"...possible new restrictions on floo travel for underage wizards, but it's been the same conversation for ages. It's always the way during election season, dredging up these old topics…"
Harry felt a foot tap against his under the table, and he looked up to see Ron staring at him with an eyebrow raised in question. For a moment, Harry wondered if Percy had addressed him directly. But one quick glance around the dinner table suggested otherwise.
"What?" Harry mouthed, as Percy continued to drone on.
Ron leaned in closer. "You've been playing with your bloody food all throughout dinner," he said. "Either eat it or pass it over."
Hermione's ears seemed to perk up at this, and she leaned over as well from across the table. "Why aren't you eating?" she said. "Are you not feeling well?"
"Oh, for—" Harry said in exasperation before cutting off and grabbing his spoon. He made a show of sticking it into his steak and kidney pie and taking a large bite causing Hermione to nod and settle back in her seat.
But despite finishing his entire meal, the pair of them still cornered him after dinner once everyone had headed back inside. Harry could have easily slipped in as well, but he figured it would be best to ease whatever concerns were currently brewing inside their heads.
"Nothing's wrong," he said at once, holding up his hands. "I've just got some stuff on my mind."
"Like what?" Hermione said, folding her arms. "Ron says he hasn't seen you this spacey for a long time, and I have to agree with him. You've barely said anything today, and I know you weren't listening to a word at dinner, either."
"Well…" Ron said, turning to her. "Was anyone, though?"
"Talk to us, Harry," Hermione said, ignoring him. "Maybe we can help."
Harry stuffed his hands in his pockets and stared down at the ground for a moment, lightly tapping a garden gnome with his foot before moving away as it bared its teeth at him.
Hermione was right, of course. Talking to her usually did help sort out his thoughts. And having Ron there always helped as well. But this particular topic just felt much too personal to be discussing openly with his best friends. Besides the few conversations they'd had back in school about Cho and Lavender, they'd never, ever shared details of their romantic relationships to each other.
For obvious reasons, Ron had all but begged not to hear about Harry and Ginny. And in return, Harry only ever asked for the same consideration from him and Hermione.
This was new territory, though, and Harry wanted to tread carefully. But the looks on both their faces left him with no choice.
"Abby and I kissed," he said, feeling fifteen years old all over again.
Hermione let out a quiet gasp, and Ron's eyebrows shot up.
Then they both exploded on him at once.
"You wait till now to tell us this—?"
"I want to know everything, start at the beginning—"
"Percy's been going on for hours about the bloody floo network while you've been sitting on this information, you bastard—!"
"Who kissed who—?"
"Was it good—?"
"When did it happen—?"
"Was it good—?"
"Oh my God, Ron—"
"It's a valid question—"
"Shut up, the both of you!" Harry said, massaging his temples. "And please keep your voices down, I don't want anyone else to know."
Ron and Hermione exchanged a look.
"Why not?" Hermione said.
"Why do you think?" Harry said as if she were thick. "My own kids don't even know about this, and I don't plan on telling them, either. Not yet."
Ron scrunched his forehead in response. "But what's the big deal? It's just a kiss, you're not marrying her."
That was about all it took for the ball of dread that had been lingering in his gut for the past day and a half to grow back to full size. The words seemed to trigger something in him, and Harry had to take a seat on one of the chairs in the garden to compose himself.
He could hear Ron and Hermione whispering furiously at each other from where they still stood at a slight distance, but he ignored them and focused on getting his stomach to calm down.
What was wrong with him? Why couldn't he just be happy about this? Just take it day by day, enjoy the damn moment instead of constantly worrying about the next step.
"Harry," came Hermione's hesitant voice.
He glanced up to see that they'd approached him, concerned expressions on both their faces. He wanted to kick himself for making them worry, making them walk on eggshells around him. They shouldn't have to deal with this—with him—but they'd been doing so their entire lives.
"Look, we're sorry we pushed you. It wasn't right," Hermione said, taking a seat across from him. "You would've told us whenever you felt ready to."
Harry shook his head. "Please don't apologise, I already feel like an arse," he said, rubbing a hand down his face. "We kissed. It's not the end of the world, I know. I just have a lot to think about now."
"Well...shouldn't you at least try this out a bit first?" Ron said as he took the other chair next to him.
"What do you mean?" Harry said.
Ron shrugged. "I'm sure you've a million reasons in your head already for why this won't work, but...have you even gone on a proper date with her yet?" he said. "I mean, maybe you do, and you realise you'd be better off friends. You'd have wasted all this time stressing for nothing."
Harry blew out a slow breath. "And what if I realise we aren't better off as friends?" he said. "What if I really like her?"
Because I do. I really, really do.
Being friends with Abby wasn't enough anymore. He'd crossed that line, and he had no desire of going back. The pure excitement he felt at the idea of being in a relationship with her was the only thing stopping dread from coursing through him. But it was also the thing causing the dread in the first place.
Hence his predicament.
"Well, I dunno," Ron said, tilting his chair back on two legs. "Then you shag her, I guess."
Hermione's mouth fell open. "Seriously, Ron?"
Harry couldn't help the small laugh that escaped his lips.
"What? Just trying to lighten the mood," Ron said, spreading his hands out. "Besides, he needs to get some, Hermione. The bloke's wound so tight, he's practically vibrating."
Harry nodded solemnly. "He's not wrong."
"I'm leaving," Hermione said, getting up.
They both chuckled and gave each other low-fives.
And if Harry gained anything from this conversation, it was the fact that nothing about his love life was now off-limits to Ron.
Also, he really needed to go on a bloody date.
Harry dropped his head against his pillow with a tired sigh after finally getting all three kids to bed. He'd been trying to set a better sleep schedule for them with the first day of school just around the corner, but his attempts so far had been rather dismal.
Tomorrow, he promised himself with a yawn before reaching out to grab his mobile off the bedside table.
He'd held it more times today than possibly all the years he'd owned it, but he doubted anyone at the Burrow had noticed. If they did, they certainly hadn't mentioned anything.
Harry wished there were a better reason for this new habit of his. The two text messages he continuously glanced at throughout the day were so inconsequential, he was almost embarrassed with himself. And yet, he couldn't stop looking at them.
Not now. Not an hour ago. Not any of the hours before that.
That was the first one Abby had sent. Just 'Hi.'
And Harry responded—typing a text message for the very first time in his life.
It had taken him longer than he cared to admit to work out how to get two 'L's in a row on the keypad for his 'hello' without the letter reverting back to a 'J', but he'd finally managed it.
Obviously, this would not become his preferred method of communication. And that fact was further reinforced when he received Abby's next message:
That was it.
An equal sign and a parenthesis.
If Harry was embarrassed by the 'hello' problem, it was nothing compared to the feeling he got when, by complete chance, he turned his mobile sideways and realised he was staring at a smiley face.
A bloody smiley face.
Nearly ten minutes had been spent trying to decode the stupid thing.
And since it wasn't worth the extra time trying to figure out how to send one back, he just responded with an 'Indeed.' And that was the extent of their conversation. Which made the amount of times he'd stared at it throughout the day very, very pathetic.
But it was the smiley face that really did it for him (after he'd got over his initial frustration at it). Every time Harry looked at it, he'd imagine Abby's own smile perfectly in his head. The one right after they'd kissed for the first time last night—so bright and happy. He couldn't believe he'd been the one to put it there.
