During the past few hours I have been, in turns: worried, terrified and composed.
It is half past six in the morning and I have been awake for three hours already. In an hour my alarm clock will sound. I should probably turn it off and prevent its needless ring; I will certainly not be going to work today.
The colour has drained from Ginny's face. Her lips, too, are losing their colour and her freckles, usually obvious, are now even more so; they proudly proclaim their presence against the pale parchment of her skin. Sweat beads her brow, and I reach across, cloth in hand, and dry her forehead. However the pearls of perspiration reappear instantly.
Her eyes are half-closed. She is panting, gasping for breath, her face contorted in pain. I would give anything to be able to ease her suffering, but I am helpless; I have never been good at watching others suffer. I want to intervene, to help, to remove the hurt from her, but I cannot. This inability to indulge what Hermione called my "rescuing people" thing makes my stomach churn. I am powerless. I am useless—incapable—there is nothing I can do. Nothing except watch her anguish.
Ginny lies on a brightly lit bed placed in the centre of our bedroom. This temporary structure arrived with the Healer an hour ago.
Our own bed is in its usual place against the wall, with the duvet pulled back and the sheet and mattress stained and wet. But that mess can wait; there will be time to tidy up later. My initial panic has subsided, relief arriving with the Healer, calm following shortly afterwards, when Ginny regained some of her composure.
Now she is beginning to worry again—so am I—her worry is highly contagious.
I mop Ginny's brow again. The Healer (I remember her name—Jane) has given me this job. She says that it will help, though I suspect that it simply helps to keep me distracted and out of the way while she calmly attends to my wife.
Ginny's hand flails towards me, and I extend my free hand to intercept it. She grabs it and squeezes hard, ivery/i hard; my knuckles give an audible crack and I wince in pain.
'Did that hurt?' Ginny asks.
'Yes,' I tell her.
'Good,' she mutters vindictively, sucking the air hungrily.
'Git! Sod! Damn! Bugger!' she moans, inhaling again, fighting for breath.
She squeezes my hand again, even harder this time – I begin to think that she is trying to break my fingers. Perhaps, if she succeeds, she might calm down. She is anxious and in pain so I try to keep my hand relaxed in hers and I let her squeeze as tightly as she can. She has a strong grip. My finger joints crack again.
'I hate you,' she tells me, and just at that moment, for that one split second, I truly believe that she does. She must see the sadness on my face, because she tries to smile and mutters, 'Not really, I don't.'
She releases my hand and I flex my fingers experimentally. They are sore, but still working. I lean over the bed and kiss her pale lips. She swears again and breaks off the kiss to gasp another breath.
'Push,' the Healer advises.
'What the hell … do you think … I'm doing … you arrogant … ignorant … cow,' my wife grumbles between rasping gasps.
The Healer simply smiles and places a hand on my wife's swollen stomach.
'Sorry,' I apologise on Ginny's behalf. Ginny is actually being restrained. She can swear like a trooper, but she usually restricts her outbursts to Quidditch matches. She is always polite and friendly with people who are trying to help her.
'Don't fight; try to relax,' the Healer advises Ginny before turning to me and, with a calming smile, assuring me, 'I've heard worse.'
'Really?' growls Ginny. She takes Jane's statement as a challenge. 'Then I won't … spare your feelings, you … aaargh…'
She stops talking, gasping for air. The Healer looks at me meaningfully and I finally remember the supporting role which they have tried to drill into me.
'Try to remember the breathing exercises,' I tell Ginny encouragingly.
'You smug pillock, Harry,' she shouts, her true self breaking through at last. 'You're just standing there … grinning like an idiot … and giving me crappy advice … while I'm doing … all of the work. I'll kill you. I'll bloody kill you … aaargh.'
'Your wand is out of reach, and there's not much chance of you reaching it before I do, is there?' I joke and she smiles feebly in return.
I've seen Ginny tired, sore, unhappy and angry many times over the years. Today she has managed to combine all four with a peculiar peace and serenity. She looks drawn, haggard, beautiful and wonderful. She is a complete contradiction. There is a glow about her, a sense of potential, of fulfilment, of achievement.
The Healer moves to stand between my wife's splayed legs. I look away from Ginny's face, down the bed; I see the moving mound of her enormous belly, but nothing more.
'Almost there,' the Healer encourages, as Ginny screams. She reaches for my hand again. I give it willingly, even though her grip is tighter and more painful than ever. She clenches her teeth, whimpers and strains. I remember Angelina's words of warning to us from six months ago, "A joyous moment? It was like trying to pass a whole coconut – I'm still trying to figure out how to inflict it on George."
Suddenly, I see the top of a head. My stomach is in freefall and my heart is battering my eardrums from the inside.
I coax sounds from an emotion choked throat. I compel my panic tangled tongue to form words. 'It's a Weasley.' What a stupid thing to say, I think to myself.
'What?' Ginny wheezes. She cannot look; she is lying on her back busily having another contraction.
'Red hair,' I tell her, 'but closer in colour to you and your Mum's than your Dad's or Ron's.'
'Not a … Weasley then,' she pants, 'a … Prewett.' Her face contorts with effort, she strains, grunts and groans.
The Healer is suddenly very busy. There are several unpleasant squelching and sucking noises. Then there is blood. More blood than I was expecting.
'Your wife will be fine, Harry,' Jane reassures me, somehow sensing my panic despite being very busy with her hands. The Healer smiles to herself and moves quickly, 'Here he is,' she announces.
