The last week before Albus Severus started Hogwarts was a flurry of tears, tantrums, midnight fears and last-minute, frantic packing. When it had been James’ turn, he was nothing but excited all summer long, and Harry’s only problem was getting him to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Albus Severus was a totally different kettle of fish. He was torn between his love of home and the anticipation he felt for Hogwarts, which had been building ever since he knew what it was.
In desperation, Harry even turned to Draco for advice. Draco had been singularly unhelpful, even for him.
“Be thankful you don’t have to Body-Bind him to get him to take a bath, and get on with it,” was all he said.
James, of course, had been no help. Albus Severus had long cherished a yearning to be Sorted into Ravenclaw, where, he was reliably informed, all the books lived. James’ strutting about the pride of Gryffindor House and his equally disconcerting tales of hazing firsties did nothing to calm Albus Severus’ nerves.
Harry wasn’t sure he liked the idea of a son of his being in any House but Gryffindor, and said as much to Ginny.
“After all, every Weasley for generations has been in Gryffindor,” he said.
At the time Ginny was absorbed in sewing name-tags to Albus Severus’ robes. She wasn’t very skilled at the spell, and kept sticking herself in the palm.
“Bussy isn’t a Weasley,” she said sharply. “He’s a Potter.”
Meanwhile, Albus Severus fretted. “Hypatia said she planned on getting into Ravenclaw come hell or high water. I want to be with her. I like her.”
“Rose will probably be in Gryffindor,” Harry offered.
“Hypatia said she’d rather die than be in Gryffindor,” said Albus Severus, as if that settled the matter.
“Does Hypatia ever say anything about Albus Severus?” Harry asked Draco.
“Potter, my conversations with my daughter revolve around getting her to wash, by coercion, bribes and death threats. It is quite literally the only thing we talk about.”
All in all, it was a fraught few days.
At last the first of September arrived. Harry battled with his mixed feelings. He wanted Albus Severus to get this first and worst part over with, but it also meant parting with him for months. Home would be subject to the untrammelled force of Lily and Lily alone. Soon, she too would be gone, and it would be just Harry and Ginny.
“Like a second honeymoon,” Harry had suggested, and earned himself a withering glance.
James had somehow cottoned on to Albus Severus’ overweening desire to be Sorted into Ravenclaw, for he had spent the morning teasing him about getting into Hufflepuff or Gryffindor instead. By now he was up to Slytherin.
Harry waved his little family through the smog on the platform, keeping his eyes peeled for Weasleys – and Malfoys, too, if he were honest. Hypatia was the first person he saw. She darted past him with a glow of platinum hair, to grab Albus Severus’ hand and drag him off. She looked marginally cleaner than the last time Harry had seen her, by which he assumed that Draco had resorted to a Body Bind again.
He caught up with the Weasleys, and they stood around chatting. James ran up to them carrying what was obviously, to him, the scandalous news that Victoire and Teddy were kissing. Lily declared herself in favour of a marriage between the two. Her last wedding had been George’s, where she’d stuffed herself silly with meringues and danced till two in the morning. Harry imagined this coloured her opinion rather more than the suitability of the pair for marriage, something of which he himself was gravely in doubt.
At one point, Ron pointed out Scorpius Malfoy. Harry looked over with interest. Unlike Hypatia, who had a great, hawk-like nose and the build of a miniature sumo wrestler, Scorpius was the spitting image of his father. He was tall for his age, slender as a reed, with straight blonde hair falling into his eyes. He seemed to be chafing at the bit, standing with his back to Draco as if impatient to be gone. There was no sign of Draco’s ex-wife – not, of course, that Harry would have known her if he did see her.
Draco gave Harry a stiff little nod, which Harry returned. He’d meant to smile, but it seemed ... inappropriate, somehow. Hermione knew about Harry’s friendship – for want of a better word – with Draco, because Hermione knew everything anyway, but no one else did. There was never a right time to bring up the fact that he spent most of his working day in the basement filing expense accounts with Draco.
Ginny or Ron would say, “So, and?” There was no ‘and’; it was utterly trivial. They might also ask, “Why?”
Harry still didn’t have an answer for that.
All too soon, the train was puffing out of the station. Lily, her initial resentment got over, was keen to get home. Ginny led her back to the car while Harry remained on the platform, waving at the train till it was out of sight.
“Bit rotten, isn’t it?”
Draco was standing beside him. He looked paler than usual, great purple smudges dusted under his eyes.
“Yeah,” said Harry. He coughed a few times to clear his throat.
