'Oh God, Ginny,' Harry moaned. 'What have I done?'
Ginny could only shake her head, tears streaming down her face.
'What have I done?' Harry repeated in bewilderment.
Harry struggled to his feet, grimacing at the pain in his back. 'I didn't mean it,' he babbled. 'I didn't mean to stay that. Gin, we have to go find him. I didn't mean it… We have to go to find him and tell him to come home… He can't Apparate, and he didn't Floo… Where can he go?' Ginny grasped Harry's arm to halt his progress down the stairs. 'Ginny, let go! I have to go and find him.'
Ginny wiped her face with her free hand. 'You stay here,' she said firmly. 'I'll go look through the village. He can't have gotten very far.' Privately, Ginny felt that Harry was in no shape emotionally to deal with Al at the moment. Besides, she wanted a few minutes alone with Al, if nothing more than to give him a piece of her mind in private. She reached back and plucked Harry's wand from the landing, and pressed it into his palm, his fingers automatically curling around the handle, all the while murmuring the sort of nonsense she'd said to the children when they were young and frightened.
'Why did I say that?' Harry continued. 'I'm no better than my uncle…'
Ginny straightened and nearly poked Harry in the chest. 'You stop that right now!' she ordered. 'You are nothing like your uncle!'
'I am,' Harry insisted mournfully, eyes wide and wet with unshed tears. 'If it hadn't been for my aunt's promise to let me stay with them until I was seventeen, he would have thrown me out when I was fifteen… And I just ordered our sixteen year-old son to leave our house…'
'Who happened to say a great many things he ought not to have said,' Ginny reminded Harry. 'I'm going to go look for Al, all right? You need to find the sofa and stay there.' Ginny shook Harry's arm, forcing him to gaze at her, in a dazed sort of fashion. 'Harry, what did I say?'
'You're going to look for Al,' Harry repeated in a dull, dutiful voice.
'And I need you to stay…?' Ginny prompted.
'I'll be back soon,' she promised, swiftly kissing Harry before she ran lightly down the stairs, and out into the thickening fog.
Al made it halfway down the lane into the village when he stumbled to a halt. He gazed at the mist-shrouded trees in bewilderment. Where do I go? he thought wildly. It had been a moment of pure bravado when he'd slammed the front door, but that, along with his alcohol-induced euphoria, was quickly fading. He didn't know how to Apparate, and one just didn't Floo to someone else's house without being invited. And even if he did know how to Apparate, he didn't know where the other players for England lived. He'd only ever seen them at the pitch. Al crammed his hands into the pockets of his jeans and resumed his journey toward the village. There were plenty of places he could have a kip, then in the morning, he could Floo to the Burrow, certain Molly and Arthur would take him in for a few days until he could figure something else out. Even with Benjamin and his family staying at the Burrow, there was more than enough room for Al. School would begin in just over two weeks, then he wouldn't absolutely have to return home until the summer holidays. By then, he would be of age and could find his own place to live.
A twig snapped loudly behind him and Al whirled around, staring into the rapidly thickening fog. He exhaled with palpable relief when Ginny emerged from the opaque mist. 'Have you misplaced your mind?' she asked flatly. 'Were you perhaps the recipient of a massive blow to the head?'
'How else could you possibly excuse your behavior?' Ginny replied. 'We did not teach you to behave that way.'
'Me?' Al choked. 'What about Dad? Did you take him to task for throwing me out of the house?'
'I do not believe that Harry's behavior is in any way comparable to the way you've behaved for the past couple of years,' Ginny stated. Al's eyes narrowed slightly. She usually referred to Harry as "your father" or "your dad". 'I won't even begin to address the words that came out of your mouth tonight. Of all the things you had to say, you chose to hurl the most hurtful thing you could possibly have said to him!'
'Why can't you be on my side for once?' Al cried, his voice oddly muffled by the fog. 'It's always about Dad, and Merlin forbid we hurt Dad's precious feelings!'
