They sat between Alma and the door, it appeared as though she were pinned into the corner of
the small room, but she didn't seem intimidated. She sat calmly, her watery blue eyes staring into space, her wrinkled hands relaxed on the table.
'We know that you have been performing dark magic, Alma,' said Harry.
Her eyes focused on him, but still she said nothing.
'You use the ash tree for healing magic, don't you, Alma?' said Theia. 'It's what I saw you doing that night, walking through the Loney towards the tree. You used it to protect your family against Dragon pox, and anything else that troubled them.'
'No,' she said hoarsely. 'No, I don't do that.'
'We know that you did.'
'Lies,' she croaked. 'Marcy is lying to you.'
'We have a witness,' said Harry. 'A witness saw you perform a dark magic ritual out on the Loney one night in March.'
'Osman has been threatening me-' she began tearfully.
'Alma,' said Harry, his voice low and authoritative. 'We know. There's no point pretending to be a fragile old woman now.'
Her expression changed; she stared at him calmly. 'If you know, and don't want my defence, what do you want?' The frailty was gone, though she didn't move she seemed to sit taller, her voice was clear and steady.
'We want the details,' said Theia. 'There's no getting out of this now, your best chance is helping us by being honest.'
The corner of Alma's lips curled into a smile; it sent shivers up Harry's spine. 'You would never understand,' she said.
The waited silently, staring her down with expressions of barely disguised revulsion.
'I did good things,' she said. 'I helped people.'
'At the cost of others,' said Harry. 'And they all seem afraid of you.'
'They've no reason to be,' she said. 'I've never forced anyone to ask for help.'
'We know that's just not true,' said Theia. 'Marcy's mother came to you when her daughter was ill. And I think you were the one who made her ill. What kind of a choice was that?'
'The same choice all the others had in the village,' said Alma. 'They all died or moved away.'
'But they never said anything,' said Theia. 'They were afraid of you.'
'And it's no wonder, is it?' said Harry. 'You seem to be able to put illnesses on people at will.'
'I don't. The tree does. I listen to it. Talk to it. Tell it what to do.'
'So why do you need Marcy?'
Alma clucked her tongue, and perhaps it disturbed him because Harry felt the room grow a little colder. 'You don't understand. I am tied to that tree. As long as it lives, so shall I.'
A horrible feeling was crawling over his skin. 'How old are you?' he asked.
Her ancient eyes bored into him. 'I don't remember. But I was passed through the bow of that tree when it was just a sappling.' She clucked her tongue again, twice this time. Harry thought of the countless days and nights that had passed over that tree, the time it must have taken for the thick roots to creep across the ground and stretch into the river. He felt sick.
'But you can't be immortal,' Theia blurted out. 'That's impossible.'
'Of course it is, you stupid girl,' said Alma; the deep harshness of her voice jolted Harry. 'Trees don't live forever just a very long time.'
He wanted to look at Theia, to see her reaction, but couldn't tear his eyes away from the disturbing witch in front of him. 'I understand more than you would think,' he told her. 'But there are a few things which confuse me.'
Her expression was strange - Harry thought it seemed trusting. She had accepted Harry at his word that he did understand some level of ancient magic. 'You want to know the technicalities?' she asked.
'We'll get onto that,' he said. 'I want to know why you felt the need to keep Marcy there for so long. Why you couldn't keep using animals like that sheep. And why did you keep taking her to the Muggle hospital?'
'Well I'm not cruel,' she said, and then cackled unpleasantly. I don't want Marcy suffering with broken bones and burns.'
'But why take her to the Muggle hospital?' asked Theia. 'Why not heal her with magic?'
'Doesn't work like that,' she said. 'It moves things. It doesn't cure them.' She clucked her tongue again, three times now, shaking her head at their ignorance. Harry was starting to feel a little dizzy.
'When did you start all this? Marcy couldn't have been the first,' Theia continued.
'No, she wasn't the first, she was just the first who had the resilience to get through it all.'
