The Most Complicated Part

Anton Mickawber

Story Summary:
At a dinner-party to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the DA, Harry and Ginny consider what might have happened if they had chosen different paths--and different partners.

Chapter Summary:
At a party to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the DA, Harry and Ginny consider what might have happened if they had chosen different paths--and different partners.
Author's Note:
REVISED April 8, 2004

And it seemed to them that they were within an inch of arriving at a decision, and that then a new, beautiful life would begin. And they both realized that the end was still far, far away, and that the hardest, the most complicated part was only just beginning.

Anton Chekhov, "Lady with Lapdog"

Harry had meant it to be a twenty-fifth reunion for the original group that had formed Dumbledore's Army--he even invited Marietta Edgecombe--but Hermione's schedule kept forcing him to move the date--first for an emergency international conference on threats to the Secrecy Act, then a special session of the Wizzengamot to hear the trial of a young ministry official who seemed to have been engaging in a black-market trade in mementos from the Ministry's Voldemort archives.

Finally, it was just two couples that managed to say they'd come: the Weasleys and the Longbottoms.

"Actually," Harry said, madly chopping mushrooms in the drafty old kitchen, "it's just as well. I don't know how I thought I was going to prepare a meal for thirty!" Several pots were bubbling gleefully away on the enormous old stove, and a gargantuan salad bowl was tossing itself on the battered old kitchen table.

"You'd have done just fine, Harry," Hermione said, sloughing her dress robes and settling into one of the tall, straight-backed chairs. "I could have hired Dobby and a few of the other free elves to come and help."

Harry tossed mushrooms into the salad, narrowly missing having his fingers removed by the whirring tongs. "I wish..." He shook his head. "I don't know how Molly Weasley did it. I mean, think about those dinners at the Burrow, or here. Ten people or more, every night? And I don't think I ever saw her happier than when she had a house full of people... Now, Albie, stop levitating the chairs, sweetie..."

Hermione bent down and swept up the wild-haired four-year-old into an embrace. "Give us a kiss, Albie!"

The boy's cherubic face pressed against his mother's but his green eyes never strayed from the heavy oak chair that was slowly pirouetting just below the high, dark ceiling of the Grimauld Place kitchen.

"Albus!" snapped Harry, pulling his wand out of the flour-stained apron.

With a wiggle of his tiny, thin fingers, Albie landed the chair gently in the middle of table.

"Thank you for listening to your father, Albie," said Hermione.

"Right," muttered Harry. "Thanks for not launching it up the chimney again." With some effort he hauled the chair back down to the floor.

"Mum," said Albie, "Sidi's coming back."

"Yes, she is, sweetie. Professor Snape let her come back all the way from Hogwarts, just to read you a story."

"Don't want her to read. Want her to tell me a story about you and Daddy and Uncle Ronny." His placid eyes were wandering from one chair to another, as if considering which one to catapult into space first.

"Lord, Albie," said Harry, "haven't you heard all of those a million times?"

"Want to hear it again. 'Specially the chess game." Albus loved to hear about Ron's adventures almost more than he did about his parents'. Harry had found himself replaying some of the more terrifying exploits in their past over and over with Albie--sometimes as himself, sometimes taking on Hermione and other roles, but always with Albie happily in the role of Ron. Harry had seen his son play for hours with Sirius's battered old wizard chess set--not knowing any strategy, but joyously marching the pieces around the table with wiggles of his fingers, all the while whispering some intricate, unintelligible narrative in which the word "Ronny" was prominent.

"Uncle Ron will be here later, Albie," Hermione said brightly, placing the boy on the chair that Harry had rescued. "And Auntie Luna, and Ginny and Neville. They're all bringing Sidi down from school. Isn't that nice?"

Albie smiled beatifically, hopped off the chair and zoomed towards the door of the kitchen, almost bowling over his sister Minnie, who was entering.

"Ullo, Mum. Didn't hear you come in," Minnie drawled. Then she bounded over to her mother and wrapping her in a gangly embrace. "Love you!"

"I love you, too, sweetie," said Hermione returning the hug, "but you need to let me breathe!"

Minnie giggled.

"How was school today?" Hermione asked.

Suddenly, the light disappeared from Minnie's eyes. She disentangled herself from her mother and flung herself into a chair, hiding her face in the battered table.

"What is it, Minerva, darling?" Hermione asked, looking concerned.

"I hate that school," Minnie moaned. "I never want to go there again. Why do I have to go to a muggle school? Artie Weasley and Gilda Pengilly get schooled at home. Why can't I?"

"It's important," Hermione said, in what Harry recognized as her Calm and Reasonable voice. "You have more muggle than wizard blood in you." This was an old conversation.