Then we have a baby. Our first child is born.
Skin almost as red as hair glistens wetly under a blood smeared waxy white substance that reminds me of melted Wensleydale cheese.
'It's a boy,' the Healer announces. With well practiced hands her wand severs the cord. She checks my son's airways and he begins to cry; he's in unfamiliar territory as a new world dawns for him.
She wipes him down, weighs him, wraps him in a blanket and brings him straight back to us. She then places him carefully on his mother's chest. I am momentarily distracted from him by the bloody mass which has followed our son from the womb.
'You concentrate on your son, Mrs Potter, Mr Potter,' the Healer tells us. 'I'll just clean up down here. Do you have a name?'
I look at Ginny, she nods confirmation. She is too tired to speak.
'James Sirius,' I say proudly.
James Sirius Potter is a tiny, pink-skinned, blanket-wrapped bundle carefully cradled in Ginny's arms. Ginny and James are staring at each other. I am jealous – I want to hold him, he is part of me, too. Ginny, however, has done all of the hard work. She has the right to claim first cuddle. I mop her brow again. This time, the sweat does not reappear. She looks up, and we smile at each other and then return our gaze to our son. I reach across and carefully stroke his head.
'Hello, James,' I tell him, 'I'm your Dad.' For a second his surprisingly brown eyes flicker towards me.
I hope that he can recognise my voice; that those nights I spent talking to Ginny's distended belly were for his benefit, as well as my own. Perhaps that's just wishful thinking, but I think that it's a good thing to wish for.
I look into my son's eyes. They are a little lighter than his mother's, more flecked with amber than Ginny's. I'm immediately lost in them.
This is what love at first sight feels like, I think giddily.
Wild thoughts tumble through my brain and I realise that for all these years, I've been lying to Ginny.
'I love you, I'll never love anyone but you,' I've told her dozens of times. 'You are my one and only true love.' Lies! All lies. Suddenly I have two true loves.
I look at my baby son in shock. I thought that I knew what love was, but I have just discovered another love.
I am instantly certain that my second love is as true as my first. I am equally convinced that they can coexist. Harry loves James. I smile wryly at the thought; daddy loves his son sounds so much more acceptable.
Love isn't lust, it's not even sexual. It's more visceral, more immediate and less controllable. It's a yearning to be with someone. I had thought that my life was complete when I married; I was wrong. I am alive, and I chose life. I must continually move forwards through life and through love.
I fell in love with a schoolgirl. I married an International Quidditch player. Tonight, for the first time in my life I will share my bed with a mother. My life and love continually grows and changes.
My son is lovely, and I love him. I will always love him, as I will always love my wife. I am suddenly overcome. I want to say something to Ginny, but I cannot find the words.
For almost nine months I have known what was happening. I have watched James grow inside my wife and I have felt him moving under her skin. He has been real for months, but less real than he is now. Now, he's really real. Now he's here, naked and new.
'He's beautiful,' I say, still staring at my son. I marvel at those words, too. I have only ever applied them to my wife. I've never been particularly good at expressing my emotions. Ginny tells me that I'm still a work in progress. But the suddenness of my emotional response leaves me reeling.
'Oi, Potter!' Ginny tries to sound neglected.
I tear my eyes away from my James and look at my wife; her eyes are sparkling and her face and lips already regaining some colour.
'Should I be jealous?' she asks with a grin.
She has recognised the look of love in my eyes. A look, for the first time, not directed at her.
'No,' I manage a confused croak. 'It's the same, but different.' I wonder if I'm making sense. I must be. Ginny seems to understand.
'Baby love, child love,' she tells me. I nod and am surprised to find my eyes filling with tears. This is crazy, there should not be tears.
Her eyes widen in realisation. 'Oh, Harry, you didn't expect this. You didn't know, did you? How could you?' She grabs my hand and pulls me towards the birthing bed. She places my hand on James's head.
'Would you like to hold my baby … our son … our little James?' she asks. I nod, unable to speak. 'Then you take him,' she orders. 'Hold him until I get myself tidied up. Show him around our house and call Granny Weasley. Tell her that she has a third grandson. Ask her to spread the news.'
I'm happy to obey. I will go and nurse my son. I'll steal a few minutes for myself before I contact Molly; my mother-in-law will let everyone know before coming here, and come she will—there isn't a barrier strong enough to keep her away. Not that I would want to keep her out. After Molly the others will arrive. I must treasure these few minutes with my son, because soon a chaos of Weasleys will be congregating in our kitchen.
The Healer looks worried by Ginny's offer. She steps forwards, ready to advise me, correct me; to catch my child if I drop him. I lift James carefully. I've been handling babies for more than six years. I have a godson, three nieces, and two nephews. I know what I'm doing.
I love my extended family, but it's a shock to discover that my feelings towards James are so much stronger and much more immediate than my feelings towards even my godson. James is part of me, part of Ginny.
I feel a sudden kinship with Arthur and Molly. I'm a parent. My life has changed. I'm no longer simply "Harry."
Now, I'm "Dad."
It's a promotion, and with a promotion comes additional duties and responsibilities. I lift James and kiss his forehead, then his cheek, then his little round belly.
He kicks his legs, farts and deposits a tiny quantity of runny green excrement into the blanket he's wrapped in. I laugh. He's alive, he's a little person and he's mine.
And Ginny's of course.