That little symbol was just the reassurance he'd needed to curb the doubts that had crept repeatedly in his mind throughout the day. And along with Ron's words from earlier, Harry got the final push he needed to dial Abby's number and do what he should have done ages ago.
"Hello?" Abby answered after a few rings.
"Hey, it's me," Harry said, sitting back against the headboard. "You busy?"
"Harry, I've had my phone on me all day in the event that you might call," she said, causing a dumb smile to form on his face. "I would've called you first, mind, but I knew you'd be with the fam."
"Thanks. I was," he said, staring up at the ceiling. "But I'm here now, and...I have a proposition for you."
"No to phone sex," she said at once.
"What?" he said.
"Not yet, anyway."
Harry shook his head, trying not to imagine how that might even work. "No, I...don't even—I meant to ask you out," he said, instead. "On a...date or whatever."
"Ah, makes more sense," Abby said, grin in her voice. "Then a resounding yes to the date or whatever. When did you have in mind?"
"Would tomorrow night seem too eager?"
"Not eager at all, but…I can't tomorrow," she said, causing an immediate flicker of disappointment in his chest.
He mentally chastised himself for it.
"Mondays are my main practice days," she explained. "I'd invite you, but, well...you'd be a terrible distraction."
Harry felt a bit pleased with himself at that. "Should I take that as a compliment?"
"If you must," she said. "Anyway...I'm free the day after, if you'd like."
"The day after works," he said, nodding.
"Great," she said. "Text me the details tomorrow."
"I'd rather not."
Abby let out a small laugh. "Okay, call me?"
"Night, old man," she said, with amusement in her voice.
"Bye," he said rudely.
"Why's Uncle Ron babysitting us?"
Harry looked up in the mirror to see James standing in the doorway of his bathroom. "I told you, didn't I?" he said, turning off the tap and drying his hands. "I'm going out for a bit."
"Where, though?" James said.
He turned around and shrugged. "Not sure, to be honest," he said. "Just, er...hanging out with Abby."
James stared at him for a moment. "But it's Tuesday."
"Yes," Harry said with a nod. "Am I not allowed out on Tuesdays?"
His joke didn't seem to go over well. James merely frowned and crossed his arms.
"What's wrong?" Harry said, sitting down on his bed. "Did you want to do something tonight?"
James continued to frown. "Dunno, maybe," he mumbled. "School's about to start soon, you know."
As if Harry could possibly be unaware of this. "Sure, but...if there's something you want to do, we can still do it. Doesn't matter if it's the holidays or not," he said.
"Well...I can't stay up as late, can I?" James said. "So, there's that."
Harry let out a small sigh, uncrossing James' arms and holding them in his hands. "We've still got the rest of this week," he said, tossing any hope of a proper sleep schedule out the window. "But tonight, you get to spend some time with Uncle Ron—who happens to think he's much more fun than I am, anyway, but you can be the judge of that."
A small smile tugged at James' face.
"After that, I'm all yours, okay?" Harry said.
His face was still drawn, but he nodded.
"Good," Harry said, patting him on the bum. "Now, go on. Don't have too much fun without me."
James rolled his eyes and turned to leave, but then paused for a moment in the doorway. "Dad?" he said, looking back at him.
Harry raised his eyebrows in question.
He opened his mouth to say something, but then shook his head. "Never mind," he said, leaving the room.
Harry frowned as he watched him go, feeling his insides twist with guilt. He could sense, just by the look on the boy's face, that his next question would've been about Abby. And even though Harry was desperate to reassure him, he was at a complete loss as to what to say. Omitting the truth about their relationship was one thing, but he refused to outright lie and say they were only friends. And unfortunately lying was the only thing that would reassure James right now.
With a heavy sigh, Harry fell back on the bed and covered his face with his hands.
His and Abby's relationship had barely even begun, and he was already struggling with how to deal with it.
But then, when had anything ever come easy for him?
Glancing down at his watch, Harry let out a loud puff of air and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
He fixed his collar.
He flattened his hair.
Rolled his neck from side to side and tried to ignore the ball of nerves in his gut that was beginning to make him feel sick.
He'd never done this before.
Taken someone on a first date?
He and Ginny had just sort of...come together. There'd been no opportunity for first dates. No fumbling, no romantic gestures. It'd all been so natural. So easy.
And before her, there'd only ever been…
Harry grimaced as the old memory of their disastrous date at Madam Puddifoot's flooded his mind, making the ball in his gut grow larger. There had been one first date, after all, hadn't there? And oh, what a date it had been.
Conjuring a handkerchief, Harry wiped the sweat from his brow.
This would be different, though, he thought with determination. It had to be.
For one, he wasn't fifteen anymore. And two…
This was Abby.
Abby was different. Easy to talk to. Fun. Interesting. They would not have a bad first date. He refused to let it happen.
So with that thought in mind, Harry steeled himself and pressed his finger to the buzzer.
"I'll be down in a sec!" she said through the intercom.
"Right," he said, his voice coming out scratchy. He cleared his throat. "It's Harry, by the way."
He closed his eyes and shook his head, hoping she hadn't heard that.
The door opened not a minute later, and Abby stepped out with a bright smile on. "Hey," she said, walking up to him.
Harry paused for a second, debating how to greet her.
He was just about to lean in to kiss her cheek when Abby threw her arms around him in a hug.
"You okay?" she whispered into his ear.
Her breath made the hair on his neck rise. "Yeah. Of course," he said. "You?"
Abby leaned back and smiled at him. "Yeah."
They stared at each other for a moment, and Harry relaxed his shoulders a bit as he took in the sight of her. "You look really nice," he said.
She tilted her head sideways and grinned at him. "Harry…" she said, laughter in her voice.
"What?" he said.
She pushed his shoulder. "Stop it."
"Stop what?" he said, lifting his eyebrows. "I said you look nice!"
"Your forehead is literally glistening, I can tell you're stressing out," she said, shaking her head at him. "You've nothing to worry about. It's not like anything has changed between us."
Harry gave her a look.
"Okay, a few things have changed between us," she said. "For example...I can do this now."
She placed her hands on either side of his face and pressed her lips to his.
"Right," Harry said with a nod. "More of that, and I think I'll be right back to normal."
Abby laughed. "Let's try this date first, shall we? I might decide I want nothing to do with you afterwards."
"Please, don't even joke."
She grinned and wrapped her hand around his arm as they made their way toward the pavement. "It's cute, you being all nervous, you know," she said.
Harry raised an eyebrow at her. "If I'm not allowed to call you adorable, you're absolutely not allowed to call me cute," he said.
"Beautiful, then?" she said, looking up at him.
"Makes me feel weird."
"Only to be used under certain circumstances."
"We're tabling that discussion for later," Abby said before continuing. "Gorgeous?"
Abby clicked her tongue loudly and stopped them both in their tracks. "Then what can you be, exactly?"
Harry thought about it for a moment before a smile slipped onto his face. "Rugged."
"Oh my God," she said, shaking her head as they continued walking. "That's not even a compliment!"
"It can be," he said. "It's got a tough vibe to it, you know?"
Abby made a show of looking him up and down. "Right, so tough."