“I miss them, you know,” said Draco unexpectedly. “Even though Scorpius hates me and Hypatia – I don’t understand Hypatia, not one little bit; I think she has hydrophobia – I miss them when they’re at Astoria’s. This feels even worse.”
“It is,” said Harry, “because each year they spend at Hogwarts takes them further and further away. We’re not parents to them anymore, just people who gave birth to them.”
Draco sent him an arch look. “Not you personally, I hope?”
“I work hard for it.”
“You really think we lose them?” asked Draco, in a small voice.
“Every day,” said Harry.
Draco shook himself. “I suppose I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“No need to sound so excited about it.”
“Believe me, I’m not. Your only use to me is in hiding that dreadful painting with your huge fat head.”
“Now who’s mature?” Harry was smiling as Draco pulled a face and started walking away. His robes were buttoned up tightly; he didn’t appear to have a cloak. “Hey, do you need a lift anywhere?”
Draco stood stock still. “I ... that is, no. Thank you.”
“Suit yourself.” Harry pulled on his fur-lined gloves, grateful for their warmth. The air was a bit nippy.
He waited till Draco reached the designated Apparition point and disappeared before joining his wife and daughter in the car.
Harry sat in Albus Severus’ bedroom, reading his latest letter for the third time.
For the first month, Albus Severus had written every day. First the letters started getting shorter; then, the space between them grew longer. Now they were lucky to get an owl from him once a week.
“I’m sorry we bought him his own owl,” grumbled Ginny. “At the rate those two write, they could have bloody well shared.”
Harry would have argued the point – Hedwig had been his first real friend, and he’d dreamed of buying his children their owls for years – but Ginny was like a bear with a sore head these days. Harry put it down to concealed misery at another chick fleeing the nest. It was a very well-concealed misery that came out sounding more like snappish bad temper; but the only other option was blaming himself for it, and Harry didn’t want to do that.
Instead he retreated to the last place Ginny would think of looking for him, and one Lily avoided like the plague: Albus Severus’ bedroom.
Harry lay on the bed, his head on Albus Severus’ pillow. He fancied he could smell the scent of his second son on it – mint and sweat and James’ stolen aftershave. In reality it smelt like what it was, a musty old pillow in a room that hadn’t been aired in weeks. And yet, there were some conjurations that had nothing to do with magic.
Dear Mum & Dad,
I’ve ever so much homework to do these days, that’s why I haven’t written much. I’m sure you don’t mind. I still like getting letters from you and I read them all, don’t worry.
Hyp and me are tied first in the class. Mrs Chugworthy would be proud, even though she hadn’t taught me half the spells I was supposed to know! Hyp helped me catch up in the first few weeks, like I told you before. It really helped. We compare our essays in the library after class so it works really well.
My other friend Marco sometimes comes too, but he’s way more interested in Quidditch than we are. He says he wants to be the youngest Seeker of the twenty-first century. Sometimes I think he just made friends with me because of how Dad was the youngest House Seeker of the twentieth century. But then again, I’m pants at Quidditch and Marco knows it. His mum always told him Hyp’s father was way better than Dad at Quidditch anyway.
Harry felt ancient and glum at the same time. Clearly his time was done, if all his achievements lived way back in the twentieth century. And if Albus Severus had to make friends with the children of Harry’s classmates, couldn’t he have gone for one of Ron’s kids, or Dean’s or Bill’s or Luna’s? Why, oh why, were his best friends the offspring of Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson?
I don’t think Scorpius is settling into Gryffindor too well. He fights with James, like, constantly – which makes a change from me doing it, I suppose. I’ve asked James not to pick on him so much – a dead bat could see how unhappy Scorpius is, and an unhappy Scorpius is not someone you want living in your House – but James says he always starts it. Of course that means James has to finish it. He’s such a Gryffindor sometimes. (Sorry!)
I love Professor Longbottom’s classes. I’m so glad the class he decided to keep on was the first year one. James says Professor Pinkerton isn’t half so nice as Neville is, and she gives them about three scrolls of homework every week. For Herbology! It’s all about growing real live things and she wants them to look up theory books. I’m dreading having her next year, although I suppose it will be interesting to learn about the growth cycles and stuff. That’s what Hyp says, although she wants to be a potions designer and all that is really important. Not so much if you want to be anything else, like having an interesting career.
Well, I’d better go. Seeing as it’s Friday, me and Hyp and Marco are going to look up Animagi as a treat. If I see James I’ll tell him to write, okay?
