|SIYE Time:2:19 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: 78609; Chapter Total: 1003
Awards: View Trophy Room
It's been so long, I know! Summer and vacation and kids... oh my kids. My middle child has been dx'ed with several learning hurdles, although he's incredibly smart, so now my life is spent back and forth to therapies. That's actually good for all of you, as I'm stuck in waiting rooms with hours to write every week.
Please, please consider going to my profile and checking out my novels which are on sale on amazon. I can't link here, but everything is on my profile. Also, my publisher and I started a podcast which we'll be putting out every week or so and the link is also in my profile.
I write fanfiction for free, but bills still have to be paid. Paying an artist for art you love is always appreciated. Even if you can't pay for a novel, you can go listen to and like the podcasts on youtube which can start netting us ad revenue.
Thank you so much to Arnel for all of her help in keeping the work free of mistakes.
Thank you most to everyone who reviews and keeps me motivated! This is a marathon story, not a short sprint, and sometimes we just need a kind word to think about writing that next chapter.
“Ducky!” Lily squealed as she ran through Ivy Run to scoop up her cat off the sofa. Ducky snuggled in for a brief second, purring in absolute delight, then flung herself out of Lily’s arms to sit on the floor and bathe. It wouldn’t do, Lily knew, for anyone to know that Ducky had actually missed them. That wasn’t the way with cats. She sighed happily and glanced around the house as everyone else trooped in, carrying bags and talking about dinner plans. Home smelled the same as it always did, of broom polish and pumpkin juice. It was a smell she missed dreadfully every time she was away. She grinned, so happy with the world that it was practically bursting out of her. She had loved their holiday, but equally loved coming back.
“Lily,” her mother’s voice called to her. “Can you help Polly get started on dinner, luv?”
Lily grinned and skipped over to the kitchen where the tiny house-elf was working. There was no place like home, not even a house on the beach.
No one lasted much through dinner, thanks to the time-zone difference between America and England, and it was with fully bellies that they all tromped upstairs to go to bed early. Nat barely had the energy to get changed. “You okay?” Lily asked her as she watched her friend droop through her ablutions.
Nat let out a long sigh and nodded as she finished up and moved over to lay down in the bottom bunk. “I’m so tired, Lil. It’s just been a long day. The Portkey home left me really nauseated.”
Lily had definitely felt the effects of the Portkey, as well, but it had disappeared shortly after landing in England. “We get to sleep in tomorrow, at least. Then we’ll have dinner with the family.”
But Nat was already asleep. It had been a long day, but Lily was too excited. She heard a small scratch at the door and bounced over to open it so that Ducky could slink in. “No one is looking,” she assured the cat. “Nat’s asleep.”
Ducky let out a low mew and allowed Ginny to pluck her up and stick her on the top bunk. She climbed up and snuggled in with her kitten and contemplated what the next few days would hold. She’d seen their Hogwarts letters waiting for them, but hadn’t looked. Nothing changed for her, as far as classes. James hadn’t looked at his letter, yet, but she knew that he wasn’t expecting a prefect badge, so there was no rush. It was odd that her brother was in his fifth year. That seemed old to Lily, although it wasn’t so much James’ age, but his air of solemnness. He was anxious to see Caroline again. He was hoping to see her sooner than the school year. Lily had seen him write to her just before dinner to ask about meeting in Diagon Alley.
Lily didn’t know how to form the words for what she felt about the other girl. She felt very sorry for her, especially after what she’d heard from her best friend, Honor, about what they had gone through. Lily knew her parents sheltered her, or at least tried to, from the worst parts of life, but she was still learning those lessons, anyway. It was scary to think of what a parent could do to their child. She had no idea how anyone could be so cruel. Unbidden, tears pooled in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. It was miserable that people were so terrible.
She fell asleep to the thoughts of her own loving parents and the gratitude that went with that.
