'Mummy!' James stood next to Ginny's side of the bed, his wide blue eyes narrowed in indignation.
Ginny cracked an eyelid and took a deep breath. 'What are you doing up?'
'Albie smells,' James pronounced.
Ginny squeezed her eyes shut as she yawned widely. 'What were you doing in Albus' room?' she mumbled drowsily.
James held out his stuffed black dog. 'Lef' Snuffs in there,' he explained matter-of-factly.
'Okay, sweetie… Just give Mummy a moment…' Ginny slowly pushed herself into sitting and lowered her feet to the floor.
James began to tug at her hand. 'Where's Daddy?'
'He's at work, baby,' Ginny murmured, as she heaved herself to her feet, snagging her dressing gown from the foot of the bed. She clumsily pushed her arms into the sleeves and waddled toward Albus' room. She automatically reached into the cot to lift a whimpering Albus out, but as her hands grasped him, she remembered. She wasn't supposed to pick up either of the boys. 'Damn, how am I going to do this?' She chewed her lip thoughtfully, eyeing James. He could fetch my wand from the night table… Oh, don't be ridiculous, Weasley! The last time he got his grubby little hands on someone's wand, he turned Percy's hair fuchsia and Vanished Charlie's trousers. It was Bill's fault for leaving it where Jemmy could get to it anyway…
'Mummmmmmeeeee!' James whined, his small, round face crinkled against the aroma emanating from his younger brother.
'Right.' Ginny rubbed her face and shuffled back to her bedroom, and picked up her wand. 'I hope this works…' She returned to Albus' room and stood next to the cot, looking down at her son. 'Please, when you get older, and you can't bring yourself to get on a broomstick, don't hold this against me…' She flicked her wand at Albus, Levitating him out of the cot and over to the changing table. She looked at the small clock on the wall over the table and felt her eyebrows rise in surprise. It was well after midnight, and Harry should have been home already. She unpinned Albus' nappy and draped a clean one over him, flicking his nose with the edge, making him giggle sleepily. 'Let's get you all sorted, my fuzzy bunny,' she crooned softly, running a hand over his shock of messy black hair. 'And then back to bed with you.'
It took no small amount of maneuvering around her girth to ease the soiled nappy from under Albus and swap it for a clean one. With an internal apology, she flicked her wand at Albus, and he rose off the changing table and floated to his cot. When he was back inside, burrowing into his favorite bum-up sleeping position, Ginny tucked the light blanket over him. She didn't know why she bothered. When they came to dress him for the day, it was usually draped neatly over the top rail of the cot. The first time Ginny had seen it, she'd asked Harry if he'd done it. He looked confused and said no, that he had thought she had done it.
Ginny turned away from the cot, to find James standing in the doorway, watching her, his index finger in his mouth. 'Come on, then,' she said quietly. 'Go back to bed.'
James' brows drew together in a pout. 'I wanna fly.'
'Fine…' Ginny didn't feel up to circumventing James' innate stubbornness. She just wanted to go back to bed. She nudged him in the back. 'Go to your room, and Mummy will fly you into bed, okay? Okay.' She slowly followed James across the corridor and joined him where he stood, fairly wriggling with impatience, just inside his bedroom door. She flicked her wand at James and he rose into the air several inches, then she directed her wand toward his bed and James gently floated into. Ginny drew the sheet and light blanket over James. She braced one hand on the mattress, and leaned over, praying she didn't slip and fall. 'Night, Jemmy,' she murmured, kissing his forehead.
'Nigh', Mummy,' he yawned. Ginny gradually straightened and tucked the blanket around James. She left the room, and partially closed the door, intending to return to bed herself when a rustling noise from downstairs made her stop. The rustling noise was followed by a muffled thump and a stifled curse. Curious, she made her way down the stairs, her grip tightening around the handle of her wand. Ginny peered around the corner, pressing her lips together in an effort to hold back the giggles that bubbled to the surface.