Lots of love,
Bussy (Albus Severus)
Harry smoothed his thumb over the bits of the parchment that had become wrinkled. He didn’t know why he’d worried about Albus Severus. He’d settled in so much better and faster than James had; seemed happy and contented.
Harry wasn’t happy and contented. Maybe that was what bothered him. The child who’d seemed for years to be permanently welded to his own hip was off having a ball in Hogwarts, making friends with the unlikely denizens of Ravenclaw Tower and doing research for fun.
He was having a far better time than Harry.
The call rang out like a klaxon. It clearly wasn’t the first time Ginny had called: she saved Sonorus for when she was feeling particularly tetchy. Harry tucked the letter into his pocket and scrambled down the stairs.
Ginny was serving up scrambled eggs on toast with a bad grace. Harry meekly took the plate she clattered in front of him and sat down. Their daughter was nowhere to be seen.
“How should I know?” Ginny dumped more eggs on to a plate for Lily and sent them whizzing down the table. “She heard me call same as you, unless she’s run away to France.”
Harry contemplated sending one of his rockets to fetch her, but Ginny hated that spell as much as the kids. Hermione had invented it. Ginny resented the implication that she needed magic to make the children obey, or that Hermione was a better mother than her. They’d been in constant, silent competition over that for years.
Harry began to eat his eggs in silence, watching as Ginny added whole cloves to her portion. She poured herself a glass of ginseng cordial to go with it. Harry frowned: unusual combination. The ginseng cordial dated back to Lily’s China phase, when it turned out to be so disgusting that even Lily’s blind obedience to her fads couldn’t force her to swallow it.
“Oh, for the love of –” said Ginny, after a few bites. She stood up, massaging her back, and rang the cowbell hanging over the kitchen door. A few seconds later, Lily came galloping through it.
“Why didn’t you answer when I called?” demanded Ginny.
“You called?” Lily blinked her fringe out of her eyes, all angelic innocence.
“Sit down and eat your dinner,” said Ginny. “You can have a chocolate bar to go with it but if I hear a single word about chocolate sauce – one single word, Lily Potter – I will Freeze your tongue for a week.”
Lily knew when she was beaten. She fetched a chocolate bar from the pantry and sat it in the middle of her eggs, every so often casting a wounded look in her mother’s direction. The grim line of Ginny’s mouth suggested she wasn’t taken in.
Harry couldn’t bear to watch his daughter eat eggs and chocolate in the same mouthful, so he switched his gaze to Ginny. She was crunching on cloves with every sign of soul-deep bliss. At one point she reached over her shoulder to Summon more, and Harry saw the creamy swell of her breasts, the slight roundness under her thin robe –
Harry dropped his fork with a clatter, earning himself a glare from Ginny. He picked it up and put it in his water glass, mind buzzing.
Ginny was pregnant. She had to be. Harry couldn’t believe he’d failed to spot the signs: odd food mixtures, unholy grumpiness, back pain. If he’d missed the morning sickness it was because he went into work early to stop Draco snaffling all the Marshmallow Fancies. The only question was, why hadn’t she told him yet?
She might not realise it herself yet, Harry reasoned. Or maybe she was waiting until she was sure. Ginny was superstitious about telling people of her pregnancies before the three-month mark, although the ban had never before extended to the father of the child.
His mind was going round and round, refusing to settle. Harry knew only one thing for certain: he was filled, top to toe, with delight at the prospect. Another baby around the house; another clean slate. He’d adored his children as babies, a feeling he hadn’t been able to replicate after they learned to talk. Blind, bone-deep adoration. God, he missed it.
Although Ginny snapped at him twice that evening, before retiring early and leaving him with the dishes, Harry could do nothing but smile beatifically at her.
He couldn’t wait to tell Draco.
The window in Draco’s office was showing a sky of rosy hue, more reflective of the pay rise in maintenance than any meteorological phenomenon. It cast a sort of lemon light over the proceedings, which Harry decided to take as a good omen.
For some reason he hadn’t broken the news straightaway. Overnight, he’d had time to reflect. Draco didn’t talk a lot about his own children, and then only when prompted, but he had mentioned one or two poignant items. Like: Astoria was married to a Muggle millionaire, and Scorpius loved staying in their mansion. Or: Scorpius had been a honeymoon baby, Hypatia an accident.
Harry was afraid both of wounding Draco’s paternalistic soul, and of him trotting out some scathing comment. Not that Harry couldn’t deal with all or any of Draco’s scathing comments – swallowed forty of them a day, at least – but he didn’t want anything to puncture the balloon of joy swelling inside his chest.
