A/N: A massive thanks to Litfreak89. Without her help I would never publish this :)
2nd August 1998
Not long after the burial of those who had died on the battle, Shacklebolt asked Harry if he wanted to give a hand to the Auror Squad. Harry accepted without thinking twice, as the work would keep him busy enough to free him from digesting all the things that had happened in the past year. And God knows how much work there was in the Auror Department after the tragedy of the Second Wizarding War.
They had to free innocent muggle-borns that had been sent to Azkaban; rescue missing people; return kidnapped young muggle-born children to the safety of their families or, if the families couldn't be found, give them to wizarding social service care; destroy dangerous dark-arts artefacts; find and arrest the remaining Death Eaters; help out the muggles that somehow had been affected by the war…
It was one of those last cases that Harry was holding by his desk, analysing the folder for what probably was the fiftieth time. This was such a special case for him that he had asked permission from his supervisor to let him deal with it alone.
The mission itself was very easy and straightforward, and he probably finish it in less than ten minutes. It consisted of paying a visit to two muggles that had lost close relatives during the war, making sure that they were all right, that a reasonable non-magical explanation for the deaths had been placed, and that no dangerous magical artefact, spell, jinx or curse could be find on their home. The only thing that made that mission complicated was that Annabel Morelli was one of those muggles.
Their last encounter had been intense. After a whole year apart due a big misunderstanding, they had finally made up. He told her the truth about the magical world, the war, Voldemort, and his need to kill him. That time, Harry made it clear that even though he really liked her, a relationship was the last thing that he could afford at that moment. The night before he left to the Burrow, they slept together, and she promised to wait for him.
However, somehow it got to Voldemort's knowledge that Harry had an affair with a muggle girl in the past, and because of that, most of her family died at the hands of his followers. Luckily, she wasn't in the country when this happened, but unfortunately, they confused her with her cousin Jess who had ended up being kidnapped and kept as a prisoner in the Malfoy Manor with Luna, Mr. Ollivander, and Griphook.
"Harry, I can't believe you still haven't done this." Neville said from after reading the files from Harry's shoulder.
"Mate, it's more complicated than it seems. Believe me."
"Yes, Luna told me about her. Is this the muggle girl you had a crush in the past, right? The one that was abroad when they got her cousin? "
"Yes, that's the one. And I kind wish it was only a crush. Maybe it would be easier to deal with it."
"Harry, if you want I can do it for you. I can go there to check if she is all right, and then you can sort the things between you two."
"No, I need to do it myself. I want to do it. I want to see her more than anything."
"So why don't you do it?"
"I just… almost everybody in her family died because a bunch of Death Eaters realized that we exchanged a couple of letters ages ago. Look, I knew all of her family; I went to her mother's wedding, and her grandmother was just the kindest… You wouldn't understand, Neville. You just wouldn't!" Harry sighed, defeated.
"Well, try me."
"I feel like I should have predicted that something like that could have happened to them. They were all muggles, after all, defenceless to his power. I should have asked for someone in the Order to put them into hiding like they did with the Dursleys."
"Harry, you can't keep blaming yourself for every single death that was caused by those psychopaths."
"But I know that I could have avoided those. I know I could have. And they are the family of the girl I… I'm just glad that Voldemort didn't realise how important she was to me, or he might have put more effort in getting her. How am I supposed to look her in her eyes after this? After knowing that I had the power to prevent her mother's death, and I just didn't do anything? You know that nobody would deny this to me. Anyone from the Order would have done this favour for me."
"Harry, you can't know what would have happened. Maybe if you had put her family into hiding, You-Know-Who would have guessed how important she is to you, and then he would have put much more effort in getting her. She is alive. You are alive. Both of you have lost family in the war, but both of you still alive. You need to go and help her to understand what happened. Besides, are you a Gryffindor or what?"
Harry gave his friend a grin.
