James hiked up the hill to the stone building overlooking the sea on the Cornish coast. The back door was propped open to summer breeze and rapped the doorframe and peered into the kitchen of pub. 'Hello?' he called. 'Mr. Hytner? Mrs. Hytner?'
Hugh Hytner emerged from the pantry, levitating a large bag of flour. He directed it to the scrubbed wooden table. 'James.'
James lifted his hand in an awkward sort of wave. 'Hi.'
'It's good to see you, James,' Hugh told him. He crossed the kitchen to the dresser and opened a drawer, extracting an envelope. Hugh opened his mouth, but closed it, deciding discretion was the better part of valor. 'Sit down, James.'
James gestured toward the sink, piled with breakfast dishes. 'I thought I'd get a start on those.'
'The dishes can wait. Go on and sit.' James slowly pulled out a chair and lowered himself into it. Hugh snagged a mug from a stack on the dresser and set it in front of James. He then poured tea into it from the large brown pot in the middle of the table, and pushed the sugar bowl toward James. James added a couple of lumps of sugar to the tea and stirred it, looking at Hugh suspiciously. Hugh took the chair opposite James and frowned. 'Maya… Maya left this for you.' He held the envelope out to James.
James felt the air rush from his lungs. 'Left it…?' he choked. James stared at the envelope, half expecting it to explode if he touched it. He slowly reached out for it and pulled the single sheet of parchment covered with the Spencerian style of penmanship Maya used for writing essays. James sat motionless for several minutes. He slipped the sheet back into the envelope, and stood, tucking it into the back pocket of his jeans. James went to the sink, tugged the yellow rubber gloves over his hands, and began to wash the first stack of dishes.
Hugh joined James and laid a hand on James' shoulder. 'She said to tell you it wasn't anything you had done.' James nodded stiffly, not trusting himself to speak.
Scorpius pushed a blueberry around his plate. 'May I go to Al's?' he asked.
Daphne set her cup down. 'Of course. I'll have to find the Floo powder, though.' She speared a raspberry with her fork. 'We should schedule a day for you to take the test for your Apparition license,' she added lightly.
'I'll send an owl to schedule an exam for you. Next week, perhaps?'
Scorpius nodded, keeping his gaze carefully locked on the goblet of orange juice in front of his plate.
Daphne suppressed a sigh and smoothed the serviette over her lap. 'Is there something you'd like to say?' she asked, more sharply than she'd intended.
Daphne pressed her fingertips against her lips. The baby didn't seem to care for raspberries. 'Of course you do,' she retorted. 'Out with it. I don't have the patience just now to tiptoe around the subject.'
Scorpius' head shook from side to side slowly. 'How could you?' he hissed. 'It's one thing to stay in a marriage because wizarding law regarding marriage moves at such a glacial pace, it didn't matter before if you'd tried to leave, because I would have been of age and out of this house by the time anything happened. But to bring a baby into this? You're mad.'
Daphne's hand convulsed on the serviette. 'You only see what you want to see,' she said with great deliberation. 'You're still convinced your father is the same person he was six years ago.'
'You honestly think he's changed?' Scorpius scoffed.
'Let me assure you,' Daphne began coldly, 'if your father had not, in fact, changed, I would not be pregnant. Furthermore, continuing with the pregnancy was never a foregone conclusion when I discovered I was pregnant.''
'But why now?' Scorpius asked, a plaintive note creeping into his voice. 'Why wait until now for… that?' He gestured to Daphne, hand mimicking the curve of an advanced pregnancy.
'It wasn't planned,' Daphne murmured. A thought crept into her head from one of those interminable books Draco insisted on reading. 'We're not trying to replace you. And I won't love you any less.'
'I'm not a child,' Scorpius shot back.
Daphne smiled, a little sadly. 'Yes. You are. Regardless of how old you may be, you will always be my child. Having another child doesn't negate that. I did want you to have a sibling. I never imagined the gap in your ages would be quite so… pronounced.' She took a sip of her tea, and her stomach revolted. She bolted from the table and darted into the kitchen. It was closer than the bathroom near Draco's study.
Scorpius waited for his mother to return to the table, but the sounds of retching propelled him to follow her into the kitchen. She sat at the scrubbed wooden table near the windows, hair disheveled and looking more than a little wilted around the edges. Perri sliced and toasted bread, then carried a the dry toast to Daphne. 'You are to be eating this,' Perri ordered. 'Slowly.' Daphne tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear and nodded in assent. Perri trotted to the pantry and returned with a small tin. She opened it, and the gentle aroma of spearmint wafted to Scorpius. Perri shook the dried herbs into a teapot and poured boiling water over them.