Draco frowned over a report. He was seated sideways in his chair. Harry had counted, one day, and Draco had several permutations of sitting. They related to his workload, current task, general mood and whether or not his sciatica was flaring up. This one, combined with the fact that he’d slipped one foot out of his shoe and was using it to scratch the opposite calf, meant he was relatively relaxed and involved in monkey-level filing.
“I’ve got some good news,” said Harry, in an off-hand manner.
“You’re finally leaving me to the peace and quiet I so richly deserve?”
“Pity.” There was no vim in Draco’s tone, telling Harry all he needed to know. Draco’s protestations were mere form, nothing more.
“Do you want to know what it is?”
“I never supposed I had a choice in the matter.”
Draco scribbled something on the file and slapped his quill down. “There. My full and undivided attention: all yours, for the next five seconds and counting.”
“It’s like this,” said Harry, as Draco held out his hand, fingers extended, and curled down his thumb. “I’m going to be a father again.”
“When did you stop?” asked Draco, putting down his index.
“I mean Ginny’s pregnant. We’re having a baby.”
Draco’s hand stayed in the air, three fingers stretched out. He didn’t appear to notice. “Pregnant? Really?”
“What do you mean, ‘really’?” Harry started to get irritated. Scorn he’d expected; bewilderment he wasn’t prepared for. “She’s only thirty-seven, I’m only thirty-eight. We still have an active sex life.” Half a lie. “Why do you look like I said we’re planning to adopt a baby crocodile?”
“Do I?” Draco remembered his hand. He raked it through his hair, revealing his receding hairline. “It’s just so ... unexpected. I mean, I thought you were done having kids.”
“So did I,” admitted Harry. “Not that we ever talked about it, as such. It was just ... Lily was a handful, and three kids keep you pretty occupied. I always wanted a few more, though. I’m happy. You’re supposed to congratulate me now.”
“Congratulations now,” said Draco. “Another Potter; just what the world needs.”
“Yeah, this one might grow up to save all wizardkind from a dastardly threat!” said Harry. “No, wait. Been there, done that.”
“I notice you didn’t do anything about global warming while you were out there defeating evil megalomaniacs,” said Draco. “Shows a drastic lack of forethought on your part. Not surprisingly, I might add.”
“Hero’ing isn’t a science, it’s an art,” said Harry. “You didn’t see Monet going around curing smallpox, did you?”
“No,” said Draco dryly, “probably because Jenner had that covered a century before he was born. But I take your point. Next time I need my portrait painted, I’ll call on you.”
“I’ll be sure to include every wrinkle and liver spot – in the name of authenticity, of course.”
“Flowers,” said Draco.
“No, for We – for Ginny.” Draco said the name like a foreign word he’d read but never heard pronounced. “Buy her some flowers. She’s going to carry your misbegotten child for the next nine months. It’s the least you can do.”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Yeah, I will. Good idea. Thanks, Draco.”
“That’s fine,” said Draco in a funny voice. “Now, do you plan on doing any expenses today or will I just carry on as if you don’t exist?”
It wasn’t until later, when Harry was shelling out a scandalous fifty Galleons for a bouquet long-stemmed red roses, that he realised he’d called Draco by his given name.
“Honey, I’m home!” called Harry, as he came in the door. He remembered when they first moved in together: that had been their favourite joke. It was always Harry’s line, of course. Ginny gave up her ‘dead boring’ job working the till for George when she got married, and never went back.
The house was quiet as a tomb. Harry laid the roses on the hall table and tiptoed through the house, hoping to find Ginny so he could surprise her.
Ginny wasn’t in the sitting room, but Lily was. She was sitting quite still – Harry was tempted to grab a camera to record this new departure – under a tent made of blankets and the dining room chairs. When Harry stepped on the creaky floorboard she looked up. Her small face was streaked with tears.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, concerned. He hoped she hadn’t made anything expensive explode.
“Oh, Daddy!” And her face crumpled. Shocked to be called such at last, Harry let her crawl into his lap and wipe her snotty nose on his shoulder.
“Are you hurt? Did something happen?”
Lily shook her head. Her nose burrowed into his neck.
“Tell me what’s wrong, Lily-flower. I’ll make it better for you.”
“I miss –“ Lily hiccupped. “I miss him! The stupid stinker.”
“Who do you miss?” Harry patted her back, hoping it would help get her ragged sobs under control.
“Bussy!” howled Lily. “I miss him loads! I wish he’d never gone to Hogwarts without me.”