The next day brought two owls, one from Caroline and Honor, who said they could meet on Thursday, and one from Scorpius, who said that Thursday would work for him, as well. “Are Rose and Hugo coming, then?” James asked as he read over Al’s shoulder. “I bet Uncle Ron will love that.”
“Maybe just Aunt Hermione will come,” Lily interjected thoughtfully.
James let out a snort. “Not a chance, Lily. Scorpius’ dad has been mean to Aunt Hermione since they were both eleven. Uncle Ron wouldn’t leave her alone to face him.”
“I think Aunt Hermione can take care of herself,” Al reminded him. “She’s the smartest person I know.”
“I just wish everyone would get on well,” Lily sighed unhappily. She hated it when people fought. It made her feel terrible.
They didn’t have long to dwell on it, though, as the family started to pour in around four o’clock to kick off the dinner. She had cousins to laugh with, and play with. She had Hugo, whom she had missed tremendously over the summer. She’d hugged him hard and hadn’t wanted to let go.
“Lily,” her cousin groaned in exasperation while he patted her back awkwardly. “It’s only been a few weeks!”
“It’s been forever,” she assured him and pulled back to grin up into his freckled face. He was getting taller by the day, shooting up like his dad. “Have you spoken to Honor?”
“I had a letter last week,” he replied as they moved off to grab some crisps from the bowl on the counter before the rest of the teenagers could devour them. “She’s doing alright.”
She waited a beat for him to expand on it, but when it didn’t come, she let out a soft laugh. “You’re such a boy, sometimes, Hugo.”
He shot her a quizzical glance. “Thanks, I think. What’s that supposed to mean?”
“If I ask a girl about a letter, she’ll give me most of the details. A boy just says one thing and that’s that, like that’s all that needs to be said,” Lily explained as she pulled him out into the back garden where the family was clustered in chairs under the trees. She scampered over to the swing that hung from a huge branch, and Hugo automatically went to push her. It’s what they’d been doing together for as long as she could remember. But things were changing. “We’re going into our second year.”
“I know,” he said as he pushed her up as high as he could and let her go so the swing would sail back. He grinned and stuck his hands in his pockets as the swing pulled her back and pushed her forward. “It’ll be cool, though. We’re not the youngest anymore.”
Lily was always the youngest, or at least she would be until the baby came. As though she’d called them into being, Teddy and Victoire walked into the backyard, hand in hand, with her cousin’s hand on her small, but definitely rounded stomach. Lily let out a shriek and would have fallen out of the swing if Hugo hadn’t caught her. The second she had her feet under her, she sprinted for them and flung her arms around Teddy, who swung her up into a hard hug. Then she was hugging Victoire, but gentler, since gentler seemed to be called for and it was so weird to have a baby between them, but so cool, too. Lily burst out into tears as she hugged this, her oldest cousin, who had minded her from the time she was an infant. Now it would be Lily’s time to return the favor. Lily touched a hand to her cousin’s belly and grinned up into Victoire’s beautiful face. “This is the best thing ever!”
“I think so,” Teddy agreed as he wrapped an arm around his wife’s expanding waist and pressed a kiss to her temple.
Soon enough Lily had to make way for her parents, who also wanted in on the greeting. Her dad held onto Victoire and rocked her back and forth a bit. She heard, although she doubted anyone else was close enough, him whisper just how proud he was of her and Teddy, and how much he loved them and was looking forward to having a grandchild. Victoire’s eyes teared up, but Lily had expected that. Her father could do that to her anytime. He seemed to like to pass out these words of praise, just for the sake of making them feel good.
She beamed around at everyone and spotted Nat a few steps off, staring at Victoire. Her expression was so odd that for a panicked heartbeat, Lily thought the other girl might fall over in a dead faint. She rushed to her friend and grabbed her arm. “Are you okay?”
“It’s a girl,” Nat whispered in a voice that sounded nothing like her own.