Harry was struggling with a blanket tangled around his legs, sprawled on the floor next to the sofa.
Ginny lumbered to the sofa and leaned a hip against one of the arms. 'How long have you been home?'
'Half an hour,' he muttered.
'Why didn't you come up to bed?'
'Didn't want to wake you up.' He gave the blanket an almighty jerk, freeing it from his legs, but slammed his elbow into the coffee table, making the collection of empty lager bottles rattle. 'Ow! Bloody, damn furniture!'
'Shhh!' Ginny cautioned. 'You'll wake the boys.' She gave the table a quick glance. 'How many have you had?' she asked, giving the air over Harry a cautious sniff.
'I should have stayed in the flat over the shop…' Harry stopped rubbing his elbow and hoisted himself back into the sofa, attempting to drape the blanket over his denim-clad legs. It kept dragging against the folds around his knees.
Ginny's lips thinned. 'I'm not here to bust your balls,' she told him. 'Not after what you had to do today.' They rarely mentioned his probation days by name, preferring to circumspectly speak about it, using innuendo and roundabout conversation.
Harry sat up and grabbed Ginny's hand, guiding her around the end of the sofa. 'Sit down with me…' He pulled her down, settling her between his knees. 'Talk to me… Tell me something normal. Something that will send someone who doesn't have children into spasms of boredom.'
'Oh… All right…' Ginny rested her head against his shoulder, wrinkling her nose at the sharp scent of lager on Harry's breath. 'I let Albus have an iced lolly after lunch today. A cherry one. It melted before he could eat more than half of it. It was everywhere. In his hair, all over his clothes. Had to give him a good bath before I put him down for his nap this afternoon.'
'Hmm.' Harry's head gently bumped the back of Ginny's. 'Iced lollies are good,' he snickered tipsily.
'James is going to have a lovely career as a petty thief if the magic thing doesn't work out.'
'Little bugger snuck down from his bedroom into the kitchen. I was sort of dozing on the sofa and he came down the stairs without making a bloody sound. I heard a crash in the kitchen, and by the time I was able to heave my large bum off the sofa, he'd already eaten half the Chocolate Frogs and was working his way through the box of Every Flavor Beans.
'Ah. Good to have a backup.'
'I just levitated Albie from his cot to the changing table.' Ginny settled back against Harry's chest.
'Yeah. If he's terrified of brooms later, you can blame me…'
'Why would you do something like that?'
Ginny snorted. 'Oh, no reason. Except your son woke me up to inform me his younger brother was in need of a nappy change.'
'My son, eh? Because of the Chocolate Frog liberation or waking you up?'
'Waking me up. And I can't lift Albus out of the cot, and Merlin knows I can't lean over the cot to change him anymore. He seemed to like it.'
'Why was James up in the first place?'
'Oh, well… He said he left his dog in Albus' room, but I think he was just awake and playing. Ron used to do that… He'd wake up and find something to play with in my room. I think because my things were somewhat newer and hadn't been passed down from Bill to Charlie to Percy then to the twins. She thought later, he just wanted some playtime without George, Fred, or me. Mum said Charlie used to do it all the time. Especially after the twins were born. She'd come down in the morning, and find him asleep on the sitting room floor, surrounded by crayons and paper…'
'At least he's not gone in that direction yet.' Harry's arms wrapped around Ginny.
Ginny didn't say anything for a while, wondering if she stopped talking, if Harry would fall asleep. She felt his hand twitch slightly against her thigh. 'Are you sleeping?'
'Mmmmm. Hm a'ke…' he grunted.
'Good night, Harry.' Ginny reached back and gently touched his cheek.
Harry inhaled slowly. 'Night, Gin…' he mumbled.
'This is ridiculous,' Hermione whispered, handing Rose her toy broom.
'You never slept with all your toys?' Ron shot back incredulously.
