19 December 2028

Emily Wilder -- more commonly known as Emmy -- had been in love with Albus Potter since she was fifteen years old. It had struck her like a lightning bolt one day in Hogsmeade, though the situation had been far from romantic. He'd been laughing with his cousin Rose Weasley and his hair had been even messier than usual due to the brisk wind, and the note of hilarity and mockery in his voice had been so sly and familiar and utterly him that the blinders had been pulled off. It had been the first occasion that she'd felt that peculiar throb in her belly because of him, and seven years later she was still feeling it.

It wasn't so much that he was handsome (he was) or awkward with it (which she found charming). She didn't love him because he was Harry Potter's son (she'd first learned the story of Voldemort and Harry's sacrifice from Al, who had stumbled over his explanation as to why it was just as weird for him to be in Slytherin as it was for her, a Muggleborn). His moods were a bit annoying. Sometimes his temper erupted volcanically. He didn't do well under pressure (she'd survived both fifth year and seventh year with him, so she knew), and he could be very caustic.

But he had a very sly and subversive sense of humor (there was a reason why she'd nicknamed him the Wise Asp) that matched her own. She'd watched him become more comfortable in his skin just as she became more comfortable in her own. And he was really endearing with his bouts of shyness, and Emmy especially liked it when he blushed. After the revelation she'd had at age fifteen, she'd tried to make him blush whenever she could.

At twenty-two, she still had that ability (though it had been seven months since she'd last had that opportunity), which led her to believe that her feelings weren't entirely one-sided. Sometimes when they were at his flat (before he'd gone gallivanting in time, of course) and having a laugh at something or other, the moment would turn so heated that she felt like he'd lit her on fire. And the most frustrating and maddening thing of all was that she was certain he would've done something about all the sexual tension if he hadn't been told at the age of seventeen that he'd actually traveled back in time.

The Slytherin common room had been completely empty on the first day of September in their seventh year. It was late enough that all the others had gone to bed. Emmy would've been there herself had she not been so acutely aware of Al and that he needed to talk. All day he'd been acting jumpy and dazed, and during the feast he'd only picked at his food rather than ploughing through it like he usually did.

She had to confess that she was hoping that he'd finally realized that he had feelings for her and was nervous about her reaction. And she had it all planned out. She would listen to his confession of deep attraction and then tell him that she felt exactly the same. Emmy liked to think she wasn't in the same mold as the stupid girls who played coy, and--

"I have something I need to tell you," he said heavily.

"Yes?" she said, trying not to sound too eager.

"My uncle," he began and her hopes plummeted. "Merlin, I don't even know how to begin this," he said, laughing a little. He pulled at his hair and it stuck up even more than usual. "Remember what I told you about my dad and mum and uncle? How... you know, the time travel?"

"Yes," she said again, cautiously. She remembered very well hearing the story behind the story of how Harry Potter had defeated Voldemort once and for all. It hadn't been his first attempt, but the price had been too high and he'd gone back in time to prevent the deaths of Al's extended family. At first she hadn't really believed it, but after talking to Al and Rose Weasley about it extensively, it made complete sense.

"And how they had this anonymous helper they called Merlin?" he asked.

"Of course," she replied instantly. That had actually been one of the proofs she'd needed to believe the story of the Tears of Merlin. She'd been over to the Potter home often enough to wonder about the Order of Merlin, First Class sitting on the mantle, the eternal flame in the blown glass burning brightly. It wasn't Harry's award, nor was it Ginny's, and Al's parents had refused to talk about it for the longest time. But Al had found out during the Easter holidays (when he was seventeen and judged mature enough to hear the entire story of his family's adventures) that it belonged to the fourth time traveler. The one they called Merlin.

"Apparently," he said in a tone of great disbelief, "I'm Merlin."

"What?" Emmy said blankly.

"Yeah," he said. "That was my reaction."

It took almost an hour of explanation for Emmy to believe it. And several more hours until she understood. Al's changes (which were sketchy and largely unknown) had happened in the past. His Uncle Percy had offered unbiased proof of this, as he had met Al while the war raged on, and had shown him the memory in a Pensieve. Al, unable to argue with this, had believed. And Emmy believed because apparently Harry's life had been somehow at stake. There had been a curse, and Harry and Ginny had eventually died from it.

