Harry opened his eyes and slowly moved his head. He desperately wanted to stretch, but he didn't dare. He did not want to wake his sleeping beauty.
He didn't need to stretch, he told himself; he had not been asleep, he'd merely been resting after another strenuous, sleep-deprived night.
But, if he hadn't been asleep, why did he feel so rested? He looked up. Above him the white gauze covering the four-poster bed blazed brilliantly in the late winter sun. Bright threads of sunshine slipped through the hangings creating a soft and dappled light. Hours had passed; he had been asleep, he realised, and so had she. Was that really so surprising? After last night, she should be exhausted. He tried to reach his watch, but the girl lying across his chest began to stir with his movement. Not wanting to disturb her, he stopped.
Lifting his head from his pillow he looked down at the body lying on his. Unable to resist, he stretched his neck and, cautiously and carefully, with chin on chest, he gently kissed the top of her head. Her hair was as red and sweet smelling as Ginny's, but it was so much finer. It was fine gossamer and it almost appeared to float. In the cool and lazy sunshine it appeared to be a red halo around her head. Despite being such a demon in other ways, when she was asleep she was truly angelic.
Her breath was soft and gentle on his chest. She sighed, shuffled, and once again fell asleep. He watched as her breathing fell into a regular rhythmic pattern. He saw her back rise and fall as she once again relaxed.
'I love you,' he whispered softly. 'You are the most beautiful girl in the world.'
Still, she did not stir. Harry lowered his head back onto his pillow, closed his eyes and lazily enjoyed the feel of her body lying on his.
'Sorry I'm late, Hermione, I fell asleep,' Ginny apologised as she hurried into the Westminster Café. Hermione, unable to wait any longer, had already ordered. She had a half-eaten slice of carrot cake in front of her and was sipping a cappuccino when Ginny finally arrived.
Hermione sat at one of the tables at the front of the café. It was a regular meeting place for the two women and they always tried to get a window table. Even now, on this mid-March morning, it was naturally light and airy next to the window. The back of the café was pleasant enough, but the lighting was harsh and artificial.
Hermione had been gazing across the road and the river, looking towards Lambeth, when Ginny walked past. Hermione hadn't noticed Ginny until she had tapped on the glass and waved as she had been idly scratching her stomach and daydreaming.
'How are you?' Hermione asked as Ginny pulled out a chair and sat opposite. 'And how's Harry?'
'I am tired, sore and fed up,' said Ginny unhappily. 'And Harry is in love, but not with me! He's with her now, his darling girl! He spends all of his time with her. I'm a very poor second at the moment!'
Hermione looked into Ginny's dejected, red-rimmed eyes, noted the bags under them, and laughed. 'You're being silly, Ginny. It's for the best, you know it is,' she told her sister-in-law. 'You need a coffee and slice of carrot cake, and you need to relax.'
The waitress approached the table, pad in hand. The black-clad woman was a slim and serious looking blonde whose hair was tied back in a loose ponytail. She was new; at least, Hermione had never seen her before. The waitress was about the same age as the two women she was about to serve. According to her name tag, she was called Agnieszka, and she was looking at Ginny with concern and sympathy. There was no doubt that she'd heard Ginny's outburst and Hermione's response.
'Are you ready to order?' Agnieszka asked.
'The biggest cappuccino you have. And a slice of chocolate cake, and a piece of caramel shortbread; I need cake and chocolate!' Ginny announced grumpily. She glowered at Hermione, who was about to speak. Despite her best efforts, Ginny failed to glare her friend into silence.
'The last time we met here you told me…' Hermione began.
'Next time, don't let me eat chocolate; I need to lose weight,' Ginny finished. 'I know what I told you, Hermione, there's nothing wrong with my imemory/i. But that was then. That was before worry and stress and sleepless nights. It was before I heard my husband telling someone else how beautiful she was. I want lots of chocolate, and coffee! Now!'
Agnieszka stared down at the fiery redhead and repeated the order back to her. Hermione had the distinct impression that the waitress was about to offer an opinion, which certainly would not help the situation.
'Thank you,' said Hermione, hastily addressing the waitress. It was obvious that Ginny's manners had fled along with her common sense. 'I'd like another cappuccino, too, please, a small one.' Catching the waitress's eyes, Hermione indicated that they wanted to be left in peace. The girl nodded, added Hermione's order to her pad, and slowly moved away.
'He'll keep saying it to her,' Hermione said. 'I've already been through this, remember? You will just have to get used to it.'
'That's different,' snapped Ginny. 'That's Ron, and he's an insensitive idiot; you should have expected him to behave like that. But Harry is…' Ginny stopped mid sentence and put her head in her hands. She burst into tears.
'Oh, Hermione, there are times when I hate her. Why do I feel like this?' she sobbed.
Hermione pulled a tissue from her handbag and handed it to her friend. At the counter, she saw their waitress gossiping with another member of staff. The two waitresses were watching them both closely and doubtless discussing Ginny's behaviour.