"Ok Neville, you win. I will take tomorrow off and see if I can sort out the things between us. Actually, I think I might take a whole week off. Maybe take her on a holiday somewhere. Just wish me luck. She was always such a complicated girl when we were younger..."
After spending a sleepless night thinking if he should send her an owl or not before meeting her, Harry decided that he couldn't just put the words he wanted to say on a piece of paper. In fact, he wasn't even sure of what he should say, but he wasn't going to come back from his decision now. He was going to pay her a visit today.
Before meeting her, Harry decided to book two Eurostar tickets to Paris with a hotel included through a muggle tourism agency. He always had wanted to go to Europe, and maybe some time together was everything they needed. He also bought some flowers in a little shop next to the tourism agency.
Before he started the apparated, Harry decided to wear his old invisibility cloak, as he didn't know for sure where he was going to land. He closed his eyes and thought about Annabel; he could almost feel the softness of her skin and the feel her long light brown hair. He could see her honey colour eyes, gypsy's eyes, oblique and sly, her ice-melting smile.
After he flicked his wand, Harry was very surprised to find himself in the Little Whinging small park. He thought that she would be somewhere in London, where her mother's family house was located. But she was in the park, a few meters from where he had apparated. Accompanied by the least likely person he would have thought she would ever be seen with—her step brother, a massive jerk who had been the man responsible for the big row that Harry and Annabel had had before he left Privat Drive with Dumbledore two years ago.
Few minutes before scene above…
Three months had passed since Annabel had heard the news from her cousin about the end of the Wizarding War. Soon after, she had moved back to the UK, and she was slowly trying to re-build the life that was harshly stolen from her dear family by Harry's enemies. Harry. Why on earth hadn't he contacted her yet? What was he waiting for? Had he forgotten about the promise he had made to her? Or maybe she simply wasn't as important to him as she had thought.
Whatever the reason was, the lack of news from her wizard lover was making her heart sink. Jess and Dudley had both told her that this incessant war was over; her cousin Jess had even spoken to Harry before and after the final battle, and she'd confirmed one thing: Harry Potter was alive and well!
Originally, she had tried to convince herself that the lack of communication must have been because there was still danger that he needed to fight. These suspicions were the main reason she hadn't told anyone who Holly's true father was.
Only she and her step-brother Geoffrey, the one that against all odds had unexpectedly shown himself to be such a good father to Holly, knew. Together they were pretending to be a couple, and not even Jess or Matt knew that their flourishing relationship wasn't genuine. She wouldn't risk telling even her best friends until Harry emerged from the shadows and told them that they were safe, and everything would be all right. In her dreams, Harry would return and tell her that they would be together and that he would stay with her and Holly forever. But Harry hadn't come back.
Thinking everything over, Annabel closed her big doll eyes in a deep rage towards Harry. How could he ignore all the death that had been inflicted on her family because of this stupid war? Her grandma, mother, uncle and step-father were all dead because of this stupid 'Valtervort', or whatever his name was. Couldn't he at least come to see if she was okay? Couldn't he spend five minutes of his precious time to finally meet their daughter?
As the rage towards Harry finally passed, she started to rationalise again. After all, Harry couldn't possibly know that they both had a daughter together, could he? Maybe he hadn't come back because he was feeling guilty because of her family's deaths. He had certainly acted that way before: blaming himself when his godfather died. It was quite plausible – such a typical Harry thing to do.
Annabel sighed as she adjusted her long light-brown hair behind her ears. She felt very depressed as the thought entered her mind that maybe Harry was just not coming back again. Maybe he would never get to know Holly, and Holly would never get to know her true father. That was it. She decided that he was not coming back. Annabel rubbed her eyes to get rid of an insistent tear. She would not cry again. At least not today. Geoffrey had put immense effort into organizing a picnic for the two of them; they were in Little Whinging, and Matt and Dudley had made an offer of free babysitting which was too kind to refuse.
