|SIYE Time:2:25 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: 78630; Chapter Total: 1737
Awards: View Trophy Room
I bet you're ready to murder me in my sleep for how long this took. I knew my last few months would be crazy, and they were. I hope you find this chapter worth the wait, and please, please go check out my books on amazon (which can be read in a web browser- you don't need a kindle). My author name is Sarah Jaune. You can also find me on twitter and facebook. If you like my characters, you'll like my original works. Tell me if you've read them and what you think :D
Thank you Arnel for being a lifesaver and beta'ing for me.
PLEASE REVIEW! No seriously, it does help inspire me to write faster when I know you guys are waiting for more.
“Hold still,” Hannah chided James as she examined his face closely.
James wanted to hold still. He wasn’t trying to be difficult, but it hurt so badly that he was having trouble not blacking out or vomiting all over her.
“Jamie,” his dad said from a seat next to him. His voice was firm, but not harsh. “I need you to focus on my words, not on what Hannah is doing, okay? Listen to me and let her work.” He took his son’s hand and held it. “Did you see anyone else out there? Squeeze my hand if so.”
James didn’t move, didn’t squeeze. They’d been alone at the Shrieking Shack when Caroline’s father, Donald Baker, had jumped him from behind. Louis had been with them minutes before, but he’d run back into the village to buy sweets for his sister’s birthday. That left only Caroline, who was sitting in the bed next to him, balled up and rocking.
Her father was dead. James was still covered in Donald’s blood. He still wasn’t sorry that he’s stuck that stick straight through the horrible man’s throat.
“James!” Harry said again, drawing James’ attention back from Caroline. He couldn’t focus on his father either, though. Harry caught his gaze and lowered his voice. “We’ll take care of her soon, but we need you healed first.”
The door to the Hospital Wing burst open and James’ mother, her red hair flying, came sprinting in towards him with terror etched all over her face. Her eyes locked on James and he managed to croak out a single, “Mum,” before she skidded to a stop next to Hannah.
“How is he?” Ginny demanded as she ran her hands through his hair. Gentle hands told him more about her love for him than any words ever did. He glanced up at her and wanted to say something, but his eyes went back to Caroline, who was still curled in a ball. His mother, bless her, took the hint and went over to the girl.
Ginny sat on the bed with her and carefully touched her shoulder. “It’s Caroline, right?”
The girl nodded her blonde head and looked up through eyes puffy from silent tears.
His mother gasped and her hand flew up to her mouth.
“What?” Harry demanded quickly.
“My dream! Harry,” she cupped Caroline’s cheek and remarkably the girl didn’t back away.
James, who was confused, but distracted when Hannah muttered a spell and his cheekbone knit back together, heard his parents say something that he missed.
When his eyes finally stopped watering in pain, he saw his mum holding Caroline while she continued to cry, whispering to her like every mother James had ever known.
“I’m going to give her a calming draught,” Hannah told Harry quietly. “I think she needs a good night’s sleep here with me. Same for James.”
James nodded and lay back against the pillows, too exhausted to think about moving. For a moment he, too, wanted to cry for all that had happened, but he bit hard on the inside of his cheek until the tears had passed. His father watched him silently and James appreciated that he hadn’t made a big deal of his momentary breakdown. “I need to speak to the other Aurors and process a few things. I’ll check back in before I leave.”
“Okay,” James agreed.
Harry briefly touched Ginny’s shoulder before he left, but soon the hospital wing was quiet, save for Caroline’s hiccups as she calmed down.
“I can’t believe he’s finally gone,” she murmured to his mum. Hannah, meanwhile, silently siphoned the blood off him.
James had a sudden thought that maybe he’d always see the blood there.
“Are you okay?” Ginny asked the girl in the next bed.
Caroline scrubbed at her face and shot James a cautious look. “I think I am. Thank you.”
“You don’t need to thank me,” James told her, glad that he was able to talk again. “If you hadn’t hit him with that branch, I wouldn’t have been able to–”
He couldn’t seem to finish the words. Stabbing a man in the throat so that he bled to death didn’t seem like something one should be thanked for.