The room seemed to get darker. It started at the corners of his vision, so slowly that he didn't notice, and though he could still hear Theia and Alma talking it was muffled, as though he were underwater.
'...And was this the case with Connie?'
'Yes, I needed her for Oeric's headaches, but he 'en't never been the same since...'
The darkness grew further, Harry felt transfixed on Alma as she turned her eyes back to him, despite still talking to Theia. The words sounded more and more distant, and now the darkness had grown so much that Harry felt as though he were looking at a reflection of Alma in a dark room, just her in the blackness, like she was holding a candle beneath her. The shadows hollowed out her cheeks and hid her eyes so that she appeared as a monstrous skull, with just glowing blue for eyes.
He heard her voice now, clearer than before, but he didn't recognise the words. He felt horrified but was frozen to the spot.
There was a rushing sound, like water, and then her voice again.
You are like me, Harry Potter. You have seen beyond.
He wanted to speak, wanted to shout no, or cry for help, or even scream in horror, but still he stared at the twisted shadows of the skull, unable to tear himself away from it.
You know that death can bring life. It's no crime.
My mother chose, he tried to say. It's not the same. She volunteered. I wasn't ill, I was going to be murdered.
The skull cackled. The mouth opened in a horrific silent screen, a cavernous abyss that steadily grew larger and larger as the echoing cackle continued, soon unnaturally large but showing no signs of stopping.
He felt something pulling him away, the skull shrank as though at the end of a tunnel, smaller and smaller, sinking into nothingness-
Suddenly, bright, unnatural light; the shock of it made spots of colour explode in his vision, he blinked, confused and disorientated, and felt the presence of several people around him, shouting his name and slapping his face.
Proudfoot and Williams had dragged him out. Theia was the one slapping him, a little harder than necessary, he thought, while a group of trainees were leaning against the door to keep it shut, yelling for help.
Panic and adrenaline courses through him, he finally looked at Theia and saw her own face white. 'What happened?' he asked.
'It was like you were in a trance. She must have cast some kind of enchantment on you wandlessly. I think it was when she clicked her tongue, I put a tying curse on her, but-''
There was a loud bang and the trainees sprang back from the door with a yell, before pushing all their weight against it once again, the ones at the back trying to cast enchantments over the door. Now dozens of Aurors were running towards them, Proudfoot and Williams hauled Harry to his feet.
'That's a seriously powerful dark witch,' Proudfoot said. 'Worst I've seen since You-Know-Who.'
'What do I do?' asked Harry stupidly. He had never felt so inexperienced. More senior Aurors had cast a spell on the door, which now held, but now all that had happened was that they had trapped her.
'I think you should go to-'
'I'm not going to the hospital,' he snapped at Theia, the fear and shock giving way to deep humiliation.
She wasn't phased. 'We've got a confession out of her and we just witnessed her trying to bewitch you. We have enough details. She'll go to trial and then We'll put her in the most secure unit of Azkaban.'
He felt devastated. This was not a success. This was not case closed. Not for him.
Robards appeared – Or perhaps he had been there the whole time and Harry hadn't noticed – and seized in roughly by the arm. 'Come on,' he said brusquely, pulling him into a different interrogation room.
The door closed and Harry was back in silence, except for the slight ringing in his ears.
'You all right?'
Robards crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. 'What happened?'
Harry told him what he had seen. He tried to stay matter of fact about it all, and hide his trembling hands. To his credit, Robards pretended not to notice.
'That sounds like very old magic,' Robards said. 'Unpredictable and unreliable, but she could have tormented you until your mind broke.'
'It's just a different form of occlumency, I should have thought, I should have - I just sat there until I got dragged out,' said Harry helplessly. 'I didn't put up a fight at all. If Theia and the others hadn't-'
'There's no heroes in this job,' said Robards sharply. 'That's always been your problem. You don't think like an Auror, you think like Harry Potter.'
'I'm not-' Harry started to protest, but Robards talked over him.
