1: Three Legged Race
Harry paused for a moment at the top of the stairs and looked down across the converted stone barn which formed his cavernous living room. The room was still and silent. Despite their size, the few pieces of furniture—two large sofas, two armchairs, and a dining table which was only used on special occasions—were lost in the vastness of the place.
During the day, courtesy of an enormous arched window on the far wall, the room was light and airy. It was late evening, and the summer sun was finally beginning to set. Dusk was creeping across the stone flagged floor, and the rafters were already deep in shadow. The usually noisy room was now still and silent. Harry looked beyond the furniture clustered around the fireplace and stared into its dim, toy-strewn recesses. He smiled happily, and then wondered how many years it would be before this particular part of his day would cease to exist.
Before they were married, and for the first year after their wedding, Harry and Ginny had enjoyed something called "evening", it was a time they shared with each other. It was a time which lasted for many hours, a time where they might talk, or go out for the evening, or simply kiss and cuddle; it was a time when they could relax. And it was no more than a memory. These days they had "after the kids are in bed", a much shorter and much busier period. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy his much-altered early evenings, he did; but he missed the time alone with Ginny.
As he walked down the stairs, Harry pulled out his wand. Ambling past the two comfortable-looking black leather sofas and two matching armchairs, which were clustered around the fireplace, he moved into the debris-covered centre of the room. Standing behind a large blue painted wooden box, he waved his wand.
'Accio bricks,' he said. The alphabet bricks flew obediently across the room and he guided them safely into their overnight home. That task completed, he moved behind the next box. It was large and red and upside-down, courtesy of James, who had been unable to find the one thing he'd been looking for. Harry bent down and turned the red box the right way up.
'Accio Lego,' said Harry. Bricks, models and tiny plastic people tumbled towards him and into the box. Sensing some reluctance on the part of some of the bricks, he flicked his wand again. Three knights, one of whom was wearing a rather incongruous spaceman's helmet "because he's a space-knight of course, Daddy" unwillingly dragged themselves from the sides of the larger of the two sofas, or "Dragon Mountain" as it had been only an hour earlier, and returned to their box.
As the last knight dropped into the box Harry saw his wife's head appear in the stairwell which led down to the kitchen and office. Harry watched her ascend, and smiled. She was carrying a tray containing a teapot, two mugs, and a biscuit barrel. Now, finally, they could have some time to themselves.
'Thanks, Ginny,' he said moving back towards the sofas. 'Have you finished in the kitchen?'
'Yes, thanks. Are the kids settled?' she asked as she placed the tray on the low table in front of the two-seater sofa.
'Lilyloo was asleep before I'd finished tucking her in, James claimed that he wasn't tired, but he's had a very busy day at school and he could barely keep his eyes open. I reckon he will probably be asleep too. Al, however, is waiting for his goodnight kiss from Mummy,' Harry told her.
'I'll go up and say goodnight to them now,' said Ginny. She turned and headed for the stairs.
'I won't pour the tea until you get back,' said Harry, nodding.
It was now ten months since they had moved into Drakeshaugh, and it was difficult to remember the life they'd had before their new home. Things were good; the kids loved the place, particularly the extensive grounds, the woodland and the stream. In four weeks James would finish his first year in a Muggle first school and the summer holidays would begin.
It was mid-June, and it had been a warm and sunny day. In deference to the weather Ginny wore a pair of shorts and a boob tube. As he watched her make her way up towards the bedrooms, Harry wondered what comments had been made when she'd collected James from the school gates. His appreciative contemplation of his wife's backside was interrupted when she turned to face him.
'I almost forgot,' she said. 'I found this letter from school in James's trouser pocket.' She pulled a crumpled and rather stained looking sheet of paper from her own pocket. 'School sports day is a week from tomorrow, apparently. If we want James to compete, we need to sign this form. We can discuss it when I get back down. What in Merlin's name is a three-legged race, Harry?'
'James and Lily are fast asleep,' said Ginny quietly as she returned to the living room. 'And Al is drifting.'
She stared at her husband. He was standing behind the sofa holding the cloth belt from his Auror coat, and tugging experimentally at it.
'What on earth is the belt for?' she asked suspiciously.
Harry merely grinned and silently beckoned her over.
'Okay, I'll play,' she told him, walking across the room. 'But the tea will be going cold.'
