A/N: This is the sequel to "Consequences." The title comes from the nickname my beta vancabreuniter and I gave this piece, and it kind of stuck ("Sharing Life Together" was the original "Auror"). This is a really long one-shot that I chose not to break into chapters; thank me with really long reviews, okay? Characters and magic are the property of Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling.
Auror Headquarters, the Ministry of Magic, London
The memo was eggplant, not pale violet, and Harry Potter opened the urgent missive immediately.
"Ron!" He was yelling before he even cleared his desk. "RON!"
"Mr. Potter, what—" His secretary was halfway out of her chair, but Harry was already through the outer office.
"RON!" Harry knew the panic was creeping into his voice, but Ron Weasley's ginger hair wasn't visible anywhere. He turned towards the training rooms and nearly collided with his best mate.
"The kids just did magic." Violations of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery were usually handled by the Improper Use of Magic Office, but there were advantages to being Head of the Aurors.
"Al and Lily? He probably hexed her because she changed his Puddlemere posters to Harpies colors again."
Harry shook his head, heading back to his office. "Colloportus, both of them." Why hadn't he made sure his kids knew basic defensive spells? They had been home for two weeks!
Ron paled. "Doran."
Harry didn't stop at his secretary's desk, but he did speak to her this time. "Send an emergency signal. I want everyone in this department at my house immediately."
"No,″ Ron said. ″Send the trainees in two- man teams to every member of my family, and send Clarke to find Hermione and Percy. Tell him to check the law library if Hermione's not in her office. Bring everyone to the conference room— you'll have to enlarge it— and Floo-call Charlie in Romania. Tell Hermione 'one flew over the cuckoo's nest.' "
Louise had already drawn her wand but paused at the unusual phrase.
"It's the only way you'll be able to keep her here once she finds out what's going on. Actually, tell Clarke he can do anything— dammit, Harry!"
Harry had just Disapparated.
Ron pulled out his wand. "Tell Clarke to do whatever it takes to keep my family here, and make sure he keeps a couple of third-year trainees for backup. Send the emergency signal to everyone else to Apparate to the edges of Harry's property."
The Potter Residence
Ginny Potter was digging through her files for last year's statistics on the Wasps' keeper when the alarm went off. Four chimes: multiple unknown visitors. She looked out the window. Lumpy shadows were moving along the hedge. People with honest intentions didn't hunch over and creep amongst the bushes. She was suddenly thankful for the gloomy showers that had kept her children inside all day.
"Down here, Mum!"
Ginny ran downstairs. "Lily, get out of the Floo. James and Al, take your sister upstairs. Someone's trying to break in."
"Al, you take Lily. I'll take care of Mum."
"I do not need to be taken care of. Lily Luna!" Ginny grabbed the back of her daughter's shirt and pulled.
Lily shrieked and wobbled, disorientated from her abrupt de- Flooing.
"Get upstairs with James and Al, now."
Lily took one look at her mother's face and obeyed. Al followed her, but Ginny's oldest was still standing beside the abandoned chessboard with a very familiar expression on his very familiar face.
"You can't send me upstairs like a child. I'm of age, I can do magic. Dad would want me to take care of you."
Damn Potter men and their damn noble streak! How many minutes had passed since the alarm went off? Two? Three? Their garden wasn't that big.
"I don't have time to argue, James. If anything happens to your baby sister, your father will kill you." Just for a moment, Ginny allowed her fear to show. "I need you upstairs in case any of them get by me."
James swallowed, nodded, and took the stairs three at a time.
The alarm sounded again, in double time. They had breached the inner boundary.
"Al, wait!" James tried to enter his room but came up against a sealed door. He cast an Alohomora, crossed the room, and rummaged in his trunk for a few seconds. "Here."
He tossed the Invisibility Cloak to his brother, then resealed his door and began casting Shield Charms on every door off the hall as Al and Lily vanished. James could hardly hear his own incantations over his heartbeat racing in his ears. He no longer had the Trace, but at fifteen and fourteen, Al and Lily still did. Normally the Ministry didn't monitor wizard homes, but Dad had a thing about underage magic and had made special arrangements. Their Colloportus should get his attention, but would he and Uncle Ron arrive in time? Mum was a good witch, but she hadn't dueled since she was a teenager. How many dark wizards could she handle? Should he go back downstairs and defend her, after all? What would Dad expect him to do?
When James was little, Dad always gave the three of them the same instructions: "Follow the rules and obey your mum." But the last few times James had been home when Dad left for Auror business, he had clapped James on the shoulder, told him he loved him, and asked him to look after his mum. Lily was with Al, invisible behind two sealed doors and a Shield Charm, but Mum was alone. James turned to go back downstairs, and that's when he saw the shadow.
Harry Apparated inside the inner boundary and felt the magic tingle over his skin. Damn, they had already penetrated this barrier. Green sparks shot across his path, and he turned to see Ron five feet behind him.
"What the hell were you thinking, taking off like that?"
