'What time is it?' Ginny asked sleepily. She had been dozing between contractions.
Harry angled his wrist so he could see his watch. 'Six-thirty.'
'You're doing this next time.' Ginny stopped, gasping as the next contraction hit.
'I'll see what I can do,' Harry murmured, biting the inside of his cheek. Ginny had held his right hand in an iron grip he didn't know she possessed. He checked his watch again. 'Eleven minutes. Are you sure we shouldn't go yet?' He was starting to get worried. Thirteen hours of labor was not on his list of fun things to do in Soho in September.
'Yes.' Ginny hissed. 'We'll go when I'm ready.' She tried to stand up and didn't quite make it. 'Help me up, please?' Harry pulled Ginny to her feet. She went into the kitchen, and pulled a carton of orange juice from the refrigerator. Harry heard a splattering sound and turned around, expecting to see a pool of spilled juice on the tiles.
Instead, he saw Ginny, standing open-mouthed, clutching the juice in one hand, staring at a small puddle at her feet. She looked up at Harry, who was standing in the doorway. 'I think,' she said softly, 'we should go now.' She replaced the juice in the refrigerator. She carefully stepped around the liquid on the floor and headed for the bedroom.
'Right.' Harry spun in a circle, and went to grab the bag by the door. 'Oi! What are you doing? The front door is the other way!'
Ginny stopped, and slowly turned around. 'I'm going to change into something dry, for one. And two, I'm not leaving the house dressed in a pair of your old boxers. And I'm going to at least brush my hair,' she explained patiently.
'Is now really the time, Gin?' Harry shifted uneasily from foot to foot, bag in one hand. Ginny's eyes narrowed dangerously and darted around, looking for her wand. 'Or, take all the time you want,' Harry amended hastily, not wanting to show up at St. Mungo's with massive flying bogies attacking him. Ginny spun on her heel, or as well as she could in her current condition, and flounced into the bedroom.
Ginny dug through a basket of clean, but unfolded laundry. It was a bad habit of theirs. Neither one of them liked folding laundry, nor had they ever really mastered the art of using magic to fold it. Ginny privately thought the amount of disinterest they used in trying to cast the charm hindered their level of mastery more than anything else. Maybe once they were buried under those little onesie things and nappies, they might actually be able to successfully cast the charm properly. She found some clean knickers and the stretchy drawstring trousers she seemed to wear constantly before taking time off from the Prophet. She perched on the edge of the unmade bed and pushed the soggy boxers to her feet. She managed to pull on the knickers and trousers more or less to their correct place and slid off the bed to brush her hair.
She pulled her hair into a ponytail and grunted as another pain wrapped around her. She drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. 'Oh yeah, he's so doing this next time,' she said as pain subsided. Ginny went into the sitting room, to find Harry sitting on the sofa, the bag at his feet. 'Okay, I'm ready.'
Harry slung the bag over his shoulder and went to the door. Ginny came to stand next to him, and he wrapped his free arm around her shoulder. 'Is now the wrong time to admit I'm more scared now than I was the entire time I was Horcrux hunting?'
'I'd say so.'
'Okay.' He opened the door, and Harry and Ginny left the flat.
On the street level, Harry hailed a taxi. 'Seriously?' Ginny asked incredulously. 'A Muggle taxi?'
'Tell me a better way to get to St. Mungo's without Apparating, which I refuse to do right now, or using the Underground, which I'm not doing with a woman in labor, and I'll do it,' Harry said, opening the door of the taxi that stopped for them. 'Otherwise, just get in.'
Harry directed the taxi driver to the abandoned shop that was the entrance to St. Mungo's. He handed a wad of Muggle money to the driver and pulled his wand out and pointed it at the back of the driver's head. He muttered a quick 'Obliviate,' and got out the taxi, turning to help Ginny out.
'Did you just Obliviate the driver?'
'Yes,' he sighed, before turning to the mannequin in the ugly green pinafore. 'Maternity, please.'
'Wait,' Ginny said urgently. The hand she'd laid on Harry's arm clamped around it. After several seconds, she released the grip on his arm, and nodded. 'Okay, we can go now.'
