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SIYE Time:12:33 on 26th September 2017


The Space Between
By YelloWitchGrl

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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Characters:All
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
Rating: R
Reviews: 306
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: 72725; Chapter Total: 1577
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
First, thank you to Arnel!

Next, I know the wait is long. I have two jobs (besides the whole mother/homeschooling parent thing- I have three sons, too- lots of work). One job is sewing. The other is publishing books. At the moment, the sewing job is paying more than the writing jobs. If you want me to write more here, go onto amazon and buy my books. I have to be able to justify taking more time out from sewing for writing. Spread the word. Tell your friends. If you like my characters here, I know you'll like my novels. The goal is ten chapters in the novel, then one chapter for HP. All of that is around sewing. Such is life, right? I know you're all waiting and going crazy. I'd love to devote more time to it, but the time just isn't there right now because of the needing to make money thing. So patience as right now updates are probably going to stick to once a month, but I always finish a project. I will finish this one, as well, it's just going to take a very long time. We're approaching the 200,000 word mark. :D

PS you do not need an ereader to buy an ebook. You can read from a web browser just like you read fanfiction. Go to my author's profile for information on my novels.

PPS REVIEW PLEASE!




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Chapter 27

Professor McGonagall died in her sleep three nights after Donald Baker was killed by James. All classes were canceled for the day as the school fell into mourning. Important people poured through the front doors to hold a funeral for her, remembering her work, her services, and all the years she’d been at the school. Not since Dumbledore had a teacher been so beloved.

Al had no idea how to feel about anything. He was very sad for her loss, but she had been really old. His parents were a mess during the funeral, which all the students had been allowed to attend. People gave speeches and his parents had cried. Nat had cried, too, and that was just as bad. Rose was crying.

All the crying made Al want to cry, which just made him mad. He’d really liked their headmistress. She’d been a good teacher.

Unfortunately, the whole thing meant that they’d need a new head and a man, about his father’s age, named Anthony Goldstein was appointed to the post. Al had the distinctly uncomfortable impression that his father had been the one to suggest the man. Professor Goldstein had taught Ancient Runes, but now he supposed someone else would take the class. It was one of Al’s worst classes, but Professor Goldstein had made it bearable. He’d been a good teacher with the same look in his eyes that Al’s parents and all his older family members had.

“Al,” Rose sniffed next to him from her seat towards the back of the funeral.

“What?” Al asked her and realized that he’d missed his father giving a speech of some kind.

Rose glared at him, then watered back up again and dropped her head on his chest to sob all over again. Resigned, Al put an arm around her shoulder and patted and studiously ignored the moisture that was threatening to fall down his own cheeks.

He didn’t know what the point of a funeral was. He’d said as much to Nat the day before and she’d explained to him that different cultures around the globe held rituals to help those left behind. Then she’d told him about how some people believe that without the proper funeral, the spirit of the dead will linger around the people, haunting them. Al had asked her why they wouldn’t just tell the dead person to go away, but that was because he’d forgotten that non-magical people couldn’t see ghosts.

All of the ghosts from the castle were out on the grounds to pay their respects, as well. They shimmered in the low, fall sun that peeked through the fickle clouds that wafted through the air.

Professor McGonagall wasn’t a ghost. She’d gone on, wherever that way. Al’s dad had kind of explained the moving on thing to him, but it all seemed a bit weird.

He watched his father sit down again with his mother, and hug both his mum and his sister tight. Lily was supposed to be sitting with her classmates, but she’s immediately gone running for their dad the moment they’d come out onto the lawn and hadn’t been willing to part with him since.

Nat, who was on Al’s other side, blew her nose into a tissue. “I w-will miss her.”

She had the most reason to be sad. Nat had been taking lessons with the professor to work on her skills as an Augmentum Imaginari. Nat was now to the place where she could control what she saw, and when she saw it, but not always perfectly. It would be tricky to continue without such a wise, experienced teacher. The important part was learning to control if she saw things, though. Otherwise, the magic of the castle could leave Nat overwhelmed and unable to see where she was going through the colored haze of magical auras.