"I was thinking I'd like to rescue my family." Harry and Ron moved forward, automatically covering each other and scanning the garden as they went.
"Take some backup next time. You can't rescue anybody if you're dead. You don't even know how many of them are here."
"Neither do you."
"Well, I just doubled your odds, whatever they are!"
They flanked the front door. Ron raised three fingers, Harry nodded, and Ron folded them one by one. Their combined Reductor Curses blasted the door to smithereens, and they charged through the dust cloud.
"It's about time," Ginny said.
Harry and Ron skidded to a stop and stared. Ginny and James had their wands trained on what looked like half the Ministry's Top Ten Most Wanted, stunned and bound on the kitchen floor.
"Ginny, what— how— Where are Al and Lily?"
"Mum doesn't want them down here until they're in custody." James jabbed his wand at the five captives.
"Looks like you've already done that, mate," Ron said.
"Official custody. If any of these bastards so much as twitch, they're dead," Ginny said, so confidently that Harry almost wondered why he had been concerned in the first place. Her wand was pointed directly in the center of Doran's chest, and her eyes glittered dangerously.
Harry looked to Ron, but he shook his head and mouthed, She's your wife, before saying, "I'm going outside to send the all clear."
Harry eased into her space. "It's all right, Ginny. They can't hurt you anymore. You're safe now."
Her arm was lowering, and he nearly had her wand. Then the alarms went off again. Her startle response was telling; she had been scared to death.
So had he.
"It's just the rest of the Aurors crossing the boundary," Harry said soothingly, pulling her into his embrace. "Louise sent an emergency signal."
The couple stood in their now- crowded kitchen, ignoring the scarlet robes swarming around them. Harry held Ginny tightly and hoped his men didn't notice he was leaning into her just as much as she was leaning into him. He'd had to set their wands on the worktop to hide his shaking hands. She felt a little clammy, but her hair still smelled good.
"I thought I was going to have to Imperius your son."
That would be James, of course. "Yeah?"
She nodded against his chest. "He inherited his dad's damn noble streak."
Harry grinned and tightened his grip. "We're both rather fond of you." He and Ginny had had more than one argument over the years about that particular characteristic of his and always resolved it the same way: in bed. "But, er, how did you—"
"I borrowed a line from Mum's playbook."
" 'If anything happens to your baby sister, your father will kill you.' "
He sobered. He didn't envy James that, choosing between his mother and his sister. Harry glanced round the room. There she was, following her brothers down the stairs, a little paler than usual but uninjured. And James did look fiercely protective. He was actually a couple of inches taller than Harry and nearly two stone heavier than he had been at that age. Hermione said it was because James didn't drop ten pounds every summer. At any rate, Harry's baby girl was all right.
Scarlet- robed Aurors were everywhere, levitating the five wizards through the busted doorway (Ginny was going to be pissed about that once she took her face out of his chest), cataloguing the damaged walls and furniture, and— bloody hell, trying to interview his kids.
Harry rubbed one hand up and down her back. "Gin."
She pressed harder against him, the whole length of her, and he felt the lingering adrenaline shift to a more pleasurable purpose. He squeezed her once more, then dropped his arms. She didn't budge.
"Ginny, I've got to take charge." He needed to get her out of here before she noticed Matthews with the kids, but he didn't want to pry her off. He kissed the top of her head. "Come on, sweetheart. The sooner I get started, the sooner I'll finish."
That did the trick. Ginny eased back and kissed him. Open- mouthed, hot and wet, the kind of kiss she only gave him when they were alone, and for good reason. Harry staggered slightly as she released him. Damn, he really hoped no one had noticed that.
Harry wove his way through the scarlet and salmon robes (the trainees had arrived) to where Matthews was arguing with James.
"Sir, I need to separate your children to take their statements."
"No, you don't. Go back to Headquarters. You can assist with interviews there." He hugged each of his children in turn. "Are you all okay?"
They nodded and murmured their assent.
"Where's Mum?" James said.
"I sent her to the Ministry to update Aunt Hermione and the rest of the family. We do need your statements. Let's go into the dining room." On the way, Harry plucked the salmon- colored sleeve of a dark- haired witch. "Harrison, right?"
"You're going to take statements from my kids, and you're going to keep them together. Any questions?"
"Good. Sit there." She sat where indicated, and Harry motioned all three kids to take chairs on the far side of the table.
Emily Harrison pulled out her quill and interrogation forms and tried to ignore the fact that her boss's boss's boss was literally looking over her shoulder. Well, she hadn't completed nearly three years of the Auror Academy by being easily intimidated. She would keep the kids together, but the rest of this interview was according to her rules.
"All right. We're not interviewing you separately, but I am going to interview you one at a time. That means no interrupting or contradicting one another. You'll each have your turn, and you'll each get to tell me exactly what you remember. Understand?"
All three teens nodded.
"Okay, who wants to start?" She looked expectantly at the oldest of the three, but James just smirked and elbowed his brother.
