WARNING: Rape (not H/G rape). Also, Harry/Ginny haters, stay away.

Begins after Harry's 16th birthday, before his sixth year.

The night was cold, unusually so for early August in Surrey, and Harry Potter reached groggily for the blanket he had kicked off in his sleep. As he sat up to reach for it, he noted suddenly that it was a bit bright in his cousin's second bedroom for it being the middle of the night, moonlight streaming in and illuminating his rickety old desk and Dudley's long-abandoned toys in the far corner.

His heartbeat accelerating with a mounting sense of unease, he rolled over, and immediately knew all was not well. His window was wide open, paisley curtains rippling in a crisp breeze he was sure hadn't been blowing before he went to bed. Near his bureau, something rippled in mid-air.

He sat bolt upright, reaching for his glasses with one hand and his wand with the other. Before he could do either, however, the glittering solidified into the sneering form of Bellatrix Lestrange, loyal Death Eater and perhaps the one person Harry wanted to kill in the world more than Voldemort.

Before he could do anything other than stare stupidly at her, however, Bellatrix raised her wand and whispered something he could not hear, and misty silver tendrils flew out of her wand, wrapping his arms together tightly behind his bank and forcing his legs apart, spread out in front of him on the bed. His wand and glasses dropped to the floor from suddenly frozen fingers, noticed by neither party.

"Wha-" he managed to get out, before another spell had an invisible net of air wrapped around his face, leaving him barely able to breathe. He fought to control his panic. This could not happen, not when it was so obvious that Bellatrix was the one who deserved to die for killing his godfather. It couldn't end this way…he wouldn't let it end this way.

Now completely helpless, all he could do was glower in hatred at this apparition. Bellatrix moved to the foot of his bed, staring down at him past long, unbrushed hair. Her dark eyes were narrowed; but, without warning, she began to laugh. "Pathetic, little boy. You truly know nothing of defensive magic."

Harry could do nothing but stare helplessly up at her and pant through his gag, though somewhere inside of him he agreed that she had a point. Not that it mattered now; he had no doubt that Voldemort would come very soon and end his humiliation.

But where was the Dark Lord? Bellatrix never went anywhere without her master, did she? If the blood wards around his aunt and uncle's house were broken, and they must be if Bellatrix had entered, surely they would allow Voldemort in, too.

Bellatrix's peals of laughter stopped abruptly. Harry snapped his eyes back to the shrunken woman in front of him, who was watching him with a strange, mad glint in her eye. He wondered if she would try to murder him before Voldemort showed up. To what extent were prophecies self-fulfilling, anyway? Would she not even bother trying to kill him, convinced only Voldemort could?

Tossing a casual Muffliato over her shoulder in the general direction of his door, she said softly, almost conversationally, "My master cannot... give me what is necessary for me to prove my loyalty to Him, and thus you, Harry Potter, are my tragic second choice." She set her wand down on the bed, tantalizingly close to Harry's frozen fingertips, and began to slide off her dark robes, revealing a thin gray gown underneath.

Was she going to torture him before Voldemort came? Harry took a deep breath, and asked quickly, "Does Voldemort know you're here, Lestrange?" Her sudden flinch was answer enough. She was not here under orders. Fighting light-headedness from lack of air, he continued. "Going to get Crucio-ed when you come crawling back to him, for finding me behind his back?"

"He will know," she said, and to Harry's horror and disgust, began to take off her gown, as well. Though his mind was screaming with revulsion, he had no more breath to say anything. Bellatrix, now nude, casually crawled onto his bed. She was bony and sharp, and her knees dug into his thighs painfully.

She leaned over him and hissed in his ear, "It just must wait until after the deed is done, and then he will be so pleased with me...so pleased with my cleverness...and so happy with what I have given him..."

"Are you out of your fucking mind?" Harry gasped out, even though he already knew the answer. He desperately tried to recoil from her, but the spell held, and he was left glaring at her furiously as she reached for his hips, and pulled his boxer shorts down to his ankles.