Nat sniffed again and then she too leaned against him to cry on his shoulder. Scorpius’ eyes were suspiciously red, but he grinned nonetheless at Al’s predicament. He’d sat on the other side of Nat, next to Hugo.

Why one of the girls couldn’t have cried on Scorpius’ shoulder, Al had no idea.

He was sad about losing Professor McGonagall, but she’d been about a hundred and forty.

It wasn’t like it was unexpected.

The wet spot on his shirt from Rose’s tears continued to grow and reconciled to his role as comforter, Al patted her shoulder again.

~*~

Minerva’s death had come as major blow to the wizarding community. In particular, although it wasn’t expected, they were in a sensitive, critical time for the school’s security because of Crabbe. She’d already done things like dump bodies in the school. It was not the time for someone who had no training in such things to take over the head job. Harry had intended to bully his way into the meeting with the board of governors at the school, but Neville had asked him to come along.

Neville was a good choice for the Headmaster’s position, but the bottom line was that Neville didn’t want it. They had, however, another member of the DA teaching at the school. Anthony Goldstein had helped out the Aurors after the last battle. He’d received some training. He was a good, loyal family man who Harry knew and trusted. When he’d put it that way to the board they’d agreed and promoted Anthony.

It wasn’t anything Harry had wanted to contemplate. He’d rather have simply cried over the loss of a good friend and mentor, but it wasn’t to be so.

Harry had held it together all the way out to the lawn where the chairs were set up for the funeral, with Ron, Hermione, and Ginny right beside him. He’d been okay until he’d sat down, and then Lily had come hurtling towards him, awash in tears. He’d held her in his lap through most of the funeral, up until his time to speak when Ron had plucked her from his lap with the quiet words, “Come on, Lily-Lu. I’m not Dad, but I’m a good substitute.”

It was Lily’s anguish at the loss of a woman they’d had in their home more times than he could count that finally put him over the edge. He had no idea how he made it through his prepared speech, but he kept picturing having to do this for Molly or Arthur, both of whom were in the crowd.

Things had been so peaceful for the last twenty years, that it was easy to forget that time kept marching on. Hopefully, they had a few more years yet before they would lose their parents, but Harry knew it would come one day.

When he made it back to his seat, it was to find Ron crying hard into Lily’s bright, red hair as she held her uncle steady.

Harry met with Anthony again straight after the funeral, up in the head’s office. They walked slowly together, neither speaking, until they’d gone up the spiral staircase and entered into the room that still held many of Dumbledore’s old treasures.

“I am still unable to believe this office is mine,” Anthony told him with a grim smile. His blond hair was still the same color it had been when they’d been young. His eyes, a pale, golden brown tracked Harry’s as he sat himself down in the seat in front of the large, ornate desk.

“This is a seat I’ve been in many times,” Harry assured him and waited for Anthony to sit, as well. “We have a lot to discuss.”

Anthony nodded and shifted slightly. “Why didn’t you want Neville here?”

That was easy. “Neville didn’t want it, plus he’s not going to be the kind of tactful presence that’s needed in this job. You have those skills, plus the ones that are important to me.”

“Crabbe,” Anthony said. “What happened there?”

“It’s a very long story,” Harry sighed. “The short version is that after her son died, she went crazy and tried to kill me and Ginny. We thought she’d died in a fire, but she didn’t. We figured out, because of Natalie Parker’s father, that she’d faked her own death. She’s been causing trouble ever since, but we don’t know what her end game is, and she’s been impossible to pin down because she doesn’t do grand things in the same way that Voldemort did. He was, ultimately, out for power and to rid the world of Muggles. We could trace him through his actions, even if we didn’t know where he was. It’s like she’s gone most of the time, and only on rare occasions do we find evidence of her handiwork.”

