|SIYE Time:11:59 on 16th August 2018|
The Space Between
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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Fluff, General, Humor, Tragedy
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Death, Disturbing Imagery, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mental Abuse, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Rape, Sexual Situations, Spouse/Adult/Child Abuse, Violence, Violence/Physical Abuse
Summary: Harry and Ginny's lives have finally evened out. They've faced trauma, and loss, more than most have, but they've fought hard to find a normal.
If only things could stay that way... Old enemies find new ways to seek revenge.
This story is the sequel to Bound. It would be extremely helpful if you read that first.
Warnings are to be safe. It's probably overkill. Please message me if you have any questions or concerns.
Hitcount: Story Total: 92398; Chapter Total: 1226
Awards: View Trophy Room
Thank you Arnel for all of your help!!
Readers, this is the last chapter until July. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, but my other business and life are just sucking me dry. For anyone reading in the future this means nothing, I know.
If you want to support me in my writing that I actually get paid to do, please check out my novels on amazon. My name there is Sarah Jaune and I'm the only one with that name, so I'm easy to find. My YA series there (the overseer's son etc) I've been told is excellent and has the adventure, romance, and magic. Thank you all for reviewing!`
It always amazed Ginny when she saw Julienne Parker. Natalie’s mother was nothing like her daughter. Nat was small, almost to the point of absurdity. Her features had always been a little squashed, especially when Ginny first met her, but they were starting to even out a little more into a plain, average face. There was nothing about Nat that stood out, apart from her small stature, and her strawberry blonde hair. It was a nice color, for sure, but nothing compared to Julienne. The woman was a stunner, as Ron might say when Hermione wasn’t about. Her chin-length bob of loosely curled blonde hair set off her blue eyes to perfection. Hermione had once told Ginny that she had a ‘made for telly face,’ which Ginny took to mean, she’d look good on camera. She was tall and willowy, making a statement any time she walked into a room. She was smart as a whip on every subject that had ever come up, save magic, and even there she had read up on it after finding out her daughter was a witch. When Ginny hugged her in greeting, it was a genuine and honest reception of affection and gratitude. The one thing that Julienne couldn’t do well was protect her daughter from the outside world, at least not anymore. That had been proven when she’d been kidnapped in Brazil while on holiday with her father. From that moment on, Julienne and Curtis had entrusted their daughter’s safety to the Potters and Ginny did not take that duty lightly.
“It is so good to see you!” Julienne said as she loosened her embrace from Ginny and followed Ginny through the large, cool vacation home on the beach. “I just love the Outer Banks, and I’m so glad Natalie has had some time here to rest.”
“It hasn’t been all rest,” Ginny sighed as she made for the tea kettle. “We’ve had one or two surprises on the way. Her power to detect magic is definitely growing. Have a seat,” she indicated one of the high bar stools. She didn’t mind preparing the tea the Muggle way, but sped things up with her wand, just to expedite the telling. “The children are in town right now, with Harry sitting at a café so that they can have a little independence, with him still close by. We’re trying on that one, but it’s difficult. Not only is your daughter a target, but my children are, as well, because of who Harry is.”
“It’s not easy,” Julienne agreed with a murmur of thanks as Ginny handed over her tea and sat down across from the other woman. “I didn’t think through all of the difficulties that would befall Nat when we had her. We were so excited, so surprised, that she would be coming along that it took until she was born for the realities to fully set in.”
Ginny smiled fondly as she thought back to when her own children had been born, but a hint of sadness snuck in, peeling back a layer of the old wound. “The first time I was pregnant, the war had only been over for a few weeks. We had been attacked, which was how it all came about.”
“What!?” Julienne let out a gasp of exclamation and set her cup down. She sat forward in her seat as her blue eyes went wide in shock. “You were attacked, but… how old were you?”