Ginny hugged herself in the rising wind, the scent of rain heavy on the fingers of breeze that tugged wisps of hair from her plait. She took in a shaky breath and looked steadily at Al. 'Because at this moment, the person in that house is my husband.' She tucked her wand back into her pocket. 'Albus, you are my son, and I will love you until my very last breath. How could I not? I carried you, and spent hours standing over your cot listening to you breathe, because I was terrified you would stop the first couple of months after your birth. I've nursed you through illnesses, and kissed all your injuries – real and imagined – to make them better. I've defended you more than you will ever know.' She folded her arms across her torso a little tighter. 'You are my son,' she repeated. 'Even before you were born, Harry and I promised to love you unconditionally – and we do. We vowed to care for you in any way we could, above and beyond food, shelter, clothing, and emotional support. We just want you to try and make the best decisions. But you crossed a line tonight. If you think that we owe you something more than that, because you won the damn World Cup, you're wrong. Yes, we love you, but that does not mean we have to like what you do in any way shape or form. Let me assure you we have not approved of many things you've done over the past year,' Ginny said coldly, sharply cutting off Al with a look any time he attempted to interject. 'Insulting my husband falls into that category.' Ginny exhaled slowly and pinched the bridge of her nose. 'We want you to come home,' she said softly. 'Both of you said something in the heat of the moment. Your…' Her voice caught slightly. 'Your father was understandably upset and lashed out in anger. And I would imagine that stands for you, as well.'
'Are you quite finished?' Al said stonily.
'Brilliant. You say you want me to make the best decisions?' Al asked. Ginny nodded slowly. 'That's shite. You just want me to make the decisions you or Dad want. It's never about what I want to do. If it was, you would have let me go for England openly instead of holding me back. And that's all you and Dad want to do is hold me back because, I dunno, maybe you're threatened by what I can do. Without your help.' As he delivered his final salvo, Al spun around and sprinted into the village, stumbling over the unsure footing.
Ginny stood frozen in place, one hand covering her open mouth. Her stomach cramped with uneasy nausea and she sank to a bench located near the road. How was she going to go home and tell Harry that Al had run away?
James, Lily, and Scorpius huddled on James' bed in a stunned, silent row. 'Did he say what I think he said?' Lily whispered.
James nodded and studied his hands, clenched into fists on his knees. He eased them open, grimacing a little at the stab of pain running through his fingers as the circulation was restored. 'Yeah, he muttered.
Scorpius cleared his throat. 'I don't understand,' he began awkwardly. 'What did he mean with those things he said about your father?'
James scrubbed his hands over his eyes. They burned with exhaustion. He hadn't slept much the previous night after the game. They'd come straight home this morning, and waited apprehensively for Al to do the same. 'Don't you dare breathe a word of this,' he warned sternly. 'Dad would be appalled and embarrassed if he knew you knew this…'
'I won't,' Scorpius promised.
James exhaled and leaned against the wall, grabbing a pillow. 'You know about how Dad was able to defeat Voldemort as a baby?' At Scorpius' nod, James continued, 'Right, well it was because his mother died to protect him.' He gestured with his chin toward his sister. 'Lily's named for her. At any rate, not many people know what happened to Dad from then until he came back into the wizarding world when he started Hogwarts. Dad's doing, really. He doesn't like to reveal much about his life. It's common knowledge that he went to live with his mum's sister and her family. Muggles. More Muggle than a Muggle. They didn't care for magic, and as a result, didn't care for Dad. In almost every way you can imagine.'
Scorpius shuddered. 'That's… And I thought I grew up in an untenable situation. At least I had my mother to care for me.'
James stared at the far wall. 'They neglected him, smacked him, locked him in a cupboard under the stairs, treated him like a servant, or worse. He's shown me bits and pieces of his childhood, and I'm still in awe of the fact that he can create and maintain a relationship.'
Lily hunched over and rested her elbows on her knees, and propped her chin in her upturned palms. 'So he's saying that Dad's being a bad parent for not worshipping the ground Al walks on, because Dad's aunt and uncle were hideous human beings?'