“I’m glad you’re both okay,” Ginny said again as she smoothed Caroline’s tangled hair away from her face.
“Did you mention a dream?” James asked suddenly.
“I did, but it’s nothing,” she promised evenly, tipping James off to the fact that he was being lied to. “I had a bad dream with the two of you in it. I think I must have had a mother’s intuition moment about what happened today.”
James nearly argued with her, but decided to let it go. For now. Caroline’s eyes were shattered and red from crying.
“Here now,” Hannah came back over with a small vial for her. “Take this and we’ll get you changed to sleep.”
She set up curtains so that he and Caroline could change into pajamas, and despite the fact that it wasn’t even close to bedtime, they were both out less than an hour later.
“This was too close,” Ginny said as panic fought hard to drop her to her knees. She turned on Harry and pointed at him. “Where were the Aurors?”
She paced through Neville’s office, while her friend sat behind his desk, watching her work herself into a fit.
“I don’t know what happened, Ginny,” Harry told her furiously. “They were there! They just didn’t follow the kids up to the shack, and despite knowing that they were supposed to, they didn’t. The best we can guess is that Baker hexed the one who was set to watch the village. He’s one of the newer Aurors, but I wouldn’t have expected him to make this kind of rooky mistake.”
Ginny’s fury spiked as she froze mid-step. She wanted to scream at him for letting a rooky take the watch in Hogsmeade, but stopped when she saw the misery on his face. He was hurting, as well. He was blaming himself. He was devastated that he’d nearly lost their son. Beating him up for it didn’t make it any better. She walked over into his arms and held on for a moment longer.
“I need to go check on a few things,” Neville said tactfully as he rose and headed for the door. “I’ll be back in half an hour.”
Harry waited until the door was closed to cup her cheeks. “What did you mean about the dream?”
“It was Caroline,” Ginny explained as her head swam and she made to sit in one of the seats in front of Neville’s desk. “He was married to Caroline in the dream, Harry! It was Caroline I saw you handing that baby to.”
She knew the look even before she met his eyes.
“Gin,” he said reasonably as he ran a hand distractedly through his messy hair. “It was a dream, and you’ve met Caroline before. You know how he feels about her, so I think you just connected the two.”
“What if it wasn’t a dream?” she demanded quickly. “What if it really happens that way?”
Harry shook his head. “If they get married, then we’ll worry about it, but they’re still kids, and you failed Divination.”
“I can’t lose him,” Ginny said as tears tore loose from her tight hold. She balled her fists, digging her fingernails into her palm. “I barely survived losing Hope.”
“We aren’t going to lose him,” Harry promised, even though they both knew he couldn’t promise that. “Baker was the biggest immediate threat to the kids, and he was so enraged that he came after James with his bare hands. He’s dead, now. We have some breathing room because this means that Crabbe has lost her source of funding.”
But something had stuck with Ginny about the whole thing. “Why did he attack him without his wand?”
“James put his arm around Caroline’s shoulder,” Harry explained as his face paled. “I got that much from them, and I knew… Merlin, it’s disgusting. That man thought his daughter’s body was his and his alone. He went after James with his bare hands because he saw red and couldn’t think to do anything else. He even dropped his wand to attack him! We found it a few feet away.”
Ginny felt the bile rise in her throat as she thought about all the poor girl had been through and a small, selfish part of her hoped that James wouldn’t fall for the girl. It wasn’t that the girl wasn’t worth loving, but she didn’t know that James had it in him to be that patient, and loving someone who had been molested and abused took a lot more work. Then she felt sicker with herself for having even thought it, because Caroline didn’t deserve to be thought of as a ‘problem’.
But the truth was that James was selfish, hotheaded, and rarely serious and as his mother, Ginny knew best that he probably wouldn’t be the best person for the girl.
And now she was being ridiculous because it really had just been a dream, and as Harry said, she’d been dreadful at divination.
“I’m going back to check on them,” Ginny said after a short, terse silence. “Caroline looked like she was ready to fall over.”