'It's why I never let you – anyone – work on their own, it's why I don't go in for hand holding or giving out medals or any of that shit.'
'I don't need hand holding,' said Harry stubbornly.
'No, I know you don't,' said Robards, more gently than Harry expected. 'And I'm sorry if the end of that case felt anti-climatic. It's not always catching wands in midair.'
Robards clearly found this joke amusing, but Harry didn't. 'I don't want everyone to think I'm just here because of Voldemort,' he said. 'I should have been able to handle that better.'
'You are here just because of Voldemort,' said Robards. 'Voldemort gave you more experience than most Aurors see in a lifetime.' He jerked his head back towards the door. 'You think any of them would have done any differently? Me? What is it you think you should have done?'
'I don't know., but that's not the point, I've learnt how to do occlumency now, I should have been prepared-'
'The only thing you could have done is have someone else there with you. And you did, even if it was just Higglesworth.'
He made to leave, but Harry stopped him. 'She's a good Auror. Much better than when she first started.'
Robards grunted. 'None of you are any good. My department is full of fucking idiots that get themselves bewitched.'
Harry grinned, and followed Robards out, heart still pounding, but feeling a little calmer. 'We're going back in,' he said to Theia, who was waiting outside.
'Hold your hippogriffs,' she said grimly. 'You need to speak to Jerome first.'
He followed her down the corridor, past the room with Alma in that had a glowing blue door, to the room he knew held Oeric Swindlehurst. Outside it, looking rather shaken but mostly confused, was Jerome.
'Are you all right?' Harry asked him.
'He just died,' said Jerome bluntly.
'Swindlehurst. I was in the middle of asking him about his false confession and he just… Smacked his head on the table. Took me a second to realise he was actually dead.'
Harry frowned, and hurried over to the door. When he opened it, he could indeed see Oeric slumped over the table. It would have been comical if it wasn't so unsettling. He looked back at Theia.
'What was Alma saying?' he asked. 'Before she bewitched me.'
Her expression showed that she knew the gravity of it; her jaw was tense, she breathed deeply. 'She said she needed Connie to save Oeric. He had been having headaches, and they suspected an aneurism. It was instant, apparently.'
'I'm glad she wasn't abused.' It was all he could say.
Theia gave a cold nod to Oeric's body. 'The guilt turned to alcholism, and the alcoholism turned to abusing women. A pitiful excuse, but I suppose we have answers now.'
'And that will be why he made the false confession,' said Jerome.
Harry nodded slowly. 'He knew Alma could take back his life the second she wanted…' He looked at Theia, horrified. 'The others,' he said.
She paled. 'Osman- Marcy!'
They ran from the room, though what they could do when they found them they had no idea. How could you stop magic you didn't understand? Alma didn't even have a wand, she seemed to be able to do what she wanted with nothing more than the click of her tongue…
'Marcy!' Theia was yelling, as they pelted down the corridor, and Harry was suddenly aware that she was crying. 'Marcy!'
People were staring at them as they ran past, startling the Aurors that stood outside the door of Marcy's room - they burst in without a word, to find Marcy thankfully alive but trembling.
'I can't see,' she was saying. 'I can't see, I can't see-'
'It's all right,' said Theia, her voice shaking. Marcy jolted as she touched her elbow, but reached her hands out.
'I can't see.'
'Get a Healer,' Harry shouted over his shoulder. Then he turned to Marcy, her unseeing, clouded eyes staring into the middle distance. 'Marcy, this is very important; the magic that Alma can do, I need you to tell me about it-'
'It's ancient,' she said. 'None of us understand it.'
'OK, I understand, but can she revoke things she's done with the tree? Is that what she's been threatening you all with?'
'She can't kill me,' said Marcy. 'Not really, we're tied together. But she can the others.'
'Wait with her,' Harry told Theia, and then he burst from the room again.
Ornella and her children were in the next room, and he went in honestly execting to find them dead.
They were not, but Ornella was on the floor clutching her baby to her chest and sobbing with her toddler on her knee. He paused, breathing deeply.