"It's just because you're the Minister, and you want to make a show of getting on with muggles. You don't care about me at all."

Harry couldn't hold back any longer. "We went through this this afternoon, Minnie. It's really important for you to understand muggles. And to realize that magic isn't the solution to all your problems." He glanced at his wife. "It's that Alice Purvy girl. She was after Minnie again in the play yard when Albie and I picked her up."

"She keeps calling me a witch," Minnie whined, "like that's a bad thing!"

Harry and Hermione locked glances for a moment. "Minnie," Harry said, "tell Mummy why she called you that."

"Well, she and her gang were after this little seven-year-old named Cassandra Whitling at lunch, trying to steal her money, and I got so angry, I..." Suddenly Minnie fell silent.

"Tell your mother what happened next, Minerva," Harry said wearily.

"Well, I just... I sort of lost it. I started yelling at all of them, and suddenly I... I sort of changed."

"Changed?" Hermione asked.

"I... I don't know exactly what I did, but all of the sudden, they all seemed really small, and they all screamed and ran off." Minnie sniffed miserably. "Even Cassandra. She looked at me like I was a monster or something."

"Oh, dear," Hermione muttered. "Oh, dear."

Harry nodded and said, quietly, to Hermione, "Perhaps we can have Ginny talk with her about controlling some of her innate Transformations skills." He stroked Minnie's tight mass of black curls. "I think you might have some talent as an animagus, Minerva, just like your namesake." Only, he fretted, she clearly was headed towards an animal much more sizable and ferocious than Professor McGonagall's bespectacled grey tabby. He thought of the collection of toy dragons flying over her bed that Charlie Weasley had given her for her birthday two years back. "Maybe Aunt Gin can help you control it a bit."

Hermione kissed her middle daughter's head, a head that was a darker mirror of her own. "Did Daddy ever tell you what he did to his Aunt Marge when she said something really nasty about your grandparents?"

Minnie began to giggle through her tears. This was a favorite story in the household, though not one in which Harry took much pride.

"Why don't you head on upstairs and get changed," Hermione suggested, sitting next to Minne. "Aunt Gin and Neville are going to be here soon, with Sidi and Auntie Luna and Uncle Ron."

Suddenly, Minerva was all smiles again. "Can we eat with you?"

Harry shook his head, "We've been through this, Minerva. You lot are eating down here, before they get here. That way you can spend some time with them before you head on upstairs."

"Can't I stay while you eat? Sidi can go up and read with Albie. Please? Please?" she wheedled.

Both parents shook their heads. "No," said Harry, "your parents want some privacy. We want to be able to sit around and tell boring old stories about the boring old good old days."

Minnie made a sour face. "That sounds absolutely grotty." She began to skip towards the door, then stopped and turned back to them with a bemused look on her face. "It's funny about Uncle Neville, isn't it?"

"What is, Minerva, darling?" asked Hermione.

"Well, he's so..." She struggled for the word, twisting her mouth to one side. "So... meek. I mean, it's so funny that he's this famous wizard, that he defeated Lord Thingy and all." Then she scowled, a mirror of her mother's look of greatest concentration. "And that she married him, Aunt Ginny, I mean. 'Cause there's nothing meek about her..."

"He's a great wizard," Harry said, intently. "You should ask Sidi about him. And your mum and I had a little to do with defeating Lord... Thingy."

Hermione laughed. "A little, here or there. As for Aunt Ginny, you could ask her about Neville, too. People fall in love for the most amazing reasons."

"Yeah," Harry said, "look at your mother. How she could have fallen for a useless git like me is beyond all understanding."

"Harry!" squealed Hermione, indignantly, echoed by Minerva's "Daddy!"

Harry smiled, but his stomach was turning, as it often did when he thought about Neville these days.

Minnie blew them both a kiss and then scampered out, slamming the door behind her.

"Finite incantatem," Harry muttered, trying to still the clattering salad tongs with his wand. They continued to toss, gleefully.

Hermione began to draw out her wand, but Harry stopped her. "Finite incantatem!" When the tongs finally came to rest, he sighed and slid into the chair that Minnie had just vacated. "Hullo, sweetheart," he said, leaning in to kiss her. "It's good to see you."

"Mmm." She kissed him back quickly, and then leaned back. "Do you think I'm going to need to intervene with the Purvy girl?"

"What, do you mean as a mother, or in an official capacity?"

Hermione nodded. "Perhaps I should have a squad alter those girls' memories."

Shrugging, Harry ran his fingers through his wife's curls. Greyer, now, he thought. Every day at the Ministry and she comes home a little greyer. "Maybe," he said. "But muggles' ability to deny what they've seen is really remarkable. I don't think you'll have any problems."