Anthony nodded as he tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair. “What happened with Baker?”

This was the part of the story that Harry really, really didn’t want to tell, but it was important for Anthony to know the full story. Caroline and Honor needed the head of the school to have all of the information so that he could act to protect them at all cost. “Baker was an American who made a lot of money. He joined up with Crabbe, we think as her financer, and now he’s dead. He was…” Harry hated talking about. “He was a vile, sick man. His daughters were abused. He killed his wife. Caroline had the worst of it. Baker had her under the Imperius Curse when she first arrived here at the school. That’s partially why she was able to act so normal, then. Now that we’ve removed it, she’s remembered all of the things he did to her.”

Anthony’s face went white in shock. “I… I didn’t want to believe it, even though she showed the signs of abuse. I knew she was getting therapy here at the school regularly, but…”

“She’s a bit of a mess, still,” Harry confirmed sadly. “James killing her father just might have been the best thing to happen to her. There is one thing.”

Anthony raised a brow, but didn’t otherwise speak.

“She has a love of cheerleading,” Harry explained, and had to chuckle at Anthony’s expression of shock. “I know, but it’s apparently big in America. She was forced to stop because of her father. I’m going to tell her that she can join back up again, now, if she wants. She would travel to her grandparents’ home a few nights a week for practice. I think it will help her if she does that.”

His friend nodded. “Alright. I think I remember her doing this before, during the first year she was here. If it helps, it will be worth it. I’ll ensure that the therapy continues, as well. Do we think that Crabbe will threaten the school?”

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “We have all of the new security in place, and I’d like to keep it that way. Until we figure out what her plan is, we’re in the dark, I’m afraid.”

When he finally left the school, alone as everyone else had already gone by then, it was to head to St. Mungo’s. He’d received a note the night before that the report was ready on Baker’s body and that the Healer in charge would like to discuss it with him.

He headed through the lobby of the hospital and went straight down the morgue, a place he’d been too many times in his life. It was the same place the Curtis Parker had examined the body that everyone had believed to be Isabella Crabbe. He listened to his footsteps echoing off the walls of the unadorned, cement stairwell that descended into the cool, dark depths of the hospital.

The Healer in charge, Wallace, was blessedly still there. Harry stuck out a hand to the older, black gentleman with spectacles and curly, salt and pepper hair. His face was round, and he happened to be one of the nicest men that Harry knew. Except that he worked with the dead all the time. “I’m sorry I’m late. It was a rough day.”

“I was there for your speech,” Wallace told him as he escorted him into his small, cluttered office. He had pictures of his kids and grandkids on his desk, waving up at Harry as he sat. Wallace moved aside a stack of papers and pulled out a sheet of parchment. “I hate to get down to business, but I think we’ve both had a long day. What I have on your report is that Baker’s injuries were too severe for the Aurors to treat.”

“That was my assessment, yes,” Harry told him. “I wasn’t there when it happened, but from what I saw, and the timeline, there wasn’t anything they could do to save him.”

Wallace sighed, pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. Harry felt a sudden stab of nerves as to what he was going to hear. “I think, Harry, if I’m honest, that they could have saved him.”

Harry waited as his heartrate tripped into overdrive. He didn’t speak.

“I think they could have repaired the airway, and stopped the bleeding if they’d acted quickly,” Wallace informed him quietly. “It would appear that the Aurors chose to let this man die.”

He let a full beat of silence go before he asked, “Is that what you’ve put on your report?”

Wallace put his glasses back on and then studied Harry over the top of them. Finally, he said, “I haven’t written the report yet, because I want to know why the Aurors didn’t act to save him. If it was because it was your son–”

“No!” Harry assured him quickly. “It was…” he had a split second to decide, but Wallace’s granddaughter smiled at him from her spot of honor on his desk. “The man was a pedophile. He was trying to snatch his daughter, probably to go back to raping her. That’s why they let him die after James stabbed him. It had nothing to do with James at all. They were trying to spare the girl.”