“Alright,” Harry agreed, grazing his knuckles lightly down her cheek. “I’ll meet you there after I speak to Minerva.”
When she reached the hospital wing door, she stopped and held the handle, closing her eye as waves of exhaustion, relief, and guilt rolled through her.
Caroline was the victim in all of this and Ginny was a selfish arse for wishing that she and James wouldn’t become a couple. She made a vow to herself, from there on out, to never think that thought again. Al was smitten over Nat, who was constantly sick. That was another form of challenge, but she wouldn’t trade Nat for anything. It was better to get to know the girl just in case.
But if they did end up married, Ginny was going to be dead set against James going overseas by himself. She couldn’t stand to lose her son. Slowly, quietly she pulled the door open and froze at the sight before in the beds down towards the end of the row.
James was asleep, but Caroline was wide awake, her eyes huge and staring at the wall in front of her. She could have been a ghost for all the color that wasn’t in her cheeks.
Ginny came forward slowly and the blue eyes moved finally, tracking to her as she came to sit in the chair next to the girl’s bed. She didn’t reach out this time, since Caroline wasn’t crying, but she wanted to. Ginny desperately wanted to hold the child who appeared moments away from shattering into a million pieces.
“My sister just left,” Caroline told her in a voice completely flat of inflection.
“Is she okay?” Ginny asked her.
Caroline shrugged her thin shoulders and glanced down at her lap to hands that were twisting the blankets between her fingers. “I don’t think she really gets it, yet, but she doesn’t remember him like I do.”
It was a blessing and a curse. It left her alone in what she went through with her father, but Ginny wasn’t going to talk to her about that. James had told Ginny of the abuse in confidence, and if Caroline ever wanted to share, that was up to her. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” the girl lied.
Ginny reached out slowly and took her hand, holding it between her own. “You can talk to me.”
She was sure the girl wouldn’t, but after a clearly painful struggle, Caroline said, a little defiantly, “I’m glad he’s dead!”
“Yes, I’m sure you are,” Ginny agreed evenly and noted that when she was upset, the girl sounded even more American.
Caroline peeked up at her with her startlingly blue eyes and waited a beat. “Have you ever wished someone was dead?”
Nodding, Ginny felt the shame and the horror she’d lived with after having been possessed by Voldemort. She’d felt violated, too… unworthy. But no one in her family had let her stay that way. They’d insisted on keeping her close until those feelings had passed. “I nearly got a few people killed when I was younger,” Ginny told her, knowing that Caroline needed the connection. “I was possessed by Voldemort. I felt like he’d ruined something inside of me and like it might never get fixed.”
Caroline’s eyes widened in surprise. “But… but…” she said falteringly. “You’re married to Harry Potter!”
Ginny shrugged and winced inwardly when she realized Harry had shown her more grace than Ginny had shown Caroline. He’d forgotten what had happened to her, back when she’d been fourteen and fighting desperately not to feel anything for him. He’d never held it against her, and before speaking more than five words to the girl, Ginny had hoped that… she didn’t know what she hoped for anymore. It was all too difficult and painful to think about. “Harry loved me for me, and understood that it wasn’t my fault. Someone who is worthy of you will see that.”
Caroline’s eyes filled with tears, but she didn’t let them fall. “I don’t want that, ever. I’m not one of those girls who thinks about weddings and all that crap. I don’t want to be stuck with a man.”
In all honesty, Ginny couldn’t blame her, but she knew those words were spoken from a place of pain and not from any real, meaningful decision. It might be the decision that Caroline would stick with in the future, but she wasn’t in a place to judge that just yet. The girl was fourteen…
About the same age Ginny had been when she’d realized that not loving Harry Potter might just be impossible, even if she was going to try really hard not to.
She glanced over to her son for a moment and saw his sleeping, peaceful face, and thought again of all she’d been through when she was his age. “It’s my fault James is the way he is,” she told Caroline with a regretful smile. “I spoilt him a bit when he was young and he’s been a handful ever since. I lost a baby years before Jamie was born and I think I was rather overdoing it.”
