All Things Considered
- Story Summary:
- On a peaceful evening at home, Harry and Hermione's daughter Helen reflects on life as a Potter.
- Author's Note:
- This is a future ficlet based on my Paradigm of Uncertainty series.
All Things Considered
a "Paradigm of Uncertainty" vignette
April 29, 2035
This is the story of my life, the extremely abridged version...meaning randomly remembered moments that are probably half wrong and a few hearsay stories. My brother and I and just about everyone else I know have been asked to write things down and give them to Michael, who's busy compiling his notes. He's writing a book about my parents. Well...no one's kidding anyone, it's mostly about my father.
So Michael told me just to talk about myself and my family and anything else that pops into my head, so here goes.
My name is Helen Granger Potter, and I just turned 18 a few weeks ago. I'm home from school for the weekend...I'll be graduating from Hogwarts in a few months...and I'm sitting in my bedroom while I write this. I love my bedroom. It's huge. Plenty of room for all my books, which take up more room than my clothes. My cousin Charlotte is staying in the guest house while she and her husband wait for their new house to get built. It's a cute little guest house, with its own kitchen and garage and everything.
Charlotte's 31 and good at absolutely everything. Her spells are flawless, she dresses perfectly, is married to an Adonis-like man and is generally fabulous. She's not really my cousin (she's the daughter of my dad's godfather, whom I used to call Uncle Sirius), but she's family anyway. My brother Ben isn't here, which is kind of sad because I miss him but also kind of nice because I get Mum and Dad all to myself. He lives in Scotland where he's getting Auror training. He's 20 and I think he sometimes resents it that he's the only one in the family without an H name. Mum says they tried to think of a boy's H name but just couldn't stand Herman or Hortigan or some other awful thing. I miss Ben being at school with me.
We're both Gryffindors, just like Mum and Dad and Ginny and Charlotte and practically everyone else, and he always looked out for me when he wasn't busy resenting me because I'm good at Quidditch and he's not. Dad was so proud when I made Gryffindor Seeker in my second year, I thought he was going to go all wobbly on me. Everyone at school pays perhaps a bit more attention to us than they should because of The Potter Name or whatever. I swear I've caught people staring at my forehead. I want to remind them that scars aren't genetic but the opportunity has never come up. I wonder what Dad would say if I got a lightning-bolt tattoo on my forehead...I mean, what he'd say after he woke up from the heart attack and finished grounding me for life.
I should probably mention that my parents are famous. I mean, really famous. Every wizard in the world known my dad's name, and Mum became just as famous because of him...though she does sometimes get annoyed when she's referred to repeatedly only as "Mrs. Potter." I've had my face in so many papers and magazines that I've lost count, though Dad really tries to keep the worst of the insanity away from us. We get to be in Circe but only because Ginny runs it. There was a cover of Mum and Dad with Ben right after he was born, the photo hangs in the living room with the other one of the three of them with me when I was born. They're nice photos, very artsy, except I was sort of blotchy as a baby. Ben, of course, looked like the cover of Gorgeous Baby Monthly. Typical.
I know that as a young adult not yet past twenty I'm not supposed to be able to say this with a straight face, but my parents are the coolest people I know. They're spies. No one's supposed to know that, but everyone knows anyway. About Dad, at least, they've sort of figured it out over the years. Mum doesn't talk about it much and no one really knows about her, which is amazing to me since every time he vanquishes some Big Evil she's right there with him. It's not that huge of a deductive leap, but people don't always see what's right in front of them, just ask my parents who lived together as platonic best friends for like a million years. I used to lay awake nights and worry that they'd be killed. One night Ben must have heard me crying while they were away on a mission and Charlotte was staying with us, because he came into my room and sat on my bed and held my hands. He was only fourteen at the time but he knew just what to say. He said that they'd be fine, that no one could hurt *our* parents. He started listing all the bad guys they'd beaten, making me laugh as the list got longer and longer and he acted like he was tired from saying all those names of the villains that Mum and Dad had put away. I never worried about them again, even now when I know Ben was just being melodramatic and trying to make me feel better. He's my big brother, he's always right. Most of the time. Ben looks like Mum. He's got wavy brown hair and hazel eyes and a straight nose and high cheekbones that I'd kill for. Girls fall all over him, and not just because his last name is Potter. I look more like Dad. I've got the black hair, and I keep it really short which makes me look even *more* like him. I wish I had his green eyes, but mine are hazel too.
They worry about *us* a lot, though. The downside of Dad being He Who Saves The World is that he's got a lot of enemies. Since he was a baby some horrible person or another has been trying to kill him. He worries that someone will try to get him by hurting Mum or me or Ben. They don't realize I know all this. Parents never think their kids notice anything that's blatantly obvious. I wish I could tell him not to worry. Our house is more secure than the Tower of London with all the wards around it.
Ben's a grown man, he can take care of himself, and I've grown up learning defensive spells. They've never told me, but I think that before we were born they had some very bad scares. One night a few years ago I heard a noise and got out of bed to investigate. It was Dad having a nightmare.