Wallace dropped back into his seat, clearly disgusted and horrified. “I…” his hand shook as he rubbed at his cheek. “It will…” he cleared his throat. “It will be the opinion of this office that the man might have been saved if a competent Healer had been on hand. I will make a note that I want better education for the Aurors on triage for those types of injuries and the recommended course, from now on, will be transport to the hospital, even with these types of wounds.”

Harry let out a slow sigh of relief. “Thank you, Wallace.”

“It is, essentially, the truth anyway,” Wallace told him with the shake of his head. “It was very unlikely that he’d have survived the transport, but there was a chance. The judgment call was not wrong, but could be improved upon. I will make a recommendation for the further training and we will let this go.”

It was the best Harry could have hoped for.

~*~

The funeral had been sad, but mostly it had been long. That was the only thing James could think of as he threw his dress robes onto the floor of his dorm, then grudgingly picked them up to fold. It was haphazard, and not very neat, but he could hear his aunt’s voice in the back of his mind telling him that he shouldn’t make the house-elves’ lives even more difficult than they already were.

“I’m so hungry I could eat half of a cow,” Louis complained as he also divested himself of his robes. “The speeches went too long.”

“She was a good teacher,” one of their dorm mates, Ben, reminded him. “Plus she’s been here forever.”

“Yeah, but still,” James said and then couldn’t think of anything else to add. He was going to miss her, but it wasn’t like they hadn’t known it was coming.

“Come on,” Louis called to him as they raced down the steps. They were nearly through the portrait hole when James spotted Caroline hiding in a corner, her nose pressed in a book.

Things had been weird between them since the night in the hospital wing. They’d both gone back to bed, and then the next day neither had known what to say to the other. It was awkward and tense. Unfortunately, Caroline had been skipping most of the meals since her father’s death.

“I’ll catch you up,” he told Louis. His cousin shot him a knowing glance, then waved and headed out.

James wove around the other Gryffindors exiting the tower and walked over to her. He knelt down next to her and when she didn’t look up, asked, “Are you coming down to eat?”

“I’m not hungry,” she said shortly, still not meeting his eyes.

“You have to eat,” he told her firmly. “You’re wasting away as it is. Come on.”

She finally raised her eyes to his and they were cold and hard. “No.”

Rage filled him so suddenly, so blindly, that he spoke without any thought. “Fine,” he replied back, with complete disinterest, even though he was anything but. “I was going to sit with Christy anyway.”

He turned and stalked out, ignoring the flicker of hurt he’d seen in her eyes. James was fuming. How could she just ignore him like that? How could she bat away his concern so easily? Didn’t she get that he was just trying to help her? Why was she always such a–

James froze on the staircase and cursed himself silently. Merlin, he was such an idiot. Of course she’d rejected him. It was her only defense against him. Annoyed with himself for losing his temper, he fought back his embarrassment at making an arse of himself and turned back around to head up to the common room.

If she’d really wanted to be left alone, she could have hidden out in her dorm. When she did that, then James knew it was time to get Hannah involved. James knew what Louis thought. His cousin thought that Caroline was too much work, and she was too high maintenance. They’d used to joke about that, but it had been for very different reasons. When they’d talked about it, it was a girl who’d been perfect, but still wanted reassurances, and took seven hours to get ready.

Caroline wasn’t like that. She was just… a mess. He knew that all too well.

He reached the portrait hole and walked in, just as one of the seventh year prefects came out.

“You’ll miss dinner,” she told him.

“I’ll be there soon,” James told her as he ducked around her and into the empty common room.

Or almost empty. Caroline was nearly to the girls’ dormitory steps.

“Wait!” James called out to her.

He watched her shoulders stiffen, but she didn’t turn around.

“Come on,” he said again, softly as he reached her side. “You have to go eat something.”

“I’m not hungry,” she said through clenched teeth. Her cheekbones stood out because she hadn’t been eating. She hadn’t been sleeping, either. There were deep, bruising shadows under her eyes.