“But darling, he’s two years older than you –“
“I don’t care!” Lily pulled away, her face furious and red. “Why’d he have to go and leave me here? He didn’t even write me one letter.”
“He wrote letters to all of us, you as much as anyone.”
“I want my own letter!”
“Did you tell him that?” asked Harry gently. Lily’s lip stuck out as she shook her head. “Then how was he to know? Say you wrote him a letter first. I’m sure he’d write one back. He might even put in a little surprise for you.” He must remember to suggest that to Albus Severus next time he wrote himself.
“Really? For me?” The prospect of material gain delighted Lily’s eyes as much as ever. She was well enough recovered to start pushing Harry out of her ‘tepee.’ “I’m a Red Indian now, and I’m only going to eat turkey and grain,” she announced.
“So you really miss having your brothers around, eh?” said Harry. Lily shrugged.
“They’re all right. It’s better having people to play with all the time. The kids at day school aren’t the same.”
“Well, you’re in luck. You might be getting another little brother or sister very soon.”
Too late, Harry realised Lily hadn’t had the Talk yet.
“Er, Mummy and I made one,” he said feebly. “In Mummy’s tummy.”
“Did you cut her open?” asked Lily with interest.
“No, not quite.” Harry coughed. “I’ll explain it to you when you get a little older.”
“When will my new brother be coming? Tomorrow?”
“No – it takes months and months to grow a baby.”
“Then it’s not much use to me now, is it?” Lily sat squaw and imperiously closed the tepee. “Remember, Harry, grain and turkey,” floated out from behind it.
Harry grinned and stood, rubbing out a kink in his knee. The floorboard creaked; Harry looked up.
Ginny was standing there. She’d probably heard the whole conversation. Harry, smiling, moved towards her. Her face was deathly white.
“There’s something I have to tell you,” she said.
Harry proposed to Ginny Weasley on the thirtieth of June, 2004.
He hadn’t exactly intended to do it then. He was sure he wanted to marry Ginny. He’d pretty much been sure since he was sixteen years old, although back then he didn’t acknowledge it. There was the world to save and everything; and besides, it wasn’t a very masculine thing to want – marriage and a wife and kids. Seamus was forever talking about the wild time they’d have as merry bachelors. Harry had nodded and grinned at the appropriate places in Seamus’ speeches, but his heart wasn’t in it. He knew what he wanted. He never thought he’d get it.
After the war ended they’d been too careful, too fragile with each other. Harry wanted Ginny to light up like the sunbeam she’d been during their brief relationship. But she was scarred by the death of her brother, Harry’s earlier abandonment, the grief that withered branches of everyone’s lives. Harry, too, hadn’t been sure of anything or anyone during that troubled time.
He decided it was best to leave for a while, to clear his head. First he’d stayed in a remote farmhouse in the west of Ireland, belonging to one of Seamus’ long-dead relatives. After that he’d toured the more desolate areas of Brittany and spent some time in the Channel Islands.
Before he left, he asked Ginny to wait for him. No promises, no commitments. Only that she’d wait till he returned before making a decision one way or another.
In the end it was two years before he came back to England. Their communication was sporadic in that time; he wrote more to any one of her brothers, except Percy, than to Ginny herself. With the physical distance had grown a mental one. Harry still felt his future would not be the one he longed for without her. But, just as he never expected to win her in sixth year, so he expected that their first meeting on English soil would be the one in which they said goodbye.
Ginny looked so good that day he’d felt his heart literally turn over in his chest. He left the Burrow the next morning to go flat-hunting, happy enough to make a thousand Patronuses. A week later Ginny moved in with him.
For five years that remained their status quo. They were best man and bridesmaid at Ron and Hermione’s wedding, when Harry was twenty-two and Ginny twenty-one. He’d thought about asking her to marry him afterwards, but it seemed too early. They hadn’t had years together like Hermione and Ron. In his heart of hearts, Harry was scared. What they had already was as near to perfect as it was possible to be. Marriage might ruin that – Mrs Weasley’s barely-veiled threats about children born out of wedlock notwithstanding.
All the same, he’d bought the ring a month after Ron and Hermione got back from their honeymoon. It was a single solitaire set in a white-gold band. Every so often he’d take it out of its hiding place to drink in its frosty glitter.
When he was twenty-five he decided this was the year, and took to carrying it around in his pocket. Six months passed. He felt a grand gesture was necessary and fell to organising it for September and Ginny’s birthday.