He was in his study and he'd fallen asleep with his head on the desk. He was jerking and crying out, horrible noises and he kept saying Mum's name. I heard her coming down the hall and I hid in the shadows. He was saying something about swords and blood, it was pretty bad. She leaned over him and woke him up. When he saw her he just kind of collapsed against her and she held him, saying that Allegra couldn't hurt them anymore. I think Allegra was an old villain they beat a long time ago, but she still sort of haunts them. I asked Draco about her once and he got all quiet. He said that Allegra used to be the leader of the Circle, and that at one time she'd captured Dad, so Mum went in to rescue him...and this was even before Mum was a spy! Then Allegra made Dad think she'd killed her. She hadn't (of course), but it was pretty bad anyway. I watched them for a few minutes until Dad calmed down. Mum was just stroking his hair and shushing him, then she led him down the hall and back to bed. That's the way it is with them. He's got kind of a heavy load on his shoulders, and a lot of times it seems like he's taking care of the whole world...but then they take care of each other, so they don't burn out. Ginny says that Mum's a feminist role model. You know, an equal partner to the Great Harry Potter, thriving career, balanced personality, happy home life, blah blah blah. I don't know if she's a feminist role model or not, but she's certainly *my* role model.
I love my parents. I think I had a pretty good childhood despite all the danger and them being gone a fair amount. I never felt unloved. I always remember knowing that they had important work to fight against the dark forces, and they were always so happy to see us when they got home that I knew they missed us. And there were tons of people lining up to take care of us while they were gone. Grandma and Grandpa, of course, who loved to stay with us even though they're Muggles and we sort of scare them, I think. Laura, who's like another mother to us, and Charlotte and Ian, our honorary big brother and sister. All the Weasleys are family to us. We even refer to Arthur and Molly as our grandparents sometimes...as if they don't have enough grandchildren of their own. Sometimes I stay with Ginny in London for shopping trips and girlie stuff, she's the best...even if girlie stuff isn't really my forte. Sometimes people came here to watch us, sometimes we'd go off to Bailicroft and stay with Laura and George and Justin and everyone. I love going there. It's such a big cool old house. Laura always lets me sleep in the Cloister. That used to be Mum and Dad's room when they lived there. I try not to be offended that Justin turned my old bedroom when I was a little girl into a piano studio. And George makes the best breakfasts in the world. And lunches, and dinners...I always feel hugely fat when I leave. It's a full house these days, with everyone who lives there and their assorted kids and there are always visitors.
There have been sad things too. Mum and Dad have lost a lot of friends. Most of their Hogwarts teachers. Sirius died two years ago. He was in excellent health and he was only like 75 or something, but no amount of orange juice and exercise could make that bus driver see him any sooner. I cried and cried, because I loved Sirius too, and I felt so bad for Charlotte and Ian and their mother. That's the most upset I've ever seen Dad. I heard him yelling once when he thought we couldn't hear that it was so stupid, for a great wizard like Sirius to be hit by a fucking bus. Dad doesn't swear very often, so it really meant something. I think he was right, and I think Sirius' death hit him hard. He never knew his parents, and losing Sirius was like losing them all over again. After his huge state funeral Laura took me and Ben with her to the wake, and as we were leaving I looked back. Mum and Dad were still by the grave, with Cordelia and Charlotte and Ian. I think they stayed for awhile. Later that night at home I saw Dad crying in Mum's arms. Really sobbing, he was, like I'd never heard him do before. It made me want to sit right down on the floor and bawl. Mum was trying to comfort him, but she was crying too.
My parents really love each other. I mean like *wow* love, that which resides in sonnets and sappy ballads accompanied by guitars and flowing strings sections. Now that I'm grownup I can acknowledge this fact without becoming supremely disturbed by the idea. I always remember knowing this, even lording my superior understanding over my clueless brother, but then I started approaching the teen years and I began to find it really gross, how they were always kissing or touching. I never wanted them to even stand next to each other if we were out in public. Ben said I was being stupid, it never bothered *him,* but I'm afraid I was very vocal on the subject and I'm sure a huge pain in the arse to them. Finally, one day when I was old enough to understand it but still young enough to be embarrassed, Ginny took me aside when Mum and Dad were away and she told me their story. How they'd been best friends in school along with her brother Ron, inseparable and always having adventures while trying to prevent Dad from being killed by Voldemort or someone like that. Then Ron was killed, so they had to try to go on with their lives. They graduated and got a flat together while Mum went to school and Dad got recruited to be a spy. They were best friends still. They dated other people...Dad even dated Ginny...but those other people were always jealous of their friendship and how close they were and it never seemed to work out. Then, like eight years after they graduated, Mum found out that Dad was a spy, which he'd been keeping a secret from her. She got sort of drawn in, like she always used to, and in the middle of all that they realized they were in love, they'd always been in love. It's really romantic when you think about it. Dad asked her to marry him only a few months later. Then Ginny said, and I'll never forget this, she said "Helen, your parents have the kind of love that most people only hope for and never find. I'm telling you this because you need to know. It really hurts them when you're ashamed of something they have that's so special and precious." I just stared at her, because I'd only ever thought of my parents in regards to how they were connected to *me.*
Like any kid I was so self-centered. Ginny said more things but I'd gotten the point. When they came home I looked at them through new eyes and saw things I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed before. The way he looks at her when he thinks no one can see him, like he can't believe it. That tender kind of sappy look that comes over her face when he kisses her hello. The fact that when we're all just hanging out after dinner with books or whatever, they're usually sitting together on the couch and touching in some way. She'll be leaning up against his shoulder, or he'll be lying down with his head against her leg, or something. It seems so normal to me but when Ginny pointed it out I realized that I'd never really noticed other people's parents acting like that. And my parents have been married for 27 years. I can only imagine what they must have been like when they first got together.