"Ladies first," Albus said. He was the spitting image of his dad, with messy black hair and green eyes.
"Thanks, Al, I'll remember that."
Emily smiled at the feisty girl in front of her and dipped her quill in ink. "What's the first thing you remember, Lily?"
"Mum yanking me out of the Floo. I was chatting with Roxie— that's my cousin, Roxanne Weasley— and Mum grabbed the back of my shirt and told me to go upstairs with Al and James. She had her 'don't want to know' look on and—"
Well, Emily could hardly scold Mr. Potter for interrupting.
"Her 'don't want to know' look. As in, 'you don't want to know what will happen if you don't do as I say right now.' "
"Ah. Go on."
"So, I went upstairs and Al followed me, but James stayed and argued with Mum. Al said to seal all the doors, but I didn't want to get in trouble. Dad has our Traces routed to his office." Lily scowled at her father, and Emily bit back a smile. "Al had to tell me what was happening. He said doing underage magic was the point, to let Dad know something was wrong. We had just gone in Mum and Dad's room when the double alarm went off."
"What's the double alarm?"
"After Dolohov was captured last spring, Ron and I strengthened the wards on the house. We set up an outer boundary just inside the gate and an inner boundary twenty yards from the house. The inner boundary alarm sounds in double time."
Emily nodded. Like everyone else in the Auror department, she had worked that night, but she had been at Mr. Weasley's house. "Okay, Lily, what happened then?"
"Well, we chose Mum and Dad's room because it has the biggest wardrobe, and we went in there and sealed that door too, and Al put me in the back behind Dad's dress robes, and we waited." She hesitated for the first time. "I heard James yelling, and lots of breaking noises, and some heavy thumps like furniture being turned over."
Actually, that was probably the attackers falling to the ground.
Lily's eyes filled with tears. "I wanted to make sure Mum and James were all right, but Daddy always told us we weren't to come out during a fight until he or Mum or Uncle Ron came for us. It was James that came for us a long time later—"
"It wasn't that long, Lily."
Emily and Lily both gave him withering looks and he sat back.
"It felt like a long time because the house had gone all quiet, and Al and I didn't know what was happening. Anyway, I knew it was really James because he called me Tiger Lily, and only my brothers call me that."
That was cute, given the girl's spirited disposition and ginger hair, a little brighter than her mother's. But since a blush was creeping up James's neck, Emily chose not to say so.
Lily shook her head. "That's it. We came downstairs, and you lot were everywhere."
Emily finished her notes, signed her name at the bottom, slid it over to Mr. Potter to sign as the supervising Auror, and pulled out a fresh interrogation form.
"Okay, Albus, what about you?"
Harry listened as his younger son corroborated Lily's statement, signed again as the supervising Auror, and wondered about the wisdom of choosing a female to conduct the interviews. Both Al and James had been eyeing Harrison ever since she sat down, and as her attention turned to James at last, he flashed her his mother's charming grin. Harry hoped whatever James was about to say was the truth and not embellished to impress a witch.
"I was trouncing Al at chess—"
"You were not! I was only—"
Well, so much for that. Although it wasn't like Al to be so touchy about his chess skills; he and James were quite well matched. Harry took a closer look at the girl— well, he supposed she was a woman, even if she was twenty years younger; damn, he was getting old— sitting next to him. She was very pretty, with short dark hair, blue eyes, and a complexion that was actually complemented by the garish trainee robes. She also silenced both his sons with a look, a feat that sometimes not even Ginny could accomplish. This girl— woman— Auror— was good.
"Stick to the facts, James, and leave the showing off for your fan club. What's the first thing you remember?"
Despite the textbook opening question, there was a little bite in her tone, and Harry realized she was only a few years older than James. They would have been at Hogwarts together. But he was pretty sure Harrison had been a Slytherin, and it was unusual for older students to mix with younger ones from a different house. Unless she had played Quidditch. . . .
James was hesitating, shifting his eyes to the side and back to Harry, and it took a moment before Harry realized what he wanted.
"Lily, why don't you—"
"No. I want to know what happened." She crossed her arms and set her jaw, and for a moment she looked so much like her mother that Harry couldn't help thinking of a fourteen- year-old Ginny arguing with him about going to rescue Sirius. "It's not like I don't know why Al hid me in the corner."
The implication hung heavy in the room.
Harry remembered his own frustration at being kept in the dark and the extents to which he, Ron, and Hermione had gone to uncover information. He nodded for James to continue.
"Al and I were playing chess and Lily was on a Floo call when the outer boundary alarm went off. I didn't think much of it until Mum came running, saying someone was trying to break in and for us to take Lily upstairs. I said I would stay with Mum, since I'm of age—"
James needed to work on his technique. Twenty-one-year-old witches were not impressed when a boy turned seventeen.
"—but Mum said she needed me upstairs in case some of them got by her."
This was all Harry's fault. James having to choose between his mum and his sister, and Ginny choosing one child to help protect the other two. Harry should have set the outer boundary alarm to go off at Headquarters; he should have taught his kids better defense than a charm that could be undone by any first year; he should have caught Doran months ago.