'That's about it,' James agreed. 'Saying that Dad doesn't know how to let us have the kind of life we want, because he never had the chance to be in the kind of family that would have allowed that.'
'Git,' Lily snorted. She twisted to peer at James, her expression suddenly serious. 'Do you think Dad will let him come home?'
James shrugged. 'I dunno,' he said honestly.
Scorpius toyed with a hole in the toe of his sock, tucking it between his toes. 'Do you think he'll want to come home?' he asked pessimistically.
'Maybe once he and Dad both calm down,' James said doubtfully. 'You heard them. Al had been drinking.' He punched and rearranged the pillow in his lap. 'Maybe he didn't realize what he was saying.'
'Bet he did,' Lily muttered cynically.
Scorpius raked a hand through his hair. 'Maybe I ought to go home.'
'You are going home,' Lily pointed out helpfully. 'Tomorrow.'
'I meant now,' Scorpius said gloomily. 'I can just collect my things and use the Floo. Mother and I can go into London later to get my things for school.' He slid off James' bed and opened the door just wide enough to slip through the gap and padded the few yards down the corridor to Al's bedroom. He shoved his feet into his trainers, and savagely knotted the laces, then dropped heavily to the camp bed, a sick feeling of dread twisting his stomach. He silently cursed Al for his petty behavior, afraid it was going to sever his ties to the rest of Al's family, assuming his acceptance was based on his friendship with Al. His knapsack still sat on the floor next to the camp bed, where he'd left it when they had returned to the house that day. He picked it up and swung it to his shoulders, then left Al's room just as quietly as he'd entered.
Scorpius slowly descended down the staircase and crept to the fireplace, reaching for the flowerpot containing the Potter family's supply of Floo powder. 'What do you think you're doing?' Harry's hoarse voice came from the doorway leading to the kitchen.
Scorpius jumped at the unexpected sound. 'I thought I'd go home,' he replied tentatively. 'What with everything going on…' he trailed off, embarrassed at alluding to Harry's fight with Al.
Harry let out a soft, shuddering sigh. 'I will take you home tomorrow,' he stated. 'Go upstairs and get some sleep.' He snorted without mirth. 'Well, at least try.'
Scorpius shook his head. 'Mr. Potter, I don't want to cause any trouble.'
Harry reached out and gently squeezed Scorpius' shoulder. 'Please. I… we… Ginny and I invited you to stay the weekend. We promised your mother we'd have you back tomorrow after we picked up your things for school. I would feel horrible if you felt you had to leave.' Scorpius nodded a few times. Harry leaned against the doorframe and turned his attention to the front door. 'I'm so very sorry you had to see… Well… It's just that…' Harry flushed with belated shame. 'I'm an adult. I should behave like one. Please accept my sincere apologies.'
Scorpius' eyes widened. In his experience, adults did not beg forgiveness for acting like children, owning up to their poor behavior. 'Erm… It wasn't…' he began, prepared to assure Harry it wasn't his fault, when he knew if Harry hadn't lost his temper, the entire situation might not have exploded the way it did. 'It's a difficult situation,' he allowed.
'Go to bed,' Harry suggested. 'We're going to Diagon Alley after breakfast, then one of us will take you home. All right?'
'Okay.' Scorpius turned and started to go upstairs, when he paused and glanced over his shoulder. 'Mr. Potter?'
'Could I… I mean to say, would it be all right with you and Mrs. Potter if I were to perhaps come visit during the Christmas holiday? Just for an afternoon,' he added quickly.
'Scorpius, I told you yesterday morning you are always welcome in our home. I meant that. This… thing… with Albus doesn't change that in the slightest.'
Scorpius ducked his head in acknowledgement and darted up the stairs, disappearing into Al's bedroom. He toed off his trainers and stretched out on the camp bed, still fully dressed, and stacked his hands under his head, staring at the ceiling, feeling that if he did sleep, it wasn't going to come easily.
