1So, we've reached the end of this long journey (Au Pair is over a year old!), and I find myself filled with nothing but excitement and pride. Pride, of course, for my wonderful, amazing readers, without whom Au Pair would have died a long time ago. Seriously, guys – I hope you realize how much your faithful reading has meant to me, especially since I have not been the most regular updater. What started out as a way to save myself from the boredom of a family vacation has turned into my most affective outlet for creativity, and it is all thanks to you guys! I am grateful for all the support, kind words, and at times, helpful suggestions that kept me inspired. Sometimes, a single review has motivated me to get writing, even if I had been in the deepest of writer's funks. So, thankyouthankyouthankyou! to all the reviewers, who I consider to be my friends.
Disclaimer: Deep breaths… That's right, I'm savoring the moment. My witty disclaimers ran out a long time ago, so I don't think you all were expecting one, anyway.
Back in Dumbledore's office, Lily and Harry discussed their plans with the Headmaster. He agreed with the mother and son that Lily would have to confront Petunia eventually, but persuaded her to wait.
"She could be going into labor as we speak, and I doubt her attention should be drawn away from the baby so early in its life," Dumbledore pointed out. Lily had to agree with him, no matter how much she told her herself she didn't care about her new niece or nephew. "Actually, were Petunia and Vernon informed of the sex beforehand, Lily?"
"No," she replied. "They said they wanted to be surprised."
So Dumbledore decided that the Dursleys were not to see Lily that day. Instead, she would return to Privet Drive and start packing her things. Harry was to go back to the hospital and inform the Dursleys of his departure. Then Lily would meet him back at the hospital and the two would leave for her London home.
"What should I tell them about the au pair?" Harry asked.
"Tabitha Royce received an urgent phone call from a sick relative in Germany and left at once, only stopping to return her set of keys to Number Four and to pick up a few bare necessities from her room," Dumbledore answered after a moment's thought.
Lily nodded fervently. "Sounds believable."
At last, they left the castle, with Dumbledore's promises of checking in on them once they'd settled into Lily's house being some comfort. They returned the way they'd come – using Floo to get to Hogsmeade village and Apparating back to the broom closet in the hospital. Once they were there, Lily checked the door to see that no one had seen their arrival.
"Listen, Harry," Lily said, once she assured herself that no Muggles had seen her appear out of thin air. "Try to avoid seeing Petunia if you can. I don't know what sort of state she's in right now, and I don't want her harassing you. So just find Vernon or Dudley, tell one of them that you're leaving, and get out quickly."
"I'll meet you back here in half an hour, okay? Then we can Apparate back to Privet Drive and pack," Lily verified.
"Right," Harry answered, reaching for the door.
He found Petunia's room easily enough, having been there only a few hours ago, but was surprised at the silence of the area. Surely, women in labor made more noise than that?
Harry looked around. He couldn't see his uncle or cousin anywhere. Going against Lily's request, Harry reluctantly pushed open Petunia's door.
He found a surprising scene in front of him. Petunia, looking exhausted and pale, was lying on her hospital bed holding a small bundle in her arms. Vernon stood behind her, gazing at the bundle as if it were a special new type of drill. Dudley, on the other hand, looked bored sitting in his chair, poking at his handheld computer game. A frizzy-haired nurse was scribbling statistics on a whiteboard beside the bed, cursing as she tried to get ink out of the dried up marker.
"What, you've had the baby already?" Harry asked numbly, forgetting his intended plans.
Vernon snorted. "Well, obviously, boy!" He sounded less angry than usual, however.
"Well…which is it? A girl, or a boy?"
"A girl," Petunia answered him shortly, but her voice emitted a warmth Harry had never heard her speak with.
And before he could ask his third question, the nurse's screeching marker brought his attention to the white board, which now had several more words written on it:
Violet Cecilia Dursley
7 lbs, 9 oz
Attd: Nurse Sedgwick
The baby gave a loud wail, and Harry turned back to his aunt. She shifted the baby in her arms, calming it down. Harry was now able to see its face, pink and scrunched like freshly scrubbed skin. Violet's eyes were still closed, but tiny stubs of arms were flailing about, trying to touch and identify everything around her.