“It’s a girl?” Lily repeated, her eyes going wide as she realized what exactly Nat meant. “You’re sure?”
“I…” she hesitated only a second. “I’m sure.”
“We should tell them!” Lily squealed, but Nat shook her head violently and pulled Lily back. “You don’t know that they want to know, Lily! They may want to be surprised.”
Lily felt herself sway as she realized that Nat was right and that they might have made a mess of things. “I’ll just quietly find out if they want to know, and if so then you can tell them. They’ll be able to find out soon, anyway, right?”
It turned out that Nat was right and that they were hoping to be surprised. “It’s one of the few amazing surprises in life,” Victoire told her with a grin. “Plus, it’s driving my mum crazy. She wants to buy baby clothes right now and isn’t fond of either green or yellow.”
Lily smiled at that, and was very thankful that she’d let it go. She’d never forgiven herself if she’d ruined the surprise.
“We’re going to spend the night,” Rose told her in excitement. “Dad is going to help Uncle Harry set up a few tents and we’re going to camp out.”
Lily turned to see her Aunt Hermione stick her hands on her uncle’s cheeks. He jumped in surprised and laughed about how cold they were, even as he swung her into a laughing hug. “They look better.”
“It’s been loads better, Lily,” Rose promised earnestly as she gazed at her parents hopefully. “I thought for sure something was going to break between them, but they just keep getting better and better.”
“I’m happy for you,” she said as she took her cousin’s hand and squeezed. “My parents are always good together, so it’s something I take for granted. I don’t know what it would be like if they were on the outs.”
Harry couldn’t stop hugging his wife. He knew she was probably getting a little annoyed, especially since he knew she was trying to prepare for the large family dinner, but he simply could not help it. He’d have been part of this family, even without marrying her, but he had his own family because of her. Only it wasn’t just because of her. He had a family because of Remus and Tonks, and it was them today that kept him clutching at the woman who was his lifeline.
“What’s up with you?” Ginny asked him softly.
“I’m happy and sad,” Harry told her, whispering it into her hair. “Remus… Tonks… they should be here to be celebrating their grandchild.”
That was what was hitting so hard. Harry had all but adopted Teddy, bringing him into the fold of his family every step of the way. He’d been a father to him, and Harry knew that was exactly what Teddy needed, and what Remus would have wanted, maybe even what he would have expected. But that didn’t lessen the feelings that were swamping through Harry. The baby was his grandchild. It was technically his great-niece, as well, but primarily he was going to be the grandfather for Teddy’s side. He’d been longing for another baby, would have been happy if Ginny had given in a few years before, but he liked this, too. This felt like it was right, like it was the next natural step.
“They would want us to be there for the baby,” Ginny reminded him. “I miss them so much, especially at times like this. I think about all we went through. I dread thinking about what would have happened if I hadn’t accepted Teddy into our life. I was so broken after Hope’s death.”
“You wouldn’t have stayed that way for long,” Harry said with absolute conviction. “You love too deeply, too fiercely, and Tonks was a friend to you. You’d have stood for her child just as soon as you got your feet under you.”
“I like to hope so,” she admitted as she leaned fully against him. “I really do like to hope so. I’m so excited, Harry! I’m so glad for them, and that they’re so happy about the baby. Just look.”
Harry turned and gazed across the lawn to where Victoire stood in Teddy’s embrace, talking to Audrey and Percy. Teddy kept absently rubbing her belly. The joy and peace on both of their faces was immense. It was even more impressive when he considered that Percy could, in the span of any ten minute conversation, bore the pants off of anyone. It was as though they had a happiness bubble.
“You were like that when I was pregnant with James,” Ginny reminded him. “You were a bit like that with Hope, but I think everything came at us too fast then to really enjoy it.”