'There's nothing you can do,' said Ornella pleadingly. 'Nothing.' She looked quite mad, with her wild, curly hair and tear-stained face, and the desperation strained her voice. 'She gave Raffi good health, and then when I wasn't grateful enough she gave Aseclin the illness - she only gave it back to Marcy after I begged-'
'Can she hurt him again?' Harry asked urgently. 'Or you? Are you in danger?'
'I don't know, I don't know,' she babbled. 'I'm sorry, I really am - but you don't know, you don't understand - better her baby than mine-'
Harry crouched down beside her. 'I need you to calm down,' he said authoritatively. 'I need you to tell me everything, and tell me fast, it's my best chance of protecting you.'
'If she finds out, she'll kill us,' whispered Ornella. 'I bet she's already done it to Oeric, he said he was going to tell-'
The door burst open, and though Harry didn't turn he heard Proudfoot's distinctive deep voice. 'Something's happened, Osman's bleeding all over the place, all these cuts have appeared-'
Harry didn't turn, he was still watching Ornella's tearful, shaking face 'Is he alive?' he asked urgently.
'Well, yes, but-'
'Get a Healer and keep an eye on him, I'll be there in a bit.'
He heard Proudfoot leave, and Ornella rocked slightly, her tears falling into her toddler's curls.
'Ornella, you're not getting out of here,' said Harry. 'Whatever happens there will be consequences. I can't just let you go. Crying isn't going to do it. But I might be able to keep you and your children alive.'
She took a shuddering breath and a gulp, and said tearfully, 'I always got my way. I was the favourite. But then when I was pregnant with Aseclin, she said she wanted him to be tied to the tree, in case Marcy ran off with Osman. I said no, I didn't want that, and anyway I think Marcy might be pregnant too - but she said we couldn't count on that, and after all she had done ensuring me an' Raffi having good health-'
'Was Raffi ill?' Harry asked quickly.
'He was born tiny,' she said, clutching the toddler a little tighter.
'And then there was never anything wrong with the baby?'
'She put the disease on him when he was still in the womb,' she said. 'When I said no - she said he would die eventually unless we tied him to the tree-'
'Why did it have to be him?' asked Harry. 'Why not someone else in the Loney, or even Raffi?'
'You have to tie 'em as newborns,' Ornella said. 'That's what Alma always told us. She was tied as a newborn, and then she thinks that's what went wrong with Marcy - she was too old when she tied her, and that's why it took all her magic.'
'So you planned for it to be Aseclin?'
'To save him,' she urged. 'Always to save him. I never wanted him to go through what Marcy did, but we really did think her and Osman would run off. But then Marcy couldn't hide her pregnancy any longer.'
'You said once that Ascelin wasn't involved, that he was too small,' said Harry, his eyes moving rapidly between the two small children.
'I didn't want you to look at him,' she said. 'I didn't want anyone near him. He's too precious.'
Things were beginning to be knitted together in Harry's mind. He didn't fully understand the mechanics of it, and perhaps he never would - it was ancient magic seemingly lost to all but Alma, and he doubted she would ever reveal it to anyone. 'So you persuaded Marcy to give her baby in place,' he said slowly.
'Yes, and then she could go. And for what it's worth,' she added fiercely, 'I said I would raise her baby with my own. And I would have been kinder than my mum and Alma, honestly I would've.'
'We'll talk about all that later,' said Harry, resisting the urge to say 'in court'. 'Has Alma ever cured you of anything life threatening that she could withdraw now and kill you instantly?'
'Just the pox- But my baby-'
'It's all right,' said Harry, though he wasn't sure it was. Raffi was crying in his mother's arms, frightened and confused, but the baby slept on and Harry wasn't sure whether or not that was normal. 'A Healer will come and keep an eye on you, I'll be back soon.'
He left, snapping instructions to the Aurors outside the door as he did. Osman was on a stretcher, being magicked out by a team of Healers. He was a bloody mess, only faint moans coming from his mangled face.
