Author's Note: I had gone back and forth about posting this, since it's not intergal to the plot, but after much consideration, I decided my readers are worth it; and my beta Arnel said I should. There's a tissue warning, but they're happy tears. Thanks to all of you who are reading and reviewing, and I'll be back with the sequel in a couple of months. Thanks for everything, MNF
September 16, 1999
It wasn't often that I got a truly quiet moment like the one I was enjoying now. It was a perfect day, vibrant blue skies, only a few puffy clouds pocking the otherwise pristine expanse. The trees were still verdant and fully clothed in their green robes, the nip of fall not yet changing their costumes. Bird songs were carried on the breeze, and at my feet the grass felt warm and velvet soft. I'd removed my shoes so my toes could soak up the suns rays. I was also happy to let them free of their confines. Pregnancy was causing them to swell, and I was yet unwilling to accept the defeat of wearing flats or trainers. It wouldn't be too much longer though, the pregnancy was half over, and the second half was certainly more physically taxing than the first. So much had changed in my life from the last time I had celebrated my birthday. Thirty-nine was something I dreaded and avoided celebrating at all. Forty had me revelling in the day.
"Seph," Harry called, causing me to jump as I didn't hear him approaching. "What are you doing out here?" He walked the few steps from the back of the storage building to where I was sitting on the bank of Bury Lake. He sat down to my left, looked at my purple pedicured toes and removed his shoes as well. I hadn't noticed it until a few days ago, but gone were Harry's denim and trainers. He'd replaced his wardrobe bit by bit over the last months; now wearing pressed dress trousers and leather loafers with his company shirts. The changes in his outward appearance were reflections of just how far he'd come in the year we'd been working together.
"I couldn't pass up sitting out here today," I explained. "Charlie and Connor are picking me up early from work and taking me to dinner at the RoseandCrown. We're then headed to The Burrow for the surprise party."
Harry's face showed a quick flash of disappointment. "How did you find out?"
"Connor really isn't very good at keeping a secret," I explained. "That he didn't spill the beans about the baby for days was an aberration."
"We really did want to surprise you," he explained. "You do so much for other people we just wanted you to know we appreciate it."
I looked to my left, and took in Harry's face, really took it in. Where a year ago I had been able to see was his parents, today I saw him. He would always be a reflection of who they were, but along the way he'd also become his own man. I'd witnessed Remus and Sirius in him too in the past year. He would never appreciate it, but there were even glimpses of Eliza and Sibéal too; though those were accidental effects. So much of my friends was alive in these breweries, and Harry had absorbed all of it.
"Where are you?" he prodded.
Sighing, I replied, "Somewhere in the past," I answered.
"I'm sorry. I can't imagine how hard it is for you to be around the brewery and know they're not in there," he sympathized, but I shook my head at him.
"No, it's different now. These buildings, the beer, everything reminded me of what I had lost and the places where I'd failed. At least that's how it was," I stressed the last word. I wasn't sure if I could articulate this, but things had truly changed in me. "I don't feel that way anymore. Their spirits still dwell here, but ... they're not haunting it."
Harry looked as pensive as I felt, his eyes not trained on me while I was speaking, but instead on the water, and how the gentle breeze was rippling the water.
"Growing up, all I ever wanted were my parents, or at least someone to fill in that space. My heart was so empty and broken and ... the Weasley's did a fine job of trying to replace them, but they weren't my family. They were Ron and then Ginny's."
I reached over and rubbed his back, I knew what he was saying. Watching Charlie with his brothers made me miss my sisters and the relationships we had when we were girls. I knew I'd destroyed those relationships when I disappeared, but it didn't mean I missed them any less.
"Thanks for finally finding me," he said quietly.
"Harry, I always knew where you were," I whispered, my eyes filling with tears. "I loved you from the moment you were born."
"I know, and it was stupidity that kept us apart," he continued. "I had a destiny which had to be fulfilled. I've done it. I have no desire to be that person again. It was too hard and too painful. I couldn't let myself feel anything, because if I did the emotions were just too much."
"You don't have to be, sweetheart," I consoled him, continuing to rub circles on his back. "You can do or be anyone you want. You don't have to close yourself off or fight ever again, if that's what you want. The people who love you, we're going to love you regardless."