He should have protected his family.
"Al and Lily had already sealed the doors, so I cast shield charms over them and then decided to go back and fight with Mum. Al and Lily were together behind defenses, but Mum was alone and. . . ."
James's eyes met his, and Harry knew what he was thinking. Sometime last year, whenever he traveled overnight, he had started asking James to take care of Ginny. Harry had meant it as a way of bonding with his oldest son, of acknowledging that he was becoming a man, but this. . . .
"Anyway, when I turned round, one of them was coming up the stairs. I stunned him and he fell backwards, knocking over the wizard behind him. I stunned him before he could get up. When I came round the corner at the foot of the stairs, one of them had Mum by the waist, and his hand—" James dropped his gaze. "Her shirt was ripped," he said quietly, "and he had her wand."
"She was fighting him, but not that hard, really, and I remember wondering why she wasn't screaming—"
Shit, shit, shit. Ginny would have been trying to keep Doran occupied and away from the kids. The last thing she would have wanted would have been for James or Al to hear her and come back to help.
"But then they saw me, and Mum screamed for me to stun him and I tried, but I was afraid I would hit her, and the spell went wide. He fired something back at me, and I ducked behind the corner again."
"What was the spell?" Emily said.
James shook his head. "I don't know. Something I had never heard before. But he had dropped Mum, and I guess her wand too because she had it, and our stunning spells hit him at the same time. He glowed bright red, like one of Uncle George's fireworks. Mum said two of them got by her, and I told her I had already stunned them. She told me to bind their hands and feet and levitate those two into the kitchen, which I did, and she took care of the last one. There were two more in the kitchen; she must have stunned them before the other one got her wand. Then we set all five of them back-to-back, and Mum did the best Incarcerous I've ever seen. She didn't want Al and Lily downstairs until Dad got here, so we guarded them and waited. Maybe five minutes later, we heard the chime that meant Dad was inside the inner boundary, followed by Uncle Ron's chime. I started to go meet them, but Mum said we should stay with the prisoners. Then Dad and Uncle Ron blew the door to bits and . . . well, you know the rest."
"Wait a minute. Ginny knew we were out there, and she still let us destroy the door?" Harry hadn't processed that before, but of course she would have known. The wards gave identifying chimes for each member of his immediate family, as well as Ron and Hermione.
"She wants a new one with windows on the side and a guest- announce system. We saw them in Diagon Alley last week," Lily said.
Harry groaned. That sounded expensive.
"James, I need you to identify the two wizards who were coming up the stairs and the one who attacked your mother.″ Harrison pulled out a broadsheet with sixteen different mug shots and slid it across the table. James pointed out the three offenders, and Harry was not surprised to see it had been Doran who had attacked Ginny. This time— this time, he would not get away. Harry was no longer a green trainee who acted without thinking.
"You did well,″ Harrison said. Her demeanor towards James had softened considerably. ″All those wizards were on our Top Ten. You must have been fast."
James shrugged one shoulder, uncharacteristically modest.
"Oh, don't tell him that. His head will be so big, it won't fit through the door."
James reached to hit his sister, but Al blocked it. "Not so fast now, are you?"
Both boys wrestled each other off their chairs and onto the floor.
"Sorry about that," Harry said, nodding in the boys' direction as he scrawled his signature on the final form.
"I have brothers too," Harrison said, winking at Lily. "They're good kids, all three of them. You should be proud."
Harry beamed. They were fantastic kids, and they were, thank Merlin, unharmed. "We are, thank you."
"Are your brothers older too?"
"Nah, I'm the oldest, but younger brothers are still a pain."
Harry left Harrison to collect the paperwork and went looking for Ron, but Lily's voice drifted along behind him.
"They can't be as much of a pain as mine. James saw Alex Wood carrying books for me in the library, and he left his Potions group and followed us all the way back to Gryffindor Tower. Alex didn't speak to me for three days!"
Good for James. And Alex, for that matter. Although if the boy had only held off for three days, maybe Harry should revise his son's intimidation techniques.
"There you are," Ron said, coming through the— well, Harry supposed it still qualified as a doorway, even if there wasn't a door there. "All five prisoners have been transported to Headquarters, and I sent Matthews, Payne, Marshall, and Connelly back with them to start the interrogations. I told them to tell Clarke he can release the family and then join the interviews. I sent five third-year trainees back too, and all the first years to handle the paperwork, so there's only a handful of third years and the second years still here. Robinson and Peakes said they've finished cataloguing the spell damage and asked if you wanted them to start the repairs, but I reckoned Ginny would want to supervise that herself."
"Yeah, better wait for her rather than have to do it all over again the way she wants. You realize she had us destroy the front door on purpose?"
Ron frowned, then his expression cleared. "The chimes would have identified us, and she already had those buggers trussed up like Christmas turkeys. Has she been asking for a new door?"