'I'll escort him to St Mungo's,' said Proudfoot. 'That Pauline Swindlehurst - she's going to be transferred to St Mungo's too. It looks like she's come down with Dragon Pox.
Harry nodded vaguely at him, then returned to Marcy and Theia, where a Healer was shining her wand light into Marcy's eyes.
'Any other pain?' she was asking.
'Not yet,' said Marcy. 'But she'll break my ribs next, you watch.
'No she won't,' said Harry sharply. 'Higglesworth, with me.'
Whether it was his tone or the fact he used her surname he wasn't sure, but Theia balked before hurrying after him.
'Are the others all right?' she asked.
'Yes, I think she was just trying to warn us, and them,' said Harry.
'What are we doing?' she asked, having to run to keep up with his long, purposeful strides.
'I'm going back to talk to Alma.'
'What?' she exclaimed. 'Harry, no-'
'I'm prepared this time, I'll use occlumency.'
'You don't know that will work! Harry, really-'
'I'm not going to stand by while she toys with us and kills off witnesses,' said Harry firmly. 'I need you next to me - it things look like they're going badly, close the hatch.'
They had reached the glowing blue cell door, guarded by a group of uneasy trainees. 'Might need your help,' Harry told them. 'If things go pear-shaped, Theia will tell you what to do.'
They waited with bated breath, before Harry carefully slid open the hatch in the door and peered through.
The ancient old woman stood in the centre of the room, almost glowing white from her long, wild hair and pale skin. There couldn't have been any wind in there, but Harry felt a cool breeze on his face.
The blue eyes fixed on his green, and with that sound of rushing water everything around him was dark once again.
You're back, she said. I knew you would be. You know what I can offer.
You've misunderstood, he replied. It's more what I can offer you.
She cackled, her wrinkled, withered skull throwing back in evil laughter. Offer me? Foolish boy. I hear you shall be a father soon. Wouldn't you rather guarantee the good health of your child? Or of yourself? Do we need more orphans in this world?
Don't try it, he said, and though he knew that he physically wasn't moving, he felt as though he were taking a slow step towards her. That sort of thing will never work on me. People like you, people like Voldemort, you want to live, at any cost, no matter the damage it does to you or others. I look at life a different way. We're not here to talk about me or my family, we're here to talk about someone else.
Let me guess, she said. Marcy. The word echoed with a hiss, the old woman's skull looked even more demonic.
No, actually. I want to talk about you. The skull gnashed its teeth - she seemed to grow, the white hair whipping around her angrily. You are tied to the tree, are you not?
We are bonded, said Alma.
And I suppose something drove this fear to always have at least one other tied to the tree too, said Harry. Your desperation to keep Marcy or replace her with a baby. Your insistence on healing people rather than them going to St Mungo's. You caused the isolation of the Loney, didn't you?
Lies, she hissed.
Ancient magic like this, it needs blood, doesn't it? I know it. I know the power of blood, and what it can do. Prevent harm of children, bring people back from the brink of death. And I think it keeps you alive.
Alive, she sneered. More than that. I will stay alive without watering the tree with blood, that is not my concern.
What is then?
Power. The word echoed and bounced again, surrounding Harry with icy cold wind, as though he were back in the windswept fells of the Loney. But he could feel her losing mental control, the constant prodding at her mind was frustrating her, and now he could see not only her, stark white and skeletal in the blackness before him, but the stream at the base of the tree, clouds of crimson sinking through it, the moonlight washing the leaves of the ash tree grey.
Power to do what? he asked. You have never done anything. You have stayed in the Loney.
The Loney is all I need.
He saw the difference then, between Alma and Voldemort. While one had sought dominion over all, Alma wanted nothing but her own isolated world, and the few that she had tolerated to live in it. When Ornella had dared to demand to go to Hogwarts, to risk bringing the outside world in, she had needed to anchor herself.
You will forget, won't you? Harry said, and he could see Alma pressing her hands against the tree, the strange, forgotten language chanting around them. The ancient magic that only you will know. You feel it slipping away so you gave the weakness of your mind to Marcy.
