minister for an enquiry about the election, but he is refusing.”
Brian waited a beat, seeming to take that in. “The Minister is refusing a request for an investigation on the election?”
“I do not believe, for one moment, that Smith rigged the election,” Arthur told him with absolute sincerity. “I do think, though, that something odd went on. No election has been a landslide like that, not even when Kingsley came in right after the war.”
“What do you think of the new Minister?”
“Well…” Arthur cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. “I do not believe that he is bringing the Ministry together to work as a team. In this time of crisis, with women being abducted, I feel we must work as a cohesive unit.”
Brian nodded and held up one finger to finish his notes. “Do you have any thoughts on Zacharias Smith becoming the Head of the MLE?”
“He is an incompetent twerp,” Arthur spit out as his face went bright red on that. “You can quote me. He’s causing a lot of damage and if Hermione Weasley weren’t sweeping up his messes, the Ministry would be in dire straits. It’s a clear case of nepotism and Smith has no qualifications for the job.”
Brian’s grin spread slowly. “Thank you for your time.”
“Did you see that article in The Daily Prophet?” Lucy asked as she came over to the Gryffindor table holding the article in question. She spread it out before Roxy, who happened to be sitting close to where Al, Nat, Rose, and Scorpius were sitting.
It was the last day before the winter hols and Nat was more than ready to get out of the school, even though she couldn’t go to her parents’ flat in London. She would, at least, get to see them for a few days. She was still hooked up to the feeding bag because of the mishap where the bag had been cut. After an intense interview by Madam Longbottom of the girls in the dorm, one of Nat’s dorm mates admitted she might have knocked into it in the middle of the night on her way to the bathroom. She hadn’t been sure so she hadn’t said anything.
Because of one lousy mistake, Nat was stuck as a medical freak for at least another month. Her attention, which had wandered, jumped back to the matter at hand when Rose elbowed her in the side. “Sorry?”
“We were discussing the article,” Rose told her. She frowned in concern. “Are you alright?”
“Fine,” Nat sighed as she glanced away. “Just tired. I’m ready to go.” It was an understatement. She was exhausted and not sleeping well. Every time she closed her eyes, she had horrible nightmares.
Everyone stared at her with concern. It was Fred who acted, though. “Right you are then, Nat. Let’s head up to see the nurse.”
“No,” Nat shot him an annoyed glare. “I’m fine! I’m just tired, that’s all.”
“Just tired with you means you’re likely to pass out,” Scorpius pointed out fairly.
Nat stood and stepped over the bench. “I’m fine. I’ll… I’ll see you all later.”
She stomped off, heading towards the dorm. Nat hated being out of sorts with anyone, for any reason, but that’s all she’d felt recently. It was miserable being so helpless, so sick all the time. She didn’t want people to continue to pity her.
“Leah,” came Al’s voice from behind her.
Nat turned as she watched him jog up to her. He’d taken to calling her that, sometimes, true to his word. Peeves still called her ‘gnatty-Nat’ on a regular basis, though. Oddly enough, though, Al never said it when anyone else could hear them.
“You don’t have to go with me,” Nat protested immediately. “I can make it on my own.”
Al shot her a puzzled look. “I know you can. I wanted to talk to you.”
“Oh,” she felt her face flush as they continued up the main staircase. “What’s up?”
“I spoke to my dad about Caroline’s cheer competition thing and he said no,” Al sighed. “I didn’t expect him to say yes, but still. He said with security the way it is that we’re not going anywhere.”
Compassion swamped Nat. She knew what it was to have to be cosseted, but it didn’t make it any easier to bear. Al had no choice on whether or not he wanted to explore the world around him. “You won’t be twelve forever, you know.”
He grinned a little at that. “Says the person who is also twelve.”
“Yes, but what I mean is you’ll be an adult eventually, and,” she added when he would have protested, “once you’re not quite the novice at protecting yourself, he’ll let go a little. Right now if someone kidnapped you, the best you could do was to shoot sparks at them.”
Al looked for a moment like he wanted to protest, but eventually he just shrugged and let it go. “I’m glad you’ll be with us for Christmas. James is being a prat about his girlfriend, Kara. He is mad at Mum and Dad for not letting her come to visit.”