“It’s a long story,” Ginny warned her, but the other woman waved that off. “I was sixteen, and Harry was seventeen. We’d gone to the funeral of an old professor, one I hadn’t really liked, but Harry had insisted, and I’d wanted so badly to be around him. He hadn’t really been speaking to me at that point. The war was just over, and the Ministry was taking up all of his time. So I went. We were attacked at the funeral and sent to hospital. While we were in hospital, and I know this sounds crazy, but someone used him to impregnate me, and we were both poisoned.”
For the first time in knowing her, Ginny saw Julienne’s expression fall into something close to stunned disbelief, and truly undignified stupefaction. “If I didn’t know you, I’d say that was a load of rubbish you’d made up to gloss over a teenage dalliance. But you’re serious.”
“This,” Ginny emphasized by poking her finger into the countertop, “is the real beginning of what happened to us, and why that crazy woman is after us. During the war, her son had died and she blamed Harry, even though her son had essentially killed himself. She gave me a baby, and then ensured she would be taken away. Not once, during the months I was pregnant, did I ever think my child would be safe. I’ve never assumed that, but they’re still worth having.”
Julienne reached out for Ginny’s trembling hand as tears threatened in both of their eyes. “I am so sorry for what you’ve lost, Ginny. I truly am. May I ask what it was like for you?”
“To lose Hope, you mean?” Ginny clarified, and at the other woman’s nod, she gave it time to solidify in her mind before she spoke. “At the time, it felt like it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, but to some extent it still is. I’d just been through a horrible war, and I’d lost my brother and many of my friends. Before that I’d been at school for the better part of the year being tortured and assaulted by my fellow students and teachers. It was not a pleasant time, but there was a subtle difference, which I think you, of all people, will appreciate. When I walked into those situations, it was with my eyes open, knowing I was walking into danger. I chose to be there. I didn’t want it, but I chose to face it anyway. I didn’t want to lose Hope, and I thought for certain that we were in the clear with her. I’d felt her moving inside me. I was blindsided, caught off guard, and wanted nothing more than to run away. That was done to me. So, in that way, that was infinitely worse.” She took a deep breath, then a small sip of the soothing tea, and ordered her thoughts again. “If the midwife had told me that my baby was going to die, and I needed to make a choice on whether to carry to term or not, that would have been horrible, but I’d have had time to process, and I’d have had some measure of choice in it. That choice matters. Walking into things that are scary with your eyes open and alert matters when you consider how you’ll look when you come out the other end.”
Julienne nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “That’s probably one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard. It’s also one of the bravest. I do know what you mean. It’s easier to walk into an active war zone, because I expect it to be hell when I get there. It’s traumatizing to get into a car accident, because you don’t see it coming, or to be in a peaceful city and then suddenly a bomb goes off.”
“Exactly,” Ginny agreed, even though she only had a small measure of context to understand what a bomb was. She had to guess that it was a grander scale of destruction when compared to a stink bomb or the like.
Her companion raised an eyebrow. “I have another question, since it’s just us for now.”
“You’ve been with Harry for almost twenty-five years now, right?”
“Well,” Ginny had to actually think about the math. “Yeah, about twenty-two, actually, but goodness. Yes, we’ll hit a quarter of a century shortly.”
Julienne’s expression remained neutral, but Ginny could still spot the reporter’s hint of curiosity behind her eyes. She had to appreciate it, since she had the same drive herself. “I met Curtis when we were both freshmen in university. We both attended Oxford, and were both top of our classes in our fields. I saw him for the first time and my heart simply rolled over in my chest. It was the same for him. We were glued together from that point on. From what I understand, you don’t have the university system, but something similar for job training. So after our four years at the first school, we both had to go to another level of job training.”
Ginny thought about Healer training, and Auror training, and nodded.
“We married at the end of our senior year at university, then both went to different universities in London to continue our education,” she let out a sigh and one of those smiles that Ginny knew bespoke many, many years of good memories. “But by the end of that two year stint both of us were ready to kill each other.” Ginny’s brows went up as Julienne laughed. “It turns out that the two of us need a lot of adventure and stimulation in order to stay happy and easy to be around. So, when I was done, I took a job at the BBC in London, that’s the television studio I work for, and started working my way up the ranks. Curtis had applied to a few schools for anthropology, and he accepted one in America.”