In the end, no fanfare accompanied the proposal. Harry made not a single fine speech and what he did say was marred by stutters and sweaty hands. They’d made a picnic to take to Hampstead Heath. The next day they were to go to a birthday lunch for Harry, organised by Hermione at her and Ron’s new house. Harry felt the hard shape of the ringbox in his pocket as they lay on their stomachs, drank Pimms and ate wilting sandwiches.
Harry couldn’t remember exactly what he said. The words melted into a hot haze in his mind. It was probably along the lines of what he was thinking: that he didn’t want to spend another birthday without Ginny as his wife.
Whatever it was, it worked. Ginny screamed, cried, and within a few minutes was kissing him passionately, the ring firmly on her finger. They’d had to leave the Heath soon afterwards, or risk being arrested for public indecency.
The grand gesture turned into an engagement party. Ginny couldn’t stop flashing her ring, even though everyone there had already seen and admired it – in some cases, many times over. The room was heady with the smell of deep red roses, Ginny’s favourite flower, lavish bouquets of which were clustered in every corner.
“Red roses for true love,” she said, and he tucked one in her hair –
Harry’s head buzzed. A hive of bees had suddenly taken up residence there, cutting Ginny’s words into incomprehensible chunks.
“I am pregnant,” she said, “but it’s not yours.”
“I am pregnant.”
“It’s not yours.”
“What?” said Harry – stupidly. He’d heard her. He couldn’t stop hearing her; the words scorched a groove into his brain. But he couldn’t actually think; couldn’t formulate the necessary words.
Ginny was sitting across from him at the kitchen table, mouth taut. Her eyes, by comparison, were wide and brimming with tears. That wasn’t right. Ginny wasn’t the one who should be crying.
Dimly, Harry realised she had her hands outstretched to clasp his own. It was by a great effort of will that he managed to pull them back. He clenched them in his lap.
He stared at his wife as if seeing her for the first time. She looked just as she had an hour, a day, a week ago, when her love had been the one thing he could count on. She opened and shut her mouth several times, but never made it to speech.
The word crashed through the brittle silence. Ginny winced. He must have shouted. He couldn’t remember doing it.
“Maybe I wanted to name one myself, this time,” she flashed. Harry just stared at her, not even feeling the dart land. There was a pause. “I’m sorry. That was cruel.”
“No,” said Harry. “No. Having a baby by another man, that was cruel. Everything else is just bitchy.”
“I suppose I deserve that.”
“Don’t ask me what you deserve.” Harry put his hands to his head, curled his fingers in his hair tight enough to cause pain. He somehow hoped that by externalising his anguish it would leave his mind – that it would stop hanging over his thoughts like a massive grey pall.
After a minute, when Ginny maintained her silence, Harry added, “Is that really it? You resented the names I chose for our children?”
“Oh, love, of course not. It’s much more than that.”
“How dare you do that?”
“Sit there and call me ‘love’. You don’t love me. No one could do something like this to the person they loved.”
Ginny raised a shaky hand to her mouth. She only bit her nails under the direst provocation. Harry was vindictively pleased to see this situation warranted such a reaction.
“Will you let me explain?” she asked.
“What’s to explain?” spat Harry. “You went and ... and whored yourself out to some stranger, and now you’re pregnant. I don’t need a labelled diagram. Who is he, anyway?”
“Tell me who he is, or I swear on Dumbledore’s grave I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
“As if I could tell you, after that! I still care about you. I don’t want you doing something you’ll regret.”
“Oh, like you did?”
Ginny’s voice was very low when she said, “I don’t regret it. I was happy – so happy when I found out I was carrying his baby. I love him.”
“And does he know about your little bundle of joy?” The pain made Harry bitterly sarcastic.
“He does.” Ginny nodded, as if Harry wouldn’t believe her otherwise. “I was going to tell you ... later. I was waiting to pick my time. I didn’t realise you’d figure it out on your own.”
Harry suddenly felt very tired. “We’ve been married thirteen years. We have three children – don’t you think I’d recognise the signs?”
Ginny bit her lip. She didn’t look well at all, Harry noted. The fingernails she was gnawing were already chewed down to stubs, hangnails peeling down the sides. Her hair was greasy, her face pallid but for the midnight circles of tiredness under her eyes. She looked like Harry felt.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Oh, well that’s fine,” said Harry. “As long as you’re sorry, that makes everything all right.”
“Please,” begged Ginny. “You must be calm about this. We have to decide what to tell the children.”
Harry looked at her blankly. “The children?”