“But they let me,” Nat pointed out. “Of course, my parents are Muggles, so they’re no threat.”
“You were also let in before the threat got worse,” Al reminded her. “Poor Lily won’t get to have any of her school mates over to stay.”
Harry stared at the train as it slowly pulled to a stop at the station. He’d nearly insisted on the children using the Floo Network to get home but Ginny had reminded him that they’d enjoyed the train rides, and with Nat’s feeding line, the Floo could be trickier. She wasn’t exactly a graceful child.
He’d insisted on Lily staying at home, with Teddy. Ever since he’d left his job, he’d become paranoid and more and more on edge. Something always seemed to be nagging at him, watching him, waiting for something.
“Would you relax?” Ginny groused next to him. “Your edginess is making me edgy.”
Harry let his brow rise in answer.
“Fine,” she said as the train pulled to a stop, “but do try to smile at the children as though you’ve missed them and this isn’t a big chore for you.”
He felt instantly stung. “I didn’t say–”
“Smile, damn it,” she ordered through her own smile. Harry noted that her teeth were gritted together.
He did try to smile as the doors slid open and children poured from the carriages, happy and chattering. It would be good to have his children home again.
Plus, the house-elf, Polly, had asked to come back. Harry had attempted not to jump for joy over it. The story that Arthur had given had set off a firestorm, and now the wizarding community was in an uproar, demanding an inquisition. Minister Smith, however, was stubbornly refusing to cave, even though he was essentially committing political suicide.
Harry had started his own investigation, exploring how the voting was set up and trying to work out if there was any way to falsify an election’s results. He felt a bit like the fake Moody, back during the Triwizard Tournament. The pretend Moody had laid out exactly how one might fool the Goblet of Fire. He would have known, of course, since he’d been the one to do it. Still, though, Harry was finding a couple of ways that someone might be able to stick in another candidate and the easiest way to do that was through the ballots.
He had no real answers yet, but Harry was forcing himself to put that aside for the day and enjoy his sons being home.
They emerged slowly from the train and Harry saw why, instantly. Al had his arm around Nat who looked decidedly green.
Before he could even move forward, Audrey rushed forward to get a better look at the girl. “We need to get you home.”
“I think I got motion sickness,” Nat said barely above a whisper.
Audrey waved her wand over Nat and immediately the girl sighed in relief. “Better?”
“Much!” Nat grinned. “Thanks!”
“Hey,” Harry hugged Al first, before turning to try to locate James. His son, however, was attached at the lips to a girl he didn’t know. “Uh…”
Al glanced over at them dismissively. “He’ll be up for air soon, Dad. Just ignore him.”
“Er,” Harry wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about that. “Right. Did you have a good term?”
“Not too bad,” Al nodded as he turned around to help Rose bring her bag down.
“Hi, Uncle Harry,” she beamed at him before racing over to throw herself at her mother.
Harry turned back to Al and was startled to see that his son was a couple of inches taller than he’d been in September. “You’re shooting up.”
Al pointed down towards his trousers and Harry saw, to his amusement, that they barely covered his socks. “I noticed, Dad.”
“You could have written for more trousers,” Harry pointed out as he stepped aside so Ginny could hug Al.
“We’ll have to go to Diagon Alley, I suppose,” Ginny agreed as she observed her son. “Goodness! Nat said you were getting growing, but I didn’t expect this much! Look at you!”
Al blushed and shoved his hands in his pockets. “It’s not a big deal.”
Nat came over to them and touched Harry’s sleeve. He glanced down at her in concern and saw her face was ashen. “What?”
“That man,” she whispered at barely above a whisper. “He’s covered in that blue light, the one I told you about with the mouse. He’s… he’s staring at you.”
Fear and adrenaline rocketed through Harry, but he mastered his impulse to spin and begin firing curses. He needed to think this through, and think about it quickly. “Don’t look at him, Nat.”
She turned her elfin face up to his and he watched her force a brittle smile. “He has brown hair and a black cap on his head.”
Harry smiled back, reassuringly, even though he didn’t know what he was going to do.
“Harry?” Ginny asked softly, and he heard the thousand questions she had.