Al shivered and wrapped his jacket around his body and trudged down the pavement until he came to Ron and Hermione's flat and stood on the steps, staring at the brightly painted door. It was honestly the only place he could think of to stay for the night. Granted, he was certain his reception wouldn't be warm or friendly, but the Leaky Cauldron wouldn't let him have a room without an adult. He considered and rejected Teddy's flat. Teddy would be sure to blab to Harry. He could try George and Katie's house, but it was just barely large enough for their family, and his presence would make close quarters feel even closer. He was in no mood to deal with Percy's sanctimonious lectures, so their house was out. If he tried Bill or Charlie's house, he was faced with the same problem as going to his grandparents. Reluctantly, he mounted the steps and knocked on the door. It opened a mere crack and a quantity of bright red hair appeared, followed by one dark brown eye. 'What do you want?' Rose asked rudely.
'Can I come in?' Al asked.
'Bloody hell, Rosie, let me in!' Al snarled.
'Might as well let him in,' came Hugo's voice from behind Rose. 'We're making a scene, and Mum would have a litter of Kneazles if she knew.'
'Fine,' Rose huffed and let Al through the door, closing and locking it firmly behind him.
'Where're your mum and dad?' Al asked.
'They took Benjamin and April out for dinner before they go back to San Francisco,' Hugo said calmly. 'They ought to be back before too long,' he added, glancing at the clock on the mantle.
'Could I stay here until they get back?' Al asked brusquely.
Rose and Hugo exchanged a glance, and Rose nodded, gesturing toward the sofa. 'Hugo and I were just about to go to bed, so you can wait for Mum and Dad out here.'
Al stiffened slightly. He was well aware there was a spare room in the flat where he could have slept on a camp bed. 'Okay,' he said with a shrug, acting as if it didn't send a sharp stab through his stomach to have yet another member of his family dismiss him. He stood by rigidly until they disappeared into their bedrooms, then flopped down to the cushions, wincing as his shoulder blade came into contact with the back of the sofa. He hoped Benjamin and April weren't the types to want to stay out late. Perhaps he could persuade Ron or Hermione to help him get a room at the Leaky Cauldron. He had more than enough gold to pay for it. He wanted to get as far away from anyone bearing the name Weasley or Potter as he could.
Rose closed her bedroom door and gazed unhappily at Hugo. 'I hope he doesn't intend to stay until the beginning of the term.'
'It's not our decision,' Hugo reminded her. He glanced at the door and bit his lip, worrying it between his teeth. 'I wonder…' he mused.
'What?' Rose asked sharply. Hugo was often far too intuitive for her comfort.
Hugo rubbed the side of his head. 'It's just… Do you think he's haughty because he thinks he has a right to be, or because he's using it to shield himself from all of our disapproval?'
Rose opened her mouth to respond, but closed it, shaking her head. 'I… I hadn't really thought about it,' she sighed.
Hugo shrugged. 'I don't think any of us did,' he told her, before he quietly opened her door and slipped out of the room.
April took a sip from her wineglass and let the heady liquid slide down the back of her throat. 'I don't mean to pry,' she said into a lull in the conversation. 'But Al…?'
'April,' Benjamin muttered warningly.
April turned in her chair. 'Seriously? We're just going to ignore the elephant in the room?'
Benjamin glanced nervously at Ron and Hermione's tense faces. 'Now's not the time… And it's none of our business,' he said firmly.
April said something rude under her breath and picked up her fork. 'You're right. It would be none of our business if we were complete strangers. But we're not.'
Ron laid his fork down and wiped the corners of his mouth with his serviette. They were in a Muggle restaurant, and there were no other witches or wizards in the vicinity. 'This goes no further than this table,' he told them solemnly.
April tittered uneasily. 'Such secrecy.'
'Maybe you shouldn't tell us,' Benjamin said. He didn't like secrets.
'Oh, honestly,' Hermione sighed. 'Albus didn't exactly have permission to be at the team trials,' she said quietly. 'The rest of the family knows, but it's not common knowledge. It would not be in the English Quidditch Association's best interests if it were to become so.'
