Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, Harry/Ginny, past Draco/Astoria, Ron/Hermione
Warnings: Angst, manipulation
Summary: When the truth about a seemingly minor Dark hex Harry has suffered leads to the dissolution of his marriage with Ginny, Harry spins into a downward spiral. His private consolation is creating a fantasy life for himself in his journal as Ethan Starfall, a normal wizard with a big family. When he receives a random owl Draco Malfoy has cast into the void as a plea for help with his son Scorpius, Harry replies—as Ethan. There's no reason, he thinks, for an epistolary friendship with Draco to go further. But Draco might have different ideas about that.
Author's Note: This is likely to be a long story, updated fairly regularly. It is, however, very angsty.
Chapter One—The News
Harry stood up at once when he saw the mediwitch's face. He had come to St. Mungo's for nothing more than a routine examination, the sort all the Aurors had to have after being hit with Dark spells in the course of a case. Harry had encountered thirteen Dark spells this time, although one of those had been the Imperius Curse and he'd shrugged it off with ease, and the rest had all caused momentary pain or just scrapes.
He'd thought. But the mediwitch was pale and clutching at the door, her body taut, as if she couldn't come further into the room.
"What is it?" Harry asked gently. He Summoned a chair over and unlocked her frozen hand, helping her sit down. He also Summoned a glass and conjured water to pour into it. "Did someone threaten you because they wanted to see my medical results?" That had happened before, with some of the crazier fans.
The mediwitch sipped from the glass and seemed to grow calmer. "No," she said. "It's just…one of the hexes you were hit with. Did it hit you near your groin?"
Harry blinked. "Yes, actually. But I didn't have any bruises or blood there, and everything else—everything else was normal the evening after that." Now he was the one blushing, as though to make up for the mediwitch's pallor. He had never been with anyone but Ginny. He didn't like discussing sex with anyone else, either.
The mediwitch closed her eyes. "I hate this," she breathed. "I'm new, and so I get all the hard work. Like telling you what that hex really does."
"What's your name?" Harry asked softly, taking one of her hands. It brought her out of her trance enough to look up at him, and it calmed some of Harry's racing heartbeat, too. At least he knew that he always felt better when he helped someone. "Why do they always assign you to do this?'
"Forsythia Yellowborn." Yellowborn gave him a tentative smile. "And I told you. I'm the newest one. No one else wants to do it, so…"
"That's still terrible of them," Harry said firmly. "An experienced Healer should do it because they can spare people and themselves more pain." He flashed her a smile. "I'm sure that the news isn't all that bad, is it?" Yellowborn's nervousness was probably making it look worse than it really was.
Unexpectedly, Yellowborn's eyes filled with tears, and she glanced away from him. "I'm sorry, but it is," she whispered. "The hex—if it had hit elsewhere it would probably only have affected you minimally. But it interacted with the other Dark magic that you had on you, and that and the place it hit you—" She steeled herself one more time, then blurted out, "It acts like an infertility hex, Auror Potter."
Harry stood still. He thought that his hand in Yellowborn's hand had gone limp and his ears were ringing, but at least his sight wasn't blinded with tears, and that was the important thing right now.
He had briefly studied infertility hexes in Auror training, as he had all sorts of other curses. They were the sort of curse that had been more popular in the past than in the present. Pure-blood wizards liked to cast them on their enemies. Depriving them of a family and the continuation of their bloodline had once been seen as the best kind of revenge.
Harry's thoughts said that, dimly, while most of his body said that he was falling down a long tunnel with no end in sight.
"And it can't be healed?" he whispered. "Or reversed?"
"Maybe it could have been," Yellowborn said, wiping away what looked like tears. "But only with Healing there in the first minute or so after the hex." She looked at him and swallowed. "I'm sorry, they told me not to say that. But it's the truth, and I think you deserve the truth."
"But why—so many hexes can be reversed," said Harry, even as he remembered the Auror training that said the old curses pure-bloods cast on each other couldn't be, and that was one reason they were so devastating. "Why not this one?"
Yellowborn closed her eyes. "Because it resulted from an interaction of the Dark magic that you'd already suffered in the battle with that hex. It wasn't just a single spell. It was a whole combination of them. To reverse it, we would have to cast a lot of other magic on you, magic that replicated the effects of those curses, and then we'd have to know exactly what hex it was." She looked at him. "I don't think you know."