“Yes,” said Ginny. “You understand, don’t you? I won’t be staying here anymore. Not now that you know. We need to discuss visitation rights – where they go in the summers –”
Harry listened in growing amazement. Ginny had it planned down to a T. This was no spur-of-the-moment mistake. She’d cheated on him, willingly and continuously. And now she was leaving him.
“What did I do wrong?” he asked, for the first and last time.
“Nothing. Nothing. It was ... more what you didn’t do right.” Ginny picked at a hangnail, leaving a raw wound. “I’m not the same person I was when we got married. I want more – out of marriage, out of life. I want a new start.”
“And what about me?”
“You’ll survive,” said Ginny gently. “You’re Harry Potter! You faced down Voldemort. You saved the world.”
“And it wasn’t enough.”
Ginny hesitated before answering. “Not ... not enough to build a life on. A marriage on. I truly am sorry.”
“Oh, stop saying that.” Harry waved a hand irritably.
“Well, what do you want me to say?” said Ginny, regaining something of her old spark.
“Nothing,” said Harry. He meant it. “Go away, Ginny. Just leave me alone.”
Ginny obeyed. Harry listened to the soft shuffle of her footsteps on the tiles, the clasp of the door closing. Presently the stairs creaked.
Harry sat for a long time with his head in his hands – not thinking, not moving, almost insensible with the pain. When at last he could move again, he walked like a zombie into the hall. He spotted the roses he’d bought for Ginny, six hours ago when he thought she was going to make him a father again.
He systematically dead-headed every flower, spilling the crushed and bruised petals on the floor, before going upstairs.
Ginny was asleep on her stomach, fiery hair splashed across the pillow. Harry felt his eyes fill with hot tears.
He sleep-walked across to Lily’s room and shook her awake. She revived slowly and groggily, and was none too happy to be woken in the middle of the night.
“Get up,” said Harry, “put on some warm clothes.”
“Don’t wanna,” mumbled Lily, trying to burrow back under the duvet.
In one swift movement Harry wrenched it off the bed completely. “Up,” he commanded, in a voice that would be obeyed.
Looking frightened, Lily hopped out of bed. She hissed as her bare feet hit the cold floor and wasted no time donning two pairs of socks. She kept darting little, uncertain glances at him as she pulled on a dress and robe over her pyjamas.
She wouldn’t be Lily if she didn’t question authority at least once. “Where are we going?” she asked. But her voice was subdued, and she slipped her little hand into Harry’s as she’d used to do as a tiny child.
“On a car trip,” said Harry, trying his best to instil brightness into his tone. One look at Lily’s face told him he’d failed miserably. “We’re going to see your brothers.”
Years after, Harry never understood how he didn’t kill himself and Lily that night. His sole focus of attention was the throb of Ginny’s words in his head – not his driving, and not the multiple phone masts he undoubtedly came close to wrapping his car around.
Lily dozed fitfully in the back seat. Harry’s only clear memory of those few hours was of Lily waking up to ask, “Where’s Ginny? Is she coming soon?”
“No,” Harry had said, in a tone he later realised was unwarrantedly harsh. “She’s never coming with us again.”
Lily might have cried after that; but when Harry next thought to look in the rearview mirror, she was fast asleep.
They pulled into Hogsmeade just as dawn was stretching out skinny fingers to claim the sky. Harry parked the car outside Zonko’s – now greatly dilapidated of frontage, given the Weasleys’ excellent success in stealing their custom. The ground was lightly coated in frost, as if someone had accidentally spilled a truckload of sugar crystals over the village.
Harry leaned into the backseat and shook Lily awake. Her first question was, “Where are we?”
“Hogsmeade,” said Harry.
“Oh.” Lily knuckled her eyes. “I thought I dreamed that.”
“No, you didn’t. C’mon on.” Harry reached out for her hand, but she shied away. Harry didn’t have the patience to argue, so he just grabbed her by the shoulder and Side-Along Apparated her to the gatehouse of Hogwarts.
The gatehouse was invisible to all but parents and visitors to Hogwarts. Harry was more grateful than ever for its presence that morning; even his brief spell waiting on the doorstep introduced him to the cold snap in the air quite thoroughly.
A decrepit house elf ushered them into a well-appointed sitting room. Harry wasn’t in much of a state to notice anything, but he did feel that the room was rather more pink than he remembered. The reason for this was soon obvious: Mrs Longbottom bustled into the room, wrapped in a frilly dressing gown. Harry wondered how Neville could bear to be married to a woman who possessed the same mental palette as Umbridge. Then again, Drusilla Longbottom had never cheated on her husband. She’d never fallen pregnant with another man’s child. So far there were a lot of points in her favour.