'That explains a lot,' April noted. 'I thought it might be more than just a dislike of travel.'
'Were we that obvious?' Ron joked grimly.
'Only a little,' Benjamin snorted. 'Well, to a casual observer, it didn't really look like more than weary adults traveling with children. But to someone that knows your family dynamic…' He shrugged. 'Molly writes to me regularly. She's pretty descriptive. And Harry and I correspond a bit. I thought there might have been something a bit off in his recent letters.'
'You and Harry write to each other?' Ron blurted, startled.
'Ron,' Hermione chastised.
'Think you know your best mate,' Ron groused. 'Never once told me he was writing Benjamin.'
'You'll have to forgive Ron,' Hermione told Benjamin, as she resumed her interrupted meal. 'He's been under the mistaken impression that he and Harry must divulge everything to each other for the past thirty years.'
'I do not!' Ron hissed.
'Yes, you do,' Hermione chuckled, relieved the subject of Al's presence on England's team had passed. 'So when are you going home?' she asked Benjamin.
'Tuesday. Parker's going with us. He's taking a summer course before the fall quarter begins. Poor boy's been killing himself to make up for the two quarters he missed.' April smiled fondly. 'And Leo and Marissa just adore him.'
'And that girl, Mackenzie?'
Benjamin hesitated. 'They see each other when they can,' he hedged.
'I thought she was just lovely when she came to visit,' Hermione said brightly. 'In spite of her father,' she added darkly. 'I don't remember Parker ever telling us what she does.'
'Mackenzie? She's just finished her training. Designs brooms. Mostly racing brooms,' Benjamin informed them.
'Racing brooms? Really?' Ron asked excitedly.
'Really,' Benjamin laughed. 'She was at the match, actually.'
'Then why did she not attend the match with Parker?' Hermione asked.
'She was working,' April said, between bites of her dinner. 'She designed the brooms the Argentine Chasers were using.'
'Did she?' Hermione's enthusiasm for Mackenzie dimmed just a little. The situation with Al was proof positive that Quidditch was the source of far too many problems.
'Yep,' Benjamin said. 'She was examining how they flew to make adjustments to the design, maybe change out the wood…'
'Is that so…?' Hermione could feel her eyes begin to glaze over.
'Different types of wood react in different ways to the charms and spells,' Ron patiently explained for the hundredth time. 'Different densities… You don't want the entire handle to be made of a dense wood. It won't fly as well.'
'Obviously,' Hermione sighed.
'Not a fan of Quidditch, are you?' April guessed.
'If I were to say I'm not a fan, it would be an understatement,' Hermione mused. 'I happened to marry into a family that's mad about it, though. And my daughter harbors delusions that she'll play professionally. But she's sensible. She'll come round and go into something with more stability.'
April examined Hermione for a moment. 'Funny. I didn't peg you for the Percy mold.'
'I beg your pardon?'
April shrugged. 'I just thought after seeing how Percy handled the situation with Parker in the beginning, you might go with a different approach.'
Hermione's shoulders stiffened slightly. 'You're rather outspoken, aren't you?'
April grinned. 'Just commenting on what I've seen.' She speared a tomato with her fork and asked, 'What position does Rose play?'
'Keeper,' Ron said proudly. 'Same as me.'
'Is she any good?' Benjamin asked curiously.
'I think she is,' Ron demurred. 'I mean she hasn't been courted like Al, but who has?' He eyed Hermione. 'If she wants to have a go at playing for a team, then by all means, let her try.' He squarely met his wife's eyes and continued, 'At least we can hope she'll be open with us, yeah?'
Hermione sighed softly and looked down at her plate. She wanted more for Rose. Hermione firmly believed Rose had the intelligence, not to mention the requisite personal skills necessary, in order to become the Minister of Magic one day. It was something she never voiced aloud to anyone, not even to Ron. 'Of course.'
Ron opened the door and stood back to let Hermione into the flat. 'Merlin's pants, I can't wait to get into bed,' he sighed.