"I'm worried about her," Hermione sighed. "Sidi at least always had Xinhua and the Smith girl that she was friends with. Minnie sounds so lonely." She waved her hand to indicate the ancient mansion above them. "I mean, it's not like she can invite her friends over for playdates. Can you imagine what Alice Purvy would say if she saw where Minnie lived?"

"Come on, Hermione," Harry said, "she starts every school year this way. Give her another month or two and she'll have a group of friends. I'm not sure why she does this, but I'll tell you what--I'll have her invite a couple of girls to come with Albie and me to the zoo." It wasn't as if he or Hermione had been exactly popular in their own primary school days. And they had managed well enough.

"That sounds like a great idea," Hermione said, stroking Harry's cheek. "Did you get much writing done today?"

Now it was Harry's turn to grunt. "Mmm. A bit." In fact, Harry hadn't been able to get any work done on his memoirs in weeks. Every time he sat down to look at them, he was overwhelmed with the feeling that no one really wanted to hear about what he had done when he was twelve or fifteen, and, what was worse, almost nothing of interest had happened to him since his graduation from Hogwarts. He was forty years old, and the most eventful part of his life was already almost a quarter-century in his past. Of course, being happily married to the most politically important witch in Western Europe, and having two wonderful daughters and a phenomenally adept, other-worldly son were things to take pleasure in. But not exactly the makings of a bestseller.

Hermione sighed again, gave him another peck, and said, "Come on, Harry, let's get dressed. Then we can feed the kids and be ready when everyone gets here."

* * *

When the doorbell rang, dolefully, the whole family sprinted out into the front hall. Fawkes was squawking from his perch on the wall where a very nasty portrait of Sirius' mother had once hung.

Harry opened the door on five very weary--but happy--looking travelers: Neville, Ginny, Luna, Ron, and his eldest daughter, Sidi.

Sidi wrapped her arms around Harry and then invited the others in. "Welcome to Grim Old Place!" she called.

They all bundled in, wrapped in early autumn cold.

"Siria Lily Potter," scolded Hermione, while wrapping Sidi in a warm embrace, "how many times have we told you not to say that?"

"You always told me that repetition is the secret to learning, Mum," said Sidi, pulling her younger siblings into a family hug.

"Hullo, Harry!" said Ron, shaking his friend's hand. "You're looking great!"

"You too, Ron!"

"Yeah," Ron said, "more prosperous every day!" He patted his thickening middle.

"I'm amazed you can get off the ground," Harry teased.

"I don't have to fly myself, mate! I just have to show little geniuses like your daughter how to do it!" Ron chortled.

"Hullo, Luna," Harry said.

"Hullo." Luna was wearing what looked like a live-or at least, newly caught--catfish on her head. "You didn't take Arithmancy, did you?" When Harry shook his head, stunned, she strode past him into the hall.

"Ron," Harry muttered, shaking his head, "why is your wife wearing a fish for a hat?"

Ron blushed. "It's a Crumple-horned Snorekack. She really wanted to show it to Hermione."

"That's a Crumple-horned Snorkack? I always assumed it was some sort of magical cow or something."

"No, no. It's... yeah, it's a fish. And it's got really amazing powers; really good for settling a queasy stomach, Grubbly-Plank says. And they're supposed to be an aid to concentration."

Well, that's a good thing, thought Harry. "And why did she ask about Arithmancy? I mean, she teaches it; I can't imagine I'd have been able to tell her anything even if I had taken Vector's class back at school."

"Well, she's presenting this paper to a conference of muggle scientists, and she wants to know how to approach things," Ron said.

"Well, that makes sense," Harry said, thoughtfully.

"Yeah," grinned Ron, "that's the amazing thing. Everything she says makes sense--you just have to squint a bit to see the logic."

Neville stepped over from greeting Hermione, his beard looking longer and more luxuriant than ever. He smiled broadly, extending his hand. "Harry, it's so good to see you. Thank you so much for inviting us down!"

"Did you have a good trip?"

"Well, we came on a muggle train, because the Hogwart's Express isn't operating this week." Neville gave a soft frown. "British Rail isn't exactly... convenient, is it."

"No," agreed Harry. Minnie had called Neville meek, and it was an apt word. Neville was as soft-faced and unassuming a wizard as Harry had ever known--no longer the boy nervous that Harry had first known, thirty years ago, but well-established in an air of absolute contentment. Every year that passed made Neville seem more and more like an avatar of Albus Dumbledore--sweet-natured, quiet, but frighteningly wise. Again, Harry felt a twinge of something indefinable in his gut. "How's Sidi doing in Herbology? Hasn't killed too many mandrakes?"