'Well, there was that phase where I had to sleep with all my stuffed animals tucked in with me.' Hermione mock-shuddered. 'My dad read Peter Rabbit to me. Farmer MacGregor and his pitchfork terrified me. I had dreams where I was hiding in a watering can and MacGregor was waving his pitchfork at me. I thought I'd blend in with the stuffed animals…'
Ron dropped the stuffed Quaffle into the cot. 'Yeah, that's one reason…'
'Why? Did you do it?'
'Sometimes. Didn't have much, and I didn't want Fred or George to get their grubby paws on what I did have.'
'Oh, sure. Because after that teddy incident, I'd be leery of letting either of them within a ten-foot radius of my toys…'
Ron scowled at Hermione. 'That's not funny,' he said loftily. 'That teddy bear was the first new thing I ever had.' He gazed down at his daughter, bouncing slightly in impatience. 'Is that enough, Rosie?'
'No.' Rosie stood with her arms outstretched over the top rail of her cot. 'Nee' dra'on, uni'orn, an' Croo'shan's.'
Hermione rested her forearms across the top of the cot. 'Oh, really?'
Rose nodded vigorously. 'So Yugo doesn' get 'em.'
Hermione rested her forehead against Rose's. 'Hugo's too little for your toys, Rose-bud.'
Rose reached for the unicorn Ron held out and hugged it to her chest. 'I's mine,' she proclaimed.
Ron looked around the room. 'Have you seen Crookshanks tonight?'
Hermione glanced up at Ron. 'He was in the bathroom with Rose and me when she was taking her bath.'
'That was two hours ago,' Ron pointed out.
'True, but Crookshanks likes the bathroom. The bathmat is his new sleep spot.'
Ron shook his head. 'Your cat, dear. I swear, he gets weirder and weirder as he gets older, though.'
'He's just got quirks,' Hermione sniffed. 'Just like you and Rosie.'
Ron settled Rose in the cot and waited for her to arrange the menagerie of assorted stuffed animals and toys before he draped a blanket over her. 'Night, Rose-bud,' he murmured.
'Nigh', Daddy. Nigh', Mummy…' Rose yawned and rolled over, clutching the unicorn in one hand.
'Good night, Rosie.' Hermione kissed the spot just under Rose's ear. She followed Ron out of the room, and peered into Hugo's on the way into their bedroom. 'And speaking of quirks,' she muttered, gesturing toward the cot. Ron's eyes followed her hand and he sighed heavily. Hugo was sleepily sucking the toes of one of his feet.
Ron's head cocked to one side. 'How does he do that…?'
'No idea. But he seems to like it.'
All of a sudden, Hugo began to coo and a rumbling sound met their ears. 'I think we've found Crookshanks,' Ron whispered. He tiptoed into the room, and found Crookshanks curled up at Hugo's feet, occasionally rubbing the top of his fluffy ginger head against the baby, his eyes closed to slits as he purred loudly.
'Should we leave him in there?' Hermione asked worriedly.
Ron reached into the cot and scratched the old cat under the chin. 'Yeah, it'll be all right.'
'Says the man who couldn't stand Crookshanks at first.'
'Yeah, well, I was young and quite stupid then, wasn't I?'
'Just a bit.' Hermione eased out of the room and padded into their bedroom. She flopped across the bed, groaning as her body relaxed into the mattress. 'Whoever said raising children wasn't a full-time job ought to spend the day with our two. Or the twins.'
'Which set? Fred and Jacob or Alex and Nicky?' Ron plopped next to Hermione.
'Fred and Jacob. Undoubtedly. Alex and Nicky just turn on that Veela charm they inherited from Fleur after they've destroyed something and you can't help but melt a little.'
'Blimey, just throw in James and Albus and you've got a zoo,' Ron chuckled.
Hermione was silent for a long moment. 'I ought to change into something else to sleep in, or take this off,' she commented. 'I'm too tired to move.' Ron didn't reply. 'Ron?' He snorted softly and Hermione picked her head up enough to peer down at him. He was sound asleep. She let her head fall back against the mattress, and gave in to the gentle tugs of slumber that pulled her down into its currents.