Bellatrix didn't appear put out in the slightest by his limpness. Instead, she carefully positioned her knees on either side of his hips, and as she lifted herself up, reached for the wand at her feet, and hissed a spell at his cock. Immediately, he was hard, despite the fact that he had never been less aroused in his life.

He stared at his traitorous cock, disbelieving, and tried not to scream in agony that his first time was going to be with the beast who had murdered Sirius. As he watched in frozen horror, Bellatrix now carefully lowered herself onto him. He couldn't feel his cock, so he was surprised when after only a few strokes, an expression of ecstasy came over her face. When he saw that he had slipped out of her, he realized he must have ejaculated.

Still smiling contentedly, Bellatrix rose out of bed and briskly slipped her gown and robe back on. She looked in much better spirits now and seemed almost not remember that Harry was still there. Harry, for his part, was bewildered. Had she fantasized about having sex with him? But what did Voldemort have to do with that?

"I hope you die soon, Potter." Bellatrix marched to the still-open window, fully dressed, eyeing him almost hungrily. As she faded before Harry's eyes, he heard her whisper, "My Master has plans for your demise in the very, very near future."

Now she was invisible, but her monologue continued. "Die soon, little boy, and I will laugh. Oh, how funny to see the baby Potter killed!"

She laughed hysterically, and Harry felt goose bumps pop up along his arms and bared thighs. The window slammed shut, breaking the sound of the cackling, and she was gone. Nothing but Harry's labored breathing and the too-still night air gave any indication that a Death Eater had been there.

Harry stared up into the darkness for a long time, not seeing anything, before he noticed that gradually the silver bonds holding him rigid were loosening, and he could breathe normally again.

Slowly he regained control of his body, and he laboriously reached down to pull his shorts back up. The room was quite dark with the window closed, as it should have been all along. He reached for his wand, though somehow he knew he wouldn't have to worry about Voldemort tonight. Bellatrix had come without her master knowing, and she had said she would not tell him what she had done here tonight until her plan was complete, a statement that for some reason Harry believed true.

But the looming question in his mind was what did she want? Was coitus involved in some secret Dark ritual to weaken him, like the graveyard ceremony that had given the Dark Lord a new body? Could the seed of Voldemort's enemy give the Dark Lord some unknown power? Had she simply wanted to put him off-guard in the most horrific way imaginable? Contemplating the possibilities was terrifying, but it was better than thinking about what had just happened.

Shaking his head as hard as he could against the weakening spell, he stood up and walked to the hall bathroom. His aunt and uncle would be furious if he woke them in the middle of the night, but that concern seemed laughably insignificant now.

He turned the shower on full blast, and got the water up as hot as it would go before stepping under it. He let it scald his body for a long time, concerns and fears overtaking his thoughts, as he desperately tried to forget the feel of Bellatrix Lestrange's hands on his helpless body.

After several days of hearing nothing from the Dark Lord or Bellatrix, Harry slowly began to relax, and resumed his mundane life with the Dursleys. He felt guilty about not telling Dumbledore about what had happened, but even thinking about Bellatrix's visit made his cheeks flush with humiliation and his stomach twist painfully.

I'll tell Dumbledore eventually, Harry resolved to himself. But not until I'm back at Hogwarts. Serves him right for making me stay here. But immediately Harry felt childish for planning to punish the Headmaster for protecting him via his relatives. And yet, Harry couldn't deny that letting Dumbledore know what had happened would not only be terribly embarrassing, it would prove to Dumbledore that he couldn't even protect himself adequately, even with the help of the magic that was supposed to keep him safe when he was with his relatives.

Dumbledore would be disappointed in him, he knew, even if he never said it. After his tantrum in Dumbledore's office only a few months before, Harry was loathe to say anything that might upset his mentor.

Thus, the weeks passed, and Harry was finally able to sleep through the nights without waking up before dawn in cold sweats. He concentrated harder than he ever had before on his studies, writing essays longer, for the first time in his life, than the minimum requirements, and taking notes as he read his textbooks.