“That’s quite a distance for you two to travel to be together,” Ginny began, but then shut her mouth as she realized the implications. “You didn’t know if you were going to stay together.”
Her friend’s quick nod was answer enough. “He went off to school, and I worked. I took an assignment that let me travel to the same state of the university he was studying in, here in America. It wasn’t close for him, but Curtis traveled to me, and the reunion was spectacular! I was in love with him all over again, and all those things that had started to annoy me before were gone. We had a long talk about what we both wanted for the future and both of us agreed that we wanted each other, but that living together for any length of time was not going to be a good idea.”
“Wow,” Ginny breathed the word out. “So you chose this separation between you two? On purpose?”
“We did,” she confirmed after another sip of tea. “I don’t regret it. I think we’ll both come to a day where we’re ready to stay with each other for longer stretches of time, but right now I need more excitement than staying put can offer.”
“How long have you two been together?” she asked, curious because she had no idea how old Julienne really was.
Julienne’s pale brow quirked. “We hooked up, as the young people say, when we were eighteen, and then married at twenty-two. I’m going to be fifty-six soon, so all told about thirty-eight years.”
Ginny sat back, truly stunned. “I’m going to be completely flattering, or totally rude, and tell you that I didn’t think you were much older than early forties.”
“Cosmetic surgery,” Julienne waved that off, but at her blank expression, she explained further. “It’s probably just a non-magical thing, I expect. A doctor works with the skin in order to keep it looking young and healthy. I’ve had surgery, plus I make a point to eat very healthy, and work out daily. It’s part of what allows me to keep my job. If the viewers realized how old I actually am, they’d insist I stop being in the field.”
“But the field is what makes you happy,” Ginny nodded in complete understanding. “I get that.”
Julienne’s smile said very clearly, ‘what can I do?’ which Ginny could appreciate. “Now,” Julienne said with determination. “I want to know how you can live with someone for twenty-three years and not be ready to kill them. What’s your secret?”
Ginny thought about her discussion with Harry in the tub not too long before, and realized that Julienne and Curtis had intentionally kept the spark going through distance, but that would have never occurred to Ginny. “I don’t think I need excitement like that, and I’ll tell you why. I did go through a war. For the remaining years of my childhood, I was constantly afraid and in danger. I value the peace too much to want to be anywhere else, but still it isn’t all peaceful. As Harry’s wife, I’m exposed to things that I wouldn’t have been if I’d picked someone less exciting or danger prone. He attracts trouble to him.”
“I bet you had lots of options, too,” Julienne mused. “You’re so striking. You still are. I bet there are whistles everywhere you go.”
She shook her head. “No, actually, that almost never happens. I’m rarely in the position to tell someone off for hitting on me. Most know who Harry is, no matter where I am in the world. It’s happened maybe three or four times in the last two decades.”
Julienne’s brow creased in confusion. “No one will chat you up because of Harry? No one, no matter where you are in the world?”
“He’s known all over the world as the man who killed the most evil, powerful wizard that ever walked the planet,” she told her. “Looking at that from the outside, one wouldn’t want to hit on the wife of that person.”
“Well… no, I suppose not.” Julienne considered her next words carefully. “Does that bother you?”
Ginny let out a long laugh and broke the tension between them. “No! I find it a relief, actually. I don’t want random blokes coming up to me, especially not now. The last one who did turned out to be a psychopath, and he was getting close to me for information. I think that’s more likely than anything else.” She thought back to the Ministry ball that had been held a few years before. She thought about Donald Baker, Caroline’s father, asking her to dance, and how he’d been flirting with her the whole time. She’d been annoyed then, but later they learned that he was part of Isabella Crabbe’s plan to get to Harry. Also, he’d been a child abuser to his daughter. Ginny would always be sorry that James had been forced to kill anyone, but she was not sorry, in the least, that the man was dead.