He felt her fury, could see the blinding white skull again, screaming at him.
If Marcy left, and you were forced to kill her… If everyone left or died you would have no one to practise the magic on, and no one to make sure you remembered. You like being special, don't you Alma? You like being the only one with such ancient knowledge.
Castle and turrets, she spat. Cutting into trees, ripping them apart to bind magic in wands and change its tongue. Corruption.
So you tempt people with life and health and all things good and before they realise it they have made their own noose to hang themselves with, said Harry. But here is what's going to happen, Alma. You will go to trial, and then you will go to jail. And if any harm befalls any others from the Loney, even if I can't prove it was you, I will go to the Loney and I will burn that tree to the ground.
He forced the image into her mind, made sure she saw the branches catching, heard the crackle and splitting of the wood, smelled the pillar of smoke rising above the fells.
She screamed in rage. You threaten to kill me? Where is the honourable Harry Potter from myth and legend?
You thought getting into my mind like this would be an advantage, he said, but all it means is that there are no witnesses to me promising you that. I will claim ignorance. I can't know ancient magic like you. No one can. It's mysterious and forgotten and you kept it to yourself. It won't even be me that burns it, it could be a strike of lightning or an uncommonly hot day.
I will tell them, the skull howled. I will not stay silent.
I'm sure they will believe you, Harry replied coldly. He knew she would be able to see it, he knew he had let his guard down, but he couldn't help but picture Marcy as a young girl, and Connie, and Marcy's baby, and Ornella clutching her own babies. You may know ancient magic, Alma, but I have been the Master of Death.
And then he pulled away, the blackness shrinking away until he was back infront of the cell door. He blinked, and then closed the hatch.
Theia and the trainees were staring at him, utterly bewildered. 'She's made her confession,' he said. 'Someone needs to take a statement from me.'
The rainy spring gave way to what looked like a glorious summer, not that either of them could enjoy it stuck in their office. Though the case was closed, the paperwork was unfinished, and though the court date was set, they had to help construct a case for the prosecution.
'No one ever warned me about this bit,' grumbled Harry.
'Well, the quicker we get this done, the quicker we can get back to the next psychopath,' said Theia, not pausing her rapid typing on the typewriter.
'I can't decide on my recommendations for sentencing,' said Harry. 'For Ornella, I mean. I know we've made improvements but I don't know about separating those kids from her.'
'Well she should have thought about that,' said Theia tonelessly, though a look of guilt crossed her face. He knew that she had not yet decided what her own recommendation was going to be regarding Osman or Marcy, the only two to have been released on bail pending the trial.
'You went to Morecombe Bay with them the other day,' he said.
'You never told me what the three of you did.'
'We just walked. Along the beach.' She paused. 'Her memory has come back now. I don't know how or why Alma decided to, but… Anyway, she's a lot happier. They both are. They don't know how long it will last, of course.' She frowned. 'I don't understand it. St Mungo's has managed to patch them up, but after all those years, I thought she would just keep hurting them… Even Marcy's eyesight is better. I wonder why she's getting her memory back. Perhaps Alma can't do it from far away?'
'Perhaps,' said Harry mildly. He had never told Theia, or anyone for that matter, the threat he had made to Alma. He was quite content to let them believe Alma had lost her powers one way or another, while he alone knew the truth; that while she sat in a cell in Azkaban awaiting her trial she was consumed with the fear of dying an agonizing, burning death, and the longer she sat there the less she could remember anyway.
Theia hesitated again, and this time the typing slowed to a stop, though she didn't take her eyes off the parchment. 'I told Marcy about what I did to Ben,' she said suddenly.
'And what did she say?'
He could see that she was breathing deeply now, and her eyes were full of tears. 'She just told me how happy she was to have her memory back now, even though the memories are awful.'
Harry had no idea what to say to comfort her. He supposed Ginny would. Yet he couldn't deny that he had made friends with the cheerful muggle that had lived with them for a fortnight, and that Theia's betrayal had hurt him too.