When Hedwig fluttered down to his shoulder one dreary morning bearing a note from Dumbledore, Harry was in the middle of a drawing the hair on his diagram of a partially transformed boar Animagus, and almost fell out of his chair at the interruption. The note itself was brief, asking him if he would be available that evening, with the implication that Harry would be expected to make time, in any case.

His heart skipped a beat at the thought of having to see Dumbledore face to face so soon. Could he force himself to recount Bellatrix's encounter so soon? If Dumbledore says something about the Death Eaters planning something at Privet Drive, or even just news about Bellatrix, I will, he promised himself firmly.

When Dumbledore failed to mention anything of the sort, all the way from the journey to Slughorn's house and then the Burrow, however, Harry could not bring himself to feel disappointed that his pride could remain intact. He bid Dumbledore goodbye with only the slightest twinge of guilt, and resolved to place the entire event firmly in the past, where it belonged.

Seeing Ginny at the Burrow also helped him forget Sirius's cousin, and he had a pleasant time there, watching her laugh delightedly when she made a particularly daring move in their pick-up Quiddich games, feeling something hollow and empty when her eyes lit up at the sight of an owl from Dean.

Once he was back at school, much like the catastrophe with his godfather's mirror, Harry found himself to be a little too effective at purposely forgetting things, and thought about the nighttime incident only occasionally as his sixth year at Hogwarts passed. Ginny Weasley, his beautiful new girlfriend, occupied most of his thoughts, waking and sleeping, and time passed relatively happily as he prepared to face Voldemort.

Then, when the Headmaster took him to find that Horcrux, and was soon thereafter murdered by Snape, all thoughts of Bellatrix abandoned his agenda completely.

He left Hogwarts in a daze at the end of that school year, after reluctantly breaking things off with Ginny, and feverishly planned his acquisition of the remaining Horcruxes and vengeance for his mentor's death. He would be happy to see Bellatrix dead, but she was far down on his list of priorities, and wasting time thinking about a woman who was more than slightly unhinged after her decade in Azkaban seemed unimportant, if not downright trivial, so Harry had an easy time blocking out the event.

That was, until an otherwise unremarkable day at the end of July, as Harry walked out of his relatives' house forever, and stumbled upon something that changed his life unalterably.

So furious was he at the shouting match he had just finished with his uncle, it took Harry several startled breaths before he realized what had made him trip.

A small pile of dark, soiled blankets lay in a heap on the porch. He was tempted to just ignore it and keep walking, but a soft sound from the heap made him hesitate. If there was a kitten or other small animal trapped inside, he might as well free it. He shifted his bag to one hip, gingerly reaching out for a corner of the blanket to unfurl.

A whimpering, naked infant covered entirely in scarlet welts lay at his feet.

Harry heard his bags hit the floor, but he didn't remember letting them go. He felt a wave of nausea, and dropped to his knees so he wouldn't fall. The baby, still moaning softly and clutching at the air, squirmed not six inches from his right knee.

"Oh my God..." Harry said softly, regarding the injured child in horror. Without stopping to think that it might be a trap, or a Portkey, or not even a baby at all, he reached for it.

A girl, he noticed numbly, and filthy with urine, dirt, and blood. She was covered with cuts that appeared to have been carved all over the length of her body, from her tiny toes to her soft , dark hair, symmetric and precisely placed, which made them all the more terrifying, that an infant had been made a canvas.

Some of the cuts were fresh, leaking with blood anew when Harry had picked her up, and others were scabbed over, but they were all designs that had been marked with cold intention. The baby was shivering, despite the heat, and Harry glanced at the dirty rags she had been wrapped in before setting her carefully on his knees and pulling off his shirt to cradle her in that instead.