"Oh, piss off," Harry said.
She let out a giggle and squeezed his biceps. "You are, I swear!" she said, her voice insistent. "Rugged and sexy, that's my…"
Her words trailed off rather awkwardly, causing Harry to turn his head towards her before looking straight forward again.
He didn't think they'd get here quite so soon, but he supposed it was a conversation they would need to have eventually. Might as well do it, now.
"Your...?" Harry said as she stayed silent.
"I'm sorry, it just slipped out," she said quickly, turning to face him. "We don't have to call ourselves anything yet. We could just…"
But again, she trailed off.
"Just, what...?" he said as they stared at each other. "See where this goes?"
Harry let out a small sigh before moving them aside so they weren't in the middle of the pavement. "Look, I'm not going to lie to you," he said, staring back down at her. "A part of me still hasn't even registered what's going on here."
Abby's lips parted, her expression unreadable, and he hoped that he hadn't upset her.
"But I need it to," he said quietly, his eyes travelling over her face.
He brought his hand up to her cheek if only to remind himself that he could. Let his thumb travel to her mouth and brush across her lips.
"You've no idea how strange this is for me," he said, his eyes flicking back up to hers. "To touch…"
Harry couldn't bring himself to say the words aloud.
"I'm sorry," he said instead, letting his hand drop and shaking his head. "I'm...abnormal, you know that very well by now. But even when it comes to this, I—I mean I've only ever..."
Abby's eyes widened just the tiniest fraction as she grasped the meaning of his words, and Harry let out a long breath and rubbed a hand down his face.
"You've only ever…"
"Been with Ginny, yeah," Harry said. "I've never...there's never been anybody else."
Abby was quiet for a moment. "Oh," she said, barely above a whisper. "Wow."
"Which is why," Harry continued, placing his hands on her arms. "I need this to be as clear as possible. Me and you. Together. Call it whatever you want, just don't leave any room for doubt."
She looked up at him for a moment before nodding. "Okay, well...at the risk of sounding too normal," she said. "Can I call you my boyfriend?"
The corner of Harry's mouth lifted in amusement. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I'd really like that."
She continued nodding and shrugged. "Then I guess that makes me your girlfriend," she said.
The word felt so foreign to him, but he'd keep saying it until it was the most familiar thing in the world.
"So...what does my boyfriend have in mind for our first date?" Abby said, bringing them back to the present.
Harry smiled to himself before looking at her. "Where would you like to go?" he said as they resumed walking.
She raised an eyebrow at him. "You didn't plan any of this out, did you?"
"Maybe that's the point," Harry said, stepping ahead and turning to face her so she had to pause in her tracks. "So...where would you like to go?"
At this, Abby let out a small laugh. "It really doesn't matter," she said, her eyes darting around as if looking for ideas. "Anywhere's fine, as long we're—"
"No. Where would you like to go?" Harry said, taking her shoulders this time and forcing her to look up at him. "I can take you anywhere."
She blinked. "Anywhere?"
Harry leaned in to bring his mouth close to her ear. "Anywhere," he said with emphasis.
Realisation dawned on Abby's face at last. "Anywhere," she repeated. "Literally anywhere?"
"Well," Harry said, letting his hands drop to his sides. "Within a certain distance. Anywhere in the UK or Ireland is fine. And I'd have to have been there or at least have a mental picture of it."
Abby clicked her tongue softly and shook her head. "Shame," she said. "Here I was getting all excited…"
Harry lightly pinched her side causing her giggle.
"Kidding, kidding," she said, holding her hands up.
Abby took a moment to think, biting her lip in concentration as if this decision were of vital importance. "Can you take me to the ocean?" she said finally. "I don't care where. I just want to see the ocean. And sand. I really want sand."
Harry nodded thoughtfully. "I know a good spot," he said, holding out his hand for her to take.
She practically beamed in response, and he led them to a nearby alleyway so they could apparate.
"Hold on tight, I know," Abby said.
"Try not to vomit."
Harry gave her a look. "Not sure you can control that, but just...be aware."
"Oh, I'm aware," she said, taking a deep breath in and out.
He nodded, locking her arm tightly with his before counting down aloud and then apparating away.
They reappeared seconds later in a small cove off the shore. Abby immediately rested back against the rocky wall behind her and gave a small shudder. She seemed to only just manage to keep her stomach contents down, her face pale and breath shallow.
"You're okay," Harry said, rubbing her back soothingly. "It'll get better, I promise. You didn't even vomit this time—"
"Don't say the word," she said, holding up a hand.
After a minute or so, she started to get her color back, and Harry led the way onto the beach where she took in another deep breath of air, the pleasant salty breeze seeming to perk her up.
"Where are we?" she said, finally looking around in interest. "This can't be in the UK. It looks almost...tropical."
Harry gave her a small smile. "The Isle of Mull. In Scotland," he said, as she bent down to gather a handful of white sand before letting it pass through her fingers. "I came here once for work, and I always wanted to come back. It's beautiful in the summer."
The sun had not yet begun to set, and as Abby stood back up, they both took a moment to gaze around them. There were cliffs on either side of them, providing a sense of seclusion from the outside world. And ahead, a long stretch of near-white sand, the contrast so stark against the large expanse of bright, teal water it almost made Harry's eyes hurt. And in the distance, sat perfectly on the horizon, were rocky peaks and green slopes smattered about as though painted by hand.
The noise of the busy London street they'd left moments before had been sucked away as if through a vacuum, replaced with the sounds of waves lapping against the shore and seabirds calling in the distance.
"It's gorgeous," she said, looking up at him. "Thank you, Harry. For bringing me here."
"Yeah?" he said, scanning her expression. "I wasn't sure if you wanted somewhere a bit livelier. Maybe down south—"
"Absolutely not," she said. "This is perfect."
Harry nodded, feeling a swell of relief for the first time that day. Maybe this whole dating thing didn't have to be so hard, after all.
They walked closer to the shore, and Harry conjured them a blanket to sit on, the waves close enough to ripple against their feet every now and then.
"Are you hungry?" he said, resting his arms against his knees. "I remember there being a fish and chip place not too far from here. I can go and grab some."
"Later," Abby said, resting her side against his, shoes off and toes pointed toward the water. "Let's just enjoy the sun while it's still out."
"Sure," he said, taking his own shoes and socks off.
"What kind of silence would you prefer?"
Harry turned to look at her. "What?"
She smiled to herself. "Awkward, comfortable, or heavy?"
A memory flitted through his mind at her words from what seemed a lifetime ago. "I think we've earned the right to a comfortable one."
Abby gave a small laugh and nodded in agreement.
And as they took a moment to stare at the waves, Harry felt his mind quiet for the first time that day.
Water, especially the ocean, had always had a mesmerising quality to it for him. And it was that, along with the warmth of Abby beside him, her sweet-scented hair mixed with the salted breeze filling his nostrils, that caused an overwhelming feeling of contentment to wash over him.
It sat like a comfortable weight in his chest, spreading throughout every inch of him with a soft, tingling sensation. Making him feel things—about this moment, about Abby—that he didn't dare try and put words to. Not yet.
Instead, he only took her hand in his and laced their fingers together, hoping he could convey all of it in touch alone.