“James isn’t so bad,” Caroline answered, then quickly added, “now.”
“He’s grown a great deal,” Ginny agreed with a longing sigh. “You’re a good bit of why, you know. It’s down to you that he realized he was being so horrible to us and immature.”
“I don’t…” Caroline let her voice trail off as she turned the sheets between her fingers.
Ginny patted her nervous hand. “I’m going to let you get some rest, now, and go check on how the investigation is going. If, at any point, you want your grandparents to come, you let Madam Longbottom know and we will get them here.”
“Thank you,” the girl said in a perfunctory manner.
She rose and walked slowly from the room, not sure she’d made any difference at all.
The fact that Harry didn’t lose his temper as he stared at the group of assembled Aurors was probably more a testament to having been James’ father than to any level of professional trailing.
The faces of the assembled men, and one woman, showed the gravity of the situation as they sat at the large, conference room table in the Ministry. The air was thick with tension and unsaid criticisms of all that had gone wrong that day.
After speaking to the younger Auror who had neglected to follow James out of the village, Harry had sent him over to St. Mungo’s where they found at least two hexes placed on him. It was a miracle that the kids hadn’t been killed, or worse that Caroline hadn’t been recaptured by her father. It left Harry uneasy and sick at heart to think of what could have happened to her if James hadn’t killed the man. It still hadn’t settled, either, that his son had murdered someone. How was Harry supposed to deal with that? How did he help James deal with that? Thus far James was coping well, but it was only a matter of time before the enormity of what had happened fell upon his son.
His son… already a hero, and not the one he’d have said would ever be a hero. It just went to show…
Harry shook his head, realizing belatedly that everyone was getting more uncomfortably restless as he continued to pace without speaking. “My son did what no child should have to do today,” Harry said simply. “I’m probably so angry because it was my son, but I think I would have been furious no matter whom it was. What happened to the checks? What happened to the partners?” His short glance to Teddy gave him the look of a pale man, still stunned at the news. Teddy hadn’t been at Hogwarts. He’d been manning the desk at the office in London when the attack had happened, which often happened to the junior member of the team.
“It was a complete cock up,” Thomas Gregory said flatly. “We had our signals crossed and we didn’t work properly as a team. I take full responsibility for this.”
Harry let out a slow breath and tried to focus his attention away from his anger, and back to something more productive. It wouldn’t do to lose sight of what needed to be done. “We will be starting back at the beginning for training first thing tomorrow.”
There wasn’t even a single groan of protest. Every single one of them realized the unbelievable mistake that had been made. A child, in a guarded town full of ten Aurors, should never have had to defend himself.
“We will spend the next several weeks working together as a team, again, and retraining the leaders to spot problems before they happen,” Harry said with solemn finality. “This sort of mistake will not happen again. Am I understood?”
A general chorus of, “Yes, sirs,” flowed through the room and they filed out, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts.
His son had taken a life. Shaking his head, he went back to his desk and meaning to tell Daniel he was heading home, but his assistant had already left with a note saying he’d be in early the next day. He didn’t fault the man. Daniel had recently become engaged, and it was tough to leave one’s fiancé alone on a Saturday night, even if one had an extremely understanding significant other.
He’d barely managed to throw on his cloak when a tall, thin man in a black cloak topped by a shock of white-blond hair appeared before him. Surprised, Harry inclined his head. “Malfoy.”
“May I have a word?” Draco asked smoothly, never letting his façade of man in control crack. It was something that Harry had come to grudgingly admire about him. “In private.”
Harry indicated for him to step into his office and moments later they were seated across from each other, Harry’s desk separating them. “What can I do for you?”
“I was privy to a story of recent events,” Draco said without preamble. “I thought it might be pertinent to you, so I wanted to pass it along.”
Intrigued despite himself, Harry waited.