Scorpius crossed to his mother. 'Are you unwell?' he asked stiffly.
'I'm fine. Rather, I will be,' Daphne murmured. 'It's normal,' she added. She swallowed heavily and gestured to a small stoneware jar on the end of the counter. 'Floo powder.'
Scorpius reached for the jar and rolled it between his palms. 'I'll be home in time for dinner,' he said awkwardly. He made his way to the library and threw a handful of Floo powder into the fireplace. 'Harry Potter's house,' he said firmly, and stepped into the roaring green flames.
When he stumbled onto the Potters' hearth rug, Al's head popped up from behind the sofa. 'Wasn't expecting you to drop by today.'
Al shook his head. 'Just missed her. She went to the comprehensive school for one of her barmy classes that teach her to beat up people twice her size.'
Scorpius threw himself onto the sofa, and peered over the back at Al, who'd disappeared behind it once more. Al sat on the floor and bent forward, hands reaching for his toes. 'Can't be too barmy,' Scorpius commented idly. 'It did come in handy when Greengrass tried to manhandle her.'
Al's head tilted and he glanced up at Scorpius. 'How do you know?'
'I saw it. Remember that Quidditch practice James cancelled because of the weather? When you lot got back to the dormitory, you were half-frozen?' Albus nodded. 'She'd gone back to the changing room to fetch something or other, and it was taking a really long time for her to get to Gryffindor. So I went to see why she'd been delayed. And there they were. I had my wand out, but she waved me off and introduced her knee to his bollocks. I was going to hex him, but her way was better. More humiliating for him to know for the rest of his miserable life that he got beaten up by a girl.'
Al chuckled softly, and resumed his stretch. '"Though she be but little, she is fierce!"' he quoted. 'She gave me a similar treatment last summer.'
'You probably deserved it,' Scorpius said amiably.
Al's mouth twisted in a wry grin. 'Probably.' Al sat up and studied his friend. Dark shadows ringed his eyes. 'You look tired.'
'Haven't been sleeping much.'
Al twisted his right arm behind his back, laying the back of his hand against his spine, then stretched his left hand up and over his head, breathing deeply, trying to make his fingertips to touch. 'How come?'
Scorpius draped his arms over the back of the sofa. 'My mother is pregnant.'
Al's arms unwound themselves and he gaped at Scorpius. 'Is it your father's?'
'Mother says it is.'
'They're mad,' Scorpius said. 'She's… mad. She's stuck in that travesty of a marriage for another eighteen years.'
Al grabbed a water bottle next to the mat and took a swig. 'What if it isn't as bad as you think it is?' he suggested. Scorpius rolled his eyes in response. 'Nobody know what goes on in a marriage besides the people in it,' Al pointed out shrewdly. 'Look at Rosie's parents.'
Scorpius raised a brow and said, 'Yeah, but, Rosie's parents seem to actually like each other.'
'Touche,' Al muttered. ''Is that what's really bothering you?'
Scorpius rested his cheek against the back of the sofa. 'It's always just been Mother and me,' he said slowly. 'She swears he's changed for the better. I don't see it. I don't see him suddenly deciding to change nappies or get on the floor and play with dolls or blocks or toy Quidditch sets. So just like before, he'll leave the rearing of the baby to my mother.' Scorpius slid into a dejected heap on the sofa. 'This changes everything.'
Al stood up and leaned his forearms on the back of the sofa, looking down. 'Jealous?'
'Of course not!'
Al thought Scorpius was, in fact, resentful of his prospective sibling and what he or she might portend for his family, but kept it to himself. 'Have you owled for a time to take your Apparition exam?' he asked, deliberately changing the subject.
James aimlessly pushed food around his plate. He laid his fork down and glanced at his parents. 'May I be excused?' he asked, eyes downcast.
Ginny eyed James' uneaten dinner. He'd been uncharacteristically quiet all afternoon. James only left food on his plate when he was sick. 'Are you feeling all right?' she asked.
'I'm not very hungry,' James muttered. 'May I be excused?' he repeated.
'Of course,' Ginny told him. 'Why don't you go lie down and I'll come check on you later.' James pushed his plate away and left the table. He trudged up the stairs and crawled onto his bed, drawing his knees up to his chest, staring at the wall without seeing it.
Down in the kitchen, Al cleared his throat. 'He hasn't been sleeping,' he said to no one in particular.
Harry glanced at Al, his water glass halfway to his mouth. 'Pardon?'
Al reached for the salt and carefully shook it over his potatoes, not looking at either of his parents. 'James. He hasn't been sleeping.'
'Oh?' Harry sipped his water.