Not that they don't fight. They fight, wow do they ever. Ben and I have learned to just move to another part of the house and wait it out. But it's not very often, and there's always a legitimate reason. A lot of the things people usually fight about they don't need to. Money? We're rich. Lack of communication? Not a problem. Child-rearing? Sometimes, but they're pretty much in agreement about most things. No, the things they argue about all boil down to two basic things: he's overprotective and insecure, and she's overly analytical and insecure. Notice they're both insecure? Hard to believe, isn't it? But it's true. His insecurity mostly involves her and some deep-seated belief he has that she's just tolerating him and will someday realize what a mistake she's made. You'd think he'd be over that, wouldn't you? Well, he had a really horrible childhood. Like abusive. Denied all forms of love and affection and told several hundred times a day that he was worthless and awful. Some part of him still thinks he doesn't deserve love and will never have it. The fact that my mother married him, is still married to him, declares her undying love almost on a daily basis and bore two children for him isn't quite enough to overcome years of programming. Naturally, this hacks her off at times. It would me, too. Thankfully he's never seemed unsure of *my* love or Ben's...but then we're his children, we're sort of obligated.
As for Mum, her insecurity is mostly about feeling inadequate in his world of spies and evil-fighting. She shouldn't feel inadequate, she's been helping him fight evil since they were eleven years old, but there it is. This manifests itself in her sometimes rushing in where angels fear to tread, so to speak. Naturally, this hacks him off because she could get herself killed. Hence, his overprotectiveness. It's a neverending cycle.
And so they fight. But it's okay, because they always make up. It bothered me as a child until I realized that. They always make up. And they don't fight because they're antagonistic people, or they don't likeeach other, or they're fundamentally different. They fight because they're both strong-willed and they're only human and because it's possible to love someone else enough that it makes you do, think and say crazy things that make no sense. I'm still just a kid (no matter how I might protest otherwise) and I don't really understand that yet. I've never been in love (though I might have thought I was), but if I could have one wish it would be that I could someday have what they have.
I remember one time when Ben was really in trouble. It was summer holiday for him but before I went to Hogwarts, so he must have been twelve. I forget what he'd done, but boy were Mum and Dad mad at him. They sat him down and were reading him the riot act. I sort of lurked in the corner taking notes for when it'd be *my* turn in the hot seat which it would inevitably be. Mum had kept her cool pretty well and talked to him very sternly while Dad paced behind her with his ears turning red and his scar sort of throbbing the way it does when he's really angry. Finally it was his turn and he tried to keep calm, he really did, but Ben had to go and talk back to him in that smartass way that he just can't control. Finally the whole thing culminated in Dad standing over him with his hands on his hips and thundering "Because I'm your father, THAT'S why!"
And Mum busted out laughing. She'd been just watching, sort of tense, but when he said that she lost it completely. Ben and Dad just stared at her like she's a complete nutter as she's sitting there holding her stomach with tears streaming down her face laughing and laughing. Dad said "What's so funny?"
"You are!" she sort of spluttered, pointing at him. "Harry, you sound like...like...you sound like Snape!" I should mention that Snape was their Potions master at Hogwarts and he made their lives a living hell. I think he was some sort of fascist monster or something, though he wasn't evil in the traditional behold-my-plan-for-world-domination way.
Anyway, Dad got this really horrified look on his face for a second. Mum was still laughing. His face sort of twitched for a minute, then he started laughing too. In a moment they were both hysterical. Mum puffed herself up and said "Because I'm your father, that's why," in a phony deep voice and that only made him laugh harder. Ben and I made our escape and stood there in the hallway watching them for a minute.
"Helen, our parents are insane," he said real solemn. But I thought they were cute. Later I realized that at that moment I'd seen a little glimpse of what they must have been like when they were younger and before they had kids and big responsibilities. Still in school, having dinner in the Great Hall and laughing with their friends, or going out on the town together and dancing and holding hands while they walked down the street.
"What're you up to?"
Helen looked up to see her father standing in the open doorway. "Well, Dad, here's the thing. I'm up to no good."