'This won't take long,' he said. He placed his hands on her shoulders and turning her until she was facing the far wall.
'How disappointing,' she told him, kissing his chin. He playfully patted her bum, but refused to allow her to kiss him again. Instead he stood at her side and shuffled sideways until his left hip was touching her right, and his left foot was next to her right. She looked curiously up at him; her husband seemed lost in thought. Sometimes, she knew, Harry liked to show, not tell. She simply watched him, and waited.
Waving his wand, Harry caused the belt to wrap itself around their adjacent ankles, tying his left leg to her right. He slipped an arm around her waist and held her tightly.
'Three legs,' he said, lifting his left leg. The movement brought her right leg with it, and caused her to wobble a little. He steadied her. 'Have you honestly never heard of a three legged race?'
Ginny turned, looked up into his eyes, and shook her head.
'It's obviously a Muggle game,' she said. 'Go!'
She swung their joined legs forwards, and began to run towards the wall opposite. Harry held her shoulder, and tried to match her strides. They stumbled clumsily for the first few steps, but then found a rhythm which worked for them. By the time they reached the arched window on the wall, they were both laughing. They stood for a moment in front of the huge window, and gazed out over the darkening landscape. The hills glowed burgundy in the crimson glow of sunset.
'That's what a three legged race is,' Harry told her, sliding his hand down onto her hip. 'I thought that a demonstration would be best.' Using his wand, he unfastened the belt and sent it snaking back downstairs to rejoin his coat. After hugging her he took her hand and led her back to the sofa. His eyes were, it seemed to Ginny, a little unfocused, as if he was searching for a long lost something.
While Harry poured the tea, Ginny pulled the crumpled paper from her pocket and carefully unfolded it. When he handed her the mug, she gave him the paper. 'Coquetdale First School Sports Day, Saturday the twenty-sixth of June,' Harry read. 'Three-legged race, sack race, and egg and spoon, plus parents' races.'
'After that demonstration, I think I've figured out the sack race, too,' Ginny said. Shuffling away from him, she turned, leant sideways into the sofa, and lifted her bare feet onto his lap. 'But what about the egg and spoon race, and what do you think the parents' races will be?'
'Egg and spoon is easy. Put a boiled egg onto a tablespoon, and run. You have to keep the egg on the spoon,' Harry told her. 'They are a very traditional set of infant school games. They'll probably run the same games for us.' He put down the letter and began idly caressing her toes while sipping his tea. 'Did you notice…' he began between sips.
'The letter from school is dated Monday,' said Ginny, nodding. 'It's now Friday, and the deadline for us giving James permission to compete is next Monday. I'd noticed, Harry. I'm surprised that Jacqui hasn't asked me if James will be competing. After all, it's going to clash with our regular Saturday trip to the swimming pool.'
'Look at the top of the letter,' Harry told her.
He passed it across to her, and she noticed the name pencilled in the top right hand corner: "Henry Charlton". Henry was Jacqui's son, and the first and best friend James had made in his Muggle First School. 'Ah,' she said.
'We've got Henry's letter, so Jacqui probably doesn't know about the sports day either,' said Harry. 'Where did you find it?'
'In the pocket of James's school shorts, I always check before I put them in the wash.'
'I wonder what James has done with his own letter,' said Harry thoughtfully. He moved his fingers from her toes, and began massaging the soles of her feet.
Ginny purred contentedly, and watched him as he lost himself in thought.
'We can ask the Charltons at the swimming pool as usual tomorrow, Harry,' she reminded him. 'It might simply be that Henry has our letter and, like James, he's forgotten all about it. You know what those two are like. James came back wearing Henry's sweatshirt just before Easter. We'll find out soon enough, after all, none of us can do anything more until Monday.'
'What? Hmmm, yes. Okay,' said Harry absent-mindedly. Ginny stared at him.
'I thought that you were trying to figure out what had happened to James' letter,' she admitted. 'You aren't, are you?'
Harry gave her a half-smile from a face which was full of painful reminiscences. Something had set him off, she realised. He'd been searching his memory from the moment he'd untied their legs.
'No,' he told her. 'I was thinking about a girl.' His eyes glistened. 'And I've just remembered her name. Louise Parker.'
'Tell me, please,' she said quietly.