"Not yet, but Lily says she saw one in Diagon Alley last week. Some kind of guest announce thing."
Ron surveyed the empty doorway, then the shattered sitting room. "Small price to pay, really."
"Harry, this is not your fault."
"How can you possibly say that? My wife, my kids, my responsibility."
"Of course they're your responsibility, but what happened is not your fault. You didn't invite a bunch of dark wizards for tea."
"I should have set the outer boundary alarm to go off in Headquarters. It would have given us a decent head start instead of being notified because of some bloody underage magic!"
Ron shook his head. "We talked about that. That alarm goes off several times a week, probably several times a day now that the kids are home. There's no way we could have responded every time, and even if we did, it would have been that calling wolf thing."
"Whatever. It would have been a false alarm so many times that when it was real no one would have cared, and that completely defeats the purpose of an advance alarm. Setting the inner alarm to go off in Headquarters was the right thing to do, and because you have some smart kids, we were notified even before that."
Harry had to admit Ron was right. It was the same reasoning that had convinced him last spring. But the rest was inexcusable. "I should have taught the kids better defense than a Colloportus. I ran the damn DA and Al and Lily can't even do a Shield Charm!"
Ron dusted the front door off a still-intact end table and sat down. "I won't argue with you there, but they did all right."
Ron laughed. "Harry, how many times has Lady Luck saved our arses? More than I can count."
That was true, but. . . . "It's different when it's family."
"I know it is, mate, but there's no point beating yourself up about it. Learn from your mistakes, fix what went wrong, and move on."
The chimes rang again: a fairy glissando and the Hogwarts school bell. Every Auror reacted to the unfamiliar sounds, a veritable forest of wands pointed at the open doorway.
"It's all right. It's Ginny and Hermione," Harry called, but he was pleased to see none of the wands lower. Good. As Head of the Academy, Ron was teaching his department to be appropriately paranoid.
Harry smelled them before he saw them, garlic and basil and hot, melted cheese.
"Mum!" Lily came running from the dining room and positively attacked her mother, pizza boxes and all.
Hermione was not far behind Ginny. She shoved her stack into the nearest free pair of hands, already scanning the room for Ron. Harry knew that look and hastily stepped away from him.
"Ron!" Hermione threw her arms round his neck, then pounded her fist on his chest. "He dies in that movie, you prat!"
"McMurphy, at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He dies."
"But the trainees said you didn't give Clarke any trouble."
"Well, it's not his fault you're a prat. And I thought if there was something wrong, you wouldn't have given a phrase at all."
Ron framed her face in his hands and kissed her. "Thanks. It helps me when I know you're safe."
She reached up and squeezed his wrists. "I remember."
Ron let go of his wife. Harry braced himself as Hermione threw her arms around his neck too.
"You're supposed to wait for Ron, not charge off on your own, Harry. Honestly, after all this time. . . ."
"How did you know about that?"
"Louise told us. Where are the kids?"
"In the dining room, last I saw. Be sure and coo over your godson. He cast a Shield Charm over his siblings and came back to fight with his mum."
"Of course he did," Hermione muttered, picking her way through the debris and past the group of men gathered round the pizza boxes. "He'll be trying to save people, just like his dad."
"Teddy, take those outside. Somebody help him conjure some tables. Doyle, Prichard, check the refrigerator— the big shiny metal thing— yes, that— and the cupboard, see if there's enough butterbeer for everyone. Ron—"
"I'll round up some soft drinks. I know you and Hermione hate butterbeer with pizza."
"Thanks. Who's the best person to take Ginny's statement?"
"Normally I'd say Connelly, but she's with the prisoners. I'll send Prichard back in here."
"Keep everyone busy, will you?"
"No problem. Looks like they brought plenty of food."
"Harry, what are you doing? You can't order our guests around like a bunch of house elves!"
"They're not our guests, Ginny, they're my employees. I pay them to take orders from me."
She took a deep breath but Harry interrupted. "We need your statement, Gin."
"Can't it wait until after dinner?"
"I've let it wait long enough."
"Okay, Mrs. Potter, I need you to—"
"Ginny, please." She, Harry, and the witch who had introduced herself as Shannon Prichard were gathered round one end of Ginny's dining room table. Shannon looked to be in her late twenties and had a no- nonsense manner that was oddly reassuring.
"All right, Ginny. The first thing I need you to do is identify the men who broke into your house this afternoon. Do any of these wizards look familiar?" She laid down a broadsheet of mug shots.
Ginny pointed out the five violators, and Shannon had her initial beside each of their scowling, threatening pictures.
"When did you first notice something was wrong?"
Ginny described hearing the chimes, the scene outside, and the discussion with her children. The look on James's face when he realized she was genuinely frightened. . . . She reached for Harry's hand under the table. "I was desperate to get James upstairs before they breached the inner boundary, so I told him if anything happened to Lily, Harry would kill him. He had just gone upstairs when the inner boundary alarm went off."