Ginny shifted slightly on the sofa and sighed. Harry didn't look up from the newspaper he was reading in the temporary lull in the madness that was the Potter house once the boys were put to bed. She shifted and sighed again. Loudly. Harry glanced up at her over the rims of his glasses. 'All right?' he asked, a faint expression of worry darkening his features, fingers tightening on the edges of the newspaper. Every grunt or hitched breath from Ginny left him slightly more anxious each time.
'I'm bored,' Ginny muttered.
Harry gazed pointedly at the pile of knitting in Ginny's lap. 'I thought you were trying to get a start on Christmas mittens for the boys and me.'
Ginny's lip curled in a moue of distaste. 'Not all bloody day,' she grumbled. 'And I can't concentrate on it very well… I can't even remember what I had for lunch today.'
'It's just a few more weeks,' Harry said sympathetically. 'At least you weren't told to stay in bed the entire time.'
'I'm just not used to this,' Ginny complained. 'All this enforced inactivity.'
Harry smirked and turned a page of his paper. 'Enjoy it while you can.'
Ginny picked up her knitting with a snort. 'I hate it when people say that,' she grumbled. 'Enjoy being able to have a lie-in,' she mimicked. 'After the baby comes, you won't have a moment to yourself.' She glared at Harry. 'That Mrs. Collins at the post office ought to mind her own business.'
'She can't help herself,' Harry commented. 'She's old and lonely.
'That doesn't give her the right to say things like that,' Ginny huffed. 'You got something from Dudley, by the way.'
'Oh, that's nice…' Harry squinted at the Quidditch scores. 'How does Chudley manage to keep a team?' As Ginny's words sank in, he did a double take. 'When did you go to the post office?'
Harry gave Ginny an odd look. 'But they bring the Muggle post here…'
'You said you went to the post office.'
'No, I went to the owl post office.'
'But you said I got something from Dudley.'
'Yeah, this morning, when the post comes…'
'So why did you use the owl post…? Why didn't you use Ariel?'
Ginny glowered. 'Do you know how hard it is to write an article about the evolution of Quidditch with a four-year old and a two-year old who can't stand the sight of each other, and a baby who seems to think your bladder is there for the sole purpose for her to bounce upon it?'
'Um. No. But that doesn't answer why you went into the village to the owl post.'
Ginny let her head drop against the back of the sofa. 'Because,' she began, with an air of forced patience, 'the article was due at three, and it was noon, and I needed an express owl.'
'Oh. All right, then.' Harry resumed his perusal of the Quidditch page of the Daily Prophet. 'Did you open it?' he asked, in a tone that was nearly painful in its casualness.
'The letter from Dudley.'
'No. It's your post.'
'It's just odd,' Harry mused, carefully folding the paper. 'He never sends something unless it's Christmas.'
'Maybe something happened,' suggested Ginny, picked up her knitting once more. When Harry remained on the sofa, she nudged him with the back of her hand. 'Aren't you going to go get it off the table?'
'Maybe later.' His eyes flicked toward the table by the front door.
Ginny didn't miss it. She tucked the small scarf she was making for James into a basket, and tapped the lid with her wand, to keep the boys out of it. 'I'm going to go to bed,' she said lightly.
'Yeah, I'll be up in a bit…' Harry waited until Ginny's steps footfalls on the stairs faded until he darted to the table and picked up the waiting letter.
20 July 2008
Your birthday's coming up, isn't it? I hope you have a nice time.
I know this isn't the usual time we send cards to each other, but I need to tell you something.
I sort of met someone… Not sort of, I did. A couple of months ago. In the park while I was running. I wasn't paying attention where I was going and sort of ran him over.