She started for the stairs and James reflexively grabbed her arm. It was the stupidest thing he’d done all day, but it was instinct.

“DON’T!” she screamed at him, and flew around, hitting out at him.

James grabbed her other arm and then everything happened all at once. She started sobbing, and shrieking, and kicking out at him, getting him in the shin, and the thigh.

“Damnit!” he bellowed and tried to pin her. “Stop it!”

Caroline wrenched her arm free, and hit him hard in the stomach. He nearly lost his grip on her, but in trying to hold onto her, he toppled them both over onto to the floor, him pinning her legs.

Her anger turned immediately on itself into blind, protesting panic and her jabs turned into pushing that was so feeble, he couldn’t imagine it was real.

But her words were and they were heartbreaking.

“Please, please don’t, no don’t! Please,” she begged through tears that blinded her to everything.

James knew he was a stupid idiot, and he rolled off her, sitting up gingerly since his stomach was sore from her punch. The moment her legs were free, she scrambled away from him and would have stood, but she caught sight of him and her face fell, if that were possible, into an even more miserable expression. She curled into a ball and wept. Her sobs shook her whole body, and her hair, which had come down from its clips. The one clip lay dangling from a strand, no longer holding anything back, but just hanging there, useless.

“I’m sorry,” James told her. “I shouldn’t have grabbed you.”

It was too little, probably too late, but he’d done it. There was no going back from it.

It took her a good fifteen minutes to stop crying. It was so long, that James went to retrieve tissues for her, and found a glass of water. By the time she’d calmed enough to speak, she’d been crying for so long that the only way her words could come out were in broken sobs. “I d-d-didn’t mean t-to h-hit you.”

“Okay,” he said lamely. “I get why you did,” he told her and raked a hand through his messy hair. “You thought I was going to hurt you.”

She didn’t reply.

“I’m never going to hurt you,” James told her forcefully.

But how was she supposed to know or trust that when her own father had done unspeakable things to her?

She started to cry again.

Yeah, James knew it then. He was really stupid. “I’m your friend, okay? I’m looking out for you, whether you like it or not. Sometimes you’ll have to look out for me, too. That’s the way friendship works.”

He sucked in a long breath and let it out slowly. “Your father was a monster. I’m not sorry he’s dead. I will never be like him, Caroline. I’m never going to r-rape you,” he promised her, tripping over the word, “or force you to do anything that you don’t want to like that. But you can’t starve yourself. That’s not allowed. You get to choose everything else, but–”

His brain froze as he realized what he’d said. She’d been a top spinning out of control her whole life and the only thing she really had control of right now was eating. By forcing her, he was taking it away. But it was stupid, because she really did have to eat.

So he had to try another way. “Why don’t you want to eat?”

“Not hu-hungry,” she said through a voice muffled by her arms.

“That’s not it,” he said quietly. “You have to be hungry, that’s not something we control. Why won’t you let yourself eat?”

It was like when she’d been scratching herself the year before. She was trying to hurt herself, but he still didn’t understand why.

“Please go away,” Caroline begged pitifully.

“Why would I do that? I care about you,” he reminded her.

I care about you…

Did it feel like anyone cared about her? Did she feel loved? Did she feel like she was worth the effort?

Probably not.

Why was he putting in the effort? It wasn’t because she was pretty, because if he were honest, right now she looked like a scarecrow. He liked her, sure, but he’d liked other girls. What was it about her that drew him in so completely? Was he just trying to be a hero?

No. No, that much James knew, because he knew the feelings for her had started from the moment she’d arrived at the school. She’d been confident, smart, and brave then. She’d been under the Imperius Curse at that point, and not acting on the fact that she’d been abused. Then it had been her looks, and her smile, and her ability to do a flip. That had caught him. She’d nearly bested Fred in arm wrestling, and she’d probably have been able to take him.