"Can I come in?" That was one thing Helen really appreciated about both her parents. They asked her permission before coming in to her room...at least, they did it when she was around.
"Sure." She sat up and gathered her parchments into a sheaf. Harry came in and sat down in her overstuffed chair. "What's on your mind, Pops?"
"I know, you hate being called 'Pops.' Why do you think I do it?"
"Are those for that ridiculous book?" he said, nodding towards her parchments.
"It's not so ridiculous. You're big bunches of hero, people want to read about your laundry habits and your wine preferences and your favorite shoe polish and your..."
He rolled his eyes. "It's ridiculous."
"If you say so." She smiled. "Besides, it's my chance for revenge."
He looked concerned. "Revenge? For what?"
"You know, being known only as Harry Potter's Daughter for my entire life..." She couldn't keep it up, he looked so crestfallen. "Dad, I'm having you on. No revenge here."
He sighed. "I never wanted you and Ben to be in my shadow," he said. "We're not," she said. "Well...maybe just enough to avoid sunburn."
He smiled. "Hey, can I ask you stuff?"
"What kind of stuff?"
"You know...stories about the past. About me, and Ben, and you and Mum. Things I don't remember or never knew."
Harry shrugged, looking a little intrigued. "Sure, go ahead."
Helen grinned, then scrambled up to a sitting position, ruffling through her parchments where she had written down a few things she'd wanted to ask him. "Okay, here's one. How did you propose to Mum?"
He frowned. "Well, you'd be better off asking her that. I was so nervous I can barely remember what I said. I think there was something in there about love..." He trailed off, smiling impishly. Helen rolled her eyes.
"You must at least remember where you were."
"Oh, sure. We were at the Friends and Former Pupils Gala. We'd gone off on a walk around the grounds. I'd had the ring for a few weeks and had been carrying it around waiting for the right moment. It just suddenly...seemed like the right moment."
"So...what time of day was I born? How long was Mum in labor? And what about Ben?"
He grinned again and tucked his legs up underneath him. "Surely you've heard those stories."
"No, I don't think so. Or if I have I've forgotten."
"All right. Well...I wasn't actually there when Ben was born, and that tops my list of Major Life Regrets. He was three weeks early and I was in Bangladesh."
"Oh, yeah. The Circle had been trying to set up some sort of backwoods retreat to cook up more half-baked evil plots, so we were out there deciding the best way to pound them into dust. I was nervous being gone because I knew that the baby could come at any time, but I couldn't get out of it. It was too far for Bubbles or owls, so I got a pager and told Hermione to page me if she went into labor." That was another thing Helen liked about her parents. They called each other by their names and didn't usually refer to each other as "Mum" and "Dad." She'd heard the parents of her friends doing so and thought it was silly. Kids knew that their parents had names, for crying out loud. She's not *his* Mum, why should he call her that? Only *I* get to call her that. She remembered one instance when, as all kids did, she experimented with her parents' nominatives...but the first time she'd tried calling her father "Harry" she'd gotten such a death look in return that she hadn't attempted it again.
"She was visiting her mother when it happened. She tried to page me, and of course couldn't get through to Bangladesh. I should have known the cellular service wasn't so good in Southeast Asia. So she sent me an owl, a fast express owl. Grandma took her to the Muggle hospital because she didn't know how to get to the wizard hospital and Hermione was panicking because she couldn't find me."
"So what did she do?"
"They went to the hospital and Grandma finally got ahold of Laura and she got there as fast as she could. Hermione doesn't remember much of it, but Laura says that she had bruises for days where she grabbed her arm during contractions and that she called me every horrible name in the book and cursed me into infinity because I wasn't there. It's just lucky she didn't have her wand or I might have green skin or festering boils to this day." Helen laughed. "By the time the owl reached me it was all over. I Apparated back to her parents' house and of course they weren't there, and I had to take a cab to the Muggle hospital because I didn't know where it was. By the time I arrived there were at least a dozen people there. I remember sprinting down the hall...those nurses must have thought I was a bit off because I hadn't taken the time to remove my cloak...and seeing a big group of people outside one room. Laura, and Ginny, and Molly and Arthur, and Grandma and Grandpa and I don't even remember who else. No one tried to talk to me or stop me, which was very smart of them, they just sort of parted like the Red Sea and let me through. I came into the room and it was like walking into a picture postcard. It was dark out and the only light in the room was from a bedside lamp. It had taken me just long enough to get there that they had time to clean Ben up and for Hermione to get cleaned up and rest a little, so when I walked in she was sitting up in bed holding him and it was perfect. She looked up when I came in and smiled at me, and I don't think I've ever seen anything so beautiful in my life." Helen swallowed over the lump in her throat. Her father seemed to have forgotten she was there as he spoke, as if he were remembering this event to himself. "I somehow made it to the side of the bed and sat down...I think I must have been sitting on her legs but she didn't say a word, bless her...and she looked up at me and said 'Harry...this is our son.' And she handed him to me. I had never experienced love at first sight until that moment." He paused a moment and looked away. Helen waited, puzzled...then he reached up and swiped his fingers under his glasses. "Sorry. It still gets me kind of choked up."