“You stay here with the family,” Harry told her. “Wait here, I’ll be back.”
Harry turned and saw the man Nat had pointed out, but he couldn’t see his face. He’d turned and was walking away from them at a very fast clip. He took off after the man, wondering why this person was under the Imperius Curse. Harry had to wonder, too, why the man had been studying them in the train station. What had he been waiting for?
He dodged around other families, trying not to knock into anyone. He didn’t acknowledge any attempts of those trying to gain his attention. His whole focus was on the man speeding away from him. Harry nearly bowled over a grandmother who screeched indignantly as he ran full out towards the barrier towards to the platform. Harry lost sight of him as he moved through the divide into the Muggle world and by the time Harry skidded through, the man was gone.
Harry spent another ten minutes trying to find the man, but was forced to give up and go back for his family. By the time he arrived back at the train’s platform, only his family and Ginny’s brothers remained, watching the kids, who waited anxiously.
“Anything, Dad?” Al asked him the moment he was back.
“I couldn’t find him,” Harry answered quickly. “Let’s get to the car and get home. Bill,” he glanced to his brother-in-law. “Can you ride with us?”
Bill nodded. “Let’s go.”
The drive home was the longest of Harry’s memory. Surely the car could move faster than this, but it seemed to take forever. Bill and Ginny kept a lookout around them as Harry drove, but they finally arrived back at Ivy Run without a single incident.
Audrey met them there, along with Polly the amazing house-elf. Audrey hustled Nat off to examine her, while everyone else brought the trunks in. They were supposed to be having dinner at Ivy Run that night, and thankfully Polly already had preparations underway.
Ginny stared at the kitchen in wonder as the little elf dove through all the fixing. “I want to help her,” she said to Harry, who came up behind her to link his arms around her waist. “I really do, but she keeps shoeing me away.”
Harry bent to press his lips to his wife’s neck, luxuriating in the soft feel of skin there, even as his mind fled off to other things. “I need to go see Kingsley.”
“Yeah,” Ginny agreed. “Invite him for dinner, and you’d better not be late.”
“I promise,” Harry told her earnestly.
It used to be that walking into the Ministry at any time was a simple matter of just walking in. Now, he had to go through the security desk and put on a visitor’s badge. He smiled at the security man and waited while his wand was checked.
Harry shook off his annoyance at having to wait. He had, after all, quit in a spectacular fashion, so this was all to be expected.
By the time he made his way up to the Auror office, though, he was ready to be done with this. Daniel had stayed on as the personal assistant to the Head Auror, and the moment Harry rounded the corner, the young man grinned. There was something behind Daniel’s eyes, though. “Hey, do you need him?”
“Yes, if he’s free,” Harry said, then added quickly, “actually I need him even if he isn’t free, but I can wait a few minutes.”
“He’s busy at the moment, but he should be free soon,” Daniel informed him.
The second he finished speaking, Kingsley’s door opened and the man appeared with the parents of Veronica Sinestra, the woman who had gone missing when Harry was still in charge. They met his gaze, but the grief there was all Harry needed to see to know that the news was not good for their daughter.
His gut clenched horribly, in sympathy with them.
“Again,” Kingsley said quietly. “If we hear anything else, I will let you know. We’re still looking, though. Finding her and the other girl are our main focus.”
The man, and Harry had to struggle for a moment to remember his name was Miles, turned to Harry. “Are you still looking?”
“I can’t,” Harry answered helplessly. “I could be arrested for interfering.”
“What about as a private consultant?” his wife, Leanne questioned desperately. “We need to find her.”
Kingsley stepped in. “I really wish he could help us, but the Minister has enacted strict rules.”
Miles’ face went bright red.
“As someone who isn’t involved in the Ministry, anymore,” Harry told them in a low undertone. “I would speak to Brian at The Daily Prophet about the limited resources the Minister is allowing for your case.”
Kingsley shot him an annoyed glare. “Just do not reveal any of the sensitive information if you do.”
“No, I won’t,” Miles held out his hand to Harry. “Thank you for the suggestion.”
The moment they were gone, Harry was ushered into what used to be his office. He flopped down into one of the seats and rubbed at his sore temple. “Natalie Parker spotted a man at the train station today.”