Harry Potter shuffled worriedly, and looked uncomfortably down at his worn and shabby trainers. The laces were loose, because he wasn't very good at tying them.
Around him, his classmates were all choosing their partners, and his teacher was organising them. She was handing them a length of ribbon, and helping them to tie their legs together. Dudley was approaching, Harry realised.
'No one wants to be your partner,' Dudley muttered under his breath. 'C'mon, Piers.'
As Dudley walked past, he swayed sideways and "accidentally" shoulder charged Harry, who staggered but didn't fall. Normally Dudley would have tried again, but they were standing in the middle of the school field, and there were far too many adult witnesses. Dudley wasn't that stupid, not quite.
As Harry watched his cousin waddle away, he was vaguely aware of an adult voice nearby.
'I know. But he's the only one left, darling.'
Harry was unable to hear the whispered response.
'I know that he's a boy, but if you want to join in with your classmates, then…'
Curious, Harry glanced towards the voice. The woman caught his eye and smiled.
'Let's just go and ask him, shall we?' the woman said to her daughter.
The woman wore a smart pale-coloured trouser suit and a pair of elegant shoes. Once he'd caught her glance and nervously returned her smile, Harry was unable to ignore her, especially not when she walked over, crouched down in front of him and spoke gently to him.
'Hello,' the woman said. 'What's your name?'
'Harry Potter, Miss,' said Harry.
'Are your parents here, Harry?'
He desperately shook his head; he never knew what to say when asked that question.
'They're dead, Mummy,' a voice hissed urgently.
Harry looked at the girl who'd spoken. She was in his class, but she was new. She had started after Easter. As he struggled to remember her name—she was next to him in the register, he knew that—he examined her carefully. The little girl wore new white shorts, and a bright pink t-shirt. She was squat and snub nosed, her glasses were even thicker than Harry's and she was missing most of her front teeth.
Harry unconsciously pushed his own loose tooth with his tongue and wondered if the tooth fairy visited the girl's house. The first, and only time Harry had lost a tooth, Dudley had stolen it from him and had got a pound from the tooth fairy. When Harry had objected, Uncle Vernon had shouted and shouted until Harry had cried.
'Oh, I'm so sorry, Harry,' the girl's mother said. She was flustered, and so embarrassed that even at age six, Harry noticed. The woman flapped her mouth; it opened and closed, but no words came out. Feeling himself getting embarrassed on her behalf, Harry turned to her daughter.
'We's the only two left,' he said. As he spoke he finally remembered her name. 'You're Louise, an' you're new. Wanna be inner free-leg race with me?'
'Okay, Hawwy,' Louise said.
'Oh, good,' Louise's mother said. 'Thank you, Harry, that's very nice of you. I'm so, so sorry about, well, I'm sorry. Would you like me to help you tie your legs together?'
'Thank you,' said Harry.
Mrs Parker knelt down. 'I'll tie your laces, too, shall I?' asked Mrs Parker. 'Laces still give Louise problems, too. They aren't easy, are they?'
Harry stood still while she fiddled with his feet.
'These shoes don't fit you very well, do they?' she asked, looking concernedly into his face.
'They were Dudley's … my cousin.' He explained in answer to her questioning look. 'Most everything was Dudley's.' He tugged apologetically at the baggy shorts he was wearing, they hung below his knees.
'Dudley?' Mrs Parker asked.
'That's him.' Harry pointed at the porky blond boy in the brand new track suit and shining trainers, who was now staring hatefully at him.
'Oh,' said Mrs Parker. She looked once again at Dudley, in his smart new sports gear, and at Harry's oversized t-shirt and baggy shorts and sighed sadly. 'Do you … do you live with Dudley and his parents?'
Harry nodded. 'Yes. I'm a poor orphan and I'm very lucky to find someone to take me in, and I must be grateful for what I get,' he said knowledgeably.
'Who told you that?' Mrs Parker asked. 'Was it Dudley's father?'
Harry nodded. Mrs Parker sighed again, and then concentrated on tightening his laces and fastening his leg to her daughter's. 'Well, good luck, Louise. Good luck Harry.'