He rose with her in his arms, unreasonably convinced that he would drop her, and noticed a slip of parchment in a fold of the blankets. A spiky yet feminine hand had scrawled:

A gift for the baby Potter! An abandoned, unwanted child of your very own, just as you were made so by my Lord. I should have known your seed would be too weak to give me a son to seal my link to the Lord of Darkness, but giving you this broken toy is almost as satisfying.

Weep, for when my Master destroys you, those you think love you will destroy it, for I have already initiated it into the ways of Darkness. Even you cannot undo the past, little boy. Are you prepared to die?

That night, surely by now almost a year ago, rushed over him, and he struggled to breathe. Looking at the baby, with her eyes tightly shut and in a feverish sleep, he felt a strange new emotion come over him. Whether Bellatrix was lying through her teeth or not, this was an innocent child, and she needed to be cared for.

Ignoring his fallen belongings, he sighed, but walked back into his relatives' house.

Petunia was scrubbing the dishes in the kitchen when Harry returned, muttering to herself furiously. She jumped when Harry cleared his throat, and spun around to stare at him, sharp eyes widening upon seeing the child. "Get out of my house!" she said shrilly, backing up against the sink. Then, because of the nosiness she could never seem to contain, she added, "And what...is that?"

Harry unthinkingly held the child closer to him, and said with painful calmness. "This is a baby, Petunia. I daresay you've seen them before. And I'll leave the moment I've had a chance to clean her up."

She looked as if she was going to protest again, but thought better of it upon seeing the set of his eyes. "Fine," she snapped, brushing past him and storming up the stairs, not even bothering to turn off the running water.

Shaking his head, Harry carefully unwrapped the infant, who mewled as the room temperature air touched her skin, but kept her eyes squeezed shut. "Shh," he said softly, adjusting the water temperature and allowing it to fill up the other half of the divided sink.

Wincing anew at the sight of her cuts, Harry slowly set her down in the warm water. She promptly began wailing. "Don't," Harry begged her. "We have to clean you, and you'll feel much better."

He felt ridiculous trying to convince an infant of anything, but the sound of his voice did appear to calm her a bit, and he slowly poured water over her body, wincing every time he hand ran over a scab. Finally, drying her off carefully with paper towels, he looked around the kitchen for something to wrap her in. Perhaps a dishtowel? Or a bathroom towel?

He was across the room, reaching for a dishtowel, when he realized Petunia was in the doorway, holding a dusty cardboard box. Harry didn't think he had ever seen her look more nervous, or more awkward. "Dudley's baby clothes," she said gruffly, staring at the floor. "His newborn outfits might fit."

She set the box down and brushed past him to stand at the sink again. Holding the baby firmly in the crook of his arm again, Harry walked over and peered into the box, half expecting a dead cat or some other horrifying object to reveal Petunia's cruel trick.

But no, inside, stacked and neatly folded, were tiny clothes. He knelt down and picked one up. My first, my precious, was hand-sewn carefully across the light blue romper. On a yellow shirt, My little boy was stitched in pale green.

The sewing was not particularly good, he noticed. He had a sudden image of a pregnant Petunia laboriously adding her love to the shirt, pricking herself with her needle as often as not. Had she wanted a boy? My first, she had written. She had wanted more children.

But then she got me instead, Harry thought, and he did not feel guilty that his relatives had to care for him, but a little more understanding of how his aunt, at least, must have felt when Dumbledore left him on her doorstep.

"Thank you, Petunia," he said simply. "I'll just put this one on her." He picked out a soft red romper that was the least masculine-looking, and a blue cloth nappy embroidered with ducks. "Do you mind if I take a couple of these nappies?"

His aunt appeared to be trying to pretend that she was doing anything but giving Harry her son's baby clothes. "No, just hurry," she hissed as she scrubbed the counters, watching the backyard warily. Vernon had stormed out the backdoor almost simultaneously when Harry had left through the front, and the last thing Harry wanted was another confrontation with his uncle.

"Goodbye, Petunia," he said to his aunt's back, and grabbing the baby and two extra nappies, he left Number 4, Privet Drive forever.