“I heard about what happened today from my son,” Draco told him and the pleasure at having heard from Scorpius shown on his father’s face. Harry didn’t know much about their relationship, but from what he’d heard from Al, he didn’t think Scorpius often wrote home to his father. “I had a letter from him just a few minutes ago, and it occurred to me that something I’d heard yesterday is likely connected.”
“Go on,” Harry said as he sat forward in his seat.
“My father came to dine yesterday and said he’d been in Knockturn Alley at Borgin and Burkes,” Draco informed him slowly. “He was after a particular book on ancient magical bloodlines,” he explained quickly. “It isn’t an illegal object, I assure you, but extremely rare and valuable. It’s also not in the current taste.”
Harry could well imagine the uproar that would be created in a book on purebloods that ended up in Flourish and Blots. “I can see that.”
“My father is set in his ways,” Draco said with a tight smile. “He is, however, old and harmless at this point.”
Harry waved that off. He expected nothing less of Lucius, and had also had over twenty years of good behavior from the Malfoy patriarch. Harry had no legal reason to complain.
“A man came stumbling in with a bag full of items that my father didn’t see and demanded money for them, said his mistress had sent him to get money,” Draco went on. “He said she’d kill him if he didn’t get five hundred galleons for the lot.”
“I can’t imagine that went over well,” he grinned as he pictured the greedy, old man whom Harry had dealt with on a number of occasions. Mr. Borgin hadn’t changed, except to age and grow stingier.
“Quite,” Draco said with a sardonic smile. “He kept rambling on about the crazy bird he worked for, his words for her. Then he said what struck my father. He said, ‘She’s so hard, she’s going to knock off the purse, she is. That’s why I needs the money.’” He smoothed out an invisible crease on his perfectly pressed trousers. “I do not know many women who are that cold or calculating, but Isabella Crabbe is one of them.”
Harry sat back and considered this. “Then the next day, Baker is killed, but not by an Auror.”
“From Scorpius’ letter,” Draco said as he pulled out the sheet of parchment and held it out to Harry, “he said that it was only by chance that one of the Aurors wasn’t there to take him down.”
Silently, Harry mulled that over. Was it out of the realm of possibility that Isabella had set the man up to go down? No. She was brilliant and cruel. She had her own agenda and Baker was becoming a liability. She likely hadn’t meant for things to go down the way that they had, but it was easy enough to tell Baker that it was a Hogsmeade weekend. Since Baker was American, he wouldn’t know what that meant, but Crabbe would. She could have sent him there to try to take back the daughter he coveted. Crabbe knew that the village would have been guarded. She’d made a point of getting to know Harry and to understand what steps he would have taken to ensure the children’s safety. It was, to put it simply, an easy way to off the man and make it look like she’d had no hand in it. Donald clearly hadn’t a clue he was being set up, or maybe he was so crazed that he didn’t care.
There was an inquiry of the body going on right that moment at St. Mungo’s. Harry would know by the morning if he’d been under the influence of anything magical, or alcoholic.
“I met Dodi Baker more than a year back,” Draco told him, breaking into Harry’s thoughts. “Helminth Smith had a dinner party that Astoria and I attended, and I made his acquaintance.”
“I met him once, as well,” Harry said with a raised brow. “I had to stop Ginny from killing him.”
That forced a chuckle from Draco. “Yes, well, I can see why. He was so crass, so very American. He spoke of his wealth and position as though any of that was fit for polite conversation. My wife,” he hesitated only briefly. “She has quite an astute read on people. I have found her to be an excellent judge of character, and she did not like him. She said he made her feel very uncomfortable.”
That didn’t surprise Harry in the least.
“When I spoke to him, he spoke of his wife and children as though they were property, and not people,” Draco concluded. “I remember wanting to step back from him at the look in his eyes when he spoke of his oldest girl. I thought, but dismissed, that that was not a look a father should have about his daughter.”
Harry didn’t comment. He couldn’t. Unfortunately, his silence spoke volumes.
Draco’s face went even paler. “I… I shall not speak of this again, then. I know that it was she who was nearly taken by him today. I am very glad your son was there to help, and that he is okay.”