There was a knock at the door, and, grateful for the interruption, Harry quickly called them in.
It was Susan, grinning broadly. 'Harry,' she said, gleefully. 'A memo for you just arrived, from your wife.'
'Oh,' said Harry, wondering why she hadn't just put it in his in-tray as normal. 'What does it say?'
Susan couldn't have smiled more. 'That things are moving.'
'Oh,' he said again. 'Oh!' He stood so quickly that he knocked his desk, sending the last of his coffee over his papers and a pile of manila folders to the floor and terrifying the cat.
He scrambled to the door, tugging his cloak violently off the coat stand. He looked down at Theia. 'Are you going to be all right if I leave now?'
'Erm…' Theia bit her lip and frowned down at her typewriter. 'No, I don't think so, actually. Can you tell the baby to come later? Like, sometime after five?'
He paused, before realising she was joking and laughing softly. 'I guess I'm going on paternity leave,' he said, feeling a little dumbstruck.
'I'll see you in a couple of months,' she said, smiling.
'I'll be back for the trial.'
'And you'll have to come round soon, to see him or her.'
Both Theia and Susan laughed. 'Will you just go?' said Theia. 'Stop faffing about - and congratulations.'
'Right, yes, thank you,' he said, flustered. 'See you tomorrow, I mean-'
He bolted to the fireplace; it was a miracle he arrived at the right grate because he wasn't sure he said his address correctly. His office spun into his living room, and he stumbled out, expecting to hear Ginny moaning and groaning.
Instead, he heard quiet conversation, and heart thudding, he practically fell across the living room to the kitchen, where he found Ginny and her midwitch sat at the kitchen table with cups of tea.
'What are you doing?' he blurted out.
'Oh, I didn't think you'd be able to get away so quickly,' said Ginny cheerfully.
'Hello, Mr Potter,' said the midwitch, Ada, sweetly. 'Big day ahead!'
'Shouldn't you be in bed or something?' he babbled, looking horrified at the relaxed women. Didn't they understand the urgency?
'Will you calm down?' said Ginny. 'We've probably got ages yet, they're about fifteen minutes apart. I didn't expect you to get the memo til after lunch.'
'Quite right,' said Ada. 'Sit down, Mr Potter, no need to be on your feet. I'll let you know when we need towels and hot water. This will be a marathon, not a sprint.'
Things rarely took a long time in the Potter household. Moving in, the elopement, even decisions over dinner or furniture. Both Harry and Ginny sped towards things as though life were one big Quidditch pitch. But there was no hurrying the arrival of their eldest child, even as they paced the living room and then the bedroom, rubbing Ginny's back and taking deep rhythmic breaths through the contractions that gradually came closer. So much of Harry's life had been a panic, a rush - a need to wing it and see what happened. But this was something different, less dramatic. It was something that was right and had to be done, and it had to be done at its own pace.
It was the dead of night when he finally arrived. Ginny, exhausted, the pain potions and spells only doing so much, her hair damp with sweat, on her knees on the bed and clinging onto Harry, who spoke loud words of encouragement as she buried her face in his chest, her deep, guttural cry at once breaking his heart and filling him with glorious anticipation.
'Nearly there,' Ada was saying. 'One more, Ginny, one more big push.'
He arrived, screaming and covered in the blood and mess of life, tiny and perfect and loud.
Harry was overwhelmed, stunned. He had thought about it so many times, imagined what it would be like, even worried that he wouldn't love it enough.
But there he was. And he did. He thought his heart might burst from it.
While Theia worked away well into the night, ignoring her sorrow, the typewriter clacking as she wished she had been brave enough to live, wondering what would become of the people that had been surrounded by death in the Loney, Harry Potter had no thoughts of any of them. He didn't notice his own tears, only his unbridled joy at the new life he and his wife had brought into the world.
'Hello, James,' he whispered to him. 'What a life you have ahead of you.'