He wasn't sure when exactly he had decided to go to the Burrow, and he felt his face flush as he realized he didn't know whether he was running to his best friend or Ginny. His heart apparently knew, however, because shortly after he stepped off the Knight Bus at dawn, he found himself standing outside Ginny's door.

It was early morning, the rising sun sending weak rays through the hallway window, and Harry wondered if he should just wait downstairs until the Weasley household woke up. Logic warred with his emotions until his hand got tired of the battle and turned the doorknob.

He held his breath. Ginny was asleep but stirring in the feeble light that streamed in from her skylight, and Harry stood still, watching her. Her long red hair was tangled from sleep and about half in her eyes, and her nose was scrunched up from resisting the persistent lightening of her room, but she was still the prettiest girl he had ever seen.

You can't have her, a nagging voice in his head told him. All you can offer her is death.

I'm just...going to get her help, he informed it, and immediately felt silly for lying to himself. He sat softly on the end of her bed, holding the baby in the crook of his arm. She had stopped fussing about halfway to Ottery St. Catchpole, and was still asleep, thumb in her mouth.

Finally, when it seemed that Ginny was not going to wake up on her own, Harry reached out and shook her gently. "Ginny...come on, wake up." She resisted for about a minute, ducking back under the covers and pushing his hand away and squirming in irritation, before she abruptly stopped moving.

"Harry?" she said, sitting up straight and looking at him blearily. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Er, sorry?" Harry tried, standing up and backing away. "I'll just...see you later..."

She sighed and pushed the covers away from her. She was wearing a thin yellow camisole, and Harry couldn't help noticing he could see her very nice breasts outlined clearly under it. "I didn't mean it like that, come back, Harry - oh my GOD, is that a baby?"

Her shrill cry woke up the baby, who promptly started crying. "Yes, Ginny," he said while rocking the baby, trying to soothe two upset females at once. "I found her when I was leaving my aunt and uncle's house."

"Oh, let me see her, you're not holding her right," Ginny said in exasperation, taking the baby from him, and noticing the cuts on her hands and feet. "Harry, she looks...she looks like she's been used in a Dark ritual." She looked at him in horror, begging him with her eyes to deny it.

He nodded. "I know," he started, before realizing that he was going about this all wrong, which led him to realize that he was going to have to tell her about Bellatrix. He felt stupid; of course he should have figured that out beforehand, but knowing he had to reveal his darkest secret gave him a heavy feeling of despair in the pit of his stomach.

"Ginny, I think you need to sit down." She did, carefully laying the infant across her lap. "She's, ah...Bellatrix Lestrange left her for me. There was a letter." He pulled the crumpled note out of his pocket. "Look, I didn't tell anyone this before, but-" He took a deep breath. "I think she's mine. My daughter."

About twenty minutes later, Harry was seated downstairs with Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Mrs. Weasley, who was now bottle-feeding the baby, rocking her expertly. Ginny looked pale, and grew only paler as Harry recounted that horrific night a year ago, though he tried to leave out the most embarrassing details. Fortunately, no one prodded him, and they all seemed to understand, if not agree with, why he had not shared this with anyone before.

Finally, his story was finished, though his cheeks felt permanently hot with humiliation. The topic of conversation shifted to the child's future.

"Listen," Mrs. Weasley said, eyeing them all with a steely gaze. "The fact that this child's mother is evil does not doom her unless we treat her like she's already doomed. She is innocent, is that understood?"

As everyone hastened to announce that they agreed, there was a bang, and the room suddenly contained one more figure: Minerva McGonagall stood in front of the fireplace, looking a trifle unsteady from the unpleasant mode of transportation. They had to wait for her to finish coughing up soot before she could speak.

"Molly," she said hoarsely, looking around at everyone who had stood when she appeared. "Mr Potter, Miss Granger, and Mr and Miss Weasley." They all nodded when she spoke their names, Harry giving her a weak wave.