"No, no, she's doing quite well," said Neville, beaming.

"Thanks for bringing her down. I know it was an inconvenience, not being able to just apparate."

"No, no, it was our pleasure."

"Snape wasn't too difficult about her leaving during the term, was he?" Harry asked.

"Not at all. Well, not terribly. The headmaster was..."

"He was his own, horrible self," said a bright voice at Harry's shoulder. Harry turned to see Ginny, his younger children hugging her from either side. She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. "Hey, Harry. Yeah, Severus was doing his grumble about Sidi coming, till Neville and I pointed out that a third of the faculty were going to be serving as her bodyguards, and that, besides, he couldn't possibly imagine a Potter getting up to no good."

Harry laughed. "You didn't say that to him!"

Neville nodded. "Yes, in fact, she did. I could have sworn I almost saw him give the fleetingest glimmer of a smile."

"Oi, Aunt Ginny," said Minnie, "Mum and Dad want me to talk to you about animal-magus stuff."

Ginny raised an eyebrow, a silent question.

"Yes," Harry answered. "She's showing some signs that she might take after her mother and her grandfather. She's having some trouble with it, though."

"Can I learn to become an otter like Mum? Or I'd love to turn into a cute kitten or a puppy."

"You are a cute kitten," said Ginny. "The animal chooses you, though, love. You don't get to choose. And learning to become an animagus is very difficult magic indeed. When you come to Hogwarts, in another--what?--year and a half, maybe we can help you get started."

Minnie's face twisted. "But imagine if you went through all that work only to find out you were something like a warthog or something like that."

Ginny smiled. "I'm sure you wouldn't turn into a warthog."

Albie said, "I think she'd be a dragon, with big gold wings." He smiled at his sister.

Minnie looked stunned, uncertain whether to take that as a compliment or a tease. Ginny looked up at Harry, as if to say, Well, there you go!

"Sidi, Minnie, Albie, it's time for you to head on upstairs," came Hermione's voice, comfortable in command. "Sidi, there's supper for you up in the sitting room." The two younger ones started to fuss, but Sidi stilled them by promising to show them the new charms she'd learned from Professor Flitwick.

Hermione muttered something about the Minister of Magic's daughter having no more right than anyone else to practice magic outside of school, but the children just laughed as they bounced their way up to their rooms.

"Come on," said Harry, "let's eat."

* * *

"Bravo to the chef!" cheered Ron, as they finished eating, almost two hours later.

Harry lowered his head in a mock bow, and they all applauded.

"What a delicious meal!" said Neville.

"Well, it's not quite the Welcoming Feast," Harry said, an odd mixture of relief, embarrassment and alcohol warming him.

"Perhaps not, but it was a welcome feast indeed," Neville quipped, to a chorus of "here, here!"

"Does everyone have enough in their glass for a toast?" asked Hermione. Everyone nodded. Hermione stood, her barleywine in hand. "Twenty-five years ago, we all met at the Hog's Head Inn to try to convince this lout here," she indicated Harry, "to teach us something about how to fight the dark arts. By the end of the year, the five of us were taking what he had taught us into battle with him against a group of adult wizards bent on using those very arts to destroy us."

"My ankle still hurts when the weather changes," joked Ginny, and they all laughed.

If I'd known Voldemort would take most of my power with him when he died, would I still have taught them all? Harry wondered, not for the first time. And, not for the first time, he came to the conclusion that, yes, he probably would have--but it would have been nice to know what the sacrifice would be, beyond the loss of so many friends and mentors.

"Within another two years," Hermione continued, "we had learned enough to take the fight right to the man who thought he could outfly death and bring the rest of the wizarding world under his domination. Neville cast the spell, but it was all of us together who defeated him. Not many people can say that they have saved the world, but bless us, we can." She raised her glass towards the portrait of Dumbledore that hung on the wall, smiling indulgently. "To Dumbledore's Army!" she called.

"To Dumbledore's Army!" came the response, and they all drank.

"To those we lost!" called Ginny, eyes bright. Lord, she's pretty, thought Harry, even with her bright red hair streaked with ash.

And they toasted again.

"To the best of friends--those who are still here," said Neville quietly.

And they toasted again.

"And to those yet to come," added Luna, raising her glass of water.

And they toasted again, though not without some quizzical looks.

Ron looked up and said, "Look, all of you, you're the first we're telling, but... Luna's three months pregnant."

Luna seemed to be patting the Snorkack on her head.

"Oh, that's wonderful!" Hermione said. "We should toast the child!"

"He's going to be a boy," Luna said quietly. "We're going to name him Tom."

They all raised their glasses, and then lowered them as the import of the name sunk in.