Al buried his nose in his food, kicking Lily in the ankle and glared at her. She heaved a put-upon sigh and swallowed the mouthful of peas she had been chewing. 'James doesn't sleep.' Lily's head tilted to the side. 'Much,' she added. 'He stays up late. Reads. Does the crossword. Sleeps off and on, really.' She buttered a bread roll.
'And you know this, how?' Harry inquired, glancing at Lily over the rims of his glasses.
Lily shrugged. 'One of his mates from his dormitory mentioned it before we got on the train Saturday. Said James hadn't suffered from insomnia before and it seemed unusual.' She took a bite of her roll. 'He said he thought we should know.' Al kicked her in the ankle once more. Lily frowned at him, and Al widened his eyes. Lily pursed her lips and shook her head slightly before adding, 'He went to work at Maya's parents' pub today.'
'Oh.' Ginny tugged her wand from the back pocket of her jeans and pointed it at James' uneaten dinner. She Vanished it with a bare murmur.
Ginny forced herself to finish her own dinner, serve custard tarts piled with fresh berries, then do the washing up without magic. She stacked the last dish on the drainboard and stood gazing at the cupboard over the sink, absently drying her hands on a towel. She retrieved her wand from the kitchen table and waved it at the cupboard. A vial filled with an indigo blue liquid so dark, it all but absorbed the light from the lamp suspended over the table, floated into her palm. 'Are you planning to slip that into his cocoa?' Harry asked, leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest.
'I might,' Ginny replied. 'He needs sleep.'
'That's a pretty strong Sleeping draught.'
Ginny flipped the end of her plait over her shoulder. 'That's the point.' She slipped it into her pocket. 'But, no, I won't sneak it into a mug of cocoa. I'll suggest it, but nothing more.' She walked toward the stairs, and Harry caught her elbow and kissed her cheek. 'Go easy on him,' he told her. Ginny attempted to smile, but only managed a pained grimace.
Ginny slowly climbed the stairs and knocked softly on James's bedroom door. 'Jemmy?' Ginny peered around the edge of the door. James lay on his side, facing away from the door. 'Mind if I come in?' James hitched his shoulder in reply. Ginny slid through the door and closed it behind her, crossing to bed. She sat on the edge. 'Tell me what happened.'
James reached into the back pocket of his jeans and held out an envelope to Ginny, still keeping his face turned away. Ginny took the envelope and pulled out the sheet of parchment.
30 June 2024
I'm leaving first thing tomorrow morning. I need to get out of Britain, and it's not because of anything you've done. I need a change of scenery so I can put it all behind me and learn to move forward. This is not a decision I've made lightly.
I'm fine. Physically, I am fine. Healed, you might say. Mentally… The best I can say is that it's a struggle. I sleep with the light on. I spell my bedroom door with at least three different charms to lock it. When I do manage to sleep, that is. I don't sleep much.
I'm not the same girl you left at the entrance to my dormitory. I don't know who I am anymore, actually.
Please don't badger Mum and Dad for where I am. I've asked them not to tell you. When - if - I see you again, I want to be as whole as I can be. Find someone else, Jemmy. Find someone who isn't broken and damaged. Try not to dwell on any of it, or me.
It wasn't your fault.
Ginny folded the parchment and slid it back into the envelope, then laid it on the night table. She reached over and began to gently stroke James' hair. James rolled over, curled into a tight ball, and laid his head in his mother's lap, like he had done when he was small. Ginny continued to stroke his hair, saying nothing, waiting patiently for him to start.
'I never got to tell her goodbye,' James murmured. 'Or I loved her. I mean, she knew, and I'd said it before, but I never got to tell her I love her after…' He sniffed, and rubbed the back of his hand under his nose. 'I had it all pictured in my head. I'd get on at the shop, take over the Hogsmeade location, visit Maya where she would do her training, propose, get married, have a family. It was all worked out. I saw myself taking our kids to meet the train for Hogwarts, growing old together…' James rubbed his hand roughly over his face. 'And now it's gone. Just gone. Now I have to say goodbye to that, too.
'And it hurts so I can't breathe.'
Ginny's hand stilled in James' hair. 'Maya has a long road ahead of her,' she said quietly. 'I wish I could tell you there's an end in sight, but I can't. There's no timetable, Jemmy. It could be six months. It could be six years. There will be days where Maya will feel the way she used to before she was attacked. And days where no amount of scrubbing will make her feel clean.'