Shannon nudged a glass of water closer to Ginny's hand. She took a drink, then continued without prompting.
"I ran into Harry's office— it's downstairs— for a Decoy Detonator, Disillusioned myself, and had just tossed the decoy into the kitchen when they came through the front door. They just melted through, like ghosts—" She ignored the look that passed between the two Aurors— "then the Detonator went off, and they all ran for the kitchen. I stunned two of them from behind—" She tapped the broadsheet to indicate which ones— "but Doran cast an Impediment Jinx, which missed, his next spell undid my Disillusionment Charm, and then he and I were dueling."
Ginny waved her free hand in the direction of the sitting room. "That's what caused most of the damage in there. The other two ran for the stairs and I jumped Doran—"
"Bloody hell, Gin."
"You jumped him? He's got fifty pounds on you, easy."
Ginny jerked her hand out of Harry's and glared.
"Why didn't you disarm him, or stun him, or. . . ." Harry's voice trailed off as she glared harder.
Wasn't it obvious? "They were going for my babies. James might have had a chance with two of them, but not three."
"What happened next, Ginny?"
Shannon's question pulled her attention away from Harry. "He didn't fall, he just pulled me in front of him, and twisted my arm and took my wand, and—" She took a deep breath. Harry needed to know so he could bring the appropriate charges against Doran. It would guarantee him a life sentence in Azkaban. "He cast an Imperius Curse, and— It's been so long since I practiced resisting that, and— well, maybe I should have been expecting it, but I wasn't, I just kept thinking I had to keep them downstairs, I had to keep them away from the kids, and he— he had my shirt open before I even knew he was trying, and—" Ginny felt the tears creeping into her voice and swallowed.
Harry swore under his breath, then tucked her hair behind her ear. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault. You're the one who taught me to duel."
He snorted. "Twenty- five years ago."
"Just proves how good a teacher you were." Those nights in the Room of Requirement were some of the highlights of her years at Hogwarts.
Shannon cleared her throat. Ginny realized she was staring rather sappily at her husband and straightened up.
"What happened next?" Shannon's voice was completely devoid of any sympathy or hesitancy, and Ginny found it made it easier to tell her the truth.
″When— when I felt him touch me, it was like a shower of ice. I realized he was using an Imperius, and I started fighting it. That was when James showed up, and I screamed for him to stun him, but I think he was afraid he would hit me and he hesitated. Doran cast a Sectumsempra—"
"Are you certain?" Harry asked sharply.
Ginny scowled at her husband again. "Of course I'm certain."
"But you've never seen that spell."
"First of all, that's not true. You weren't at Hogwarts my sixth year, remember? And second of all, I think I remember the circumstances under which you were nearly expelled for attempted murder. What did you think made that big hole under the window?"
Harry's own face clouded, and Ginny knew he was not pleased she had revealed that in front of another Auror. "You're absolutely sure? Swear- in- front- of- the- Wizengamot sure?"
Ginny's irritation cleared as she realized the significance of that spell. Doran had known Snape. "I'll swear to it in court, Harry."
Shannon looked from her to Harry and back again. "Okay, so Doran used this— what did you call it again?"
Harry spelled it for her.
"And then what happened?"
"I elbowed him in the stomach and flipped him over my shoulder. Our wands were knocked out of his hand when he fell, and I went for mine, and by the time I turned round, he had got up and was making for Jamie again."
"You 'elbowed him in the stomach and flipped him over your shoulder'?"
Ginny nodded. "I didn't grow up with six older brothers for nothing. And I spent the holidays of my fourth, fifth, and sixth years in the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, where I befriended Nymphadora Tonks Lupin. She taught me and Hermione some self-defense."
Shannon's mouth dropped open and Ginny smiled. It wasn't often you could shock an Auror.
"So, James and I hit Doran with stunners at the same time. James had already stunned the others who went upstairs, and I told him to bind them and move them into the kitchen. We placed them back to back, and I tied them all together. Then we waited for Harry and Ron to show up."
Shannon continued writing, grateful for the excuse to hide her face. Mrs. Potter had known Nymphadora Tonks Lupin? She was a legend at the Academy, one of the youngest Aurors to fight in the Second Wizarding War. And the way Mrs. Potter had said it, like it was perfectly ordinary to holiday at the headquarters of an underground resistance movement. And what was that bit about Harry Potter nearly being expelled from Hogwarts for attempted murder?
Mr. Potter's arm was draped over his wife's shoulder. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mrs. Potter reach up for his hand and he shifted, wrapping it around her waist. They probably wanted to be left alone, but. . . .
"I have a couple of questions."
He scowled, but Mrs. Potter nodded. "Go ahead."
"I assume there are anti- Apparition wards on the house?"
"Yes," her boss said. "We've always had the wards set that way."
"Ginny, you said your daughter was making a Floo call. Why didn't you send her through?"
Shannon didn't think it was a confusing question, but she tried again.
"Why didn't you and the kids travel by Floo to a safe location?"