Harry shook his head dazedly. He had been in the midst of battle-fury, and he had had a lot of opponents. The hex had been non-verbal and could have come from any of them. They'd already interrogated the prisoners and proved that most of them didn't remember which spells they had used. It was like that in the midst of a duel, sometimes, and battle was usually worse.
"I'm sorry," said Yellowborn again, sounding desperate. "This was just such bad luck. The person who cast the hex didn't mean for it—they didn't try to cast an infertility curse. That's just what it happened. It was bad luck."
Just like everything else in my life, Harry thought, rubbing his face with one hand, and then dropped it and managed a smile when he saw how anxiously Yellowborn was looking at him. "No, it's okay," he said as softly as he could. "I know you couldn't do more than you have, and it wasn't fair to make you come to me and break the news. I do appreciate that you found the courage to do it anyway."
Yellowborn bit her lip and lowered her eyes. "I hope you find some other way to reverse this," she said. "We can't do it here, but maybe somewhere else can. There are experimental Healers, different techniques, you know."
In different circumstances, Harry would have laughed. He had never heard anyone at St. Mungo's say anything good about experimental Healers and different techniques that operated outside their sphere of influence.
But it was these circumstances. And Harry still felt as though the ground was unstable under his feet, as though he was spinning down a tunnel and didn't know when he would stop falling.
"Auror Potter? Are you all right?"
No. I'm not going to be all right again. All Harry could think about was the way Ginny had said they might start a family soon, and how he wanted to rage and strike out at the universe for what it had done to him. All he wanted was a family, blood relations, people who could give him what he'd grown up without, and the universe had to take that away just like it had taken away his parents and his godfather and his innocence and his ability to live a normal fucking life.
But showing that to Yellowborn wouldn't be fair. Harry had to go home and tell Ginny; she was the only one who could properly share his grief. For now, he forced a smile and looked up.
"I will be."
Ginny couldn't stop crying.
Harry sat beside her at the kitchen table with his arm around her, in silence. He was glad now that he'd first got the news in front of Yellowborn, someone he had to be strong for, and then he could go home and be strong right away for Ginny. He still had this hopeless little drum beating at the back of his mind, but at least it wasn't going to overpower him right now.
"She said there was nothing they could do to reverse it?" Ginny was whispering. It sounded as though the sobs had torn her throat. Harry tightened his arm hard again and wished this hadn't happened, again, for the ten thousandth time. He knew what family meant to Ginny.
"No," said Harry. "They did talk to the wizards we captured who were flinging all those curses at us, and they didn't know who had cast it, either. One of them could have, and not remembered it. Or it could have been one of the ones who got away."
"Then the Auror Department needs to send people after the ones who escaped right away!" Ginny twisted around and leaned against him. "They should do that anyway. What if they come back and hurt you?"
Harry sighed and lowered his head so his nose brushed the nape of her neck. She smelled soft and clean and easy to love. "I know. But we don't know their names. We got their leaders, but even they don't know the names of everyone who was working with them. They operate in little groups like that, interconnected but hidden, so no one can betray all their secrets if they get captured."
Ginny's hands wrapped around his upper arms and squeezed. "But there's still a chance," she said. "That it could be reversed. If you capture the right people and figure out the right sequence of spells?"
Harry hesitated, but her eyes shone at him. The hope was too precious. He couldn't bring himself to shoot it down. "Yeah, maybe," he said. "Even though it would take a long time."
"I don't care." Ginny's head leaned more firmly against his chest. "I want to have children, your children. Do what you can to find them."
Harry said nothing, embracing her and bowing his head again, but he didn't think that he could make promises. She seemed to take his hug as an implicit promise in and of itself, and for now, that was all it could be.
"I know how much this news means to you." Kingsley spoke the words with his eyes fixed on the pile of parchment at the front of his desk. "But Harry, we can't put all our manpower into this single case. And I don't want you taking as many risks as Ron said you had been in your pursuit of these wizards." He raised his eyes at last, and glanced at Harry's bandaged hand. "Ron also said that you spent more time in St. Mungo's last week than this report shows."
Harry's face burned, and he covered as best as he could with an awkward clearing of his throat. "Well, I mean—I didn't think I should have the Ministry cover my medical expenses when it was my own stupid fault I ran into that trap."
"I see." Kingsley folded his hands with the same slow care. "I understand that the loss of your ability to have children has hurt you deeply."