Ginny resumed stroking James' hair, and her eyes closed. Every so often, when she least expected it, she could feel the ink from the diary caked into her hair. Dating Michael Corner had come at the end of three very long years, where Ginny examined nearly everything she said before she said it, searching for ways the words could make her even the slightest bit vulnerable. Ginny could concede that dating Michael, then Dean Thomas had been somewhat selfish in that she hadn't been attracted to them. They had been safe. It had been extraordinarily selfish of her, but it allowed Ginny to prove to herself that she could be unguarded with, and trust, someone who wasn't named "Weasley." She could tell James that in order for Maya to heal, she might have to be selfish and not think about James at all.
But he wasn't in a state to hear a word she said. 'It will get easier, Jemmy,' she murmured. 'Someday.'
Logan leaned back against a tree and contemplated the lemon ice lolly Hugo held out. 'They're not fancy, like Magnums,' Hugo said. 'But I like them.'
'Well, if you like it…' Logan plucked the treat from Hugo's fingers. Hugo folded himself to the grass. 'Your family is nice,' Logan commented.
'They're on their best behavior,' Hugo scoffed. 'I mean, they're nice, most of the time, but Mum and Dad can have, erm, spirited rows from time to time. They don't shout, usually. They had one last summer, after the World Cup. They always charm the room, so Rose and I don't hear. We can always tell, because there's this soft buzzing noise. Like you're walking by a beehive.'
'Or a hornet's nest,' Logan interjected.
Hugo snickered. 'Hornet's nest is a better phrase,' he agreed. 'Mum gets all shirty with Dad, because Dad won't convince Rose to do something other than play Quidditch. She won't say anything, but she'll huff or click her tongue at him. And then she's annoyed because I don't always do my homework, and Dad makes a mild comment that he didn't always do his either, and he turned out all right.' Hugo's gaze unfocused slightly, as he studied the bark of the tree. 'Mum glares daggers at him. She can be intense when it comes to our educations, and can go on and on about living up to our potential. Dad won't let her get too worked up, and Rose might not realize it, but I know he's trying to deflect attention away from us.'
Logan licked a drop of the ice lolly that ran down the side of his hand. 'I don't think my parents even talk to one another. I think they talk at each other a lot. Mum has her thing and Dad his.' He stretched out his feet in front of himself. 'I haven't actually gone home yet. Mum thinks I ought to stay with Uncle Kenneth this summer.'
'Some rubbish about how my little brother's nanny put her foot down this year, and said she wouldn't be responsible for me. Which is stupid, because it's not like she needs to wipe my bum after the loo. But Jason, my brother, he likes her, and she's the first nanny he's liked since our Nan said she couldn't take care of him anymore. And Mum doesn't want to worry about actually taking care of someone who doesn't have some horrid rash from nasty plant.' Logan shrugged. 'Uncle Kenny's nice enough. He genuinely seems interested in what I do, at least.'
'That's something,' Hugo murmured.
Logan shrugged. 'When I go abroad after school, I imagine it wouldn't be a terrible hardship to be separated from my family,' he mused.
'International law, then?' Hugo asked. Logan nodded. 'When did that happen?'
Logan meditatively licked his icy lolly. 'Professor Sinestra sent an owl. She said I had to make up my mind. Preferably now, since I didn't pin down anything during school, and, I quote, "It is of the utmost importance that you make a decision within the week. The classes you will take for the next two years depend on this, in addition to your O.W.L. results." It's one of the few things that doesn't make me want to gag.'
'Well, then,' Hugo began lightly. 'We should consider what we want to do this summer.'
Logan eyed Hugo with a frown. 'Are you suggesting we skive off on our homework?'
Hugo laughed. 'No. That's too much to ask of a Ravenclaw.' He caught the last of his ice lolly on his tongue. 'We'll make sure to include some time where we don't think about homework or school. Come September, it's all homework and revision.'
'You're planning to actually do homework and revise?' Logan snorted.
'Not every day,' Hugo said idly. 'I do have a reputation to uphold.'
'Perhaps you can come round later this week?' Logan suggested.
'Thursday afternoon?' Hugo proffered. 'I help out in the shop Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for pocket money during school.'
'Oi! Hugo!' Rose trudged across the grass, hands jammed into the pockets of her skirt. 'Mum says to come in for dinner.' She spun on her heel and stalked back to the flat, Hugo and Logan trailing behind her.
Ron waved Logan to a chair next to Hugo's. 'I do hope you don't mind curry,' Hermione said quietly. 'Ron's been in a bit of an Indian curry mood lately.'
'I've never had it,' Logan admitted. 'My grandmother stuck to standard country British pub fare. Pie, bangers, mash…. She makes a bloody good sticky toffee pudding, though,' he added, cheerfully.
'Chettinad chicken today,' Ron interjected, passing round a bowl of rice. 'There's naan under the tea towel. I think the batch today came out rather well, if I say so myself,' he said with a smug grin. 'Almost as good as the naan at Singh's.'