"Look, Vernon!" Petunia cried gleefully.
"I see, dear, I do," Vernon replied hoarsely, his bristly face radiant.
"You'll want to be careful with her, Mrs. Dursley," the nurse warned, reaching out a hand to demonstrate. "Make sure there's support under her head –"
"Of course I'm careful! Don't you think I know how to take care of my own daughter?" Petunia snapped at her, eyes narrowed protectively. Violet continued to cry. Harry thought the nurse looked like she wanted to cry as well, but turned back to her clipboard instead.
Harry stood, temporarily transfixed. What would become of this child? Did it all start here, in this very room – the first and not the last time she would be spoiled by the Dursleys, fussed over in Petunia's arms? Was this how life began for her brother, who was still sitting in the corner, throwing contemptuous, jealous looks at the baby? Was Harry lucky to have escaped this, or would Lily have done a better job raising him than Petunia had done for Dudley? He had to find out; he had to leave once and for all.
Harry cleared his throat, trying to get their attention. "Er, listen…" he announced, once they were all looking at him. "I'm leaving. I've got an invitation to go to my friend Ron's house for the rest of the summer, so I'm going tonight," he lied.
Petunia looked like she hadn't even heard him. She was busy cooing over the baby. But Vernon had heard Harry, and he had a growing smile on his face.
"You're not coming back next summer, are you?" He checked.
"Probably not," Harry answered truthfully.
"Excellent, then we can turn that extra bedroom into a nursery for the baby, love," Vernon patted Petunia's shoulder.
The nurse, who had been watching this conversation instead of filling out the notes on her clipboard, was aghast. "Look, now! That's a horrible thing to say to your son!"
The Dursleys turned to stare at her. Harry tried to correct her mistake before she embarrassed herself, but the poor woman was in a frenzy. "And I don't mean to interfere in family matters, but you can't say things like that in public! I just recently lost my son – in that horrible bridge collapse, you know, last month – and looking back on it, there were a lot of fights I wish I'd never had with him…things I regret saying…" Tears were falling down the nurse's face. She wiped them roughly with the back of her hand and sniffed. "Anyway, the point is, you don't neglect your children like that – you'll live to regret it. Believe me, I know better than anyone."
And she hurried out of the room, leaving Harry with the stunned Dursleys and their crying baby.
"She said what?" Lily asked, dazed.
"I told you, 'Never neglect your children, you'll regret it.' Honestly, you should have see the look on Aunt Petunia's face; she was completely stunned," Harry remembered, smiling.
He met Lily back in the broom closet and had just filled her in on the last half hour. To say the least, she was overwhelmed.
"Wow," Lily said breathily. After a moment, she decided, "Well, it's about time somebody told the Dursleys off. I only wish it could have been me."
Harry snorted. "Something tells me you'll get your wish."
She smiled mischievously. "Like I said before, Petunia and I will be having a little chat soon enough." Her expression changed. "But she had the baby already, you said?"
Harry nodded. "Violet…something. A girl, obviously."
Lily looked thoughtful. "So she decided to stick with the flower names, then. It's been a tradition in the Evans family for ages," she added at Harry's questioning look.
"That's sort of a strange tradition, isn't it?"
She sniggered. "For a long time, the Potters had a tradition of taking newborns up on broomsticks at four weeks old."
Harry was stunned. "Seriously? Dad took me flying a month after I was born?"
"Very much against my will," Lily rolled her eyes. "He insisted you get a feel for it early on. Of course, I made him use every protective charm I could think of, and you were strapped on to his waist the whole time, but we still argued about it for days afterward."
"Did I like it?" Harry asked, not taking her seriously due to the smile on her face.
"Please, we could hardly get you down!" Lily recalled partly with exasperation. "In fact, the only time I remember you crying during the whole episode was when James tried to unstrap you after you'd landed."