Not now, though. Now she was a wreck of that former self and it was no wonder.

He wanted that other girl back. She might never come back, but something like her and he wanted her to be happy again. He wanted that very badly. His heart beat sped up as he watched her.

They’d been silent for so long, that he almost said something, but finally she said, “I’m never going to b-be anything b-but his used rag.”

There was such self-loathing in every syllable that uttered that James had to fight not flinch.

“You aren’t even that,” James told her. “He’s nothing. You’re everything, Caroline. If you starve yourself, you let him win.”

“The only thing I’m ever going to be is what he did to me!” Caroline said miserably, while pushing back her hair and dislodging the clip. It fell to the floor, and they both dropped their eyes to stare at it.

James reached out slowly for it, and picked it up. He scooted forward a bit, and then a bit more. She flinched a little as he lifted his hands and carefully pinned her hair back away from her face. He’d fixed Lily’s hair a time or two, but this didn’t feel the same. He forced himself not to think of her soft hair, and scooted back away from her.

The eyes that followed his were wide and unsure.

“You define who you are,” James told her. “I know it’s going to take you a long time to figure out who that is, but I know for sure that your father has nothing to do with it now. You are picking your own path and where you go. Everyone thinks you’re worthy, Caroline! Everyone is fighting to protect you, because you’re worth protecting.”

She rested her chin on her knees and pulled at one of the loops on her shoelace. “You’re missing dinner
with Christy,” she said finally.

James stared at her, stunned. She’d sounded just the littlest bit jealous. Which was… he knew he needed to swallow his pride one more time. “You know I only said that to get back at you. I was mad.”

Blue eyes flicked up to his, then back down to her shoes. “I didn’t know… not for sure.”

He let out a slow breath and thought of his grandparents. It was kind of a running joke that his grandfather had loved his grandmother for years and she’d never given him the time of day. His mum told him that the older James had been an arrogant jerk, and he’d needed to grow up.

James had played a stupid, childish game with Caroline by implying that he was interested in one of their classmates. She didn’t need that, and James needed to grow up.

He didn’t know if his heart would change in the next few years. Adults seemed to be forever telling him he was young, and things change, and what he was feeling at that moment would evolve. He really hoped it would, because this hurt a lot. It hurt to watch her hurt. It hurt to know that he was alone in what he felt. Even if, and it was a big if, Caroline returned some of his feelings, she wasn’t in any place to act upon it.

She couldn’t even work up the decision to feed herself.

So yeah, maybe he was still young, and maybe things would change, but right now this was where he wanted to be. He wanted to be sitting on the floor with her, waiting for her to see that she was worth it.

“I don’t like Christy,” James said simply. “I said it to make you jealous.”

She chewed at her bottom lip for a moment, but not like she used to. It was unmarked when she let it go to speak. Though her eyes were red from crying, the blue of them stood out even more beautifully. “I was jealous. That… that scares me.”

James’ heart turned over in his chest and he felt everything in his slide home, right into the place it should be. “I know,” he told her. “It scares me, too, a bit. But it doesn’t change anything right now. We’re friends, and that’s what we’re going to be.”

The unspoken for now hung between them.

He wasn’t stupid, though. He knew that it might never work out between them. She might not make the choice to get better, and if she didn’t, there wasn’t anything he could do to change that. He couldn’t force her to love herself, or take care of herself. He couldn’t be there all the time. He wanted to be. He’d thought about it, briefly, like what he’d do to keep her safe. He’d lain awake in the hospital wing mulling it over, but it had come to him that it wasn’t real that way. There were so many times his mum had begged him not to do things. She’d begged him to stop being a prat. She hadn’t called him a prat, exactly, but the message was there. He’d been spoiled. He’d been selfish.

His mum had stuck him to a chair at their kitchen table and left him there while she went to bed all because he’d wanted to read his grandmother’s letters. Then his dad had come home and Harry had freely offered James the first chance to look at Lily’s letters to Neville’s mum.