Luna put her hand on Ron's shoulder, and then looked around the table. "The Marvolos were my mother's family," she said. "Tom Riddle was her cousin. Dumbledore always told us that it isn't the magic that is good or evil, it is what you choose to do with it. We want to commemorate the good that Tom Marvolo could have done but chose not to."

Harry raised his brandy. "To Tom Weasley," he said.

"To Tom Weasley!" they all answered.

"Hermione," said Luna, "I've been meaning to ask you. I'm presenting a paper at a meeting of the British Society for Particle Physics next month on proto-quarks and the uncertainty principle--the wonderful thing is I can talk with physicists about magic and they haven't the slightest idea that I'm not speaking metaphorically. In any case, I need to know how you think I should dress."

"Ah!" said Hermoine. "Well, in my experience, muggle scientists aren't terribly picky about matters of dress, Luna." And then she pursed her lips. "But I would leave the Snorkack at home..." And Luna, Neville, Ginny and Hermione launched into a spirited debate about wizarding fashion and its effects in the muggle world.

"Congratulations, Ron," Harry said. "I'm so glad you're joining the club."

"Thanks, mate," Ron said, leaning towards Harry. "She's been really insistent about the name. I mean I see her point, but it's like naming the kid Grundewald."

"The name doesn't define the kid, Ron," said Harry, feeling very mellow now that the meal was done. "For a starter, look at my namesake! How's Fred and Angelina's son doing?"

Ron grinned. "Little Harry is more of a terror than his father ever was. Can you imagine Fred or George with a fully stocked jokes laboratory at their beck and call?"

"Oh, my," was all that Harry could say.

"Hey, by the by, Fred and George wanted to apologize for not being able to make it. They had to go off to Japan to meet with a couple of yamabushi who claim to have the secret to Eversneeze Powder. Alicia and Angelina went with them."

Harry thought about the Weasleys and their wives. "Angelina and Alicia must hate being thrown together all of the time," he said.

"Actually," said Luna airily over Ron's shoulder, "they like each other rather more than they like the twins." The table fell silent again. She looked around, apparently surprised to have surprised anyone. "Well, they always did," she said.

Ron, Harry and Neville all turned to Hermione for confirmation.

"Goodness," she said, "don't look at me. We weren't in the same dormitory; I had no idea what they got up to."

"I did," said Ginny. "They used to snog beneath the stands after Quidditch practice. And I'm pretty sure the twins knew, because I heard George teasing Alicia about wanting to go to the Yule Ball just to be with Angelina." She gave Luna a long look. "But I always assumed it was one of those school experimentation things. You know, LUGs--Lesbians until graduation."

Luna returned Ginny's gaze unblinkingly. "I don't think so," she said.

"Well," said Ron, staring down into his firewhiskey, "I mean... Well. You think you know what makes people tick...."

The table fell into silence for a full minute or two. On the wall, Dumbledore's portrait seemed to be chuckling to himself. "Students," he said, "always concerned with the least important elements of the puzzle..."

A chirping noise broke the quiet. "Oh, damn," Hermione said, fumbling in her jacket.

"What is it?" Neville asked.

"It's a muggle cellular telephone," Harry said. "She carries it in case of an emergency. So far as I know the only people who have the number are the muggle Prime Minister and Minnie's school."

"It's Ten Downing Street," Hermione sighed. "Apparently there's been a dragon sighting just south of Leeds, and she wants some sort of assurance that it's under control. I'm so sorry, all, I'm afraid it's going to be a late night. It's been lovely getting to spend some time with you--I'll see you all in the morning." Buttoning up her jacket, Hermione dashed out of the room, and with a heavy thud, out the front door.

"Welcome to the home of the Minister of Magic," Harry sighed.

"We know the feeling, Harry," said Ginny, and she touched his arm.

"Yeah," said Ron, "we barely got to see Dad those last two years, when he was Minister."

"When we did, though," said Ginny, "he seemed so... alive."

Ron nodded. Harry put his hand on top of Ginny's, where it rested on his forearm. Her eyes were beginning to glisten again.

Before Harry could think of anything to say, Neville cleared his throat. "I was just thinking," he said, "I wonder how Katie Bell felt. About Angelina and Alicia, and all of that, I mean."

On the wall, Dumbledore muttered, "Excellent question, Neville!"

Ron looked at his wife, but she shook her head. "I barely knew Katie Bell," she said.

"Remember our sixth year?" Ron muttered to Harry. "I had this... crush on her for a while, you know? I mean, with Angelina and Alicia and Fred and George gone, it was like I was seeing her for the first time. But she was in such a foul mood constantly..."