“I appreciate that,” he said with only a slight tremble to his voice. “What you’ve told me, it is actually helpful. It gives me a fuller picture of what is going on around Crabbe. It’s important to know she’s scrambling for funding. Hopefully, that will slow her down.”
Harry arrived home fifteen minutes later, having bid Malfoy goodbye shortly before, to find mail from his cousin, Dudley.
It was never a good day when that sort of mail came. The only bright spot was that he didn’t have to listen to his children whine should Harry be required to visit.
He opened it to find a rather lengthy letter for Dudley… well, lengthy for Dudley, anyway.
How are you? We’ve been good here. Stephen has started at Smeltings and it getting along well. We are going on holiday this Christmas to France. Megan has set it all up, although I’d have rather gone somewhere that wasn’t forren. We are hoping that you and Ginny can come for dinner sometime next month. Please let us know when you’re available.
Harry grinned at the butchering of ‘foreign,’ and set the letter aside to deal with later. He heard a noise from upstairs and turned to see Ginny coming down the steps dressed in old, faded jeans, and a huge jumper from her days with the Harpies. “You’ll never guess what–” Harry paused as he caught sight of Ginny’s pale face. “What’s up?”
She motioned to their big, wooden table that had graced their kitchen their whole marriage and sat towards the end, as he took the end seat and reached for her hands. Ginny laced their fingers together and traced along towards his wedding ring with her free hand. She was so lost in thought that Harry didn’t say anything, but let her work through what it was that she needed to say to him. The fine lines around her eyes didn’t show any laughter now, only trouble and a bit of sorrow. “I had a long chat with Caroline today.”
Harry, who had spoken at length with the girl previously, waited. This could go many different directions, and he wasn’t sure which it would be.
“I looked at her as James’ mother,” she admitted with a tight smile that was aimed down at their linked hands. “I saw her as someone who was so badly damaged that if James went and fell in love with her, I knew she’d break his heart. She’s a walking disaster…”
Stunned, Harry had to fight not to let go. To say he was horrified was a gross understatement. He couldn’t have ever guessed that Ginny, who was so loving, would dismiss the girl out of hand.
“Then I spoke to her,” Ginny went on ruefully. “I saw, in her, a bit of myself. I wasn’t raped, certainly not by my father, but I did have an evil being sharing my body for the better part of a year. He controlled my thoughts and my actions. He nearly made me a murderer.”
Comprehension dawned as he thought back to her first year and her possession. Voldemort had done and said unspeakable things to Ginny towards the end, things that she hadn’t ever revealed to her parents. She’d only told him about them after ten years of marriage. “Ginny…”
“You,” she said, finally meeting his gaze with her lovely, warm brown eyes. “You never thought of it, though. You didn’t hold it against me. You didn’t cast me aside, and I didn’t even extend Caroline the grace that you showed towards me. I dismissed her without ever really speaking to her.”
Harry had no idea what to say to that, so he didn’t say anything. This was a confessional, not a conversation.
“I didn’t look at this girl like I was her mother,” she went on as a tear trailed slowly down her cheek. “I didn’t think about her needs, her wants, or the possibility that she might grow into the strongest woman I will ever meet for what she’s lived through. I only saw a problem for my son, and I am heartily ashamed of myself.”
Harry squeezed her fingers lightly, encouraging her to finish.
“I don’t know if she will ever love our son, or even if she’ll want to, but I see it in Jamie’s eyes,” Ginny admitted with a genuine smile this time. “We always say he’s just like your father, but gosh, I didn’t expect him to fall so hard, so young. I think he knows, too, deep down that this is where his heart is leading him. I don’t think he would have chosen to change so dramatically without those feelings.”
Harry still struggled to see his son as anything but the wayward child he was so used to, but now he was more. James had taken a life to save his own and another’s. It hadn’t been intentional, and yet it had been the right action.