Rose reached for a piece. 'Come on, Dad. Let's not be overly modest.'
'Cheeky minx,' Ron muttered with a grin.
Logan toyed with a piece of naan, casually waiting for one of the others to begin eating, so he didn't embarrass himself by using the wrong utensil. Hermione softly cleared her throat and deliberately chose the spoon in her place setting. Hugo leaned over and murmured, 'You can use your hands, and use the naan to scoop up some rice and the gravy.' He gave his mother a sunny grin. 'Mum won't do her nut.'
Hermione snorted. 'I do take the stick out of my arse occasionally.'
'Mum!' Rose hissed, scandalized.
Hugo pointed his spoon at his sister. 'GIve over. You aren't exactly a perfect picture of propriety yourself, Rose,' he chided, inwardly pleased at his alliteration.
Rose's cheeks grew pink, and Ron leaned forward. 'That's enough,' he said to Hugo.
'Sorry, Rosie,' Hugo muttered.
Hermione smothered a smile and lightly touched the back of Logan's hand. 'Eat it however you feel comfortable. Hugo likes to eat it with his fingers. But you can use a spoon, if you like.' Logan dipped his spoon into his bowl and tentatively tasted the curry, then began eating with much more enthusiasm, while the conversation flowed around him.
Ron glanced at the calendar tacked to the wall. 'Whose turn is it to clear the table?'
'Mine.' Hugo gathered the bowls and tipped them into the sink. 'What's for pudding?' he asked.
'Lamingtons,' Ron told him.
'My, you are bored, aren't you?' Hermione mused. 'What with the twins taking over more of shop.'
'Lamingtons aren't hard, hen,' Ron retorted.
'It's not something you'd normally make for a Tuesday night dinner, either,' Rose shot back.
'You can't retire,' Hermione remarked, making tea. 'I'd weigh as much as the Fat Lady.' Ron leaned over and kissed her noisily on the cheek. 'And you'd still be the loveliest witch I know,' he murmured.
Logan glanced at Hugo and asked, 'Is it always like this?'
Logan shook his head. 'So this is what family dinners are like.'
'My family at any rate,' Hugo remarked. 'Can't speak for others.'
'Not mine. Not even with Gran. She's one for too many forks on the table and manners out of a Victorian novel.'
'That sounds awful. And boring,' Hugo said, accepting the mug of tea Hermione handed to him.
'It is,' Logan said.
'Hmmm?' Hermione didn't bother to look up from the parchment.
'You have a visitor. I tried to explain she needed an appointment, but she's, ah, rather insistent that this particular moment is the only time that works for her for days.'
Hermione heaved a sigh and tossed her quill to the desk. 'In fifteen minutes, something will need my utmost attention,' she ordered.
'Yes, ma'am.' Hermione's assistant hurried out of the office, and promptly ushered in a tall woman swathed in green Healer's robes. Hermione indicated one of the chairs on the other side of the desk. 'Please. Take a seat.' The woman lowered herself to the edge of the chair. 'I'm Lydia McCrae. I believe you know my son, Logan.'
Hermione nodded. 'I do.'
'I also believe you're acquainted with my brother, Kenneth.'
Hermione pursed her lips, but merely nodded.
Lydia stared at Hermione. 'I'm not a bad mother,' she stated flatly. 'I'm not a maternal sort, but it doesn't make me a bad mother. I am aware of my… shortcomings, and I've made every effort to ensure that Logan doesn't unduly suffer. Nonetheless, my work at St. Mungo's is important, and there have had to be sacrifices along the way.' Lydia smoothed her robes over her knees. 'I appreciate the interest you've taken in Logan.'
'Logan is a delightful young man,' Hermione said evenly. 'As a friend of Hugo's, he's always welcome in our home.' Her brow rose a fraction of an inch. 'You needn't worry about that.'
'My brother is perfectly capable of caring for Logan,' Lydia sniffed.
'Of course he is,' Hermione interrupted smoothly. 'Else you wouldn't have entrusted him with looking after Logan during the summer holiday. I only mean to say that should the need arise, Logan is welcome in our home.' She rose to her feet and stepped briskly to the door. 'It's been a… pleasure… to meet you.' Hermione opened the door. 'I wouldn't want to keep you from your work,' she added.
Lydia gaped at Hermione, then stood, gathering her robes about her. 'Good day, Mrs. Granger-Weasley.'
Hermione managed a tight smile before she closed the door behind Lydia. 'We're Weasleys,' she murmured. 'We collect strays. It's what we do. And thank Merlin that we do.'