She walked over and took the baby from Mrs Weasley. "And this would be the child." She didn't wait for a response. "Please sit down, everyone. I will examine her while we're talking." She produced her wand and began to gently prod the baby, muttering spells under her breath as a soft golden aura surrounded the child.

Mrs Weasley nodded agreement and fixed Harry with a piercing stare. "Well, Harry, there's so much we have to do before this is settled, but I want to go ahead and tell you that once Professor McGonagall has made sure she's yours and isn't hiding any curses, I'm perfectly willing to take care of her until you're out of school." She smiled proudly. "I've raised seven children, after all, so I'm certainly better qualified than most people."

Harry felt light-headed. "Take care of her?" he repeated dumbly. Somehow, the idea of having the child, of caring for her permanently, hadn't sunk in.

"Well, what were you expecting, my dear? To give the child back to Bellatrix Lestrange?"

Harry shook his head. "No, of course not." The thought of allowing his child to be hurt again was utterly unthinkable. He felt the same kind of cold fury that had overcome him when Ginny was dating Dean. Protectiveness, he supposed.

"It's just...she has all those cuts. Is she going to be okay?"

Molly looked sadly upon the scarred baby. "If she's made it this far, I think she'll be fine." She reached over and gently pulled back one of the child's sleeves. "I healed the cuts, but they were made with Dark magic. The scars will be there forever."

"It's okay. I'm just glad Bellatrix didn't kill her. Giving her back to me was supposed to be another way to hurt me."

McGonagall looked up from her wandwork. "Once again, the Dark Lord's followers prove that they are incapable of understanding love. I'm sure Bellatrix Lestrange thought that only shame would keep you from killing your daughter, and thus you would be forever haunted by a reminder of that night." She set down her wand, and gave Harry's shoulder a firm squeeze.

"But she was wrong, wasn't she, Potter? To you, she isn't a hateful burden, she's just your daughter, someone you barely know but love nevertheless. Oh," she said, as if she had just remembered, "she is your daughter, Potter, and perfectly fine now, if not unharmed." She handed him the girl, sleeping once more.

Harry felt dizzy as he stared down at her, trying to grasp that this was a living, breathing person whom he was now responsible for. After a long moment, he said, "Thank you, Professor, but I have a question. Is there a reason Bellatrix-" he swallowed hard- "tortured her?"

Looking grave, his professor replied, "I cannot be certain. However," she said with a small smile, turning to Hermione, "Miss Granger appears to have an idea."

Hermione was sitting on the edge of her seat, and had obviously been waiting impatiently for her turn to speak. "I expect it's because most blood magic is designed for use in patriarchal situations," she said thoughtfully. "I'm sure the vast majority of blood spells would have no effect on females. Bellatrix probably tried to bond your daughter to Voldemort the usual way that heirs are bonded, and then some secret way with Dark magic that involved the cutting. Or-" she swallowed. "The cuts might have just been for their sick pleasure." She looked uneasily at the baby, and then back to Harry.

"Whatever the case, she's safe with us now," Ginny said, laying her hand on Harry's arm. "But I am curious as to how Bellatrix made it in to your relatives' house."

Everyone looked at Hermione, including McGonagall, who seemed proud of her star pupil's critical thinking skills. Hermione, though, appeared not to have thought of the answer to this question beforehand. "Well," she said, biting her lip, "Bellatrix didn't hurt you, did she? She came in and... raped you, but even that was for an ulterior purpose and not specifically to harm you. And that's what those spells protect you from, isn't it - the intention to hurt or kill, so someone like Voldemort can't come in and murder you in your sleep." McGonagall nodded her approval at this assessment.

Harry couldn't help shuddering at the memory of that night. "Yeah, I guess that's true. She didn't even give me a goodbye Crucio or anything."

Ron snickered at this feeble joke, and Hermione gave him an appalled look. Harry felt himself smile for the first smile in a long time. Ignoring both of them, Ginny spoke up. "And Harry, we need to pick a name for her, so we don't all have to keep saying 'your daughter'."