"That's okay. I'm getting choked up, too."
"Turns out everyone had been waiting outside the room because she wouldn't let anyone see him until I had. So she scooted over and I sat next to her holding him, and told the nurse that they could come in. They practically broke down the door. We just asked them to say hello to Benjamin Janus Potter. Your grandmother started sobbing and could barely hold him. George held him like he was made of spun sugar and might shatter. And of course the arguments over who he looked like most began immediately."
"He looks like Mum."
"I look like you."
"Poor thing." She threw a pillow at him and he ducked, grinning.
"So it was all wonderful, huh?"
"More or less. By the time everyone left we were really anxious for some time alone, so I got in this big overstuffed rocking chair in the room and she sat on my lap with Ben. It hit me all at once that I was a father, and I told her so. She told me she loved me, and then said in the exact same tone of voice 'I'm going to kill you.'" Helen laughed. "She didn't, of course. Even so it was a perfect moment. Then we got Ben home and he began crying and didn't stop for a month and we wondered if we'd ever be able to do ordinary things again. We didn't ask for much, just the ability to leave the house, take showers, eat food, that sort of thing. Luckily after a few months he calmed way down and life took on some resemblance to normality."
"So what about me?"
"You were an entirely different story. First of all, your mother had a very easy pregnancy with Ben. She felt mostly great, had the whole glowing thing happening, looked radiant, et cetera. But when she was pregnant with you it was horrible. She was sick every day and couldn't hold anything down. The midwitch tried every charm she had and nothing helped. She couldn't sleep, she had bad cramps all the time that always had her, and consequently me, terrified that she might miscarry. And don't forget we had a young son who was just over a year old when she became pregnant again. Thank God we lived at Bailicroft with lots of available help. I'm afraid Ben might have gotten the idea that George and Laura and Justin were really his parents because Hermione could barely walk and when I was home I spent most of my time taking care of her. It made us both unpleasant people to be around, I'm afraid."
"I can imagine."
"But very early on, when it was clear this was going to be a bumpy ride, we swore not to take it out on each other. Thankfully we were able to stick to it. Mostly because we took it out on Justin instead."
Helen laughed. "Did he agree to that?"
"Actually, it was his idea. He had this knack for knowing when one of us was losing it, so he designated himself Head Whipping Boy...uh, that's his term, not mine. He'd take me aside and say, 'Harry, scream at me.' And I would. Then he'd find Hermione, hand her a pillow and tell her to beat him with it, and she would. I can't tell you how much it helped. When one of us would feel like really unloading on the other, we'd find Justin and tell him the things that we knew we'd regret saying to each other. We almost named you Justine because he may have saved our marriage. Anyway, it didn't get any better. It's supposed to get better after the first trimester but it didn't. She had constant nausea, back pain, hot flashes, violent mood swings, nightmares...after awhile it just became a non-issue, she acclimated herself. I remember once being in the study and looking up to where she was reading on the sofa...she must have been six months by then...and saw that there were tears running down her cheeks, from the pain. She didn't even notice. It broke my heart. You hear about men saying they wish they could go through it for their wives? Well, most of them don't mean it, but I really did. I even looked into some spells that would transfer her discomfort onto me."
"You did not!"
"Yes, I did. I found some, too."
"Why didn't you use them?"
"She wouldn't let me. I couldn't believe it. She said it was her job to go through this. I told her that was nonsense, but she insisted. She said it didn't make sense for both of us to be incapacitated. It was hard for her to be away from work, but of course if you're pregnant they chain you to a desk anyway, and she was in no condition to sit in a hard chair and write up paperwork. I almost did the spell anyway, while she was sleeping or something, but she was so adamant, she'd have been furious with me. It was awful at the time, but in retrospect...well, I think in a strange way we're both glad. Even before we got married we were so close it was hard to separate us, but those nine months drew us so much closer together that we were hardly two individuals anymore. It was like being in the trenches during a nonstop battle. We developed this kind of telepathy. I didn't think it was possible for me to feel any closer to her, but by the time you were born we'd achieved the kind of mental synchronicity that usually take fifty years of marriage. Anyway, I was definitely there when you were born. Herds of dragons could not have dragged me away from home for that last month, and Hermione would have had my head on a platter if I'd so much as tried to go out for groceries after what happened with Ben. Of course you were a week late."
"Oh, think nothing of it. But it was odd...we were so used to thinking of that due date and planning everything around it that after it had come and gone we just sort of drifted, like people with no purpose or direction. We didn't know what to do. It was a huge relief when she woke me up and told me her water had just broken. Ironically, after the horrendous pregnancy the labor was a breeze. We got to the midwitch's birth center in plenty of time and got her settled. It was a relief to have a nice, calm wizard birth this time instead of the frenzy of Ben's first day and the sterile non-atmosphere of Muggle hospitals. She was able to have all the pain charms she needed and have me there to help her breathe and friends and family in to see her. Just like Ben, we didn't know if it was a boy or a girl. We didn't want to know. I was hoping for a girl, so we'd have one of each."