He also knew that the Aurors on the scene hadn’t fought to save Baker’s life. Thomas Gregory had told Harry, in confidence, that they’d had a split second where they could have tried to save him, but he’d made the call not to. It might not have worked, anyway. It was the type of healing that they’d have needed a real Healer for, but they hadn’t even tried. None of them had wanted to try. It wasn’t explicitly talked about that Baker was a child molester, but still most of the senior Aurors had known. They’d known that letting the man die meant freeing his children, so they’d allowed it to happen. Harry had thought about it, briefly. He supposed there should be an inquiry on if they should have tried to save Donald Baker’s life, but he had already noted down that the treatments needed were beyond Auror skill level. As long as the examination by the Healers in the post-mortem agreed with him, the Aurors were cleared. He’d only lived ten seconds. It wasn’t enough time to set up a Portkey and barely enough time to Apparate with the man to St. Mungo’s, if he could have even survived Apparation. It was not a given that he would have.
Harry turned Ginny’s hand over, palm up and traced the lines on her hand. He had no idea which was the love line or the life line any longer. He’d long ago forgotten his lessons with Professor Trelawney, but he didn’t need a fraud’s interpretation to see the strength and gentleness in this hand. He didn’t want to bring up the fact that Ginny’s dream of the children in the future was just a dream. It had rattled her so thoroughly that he knew he couldn’t dismiss it without hurting her. He didn’t want to say they were too young, because he knew that Caroline had already lived five lifetimes of sorrow and pain in her fourteen years, and James had taken on a responsibility that most grown men hadn’t. It was, to put it simply, still up to the fates. “I don’t know where they will go in this life, but I know that if I could make it easy, I would.”
Ginny snorted at that. “The odd thing is that I always knew James wouldn’t take the easy path. He was never going to travel the way of least resistance. I just can’t imagine that she’ll ever be in a place where she’ll want…” she swallowed and glanced away. “I know some things, you know.”
“Scorpius’ aunt was in your year,” Ginny told him. “I heard stories about why they left for America before her seventh year.”
Cold washed over Harry so completely that he found it difficult to speak. “What happened?”
“It’s maybe just a rumor,” she said quietly. “I… Daphne is single, you know?”
Harry nodded. He’d known that already.
“Well… there were stories that she was raped and that’s why her parents ran with the girls,” she explained quietly. “Daphne hasn’t been with anyone. She’s not been in any kind of serious relationship. The last time I talked to Astoria, she said that Daphne can’t stay still, can’t commit to anything. Astoria knew that I knew. She didn’t say it explicitly, but I read between the lines. Daphne has run from one thing to the next, never settling down anywhere long. Scorpius adores her. I can tell by the way he talks about her, but she’s never around. That was just one short time in her life, but Caroline has been through so much more.”
“But Caroline has had intensive therapy,” Harry reminded her. “She’s continuing to talk to therapists and will for a long time. We need to trust in that for her.”
“Maybe it’s nothing,” Ginny said with a shake of her head. “Maybe it won’t end up being anything, but on the off chance that my dream was real, Harry, we have to act. I stayed out because it didn’t seem like it was my business, but it will be if–”
“That’s a big if,” he stated flatly.
“I want to invite them over for a day during the Christmas holidays,” Ginny told him. “Lily will love that, as she and Honor have become the best of friends.”
Harry considered the logistics of getting two more people into the protected home and sighed. It wasn’t that much extra work. “Alright. I will speak with her grandparents about it when I check in with them next time.”
They had two months until the hols. It was plenty of time to make arrangements.
James didn’t know what woke him. The hospital wing was silent, and maybe that was it. He was used to four other boys snoring or shifting in their beds. All he knew was that it was too quiet and the moonlight was very bright that night, illuminating the room in a silvery, shimmering glow. He glanced over to Caroline’s bed and started when he saw it was empty. He sat up and scanned the room quickly, ignoring the wave of dizziness that begged him to keep his head still and lie flat. He almost missed her in the striped, faded pajamas as she stood at the window, gazing out onto the grounds of the school. He sighed in relief and rose silently.
Still she turned to look at him as pale light bathed her beautiful face, making her golden hair glow radiantly, almost like a halo. She watched him as he walked to her, then she pointed out to the grounds.