“I expect there were a lot of men at the train station,” Kingsley commented dryly as he sat down, too.
“This one had the dancing blue lights around him,” Harry informed him quietly. A light of recognition and alarm flashed in Kingsley’s face. “I tried to chase him down, but he got away. We did manage to get all the kids safely home, though.”
“That’s not good,” Kingsley agreed heavily. He scrubbed at his face and Harry saw the exhaustion etched on his face. “The article in the paper has definitely made an impact here, but it wasn’t the one we were hoping for. Smith has doubled-down on not forming an inquiry, despite the public pressure. We’re at odds over it. His decree that no one can interfere from outside the Ministry has left our hands tied.”
Harry shrugged that off. He wasn’t above looking into the mess, despite the Minister. He would, however, do better with their support. “I want to unofficially report a man under the Imperius Curse, but of course, not officially because we can’t give Nat’s secret up.”
“What a mess,” Kingsley groaned. “Alright, I’ll put out a warning saying to be on the lookout for family or friends acting oddly. This wasn’t how I wanted to spend the day.”
“Cheer up,” Harry rose. “Ginny says you’re coming for dinner.”
Kingsley grinned then. “That does make it better.”
Teddy stared at the report as his fingers shook and numbness overtook his whole body. He sat on the couch in Harry and Ginny’s living room, unable to fully take in the words on the pages that Audrey had given him. Victoire sat next to him, with her hand on his leg. “Teddy?”
“Poison,” he told her. “My grandmother was poisoned.”
A sob burst from Victoire and she threw her arms around his neck. “I am so sorry.”
Ginny came to sit on his other side, rubbing at his back. She didn’t say anything, though.
There really were no words.
It was not the sort of thing one wanted to learn about three days before Christmas. At least all of the kids were in bed. He was struggling not to cry, as it was. It was odd to hurt so much at the same moment he was absolutely numb and couldn’t move.
Harry crouched down in front of him as Audrey sat in the chair across the room, her hands twisted together to hide the shaking. “We’ll find her.”
“I know,” Teddy agreed as he shut his eyes and forced back the grief.
“Happy Christmas!” Lily called out merrily as she hopped down from the top bunk, practically landing on Nat’s legs. “Come on!” she poked at Nat.
Nat tried to force her eyes open but all that happened was a yawn. “It’s too early.”
“It’s almost breakfast,” Lily informed her genially. “I know that doesn’t mean much for you, but still.”
“Okay,” Nat waved her off. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
Hopefully her parents would be at Ivy Run by lunch, then they would stay for two days.
Nat didn’t want to move, though. She was warm, comfortable, and exhausted. There was nothing about the feeding tube that made her feel well. It kept her alive, and going, but it also doled out potions to try to repair whatever had happened to her in Brazil, and it left her weak and drained more often than not.
A knock sounded at the door and Al poked his head in. He smiled and came over, holding out a hand. “Come on, time to get up.”
She let him pull her up, mostly because it was easier that way. He was now almost a head taller than she was. Nat stretched before unhooking the backpack from the side of the bed and shrugging it on. “Okay,” she said after it was situated. “Let’s go.”
Christmas Day was lovely. The snow fell softly outside, blanketing the world in a winter wonderland. Her parents made it just before the roads became too clogged to drive, thankfully. Most of the Weasley family was there, too, apart from Al’s Uncle Charlie.
Nat sat on one of the couches near the windows and watched the snow fall while people laughed and chatted around her. She turned when the couch cushion next to her depressed and saw Audrey Weasley studying her in concern. “You know,” she said to Nat, “when I first met you I thought that you were the happiest child I’d ever met. You were resilient, self-aware, and always upbeat. That’s not you anymore.”
“No,” Nat agreed sadly. “I don’t have the energy for it anymore.”
Audrey nodded thoughtfully. “When you’re better, though, you will again. I think. It’s safe to say you are a unique case, but I think you’ll be alright once we can get you stable.”
“Do you know how much longer?” Nat asked, unsure if she really wanted the answer.
The Healer smiled sadly. “It all depends on your body, I’m afraid. I think, though, that your mood could help you heal faster. Have you heard that a positive attitude can speed healing?”