"The only other person who had ever hinted they loved me that unconditionally was Sirius," he explained. My lip curled upward through instinct. Sirius did love without conditions. I knew it better than anyone.
"I saw them, in the forest," he whispered.
"My parents, Sirius, Remus," he explained. "As I was walking in to face Voldemort, I saw them; well, apparitions of them, really. I told them I was frightened, but that wasn't really true. Honestly, I wasn't feeling anything at that point. I just needed to end it, end the battle and the running and ..."
"What you felt was normal, Harry. People shut down emotionally all the time. When situations get to be too much to handle -"
"I was thankful not to be feeling. I didn't want emotions anymore. I couldn't imagine what the point was. I had let myself love people and they kept being ripped from me. I didn't want to feel ever again after that night," he told me as a single tear fell from his face. "I found Ginny after the battle and there was just ... I thought I'd been broken beyond repair. I couldn't feel anything but relief that it was over."
"Oh, my dear boy." I whimpered, my heart breaking for him.
"I wasn't feeling anything when we met. When I discovered who you really were, who Connor was ... I was angry. Do you realize it was the first thing I'd honestly felt in six months?" His green eyes bore into mine as I shook my head.
"Ginny and I, we wouldn't have made it if you hadn't reached me then. I think she knew I was just there, not feeling anything. That week, Halloween week, once she'd gone back to school, I finally felt things I'd avoided. I grieved, I yelled, I threw things and railed against those who'd hurt me. When I was done, something surprising happened."
"What, dear? What happened?"
"After I'd slept, I woke up feeling content. The last time I remember feeling that way was Christmas my fifth year, when we celebrated at Grimmauld Place," he explained. It was a great Christmas. The memories caused me to smile.
"The burned bangers," I was able to get out before I snorted from trying to stifle my laugh.
"I know!" Harry sputtered as he began to laugh. "Was the pan saved?" I shook my head. We were both shaking with laughter, remembering Sirius' attempt at making a midnight snack. His cursing and having to extinguish the flames awoke the entire house. Harry leaned over and put his head on my shoulder, so I wrapped my arm around him and held him there as we laughed.
"You didn't feel anything?" I asked and he nodded. "Before I met you, I was feeling everything. I'd been swallowed whole by my emotions and was drowning in them. You coming into my life, it threw me a line."
"What do you mean?"
"You forgave me when I couldn't forgive myself," I explained. "I hated that I hadn't just taken you or insisted that your mum and dad live with me or stopped Sirius that night or gone with Remus to Hogwarts. Or … there were a million other things I could have done differently. The guilt had nearly devoured me. Letting me love you, it reminded me life can be good." We sat quietly, arms around each other, watching the clouds move across the sky.
"Oh," I spit out, my hand going to my belly.
"Are you okay?" Harry asked, alarmed.
"Fine," I quickly replied. "Give me your hand." He did, and I placed it just below my bellybutton. "Just wait a second." Harry nodded and held still. We were both rewarded with a good swift kick.
"Was that the baby?" I nodded, happy tears flowing.
"It was," I confirmed. "So much better of a reminder Schmoo is growing than the morning sickness." Connor had given the baby its nickname, since we hated using the word "it". The only people who knew if Schmoo was a boy or girl were the family: Mummy, Daddy and the big brothers. Harry leaned his head down, so his lips were just above my shirt.
"Hello there, little Schmoo. It's your big, big brother, Harry. You'd better be good to your Mummy, sweetie, or we're going to have words when you get out here," he said. A dam broke and I began sobbing. Harry twisted his head to look at me. "You okay?"
"Pregnancy hormones suck," I explained as I waved.
"Sure, delude yourself there if you need to," he added with a smirk on his face. "Come on, we need to get back so you can act surprised later." Harry stood and then offered me both his hands so I could get up. I lifted my shoes and carried them back to the gravel before slipping my feet in. I grabbed onto his sleeve before we went in, pulling him into a fierce hug.
"Harry. I love you, I have loved you since you came into this world and I will love you into the next. I will always love you."
"Just like a mum," he said quietly. "I love you, too, Seph."