Well, here it is. The final chapter - more of an epilogue really - so I'll just say that it I hope people enjoyed reading this as much as I loved writing it, and thanks to each and every person who took the time to review.
Three months later.
"Well, I guess at least no one'll say you rushed into anything." Lydia said, clearly unimpressed. She and Ally were sat at the kitchen table. "You guys don't need to date. You've known each other forever. You're in love. And he's still living with Al instead of with you. Why not just marry the guy and get it done, Ally?"
Ally smiled at her with amusment. "It's not that simple. We want to do things properly, not just go from friends to a married couple. We're having a relationship." She lingered over the last word, thrilled with it. She liked being in relationships anyway, and a relationship with James was...something else. She glanced, again, at the little vase of flowers in the middle of the table. It had been a really long time since anyone had given her flowers.
"I get that. I guess." Lydia nodded. "I just don't understand how dating works when you already know and love each other. Haven't you already acheived the whole point of dating?"
"Well, yeah. But...we were adjusting, mostly, to thinking differently, acting differently. Building a proper relationship." Ally shrugged, started to turn to check on her son and then remembered James had taken him out. She'd have to stop checking on him so frequently anyway, she told herself. Nothing was going to happen to Mason. (Nothing could, because she knew it would destroy her.)
"Were?" Lydia repeated, her eyes sharp. "Were adjusting, you said. Does that mean you've accomplished that?"
Ally paused, fighting a smile. "OK, listen, don't repeat this, to anyone OK? Even Lily. As much as I love her, her first loyalty is to James." Ally gave into the smile, remembering Lily coming to her, a few days after Ally and James' first date, to make sure that Ally wouldn't hurt him. It was sweet and very Lily.
"Yeah, OK. I promise."
"I think we have. We're a couple, a real one. And, God, he's amazing with Mason."
"I've noticed. I sort of thought, you know, if James was someone you'd just met and started to date, you wouldn't let him near Mason straight away, but 'cause it's James...I wondered if that made it difficult."
"It did. James attached to him straight away, James...is Mason's father. I know that might sound stupid, since me and James aren't even living together, but it's true. I'd never have thought it, but that's really how it is." It thrilled her and scared her to admit it, even as a tiny part of her regretted that her son was no longer hers, and hers alone. "I worried, you know, what'd happen if it didn't work out? What kind of relationship would they have? I mean, I know Mason's only three months old, but I swear he loves James."
"That's not a problem though. " Lydia replied. "You guys are perfect together. It has worked out. And yeah, James is Mason's dad. The way James looks at him...fatherly love and pride, almost from the begining."
"I know. It's sort of scary, because I know, in a way I never did with Archie or anyone else, that this is it, forever."
"Aw, Ally. I'm so pleased for you. It's so...rare to get that." Lydia beamed at her, eyes shining.
"I know. So, um, hopefully, he'll realised, soon, that we're OK, and...well, three months is too soon to be getting married, Lydia, so don't start looking at bridesmaids dresses -"
"Three months is, but you've known each other your whole life, so it counts for, like, twenty-odd years and -"
"Uh-huh. You know, Lydie, I think this has less to do with you wanting me and James married, and more to do with your innate love of weddings."
Lydia grinned. "Bit of both, bit of both. But I swear, Ally, James is so, so in love with you, and Mason. He won't wait much longer."
Ally only smiled, and secretly hoped Lydia was right.
James, the kid's a mess." Ginny Weasley surveyed her son and the baby she already thought of as her grandson (though she wasn't old enough to be a grandmother, of course) with a raised eyebrow.
"He's a baby. He's supposed to be a mess. And he likes it." James replied. "You and Ally are all about keeping him clean. What's with that? He's a little boy, he's supposed to be dirty."
"Uh-huh." Ginny remember making the same statement to her own mother, twenty odd years ago. "But you've gotta put the effort in. Give him here."
James sighed, looked at the infant. "Sorry, kid. I tried. At least you're young enough that you'll forget the betrayal." His mock seriousness turned into a grin as Ginny rolled her eyes at him. She took Mason from him, started cleaning his face and looked up at her eldest son. "You look happy."
"I am. I'd never have thought it, before. Me and Ally. And then when I did, it was like...it was there all along. I really think Lydia was right. You know, I told you what she said? About when we were younger?"
"I remember. She's always right. It's spooky." Ginny started cleaning Mason's t-shirt, not bothering to ask what exactly the stains were. Amazing, she decided, that the kid was such a mess when she knew James had only had him for a couple of hours. "But me and Hannah always suspected. Your father thought it was more a brother-sister relationship, but I knew better. I was never like that."
James flashed back, to being sixteen, kissing Ally for the first time. Completly unplanned, completely out of the blue, but so right. Maybe a part of him had known then that they'd never go back to just being friends, no matter how much they tried. "No, it never was. You, ah, you're OK about it all, though, right?" He shifted nervously, brushed a hand over Mason's dark hair and looked at his mother. He had to check, to make sure, before... "I mean, you like Ally..."