“Can we go find the kids in this town or is it too far to walk?” Julienne wondered.
Ginny stood and took her tea cup to the sink. Polly would tidy things up once they were gone. Even now, the house-elf was skittish to be around the Muggles. “Let’s go, it’ll be about a twenty-minute walk.”
As luck would have it, some of the Muggle builders at one of the houses whistled at them on their journey into town, but Ginny blamed that entirely on Julienne, who thought the whole thing was very funny.
“Go on,” James prodded Al in the back as they stood outside one of the Muggle arcades where lights flashed, and buzzers let out shrill beeps and whines. They weren’t the only ones on the street, but no one else paid them any mind. Lily and Nat were inside, playing a game that involved rolling a ball up into a hole. So far, Lily was the only one having any success at the game. The two boys had elected to stand outside, which both girls had clearly thought was odd, but James had held Al back and assured them that they’d be in in a minute. “Go ask her.” Al shook his head, and James let out a snort of exasperation. He’d been trying for a week to get Al to work up the courage to ask Nat out. It was clear to James that his brother was smitten, although if he was honest he had no idea why. It wasn’t that Nat looked like the back end of a hippogriff, or anything, but she wasn’t a beauty. She was just Nat, and for whatever reason, that appealed to Al. “Why not?”
“Because she might say no!” Al protested in something that crept dangerously close to a whine. “You don’t understand it. If she says no, then we have the awkwardness of still having to be around each other. If she says yes, then we’ll break up at some point and still be stuck in that same awful place.”
“What if she’s just the one meant for you?” James wondered, then wondered where the hell that had come from. Caroline’s face blossomed in his memory, and his chest ached from missing her. He knew why he’d thought about there being a one. He knew now that she was the one for him, and always would be. He didn’t know what he’d do if she never wanted him back, which seemed more likely than not. He knew he could date other girls. He’d tried that. But he also knew that none of those relationships would stick, and none of the girls would hold his interest in quite the same way.
Thankfully, Al wasn’t aware of James’ embarrassing side trip through his own angst. It was bad enough that he knew just how awful it was. “Listen,” he clapped his brother on the shoulder. “You’re never going to know unless you try. So go try! Pull her outside and ask her. I’ll keep Lily distracted.”
Al gave it a long moment of thought, then straightened his shoulders and marched in, with James on his heels. Nat had given up any pretense of playing the game, and was watching them as they joined the two girls. She looked miserable to James, but then she squared her own shoulders resolutely and nodded to a group of giggling teenage girls off to the side where food was being sold. “They were checking you two out. You should go talk to them.”
Just like that, Al deflated in on himself and stuck his hands in his pockets. James could have cheerfully kicked Nat for her rotten timing. “I’m not interested in them, are you, Al?”
Al wouldn’t even look at them as he gave a half-hearted shrug. James knew exactly why. Just as he’d worked up the courage to ask her out, she’d told him she wasn’t interested by pointing him in the direction of other girls.
“Should we go get something to eat?” James suggested with a forced smile. “I’m getting hungry.”
Their walk down the sidewalks of the main strip in the Muggle town wasn’t very far, but even so Nat was under a huge hat, and clinging to Al’s arm to keep her going. Any kind of strain in the heat was enough to leave her weak. James’ dad had been sitting at an outdoor café, drinking iced coffee, or something equally detestable, while reading a Muggle novel he’d picked up at one of the local book stores. He’d been their protector on this adventure, but he’d been cool about it. James had to give him that. He hadn’t been following around right behind them, but he wasn’t stupid or rebellious anymore, either. James knew that their lives were in danger. If there was no danger from the outside, then there was always the risk that Nat might need medical attention immediately and they’d need a grownup right there to see to her. If it was really bad, James had no qualms about calling for Polly to come get Nat, but all things considered, he didn’t want to cause an incident on the Muggle town by summoning a house-elf.