As the sun began to set, Harry conjured several small lanterns that floated above their heads, emitting a soft glow around them. He was quite pleased with how romantic-looking it turned out. Things had been rather casual so far today, but he still wanted this to feel like a date.
And if that didn't work, he could always snog her to eliminate any confusion.
"Is that safe?" Abby said, gesturing toward his wand that he'd just pocketed and interrupting his pleasant thoughts.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah," Harry said. "I forgot to mention earlier but this beach belongs to a small wizarding village on the island."
Her eyebrows raised in interest as she turned to look around, but they were several kilometers walking distance away.
"Won't they recognise you, then?" Abby said.
"The residents are all very old, probably tucked up in their homes by now," he said with a shrug. "It's a Tuesday night."
It wasn't a foolproof plan by any means. But this small beach had been one of the most beautiful places he'd ever seen, and he wanted Abby to experience it with him. He could always apparate them away if they heard someone approaching.
The thought soured his mood, so he changed the subject. "You hungry, now?"
Abby smiled. "Sure," she said. "Where would we go, though? Unless you mean you want to leave?"
"I could disguise my face and get us something."
She frowned at that. "Or I could go," she said, instead.
"It's too long of a walk."
"Well, apparate me there and wait for me, then."
Harry smiled at her.
"You said apparate."
"That's right," she said with a nod.
He stared at her for a moment before threading his fingers through the hair at the back of her head and bringing her face up for a kiss. "I like it when you use correct magical terminology," he said against her lips.
She bit back a smile. "Gets you all hot and bothered, does it?"
"Maybe it does," he said, deepening his voice.
Abby gave him a flirtatious look before leaning in to whisper in his ear. "Hogwarts...Quidditch...cauldron...broomstick…"
There was no mistaking the innuendo in her last word, and Harry was caught between the urge to laugh and the urge to throw her down on the sand and have his way with her.
He would definitely not be doing the latter.
"Would you look at that...guess magic really does do it for me," Harry said with a smooth tone. "Then again...anything you said in that voice would probably get the job done just fine."
Abby pretended to look extra pleased with herself. It was really fucking cute.
He leaned in to give her another kiss before standing up to leave.
She opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off. "I'm going. It's not as if I'd let you pay on our first date, anyway," he said, kicking sand toward her. "You wouldn't even know how to. You need wizard money."
"'You need wizard money,'" she mocked before rolling her eyes and throwing a handful of sand right back.
It blew in the opposite direction and ended up hitting her in the face causing Harry to double over with laughter.
"Oh, bugger off," she said, leaning over and pinching his arse. Hard.
"What the—!" he said, whipping around to face her. "That hurt."
She only shrugged and crossed her arms with a satisfied look.
"You'll pay for that," he said as he walked backwards.
"I'm shaking," she called back. "Nice bum, by the way. Very firm."
Harry pretended not to hear her last comment as he chuckled to himself and apparated away. He'd nearly forgotten to change his features, his mind still filled with thoughts of Abby, but stopped to do so just before reaching the edge of the road leading into the village.
Most of the shops on the winding street were closed at this time, but Harry spotted lights coming from the restaurant he'd visited a few summers back. It must have been three or four years ago now. He'd be on a case here, one of his last before retiring from field work.
Would've been the summer after Ginny, then.
The thought sobered Harry up a bit as he continued walking up the path.
He could remember thinking at the time how much she would have loved a place like this. All quaint and calm and beautiful.
It had kept him up that night in bed—a continuous reminder that he would never be able to bring her here. Never be able to bring her anywhere.
The familiar ache throbbed dully in Harry's chest, but he forced himself to tap it down. His mind hadn't yet caught up fully with the day he'd been having so far. But he knew it would eventually. And he'd deal with it when it did.
For now though, he just wanted to eat dinner with Abby. He wanted to pretend that his life was normal. That he could have a good first date and be a good boyfriend.
That he didn't have a mangled heart, patched up and held together by the thinnest of strings, and always, always, so ready to fall apart.
"So...how am I doing so far?"
They'd just finished eating, and the sun had fully set now, the only light coming from Harry's lanterns and the moon reflecting off the ocean. Abby had huddled closer to him as the temperature dipped lower, staying there even after he'd charmed a fire for them.
"Full marks, Mr. Potter," she said, giving him a wink. "Best date I've ever been on."
"You're full of it."
She gave him an affronted look. "Dates are like 99% company, and 1% the actual date," she said as if it were obvious. "And I'm the one who chose to come here, so…"
Harry held up his hands. "Fine, fine," he said, keeping his tone mild. "But, really...the best ever? If that's the case, I shudder to think of what came before me."
Abby narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "Is this you asking about my dating history?" she said.
"Oh, not at all," he said, pretending to look innocent. "But now that you've brought it up…"
She rolled her eyes. "You're about as subtle as a brick crashing through a window, you know that?"
"I'm sure I've been told."
Abby laughed and shook her head. "Well, you first," she said, nudging her knee against his. "There was really no one before Ginny? When did you two start dating, anyway?"
Harry leant back on his hands and crossed his legs at the ankles. "Towards the end of my 6th year," he said. "Horrible timing on my part."
Her eyebrows furrowed. "Why?" she said, softly.
"It was during the war," he said, glad he could talk about the different parts of his life with her now. "It wasn't the worst of it yet, but I knew it was heading there. And I was going to be at the centre of it all, so...I sort of broke up with her."
Harry shrugged. "We both knew we still wanted to be with each other. But I didn't want to put her in any more danger than she already was," he said, not regretting that decision even after all this time. "If Voldemort had known about our relationship, he would've used her to get to me. He had a habit of doing that to the people I loved."
His gaze grew unfocused as he stared out at the water, mind flashing back to the memory of him and Ginny after Dumbledore's funeral. Heart heavy and filled with grief, the weight of the world on his shoulders, the only source of happiness slipping away from his fingers.
For so long, he'd thought that that period of time had been the worst of his life.
But that changed the day Ginny died. When he realised that he would've been willing to go through the war a thousand times over if it meant getting just one more moment with her.
"It's so easy to forget, you know," Abby said, her voice bringing him back to the present. "Everything you've been through. Who you are, what you've done."
Harry turned to look at her. "Good," he said. "It was a lifetime ago, Abby."
"But it's a part of you," she said with a small frown. "A huge part, and I'm still getting used to it. But I'm not pretending it doesn't exist, I promise."
"I didn't think you were."
Abby licked her lips and glanced down between them. "I want you to talk to me about magic, okay? About your school. About the war," she said, meeting his eyes again. "You can tell me anything, and I'll listen. I love listening to you."
Harry felt warmed by her words. "Er...thank you," he said, hoping his expression conveyed more than his lackluster response did. "But I only told you about Voldemort a few days ago. I don't blame you for not being able to process it all, yet."
"Well sure, but...still," Abby said before letting out a soft exhale. "It's just weird...I feel like the more you share about yourself, the less I understand you. Is that completely stupid?"
Abby opened her mouth to retort, and he let out a loud laugh as she shoved him sideways.
With a smile still lingering on his face, Harry hung his head back and stared up at the darkened sky, taking a moment to appreciate the array of stars that would've surely been clouded over back at home.
"It doesn't feel that way to me, you know," he said eventually. "You may not know every detail of my life, but...you do understand me."