Harry grinned. Lily checked her watch.
"Oh, we'd better get packing. We have to be gone by the time Vernon and Dudley get back – they can't see me, remember?"
So Harry grabbed onto Lily's arm and turned; in another second, they were on the corner of Wisteria Walk and Magnolia Crescent, walking uphill towards Privet Drive.
"Here we are," Lily gasped once they'd reached Number Four. She pushed the front door open. "In you go."
The lights were still on, as they were when they had rushed out for the hospital several hours ago. To Harry, it seemed like days ago.
Lily started up the stairs, obviously eager to leave. Harry went after her, following her into the guest bedroom.
"Oh look, your owl's awake," Harry noted, pointing to the fluffy bird blinking up at them from the bed.
"Peine!" Lily gently scooped up the owl. Peine let out an aching hoot. "What happened to her?"
"Right, I never got to tell you…" Harry realized, flushing slightly. "Er, she got caught on one of those metal bits outside the window, and I think she broke a wing. I couldn't do any magic to help her or anything…"
Lily winced and took out her wand. "Poor thing. Here – episkey," she muttered, and Peine's wing was restored. "There you go."
The owl gave a stronger, thankful hoot, and flew up to a dresser where she perched.
"Need any help in here?" Harry asked.
Lily frowned. "No, I think I'm alright. Thanks, Harry."
He went back to his own tiny room and began tossing things into his trunk. He left some things for the Dursleys, however – candy wrappers and old Daily Prophets, which he knew they would rather let the room sit, dirty, than touch.
After checking one last time under his bed and in the loose floorboard in his old bedroom, Harry was packed. Lily met him downstairs shortly after.
"Ready?" She asked, slightly breathless.
"Yes. Let's get out of here," Harry answered gratefully.
They dragged their trunks out the door and down the hill, all the way back to Magnolia Crescent. Harry checked the skyline – it was dusk now, so it was dark enough so that no Muggles would see them Apparate.
Just then, Harry caught sight of movement in the bushes across the street, right outside the back entrance to Shrine Park. A trash can toppled over, crashing to the ground along with a yowling calico cat Harry swore he'd seen before.
"Look – it's the cat we used to feed!"
Lily turned. The tomcat that had just been scavenging in the rubbish bin was, indeed, the same one they had been bringing tuna for the past weeks. "Yes, it is."
Harry was struck with sudden inspiration. "Let's bring it with us."
"Harry, I've just been given responsibility over a teenage boy," Lily said tiredly. "I really don't know if I can handle a cat now…And my house is pretty small…"
"Please?" Harry pleaded. "It's not fair that I'm the only one who gets to leave Little Whinging tonight. Besides, he's so thin – I doubt he's eaten anything recently besides the food we gave him yesterday!"
She sighed. "Okay. Go get him."
Harry ran across the street, pulled the cat into his arms, and ran back. "Got him," he said, as the calico mewed loudly. "Are we going?"
Lily smiled, flashing her bright green eyes. "We sure are. Hold on tightly now, Harry…that's fine. Ready? Here we…go!"
Harry felt that now familiar squeezing sensation on his body, and was momentarily glad that he hadn't been eating recently. But as far as his mind was concerned, he was floating – farther and farther away from his past and closer to a new beginning…
Or, at least, to a better birthday party than he had seen in a long time.
Yay! We're finished! This is such a relief…
I hope everyone understood the "mother" theme in this chapter – in the whole story, now that I think about it. Yes, I would definitely call that the underlying message in the story. And, come on, who didn't feel sorry for Nurse Sedgwick, and what kind of monster are you? Kidding…
Trivia: Instead of a trivia this time, I just want to take a little survey. Care to share: Favorite part? Funniest part? Most touching part? Most frustrating part? Any other comments or things you think I could improve on?
Again, review replies will be posted later on in the week…probably tomorrow or Friday.
SEE YOU IN SERENDIPITY!
Hugs, kisses, love all around,