"There you go. Of course I would have been happy with anything, but still. I think every father hopes for a little girl to spoil."
"You never spoiled me."
"Ah, but I wanted to."
"So you were at the birth center..."
"Right. It was a nice normal labor, about eight hours, not too uncomfortable. Then, well, there you were. All red and blotchy. I'll never forget it. She was having some back strain during labor so when she started pushing I got on the bed and sat behind her so she could lean against my chest, so I had the same view she had. Then...well, you were born. It was pretty gross."
"Oh, that's very sentimental!"
"Birth isn't sentimental, it's rather brutal, in fact. But as soon as we saw you it didn't matter how gross it was. You were beautiful anyway."
"We still weren't sure what to name you. Hermione suggested Helen, because carrying you was hell."
He laughed. "It's a nice name anyway. Everyone loved it. We went back and forth on a middle name forever before we settled on Granger, after Hermione. Naming you Helen did make us feel bad about not having given Ben an 'H' name."
"Did you know that in the classical legend, Helen of Troy had a daughter named Hermione?"
"Yes. Interesting, isn't it? We didn't even think of that when we named you, until Grandpa pointed it out." He sighed. "Heard enough birth horror stories for one day? If you want more, I'm sure Laura and Ginny will be happy to oblige you."
"No, that'll do, thanks."
"Do you have more questions? This is fun. A little stroll down Memory Lane."
"Sure. Um...so you don't have *any* family, is that right?" He sobered.
"Oh, I'm sorry, that was insensitive."
"No, it's okay. But you're right. You and Ben are my only blood relatives that I'd care to acknowledge...at least, as far as I know. But I haven't lacked for family. Sirius, of course, was the closest thing I had to a father." He paused for a second, probably at Sirius' memory. "And I've been a honorary Weasley since I was twelve. Hermione was like family to me long before she was my wife. And our extended family of friends has kept me from feeling lonely." He shook his head. "But that doesn't mean I don't wish I had my parents with me now. I can just imagine how they'd dote on you and Ben. Especially my father. I've come to know him a little through Sirius and Remus, and you'd just be the apple of his eye."
"Why did you have us so close together?"
"Well, we had our children relatively late. We were married seven years before we felt ready, and once we were we didn't want to wait a long time in between."
"You knew you wanted two?"
"Yes. No more, no less."
"When you first met Mum did you have any idea?"
"What, that I'd end up married to her? None. Of course I was eleven when I met her, you don't think much about who you're going to marry at that point in your life. Actually, both Ron and I disliked her intensely when we first met her, but fortunately for our marks she grew on us. You know that she dated Ron while we were at Hogwarts, right?" Helen nodded. "When he died, it left us alone together, two-thirds of a whole. But it still took ten more years before...well, before we saw the obvious."
"Here's a stumper. Why does Mum sometimes laugh at you for no reason?"
He smiled. "Ah. Well, for reasons that escape me, your mother finds it extremely funny when I do or say something that's sort of a Dad cliche."
"Yes, like 'not while I'm alive' or 'you're not going out looking like that, are you?' Now, I never know when I'm doing or saying something that could be considered a Dad cliche, because I never had a Dad." He chuckled.
"I remember one time...you were about five, I think...we were going somewhere in our old BMW and I was driving. You and Ben were just torturing each other, and us in the process. You know, 'he's touching me' and 'she's in my space' and the whole works. Your mother was trying to be very modern-parent about the whole thing, but finally I'd had enough. I just looked around and yelled 'Don't make me turn this car around!' Well, you kids had so rarely heard me yell that it had an impact and it worked, you quieted right down. I turned around and here she's just laughing silently, one hand over her mouth and her eyes squinched shut so you guys wouldn't see."
Helen was grinning and shuffling through her parchments. "I wrote here about one time when Ben was in trouble and Mum laughed at you when you said..."
"Because I'm your father, that's why," Harry said with her. "Yes, I remember it well."
"I couldn't remember what it was that Ben did to get in trouble."
"Ah. Well, your brother has been in enough trouble in his young life that I can understand how you'd have a problem remembering, but in that particular instance, he'd snuck into the garage, taken my new Jet Stream
and gone streaking through the neighborhood with it. He lost control and fell off the broom which then proceeded to crash through the plate-glass window of one of our less forgiving neighbors. I had to pay for it, but it came out of his allowance a bit each week."
Helen was laughing uproariously at this. "Oh, Ben. What was he thinking?
Then again, that could be Ben's personal life motto: What was I thinking?"
"I've often wondered if he suffered some George Weasley imprinting during his toddler years."
"Laura told me Draco was once evil."