“Hey, kids,” Harry set his book down after marking his page. The cover had a large, Muggle man holding some kind of long staff. “Did you have fun?”
There were nods from the girls, and a grunt from Al.
“Dad,” James pointed to the book. “Is that man holding a wand?”
Harry shook his head. “This book has turned out to be very funny, just in its own right, but no, it’s a story of a man who is a wizard, just not the kind we’re used to. They call it a staff, but it works the same way as a wand.”
“Huh,” James mused as he tried to catch the title upside down. “Well, we’re hungry.”
“Some place with air conditioning, please,” Nat asked quietly.
Harry zeroed in on her and was over to her in a flash. He cupped her chin and gave her a good once over. “I think the heat has been too much for you. Maybe we should go back. I can get the car quickly.”
James almost opened his mouth to say he could get the car, but didn’t say anything when Nat shook her head. “I just want to eat something.”
“Alright,” Harry took over for Al and led them off to a restaurant two doors down. The waitress seated them immediately, and Nat quickly downed a full glass of water, then started in on the nuts and berries the waitress brought over for her.
“My goodness,” the waitress, a kindly woman in her late forties, said to Nat. “You’re definitely overheated, honey. How about some ice cream or something?”
“I can’t eat ice cream,” Nat replied with a smile as she popped a berry into her mouth. “But thank you, anyway.”
“No ice cream!” the woman tisked sadly. “So many children with allergies these days, it’s a wonder anyone can eat anything at all. Well, I’ll just leave the menus with you and get back to you in a few minutes when you’ve decided.”
The moment she was gone, Lily piped in. “What’s an allergy?”
“It’s when a substance can make you sick by being around it,” Nat explained in her lecture mode. “Sometimes you can die from an allergy. Your throat swells shut and you stop breathing.”
“Oh, Merlin!” Lily gasped in horror. “That sounds awful!”
“It’s something that the magical community can cure easily,” Harry informed all of them, with a touch of regret. “Unfortunately, it’s just not something we can share with the Muggles because it requires a spell and wand.”
Al’s gaze focused sharply on the door and his expression lit up. He pointed to the door, and Nat turned towards it. James looked next to see his mum and Julienne Parker standing in the doorway. A chorus of, “Mum!” rang out around the table.
“It’s not good,” Harry confessed to Julienne later that night as they sat around the couches in the comfortable living room. Ginny was curled into his side, much like a cat, and holding her glass of wine in one hand, turning the glass by the thin stem so that the ruby liquid churned and spun in the glass. The kids were long since in bed, but the adults had serious business to discuss, which was partly why they’d called Julienne to come see them.
“What happened?” Julienne asked, then listened to the escapade at the Roanoke colony, and then finding the body on the shore. Her face was white as they went through just how much Nat had been through. “She’s depressed?”
“It seems to be something like that,” Ginny confirmed sadly. “She was such a happy, bright kid before she was kidnapped, and now she’s just not the same anymore. That long illness, the feeding line being in place for a while… all those things, and maybe a few more with it, went a long way in breaking her spirit.”
Julienne considered them both. “But she perks up again when she’s helping with cases or being useful?”
Harry and Ginny nodded together. “It’s stunning,” Harry assured her. “It’s like I have another kid on my hand. She doesn’t mind the day to day, either, but I think she feels like she’s not really useful, or maybe like she’s a burden.”
Ginny snorted out a laugh. “That’s such a man’s way of look at things, Harry. That’s not what this is about.”
If he’d been a younger man, with less marriage experience, he’d have been annoyed. However, life had taught him along the way that prudence was important. “What am I missing?”
“What she wants in life is a family,” Ginny told him. Julienne gasped, and both turned to see tears welling up in the older woman’s eyes. “Oh, Julienne, I didn’t mean it like that!”