"Do you blame her?" Ginny sighed, pulling her hand back to brush her hair out of her face. "A group of inseparable friends, and not one of them attracted to her."

"Ouch," said Harry.

Neville sighed. "It's funny, watching all of the students, constantly caught up in this romantic whirlwind. They're obsessed with whom they like, with whose interest lies with whom. They think we don't know, but of course, the teachers are aware of every fleeting infatuation, in spite of ourselves." He took his wife's hand and smiled. "I'm relieved to be released from that particular round of sorrow. Being happily married is its own reward, but it does have some side benefits."

Ron and even Luna chuckled.

"Well," said Luna, standing, "I'm going to bed. And not for any side benefits, either. I'm tired."

Ron stood with her, a slightly worried expression on his face. Harry recognized the solicitousness of an expectant father and smiled.

"I must say, I'm knackered," Neville yawned. "But what a lovely evening! Are you coming up, darling?" he asked Ginny.

She shook her head. "I'll be up in a minute, Neville."

He nodded indulgently and followed the Weasleys out the door and upstairs.

Harry sat, surveying the wreckage of the dining room table and sighed. He turned to Ginny, about to ask if she needed anything, but she was sitting, head in her hands, silently weeping.

Harry didn't know what to say. If he had ever considered it, he would have said that Ginny was the strongest of the lot: less driven by fear than her brother, less prone to anxiety than Hermione, braver than her husband, clearer headed than Luna and far less apt to be caught up in emotional turmoil than he himself had always tended to be. "Ginny," he began, reaching out to her.

"Stupid prats," she said. "All of them. They don't even stop to think that you and Hermione would never have a house elf."

"Right," Harry said.

"Come on, I'll help you clean up," she said, pulling out her wand. "Scourgify!"

* * *

When Harry carried the last of the dishes in from the dining room--his Levitations were a bit iffy these days--Ginny was leaning, her copper hair falling around her face into the huge stone sink, and she was weeping again, only not so silently.

He put the plates down beside the sink and put his hands on her shoulders.

She spun fiercely and clasped her arms around his chest. "Oh, Harry!" she wept.

"Ginny, Ginny," he said, patting her back, feeling even more useless than he had this afternoon, trying to calm Minnie in almost precisely the same location. Weeping females had never been his strong suit--Cho under the mistletoe, Hermione at the Hog's Head, their first time together--but life seemed to have conspired to surround him with them. "What is it?" he asked, regretting the question almost as soon as he asked it.

"It's nothing," she said, wetly, into his shoulder. "It's... well, it's everything. God, Harry, how can I have made all of the right choices and ended up here?" And she let out a low, long wail into his chest.

"Ginny, I..." Harry began. His own eyes were beginning to overflow, and he wasn't at all sure why. "Why don't we sit down? I can make us a cup of tea, and you can tell me about it." He went to kiss the top of her head, as he would have Minnie's or Sidi's, but she happened to look up at just that moment to say something, and his lips landed right on her open mouth.

They stood there, frozen in an unintended kiss, arms locked around each other. Harry felt his breath and heartbeat cease. The urge to melt into that embrace, to kiss her in earnest, was almost irresistible.

Instead, each stepped back. Ginny's stunned, slack-jawed expression was the perfect mirror of his own astonishment. Harry began to try to say that he hadn't meant to kiss her, or, at least, that he hadn't meant to kiss her. "Ginny, I..."

She held up her hands, palms out, still looking like someone who's been told that the whole world exists according to an entirely unsuspected set of rules. "Make us a cuppa, Harry," she said. "I think we could both use it."

As Harry busied himself with lighting the stove and filling the kettle, he found that his hands were shaking almost uncontrollably, splashing water onto the flames. How long had he wanted to kiss Ginny? An image of her, pale, wet and very, very young on the floor of the Chamber of Secrets filled his mind. Taking her pulse, he had touched her fine, little-girl throat. He had known the basilisk was somewhere nearby, and Slytherin's heir as well, but all that he could think to do was to lean forward... But Tom Riddle had suddenly appeared, and the game had shifted to trying to get as far from Ginny as possible.

Twelve. Sidi's age. Lord.

When he brought two steaming, heavy mugs of Earl Grey to the table, only the slight pinkness around Ginny's eyes gave any evidence that she had been crying. Her chin was lifted in a sort of rebellious challenge when she said, "Harry Potter, you are a rotten, emotionally retarded bastard."

"Me?" he said, sliding the tea across the table to her. He was not going to sit next to her just now. There was no telling whether she might start crying again, and what he might find himself doing to calm her. "What did I do?"

"It's what you never did do till just now, you stupid git!" she said, laughter and anger warring in her face. "Why didn't you ever do that when I actually wanted you to?"