Harry nodded and fastened his own gaze on one of the paperweights Kingsley kept on his desk, which had been a gift from Harry and Ron after the first year they had worked together as Auror partners and Kingsley had backed them up on some of their unpopular findings about the links between Ministry officials and Dark wizards. "The mediwitch who talked to me about it said maybe the spell could be reversed if I caught the wizard who had cast the spell and we could understand what it was and how it interacted with the other hexes on my body."
"Yellowborn is the mediwitch you're talking about?" Kingsley picked up a folder from behind the desk.
Harry stared at him in alarm. "Yeah. What is it? Is she all right?" He started to stand, worried she might have got in trouble with her superiors for telling him the truth.
"She is," said Kingsley. "But this is another report from her, and I think you should read it in its entirety." He handed it across the desk, then turned and began busily to clear some of the parchment from the tallest pile he had.
Harry opened the folder with a clanging sense of doom in the back of his head. He was breathing faster than he should, he realized. He shut his eyes and counted backwards to ten, with a pause of seconds between each number, before he continued.
Dear Auror Potter, it began. I'm sorry, but I was wrong about us only needing to know the hex and how it interacted with the other Dark magic in your body. I didn't realize then that there was a time limit. We might have been able to do something if we had known right away—although even then it's hard to be sure—but too much time has passed now. The traces of magic on your body have faded away so we can't cast the spells on the exact areas anymore. We didn't keep detailed records because we were just interested in healing their effects, not pinpointing exactly where they struck. I'm sorry.
There were more documents, photographs and explanations of some of the curses Harry had been hit with that day, but Harry didn't have the heart to read them. He laid the folder down on the desk.
Then he picked it up again. If he was going to kill the hope he had inadvertently given Ginny, he would take the proof that the hope was dead with him.
"Can I go home now, sir?" he asked, without glancing at Kingsley. He had to be alone for a few minutes. Just a few minutes, in the lift or at home when he got there. Ginny might not even be there right now. Her last practice had gone badly, and the coach had summoned the team together to work out why.
Kingsley's voice was deep with what Harry thought was probably compassion, but he would do something unforgivable if he stayed to hear it right now. He nodded back, keeping his eyes shut, and fled from the room. It was a good thing he knew the corridors of the Ministry so well.
Ginny didn't cry this time. She simply sat there with her hands pressed into her eyes and the folder on her lap. Harry sat with his arm around her shoulders again. They were on the couch in the drawing room this time, and there were no sobs, no tears.
It was too dry for that, too hard, like the bones of Harry's arm felt, like the bones of Ginny's shoulder blades felt.
Ginny finally leaned against him, and began to weep again. This time, it was the soft sound of giving up. Harry rested his chin on the top of her head and went reeling into misery himself.
What was it going to mean, that they couldn't have children? It wasn't just that Molly wanted grandkids and Ginny had always grown up wanting them and assuming she would have her own sons and daughters someday. Harry wanted them, too, wanted them desperately. It would be like having his parents back again. Real people he was blood-related to. People he could love and protect and adore. He wouldn't have been able to protect his parents if they were still around, but this just made that all the more special. His parents' shades had walked with him when he went to his death—what he'd thought would be his death—in the Forbidden Forest. He wanted to walk beside someone someday and be proud that he was there for them and protecting them and helping them.
It isn't over forever. You know Ron and Hermione would let you play with their own kids, and help them, and teach them Defense, and all sorts of other things. And you still have Teddy and Victoire and Dominique and any other Weasley kids.
But it wasn't the same—the way, Harry knew as her sobs dried on his shoulder, that it wouldn't be the same for Ginny. Children of his own family. That was what he wanted. He loved Teddy, he would love being an uncle to Ron and Hermione's children, but he also wanted children of his own blood. He'd never had a family, other than maybe Dudley at the very end, and he hadn't heard from Dudley and Aunt Petunia at all since the war. He wanted…
He wanted something he was never going to have.
Harry gently smoothed Ginny's hair back from her forehead. "Are you okay?" he asked, even though that was a stupid question. She'd just spent almost an hour crying. Of course she wasn't okay.
"I'm okay." Ginny's hand tightened in his, and she lifted her head. "Are you?"
"Not the best, but I reckon I'll survive." Harry kissed her temple. Her eyes were hollow. He reckoned his must look the same way, though. "Do you want something to eat? Something to drink?" She'd cried so much that he thought she might actually have dehydrated herself, although admittedly he didn't know much about that.