Abby brought her fingers up to brush his hair away from his forehead, and he couldn't help but close his eyes, reveling in the touch.
"Good," she whispered in his ear. "So do you."
Goddamn, she did that a lot. Whisper shit in his ear.
Harry was definitely not opposed to it, judging by the jolt of pleasure he got every time that she did. It was her voice, all silky and smooth, and the way her breath tickled his skin ever so slightly. It made it way too easy to imagine her saying very, very different things to him.
"It's your turn," Harry said, mainly to distract himself from that train of thought.
"What?" Abby said.
"Your relationships," he said. "Tell me about them."
She gave a small nod. "Right, yeah...but first," she said, holding up a finger. "You never answered my other question."
"Which one?" he said, narrowing his eyes.
"You said you started dating Ginny during your 6th year," she said. "But what about before that? I find it hard to believe there was no one else."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Because. You must have been popular in school," she said as if it were obvious. "You're good-looking—"
"Not back then, I wasn't."
"People got over that very quickly."
"And didn't you say you played Quidditch at school?" she said.
Harry paused to consider that. "Okay, maybe I had one thing going for me."
Abby waved a dismissive hand at that. "And I'm really meant to believe you didn't have girls chasing after you?" she said with a roll of her eyes. "Yeah, okay."
He gave a half-shrug. "If I said I did, would you be jealous?"
"I already hate them all."
Harry let out a bark of laughter, and Abby grinned in satisfaction.
"I had a short thing with another girl during 5th year, okay?" he said, causing Abby to let out a loud 'hah!'
"Emphasis on 'short'," he said, drowning her out. "It was hardly a relationship. She was great, but...we sure as hell weren't good for each other."
For a moment, Harry considered brushing over the details. But then he remembered Abby's words from earlier, and he figured this might be one of those things she'd want to know about.
"Well, er...her boyfriend was murdered the year before," Harry said.
Abby physically drew back in shock. "Oh my God, what? That's horrifying, that poor girl," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. "Who…?"
Her entire body seemed to deflate at that. "When did the war start, exactly?" she said, her voice soft. "I know you said he died when you were seventeen, right?"
Harry was surprised she even remembered that. "Yeah. And technically it started when Voldemort 'came back from the dead'," he said, putting this in air quotes. "Which was at the end of my 4th year. But most people didn't believe it until a year later because they didn't see it happen, themselves."
Her brows knitted together. "Did you believe it?"
"I was the one that saw it happen."
Abby's eyes widened. "You saw him come back to life?" she said, emphasising her words. "How? Why?"
Harry definitely didn't have the energy to go through all that tonight, and he told her as much. But he still gave her a brief version of the important bits. "Basically he kidnapped me. There was a magical ritual to bring his body back, and he needed my blood as one of the ingredients," he said. "Blood of the enemy—me being the enemy."
She stared at him with a deep frown wrinkling her forehead. "But you were only a teenager," she said, voice barely above a whisper. "You must have been so scared."
He didn't know what to say to that, so he just nodded.
"Cho—the girl I told you about—that was the night her boyfriend was murdered," he said, swallowing hard. "He was the only other person with me—by accident, really. And Voldemort killed him right away."
"And you saw that happen, too?" Abby said, looking almost afraid of his answer.
"Yeah," he said, green light flashing unbidden in his mind's eye. He blinked several times to get rid of it. "Which explains why Cho and I would have never worked out. She wanted to talk with me about Cedric, and...well, I didn't. It was a mess of a relationship, really."
Abby was silent for a moment, as if processing everything he'd just told her.
"Harry?" she said, finally.
He looked at her.
"You don't have to do this. To tell me everything," she said, shaking her head. "I was being selfish before. If it's too hard for you to talk about this stuff—"
"It's not," Harry said, cutting her off. "Not anymore."
She didn't seem convinced.
"Like I said before...it was a lifetime ago," he said, giving her a reassuring look. "I've had years and years of talking through these memories. Do they still haunt me sometimes? Of course. But I can talk about them. Ginny made sure of that."
Abby nodded and took his hand in hers. "Well, I'm really glad she did," she said.
Harry stared down at her fingers as they brushed against his knuckles. And he wondered if she knew that she was the only other person in the world that he could talk to for hours the way he once did, Ginny.
"Your turn," he said quietly, looking back up at her.
Abby gave him a flat smile. "It feels silly, now."
She shrugged and traced the back of his hand with her thumb. "Following up everything you just said with my boring life."
Harry clenched his jaw in response. "Don't do that," he said, pulling his hand away so she would look up at him. "Your life isn't boring to me, my life is boring to me. And I'm fucking bored of talking about it. So would you please tell me about these prats you've dated, so I can at least ease my goddamn mind over here."
Abby let out a tiny snort, but quickly covered her nose and mouth with her hand. "Sorry," she said, voice muffled. She then dropped her arm back down. "I didn't realise you were anxiously waiting."
"Well, I am," Harry said, giving her an unamused look. "So get on with it, would you?"
She heaved a dramatic sigh. "Well, it's nothing too scandalous," she said, wrapping her arms around her legs. "I've had three boyfriends. One of them was barely a relationship, just stupid kid stuff in sixth form. The other two were at university."
"They were more serious?"
Abby paused a second before answering. "Yeah, they were pretty serious," she said. "Well—not the first one, he was a wanker. But it felt serious at the time."
"How was he a wanker?" he said, trying to keep his tone neutral.
"Down, boy," she said through a chuckle.
Apparently, he hadn't succeeded.
"He was just obnoxious...arrogant...needed to be better than me at everything," she said with a roll of her eyes. "But really just a harmless moron. We dated for about a year, but if I'd known in the beginning what he was like, I'd have never stayed with him. He was rather good at hiding his personality under layers and layers of charm."
Harry frowned, hoping it didn't get any worse than that because he was already feeling a bit vengeful. "And the second one?"
Abby paused again, most likely getting lost in a slew of memories as her fingers skated over the sand. "We were together for nearly four years."
He almost choked on his saliva. "Oh," he said, clearing his throat. "Erm...that's rather long."
Abby looked up at him, and he quickly schooled his features into a blank look. "We were really good friends before, and then it just sort of...naturally progressed into more."
Harry didn't like how familiar that sounded. "Why did you break up?" he said, before adding: "If you don't mind me asking."
She shook her head. "It's fine...he…" she said, before letting out a small breath. "Well...to put it simply, he felt much more strongly about me than I did him."
Harry watched as she continued playing with the sand, shifting her body slightly away from him. "That must have been hard for you," he said.
Her eyebrows knitted together. "For me?"
"Well, yeah…I mean, I'm sure you felt bad about it," he said, hoping he wasn't overstepping. "It sounds like you still do even now—which you shouldn't."
Her fingers stopped what they were doing. "Shouldn't I?" she said, meeting his eyes with a challenging look. "He bought a ring. I found it. We broke up. You can fill in the rest, I'm sure."
Harry probably should've left the matter alone, seeing as he had zero context to go on, but something in him wanted to defend her. He knew she was no stranger to beating herself up over events in her past, and he didn't want to stand by and let it keep happening.
He also knew that was pretty rich coming from someone like him, but he was going to ignore that fact.