'It's been a long weekend,' Hermione agreed. She took his hand and they walked down the short corridor toward the sitting room. 'Looks like Rose left a light on for us,' she commented, seeing the dim light spilling into the corridor.
'That was nice of her,' Ron murmured, pressing a kiss to his wife's temple. They stopped short in the doorway of the sitting room, their drowsy mood suddenly dissipated by the sight of their nephew curled in a corner of the sofa, sound asleep. 'What the bloody hell?' Ron reached out and shook Al's shoulder roughly, waking him. Al hissed in pain and shot upright, blinking confusedly at his aunt and uncle. 'What are you doing here?' Ron demanded. 'Do your parents know you're here?'
Al stared sullenly at Ron for a moment, before muttering reluctantly, 'No.'
'Is there something wrong with Harry or Ginny?' Hermione queried.
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. 'I'm going to need more than monosyllabic answers,' she said flatly.
A muscle in Al's jaw jumped as he ground his teeth together. 'I had a row with Dad,' he admitted.
Hermione studied Al's closed face. 'I see.' She inhaled slowly. 'Might I inquire why?' Al glared stonily at her, and said nothing.
'Why don't we go to bed, yeah?' Ron said into the yawning silence. 'We'll sort this all out in the morning after we get some sleep. Everyone's tired and I imagine you must be exhausted,' he said to Al. 'You can sleep in the spare room.'
Hermione's head cocked to the side. There was something about the way Al held his body and she recalled the way he'd flinched when Ron woke him. 'Just a moment,' she said quietly.
'Hermione, give over,' Ron whispered. 'Let's deal with this in the morning.'
'Let me see your back, Al,' Hermione said evenly. When he hesitated, she snapped, 'Now.'
'Fine,' Al ground out and turned his back to Ron and Hermione, and gingerly pulled his shirt over his head, revealing the bandage on his back. Hermione peeled the bandage back, revealing the tattoo and a small sound escaped her.
'Albus,' she breathed with distinct disappointment.
'What's the big deal?' Al huffed. 'Dad saw it, and you would have thought I betrayed the family.'
'I'll be right back,' Ron said softly. He strode quickly to the bathroom, and returned with a small pot in one hand. He twisted off the lid and scooped up a dollop of pale yellow paste and smoothed it carefully over the raw lines of the tattoo. They used it in the shop for various injuries – burns, cuts, scrapes, and even the odd bruise. Fred and George had developed it when they opened the shop, and Ron found it useful to keep around the house. In a matter of moments, the tattoo healed. Ron carefully drew Al's shirt down, hiding the offending tattoo. 'There. Now get yourself to bed, and your aunt Hermione, you, and I will have a chat before breakfast about all this.'
'No.' Both Ron and Al's heads swiveled owl-like to gape at Hermione's low, furious tone.
'Come on, Hermione,' Ron pleaded. 'It'll keep overnight.'
'I can't believe you of all people would say that!' Hermione hissed. 'You know how he feels about those things!'
'It can wait,' Ron insisted.
'No, it can't! He should know before he goes to bed.' She threw a glance at Al. 'So he can think about his actions. Sit down.' When Al continued to stand, she barked, 'Sit. Down.'
'I'd rather stand, if you don't mind,' Al said through clenched teeth.
'Very well,' Hermione stated. 'What do you know about the history of tattoos in our world?' she asked coldly.
'Bloody hell, Aunt Hermione, that was ages ago,' Al said impatiently. 'Just because one wizard went loopy and marked his followers with some nasty-looking image, does that mean that witches and wizards are barred from doing it to themselves voluntarily until the end of time?'
'He did more than mark them,' Hermione said testily. 'He charmed the thing to summon his followers. It was an extraordinarily painful experience to have it all but burnt into their flesh, not to mention when Voldemort activated the charm. Tattoos became a symbol of the most evil thing to ever happen to our world.'
'It's just an ordinary Muggle tattoo,' Al scoffed. 'Nothing special. Besides, the others got them, too.'
'That's not the point,' Hermione stated.