His eyes flicked over to the stone bench and his daughter’s headstone. It was closing in on twenty-two years since Ginny had miscarried. Time had dulled some of the pain, but the longing stayed constantly. She’d be a beautiful, young woman, maybe on her way to a career or to becoming a parent herself. She’d have been wonderful. That’s all Harry knew. “I was too scared all the time to really enjoy it, but knowing she was growing inside of you was one of the best things. I didn’t have a clue how we would handle it, but I knew we would together. I have to start back in on the hunt for Isabella Crabbe. I have to bring her down so that she stops ripping families apart.”
Ginny shook her head. “I don’t think you’re going to catch her just like that. She’s too smart, too lucky, and too crazy to be predictable enough to catch. I think it’s only when she’s finally had enough, when she makes a big play, that you’ll then get the chance to get to her.”
He hated to think she was right, but knew deep down that she was. “Still, I have to try.”
“Ginny?” Molly called out to her daughter and they turned to see the matriarch slowly making her way over to them. “Polly kicked me out of your kitchen and told me she had it under control.”
The house-elf was particular about help, often only allowing Ginny herself, or Nat, in on the kitchen preparations. Harry thought that the tiny elf was partial to Natalie, since the girl was elf-sized, and because she knew just how much joy the cooking was to the small, sick child.
“Just sit down and enjoy the beautiful day,” Harry told his mother-in-law as he bent to kiss her wrinkled cheek. She was getting up there in years, but both she and Arthur were still very spry and had all their wits about them. It was a blessing that Harry appreciated every day. He wasn’t even close to being able to say goodbye to her. Saying goodbye to Andromeda Tonks had been bad enough, not to mention what it did to Teddy. Molly was still very much the matriarch of their family, and she was needed, as far as Harry was concerned. “Is Nat still in the kitchen?”
“She’s peeling sprouts and told me how she plans to cook them,” Molly confirmed as she allowed Harry to assist her into one of the comfortable chairs splayed around the lawn. She smiled at her daughter as she patted the chair next to her.
Ginny sat in one chair and Harry pulled another around to talk to her. “What is it, Mum?”
Molly gazed at her daughter for a long moment as she seemed to take in all of Ginny’s features. “I was standing there, watching Natalie, and thinking just how easy it would be to see her there in ten years, maybe even twenty, and wondering if I will be around to see it.”
“You will be,” Harry said confidently. “I have no doubt over that.”
“I think I will,” Molly agreed as her gaze slid off and out of focus. “You don’t know how things will turn out when you’re young. You hope for the best, and can never truly prepare for the worst. I’ve lived the worst,” she said on a long sigh and blindly reached for Ginny’s hand. They locked together, old and wrinkled, with young and strong. “You have too, darling.” She didn’t meet Ginny’s eyes, but her eyes stayed on Hope’s grave. “You have, too,” she reiterated. “It’s made you so strong. I didn’t think you’d ever be the one in the kitchen, willingly helping me. I didn’t see that for you, as you seemed to want so badly to run after the boys.”
Harry glanced to Ginny in confusion, but his wife seemed to understand what her mother was saying.
“I didn’t want to admit that I liked cooking,” Ginny agreed with a wry smile. “So many times we’re told that we have to like what the boys like, and I do like a lot of the things the boys like, but that doesn’t mean I need to be ashamed to be helping prepare meals.”
“Exactly,” Molly agreed as her eyes lit. “None of the boys like to cook, except that young Malfoy boy. If he’s over, he offers to help all the time.”
Harry blinked in surprise. He’d never seen Scorpius helping in the kitchen, although admittedly he was only in the kitchen if he was being ordered to do something. “Does he?”
“Indeed,” Molly confirmed. “I like him, a lot, Harry. I didn’t think that would be possible, but it’s true. He’s such a nice, young man.”