Julienne waved that off as she pulled a tissue from her pocket to dab at her eyes. “No, but as soon as you said it, I knew you were right! She wants a family. She wants that very much. She loves babies, and little children.”
Ginny gave her a minute to compose herself before she went on. “I heard her talking to the other kids, a few years back, about her looks. She’s realistic about the fact that, even though we all treasure her, she’s not what a boy typically looks for.”
“But Al is smitten with her,” Julienne pointed out.
She nodded in agreement. “Yes, and hopefully he figures out what to do about that sooner rather than later, because quite frankly, I do not want him to blow this, but I know Al. We can’t push him if he isn’t ready for it.”
Harry was still completely lost. “What does having a family have to do with anything?”
“She doesn’t feel like she’ll have the chance to have a family,” Ginny pointed out as though he was a bit dim.
But come to it, he was a bit dim. She’d already said as much. “I mean…” Harry floundered as he tried to form coherent words to respond. “I guess… well, yes,” he concluded lamely, aware he hadn’t really said anything, at all.
“She likes the work with Harry because she knows she’s good at it,” Julienne said, intuitively filling in the blank, “and because it gives her purpose away from the thing she really wants out of life.”
“That’s my theory,” Ginny told her. “I think she wants my mum’s life, to be a wife and mother, which is fine, but not being able to have that, she’d like to help where she’s gifted, and she is definitely gifted. Her ability to spot hidden magic is unbelievable.”
Harry felt himself pull upright again onto firm ground. “So, we’d like to continue that with her. If I have a case where I feel like she can help, and she is physically well, I would like your permission to bring her in as a consultant.”
Julienne considered as she stared off out into the darkness beyond the windows, to the shoreline that was only visible by the light of the moon overhead. “I want her to be happy. In our world, I’d take her therapy and maybe put her on medicine to help with her moods, but I take it you don’t do things like that.”
“We have therapists,” Ginny said immediately. “I hadn’t thought of that, but that can definitely be arranged. One would travel to the school to see her. We don’t do Muggle versions of medicine, but tend to find that small potion pick-me-ups work out very well when someone is unhappy.”
“Alright,” Julienne smiled at the pair of them. “If she can have therapy, then I’m happy to let her work, if that’s what she wants. I just don’t want her to be unhappy.”
Harry nodded in total understanding. “Neither do we.”
“We miss you!” Rose’s voice said as her image shifted in and out of focus on the two-way mirror that Rose’s mum had made for Al, Nat, Rose, and Scorpius their first Christmas at Hogwarts. They only used them now for summer hols, and still that was rare, but it had been a lifeline that summer. Scorpius’ face flashed into the panel and Al thought his best friend looked a bit pale.
“We’ve missed you, too,” Al agreed as he showed Nat the mirror so she could see Scorpius better. She, too, looked a little alarmed. “You okay, mate?”
Scorpius’ face fell for a moment, then went back to neutral. “My aunt is missing.”
Everyone gasped at the same time, and Rose’s face came back into focus. “What happened?!” Rose demanded of him. “Why didn’t you call me to tell me?!”
Scorpius’ tired voice filled the line. “She does this sometimes. She gets into these black moods and she’ll disappear. She’s not normally gone this long, but it’s happened before. I just hate it. I was really hoping to see her more this summer, and then I did, but she dropped me at home, and then vanished.”
“Maybe we should tell my dad,” Al suggested to everyone, even though his dad couldn’t really do anything at that moment.
Scorpius came back to them through the mirror. “No, she’s hiding out somewhere. She has a couple of places that she does that. She wouldn’t be happy with me, or anyone, if someone tried to find her. I know that much. She’s off because she’s not a good person to be around right now.”
Rose came back, her picture still going in and out. “I’m so sorry, Scorpius.”
“Me, too,” Al agreed. Then to Rose, he said, “What are you doing? You look like you’re jumping.”