"I... Merlin's beard, Ginny, I don't know." Harry felt himself blushing deeply, as he almost never did. "I haven't... I wasn't... I mean, think about what a mess I was. What did I know? Hermione's convinced that the only reason I got so stuck on Cho was because she was so unattainable--when it finally turned out that she was attainable, I had no idea what to do with her."

Ginny snorted into her tea. "I bet I could have helped you figure out a few things," she said.

Harry gave an embarrassed laugh, as all sorts of half-digested teen fantasies--and some more well-informed adult ones as well--flooded back into his mind. All of them involving silken red hair and pale, pale skin. "I'm sure..."

"It's the whole discussion about Katie Bell that really got me going. I mean, I looked around the table at all of you and I thought: well, there's the famous Harry Potter, and his famous wife, Hermione Granger, the Minister of Magic. Then there's my brother, who was famous as an all-England keeper, but is known too for his exploits with you and Hermione back in the day. His wife, of course, is the most famous Arithmancer around--hell, she's about the only famous Arithmancer in the past couple of centuries. Neville, of course, is not only the Man Who Lived, but a leading Herbologist." She took a deep breath. "And then there's me. The cheese stands alone. You have no idea, Harry..."

"Don't I?" Harry said, more heatedly than he had intended. "Look at me, Ginny. All right, people certainly made a fuss about me when I was eleven, though I never cared. Now? I can barely lift a wand--I'm a useless wizard--and I'm known almost exclusively as my wife's consort and my children's father. So, yes, I do have some idea how you feel."

Ginny gave a sly smile. "What a cheery pair we are, eh, Harry?"

Harry giggled, and they both started to laugh, manically.

"The thing is, Ginny," Harry said, wiping tears from his glasses, "the thing is, we all love you. You've got to take my word for it--I found you attractive then as now. And Ron thinks the sun rises and sets on you--well, you and Luna. Hermione, I mean, if she ever had the hots for you, I never heard about it, but I can tell you she cares a lot more for you than she ever did for her git of a little sister. I don't even want to begin to speculate about what Luna might think or feel, though she clearly has always been fond of you, but Neville adores..."

"I don't want to talk about Neville, if you don't mind," said Ginny, very quietly. Then the flash came back into her eyes and she said, "You found me a attractive, did you?"

In spite of himself, Harry said, "I still do."

They both gazed down into their tea. Harry wished that all of those classes with Sybill Trelawney had actually been worth something, because Harry would desperately have loved to read his future in the sodden leaves.

"So, Harry," said Ginny in a voice of clearly affected nonchalance, "how are things with Hermione?"

Harry chewed on the side of his cheek. He could still taste the image of the accidental kiss on his lips and was torn between wanting to dive across the table and kiss Ginny again on the one hand, and the urge to run out of the room on the other. "Ginny, I..." he began. "We're OK. You know what the job's like. She's at the Ministry anywhere from ten to sixteen hours a day, and that's when she's in the country. That's not even mentioning what a passel of kids do to a couple's level of intimacy."

"I wouldn't know," said Ginny.

"Oh, Gin, I'm sorry, I..." Harry said, though he wasn't quite sure what he was apologizing about. "Look, I've never wanted to intrude, but here we are having this bizarre conversation. Do you mind if I ask why you and Neville haven't had any kids? I've always assumed it was a choice, but, well, is something up?"

Ginny turned several different shades of red, in quick succession. "Oh, Harry, something isn't up, that's the whole problem."

It took a moment for Ginny's meaning to sink in, during which time Ginny's virtuoso color-shifting performance continued, moving her face towards ever darker shades of red. Harry began slowly, "Neville's...?"

"Impotent," Ginny said quickly. If I were telling the story, Harry thought, I'd have said she ejaculated, and wouldn't that have been a terrible joke. "God, Harry, he'd be so humiliated if he thought you knew. But he always has been. He tries so hard to... to please me, you know, but there's not an awful lot of passion in our marriage, no, and Merlin's testicles, Harry, could you warm up my tea, because if we keep talking about this, I think I'm going to die."

Harry gave a nervous laugh, and went to the counter to fetch to teapot. He walked around the table, filled Ginny's cup and sat down beside her.

She looked up at him, flicking a strand of her hair out of her face. Her eyes were dark, and full of questions, and all he could think to do was to reach out and touch her cheek, which was smooth and warm, still damp from crying. She closed her eyes, and he did too, and leaned in until he could feel the heat of her breath on his lips.

"Daddy, can I have a glass of water?"