James looked and saw immediately what had her attention. Flying above the trees in the distance were skeletal, winged horses. They dipped and circled, almost chasing each other in a lazy dance through the sky. He thought back to Platform 9 ¾ and to his comments to his brother about Thestrals. It didn’t seem funny, now. Now it seemed sad, and scary, and maybe a little horrible. “I’d forgotten about them,” he whispered into the darkened room.
Caroline shivered and wrapped her arms around her waist. “It took me ages to figure out what they were. I’ve only read about them, but… I d-didn’t think it would be my father’s death that would m-make me see them,” she told him in a voice that wasn’t quite steady.
James’ heart ached horribly as he watched her struggle for composure. He didn’t know what to say to her. He didn’t know how to act, or what to feel. The weight of what had happened, and all that he’d done, was there. It was waiting on the edges to pull him under. He was a murderer. But he wasn’t sorry. He wasn’t in the least sorry for doing it. Caroline hadn’t lost her dad, she’d shed the monster that lived in her closet. It wasn’t sorrow over his death, it was freedom for the chance of a life without his constant threat.
He knew some of what she’d been through and wasn’t stupid enough to think that his feelings for her would be easy. She wasn’t shaking off her abuse. She was slowly, painfully slogging through the mess her father had made for her. She didn’t want or need James for anything more than friendship and that, James was quickly realizing, wasn’t going to be enough for him.
But it was enough for now. She wasn’t shutting him out. She wasn’t pushing him away. She might sometimes, but he was starting to see the patterns she went through with her moods. On a good day she was okay. On a bad day, she needed to be treated very carefully.
Part of him thought that was stupid, and a pain in the arse. Then he looked into her stunning azure eyes and he was lost again.
He’d read a letter his grandmother had written to Neville’s mum when she was pregnant with James’ dad. What she’d said ran through James’ mind at least once a day.
‘James used to be such a prat, but when I needed him most, he was there for me. He was the man I needed him to be. There is nothing better in the world than that.’
The man I needed him to be.
James held out an arm and after a moment’s hesitation, Caroline moved in. She didn’t hug him, exactly. Her hands gripped his pajamas in the front and she seemed to curl in on herself as she held on to him, resting her cheek on his shoulder. He folded her in his arms and pressed a kiss to her brow, rocking her back and forth gently while she broke down in tears again.
He had never once doubted his father’s love for him. He’d never known real fear at his parents’ hands. He’d never, ever, had to wonder if his father might not just kill him.
James wanted a lot of things, but so had Donald Baker. The difference was that Donald Baker had put his own wants and needs ahead of his family, every single time. He hadn’t cared that he was destroying his daughter’s life. He was too selfish to see anything beyond that.
What James wanted most was to be the kind of man his father and his grandfather had been. His grandfather had sacrificed himself to save his family. His father had risked everything to save the whole world. It was, simply, a lot to live up to. His younger self had only wanted to rebel and be whatever they weren’t, because there was no way to live up to that kind of pressure.
But then he read his grandmother’s letter. She’d always been this mythological being to him, never flesh and blood. She’d done something so amazing that James hadn’t thought could really happen. But it turned out she was an ordinary woman, with ordinary wants and needs. She just needed to be loved and treasured.
James hadn’t seen that as some great feat because he’d always been loved and treasured.
He rested his cheek against Caroline’s soft hair and held her, knowing that this met enough of his own needs that he could continue on. It hadn’t been a conscious decision on his part. He’d never really thought through and decided that this was where he wanted to be.
But it was. He wanted to be here. He wanted to be the man she needed him to be. It was a big task, and James was very afraid he was going to fail miserably more than once, but he was going to keep trying anyway.
Because when he looked out the window he still saw the Thestrals and he still wasn’t sorry that he could. It wasn’t taking on Voldemort as he broke into his house, and it wasn’t saving the whole world, but it was saving Caroline’s life and maybe her soul and heart while he was at it.
That was what she’d needed from him.
So he wasn’t sorry, and he knew without a doubt, he never would be.
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