That had been the biggest surprise to Harry in the last few years. He’d not held onto his grudge with Malfoy, since Draco had helped him more than once over the years, but neither had he sought out his old rival. Draco’s family was still high browed about their status in the wizarding community, despite boy Draco and Lucius spending time in jail. They might have kept their family name out of the gutter since the days of Voldemort, but that didn’t mean people had forgotten what had gone on. No one wanted a repeat of the dark days, least of all Harry. He didn’t need people rallying around another Dark Lord to bring back the ways of purebloods. It was too sick to even contemplate.
If there was anything to be said in Isabella Crabbe’s favor, it was that blood had nothing to do with it. Also, she wasn’t a rallying point. She was the victim of abuse so horrific that it was truly unspeakable. To be forced to marry as a young teen, to bear a child, and then lose that child to what she saw as murder on Harry’s part… well, it was no wonder she was off her rocker. Harry hadn’t killed Vincent Crabbe, though. He’d killed himself with that curse in the Room of Requirement. It was only dumb luck that they hadn’t all died. There would be no convincing his mother of that, though. She wanted revenge, and it had made for an extremely sheltered life for Harry’s children. He’d enjoyed their time in America, if for no other fact that they weren’t well known in the wizarding world there. If they were known, no one had a problem with Harry. The wizards in America didn’t lean towards the type of blood mania that had been seen in England.
“Do you know,” Molly went on, interrupting Harry’s train of thought. “I think Al fancies Natalie.”
Harry grinned as Ginny laughed. “I think that’s pretty plain for everyone to see, Mum.”
“Oh, Nat doesn’t see it,” Molly assured her seriously. “I think that girl has a deep well of self-doubt that I wouldn’t have thought possible for her. She used to be so confident. I was always amazed at how poised she was. It didn’t seem to bother her that she was so very different.”
“Puberty has hit them all, well, except Nat,” Ginny reminded her mother with a shake of her head. “Dealing with all these hormonal teenagers is going to be fun. Still, she understands that they’re moving on without her. She’s not really progressed with the others, and I think it bothers her. I agree with you, though. She doesn’t see Al as having feelings for her, and that’s bound to make a girl feel terrible about herself.”
Harry winced and shot Ginny an apologetic glance. “Sorry about that, Luv.”
She waved it off. “I got over it, which is what needed to happen.”
“Do you ever think of meddling?” Molly wondered.
“No, I do not,” Ginny told her firmly, then hesitated. “Well, I do think about it, of course, because I want my children to be happy, but I also know what my own wise mother did for me. If we meddle, we risk messing everything up. These feelings that they have for each other will mature and grow in their own way, at their own time. I do not think it’s wise for anyone to get in the middle of that. Al will have to get up the courage to say something to her, and Nat will need to gain the confidence to know he means it.”
“It does seem a bit odd that, for as insightful as she is,” Harry mused to the two women, “that she can’t see what her best friend is feeling.”
Both of them stared at him with something close to sympathy. “Harry, darling,” Molly reached over to pat his hand affectionately. “It’s always in our own lives that we miss the most details.”
Understanding that she meant him, he nodded. It was something to think about.
“This tent is so cool,” Nat mused as she stared around at the beautifully appointed living room set, almost the exact same as the one they’d had at the beach. The sofas were plum colored with white pillow accents and currently had Roxy and Lucy sprawled out on them, gorging on chocolate covered strawberries. The two girls were heading into their sixth and fifth years, respectively. Nat smiled as she thought of the genetics involved with them. Lucy was pale, with her mother’s brown hair, but her father’s freckles. But Roxy was more of her mother, with brown hair and eyes, and a bronzed complexion. Yet they had the same nose, and the same chin. The two looked the most alike, apart from coloring.
“I wonder what the boys’ looks like,” Roxy mused around a mouthful of strawberry.
“It’s close to the same, actually,” Rose told her as she snagged a strawberry. “I wish Molly had stayed the night, too! It feels like we’re all spreading apart now.”