None of his mother’s nagging had changed him until he’d decided to change. He’d finally seen just how selfish he was, in the face of his dad’s love and generosity. He’d had to own, in himself, what kind of person he wanted to be.

The man I needed him to be.

That’s what Lily had said about James.

The man Caroline needed was one who thought she was worth his time and care, but more importantly, she had to feel like she was worth it, too. It didn’t matter if she never saw it that way. She had to see it for herself.

James couldn’t nag Caroline into loving herself.

“Your dad said I could start cheerleading again,” Caroline informed him. “I need to get back in shape to do that.”

He didn’t mention that eating was an important part of it.

“Would… would you like to go running with me in the morning?” she asked him hesitantly.

James couldn’t help the stupid grin that spread over his face. “Sure.”

She nodded and rubbed at her face. “I don’t want to face the crowds in the Great Hall right now. I nearly had a panic attack earlier, during the funeral.”

Okay… now that made sense. “We can go eat in the kitchens,” he told her. “Anytime you need to do that, just tell me, okay?”

Caroline let out one final, shuddering breath. “I’m going to try.”

James rose and held out a hand. “That’s good enough for me.”

She waited a beat, then put her hand in his so he could pull her to her feet. “Me, too.”

They walked side by side, not touching, down the kitchens to beg food from the elves.

~*~

“I am running so late!” Ginny told Harry as she dropped the bags from the market on the counter and started pulling out ingredients for dinner. It was already nearly December, which meant she should have been shopping for Christmas, but she’d let work pile up with one thing and another.

Harry abandoned the work he’d been doing at the kitchen table to help her with dinner. “It’s just Teddy and Victoire, you know.”

Ginny clucked her tongue at that. “Those two are poor as house-elves, and likely don’t eat well enough. I want them to have a really good meal.”

She tried not to be annoyed when his arms came around her waist to press a kiss to her neck. Her husband wanted to love her, show her he cared, but all she wanted was to get cooking.

“Why didn’t you let me do the shopping?”

“Like you aren’t busy, either,” she muttered and sighed, relaxing back into his solid warmth. She let him bear her weight for a minute before forcing herself to get to work. “I know you have been trying to track down what Crabbe sold at Borgin and Burkes.”

Harry stepped back and grabbed a bottle of wine and poured out two generous glasses for each of them. “I know what was sold there, I just have no idea how she came to possess a necklace that, as far as I can tell, was lost during the eighteenth century. I left strict instructions with the shop to let me know if anymore relicts from that particular collection come up for sale, but I doubt they’ll contact me.”

“Did you get a guard set up?” Ginny asked as she waved her wand and set the potatoes to peeling.

“I did, but odds are good anyone looking to sell will be able to tell that the place is being watched,” Harry sighed and held out Ginny’s glass until she took a drink. “Plus, they can simply move to having the sale happen somewhere else.”

Harry had told her a bit about the necklace that had been put up for sale. It was cursed, of course, or else it could have been sold anywhere for any price. It was also part of an old, ancient family that died out many, many years before when the last remaining family member had been eaten by a pet dragon. Ginny’s dry comment that Hagrid could have told him that a pet dragon was a bad idea, hadn’t even received more than the flicker of a smile from Harry.

They were all too stressed. Needing to change the subject, Ginny questioned, “Did you speak to Caroline and Honor’s grandparents?”

“I did this morning, actually,” Harry told her as he filched one of the carrots and took a noisy bite out of it. “It turns out that they need to travel to America to collect some things from Baker’s estate. They didn’t want to bring the girls, and have to go for three days. They were going to try to find someone to watch them, so I offered us up.”

Ginny paused in the act of setting the meat on the pan and turned to stare at him. “Pardon?”

“Well,” Harry added quickly, “Nat and her family will be at the beach house the whole time, so we don’t have the extra guest that we normally do. I thought you’d want this, plus we are a safe place for the girls.”