"Well...'evil' is a strong word for what he was. But when we were in school we hated each other with a passion. He said and did a lot of really awful things back then. Ron and I used to get into scrapes with him all the time, often over him calling your mother a Mudblood." Helen gasped.
"Yes, he used to do that frequently. Traditionally, the Malfoy family was very into wizard purity. I wasn't quite wizard enough for them either."
"You're not Muggle-born."
"No, but my mother was. That means I've got Muggle blood in me, though there's really no difference. It was just an excuse, really, not that he needed one. He hated Ron, too, and the Weasleys are about as pureblood a wizard family as there exists."
"So what turned him good?"
Harry stood up. "That, young lady, is a story for another night. It's past your bedtime."
"Dad, I'm eighteen years old. I don't need a bedtime."
"You do when you've got an early morning robe fitting."
"Oh. I forgot." She gathered her papers together. Harry leaned over and kissed her forehead. "G'night, Dad."
"Goodnight, sweetheart. Pleasant dreams."
Harry hesitated in the doorway, looking back into the room as Helen got up to put her parchments away, a fond look on his face. Every time he looked at his daughter he saw the ghost of his wife on her face and form. She was built just like Hermione, but with her pixie-cut black hair and her half-moon glasses she really did bear more than a passing resemblance to her famous father. Poor kid, he thought. At least her hair stays where she puts it.
He picked up his cloak from where he'd left it on the banister and trotted down the stairs just as the front door opened. "You're home late," he said. Hermione dropped her satchel in the foyer with a sigh.
"Blimey, what a nightmare," she said. "One of the new agents lost an entire box of surveillance reports. We spent the whole night searching for back notes to re-transcribe." She gave him a tired smile as she came into his arms with a grateful sigh. "Hello, handsome," she said.
He kissed her. "I missed you."
"Harry, you saw me at breakfast this morning."
"I know, but I didn't see you at lunch or at dinner. That's like twelve hours. Way too long for my personal taste."
She chuckled and kissed that secret spot on the side of his neck that only she knew about. "Well, I'm here now, so what *are* you going to do with me?"
"Throw you over my shoulder, lock the bedroom door and have my way with you." This had become something of a private joke over the years.
"You're not twenty-five anymore, honey. You think you can still throw me over your shoulder?"
"Finally, a situation where the Mage thing will pay off." This was of course facetious, as there had been situations without number in which the Mage thing had paid off. Harry didn't like to think of how many times over Hermione or he himself would have been dead without it.
"She's in her room, supposedly going to bed." He linked his arms around his wife's waist. "We had a long talk tonight."
"Really? About what?"
"She's writing stuff down for that ridiculous biography and wanted to ask me questions. She wanted to hear about the days she and Ben were born."
"Oh my. Did you tell her that you weren't *there* for your own son's first breath?" She was kidding. He'd always felt far too guilty about missing it for her to get any satisfaction from rubbing it in.
"I told her everything. She wants to know how I proposed, though. I referred her to you for that story."
"Couldn't you remember?"
"With the amount of adrenaline that was running through me that night I'm amazed I can remember that you were even *there.*"
"I'll tell her, word for word. I remember like it was yesterday. You said that every day you loved me more, and that you thought you always would."
"And I was right." He kissed her again. "Go up and see her, I'll make you some tea."
"Oh, bless you." She pulled away and started up the stairs. Harry watched her go and then headed to the kitchen. He whistled as he got out the teakettle, contentment flowing through his veins. They say the world's going to pot, he thought, and every day I see evil...but hey, it's not all bad.
Hermione knocked on Helen's door. "Who's that?" came Helen's voice.
"It's just Mum."
Hermione opened the door into her daughter's room. Helen was sitting up in bed with a book open on her lap, smiling at her. Hermione sat on the edge of the bed and kissed Helen's forehead. "Hi, honey."
"Hi Mum. Did you just get home?"
"Yes. Long day." Hermione flopped on her back on the wide bed; Helen pulled up her legs to avoid having them squashed.
"Mum? Can I ask you...well, some girlie stuff?" Helen had never felt too comfortable about "girlie stuff," as she always called it.
Hermione propped up her head on one hand. "Ooh, this sounds intriguing."
"Okay. Well...how do you know if you're in love?"
"Hmm. That's a loaded question if ever I heard one."
"One of my school friends is engaged."
"Nope. Lizzie Hazelman."
"Isn't she a bit young?"
"She's my age. This is why I'm asking. I asked her once how she knew...you know, that he was The One...and she said that Alan...that's her fiancee...makes her all fluttery. He brings her roses and they have candlelight dinners and blah blah blah."
Hermione sat up, chuckling. "I think Lizzie is in for a rude awakening."
"All that stuff you mention? The romantic fairy-tale stuff? It's not real."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean it's not real. It's an illusion. It doesn't last. That's not real love, it's play-acting and make-believe."
"But isn't love supposed to be romantic?"
"Of course. And it can be. I still take moonlit walks with your father, but that's just such a small part of it. That glow of romance fades, luv. There has to be something more to replace it. Love is a sharing of souls, a connection that runs deeper than blood and stronger than time."