Harry turned back to the mannequin. 'Maternity. Now.' The mannequin nodded and Harry pulled Ginny through the glass.
In contrast to the regular reception area of St. Mungo's, this was fairly quiet and the welcome witch was actually welcoming. Ginny went to the desk and greeted the witch. 'Hello. Ginny Potter. I'm Shanti Choudry's patient.'
The witch waved a wand at a filing cabinet and a green folder bearing Ginny's name flew out. 'Come with me,' she said, heading toward the door that led to a few rooms that served the needs of witches who chose to give birth here.
She opened the door of a room, and gestured for Ginny and Harry to go inside. 'Just change into that gown there and Shanti will be here in a few.'
Ginny pulled her clothes off and slid the gown over head. 'We need to call the rest of the family.'
Harry stopped at the door. 'Everybody?' That could take a while.
'Just Mum and Charlie. They're the two biggest gossips in the family. They'll call everyone else.'
'Right.' Harry left and the door swung shut behind him.
Ginny eased herself on the bed. This was really starting to hurt. She leaned back, and hoped Harry would be back soon. She didn't like hospitals at all. Especially after that Christmas Arthur had spent in the Dai Llewellyn ward.
Shanti bustled in, looking efficient in something that looked like Muggle scrubs, and a pair of trainers. 'Not the usual robes, that,' Ginny said.
Shanti laughed. 'Ever tried to deliver a baby in robes? They just get in the way. How are you doing?'
Ginny grimaced. 'Ten minutes apart, water broke, and it hurts like hell.'
'That's fine. Lie back, will you? Just want to check and see how you're doing.' Shanti pulled on a pair of gloves.
'What are you doing?' Ginny asked suspiciously.
'There are some things that you just can't do with magic,' Shanti said smoothly. 'And checking on your progress is one of them.'
'Oh, right. Sorry. Not thinking straight right now.' Ginny closed her eyes. 'Owwwwwwwwwww.'
'Breathe, Ginny,' Shanti murmured soothingly. 'Deep, slow breaths.' As the contraction faded, Shanti quickly examined Ginny. 'You're doing great, Ginny,' she said reassuringly. 'Won't be too much longer.'
'Oh, thank Merlin.' Ginny's head whipped around. Harry stood in the doorway, hope shining on his face. 'How much longer?'
Shanti shrugged. 'A few more hours.' She patted Harry on the arm, before leaving the room. 'I'll check on you again in a bit.'
'Did you call Mum?' Ginny asked anxiously, as Harry came to stand next to her.
'Yeah. She's on her way. Along with everyone else.'
'Of course. Merlin forbid a Weasley undergo a life-altering event without the whole family in attendance.'
'I can ask them to leave, love.'
'No, it's okay. Just keep them out there.' Ginny pointed to the reception area. The sound of Weasleys gathered in one place drifted down the hallway.
'I'll be back in a bit.' Harry leaned over Ginny and kissed her forehead. He left the room, and went toward the reception area. Harry peeked around the doorway to see various Weasleys clustered in groups around the room.
'Harry!' Molly dashed to him. 'How is Ginny? Is everything all right?''
'She's fine.' Harry desperately searched for something to tell the mass of expectant faces. 'It's going to be a few more hours. I'll keep you updated.' He turned to go, but stopped as a hand fell on his shoulder. It was George.
'Can I have a quick word?'
'She's going to say a lot of stuff. Ignore it. She won't remember most of it anyway.'
'And you know this how?'
'Katie called me a bumbling, babbling baboon. Among other things,' George smirked. 'Ginny's probably going to call you worse.'
'And why is that?'
'She grew up with us, of course.'
'Thanks,' Harry said wryly. 'Looking forward to that.' He went back to Ginny, who was sitting up in the bed.
'I need to walk,' Ginny said when he shut the door.
'Just around the room.' Ginny held on to the bed for support until the contraction was over. 'Can't stand to just sit right now.'
Harry crossed to her, and put an arm around her waist, while she did the same to him. 'Let's go.'