Mrs. Potter gaped at her. The blood drained out of her face, and Shannon realized with a jolt that it hadn't been a strategic decision.
"Oh, Merlin. Oh, Merlin, I could have got all the kids out of here, I never even thought . . . oh, Harry, I'm so sorry!"
"It's all right. They're fine, that's all that matters."
"It never occurred to me to use the Floo. What kind of a mother doesn't think to send her children to safety?"
Shannon glanced at her boss. "Were there wards on the Floo too?" she asked, hoping to alleviate some of Mrs. Potter's guilt.
"Of course there are wards on the Floo," she snapped. "What the hell good does it do to keep people from Apparating in if all you need is a pinch of Floo powder? The Floo Network isn't even licensed!"
Mrs. Potter ran her hands through her hair, looking more distressed than Shannon had seen all evening. "No, I know how to change those wards, I just never thought of it. I can't believe I didn't think of it. . . ."
It didn't take Auror training to think of using the Floo to leave a location. "Everything else you did was brilliant. Why didn't you think of Floo powder?"
"It wasn't safe during the war. The Floo Network was monitored by the Ministry. My family was at a safe house, and we knew if we were attacked, we would just have to fight it out. Even at the Battle of Hogwarts, they couldn't send the younger students to safety by Floo. They left through the Room of Requirement. . . ."
"We're done here," Mr. Potter said firmly, rubbing his wife's back. "Get some pizza, Prichard, and have that report on my desk by morning."
Harry finished his fizzy drink and leaned back with a satisfied sigh. What had been an emergency callout had turned into an impromptu pizza party. A few of the wizard- born Aurors had never had the Muggle dish and watching their reactions had been a treat.
"You know, we should do this more often." Ginny leaned into his side, and Harry put his arm around her.
"What, defend our home and our children from the dark forces of evil?"
"That too, but I really meant the party."
"You think so?"
"Mm- hmm. Aren't the third-year trainees graduating in a few weeks? We could invite them and their families, get some fireworks from George, have a pickup Quidditch match. . . ."
"Sounds like fun."
"Who is James chatting up?"
Harry thought he already knew the answer, but he looked round anyway. There they were, leaning against the oak tree. "That's Harrison. I had her do their interviews, and James took a shine to her."
"She's very pretty. She actually looks good in those pink monstrosities you make them wear."
"They're salmon, and it's tradition. Fully qualified Aurors wear scarlet robes, and the trainees wear an alternate shade."
"Burgundy is an alternate shade. Wine. Maroon. Brick. That's just cruel."
Harry grinned. "It's funny."
"You only wore them for a year and a half and you hated them."
"Yes, and now I love harassing the trainees who wear them. Like I said, it's tradition, Ginny."
She harrumphed. "Does James know she's setting him up for a fall?"
"What?" Harry shifted his focus from the soft skin of his wife's neck back to the oak tree.
"As good- looking as he is, our son's not quite smooth enough to hold the attention of a sophisticated woman four years his senior."
It looked like things were going very well for James; too well.
"Should we interrupt them?"
"Oh, no." Ginny sighed as Harry started stroking her neck again. "Don't deprive her of the pleasure of taking him down a peg or two."
People were starting to collect their rubbish and empty bottles and carry them into the house.
"Who chose the front door?" Ginny asked.
"Do you like it?"
She smiled, and Harry knew she'd cottoned on.
"Who chose it?"
"It was the trainees' idea. They wanted something to cast wards against and asked me what you would like."
"And you said, 'make it the color of my eyes'?"
Harry winced. Even Ginny was amused, and she loved his eyes. Their newly conjured emerald- green front door practically glowed against the white house. "I said to ask Lily. She mentioned you had seen some fancy door in Diagon Alley last week."
Ginny sat up. "It's fantastic, Harry, kind of a brick- red color with gold trim, very Gryffindor, with square windows on each side, and it has this guest announce feature—"
He interrupted her with a kiss. "Ginny, you just wiped out half my Most Wanted list. I'll buy you any door you want."
It was late. The Aurors had left long ago, Hermione and Ginny had put the sitting room to rights, and the kids were in bed. Harry was making his routine security check with extra care tonight, double- checking the doors and windows, opening all the cupboards (narrowly missing being knocked out by a falling Quaffle in the cupboard under the stairs; the kids were clearing that out first thing tomorrow), resetting the Floo, testing the security wards. Everything was in order. He climbed the stairs and paused outside Lily's room.
She had left the door open, and Harry could see her easily in the light from the hall. She was curled up on one side hugging a bedraggled lion, a gift from her godfather Percy after her first display of accidental magic. Harry smiled, reassured by the gesture. His baby girl might be chattering constantly about boys and clothes, but she hadn't left childhood behind quite yet. He cast nonverbal spells to verify the wards on her window and that her wardrobe was beast- and being- free (he wasn't foolish enough to open that), dropped a kiss on her forehead, and closed the door securely behind him.