"Well, you can't make yourself love someone," Harry said.
Abby gave a humourless laugh. "Oh, you don't need to tell me that," she said, shaking her head. "I learned it firsthand. Still...it doesn't change the fact that…"
He met her eyes. "The fact that what?" he said.
She shrugged helplessly. "That I broke his heart," she said. "One of the most important people in my life. My best friend."
Harry didn't know what to say to that.
He hated that Abby felt this way. But there was a part of him that couldn't help but feel bad for the bloke, as well. Harry didn't want to imagine what it would be like to not have Abby return his feelings, and they'd only been together four days, not four years.
And there was also a smaller, more insecure part of him that wanted to ask more. What was it she couldn't love about him? Did she love him at one point, but then fall out of love? Did she never love him at all? And what was it about Harry that made her think their relationship would be any different?
What did Abby even see in him?
"I'm sorry for dumping all this on you, Harry," she said, snapping him out of his thoughts. "I never told anyone why Sam and I broke up because...well...I haven't really had anyone to tell."
Harry furrowed his eyebrows as he considered her words. "Why is that?" he couldn't help but ask. "I mean...you get along with nearly everyone, you're such a friendly person. And yet…"
"I haven't got any friends," Abby finished for him, nodding. "Not any best friends, anyway. Not for a long time."
He stared at her. "Why?" he said again.
Abby shrugged and shook her head. "I had a best friend when I was younger called Ange," she said. "We were super close, but she and her family moved away after school, and...we just lost touch after a while. I mean we still talk occasionally, but we're not nearly as close as we used to be.
"And at uni, well...I told you about Sam," she continued. "He was one of the first people I met there. He was a year ahead of me, and he introduced me to all his friends—key word being his. So...when we broke up, well…"
"You lost those friends as well."
She nodded. "I don't blame them. I mean...I'm the one that broke his heart. I was the bad guy," she said. "And it wasn't Sam's fault either. He was too nice a person to ever make them choose. But...well, they were his friends to begin with, not mine."
Harry swallowed. "And you and him don't…"
At this, Abby's face fell a bit. "No," she said. "He said it would be too hard for him, and I had to respect that...even though it killed me."
He licked his lips and nodded.
"You know...I swore I'd never let that happen again," Abby said after a moment, a sad chuckle escaping her lips. "Fall in love with my best friend."
The silence that followed her words rang loud in Harry's ears.
A question was dying to slip its way out of his mouth, but he didn't know if he was prepared for the answer.
"I'm your friend," he said at last.
"You are," Abby said, her voice soft.
"I'm your best friend."
Another beat of silence.
"You are," she said.
Their eyes met, and Harry felt something shoot straight to his heart.
The unanswered question still hung in the air, until Abby spoke again.
"You're worth making the same mistake twice."
Harry's lips parted before leaning in to capture her mouth in a soft, slow kiss that burned its way through him, feeling more intimate than any of the ones they'd shared before.
"It won't be a mistake," he muttered, forehead resting against hers. "I promise."
He couldn't make a promise like that. They both knew it. But he desperately wanted to believe that he could.
"Do you want to come up for a bit?" Abby said, as they walked up to her building after apparating back to London. "I know we both have work tomorrow, but...fifteen, maybe twenty minutes?"
Harry gave her a small grin. "As long as you make them worth my while."
She winked and pinched his backside like she'd done earlier, much softer this time, but still causing him to let out a sound of protest.
"This better not become a new habit of yours," he said, pushing her hand away.
"Why not? I told you, you have an excellent bum," she said, giving it a small squeeze.
"Abby," he said, looking around them. "Not in bloody public."
She snorted out a laugh. "As if anyone can see! It's dark out, you idiot," she said.
"Somebody could walk by."
"Just open the door, you can fondle me all you want upstairs," Harry said.
Abby waggled her eyebrows at him as she unlocked the front entrance and led the way inside.
When she opened the door to her flat, Harry wasted no time in taking the keys from her hand and tossing them on the table before picking her up and wrapping her legs around his waist.
"Holy—!" she said, as he shoved her against the wall and stared down at her.
"Clara isn't home, is she?" Harry said.
"No, she works nigh—"
"Thank Christ for that," he murmured, before bringing their mouths together in a heated kiss that Abby responded to immediately.
She pushed her tongue against his lips, and Harry opened for her, his heart threatening to beat straight out of his chest.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt like this. The brush of hands, the press of bodies together, the fingers threading and pulling at his hair. It made him frantic, as though all of his nerve endings were on fire. And he could feel it pouring out of him in the rough way he handled her.
He should stop. He knew he should stop. But he was so starved for touch.
It was Abby's soft hands beneath his shirt and low on his abdomen that finally made Harry pause, and he pulled away for a moment, trying to even out his breathing.
He felt like a live wire—exposed, dangerous. And he willed himself to settle down. Abby deserved better than this. She deserved his proper focus and attention. And he...
He needed to get his fucking head on straight.
"I knew it," Abby said with a sigh, staring up at him.
Harry put her back down on her feet and gave her a dazed look. "What?"
"That sex hair would look unbelievably hot on you," she said, running a hand through it again.
He couldn't help but laugh. "You've thought about it before?"
"Many times," she said.
Harry tried and failed to hold back a smile. "Not that much different than the mess it's usually in," he said, glancing at a small mirror on the wall next to him and attempting to flatten it.
"But this time it's my fault," she said, giving him a coy smile and knocking his hand away from his head.
They stared at each other for a moment then. Abby seemed lost in thought, a tiny smile on her face, while Harry's thoughts were busy replaying the moment they'd just shared, his insides beginning to fill with unease.
He'd felt entirely too out of control with her, and he needed to reel it back in. He couldn't afford to move too fast, his mind hadn't even fully wrapped itself around the fact that he had a girlfriend yet. And when it finally did—tonight, tomorrow, the day after that—he feared that it would change things.
Even now, thoughts were beginning to rush in, sucking away some of the joy of the day and leaving behind dregs of guilt.
Harry had touched her, kissed her, held her. Was ready and willing and aching to do so much more to her.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
Shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP.
Three and a half years. Three and a half fucking years.
He snapped his focus back to Abby, her eyebrows pulled with concern. He hated himself for causing that look on her face.
"Sorry, I…" he said.
She waited for him to continue, but he couldn't. How was he supposed to explain the mess of emotions brewing inside him when he couldn't even make sense of them himself.
"I should get home," he said instead. "Ron's watching the kids, and he has work in the morning, as well."
Abby nodded. "Of course."
Harry hesitated a moment before leaning in to give her one last kiss. He braced himself for the gut-twisting sensation it might cause, but as soon as his lips met hers, he felt a wave of calm wash over him.
With a small exhale, he pulled away and held her face in his hands, willing her to understand what he couldn't say aloud.
Please don't give up on me.
I never thought I could feel this way again.
"I'm trying," he said.
Abby frowned. "What do you mean?" she said before a worried look came over her face. "Did I push things? Make you uncomfortable?"
"No. No," he said at once. "If anything, I'm the one who pushed you."
At this, Abby raised an eyebrow before letting out an incredulous laugh. "You're kidding, right?"
She stared at him for a moment longer as if not believing him. "Why would you even think that?"