That, for Emmy, had been the clincher. If there had been an Al in a world without his mum and dad, Emmy knew that he'd do anything within his power to save them, and time travel was not unknown in the Potter family.

"Does your dad know?" she asked finally, at three in the morning.

He shook his head. "Just Uncle Percy, and maybe Aunt Luna," he replied. He frowned into the fire, and it cast strange light on his face, making him look older and more pensive. "I haven't told him. Apparently I asked Uncle Percy not to in a letter I wrote to him."

Emmy could only imagine how strange this was. He'd written the letter years before he'd even been born.

Al had joined the Department of Mysteries immediately upon graduating, and so had she. He studied time and she studied love. The irony in that had not been lost on her.

None of them who knew about Al's involvement (counted on three, maybe four, fingers) knew when the memories of different lifetimes would catch up to him. A year, three, even a decade. Al had been a young man, but not very young. And Emmy had been there to support him, and she'd been there when his eyes had gone vacant and his pupils had dilated until only a hint of vivid green appeared around the edges. She'd led him back to her flat and settled him in a comfortable bed. And she'd watched as his palm bled with not one or two, but seven deep gashes.

It had been a long seven months.

But she had a feeling that he would awaken.

"He'll be disoriented," Percy Weasley had said on one of his many visits. "That's what all the research has led me to believe, though no one has ever documented a case in which the subject has multiple lifetimes to integrate."

Emmy might have bristled at his choice of words, but Al's godfather had proven that he loved Al quite a lot. "I'll be gentle," she said cheekily.

A part of her felt guilty for planning to use his disorientation.

"It's for the best," she reminded herself firmly. His eyelids moved and she soothed his brow. He'd had about an hour of clarity at every new moon since May. But it was December now, meaning that he'd jumped into a past memory seven times, and she was certain he'd return fully to himself. And she wanted to be ready when he did.

Her plan was simple. As soon as he awakened from all the memories pounding through his system, she was going to kiss him. And hopefully he would feel as right about it as she knew she'd feel, as she just couldn't imagine that all her feelings for him were completely one-sided. It's just not possible, she told herself for the millionth time. And it was pretty harmless, as deceptions went. If he really didn't want to kiss her, she wouldn't force him to.

She just wanted to show Al that they really were suited for one another. And if it took taking him in a moment of confusion, she'd do it.

Her chance came on the nineteenth of December.

Exactly as darkness fell, his eyes flew open. Emmy watched him as he adjusted himself to being back in the right time and in a comfortable bed.

"Emmy?" he said in a raspy voice.

Her stomach swooped. "Hi, Al," she said. Do it, do it, do it, she chanted. But the moment extended while she gathered her nerve. "I missed you a lot," she added. And then she leaned over until her face was directly above his and they were breathing the same air. She was fair. She gave him enough time to stop her. And then she pressed her lips against his.

He responded with an intensity that surprised her. Al pulled her down until she lay on top of him with only the sheet between them and kissed her until her head spun with it. Has he even kissed a girl before? she thought inanely. But then he flipped her over until he was leaning above her, and she felt his desire for her. It matched her desire for him, and for a few mad moments, she lost herself.

And then he pulled away.

"No," she said. "Don't."

Al rested his forehead against hers, breathing heavily. They were so close that she felt his face tighten. And he began to draw away.

"Don't," she said again. "Please don't."

"Emmy," he said in a ragged voice. She'd never heard that particular note, and she didn't like it. Helpless grief bundled together. Al's voice. It reminded her forcibly that he'd inherited his noble streak from his father. And she had to confront what she'd never let herself think about for years. His father had been struck by a curse that had eventually killed him. Al adored his father, and would do anything for him.

His face, when she pulled far enough away to get a good look at him, told her everything. Why else would he respond so fervently and then pull away? She knew he loved her. Her uncertainty had been blasted away by his kiss.

Did I always know? the calm part of her asked. It makes sense, doesn't it? Harry'd had to take the Killing Curse in order to free the world from Voldemort. Why should the universe have exacted any less of a price from Harry's son?

Emmy knew intimately how love could be piercing and terrible as it was wonderful, and she could practically see the light of the rune reflected in his face as he pulled even further away. He'd taken the curse for his father, and a part of her had suspected all along.

Of course.