"Merlin's beard!" Harry said, finding himself standing five feet away from Ginny with no idea how he'd gotten there. His son was standing in his pyjamas, holding a stuffed unicorn by the horn, his auburn curls spraying wildly around his head. "Albie," Harry said, a little too loudly, "what are you doing up? It's way past your bed time."

"Had a bad dream about two lions fighting."

"Here, let's get you a little water and I'll tuck you back into bed.

* * *

When Harry came back down to the kitchen twenty minutes later, he found himself divided between hoping that Ginny would be waiting for him, and hoping that she would have gone up to bed.

She was there, just where he had left her, at the kitchen table. "Everything all right?" she asked, not looking up at him.

"Yes, he's fine, out like a light as soon as he got back into bed." Harry found himself unable to cross the room to sit with Ginny. "We were...?" he said, gesturing vaguely with his hands.

"I think," Ginny said, her fine features set in a determined smile, "that we were contemplating snogging like a couple of teenagers, and then possibly going at it here on the kitchen table for a few hours, and then launching into a really passionate, messy affair."

"Yes." Harry leaned against the door for support. He was shivering with cold despite the roaring fire in the hearth.

Ginny's eyes searched his. "But I don't think we should."


"Because of Neville. And Hermione."


"And your kids."


"And because..." Ginny ran a palm across her wet eyes, "because we actually care for each other."

"Yes," Harry said with a moan. "Ginny..."

"Damn," she spat. "Bollocks, bollocks, bloody hell." She stared up at him with a look of dark intensity. "Other people have affairs. They don't give a damn about their families or even about each other."

"But if we were the sort to do that," he said gently, "would we feel the way we do about each other?"

Ginny gave a small laugh, not altogether bitter. "No, I suppose not." She stood, running her fingers through her hair, and the sight made Harry shiver again, forcing him to close his eyes.

"Harry," Ginny said, standing before him. "You're a good man."

Funny, thought Harry, I don't feel at all like a good man at this moment.

"Harry, this is something I wanted to talk to you about anyway. Remus wants to take some time away from teaching. He and Neville think they may have found a new therapy for his lycanthropy. So there's going to be a need for a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher..."

"Ginny," he said, still very conscious of her proximity, "I'm useless with a wand, now..."

Ginny snorted. Harry opened his eyes. She was starting to blush again. "Sorry," she said. "I've got a dirty mind tonight." Gingerly, she placed her hand on his wrist. "You're still the best Defense teacher I've ever seen, Harry. Even counting Lupin. Will you let me submit your name to Severus?"

He sighed. "Sure," he said.

She leaned up and gave him an almost chaste kiss on his cheek. "Good night," she said. He stepped forward as she opened the door. "I do care for you, you know," she said.

"Mmmm," Harry replied.

* * *

It was two hours later when Hermione found Harry still sitting in the kitchen, staring into the fire.

"Oh, Harry," she said, "what are you still doing up? It's almost three."

"Thinking," he said. "Want some tea?

"No, just some water, I think."

"Everything all right with the dragon?" Harry asked.

"Yes," Hermione sighed "Charlie's team rounded it up with no fallout. Percy insisted on being there."

"What did this have to do with the Department of International Magical Cooperation?"

"Nothing, as near as I could tell."

"I think," Harry joked, a little sadly, "that he must fancy you."

"Harry!" Hermione answered, looking slightly abashed.

He smiled, and she sat next to him, shrugging off her dress robes.

"Did I miss anything?" Hermione sighed.

"No, everyone headed up not long after you left." He took a breath. "Ginny... I think she's in a bit of a funk."

Hermione got her wise look on, staring into the fire with Harry. "I have been thinking she might have been a bit put off by Ron and Luna's news. It seems to me that she and Neville might not see eye to eye about children."

"It's possible," Harry replied, running his fingers along the inside of her arm. "The whole thing about Angelina and Alicia... Hermy, did you ever think of being with another woman that way?"

Hermione turned to look at him. "Is that what you've been thinking about this whole time, you randy bugger?" She gave a little smile and looked back into the fire. "Of course I've thought about it. Most people do, I suppose."

"I suppose." He leaned forward and kissed Hermione's ear, one of her more sensitive spots.

"Harry," she said, pulling away, "I'm too tired."


"Maybe tomorrow night."

"Maybe." And he kissed her again, lightly, on the cheek this time.

Her eyes bored into him. "I'm sorry, Harry."

"No problem," Harry sighed. "Ginny wants to submit my name to Severus to take over for Remus while he's on leave for a week or two."

"Oh?" Hermione said. "Are you interested?"

"I don't know. What do you think?"

The dying fire threw a dance of light and shadow across Hermione's face. "I think, if you want to do it, it's a lovely idea."

Harry nodded. "Come on, let's get up to bed."