“Mr Potter!” she was saying, so Harry tuned in. “How charming of you to pay a visit! At a rather unexpected hour – but regardless, you are welcome. This must be Lily? Neville’s told me all about you.”
Except for the part about his wife being a lying, cheating slut, but Neville probably didn’t know that yet. Unless – what if the child was Neville’s?
Fortunately Drusilla had the same attitude to conversation as a tractor had to mud: she just ploughed on through, not requiring anything approaching equal input. Plus, Lily kept her occupied. Her innate interest in all things delicate and breakable required Drusilla to interrupt her own monologue with politely couched warnings, which Lily totally ignored. All the while, Harry’s brain burned with the idea that his wife’s other man was Neville. After all, they’d gone to the Yule Ball together, hadn’t they?
At last Neville came down, also in his dressing gown. He’d always been an unhappy riser. Of course, now that he ran the school, he could keep whatever hours he pleased.
Somewhere, a part of Harry’s mind stayed switched on to current events, and it realised that Neville and Drusilla must be living in the gatehouse. It made sense. The gatehouse was spacious, with a huge garden – plenty of room to bring up a family.
Neville asked Harry if he’d like some tea, and Harry began to cry.
The sobs weren’t dignified or manly: they were snot-ridden, choking, tearing through his throat as if armed with machetes. With one, horrified glance at Drusilla, Neville got Lily out of the room. He sat down beside Harry on the sofa and let him cry. He didn’t touch him, for which Harry was grateful. He would have flown at anyone who dared come that close.
After a while, Harry’s sobs quieted. He was left gasping for air. Neville conjured a handkerchief and sent it floating into Harry’s hand.
“Is someone dead?” asked Neville, with admirable composure.
Harry shook his head. The air dried the tears on his face, making them itch. “No, no, not dead. Not dead.”
“That’s all right then.” Neville’s tone was brisk. “Everything else we can deal with.”
“No.” Harry stopped himself before he started another litany of ‘no’s. “It’s worse than that.”
“Worse than death?” Neville laughed. He stopped at the look on Harry’s face. “Please tell me, or there will be a death – mine. You looked just like you did when you – came back. You know.”
“That bad?” Harry swallowed a few times – took a gulp of the tea Neville had Summoned (when? Harry hadn’t noticed). “It’s Ginny. She – she – she –“
“Take your time,” said Neville.
“Pregnant. By someone else,” said Harry, all in a rush.
“No-o-o.” The word was a long gasp.
It wasn’t Neville. It couldn’t be. The alert part of Harry’s brain had noted the eerie syncopation between Neville and his wife.
It couldn’t be Neville. Not yet.
“I need the boys. I have to take them out of school. Just for a bit.”
“Is that wise?” Neville’s brow wrinkled with concern. Or maybe it was just wrinkled. Hard to tell.
“I’ll take them anyway,” said Harry, and: “Besides, when was I ever wise?”
“True,” said Neville. “Very well, then. I’m obliged to tell Ginny about it, though.”
“Tell her whatever you want.” Harry’s voice hardened. “These ones are mine, at least. I hope.”
“Oh, they are,” Neville assured him. “James and Bussy are as like you as they can wink. It’s almost frightening.”
“Yeah – after all, what did I achieve? A war and a woman who strayed. Let’s hope they aren’t mine. Maybe that way they’ll be happy.”
“Don’t! Don’t pity me. Just ... fetch the boys.”
“All right.” Neville sighed heavily. “Let me get dressed and Floo up to the school. I’ll Owl ahead. Give me, oh, half an hour?”
“Fine. Where’s Lily?”
“I’d say Dru took her to get breakfast – she loves kids.”
“So do I,” Harry said hollowly. “I was so excited. I knew, you see, I knew she was pregnant before she told me. Only, when she did tell me, it was to say it wasn’t mine. I love kids too.”
“Of course you do. Drink more tea.”
Neville had bewitched it. He couldn’t lie for toffee, nor cover-up for chocolate. Still, Harry drank, half-hoping it was poisoned. It wasn’t, and he couldn’t contain his disappointment; but it was drugged.
Lily ran into the room and he lifted his muggy head. She climbed up on the sofa beside him, tucking her freezing hands under his jumper to warm them.
“I want Ginny,” she said, her voice sniffly.
“I know.” Harry’s thick tongue twisted on the words. “So do I.”