Harry's lips parted. He folded his arms and then unfolded them, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "Well, I was rough with you just now," he said, not meeting her eyes. "I was out of control."
Abby audibly sighed. "For the love of…" she muttered, shaking her head and pushing past him.
He turned around to see her plop down on the couch, resting her head back and shutting her eyes. "Go on," she said, gesturing to the seat next to her. "Have a seat."
He wasn't sure how their conversation had led to whatever this was, but he walked over and sat down, nonetheless.
"First of all, I don't mind it rough," she said, staring at him matter-of-factly. "And if you think for one second that I wouldn't be vocal about something I'm uncomfortable with, then we've got a whole other issue here."
Harry ran a hand through his hair and sighed loudly. "No, you're right, I'm sorry," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
She seemed to accept this for now and moved on. "Second of all, when did you realise you had feelings for me?"
He cleared his throat.
"There's no wrong answer, Harry, just tell me," she said.
He could see where she was going with this, and it annoyed him. He wished he could say that he didn't remember, that it had been a gradual thing. But unfortunately for him, it was very much the opposite.
"Your dad's wedding," he said.
"When you played that song."
"I don't know why. You just...looked so alive. Intense," he said, his chest warming at the memory. "Beautiful."
Abby stared at his mouth as he spoke and then shifted her eyes up to meet his. "You realised you had feelings for me while I was playing piano?" she said as if to clarify.
She blinked a few times before giving a little shake of her head. "How are you this perfect?" she said, her voice a little breathy.
Harry nearly choked as he laughed and swallowed at the same time, the absurdity of her statement shocking him enough that he wouldn't have been able to form a proper response if he had the time to.
And he didn't. Because the very next second, Abby pushed him back against the couch and grabbed his face, all but devouring his lips.
The first thing Harry noted was that it felt just as bloody good as all the other kisses they'd shared. Which meant that maybe he could move past his mixed emotions and do this thing properly, after all.
The second thing Harry noted was the sudden weight of Abby on his lap as she adjusted her legs to straddle him.
Yes. Yes, he could definitely do this properly.
"This just proves my point, you know," she said, leaning back a bit and resuming their conversation as if nothing had happened.
The way she shifted against him made it very hard for Harry to remember a word of what they'd just been talking about.
"What?" he said, sounding stupid even to his own ears.
Abby laughed. "You're adorable," she said, resting her forehead against his.
"Sexy, you mean."
"Oh? Is this one of those circumstances it can be used?"
Abby grinned before disentangling herself from him and returning to her spot on the couch.
"The point, Harry, is that I've had feelings for you long before you ever did. So I am absolutely comfortable with the pace of this relationship thus far," she said, gesturing between them. "Believe me, I've imagined most bits of it already. Many, many times over. In detail."
For the first time that night, Harry felt himself blush.
"Fine," he said, ignoring her snickers. "When did you first realise, then?"
A tender smile came over Abby's face as she leaned closer to brush a lock of hair away from his forehead. "The first time I ever laid eyes on you."
Harry's mouth opened a bit in shock. "Seriously?"
She barked out a laugh. "No way!" she said, nudging his head to the side. "Not with that stick you had up your arse, I didn't. You're not that good-looking."
He gave her an unimpressed look. "You know I feel shit about all that."
"Oh, it's water under the bridge," she said waving a dismissive hand. "As long as we also agree to forget how annoying I was—"
"You're still annoying."
"But now you like it," she said, narrowing her eyes as if daring him to object.
Harry laughed. "I do," he said with a nod. "I love it.
Abby looked very pleased at that.
"So, go on, then. When did it start?" he said, resting his arm against the back of the couch. "Your disgustingly huge crush on me."
She rolled her eyes but smiled. "Dunno," she said with a shrug. "Can't say there was an exact moment, but...something definitely changed after that night you invited me over your house the first time."
Harry frowned as he tried to recall which day she was talking about. They'd hung out beforehand, obviously. It must've been when she'd taken him to see that piano she was in love with. He could remember not wanting the night to end after they'd left the music shop, so he'd invited over.
How long ago had that been? Sometime towards the beginning of summer. About two months ago, now.
Harry had realised his feelings for her two weeks ago.
"That long ago, was it?" he said, interlacing their fingers together and brushing his thumb across her hand. "I'm sorry for making you wait."
Abby gave a half-shrug. "Wasn't very long in the grand scheme of things," she said. "Besides...I was doing all right with the whole 'just friends' deal."
"Were you, now?" he said, raising his eyebrows.
"Well, I was," she said, pretending to look annoyed. "Until you went and snogged my face off."
"You deserved it."
Harry chuckled and shook his head before leaning back against the couch. "So...the first time you came over, eh?" he said, taking a moment to consider her words. "Was it the decor that did it for you? The mess of three kids left behind on every surface?"
"Oh, all that and more, trust me," Abby said in amusement, bringing her legs up and hugging them close to her body. "Do you remember why we hung out that night?"
He shifted his eyes to the side. "Er...no?" he said.
"I'd called you the day before just to talk. But really I'd been upset over the fact that my dad had tried to contact me," she said, tightening the grip around her legs. "It was the first time I heard his voice in years, and—well...it was overwhelming, to say the least."
"So...you called me?" Harry said, his chest feeling light.
Abby nodded. "We weren't even as close back then as we are now, but...I honestly couldn't think of anyone else to talk to in that moment," she said with a shrug before turning to look at him. "There's just always been something about you, Harry. Your voice, your presence, your...everything—that's so soothing to me."
He stared back at her, realising too late that his mouth was slightly open and that he probably looked like an idiot. "Thank you," he said, quietly. "That's probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me."
She gave him a soft smile. "Well, it's true," she said, resting her head against his shoulder. "I think you realised something was off in my voice when I called you. And you agreed to hang out like right away—which at the time was kind of surprising, but looking back...it really shouldn't have been."
Harry was glad she seemed to think so, but she did have a habit of viewing him in a much more favorable light than he deserved.
As if reading his thoughts, Abby shook her head. "You've always done that for me, Harry. Even when you could barely tolerate me," she said, picking up her head so she could meet his eyes. "You know the first time you ever initiated a conversation was when I'd gone a week without speaking to you? I'd been so shaken up at the time from getting my dad's wedding invitation in the mail that I just couldn't focus on anything. I kept making mistakes at work and getting yelled at. It was horrible, all of it."
It felt like years ago at this point, but Harry could remember what she was talking about. It was the most un-Abby he'd ever seen Abby before, and it had been very off-putting.
"You noticed, though," she said, her mouth turned up in a small smile. "I was upset over something you had no clue about, but you noticed. And you offered to help. To talk—you! Of all people…"
Abby let out a small sigh then and closed her eyes for a moment.
"It's strange to say, but..." she said, raising her eyebrows. "I do have at least one thing to thank my dad for—he was a hell of a catalyst for our relationship."
Harry let out a surprised laugh, and Abby opened her eyes and gave him an affectionate look that warmed him straight to the core.
"Anyway," Abby said, getting back to the matter at hand. "My feelings for you were really just steadily building for a while. I don't even remember what you did or said that night at your house that flipped the final switch. But it doesn't really matter. It was never just one thing. It was everything building from the moment I first met you."
At this, Harry gave her a disbelieving look. "You just told me I had a stick up my arse the first time we met."