Al was sprawled nearly naked across his bed, dressed only in pants with the sheets wadded at his feet. How Ginny had fussed over him as an infant and toddler, charming the covers in place only to have him wiggle free every night. More out of habit than real concern, Harry crossed the room and tugged the sheet free. The wards here were set too, but he lingered, straightening the sheet over Al's shoulders, smoothing his hair. His almost sixteen-year-old son was too grown up to tolerate much physical affection when he was awake, at least from his parents. It remained to be seen how Al would fare with girls. Neville said his Quidditch skills were making him rather popular.
Harry closed Al's door and glanced across the hall. James's light was still on. He knocked and entered. "Can't sleep?"
James was sitting up in bed with volume three of Practical Defensive Magic and Its Use Against the Dark Arts, the set Sirius and Remus had bought Harry for Christmas so long ago.
James shrugged, and Harry knew he had been waiting for him.
"I gave Al and Lily the Invisibility Cloak," he said abruptly. "They didn't say anything about it so I didn't either. That's not making a false statement, is it?"
Harry had wondered if there had been time to retrieve the Cloak. "You said Al and Lily were behind defenses. That's true, isn't it?"
"But Lily said Al hid her behind your dress robes. That's not true."
"How do you know?" Of all the times for James to become obsessed with rules! Harry remembered something else. "Did you know Harrison at school?"
James nodded. "She played Seeker for Slytherin. I broke her nose in second year."
"Not exactly the best way to endear yourself to a witch, James."
"How was I supposed to know she would end up looking like that?"
Harry laughed. "Your mum and I saw you talking to her outside."
James opened the book again. "She's a nice girl."
Well, the world had changed if a Potter was describing a Slytherin as a "nice girl." Harry sat on the edge of the bed. "The female Aurors get hit on all the time by wizards a lot older and more experienced than you. I don't think you're going to get anywhere with her."
"I wasn't hitting on her. I was asking her about the Academy."
The two were not mutually exclusive, but Harry let it go. "Having second thoughts?"
"No. No, not at all. I know I want to be an Auror, Dad. What if it had been someone else's house those thugs broke into? Someone who wasn't part of Dumbledore's Army, a wizarding family that didn't have the Trace and couldn't notify the Ministry for help? What if there had been little kids in the house who didn't know any defense? Or worse, Muggles? I want to stop things like that."
Harry felt a surge of pride. "You did the right thing today, going back for your mum, but I'm sorry I put you in that position."
James frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I promised myself I would take all three of you aside to work on defensive spells the moment you got back from Hogwarts, but I let other things crowd it out. Al and Lily should have known better defense than a Colloportus, and you and your mum should have been able to send them to hide knowing they could defend themselves."
"Mum said you would be angry if I let anything happen to Lily, but she was hidden under the Cloak behind two sealed doors, and I cast a Shield Charm. Al would never let anything happen to Lily if he could stop it, but Mum was all by herself and she was scared. I kind of thought you would be more upset if I hid and left her alone."
The rare uncertainty from his confident, cocky son made James appear much younger than his seventeen years, but he had made a man's decision today. He had chosen to fight to protect those he loved, a Gryffindor through and through. Harry pulled him into a hug.
"I can't even begin to think about it. You, your mum, Lily, Al— I love you all."
James sat back. "Is that what it was like, the last year of the war? Worrying about Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione?"
Harry hesitated, but James deserved an answer after his actions today. "Ron and Hermione were better trained and more experienced in defense than any of you. What scared me most was that one of them was going to die for me. Jump in front of a Killing Curse, or hide me and give themselves up, or any of a thousand nightmares. Hermione made me and Ron promise we wouldn't go back for her in a fight, that we would do whatever was necessary to kill Voldemort."
"But you lied.″
Harry nodded. "Ron and I swore we wouldn't survive the war without her. It's what made Malfoy Manor so horrible, both of us uninjured and helpless while she was tortured. It wasn't until years later that I realized she knew, or she would have asked us to make an Unbreakable Vow."
"And Mum was in danger too."
"Yes, she was. Ron and I fought about that, actually. He thought I wasn't taking her safety seriously."
"But you watched her dot on the Marauder's Map."
All his children loved this story, even James and Al. "Yes, I did."
"And you tried to keep her safe in the Room of Requirement, but she wanted to fight with everyone else."
"And when she was fighting Bellatrix Lestrange, you went to defend her."
"Because you love her."
Harry looked up. James was going somewhere with this.
"I love her too. And I love you, so I made sure Al and Lily were okay, and I went to protect Mum. For you."
It hit Harry suddenly, the pressure in his chest, the tightness in his throat, the burning behind his eyes. That had been exactly how he felt. He had protected Hermione because he loved her, but he had also protected her out of his love for Ron. Harry did not want to think of Ron without Hermione.
"It's well past your bedtime," Harry croaked, falling back on the last resort of parents everywhere. "Lights out."
James set the book on his desk and slid underneath the covers. Harry turned off the lamp and checked the wards, then rested one hand on his son's shoulder in the darkness.