She had heard that, more than once, but at the moment there was no way to drudge up a positive attitude. “I don’t know how to fix it.”
“What’s the worst part for you?” Audrey wanted to know.
“I think it’s not being able to eat, and not having much energy,” she said after she’d thought about it. “I miss food, but eating can make me feel nauseated more often than not.”
“Do you know what has happened, though?”
“What?” Nat asked hesitantly.
“You have gained two pounds and you’re almost an inch taller than you were in August,” Audrey informed her with a grin. “That’s a major growth spurt for you.”
Excitement flickered to life in Nat’s heart. “Really?”
“Yes, really,” Audrey confirmed as she patted Nat’s hand. “I don’t want you to lose heart, okay? I know it’s hard, but you’re making a lot of wonderful progress. I think that we’ll be able to take you off the feeding line by March, at the latest, but you need to try to boost your spirits, okay?”
“Okay,” Nat agreed with an answering smile. She turned back to the snow and felt her heart lighten even further. She wasn’t tall, by any measure, but being taller meant she just might not standing out quite so much. That was a very good thing.
“Maybe we should leave the kids at home,” Ginny told Harry as they prepared to head to Diagon Alley. Al really needed new clothes. He was so tall, now, that nothing he owned was decent anymore. “You could go with Al, and I could stay here.”
Harry had thought about that, more than once, but all the kids were excited for the trip to London and they only had one more day until they would head back to Hogwarts. “I leave it up to you.”
“Ugh, alright,” she clipped her hair back and examined it in the mirror over their dresser. “They all want to go, so we’ll go.”
“I think we’ll be fine,” Harry said confidentially. “Things can happen in Diagon Alley, but it will likely be crowded today, and we won’t be caught alone.”
“You’re right,” Ginny came over to wind her arms around his waist. “You spoke to Ron, right? He says he’ll come with us?”
Harry pressed his lips to her brow and almost told her just to stay home. He squashed the urge, and said, “Yes, he said he’d watch my sorry bum.”
It had been a quiet few days, but that wasn’t to say things couldn’t still go wrong. Nat’s parents had come and gone. They’d had nearly a foot of snow fall around their house, and Nat had practiced using the Floo between their home and The Burrow, just to make sure she could with the feeding line.
It turned out, she couldn’t. The weight unbalanced her so much that she tumbled out, so they’d removed the feeding bag and someone else carried it through while she traveled alone. The whole summer, after she’d been brought back to England after her kidnapping, she’d been quiet and withdrawn, but she was starting to get some of her spark back. It was good to see.
Harry and Ginny walked down the stairs, their hands linked, to find Al and Lily battling it out in wizard’s chess. Harry could already see from Al’s expression that he was going to win. He watched Lily glance up and snort in disgust. “It’s like you’re gloating!”
“I’m not gloating!” Al retorted indignantly. “I just know I’m going to win in three moves.”
“Call it check mate and grab your coats, kids,” Ginny told them all as she moved over to Nat to help her remove the feeding bag. “Okay, are you ready for this?” his wife asked the small girl.
Nat smiled confidently. “I can do this… as long as James or Al goes first in case I fall out again.”
James snickered and went for the pot with the Floo powder. “I’ll go, then. See you there!” He took a pinch, threw it into the lit fire, and called out, “Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes!” In a swirl of green flames, he was gone.
Nat took a pinch and repeated the process.
“I’m up,” Ginny told Harry, before Al, then Lily went. Harry took a pinch himself and stared, for just a moment, at the flames. A tiny niggling tugged at his gut, but he didn’t know why. He shook his head. He couldn’t think about it just then, anyway.
George’s shop was packed as they made their way down from the vacant flat. Off and on George had attempted to let the flat, but anyone who moved in never stayed long. The noise from the shop could be canceled out with spells, but the smells from George’s experiments when he and Fred had lived there seemed to be stuck to the walls. Nothing they did could quite rid it of the fragrance of rotten eggs, burnt popcorn, and smashed ants.
They waved to George, grabbed hold of Ron who had been helping out a customer, and wandered out into the busy street where light winds knocked small bits of powdery snow around the street. Harry kept close to Nat and Lily, while Ginny stuck with James and Ron had Al.