"Which is true," she said with a nod. "But you also saved me my job that day. And not every customer would've done that."
He shook his head at this. "You're making me out to be a saint, Abby," he said. "I'm sure there've been a thousand more times when I was an insensitive prick to you, but you're just too nice to remember them."
She clicked her tongue. "Oh, stop it," she said, hitting his arm lightly. "We've been over this already, you were never that bad."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, if you say so," he muttered before looking down at his watch and letting out a loud sigh. "Damn, it's getting late."
Abby winced. "Sorry..." she said. "I've kept you, haven't I?"
He gave her knee a squeeze. "We kept each other," he said before standing up. "And I'm not complaining. I got myself a snog out of it, didn't I?"
"True," she said following him to the door. "You're welcome for that."
Harry chuckled and turned to face her one last time before heading out. He felt a bit of disappointment rising in his chest as he did so, not wanting the night to be over just yet.
Despite his comments from before, it had actually been a great first date. Hardly of any of it was his doing, of course, but...still. He'd been worried for nothing. "I'll, er...stop by when I can this week during my break," he said.
"Can't wait," she said with a bright smile.
"And...I was thinking Saturday we could…"
"It's a date," she said.
Harry gave her a relieved smile. "Great. I'll, er, see you soon, then."
Abby nodded and before he could dither about what to do next, she pulled him in for a hug and squeezed hard. "Thank you for today. I loved every second of it."
"You've always been easy to please," he said, tone warm as he settled into the hug.
Harry took a moment to breathe in the scent of her hair before placing a kiss on top of her head.
He marveled at how easy it was to get lost in her. All the doubts and fears and reservations in his mind seemed to disappear the second he touched her, held her, kissed her. Making him feel so confident that this was the right decision.
He only wished that it could stay like this always.
Harry blinked in surprise when Lily ran towards him as soon as he entered the sitting room, wearing her pyjamas but still looking very much wide awake.
"Hey, flower," he said, picking her up and carrying her with him to the couch where Ron was fast asleep.
Harry paused in front of him before looking at Lily. "Should we wake him, do you think?"
She nodded in enthusiasm, and he dipped her down a bit so she could get right up into Ron's face.
Lily placed her hands on either side of his head before taking in a deep breath and yelling: "Wake up, Uncle Ron!"
The poor guy jumped in his seat, looking around rather frantically as though the house was on fire before his eyes settled on Harry. "Shit," he said, running a hand through his hair. "What time is it?"
"Just past eleven," Harry said, raising an eyebrow. "Lily greeted me as soon as I walked in."
Ron pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes at the girl who was currently struggling to push her way out of Harry's arms. "You said you'd stay in bed this time," he told her.
She managed to escape from Harry instead of responding, bolting toward the couch opposite them and burying herself beneath the cushions.
"Bloody monster," Ron said with a sulky look.
Harry shook his head at his dramatics. "Lily, enough messing around, it's time for bed," he said, tossing the cushions aside. "Go apologise to Uncle Ron for not listening."
But she only lifted her head up and stuck her tongue out at Ron who crossed his arms and huffed in exasperation.
"Lily," Harry said, trying to maintain a serious voice. "We don't stick our tongues out at people, that's very rude. No go and apologise."
She let out a small groan but did as she was told. "Sorry," she mumbled incoherently.
"Thank him for watching you tonight," Harry said.
"Thanks," she said, barely moving her lips.
"Yeah, yeah, you're welcome. Now, get lost," Ron said, waving her away.
Lily turned to run out of the room and back up the stairs, Harry calling after her: "I'm coming up in ten minutes, and I better find you asleep!"
Ron gave a doubtful grunt in response.
"So..." Harry said, dropping down on the couch opposite him and throwing his legs up on the table. "Tired you out, did they?"
"The boys were fine, it was that one that gave me trouble," Ron said, gesturing to where Lily had just disappeared from. "I swear she does it on purpose. She hates me."
Harry laughed. "She does not," he said, unbuttoning his outer shirt and tossing it aside. "You're her favourite uncle, she just won't ever admit it."
"Sounds familiar," Ron said, leaning his head back against the couch and staring up at the ceiling. "I was Ginny's favourite, too, you know."
Harry gave a nod. "I know," he said, having heard different versions of this argument more times than he could count. He would usually agree with whichever brother was speaking to him at the time, but he secretly knew that it had always been Ron.
Ginny had shared that with him herself.
"So, awkward segue, but...how was the hot date?" Ron said.
Awkward didn't even begin to describe how Harry felt about the prospect of sharing anything about his date with Ron.
Sure, he'd shown nothing but support towards Harry's relationship with Abby until now, but...would that change? Would Ron feel too uncomfortable hearing that Harry had a bloody amazing night with a woman that caused him to feel all sorts of wonderful, pleasant things. That for the first time since Ginny, he really believed that he could maybe, possibly, actually fall in love again?
Would Ron still support him then? Harry wanted to believe it. But how could he, when even his own thoughts cycled between happiness and guilt so often it was giving him whiplash.
"You can tell me, you know," Ron said after a moment. "If it was good. Or even if it was bad. You can talk to me."
Harry met his eyes, grateful not for the first time, that he had two of the best friends in the world.
"It was good," he said finally. "It was really good. I...I really like her."
It wasn't much to go on, but Ron nodded and gave him an encouraging look. "That's great, mate," he said. "I'm happy for you."
It was great.
It was really great.
The sentiment wasn't groundbreaking or anything, but it meant something coming from him. After the kids, it was Ron and Hermione's opinions that mattered to Harry the most.
"I'm seeing her again this Saturday," Harry said, offering up that piece of information with some hesitance. "The kids will be at the Burrow, obviously."
"Have you told them, yet?" Ron said.
At this, Harry shut his eyes and tossed his head back with a groan.
"I'll...take that as a no."
"Take it as a 'fuck, no," Harry said, rubbing his face with his hands. "James is going to flip. I've spent all this time trying to convince him that Abby and I are just friends. And now..."
Ron winced. "Yeah, he, er...seemed a bit off after you left," he said, causing Harry to sit up.
"What do you mean off? How?" Harry said, glancing up towards the staircase.
Ron shrugged. "He just seemed more quiet than usual," he said, not easing Harry's concerns in the slightest. "And he went to bed earlier than the other two. Said he was tired."
Harry let out a heavy exhale and hit his head a few times against the couch. "He suspected something earlier," he said. "I usually only see Abby while the kids are at the Burrow, and he pointed as much out to me, himself."
He'd known he was going to have to tell James about Abby eventually, of course. But he'd sort of wanted to wait a few days first, maybe butter him up a bit.
It wouldn't be right now though, not with James already doubting him. Harry would just have to man up and confront him about it tomorrow.
I'm a bloody coward, he thought, sinking lower into the couch.
"You'll figure it out, mate," Ron said in that nonchalant voice of his that made everything seem like it was no big deal. "The kid'll get over it eventually."
God, how Harry used to hate that voice. He would curse Ron in his head for it—to his face if his mood had been dark enough.
But over time, he'd come to depend on it.
Because as long as Ron remained unfazed by whatever new mess Harry was dealing with in his life, then he knew there was still hope.
And he really, really wanted to stay hopeful about this.