But before he could say anything, McGonagall stood up. "I think I'll just find myself something for breakfast, if you wouldn't mind helping me, Molly?" she asked quickly, turning to Mrs. Weasley.

Mrs. Weasley stood too, ushering McGonagall into the kitchen. "Not at all, Minerva, right this way." She glanced fondly at Ginny and Harry over her shoulder as she left.

Which left Harry and his three favorite people staring at each other in bewilderment. "A name, Harry," Ginny said softly.

He was getting tired of feeling stupid so often in one night. "Oh, right. I have no idea, though. Do you have any ideas?"

"Well," Ginny started, with a very fetching blush, "I've always wanted to name my first daughter Elaine. And it means 'light,' so it's sort of like saying she can be a good person no matter who her mother was." She bit her lower lip, waiting for his reaction.

He had the impression that he was missing something important. "Are you sure? You can save it for your daughter if you want."

She blushed again. "No, it's fine." She raised her eyes slowly to meet Harry's. "I thought I would help you raise her, you know...like she was our daughter, if you want," she finished in a rush. "I know you said you need to take care of some things, but…I can wait for you," she finished softly, hopefully.

Harry was very aware of three sets of eyes watching him, Ron's most of all. "Of course you can help me with her. I'd like that." They met each other's eyes, and Harry knew suddenly, like he knew that he loved flying, that he loved her.

Unconditionally and permanently. She had accepted every aspect of him and his complicated life without complaint, and the fact that she was embracing this new addition to his life – their life- was beyond words.

"Well, that's settled, then," Molly said briskly, walking back into the room and showing no shame for eavesdropping. Harry couldn't be angry: her eyes sparkled with happy tears at Harry and her daughter. Reaching to take the infant from him, she began planning how to integrate a baby into the Weasley household. "Elaine needs to be put in a crib - Ron, Hermione, you come with me. We'll put her in Fred and George's old room. Hermione, you can transfigure one bed into a crib and the other into a changing table..."

Hermione and Ron each smiled at Harry before they allowed themselves to be herded out of the room, Mrs Weasley cheerfully wondering how many of Ginny's old baby toys she would be able to find in the attic, and leaving Harry and Ginny sitting next to each other on the couch, alone.

They were both silent for a long moment, and suddenly Harry was a little unsure of himself, like back in the beginning, when he and Ginny had just started dating. After a moment, he took her hand and just looked at her. She had pulled her hair back into a messy ponytail and slipped on a faded sweater, but she was as stunning to him as if she had spent hours on her appearance.

He took a deep breath. "Ginny, it really means a lot to me, that you'll take care of her-Elaine. You know I have to fight Voldemort one day, probably soon, and I'm really glad to know she'll have someone who will keep her if I don't come out of it. But-" he spoke over her as she opened her mouth furiously, no doubt to tell him that she would certainly not allow him to die.

"But, if I do make it, and I really hope I do, Ginny, because I thought maybe, if you wanted to, we could married sometime after you graduate?" He said the last in a rush, hoping that he knew her as well as he thought he did.

Part of him was shocked that he was even asking that; he was only seventeen, for god's sake. Yet he already had a child, he might die soon, and he knew somehow, that he would never meet a woman he loved more than Ginny. Who was crying, he realized, silent tears streaming down her face. He watched her anxiously. Had he misread her? Moved too soon?

"My god, Harry Potter, are you asking me to marry you?" Now she was laughing and crying at the same time, reaching out to wrap her arms around his neck, and rest her head against his chest while she shook softly.

He pushed her back a bit so he could kiss her eyelids, her forehead, her wet cheeks, and finally, her perfect lips. When they came up for air, she regarded him coyly from under her eyelashes. "Does that mean we're engaged?"

He grinned. "Informally, I suppose. I mean, I haven't gotten you a ring yet."