Harry frowned slightly. Did I read that correctly? He scanned the line again. I suppose I did…
His name is Aaron. He's really nice. He's brilliant. He's a lawyer. And yes, you've read that correctly. That was my oh-so-clever way of telling you that I'm a homosexual. There. I've said it. And if you're still reading this, you're doing loads better than my parents. Dad went all purple and Mum fainted. It was quite a scene. Oh, and Aunt Marge was there. Not only did she go purple (And it was truly frightening to realize she looks just like Dad, but without the enormous moustache. Hers is a great deal smaller.) but she called me more names than I even knew existed.
I just thought you should know.
Harry carefully refolded the letter and slid it back into its envelope. He stared at it a moment, then quietly slid off the sofa and went into the small office. He walked to his desk, and pulled out a drawer. His fingers skimmed over a small pile of brightly colored envelopes, and he slid the letter underneath the last one.
Harry dashed inside the house. It had taken longer than he'd thought to drop the boys off at the Burrow than he'd anticipated. They had only a few minutes to get to St. Mungo's for Ginny's checkup with Shanti. 'Ginny! I'm back! Are you ready?'
'Ginny, come on! We're going to be late!'
Harry sprinted up the stairs and found Ginny still sitting on the bed, her face white. 'Gin, are you okay?'
'Yeah…' Ginny looked up at Harry, wide-eyed. 'I think she's coming…'
'Yeah…' Ginny's face scrunched in a grimace.
'Oh, well… Let me get you some clothes. I left the clean laundry downstairs last night. Then we can get to the hospital…' Harry started to leave the bedroom.
'When I said she was coming, I meant she was coming. Now.'
'Like right now?'
Ginny's fingers tightened around the pillow she was clutching. 'Does the phrase, "I really want to push" mean anything to you? We don't have time!'
Harry's mouth dropped open. 'Okay. Okay. Okay. Don't panic!'
'Erm, I'm not the one panicking,' Ginny pointed out. She inhaled sharply, one hand pressed the side of her abdomen.
'What are we supposed to do?' Harry asked
'Deliver the baby.'
Harry stared at her. 'Have you lost your bleeding mind?' he yelled. 'What in the hell am I supposed to know about delivering babies?'
Ginny growled low in her throat. 'You mean they didn't teach you that in that Auror training program of yours?'
'It didn't come up.' Harry stared at Ginny for a moment. 'Don't you know what to do?!?'
Ginny slowly blew out a breath. 'I was a little busy the last two times I did this to pay much attention to what was going on at the other end… Seriously, Harry… Now!'
Harry ran his hands through his hair. 'Right. Erm… Don't go anywhere…' He clattered out of the bedroom and ran down the stairs.
'Wasn't planning on it,' Ginny muttered, panting. It was getting extremely difficult for her to resist the urge to push.
Harry ran back into the room, his arms piled high with books. 'Can you slow things down a little bit?'
'Yeah, I'll see what I can do,' Ginny said dryly. 'But you'll have to take it up with Lily.'
'One of these damn books ought to tell me what to do…' Harry muttered, leafing through the first book in the pile. He hurriedly glanced up at Ginny. 'What if…?'
'Don't say it!' Ginny snarled. 'Nothing is going to go wrong!'
Harry blinked and frantically resumed flipped through the pages of a book, then discarding it carelessly to the floor when it didn't have the information he needed. He went through several books, one eye watching Ginny's pained expression until he struck gold. 'All right, I think I found something. Hang on.' Harry dropped the book, and darted into the bathroom, returning with every towel he could grab off the shelves.
He clambered up on the bed, kneeling in front of Ginny. 'Erm, I think I have to…' His hands hovered over the hem of her nightdress that was rucked up halfway up her thighs.
Ginny's teeth clenched together. 'I really don't care what you need to do right now, as long as you tell me I can bloody push now!' She suddenly barked in ironic laughter. 'It's not the first time you've been in this position, you know.'
'Yeah, but not on this end,' Harry muttered.
He took a deep breath and jabbed his wand at the book he'd left on the foot of the bed, making it levitate so it hovered at his eye level, then muttered, 'Tergeo,' pointing his wand at his hands. 'Here goes nothing…' Harry shoved the hem of Ginny's nightdress higher up her thighs. 'Oh my God…' he whispered reverently.