She thought about what it might be like having them overnight and realized that yes, this actually was a good idea. She would get a real chance to speak with Caroline this way and get her measure. “Okay. Well, we’ll need another bed in Lily’s room.”

“I’ve already taken care of that,” Harry promised. “It’s the first day back, by the way. Unfortunately, that’s when the lawyer for Baker could arrange things.”

“So there is an estate for the girls?”

Harry hesitated, then shook his head. “It’s not what you mean. The American wizarding government has seized everything that the gang hasn’t already liquidated. There is no money to speak of, nor property, just some pictures and legal documents that need to be signed. It normally takes longer to get things through the courts, but with Baker they wanted everything closed as quickly as possible. The girls’ grandfather told me he thought it would be good for them to have everything over and done with.”

She nodded and went back to cooking as her mind turned those things over and over. It was a lot to think about.

Teddy and Victoire arrived separately, both when they were done with their shifts. They were both too thin, both too worn around the edges. Ginny hugged them each tightly, and wished she could make things better. Teddy was still working as an Auror, and for George when he had time. Victoire’s schooling was picking up, and she needed to focus on finishing it.

This early life wasn’t nearly as difficult for she and Harry, because Harry had had money. It hadn’t been easy. They’d spent a long, long time grieving the loss of Hope, but there had never been a concern that there wouldn’t be food on the table, or money to pay the rent.

“Sit,” Ginny waved them over to the table while Harry poured out the wine. “Dinner just needs another few minutes. How have you two been?”

“Is there a word beyond exhausted?” Teddy wondered.

Harry snorted. “Yes, but it’s called ‘newborn’ and requires a very small dictator moving in with you.”

“Merlin,” Teddy shook his head and grinned at Victoire. “That would be all we need right now, eh?”

Victoire actually shuddered. “I think if we added one more thing to our lives, we’d blow up. I used to think I wanted a baby, but right now all I want to do is sleep in once a week.”

“It does get better,” Harry promised them as a timer dinged and he went to retrieve dinner. He waited until everyone was served to continue. “Being a newlywed is never easy.”

“I like being married,” Teddy said around a mouthful of food, and grinned at the quirked brow Ginny sent him. He swallowed before saying, “Sorry, Ginny. I’m starving. No, I mean the marriage part has been the easiest bit, but it’s being an adult that’s difficult. There’s work and bills, and responsibility.”

Harry snorted at that. “You don’t think marriage is a responsibility?”

“Well, it is,” Teddy replied sheepishly, “but not like the landlord. Victoire is more forgiving than he is.”

Ginny wanted to offer them money, again, but bit back the words. It wouldn’t do any good to offer, when she knew they were enjoying the experience of handling everything on their own.

She could respect that.

“But I like it,” Victoire told them, almost as though she’d read Ginny’s mind. “I like knowing that we can do this. We can survive on our own, despite the difficult challenges. I don’t want to say it isn’t tempting to cry out for help, but,” she looked over at Teddy and linked hands with him. He raised her hand to his lips and positively beamed at her. “It’s not going to be like this forever,” she said finally. “Right now it’s just the two of us, so screw ups and learning from those mistakes isn’t as big of a deal.”

Although she knew that her niece was right, it didn’t make it any easier, as a mother, to sit back and not try to help. Still, though, it was important to let them try.

“How is James doing?” Teddy asked as he cleared his first plateful of food.

“Fine,” Ginny said in not a little astonishment, while filling that plate back up again. “We had a letter from him, not even from Lily mind you, telling us about running with Caroline. I think he’s taken the whole thing in stride. You’ll get to meet her, by the way. She and her little sister are coming to stay for a few days while their grandparents go to America.”

Teddy raised his glass. “I never thought there would be a girl who would change him so completely, so quickly. I can’t wait to meet her.”

Ginny forced a smile and had to wonder if the whole thing wasn’t going to be a big mistake. But it was done, now. They would see, and very soon. Christmas was less than a month away.

***
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