"Well, hurry up on that." She grinned mischievously. "I guess that means I need to start thinking about baby names again. Your kid took the only really good one I had."

He pulled her into his lap. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. There's only so much your poor mother can take, after all." She nodded agreement, snuggling closer against him. "Anyone, it's our kid, right? You'll be her mother in everything but blood."

"Okay, but my mum will kill me if I don't finish school, so I should probably let the happy grandmother do her bit for a while."

Harry looked at her seriously. "And I have to do my kill Voldemort bit. I have to go find the pieces of Voldemort's soul, and then I can kill him, and then I can come back to you and Elaine." He paused. "Are you angry that I'm not coming back to Hogwarts?"

"Somehow, I didn't think you were." She gave him a stern look, poking a finger in his face. "No girls during your adventure, though."

"Absolutely not, " he agreed, laughing. "I mean, Hermione will be there. But you said I had to come back alive, and Ron would kill me if I hit on Hermione, so I guess I won't."

She nodded in satisfaction. "And I'll hold down the fort at Hogwarts, then," she said, slipping an arm around his waist and resting her head on his shoulder.

Mrs. Weasley walked back in again at that moment, and Ginny jumped out his lap and into the chair opposite him. However, Harry was sure this move did not pass unnoticed by her mother, who had a twinkle in her eye as she handed him Elaine. "She started fussing when Hermione and I tried to put her down. I think she wants her daddy."

Her daddy. Harry reached out for her with goose-pimpled arms, holding her numbly to his chest. She quieted quickly against him, clutching his shirt in her perfect, tiny fingers.

"Put her down when she falls asleep, won't you, Harry?" Mrs. Weasley asked. Harry nodded.

Smiling, Mrs. Weasley raised her voice and called, "Breakfast in ten minutes!" up the stairs to everyone else not yet awake in the Weasley household. And she walked back into the kitchen, already talking to Professor McGonagall, leaving him with his daughter.

Who had his thick black hair, he realized numbly. And her nose was his, too. Ginny came over and settled down next to him on the sofa, squeezing his free hand. They sat in peaceful silence, watching birds play at a feeder in the backyard.

Yesterday, he hadn't known of Elaine's existence, and he wasn't sure where he and Ginny stood in their relationship. "I absolutely adore her," he informed Ginny, coming to this abrupt realization. "Professor McGonagall is right. I know nothing about my daughter yet, and I love her anyway."

Ginny said nothing, merely smiled and reached out to stroke Elaine's hair softly. "And I absolutely adore you too," he added, lightly brushing her cheeks. Her eyes filled with tears, but she kept her gaze on him steadily. Trustingly.

"I wasn't ever happy, " he said, "until I went to Hogwarts and met Ron and Hermione. But today is even better." He hoped he didn't do anything embarrassing like starting to cry too, though at the moment that seemed like a distinct possibility. "Because today I have you and Elaine. And even though I know I have to track down the Horcruxes and then defeat Voldemort, I'll only be thinking of you."

Being careful not to jar the sleeping infant, Ginny sat on his knee, pulling Elaine into her lap. "I know there are things you have to do," she said in a shaky voice. "But just remember we'll be waiting, okay? Me and Elaine, and all the other people who love you."

"I know, " he said. "I'll remember that in all the pain, there's something worth living for." He leaned over to kiss her again, content to kiss her every day for the rest of his life.

Between them, a scarred but loved little girl slept peacefully, content in her father's arms.

Let me know what you think, please! My goal is continual improvement. Let me know what worked for you and what didn't (unless you're just going to tell me you hate Harry/Ginny - then I don't care, haha). Thank you!

Also - I had planned on this being a one-shot, because I didn't think anyone would want to read about what is essentially an OC, even if Elaine actually has a pretty good raison d'etre. Apparently, I was very wrong, judging by both the reviewers' comments and the number of people who signed up for my chapter alerts, despite this fic being listed as complete.

I am working on a sequel presently, and I hope it to be up by mid-October. As always, thank you for your reviews!