"I love her, and she's perfect for you." Ginny replied. And, she thought, while she liked most of the other girls James had ever introduced her to, Ally was the only one she considered good enough for him. She smiled brightly at the baby.
"And, um, Mason..." James said. He already considered the boy his, in a way that some men would never be able to. But he had to make it official, permanent.
"We've talked about this." Ginny replied. "He's already yours. So he's already mine. He's my grandson." Maybe it wasn't the way she'd imagined getting her first grandchild, but that didn't matter. She looked back down at the baby. "Just remember, kiddo, I'm a very young grandma."
"I'm going to ask Ally to marry me." He said casually.
"Oh. Well." Ginny looked at him for a long moment. "You think she's ready for that?"
"She ought to be. I want to marry her, mum, and I need Mason to be mine, legally, officially. I need them both to...have my name." He paused. "Does that sound...possessive?"
"No. No, it doesn't. It sounds right. It's the right way to feel." She couldn't help the thin sheen of tears that settled over her eyes.
"Mum, don't cry. Please." James pleaded quickly.
"I'm not." She forced a smile. "I'm really not. It's just...first Lily, now you. It's so hard to let go."
James shifted uneasily, but the tears had gone so he tried to relax a little. "If it helps, no one's queuing up to marry Al."
"He'll get there, in his own time. Here, take your...take your son."
James lifted the boy from her, and looked at him. He didn't see Archie there. He'd worried he might, that it might make things difficult. But even when he looked at those grey eyes, he only saw Mason, the brightness and the curiosity there.
So he smiled at the baby, his son in every way that mattered, and his only thought was that Mason Potter sounded right. Very right.
Six years later.
Noise. The beautiful house was full of noise. Shouts, laughs, and the sound of running feet. The floors were cluttered with toys, paper, crayons and other symbols of childhood, and the shiny coffee table that had been a rather expensive antique had several sticky patches. The sofa had a bright pink stain where a drink had been spilled, and the rug was bunched up. Ally didn't bother to sigh – no one paid attention anyway – but pulled out her wand, cleaning the room. The clutter, however, stayed. She'd learned a long while ago that no matter how many times she tidied the kids' toys away, they'd end up scattered about anyway.
But she loved it. Maybe it was tiring, maybe it was chaotic, maybe it was often confusing and frustrating, and maybe there were times when she locked herself in the bathroom and wished to be anywhere else. But she loved it, really, every minute of it, and she loved the kids, both Mason and the children they'd adopted. Yes, she hadn't birthed them, but they were hers.
She turned at the sound of the front door opening, shot a smile at her husband. "Your turn to cook tonight," was her greeting.
He raised his eyebrows. "I know. You're oddly gleeful about that." He crossed to her, kissed her. "The kids acting up?"
"No more than any child of yours. Nah, they've been OK, mostly."
James grinned at her. When other little wizard boys had been dreaming of being a world-famous Quidditch player, or an Auror or a superhero when they grew up, James had wanted to be a world famous Quidditch player and marry someone he loved (someone as amazing as he'd secretly considered the females in his family to be) and have a bunch of kids. A loud messy family.
Maybe he wasn't yet a world famous Quidditch player, but he was, if he did so himself, a damn good one, and maybe in another couple of years...? But he'd found, somewhere that he'd never have looked, someone he loved and considered perfect. And they were on their way to that loud messy family.
"So, listen, I was thinking..."
"James." There was both amusement and warning in her tone as she recognised exactly where he was heading. "Don't even go there."
"Aw, c'mon darling..." He slid his arms around her waist, used his best charming smile.
She laughed, shook her head. "Not yet." She tilted her head, smirked at him. "Mention it in another month or two, and I'll consider another."
He grinned back, kissed her again. "Six weeks." He decided. "Six weeks then I'm gonna talk you into it."
"Like it takes much to talk me into it." She replied. And that was why she couldn't let him talk about another child now, before they were ready - because she loved the idea of another. And it was also why he wouldn't try to talk about it before she was ready. Respect, Ally decided. With the love and friendship and a shared past and memories and children, they had respect for each other. And she now had respect for herself, too.
"For now, mister, go say hello to the children you've got."
"'Kay." He grinned again, then started for the stairs. She counted to five, then heard loud, laughing screams, and rolled her eyes. One of those screams was from her husband, who pretended to be an adult.
She paused, listened to the noise from above, then moved towards the stairs herself.
This was home, and she and James had found each other, here, and found their home. And then they'd given home and family to the children they'd made their own.
It was right, James decided as he watched her walk towards them, as he lifted Mason, held him upside down while the boy and his siblings giggled. It was exactly right.
A home is not created by a house but the people in it. Home is where the heart is.