“I’m walking around the yard,” Rose informed him primly. “I’m trying to stay in shape, which hasn’t been the easiest thing to do around studies, and my grandparents. They keep wanting me to come over and hang out with them, but we just end up sitting around playing games. I like it, but it’s not been a good summer to prepare for Quidditch tryouts.”
Al blinked in surprise as he realized that was going to be coming up all too soon. “I forgot about that.”
“You look all brown and healthy,” Rose assured him bitterly. “I bet you’ve been swimming in the ocean and playing with James on the beach.”
“A bit of that, yeah,” Al agreed.
“But Nat,” Scorpius said as his face appeared again, “You look as though you’ve been through a war.”
“Oh,” Nat waved that off. “I overheated yesterday. I’m taking it easy today because of it. I just don’t do well with the hot and humid anymore, especially not after getting used to England’s milder weather. North Carolina is so hot and muggy it’s like you’re breathing in steam constantly.”
“Yuck,” was Rose’s opinion on that. “When are you guys heading back again?”
“We’ll be back the third week in August,” Al told her. “We’ll have to pick a date to go to Diagon Alley together.”
Scorpius gave a short, almost hollow laugh. “That’ll be fun. I could use the distraction. Just another few weeks, then.”
“Yeah, we’ll see you in a few weeks,” Nat agreed. “Keep us posted on your aunt, okay?”
Scorpius agreed, as they all signed off and Al put the mirror away. He sat back on the bed and stared at Nat with concern. “Do you really think she’s okay, or do you think someone got her?”
“I think,” she said slowly, thoughtfully, “that Daphne Greengrass is a very smart, and cunning woman. She strikes me as someone who is self-aware and resourceful. I won’t say that something couldn’t have happened to her, but I will say that I think it’s unlikely. She is probably off doing her own thing, just like Scorpius thinks she is. We’ll just have to hope for the best.”
Al didn’t necessarily like that, but didn’t see that he could do anything about it. He sighed. “Want to go out to the beach?”
“We’d better,” Nat said with a palpably forced smile. “We don’t have much longer for holiday.”
There are moments in her life that Ginny knows will stick with her forever. Lily’s birth was one of those moments, although certainly the birth of all her children was very special. But she’d known, even then, that Lily would be her last and that was what struck her so. The last of her firsts was upon her. The last time she’d see someone walk for the first time. The last time she’d nurse a baby. The last time she’d get to deal with a first tooth and all the fussing. Now her baby was splashing in the water, and she was gorgeous. Nat had predicted, years before, that Lily would grow to be a real beauty, and it was proving true, exactly as the girl had said it would. It was disconcerting, and also very special. Ginny wasn’t delicate in her features, by any stretch of the imagination, but Lily was, and in that delicacy, she seemed almost one to be protected. More bizarre to Ginny was that Lily was okay with that. If she had been in that position, she’d have done everything she could to prove she didn’t need anything or anyone. Well, Ginny reflected with a smirk, that is exactly what she’d done. They were two very different people, and Ginny had been forced to accept that although Lily wasn’t weak, she wasn’t strong in the ways that Ginny thought of when she thought of traditional strength. But she was unfailingly kind, very loyal, and in tune with people’s feelings. Ginny had little patience for feelings, which she knew was a weakness.
But that wasn’t the thing she’d been thinking about, although it maybe would have been a happier memory to focus on. The thing she couldn’t get out of her head was her dream of James and Caroline. She could replay the memory in her head, as clearly as if it was yesterday. The memory of it hadn’t stayed sharp, at first, but now she’d had the dream several times, and in each case, it was always the same. James was in a hospital, and Harry was handing Caroline a baby that was clearly James’ baby. She knew in her gut that it was James’ baby. They were in a house that she knew, without knowing how to explain it, that it was James’ house. She knew, without knowing how to explain it, that James was nineteen when all of this happened.