Annabel looked towards the swing on which she and Harry used to play during summer holidays and drew in a deep breath.
"I'm sorry. I should have brought you to somewhere else. You and he probably used to play here when you were young. I should have known," Geoffrey said regretfully.
"It's fine." Annabel answered, with what she thought to be a reassuring smile.
"I… I just thought that a picnic in the park was much more your kind of thing… but we can go somewhere else if you want."
"You were right. This is much more my kind of thing. Besides, I'm sure you'd agree it would be such a waste of good weather to spend a day like this indoors. And we both know that I need to get used to the fact that he is no longer part of my life. I need to move on."
Geoffrey reached for her hand.
"That's the smartest thing you've said in past few months, you know?"
"Oh Geoff, come on. I know that I have been such a wimpy girl, crying all the time. But you don't need to mock me about it."
"I'm not. It's the truth."
"Okay, I'll pretend that I believe you while you carry on pretending that I'm almost normal." Reaching for the basket, she asked, "So what have you put in this one, Mr Harrison?"
"Well, I brought some red berries, two baguettes and the best wine I could find from my father's cellar."
Annabel's eyes lit up. "Wow, brie cheese, Parma ham, grilled asparagus and… wait, is this cream made with figs?" she said while examining his work with a professional eye before taking a first bite. She tried to hide her unexpected disgust.
"What's wrong? Is it bad?"
"No! It's interesting. It's just a small overuse of some simple ingredients that shouldn't have been used in the first place. You know, things like salt, sugar and oil should be used with parsimony."
A loud pop captured Annabel's attention. She turned her head to try and find its source, but Geoffrey – who apparently hadn't noticed the noise, or thought it wasn't worth his concern – continued talking.
"Oh no, let me try it!" and he quickly grabbed the other baguette and gave it a big bite. "It's terrible! Disgusting. You are such a bad liar!"
"Okay, I admit that I'm a little shocked that you managed to use all these high quality ingredients to such bad effect…"
"Oh sweetheart, you don't need to be this harsh. You'll end up breaking my heart this way!"
"Sorry, sweetheart. But as you said, even the amazingly bad liar that I am, it's safer for me to put my hands up and tell the truth – at least while we are by ourselves. And please, next time you plan anything food related, let me take care of it, okay?"
"Fair enough. And at least we still have the wine and the fruit. I dare say that not even I would be able to screw those up."
"Geoffrey, honey-pumpkin, after these sandwiches I will never underestimate your aptitude for culinary disaster ever again. And about the wine; pass me the bottle; let me see what you grabbed."
He gave her the bottle – grinning as he imagined her reaction. Annabel looked at the label and her jaw dropped.
"Geoffrey! This bottle is from 1710! It's been stored for centuries!"
"Well done Bel; you know how to count!"
"Geoffrey, seriously? This wine must worth a small fortune. You can't just open a bottle like this for no reason!"
"Who said I'm opening it without a reason? Give it back to me" – he grabbed the bottle from her hands and opened it straightaway, ignoring all her protests and poured its contents in a small decanter.
"Now, we let it breathe."
"I can't believe what you have just done! Can you now explain to me why did you decide to just open a bottle of wine that is surely worth thousands of pounds?"
Before saying anything, he held both her hands and got closer to her. He was so near that she could nearly hear his fast heartbeats.
"I opened that wine to celebrate the most important person in my life: you, Bel. The girl that I was never able to accept as a sister, the girl who could never understand that this immature boy who did the things he did because he loved you deeply in secret, who only did the things he did because he didn't know how to deal with this feeling. I love you Annabel Morelli. I really do."
"Geoff, I've ne…" she started, but he held her words, gently placing his hands on her lips.
"I opened this wine to celebrate you, Bel. When our parents first introduced us, I wasn't very nice to you. It took me ages to understand why I couldn't accept you as my sister. Just… ever time I see you dancing it's like the world stops turning round. Now I know that I've loved you since the first time I put my eyes on you. And you, besides everything that I've done to you, have always been nice to me, even when I was a complete jerk to you. You, Annabel, who gave me the best present of my life: the most beautiful baby girl in the world who I have the honour to call my daughter."