HPAPHPAPHPAPHPAPHPAPHPAP

20 December 2028

The wood of the desk was rough under his fingertips, and Harry stared unseeing at the sheaf of parchment sitting in front of him. Being the Head of the Auror Department was quite a lot of work at times; just because it was the week before Christmas didn't mean that two bit petty dark wizards weren't causing trouble.

But Harry wasn't thinking of Howard Wells, who had wreaked havoc in Shropshire until he'd been caught two days ago. Instead, his mind was on his middle son, Al, and the fact that he hadn't been home in months. Daily correspondence with the Minister for Magic (who also happened to be his sister-in-law) revealed that Al wasn't missing, just doing his job as an Unspeakable…

Harry felt like he was missing, though.

It had been months since he'd had an actual conversation with his son. The only contact he'd had from him had been hastily scrawled notes (Al was not good at writing letters) about once a month. I'm fine. Don't worry about me. Everything's fine. The soothing words were meant to put Harry and Ginny at ease, but Al obviously had no clue that it made his parents worry all the more.

Al was not a parent; he did not have children. He didn't know that having sons and daughters was just as much a full-time job as being the Head of the Auror Department. Al had no clue that parents worried about their children even when they were home and relatively safe, let alone when they were off doing possibly dangerous things.

A knock interrupted Harry mid-huff.

"Come in," he said, already knowing it was Ginny.

"Still worrying?" she asked, sliding into the room. It was late enough at night that their two youngest, Viola and Neville, were asleep in their beds. She wore a dressing gown, and her hair spilled down her back. The bright red had been dulled somewhat by gray, but she was somehow even lovelier than she had been at sixteen.

"Of course I'm still worrying," said Harry, after a moment's pause. His wife came around the desk and sat on his lap, sliding her arms around his neck.

"I think he's all right," said Ginny. "I'm sure he is."

Harry shrugged, squinting at the picture of Al and James on his desk. It was a candid shot (most of the pictures of those two were – neither liked to arrange themselves in artful poses); both of them were laughing, and, as he watched, Al flung his arm around James' shoulders. Come home, Al, thought Harry.

"Our poor kids," Ginny said dryly. "We're both so neurotic."

Harry chuckled, stretching his legs. It was true. He hadn't known until James was born that this would happen; that Harry would feel this welling of fierce protectiveness for his children. Their past, the time travel, the long war with Voldemort… Harry wondered if he would appreciate his kids less if Harry had never been involved in two wars, and had never heard Voldemort's name.

Probably.

It had hit him a few months after James had been born.

The baby's wails pierced through Harry's sleep, and he jerked awake, heart pounding. Ginny was already sitting up, throwing her legs over the side of the bed. He could feel her weariness, and could see it in the tilt of her head and the set of her shoulders. James had not yet slept through the night.

"Lay back down," Harry told Ginny.

"You can go back to sleep—"

"No way," Harry said firmly. "I'll get James, and bring him to you."

"But you have your big case tomorrow," said Ginny. But she was already nestled against the pillows again, and Harry could feel her gratitude. Her eyes were half-closed and sleepy.

Harry padded out of the room, down the hall, and into the nursery. His son lay in his cot, little hands fisted and waving; his face was bright red, and he appeared to be quite, quite upset. Scooping the baby up into his arms, he chuckled as James' head immediately turned toward Harry's body.

"I'm the wrong one for that, I'm afraid," Harry told him. "Let's get you back to Mummy, eh?"

James' outrage grew and grew. Harry consoled himself with the fact that other than when he was apparently on the verge of total starvation, James quite liked to be held by his dad. "He loves you more than me," Harry announced, walking back into the master bedroom. Ginny had lit the bedside lamp, and soft light spilled over her.

"Don't feel too bad," said Ginny, reaching out her arms for the baby, "he loves my breasts more than he loves me."

Harry got into bed beside them. James' cries had completely cut off now he'd gotten what he wanted. It was the quiet moments like these that made being a father most rewarding. The family he'd begun with Ginny had grown by one, and it still amazed him. James was three months old, and Harry didn't know if this feeling would ever go away.

Ginny's finger traced James' cheek as he suckled hungrily and made little grunting noises that reminded Harry of Ron. It always amused him that his son had his mother's eyes, his Granddad Weasley's nose, and Ron's eating habits.

"You're smiling again," Ginny pointed out, rolling her head over on the pillow and looking at him.