What she couldn’t explain was why Caroline was being given the baby by Harry, who appeared to be almost sick with worry. She didn’t know why Caroline’s face was blank with shock. She saw the wedding ring, again, signifying that the woman was James’ wife. She was his wife. If things came to pass, as they were in the dream, James would be married within three years to a girl who had probably never been kissed. Ginny shuddered violently when she realized that likely wasn’t true, but that any affection had been at the hands of a monster. There was no way that woman would want to marry anyone, not any time soon.
But her son… her baby… who was still childishly splashing in the waves with his siblings… He would be in his fifth year this year, and sixteen shortly after the start of term. He was beginning to grow into himself. He was growing so tall, definitely taller than Harry, although he wasn’t quite there yet. He wasn’t brawny, not like Al appeared to be, not like Charlie, but more like Ron. It suited him. His cocky attitude was tempered by forces around him, and she really respected the man he was growing to be.
She’d been a mother at sixteen, and Harry a father at seventeen, but they had been through the war. They’d been forced to grow up years before, but of course, so had James. He’d already killed a man to save the girl he loved. He did love her, Ginny knew. She had doubts it could last. She had serious doubts that Caroline could ever be ready to be the kind of wife that a passionate and fun-loving James could put up with for long, but the heart was rarely logical.
“What are you thinking?” Julienne asked from the chair next to Ginny as they sat under an umbrella.
She smiled as she saw Harry grab hold of James and take him down into the waves. “I was thinking that I didn’t know how James was going to grow up, when he’s so clearly still a child, but then my husband proved that maybe boys don’t change all that much when they’re playing.”
“I’ve heard about your hide-and-go-seek games,” Julienne said as she reached over to poke Ginny’s shoulder. “Nat says you’re more likely than not to jinx your brothers and cheat.”
“I rarely cheat,” Ginny assured her seriously, “I just get creative with the rules. Anyway, if you’d had six older brothers, you’d have learned to cheat to survive, too. The key was being sneakier, and just a little bit meaner than the rest of them.”
Julienne laughed. “Did you ever get away with it?”
“Frequently,” Ginny assured her, “but I also often admitted what I’d done, just to keep Mum and my brothers off guard. I wanted her to trust my word, which meant telling her things she knew I’d done. I only lied when she didn’t know one way or the other.”
Her friend let out a low whistle. “You must have been a treat to raise.”
“Oh, I was,” she agreed as she watched the girls out in the surf. Nat had a tube that helped her float, and she saw the peace on the little girl’s face. “My problem child was definitely James, but the others have been easy.”
“Nat was always easy,” Julienne confirmed. “I wasn’t around as much as I’d have liked, but she was so sweet, so easy to love. James seems very different from the boy I met a few years ago.”
“He is,” Ginny reluctantly confirmed. “He was such an angry, aggressive kid. It’s been a remarkable turnaround.”
Silence fell between them as they continued to watch the waves. “Nat wrote to tell me about what happened with that man. He was part of all of this mess, right?”
She thought about Baker’s association with Crabbe and grimaced. “Yes, in a fashion.”
“Nat says that James is gone over the man’s daughter,” Julienne informed her casually. “How do you feel about that?”
Ginny let out a snorting laugh. “My other son is gone over your daughter, Julienne. How do you feel about that?”
The other woman turned back to study Al, who was laughing with Nat, while helping keep her steady in the waves that wanted to rock her and tip her tiny raft. There was perfect peace on her face. “I am relieved, Ginny. I’m so relieved that a boy, raised by very good people, has such feelings for my little girl. There are a lot who would consider her too broken to be worth the trouble, but you know, as well as I do, just how special she is. I am pleased more than I can say. Now we need to wait to see if it will last.”
“Oh,” Ginny smiled and pulled out a pair of sunglasses and slid them on. “Al is child. Once he’s made up his mind about something like that, he sticks. Of that I have no doubt. And you’re right, Natalie is a very special kid. I’m glad they’ve found each other.”
When her husband emerged from the ocean and began to stalk towards her, with devious intent in his eyes, Ginny sighed and knew she was about to get dunked.
No, it would seem that boys didn’t change all that much.
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