'What?' Ginny stared at the top of his head. 'What?!?'
Harry met Ginny's gaze and smiled widely. 'I can see her head…' He snuck a quick peek at the book floating near his head. 'Books says to push the next time you have a contraction.'
'Brilliant…' Ginny hissed, as she lunged forward. She blindly reached out and latched onto the first thing her fingers could touch.
Harry began to yelp as Ginny's fingers twined in his hair and pulled. 'Owowowowow! Gin, let go… I can't see anything down here!'
'Sorry,' she breathed, releasing her grip.
Harry blinked several times to clear the stars from his vision, and cupped one hand under Lily's head. He gently laid his other hand on her head, so it was cradled between his hands. 'She's got red hair!' he crowed. 'I think. You can't really tell right now…'
'That's nice,' Ginny commented breathlessly.
In the space between contractions, Harry grabbed a towel, and used the edge to swab downward over Lily's nose and mouth. She didn't look happy. He supposed he couldn't blame her, really. He shifted one hand to Lily's shoulder and within a few more minutes, she was out, squalling like a scalded cat, in short, angry bursts of wailing. He laid Lily on Ginny's chest, using one hand to hold her, while he reached for another towel. He quickly dried the baby, draping yet another clean, dry towel over her.
'It is red,' Ginny said hoarsely, stroking a fingertip over the flaming dusting of hair sprinkled over Lily's small head.
'She's beautiful,' Harry murmured, sitting back on his heels, beaming down at Ginny. He pulled his wand from his pocket and with one more glance at Ginny nuzzling Lily, he swept his wand in an expansive arc, and grinned as the stag rocketed from the tip and disappeared.
'What was that for?'
'To tell your mum. And I asked her to try and send someone over to check over you and… Lily.' He shook his head a little. 'I can't believe she's here. I mean, we've talked about her as Lily and now she's really Lily.' He shifted carefully, so as not to jar Ginny and eased next to her.
Ginny turned her head and pressed a kiss to Harry's shoulder. 'Thank you.'
'For not panicking…'
Harry chuckled softly and rested a hand on Lily's back. 'I thought I was going to pass out.'
'You did a great job of hiding it.'
'Story of my life…' Harry traced the outline of the delicate ear exposed by the turned-down edge of the yellow towel. 'She looks like your mum in that photo of her with her brothers.'
'Finally got one with my hair,' Ginny said with a self-satisfied smirk.
Harry slowly exhaled and closed his eyes briefly, listening to the extraordinary stillness around them. 'Do you hear it?' he asked quietly.
'Hear what?' Ginny turned her head on the stacked-up pillows to gaze sleepily at Harry.
'Exactly,' he told her, just as they heard the back door bang open and Molly's anxious voice called up to them.
Dim light spilled across the room. Ginny cradled Lily, watching her sleep, her rosebud lips smacking with repletion. The cool late September breeze wafted through the room, making the gauzy curtains bellow, sending hazy shadows over the sleeping forest on the walls of Lily's nursery.
Ginny let her eyes wander over the scene surrounding the two of them. All the creatures Dean had painted were various stages of repose, curled up against the night.
All but one.
The doe stood over Lily's cot, her large, soft eyes fixed on the rocking chair where Ginny swayed gently with Lily. Ginny noticed it every night when she came in to feed, or otherwise soothe Lily. The doe stood over the cot, her head bent toward Lily.
Ginny shifted Lily, moving her up to her shoulder. 'So, have we ever told you about your grandmother?' she said softly. 'Not your grandmum, the one that comes by all the time, with biscuits and casseroles, but your daddy's mum. Her name was Lily, too…'
Ginny could have sworn the doe winked. But then again, it could have just been the shadows on the playing across the wall.
A/N: As always, thank you to every one who took the time to read my scribblings and flights of fancy. I hope you've liked it.