"Some tea?" Ginny asked with a wistful little smile, and Harry nodded, detached himself form her, and went to make it. The motions of his wand as he boiled the water and fetched the tea itself were soothing.
Until he started thinking that he would never teach them to someone else, someone smaller than he was, with red or black hair and maybe his mum's eyes…
Harry shook his head violently. He wasn't the only one affected by this. They would get through it. Honestly, he was at his best when he had someone else to care for, the way he'd had to watch over Yellowborn and avoid blaming her when she first announced the news to him, and the way he had Ginny now. He was going to be strong. He wasn't going to collapse. This was just the way it was, and the way it would have to be.
He didn't intend to die of the news, or his grief. He would make it in time. It would just be harder than he had thought it would be at first, dealing with the death of all those little dreams. But he would have someone by his side when he did it.
"There's nothing I can find, Harry." Hermione sounded as though she was talking at a funeral. "Even the books on modified infertility curses basically say that there's no way to reverse one once it's cast."
"I knew that," Harry told his cup of tea, and leaned back in the wooden chair at Hermione's kitchen table. Just because he liked to care for other people didn't mean that he didn't appreciate them taking care of him, too. "But thank you for researching anyway."
"I want you to know that you're always welcome over here, to play with our kids," said Ron vehemently, getting up and coming around the table as if he thought Harry might challenge him on that. "I mean, when we have them."
Harry gave him a tired smile and slapped his best friend's arm. "I know."
Ron wavered and fidgeted one more moment, and then blurted out, "Mate, if it was something I did, if I didn't watch out, if I wasn't careful enough—"
Harry cut Ron off with a roll of his eyes that must have been eloquent, because he heard Hermione snicker. "Now who's the one who needs that speech of yours on making everything your fault?" Harry asked rhetorically, shaking his head. "No, Ron. We don't even know for sure who cast the spell or when it landed during the battle. It could have been because I wasn't watching or someone got lucky. It could have been one of the wizards we captured or one who got away. No one knows. And I'm not going to have you blaming yourself for something that could have been my fault as much as yours."
"Right," said Ron after a second, and smiled at him. "I have to say, you're dealing really well with all this, mate."
Harry smiled back. It wasn't like anyone was inside his head to feel the despair and hear the screaming nightmares that mostly didn't happen at night. "I know that I'm still alive. And I really appreciate you letting me—knowing I can be part of your kids' lives." He looked across the table at Hermione.
"You're going to be godfather to all of them," said Hermione fiercely. Then she paused. "That is, the two we're going to have."
"Hermione, you know Mum wants more than two," said Ron, in the tone that told Harry this was an old battle.
"But I don't," said Hermione, and she and Ron disappeared into the middle of the mutual bickering that, at least since they had got married, marked how strong their relationship actually was with each other, and which Harry would have been alarmed to find had stopped.
Harry leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He would survive this, with the support of his friends and his family. With his job. With people to take care of. With the promise of children in the future.
The despair that shrieked in the back of his mind would just have to suck it up.
And the despair that's in Ginny's eyes?
Harry shook his head briskly. He couldn't think about that right now. He had to think about what was in front of him, the hope instead of the despair. He wouldn't give up on his life even if he was missing the thing he had most wanted. He used to think when he was at the Dursleys' that nothing would ever change and nothing would ever let him get out of there. He'd been wrong then, and since then, he had tried to remember the incredible change that had come over his life and how another one might happen any second.
He managed to hang onto that hope until he got home, and realized Ginny was nowhere in the house. "Gin?" Harry called uneasily, walking into the kitchen, where she usually would have been making dinner by now. It was her turn to cook, and she hadn't said anything about an extra practice or meeting with the team this afternoon.
Then he saw a note in the middle of the table, and relaxed. It was probably telling him that she had been called to one of those unpredictable meetings or practices after all.
He stepped towards it, and then paused. The clock that Ginny had bought years ago, in the shape of an owl that would flutter and hoot when the hour struck, was missing from above the mantel.
Harry swallowed, and picked up the note.
I don't want you to worry. I'm over at Mum's for the night. I just wanted some space and time to think about it. I'll come back tomorrow. Love, Ginny.
Harry lowered the note carefully to the table, the way he would put a sleeping baby to rest. His heart was beating too fast, and for no reason. Ginny had only gone overnight. It wasn't as though she was abandoning him.
But it felt like the beginning of the end.