Dominique, who had been exploring one of the bedrooms off the main room, strolled back in. She was now in her seventh year, and had her long, red hair up in a messy bun at the base of her neck. “I’m definitely claiming the big bed, as I’m the oldest.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Roxy chucked a strawberry to her cousin, who caught it deftly and popped it into her mouth. “Fine by me. I think I want the sofa! It’s so comfortable.”
“Is Molly coming, at all?” Lily asked Lucy as she sat herself on the arm of the couch and passed over a bowl of crisps.
Lucy shrugged as she took the bowl from Lily. “If she gets back from her date at a reasonable hour. She’s supposed to be here, which means Dad won’t be breathing down her neck to make curfew.”
“She is an adult,” Dom pointed out with the air of the smug, who has also reached that lofty status. Nat didn’t begrudge her that, though, since Dominique had put in the work towards getting through her teenage years.
It felt weird to Nat to be included in this sleepover. It was the Weasley and Potter children, all of them siblings and cousins, camping out in the Potter’s back garden. It wasn’t exactly camping, of course, as Nat had slept in a lot of rough locations with her father, some of which hadn’t had anything resembling a working loo, but she had to admit that she liked this sort of tenting. Nat was a fan of hot water. Her inclusion in the sleepover was more perfunctory, since she was staying with the Potter’s, as she often did, but she didn’t feel like the outsider anymore. They’d welcomed her in quickly, sure, but she hadn’t really been one of them until she’d fallen ill and had to stay with the Potters in order to save her life. After that, everyone had started to treat her like one of the family. Sometimes that was a good thing, and sometimes that meant waiting in line for that loo.
“I’ve checked out the boys’ tent,” Rose informed them as she popped into the tent, startling Nat. She hadn’t realized her best friend had even left. “It’s almost like it’s been warded against spills, but it’s also nice. They have more bunkbeds, even though there aren’t as many of them.”
“There are as many without Victoire and Molly here,” Lily pointed out.
“You have to let that go,” Dom said to Lily as she pulled her in for a swinging hug, lifting her smaller cousin up in a twirl. “We grow up, and change, and while Uncle Percy thinks Molly is here, she can do whatever she likes. She’s getting serious about the boy she’s seeing, you know.”
Lucy shook her head. “It can’t be too serious or she’d have brought him home to meet us.”
Roxy snorted out a laugh and choked on a strawberry. With tears streaming down her face, she pointed at Lucy, and then doubled over in sobbing giggles.
Lucy stared at her wordlessly for a moment and then burst out laughing, as well.
“I don’t get it,” Nat said to Rose, who hooked her arm in hers and pulled her over to sit on one of the other couches.
“I do,” Dominque said in grim amusement. “If she brings him home to meet Uncle Percy, then odds are good he’ll drive the boy away.”
Nat could well imagine that Percy, who was not the most intimidating man on the planet, could bore the pants off anyone who came to their home for dinner. She often wondered how his wife, who was lovely and interesting, put up with him, but for whatever reason, they made it work. She opened her mouth to say something to Dom, who had sprawled out across an armchair. She was beautiful, just like Victoire, but not in the way Lily was. Their beauty was obvious and easy to see. It was a turn of the face and a touch of magic from their mother. Lily, who sat next to Dominique in another seat, was beautiful in a way that she would grow into. Lily was delicate, and airy. Dom was a force unto herself and never took anything from anyone. Of the girl cousins, it could really only be said that Victoire, Dominique, and Lily were beautiful.
“What’s got you looking so seriously, Nat?” Roxy wondered.
Nat answered without thought. “I was thinking of how beauty works in DNA,” which was a stupid answer because DNA was meaningless in the magical community. “Er, how beauty runs in family.”
“Ahhh,” Roxanne pointed over to her cousins. Lily had the same red hair as Dominque, but that was the only similarity. Lily’s features were waif-like and ethereal, while Dom was carelessly beautiful, and she wore it as an afterthought, one she didn’t consider. It was the solid fact that her face was perfectly symmetrical and her complexion always flawless. Her Veela blood would not allow for anything else. It was the type of face that would radiate off the cover of a magazine without a single stroke from a photoshop brush. Nat knew she couldn’t have improved upon it with any form of technology. Victoire was the same way, although her coloring was different. Lily was not, in fact, perfect as her cousins were, but her whole package together was arresting nonetheless.