She escorted them to the queue of children waiting to race, murmuring encouragement as they hobbled and stumbled forwards. Once they were in the line, she went off to talk to Harry's teacher. Harry watched curiously as Louise's mother looked at Harry, and then at Dudley, and then at the Dursleys. She seemed to be cross about something. Harry hoped that he hadn't done something wrong, or naughty, because then Uncle Vernon would shout at him again. He was always doing something wrong or naughty, even though he didn't mean too.
'It would be good if we won, Hawwy,' Louise whispered. 'Mummy pwomised me a pwesent if I won somefing today.'
'Okay,' said Harry.
Mrs Parker was still talking to his teacher when one of the other teachers ushered him, and Louise, to the starting line. He looked across at the other children and realised to his horror that Dudley and Piers were in the same race. It would be very wrong of him to beat Dudley, Uncle Vernon had said in the car on the way to school, because Dudley was so much better than he was.
'I'm not supposed to beat Dudley,' Harry told Louise.
'Why not?' Louise asked loudly. 'Mummy says I should always try my hardest and do my best. And then, even if I don't win, I can be proud of myself. I think that Dudley is fat and horrible.'
'Don't let him hear you,' begged Harry.
'Ready, set, go,' the teacher shouted.
Louise and Harry both tried to put their right foot forward first, and they fell in a heap on the ground. They were not the only ones. As they struggled to their feet, Louise took control.
'Inside, outside, inside, outside,' she sang, and by following her instructions, Harry found that they were falling into a rhythm.
He looked around, and noticed that there were only two pairs of children in front of them, two girls who were holding hands and walking slowly and carefully, and Dudley and Piers, who were stumbling and sometimes crawling forwards. Harry and Louise were cautiously trotting; they overhauled the two girls and were almost alongside Dudley and Piers when Dudley fell, dragging Piers with him. As he and Louise passed them, Dudley flung out an arm and knocked Louise's legs from under her. As he, too, fell, Harry heard hisses and tuts from the crowd, and heard Vernon's shout of 'It was an accident, wasn't it Dudders?'
He was never sure what happened next. He remembered Louise's angry squeak as she fell, dragging him down with her. But instead of falling flat on their faces, they somehow bounced into a forward roll and ended up back on their feet. Suddenly they were in front of Dudley and Piers, who were still struggling to stand. He stared at Louise, and she stared at him, they didn't move, but simply tried to work out how they were back on their feet.
Then the cheers of the crowd brought them to their senses.
'Come on, Louise. Come on, Harry,' he heard Mrs Parker shout.
'Inside, outside,' said Louise urgently.
Harry obeyed, and within a half-dozen steps, they were across the line. Louise cheered and clapped and jumped for joy. Forgetting himself, Harry did, too.
'Louise's mum bought me an ice cream,' said Harry. 'And she kept me with her and Louise until I'd finished it. First Dudley, and then Uncle Vernon, tried to make me leave them, but Louise's dad was there too, and he chased them away.
'I had to go back eventually, of course. Uncle Vernon locked me in my cupboard as soon as we got home,' admitted Harry softly. 'He was furious with me. Apparently I'd encouraged that ugly little girl's mother to interfere in things which were none of her business. I'd deliberately tripped her up, too, in order to make the other parents think that Dudley was cheating. I think that the forward roll was probably accidental magic, and that's why Vernon was so angry.'
Ginny smiled sorrowfully at her husband. As he'd told the story, Harry had turned into that frightened little boy. It had been a long time since he'd had an episode like this and she was, as always, filled with an overwhelming urge to find Vernon Dursley and practice the Cruciatus Curse on the fat oaf.
Ginny slowly moved her feet from Harry's lap, stood and moved to stand in front of him. She pulled his head forwards, between her breasts, and gently ran her fingers through his tousled hair.
'I wonder what happened to Louise?' Harry mused. 'We weren't friends, not exactly. But she was always prepared to talk to me, and she never teased me about my clothes. She would have been eleven the last time I saw her, and by then, she was a lot taller than me.'
'Oh, Harry,' said Ginny, squeezing his head tightly. 'I wish I could give you a happier past.'
He pulled his head away from her chest and looked up into her eyes. 'You've been doing that for years, Ginny, since before fifth year.'
She lifted up his fringe, and kissed his scar. He moved his hands onto her thighs, and slid them upwards.
'Then, perhaps, we should simply try to make more happy memories,' she suggested.