"Can't help it," said Harry. He reached out and tickled the palm of his son's hand; tiny fingers closed around his finger and grasped tightly. An ache began in Harry's heart, and a lump in his throat grew.

Belatedly he realized that this child and any future children he might have – any future Weasley child – had been part of the reason why Harry and the others had fought so fiercely. And it wasn't until now, years after the war, that Harry realized it. It was this generation that had been in the greatest danger of not so much dying, but… never existing.

"It's just weird, you know," said Harry. "We traveled back to the past to protect the future. This future. And we didn't even know it…"

Ginny smoothed the baby's jet-black hair; her fingers trembled a little. "I think… I think I would've fought even harder if I knew James was at stake," she admitted. "Or Victoire, and Teddy Lupin."

"Don't forget Elvendork," said Harry, naming Sirius' son and snorting.

"Who can forget poor little Eli?" Ginny asked wryly.

"But I agree with you," Harry said in a low voice. He curled his body around his little family, and stared down at the face of his small son. They'd fought so hard, and now they got to be here, in this place, where the evil of Voldemort and his Death Eaters could not touch their children. "I'm glad I'm an Auror," he announced. "If there's another threat… another Voldemort… he – or she – is a dead man. I'm not letting anyone touch you, or any siblings you might have," he told James. "Daddy will hurt anyone who is a threat to you."

Ginny chuckled. "We're going to be really over-protective parents."

Harry hadn't ever forgotten those realizations he'd made in those quiet moments with his wife and first-born son. His children were precious; there had been a very real possibility that they might never have been born. The same applied to any of his nieces and nephews. Ron or Hermione might have died, and Rose and Hugo would never have been born. Likewise with the rest of the Weasleys, and their children.

All of the adults (who were often subjected to anger and rebellion from the children) knew that they held on a little too tightly, but Harry for one couldn't help it.

It killed him that his son was out of sight; and, even more than that, Al was bound to remain silent about his work. Harry had no clue what sort of dangerous things his son might be getting up to…

The doorbell rang throughout the house, startling Harry out of his reverie. "Who'd come by at this hour?" he asked irritably. The battered old watch that Molly Weasley had given him for his eighteenth birthday told him that it was well past midnight. Ginny reluctantly disentangled herself from him.

"It can't be any of our family," said Ginny. "I'll wait here, I'm not really dressed for company."

So Harry was alone when he left his study, wand at the ready, and headed down the hall to the front door. Experience had taught him long ago that visitors showing up in the middle of the night was not generally a good thing. "Who is there?" he asked as he opened the door.

"Dad," said Al.

Harry gaped at his second son. And before he could wonder why Al had rung the doorbell, and not Apparated straight into the house, or why his thin face looked hollow, and his body sickly, Al rushed toward him and threw his arms around him. Harry hugged him back, tightly, and closed his eyes when Al dropped his head on Harry's shoulder, the way he'd always done as a child.

"You're certainly a sight for sore eyes," Harry said, patting Al on the back. Questions can wait a little while, Harry decided firmly.

Al laughed shakily, pulling away. "You have no idea," said Al shakily. "No idea."

"Ginny!" Harry said loudly. "It's Al!"

But she must've felt his relief and joy, because she was already barreling down the hallway, looking quite formidable in her dressing gown. "Al!" she cried. Harry's eyes got a little misty as he watched his wife hug their son, and watched their son swing his mother around.

They hadn't seen him for months, but it felt like it had been even longer. Evidently, Al thought the same, because he was just as eager to linger on the stoop. Harry clasped his son's shoulder again; he and Ginny might be a little over-protective of their children, but at least that hadn't pushed James, Al, Lily, Viola, and Neville away.

"It's very late," Harry finally said reluctantly, glancing around the quiet street.

"I know," said Al. He pointed at his watch. "My watch still tells me the time. You got it for me for my seventeenth birthday, remember?"

"Of course we remember," said Ginny. "It's a family tradition to give a wizard a watch on his seventeenth."

"That was a great day," said Al. "Do you remember? It was just us… James accidentally set the kitchen on fire trying to blow up my birthday cake…" His face was lit with the memory, and a wide grin had split his face. "You took the day off work, Dad, even though you had that huge case."

"Of course I took the day off work," said Harry defensively. "It was your birthday. Your seventeenth."

"I really appreciated it," Al said earnestly. "I can't remember if I told you that or not."