'Then what is?'
'It's a reminder of everything we lost so you could live your life without that sort of threat constantly hovering over the back of your neck. I understand you want to celebrate your… victory. However, choosing a method that would cause the most hurt to your family –'
'Here we go,' Al spat. 'Everything has to be about Dad and how much it's going to hurt poor Dad.'
'That's enough,' Ron said suddenly. 'Your father barely survived. We weren't sure in the months afterward that he wasn't going to go nutters. If he had, it wouldn't have been unexpected. The fact that he's able to have normal relationships with people is a bloody miracle, given he's got every reason to distrust people in general.' Ron touched his wrist, where a faint scar glimmered in the soft light. 'Not all scars are visible,' he reminded his nephew. 'Your dad has more scars on his psyche than any sane person has a right to have. So yeah, with some topics, we do tend to tread carefully around Harry. It's no more than he's done for the rest of us,' Ron added, remembering some of his more spectacular failures as a friend that Harry more than likely remembered, but had chosen to forget and if forced to refer to them, did so as circumspectly as possible. 'You know where the spare room is.' Ron motioned for Al to leave, and Al looked as if he was going to argue, but wisely reconsidered and made his way to the spare room. When the sound of the closing door reached their ears, Ron turned to the fireplace and reached for the Floo powder.
'Where are you going?'
Ron glanced at Hermione over his shoulder. 'Harry and Ginny's to tell them Al's safe. I reckon they're pretty worried if they don't know where he is.'
The fire flickered dimly in the sitting room, casting weird shadows on the walls. Harry draped the afghan around Ginny's shoulders and she caught the edged in her fingers, pulling it tightly against her, attempting to ward off the chill that had invaded her bones. Harry sank next to her on the sofa and wordlessly slipped an around her waist. For once, neither of them had anything comforting or encouraging to say to one another. Each blamed themselves for Al running away, and it coated their tongues with a bitter tang around which they were unable to form words, even though reassurances meant for the other piled in their throats. Ginny contented herself with leaning into the warmth of Harry's body. Harry tilted his head from one side to the other, making his neck pop several times, feeling far older than his forty-two years. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, then finally choked hoarsely, 'Go to bed, Gin…'
'Go to bed,' he repeated. 'I'll wait up.'
'I'll wait with you,' Ginny said stubbornly, settling into the sofa
Harry nodded wearily, too exhausted to try arguing with her. He slumped back against the cushions and closed his eyes. Presently, he felt the familiar twitches that signaled she had fallen asleep. Ginny sighed deeply and burrowed into the afghan. He fervently wished he could find that sort of oblivion and envied the ease at which Ginny fell asleep. 'Psst…' Harry's eyes flew open and Ron tumbled from the fireplace. 'Gin asleep?' Ron whispered, lowering himself into the armchair nearest Harry.
'Yeah,' Harry replied.
'Al's at our place,' Ron said without preamble.
Harry sagged with relief. 'Oh, thank God,' he breathed.
Ron rested his elbows on his knees, leaning forward. 'Listen mate, maybe Al should stay with Hermione and me for a bit. At least until the train leaves. It's just a couple of weeks.'
'I don't think…' Harry began.
'He told us about the row,' Ron interrupted. 'It might be for the best for the two of you to get some space to clear your heads.' He paused delicately. 'It's what usually helped me when we…' He trailed off, embarrassed.
'Yeah…' Harry rubbed his hands over his face.
'I'll come by one day and collect his school things and his trunk. That way, he can pack for himself, and you won't have to worry about taking it to King's Cross.'
'You've really thought this through,' Harry observed.
Ron grinned crookedly. 'I'm just making it up as I go along.'
'I'll bring some clothes by the shop tomorrow for him.' Harry gazed unhappily at Ron. 'Thank you…'
'Go on,' Ron muttered, sounding astoundingly like Arthur when thanked for some unexpected action. 'You'd do the same thing for one of mine.' He stood and squeezed Harry's shoulder. 'See you tomorrow.'