Eighteen hours of this, Harry mused. It was nearly midnight. For the past several hours, he had walked Ginny around the room when she didn't want to lie or sit in the bed. Harry stopped walking each time a contraction wrenched her body. He held her up, rubbing her back at times. Others he stood behind her, her hands entwined in his. He gritted his teeth against the pain she caused, crushing his fingers in a death grip. He thought she might have cracked a bone or two in his hand. Once, just after they'd started walking around the room, Harry made the colossal mistake of telling Ginny she was hurting his hand. His ears were still ringing from the screeching.
George had been right. Ginny called him every name she could think of, most of the far worse than a bumbling, babbling baboon, even though that had been high on her list as the contractions grew stronger. She swore he was never to touch her again, and if he so much as thought about wanting to have another one, she would hex him with flying bogies to his… Harry blanched thinking about it.
Shanti came in and out every so often to check Ginny. She made Harry leave the room each time, telling him he'd have a front-row seat soon enough. He leaned tiredly against the wall, rubbing the circulation back into his hands. He understood why George had paced the entire time he was sent out. He hated being outside. He couldn't hear, and he desperately wanted to be with Ginny, not out in this hallway that smelled of antiseptic and Mrs. Scower's Magical Mess Remover.
For the last hour, she had stood, arms wrapped around his waist, her head resting on his chest. She was getting tired, but every time Harry made a move to put her back into bed, she made a growl of protest. So Harry just moved them in a small circle and crooned songs from those mad Muggle films he'd collected. He'd just launched into 'Maria' from West Side Story when Ginny said, 'Harry?'
'Yes, Gin?' They were both a bit husky.
'You can't sing.' Harry laughed into her sweaty hair.
'I know,' he said.
They swayed in silence for a minute, when Ginny spoke up. 'Harry?'
Harry kept singing softly to Ginny, every ruddy musical he could think of. From Guys and Dolls to The Sound of Music to My Fair Lady. Even some mad American film musical called Grease as the minutes ticked by and the contractions got closer.
Ginny had been ready to push for days. About the only thing that kept her sane at this point was Harry's ragged, slightly off-key singing. She was tired. Tired of being pregnant, tired of being in labor, and just plain tired. She made a mental note to bring up the twenty plus hours of labor when this little one got detention at Hogwarts. Come to think of it, she'd use it on Harry the next time he was a prat.
Shanti came in and made Ginny lie on the bed. 'You ready to push, Ginny?'
Oh, thank Merlin, Ginny thought. 'It's about time,' she breathed.
Shanti situated Ginny so she was in a semi-sitting position, back against Harry's chest, knees spread. 'Ready, Gin?' Harry asked, pushing the sweaty red hair off her forehead. Ginny nodded, too worn out to say anything.
'All right, Ginny,' Shanti said, 'when I say "push", push until I tell you to stop, okay?'
'Sure,' she said, a tiny bit of adrenaline snaking through her veins.
'Okay… now… push, Ginny.' Ginny felt like that push lasted for hours, but it was only about ten seconds. She heard someone snarling, and realized the sounds came from her. When Shanti told her to stop, Ginny slumped back against Harry, who just rubbed her back and murmured nonsense into her ear. At least he wasn't acting like some bloody cheerleader, Ginny thought. After several more attempts, Ginny heard Harry ask how she was doing.
'Why don't you try shoving a Bludger from your arse and then we'll see how you're doing?' she barked.
When Harry looked up at Shanti in alarm, she just shook her head slightly and mouthed, 'They all say that!'
Finally, Shanti looked up at them. 'We have a head! Just one more good push, Ginny. It's all downhill from here.'
Ginny drew in a deep breath and nodded, trying to find the strength for one more. 'You can do it, Gin,' Harry whispered in her ear, gently squeezing her hands. She exhaled and pushed.
'It's a boy,' Shanti said. She laid the baby on Ginny. 'Got your wand?' she asked Harry.
'Yeah.' Harry was staring at the baby.
'Severing charm. Right here.' Shanti indicated a spot on the umbilical cord.
'Are you sure?'
Harry gulped and rested the tip of his wand where Shanti pointed and muttered the charm. Shanti lifted the baby and handed him to a trainee Healer, who began to clean him up. He looked at Ginny, who leaned against him, smiling in elation. The trainee wrapped the baby in a blanket, and placed him in Ginny's arms. 'Do you have a name for him?' Shanti asked.