Harry shrugged. It didn't seem very important to him. He was Al's dad; it was a dad's job to do things like not go to work on important days in their sons' lives. "Let's go inside," said Harry, reaching out and ruffling Al's hair.

Once they moved into the brighter light of the hallway, Harry noticed more about things about his son that made him slightly wary. He was much skinnier than he'd been the last time Harry had seen him; his hair was longer and shaggier. His cheekbones stood out prominently.

Al looked a lot older.

"Be careful," said Ginny. "We don't want to wake up Viola and Neville."

Al laughed loudly, completely disregarding his mother's advice. "I can't believe you had more kids!" he said delightedly.

Harry and Ginny exchanged a confused look.

Al waved his hand. "I'm just… remembering how shocking it was," he said, eyes bright. "Viola was born twenty five years after Voldemort's defeat… remember how Mum went into labor the night after your speech, Dad?"

"Vividly," Harry said dryly.

"Can we wake them up?" Al asked eagerly.

"I don't think that's a good idea, Al," said Harry, narrowing his eyes at his son. Al had always been just a little bit more dramatic than James, just a little bit more emotional and sensitive, but Harry had a feeling that something huge had happened in Al's life, and Harry wanted to know what it was.

Al's shoulders slumped. "Right," he said. "It's the middle of the night," he added. "I'm sorry, I – I've been sick, and… I'm a little… shaky."

"Sick?" Ginny asked, concerned, as they moved into the kitchen.

Harry set a pot to boil on the stove, deciding that tea was exactly what they needed at the moment. Tea, and a long talk at the kitchen table. Three cups levitated off of a shelf and parked themselves on the table.

"Yes, sick," said Al. "It wasn't a big deal," he added. "I… finished my mission, and then got a little sick. The potions have made me a little"—he flapped his hand while he searched for the word—"wobbly," he said finally. He leaned back in his chair and beamed at Harry.

It was slightly disconcerting.

"You're all right, then?" Ginny asked.

"More than all right," said Al, after a moment's pause. "I've missed this very much," he said quietly. "Sitting around the table, talking to the two of you."

Harry couldn't help but grin at the happiness in Al's voice. It was very nice to be appreciated by his children. "It has been several long months since we've seen you last, Al," Harry told him. "We've been missing you, and it's gratifying to know that you've missed us too."

Al took in a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. "I missed you a lot," said Al.

"Is there anything you can tell us about where you've been?" Ginny asked gently.

Harry watched as his son's finger's tapped the wood of the table, and his eyes shifted back and forth. That was a sure sign that no answers would be forthcoming. Ever since Al had joined up with the Unspeakables, Harry had learned when he could push for answers, and when he couldn't.

Damn.

"I can't," Al said finally.

"Damn," Harry said irritably.

Al looked at him and barked out a laugh. "Remember when I told you I was going to join the Department of Mysteries?" he asked. "Both of you were so upset," he added, still laughing. "I thought I was going to get my arse walloped like that time James, Lily, and I stole your wand and went to the zoo…" He sighed, and Harry noted with surprise, that Al's eyes were bright.

"Well… we were concerned for you," Harry said uncertainly. "We knew that we couldn't be there for you the way we wanted to if you couldn't tell us anything."

"You'll understand one day when you're a dad," said Ginny. "Being there for your kids is the most important thing in the world."

"And you and dad have been brilliant at it," Al said quietly. "Brilliant," he added again fiercely. "I remember all the times you've been there." Al's voice shook with intensity. "My seventeenth birthday, my graduation from Hogwarts… you were there for me when I became an Unspeakable, even though you didn't like it. You both have been there for me for my entire life."

"And here I was thinking earlier that we're a little over-protective," joked Ginny.

"I don't think so," Al said, shaking his head. But then his brow furrowed, and his eyelids dipped downward. There was something about his mouth that made him look quite sad all of a sudden. "Well, maybe a little," he amended reluctantly. "But it just comes down to always and always, doesn't it?"

"That it does," Harry said, pleased that he'd managed to impart to his son – or Al had managed to figure it out – what always and always meant. It was a bit of a legacy, Harry realized, and not something that was easily passed down to another generation.

"Always and always," agreed Ginny.

Author's Note:

After a VERY long hiatus, this story is finally back. Thank God.

I was too afraid to write it. :(