“What?” Lily questioned curiously as she glanced between them.
Dom snorted and kicked out at Roxy’s foot. “Fat lot of good it does me, right?”
Roxy grinned in triumph. “She means that you three are the prettiest among us.”
Lily scrunched up her mouth and nose and shook her head. “I think you’re all beautiful.”
“That’s because you’re a freak,” Rose assured her affectionately. “I’m not beautiful, not in any way, although I’m good looking enough to be getting on with.”
“Exactly,” Nat pointed to her, proud of her best friend’s canning understanding. “It doesn’t much matter if you’re beautiful or plain, of course, but genetics plays a role in this. All of you are all on the more attractive side of the scale, due in part to what your parents look like, of course. I would say that Roxy is the one that’s the least likely to be called beautiful, but her face and eyes are so interesting that it doesn’t matter. The boys still like her.” Roxy, as Nat had known she would, burst out laughing.
Lucy studied Nat for a moment before she added, “I think it’s more than that, though. Roxy’s just downright interesting, which has nothing to do with looks. She draws people in with how she is, and the fact that she won’t take crap from anyone.”
“What are we talking about?”
Everyone spun to the tent entrance to find Victoire and Molly climbing in through the flap. “You’re here?” Rose blurted out.
Victoire grinned and dragged an unenthusiastic Molly over to the sofa, where the others scooted to make room for them. “It didn’t feel right. Teddy and I got home, and I just knew I wanted to come back for the night. One last time we’re all together like this before this one gets here,” she said as she put her hand on her stomach. “I had Teddy track Molly down and we scared off her boyfriend.”
Nat had a fleeting image of Teddy forcing himself to grow taller and wider to intimidate the man, and had to fight back a laugh.
“Thanks for that, by the way,” Molly sighed, appearing resigned at her fate. She rested her head on her older cousin’s shoulder and grinned at Nat with laughing, blue eyes. “So what’s up?”
“We were discussing beauty and how it runs in families,” Nat said, catching them up. “It’s fascinating how all of you share features, but they’re morphed into their own subsets to make each of you individuals.”
Victoire’s perfect, pale brow arched in curiosity. “What brought that on?”
“Molly going out on a date,” Nat answered honestly. “Molly and Lucy are both classically pretty, in the English Rose sort of way. You, Dom, and Lily are unequivocally beautiful. I would say that Rose is good looking, and Roxy is unique, almost regal, but that’s not beautiful exactly. Your baby will be very attractive, whether boy or girl, of course. The Veela blood will assure that. Among the boys, Louis is undoubtedly the handsomest one.”
They all stared at her. “Well…” Victoire seemed at a loss for words. It was something no one would ever talk about. Nat knew that, but she knew this group of girls well by now. None of them was self-conscious, or would take offence to it. Rose had it right that she was attractive enough to get along. Roxy would be fine, as well. “What about yourself, Nat?”
Nat opened her mouth, and then shut it. “But I’m not in the genetic matrix, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Everyone stared at her blankly again.
“I’m not part of the family, and I was comparing all of you who have common ancestors,” which netted her several rolls of the eyes.
“Just answer,” Roxy ordered with a jab of the finger.
Nat tried to think through what she wanted to say before she said it, but the thoughts kept slipping away from her before she could form a plan of how to speak. She forced herself to let go and speak from the heart. “I’m more on the plain side, of the scale. I’m not ugly, of course. Very few people truly are, but my features are irregular, and I don’t look like most others, especially with how small I am. I’m not aging, either. I estimate that my growth is retarded at least by two years, so I appear to be more Lily’s age than my own, but the growth isn’t steady. Soon Lily will appear older than I am. Your mom has potions for me to start taking,” she told Molly and Lucy. “It might help me to grow, but my face before the curse would have been attractive, and the one after the curse from Egypt is nothing remarkable.” She hoped she sounded dispassionate and unaffected by what she’d said. That was the hope.