Each of the children was wearing the Portkey socks that Hermione had created. If they were taken, they simply had to mutter the passphrase, which would activate the Portkey. They’d be whisked immediately back to Ivy Run.
Also, brilliantly, because none of them were the Secret-Keeper for Ivy Run, if someone were trying to tag along for the ride, the enchantments around the house would zap them, leaving them lying in a heap outside the perimeter. No one was exactly sure what would happen to the person, but they all were reasonably certain it wouldn’t be pleasant.
“We’re heading to Madam Malkin’s first,” Ginny told Ron. Ron already knew, but thanks to two decades with Hermione, he’d learned to shut his mouth. Ginny was already on edge, as was Harry, so she was liable to hex him if he’d said, ‘I know’.
They went into the shop, which was blessedly warm, and Ginny conferred with Madam Malkin over Al’s robes. “I think they need to be a little long. He’s growing so quickly.”
“Mr. Potter?” Nat came over to him. She pointed to a stuffed chair in the corner. “I’m going to go sit.”
Harry examined her with concern. She looked a little paler than usual. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” she said with a tight smile. “I’m just a little winded and cold.”
“Okay,” Harry nodded to Ron.
Ron turned to see. “Yeah, I’ll keep an eye on her.”
“Thanks, mate,” Harry replied as Lily grabbed his hand. He glanced down at her laughing expression. “What’s up with you?”
“There’s a dress!” she pointed over towards a display.
Harry cocked his head to the side, not even bothering to look. “Am I going to get in trouble if we go look at it?”
“Yes,” Lily assured him solemnly. “I probably have way too many. Can we have a look anyway?”
“Why not?” Harry agreed, taking her hand as Ginny hauled James over to have him measured as well. James shot his mother a mutinous glare, but submitted to the measuring when she threatened to turn his hair neon-red.
The dress Lily was eyeing was a very pale green. It shimmered a bit as she ran her fingers along it. “I could wear this for Teddy and Victoire’s wedding, you know.” She turned her big, brown eyes up to him, pleading in a way that he knew meant he was sunk. “It’s practical and pretty.”
“Merlin, help me,” he groaned as he took it down from the rack and handed it to her. “Go try it on.”
Lily squealed and ran for the fitting rooms.
Ginny rolled her eyes when she saw what had happened. “You are the biggest softy, Harry.”
“It makes her happy!” he protested immediately. “It’s not as though she’s spoiled.”
They left the shop almost an hour later with shopping bags in hand and Lily practically bouncing with every step. “Can we go look at the kittens?”
“Uncle Ron needs to get back to work,” Ginny reminded her daughter. “We have already–”
The next few moments slowed to a crawl. Harry spun to see a man grab hold of her, the same man he’d seen in the train station. Nat tried to throw him off, which knocked him off balance enough the he was unable to Apparate away with her immediately.
Harry pulled out his wand and shot a hex at the man, trying to miss Nat. She ducked down onto the ground, curling into a ball. People around them panicked and started shouting and bellowing for help, adding the confusion and din. The man fired back, but Harry deflected it with a jinx, which nearly bounced back onto the attacker. That was the split-second chance that Harry needed. He Stunned the man, who went down immediately.
His heart slammed into throat as he ran for Nat. She had tears streaming down her face as he hoisted her up into his arms. She was twelve, but no bigger than a seven-year-old. Harry passed her off to Ron, who’d run forward. “Back to my house,” he barked to his best mate.
“Got it,” Ron took the girl. “We’ll get a message to Audrey, too, just in case. I’ll see them to your place and wait there with them.”
“Thanks,” Harry turned back to the man and kept his wand on him as Ginny hurried the other kids back to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.
He’s known something was going to go wrong. Harry had had a feeling, but still. This left him with a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.
What he feared most, what he hoped was not the truth, was that Nat was now the target of some plot.
If they were very, very unlucky, someone had discovered that was an Augmentum Imaginari. They’d learned that she could see magical signatures, and magical concealments. If that had happened, Nat’s life was now in very grave danger.
Harry felt a stab of anger. He’d been a marked child, through no fault of his own. The fury roiled as Aurors Apparated into Diagon Alley all around him. No one should have their childhood ruined this way. No one.
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