Harry looked at Ginny. 'Yeah. James Sirius.'
Shanti nodded. 'Well, hello, young James,' she crooned, stroking his cheek with her fingertip. 'Why don't you go tell your family the good news, while we get things settled in here? They can come in for a few minutes, but then the three of you need some rest. All right?'
'Yeah. Brilliant.' Harry said absently, still staring at the baby.
For a few moments, at least, Harry and Ginny simply stared with awe at the small baby, who already had his father's dark untidy hair. 'Oh, poor kid,' Harry whispered, passing his hand over James' head. 'He did end up with my hair.'
Ginny laughed softly. 'Maybe we'll get lucky next time.'
'There's going to be a next time?'
'Completely for James' benefit. Can't have him be an only child, you know.'
Harry eased from behind Ginny. 'I'll go let them know out there.' He walked out of the room, all exhaustion forgotten in the elation of the moment. He stopped outside the door and leaned against the wall. 'Mum? Dad? I have a son,' he whispered, a smile growing on his lips. 'And you have a grandson.' Pushing himself off the wall, Harry proceeded to the reception area. Some of the family had fallen asleep, and a few others were still awake. Harry sat in the chair next to Molly, who was knitting a jumper.
'Oh, Harry, dear. How is it, then?'
Harry grinned at Molly. 'It's a boy. James Sirius Potter. Seven pounds, ten ounces. We're all fine.'
Molly just stared at him for a moment, and then threw her arms around him. 'Can we go see them?' she asked.
'In a minute. Shanti's getting Ginny settled.'
'What was that?' Bill woke up, whispering, so he didn't wake Fleur or the girls.
'Boy,' Harry told him.
'It's a boy?' George looked up from the book he'd been reading.
'Yeah.' Harry thought he was probably grinning like an idiot, but didn't care.
'Ron,' George whispered, shaking Ron's shoulder. 'Wake up.'
'Whaaa?' Ron snorted and came awake. 'What's goin' on?'
'We're uncles!' George said gleefully. 'And we have a lovely nephew we can teach all our tricks to.'
Shanti came to the door, watching for a moment as the news traveled around the sea of people that had been waiting all night for this moment. 'You can come in for a bit of a visit. Then go home. You can come back tomorrow. Mum and Dad here need some rest,' she told them sternly.
Harry led them back into Ginny's room. It was one of the rare occasions the family was quiet. Harry moved to sit next to Ginny on the bed, putting his arms around her. 'This is James.'
Half an hour later, the last of the family had been gently shooed out of the room by Shanti. Harry wearily sat on the edge of Ginny's bed to untie the laces of his trainers. He pulled them off, and let them drop to the floor. With a groan, he settled into the bed, spooning Ginny. She was nearly asleep already. 'Ginny?'
'Thank you, love. For everything.'
'It was my pleasure.' She reached back and clumsily patted his leg. In another moment she had fallen asleep.
He nestled closer to Ginny. Hovering on the edge of sleep, he heard Luna's voice from the night of the battle, answering the eagle that guarded the door to the Ravenclaw common room. 'A circle that has no beginning,' she had said. At the time, Harry hadn't understood what it meant. He looked at the bundle sleeping in the cradle just beyond the bed.
This wasn't the end of something, or the beginning.
He finally understood, watching his newborn son sleep, the dim light from a table on the other side of the room illuminating his face.
The last thing Harry saw, before he fell asleep, was James's sleeping face, wreathed in the scent of Ginny's hair.
A/N: In case you're wondering, James' birthday (in my universe) is September 16th. And Shanti has the voice of Shohreh Aghdashloo. Or that's who I heard when I was writing her. Yes, I know -- Aghdashloo is Iranian, and Shanti's name suggests she's Indian, or of Indian descent, but she has Aghdashloo's voice...
'Nessun dorma' is the title of an aria from the opera 'Turandot'. It means 'no one shall sleep'. :) Appropriate, no?
Thanks to everyone who read this, and was kind enough to leave a review.
I'm still working on 'Questions and Answers', 'Letters,' and 'Burning Down the House'. And I'll probably add a couple of chapters to 'Tree Houses and Daisies'.