“You seem so sad,” Lily whispered into the clattering silence. “You’re always telling me that beauty doesn’t matter, that it’s the heart that counts.”
“It is!” Nat assured her. She did believe that. That wasn’t the trouble. The trouble was that people paired up along similar attractiveness lines. Victoire was, of course, more beautiful than Teddy, but he was very good looking. James was handsome, and Caroline beautiful. Nat had a feeling that those two would line up. Roxy tended to have the athletic boys after her, some who were handsome, but most who were into Quidditch, like she was. Al was… that’s where the knife went in. If Al hadn’t been so handsome, Nat would have had a chance with him. She knew what had been going on in human history for thousands of years, and this she knew surely. Al was too handsome for her. He liked her. He was her friend, but it had lodged home that when he chose a girlfriend, it would be with someone who was as good looking as him. It didn’t matter what Lily said. Lily didn’t understand human psychology or biology. “I’m not sad,” Nat lied smoothly, determined not to have anyone pity her. She was forcing herself to move on with life, because there was nothing she could do about it. There was no point in fighting an impossible battle, only to come out scarred and broken on the other end. “There will be a boy down the line who will like me. Women almost never end up alone forever, not if they’re open to the possibility. It’s typically only men that have that happen to them. So I will be fine.”
Dom shifted in her seat and cleared her throat. They all glanced to her to see her pale cheeks flushed red. “So, I have something to tell all of you. I decided, just now, that I’m going to tell you before I tell Mum and Dad.” They all waited for what felt like ten minutes as her face slowly drained of color. “I… I have a girlfriend.”
Everyone exchanged a glance, and then looked back at her. “If it’s that you’re gay,” Roxy spoke up first, “We all knew that. If it’s that you’re not single, that’s actually new.”
Dominique’s mouth fell open. “You all knew!?”
“So do the adults,” Victoire assured her with a smile. “You’re my baby sister, luv, of course I knew.”
Dom buried her face in her hands and Nat knew she’d started to cry.
Roxy threw a pillow at her older cousin’s head. “Knock it off, Dom! It’s not the end of the world. Actually, it’s a good thing, if you ask me. It’s one less pretty girl out there to take all the hot boys.”
Dominique burst out into hysterical giggles and finished the whole thing off by lobbing a strawberry right at Roxy’s forehead. Sadly, though, she caught it.
“You should have been a Seeker,” Rose whistled, completely impressed.
“Seriously, though,” Victoire went on as she rose and knelt by her sister, taking her in her arms. “We love you and we support you. No matter what.”
“So who are you dating, then?” Molly wanted to know. “And how did you keep it quiet?”
Nat opened her mouth without even knowing she knew the answer. “It’s Gwen, her best friend.”
They all turned to gape at her, then back to Dom, who nodded slowly. “How did you know?”
“Logical, actually,” Nat said as she rubbed her hand over her nose, a little embarrassed. “It had to be Gwen, because that’s the person you hang out with most.”
“I just didn’t realize Gwen was gay, too,” Roxy admitted. “Well, we learn new things every day. Should we try to spy on the boys and see what they’re talking about?”
“No,” Victoire put her foot down, as had always been her wont as the oldest. “They need their time to talk, just like we do. We will respect their privacy.”
“Easy for you to say,” Roxy grumbled. “You’ll go home and Teddy will just tell you everything that happened. I need a besotted husband to spy for me, I really do.”
Victoire opened her mouth to protest, then shut it again and grinned impishly. “Right, who has a pair of Extendable Ears?”
Everyone’s hand went up.
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