Geoffrey held her around her neck and gave her a soft kiss. She slowly started kissing him back. He began shaking while tears ran down her face.
After a moment that felt like ages, they broke apart, and Geoffrey got a small box from inside his jacket. An engagement ring box.
"Oh, no, Geoff, please tell me you're not doing this!"
"Yes, I'm doing it," he said while he was going down on one knee. "Well, we already have a daughter together; we already live together. I think it has passed the time for us to formalize the things between us."
A suddenly 'POP' noise in the grass near them took their attention. Bel felt a cold hush through her spine as she thought she would see someone or something near them. But no one was there, not even a rabbit or a squirrel.
"Bel, I think you already know the question I want to ask you, but I insist on asking you anyway. Annabel Dorothy Morelli, do you want to be my wife? Will you marry me?"
"Geoffrey, you are my step brother for goodness sake! Can't you see that a relationship like that is just wrong?" She said shocked.
"How many times do I need to repeat this to you? YOU-ARE-NOT-MY-SISTER! Just because my father happened to hook up with your mother for few years doesn't make it…"
"Geoffrey, watch out your mouth! I won't accept you talking about them like that." She said, really angry by his nasty words.
"All right! But you can't deny that you didn't like my father, and you can't say that you loved your mother deeply because you didn't. Like I said, you've always been a very bad liar," Geoff said trying to make a point but only managed to get Annabel even more annoyed.
"You can't deny that our parents were married, which technically made us somehow related," she said, crossing her arms in annoyance at his rudeness.
"But you also can't deny that technically we also don't share any blood relation. Therefore, you are not my sister," he said, imitating her annoyance.
"Enough, Geoff! I forgot how annoying you can be sometimes. You have been such a nice guy! I mean it! You have been my best friend this last year, helping me during all my pregnancy… and then, you accept to be Holly's father to protect us. You're always helping me take care of her and now… I can't say I was expecting that. I'm in a complete shock! Two years ago you were a complete bastard, the most egocentric guy on earth. And now… after all those years living under the same roof… I would never have imagined you had feelings towards me. I must say that I'm baffled."
"You don't need to answer me now, Bel. Just keep the box, right? Wear it whenever you're ready, or give it back to me if you decide to wait for that freak until you start your menopause…"
Annabel gave him a dark glare after his last phrase, willing to say that he was wrong, that Harry would be back sometime soon, but now she was starting to doubt that too.
"I… you know… I still love him, right?"
"I know. But I'm confident enough that I can help you to get over it. If you just give me a true chance to show you that I'm the right guy for you."
"I don't love you, Geoff. I like you as a friend; you know that, don't you?"
"I know that too. But we can try to build this feeling together. One year ago, you couldn't stand to stay near me for more than five minutes. Look at us now: a perfect team. Besides…I love you enough for both of us. Don't ever doubt that! Now, let's see if I at least bought the right fruits…"
Few seconds before scene above…
This wasn't happening, Harry thought in complete despair. It had to be a nightmare! How on earth could Annabel and Geoffrey be together? How on earth could they have a daughter? She hated him; he hated her! This whole thing didn't make any sense.
From under his invisibility cloak, Harry spotted Geoffrey's hand reach into his pocket and pull out the engagement ring box. Harry felt like he was going to vomit. He decided that he wasn't going to stay there any longer. It was too much to ask. He couldn't bear the thought of seeing this newly engaged couple happily celebrating their love together. Not when he was also in love to the bride-to-be.
Without waiting any longer, he disparated near the Black Manor. After throwing the flowers in the first public rubbish bin he could find, Harry entered the old house, glad that everyone thought he was going on a holiday because he didn't feel like seeing anybody anytime soon.