Hermione said nothing and did nothing. Ginny rarely cried, but when she did it was best to simply let her get on with it, to let her weep or rant or swear. There was nothing else to do. At times like these, extraordinary times, even Harry simply silently held his wife, allowing her to shed the tears she needed to cry, reassuring her by his presence and patiently waiting until Ginny managed to compose herself.
Hermione reached across the table and gave Ginny's arm a reassuring squeeze. She watched her sobbing friend closely. Ginny was not at her best. She was pale. Even her lips were lacking colour, and they were cracked and bleeding, too. Ginny's hair, usually so bright and shining was lank and lifeless and pulled up into an untidy topknot. She wore baggy jeans and a shapeless old sweater, and when she'd shambled into the café, she had almost looked like a down-and-out.
Ginny was mopping up her tears, and holding out a hand for another tissue, when the waitress returned with their order. The moment Ginny's plate was placed in front of her, she picked up the caramel shortbread and took a large bite of chocolaty, sticky solace.
'Better,' she mumbled through a mouthful of crumbs. 'Perhaps chocolate really is the cure for everything.' She gave Hermione a half-hearted smile.
By the time the waitress had placed the coffees on the table, the grande in front of Ginny and the regular in front of Hermione, Ginny had almost finished the shortbread.
'Much better,' Ginny mumbled.
'You should have asked for help sooner, Ginny,' Hermione said. 'You can't go on like this, you're starting to crack.'
'It wasn't so bad after the first two! But this time…' Ginny shrugged helplessly and placed the last of the shortbread in her mouth.
'You and Harry will get through this, Ginny. It will take time, but you will be okay,' said Hermione.
'What?' the waitress interjected. 'This is the third time this "Harry" has been unfaithful, and you think that they should stay together?'
Hermione looked at the woman in astonishment and began a rapid mental rewind of her conversation with Ginny. Ginny simply burst out laughing, snorting sticky shortbread towards her friend. As she gasped for breath, Ginny inhaled some crumbs, began coughing and, almost choking, desperately gulped hot cappuccino.
'Damn! To hot!' she coughed hastily placing the cup on the saucer. It hit with so much force that coffee splashed onto the table.
'Mine's cool,' Hermione hastily pushed her half-finished first cup across the table and watched as Ginny emptied the cup. She turned to address the waitress.
'Harry isn't having an affair, Agnieszka,' said Hermione. 'They have a two week old daughter, Lily. Little Lily won't sleep, and she won't feed.'
'And despite that, her daddy loves her with all his heart,' said Ginny. 'And he tells her so, and that's…'
'Perfectly normal, Ginny,' said Hermione. 'Rosie can do no wrong in her father's eyes. You should have asked for help sooner, Ginny. You've had over a week of sleepless nights, and you have two demanding little boys to look after as well as Lily. Harry's trying to help, trying to ease the burden. You've just discovered that you aren't super-mum, but none of us are. Rosie made me cry and she was a much better sleeper than Lily. Ron and I will do what we can to help, but in another month we will have our own little problem.' Hermione gently massaged her belly. 'He's a real kicker. Rose was quiet when she was inside, and quiet when she popped out. This little man is going to be different, just like Lily is different to your boys.'
'He?' Ginny asked. 'Do you know? Are you certain?'
'No, but Ron is very confident that this is a boy because this pregnancy is so different compared to Rose's. I really hope that I do have a boy in here. We would like a boy, although I expect that "Daddy's darling Rosie" will always be his princess. And now Harry has a beautiful little princess of his own to love, Ginny. You need to get used to it.'
'Never,' said Ginny. With a final hawking cough, she spat crumbs into the tissue in a very unladylike way. Ginny turned to the waitress and smiled. 'Thanks for the laugh, Agnieszka, you've cheered me up. Do you want to share this chocolate cake, Hermione? There's no point in dieting until you lose that belly.'
Harry had fallen asleep again, but he was awoken by a high pitched squeal. The squeal was enough to bring him instantly awake; the smell ensured that he would move.
'Lily Luna Potter, you are a wonderful, beautiful, and extraordinarily stinky little girl,' Harry told her. 'Let's both go and change that nappy.'
He carefully carried her across to the changing mat and placed his red-faced and screaming daughter baby on her back.
'You know, Lily,' he told her, 'Al was worse than James when it came to sleeping, and you are worse than Al and smellier than both of them. I really hope that you learn to sleep soon, because you are driving your mummy and daddy crazy.'
He began to unfasten her nappy.
'Let's get you cleaned up, Lily. Uncle Ron will be bringing your brothers back soon, and James will not be impressed if you smell like this. Mummy and Aunt Hermione will be here soon, too.'
Lily ignored her father. She screwed up her face and inhaled. She sucked in air for so long that Harry wondered where it was going. Surely there wasn't enough room in that tiny body for it all? He was just beginning to worry when she let out an eardrum-shattering squeal. She used every bit of air available to her to create and unbelievably long scream, a noise worse than fingernails on a blackboard. When the noise finally ended, Lily was breathless and reduced to making gasping sobs. She was also purple-faced. It was not a good look; her screwed up face was now a colour which clashed gloriously with her hair.
'I love you very much, Lily,' Harry told her, kissing her forehead.