"Wow. That's poetic."
"Well, I can't take credit for it. My husband wrote that to me in a letter once."
"Awww. He really is just a big old pile of mush, isn't he?"
Hermione grinned. "He can be. When we were first together and he'd bring me roses, I'd sigh and go fluttery and feel cherished. Now when he brings me flowers, I wonder what he's done. But I still feel cherished. See? You don't love someone because there's romance. There can be real romance
because you love someone."
Helen laughed. "I guess you're right. I don't think I've ever been in love."
"Sometimes it's hard to tell. I thought I was in love several times in my youth. Most strongly with a man named Abel Kilroy. He was my whole world."
"Was that when you and Dad were roommates?"
"Yes. Harry hated Abel. He didn't let me see how much, but he did. He could see how unhealthy the relationship was when I couldn't because I was too close to it. He could see how much Abel could, and did, sometimes hurt me for no good reason, just thoughtlessness or arrogance...and that upset him a lot. Abel was self-centered and pretentious. He appealed to my ego with phony compliments and fed my need for him with carefully planned strategies that he'd honed with a dozen women over his life. He could wither people with a well-chosen word or cutting turn of phrase and didn't tolerate anything other than the utmost respect and deferment...except from Harry. Harry often spoke harshly to him, which always used to make me mad, but Abel never said boo to him. I think he was scared of him."
"Well, Abel may have been a jackass but he was still a wizard who'd heard Harry's name since he was a teenager."
"That's not all, though," Helen said. "Dad has a way about him that makes people...well, a little scared of him."
Hermione frowned. "Really?"
"Sure. He's not intimidating or mean or anything, it's just that he gives off a vibe of power. Not on purpose. It's just a vibe, and people pick up on it. I've even seen Muggles pick up on it. People treat him respectfully everywhere. I think that their brains know subconsciously that he could fry them with a lightning bolt if they try anything."
"Interesting theory. Except I've never felt that."
"Of course not. You give off the same vibe."
Harry dunked the teabags in the hot water and weighed them down with a spoon to steep. He turned to get the honey and jumped back a step, sucking in a sharp, startled breath.
Standing directly behind him and grinning ear to ear was a young man, just his height, with wavy brown hair curling softly to brush his collar and warm hazel eyes. "Ben! Great ghost, are you trying to send me into an early grave?" Harry exclaimed, fixing his son with a stern glare...though he was unable to keep the twinkle from his eyes.
"It'd speed up my inheritance, wouldn't it?"
"It would not, you ungrateful sot."
Ben stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Harry's chest, pinning his arms to his sides, and hugged him enthusiastically in typical Ben fashion. Since his early childhood, Ben did nothing halfway. Everything was larger for him. He spoke loud, he walked fast, he smiled big and he held nothing back. Harry had often wondered where this gene for exuberance had come from, as both he and Hermione were a lot more reserved, and Helen was quieter and more bookish than her boisterous older brother. "Hi Dad!" Ben said as be bestowed this traditional bear hug.
"What are you doing here? Not that I'm complaining. We miss you dreadfully."
Ben stepped back and shrugged out of his cloak. "They gave us the weekend off. Figured I'd pay a call to the family."
"Excellent timing, Helen's home from school for the weekend too."
"Is she stressed about her NEWTs?"
"Yes, but she needn't be. I'm sure she'll make top marks just like her mother." Ben sat down at the kitchen table. "You hungry?"
"Famished. Where's Mum?"
"Upstairs talking to Helen. I was just making her some tea."
"You're such a good husband," Ben joked.
Harry laughed, opening the icebox and peering inside for anything quick to give Ben. He pulled out a tin of leftover stew and set it on the table.
"Well, I try. How's the training?" He floated the stew over to the table, heating it in midair, along with a bowl and a spoon from the cupboard.
Ignoring the bowl, Ben pulled the top off the stew and dug in. Harry sat down across from him with his tea.
"It's bloody fantastic. I'm learning so much." He sighed. "But I miss Adia." That was Adia Shaffer, Ben's girlfriend of two years. After spending most of Ben's life worrying about their son hooking up with the wrong sort of woman, Harry and Hermione had breathed sighs of relief when Ben had started dating Adia, a longtime classmate and close friend from Hogwarts who'd often visited their home while she and Ben were in school.
It had been clear to both of them (and to Helen, who missed very little) that Adia had been in love with their oblivious son for ages, and they'd finally hooked up just after graduation. Adia was a lovely, intelligent former Ravenclaw prefect with a dry sense of humor. They both liked her a great deal, and they weren't insensible to the fact that they saw a little of their own relationship in Ben and Adia's. She had just recently moved to St. Petersburg to pursue a career in charm-writing. Ben had been supportive of her move but devastated by her absence.
"I know. It's not easy trying to conduct a long-distance relationship."
"Did you ever have to?"
Harry thought a moment. "Not really. Once when I was dating Ginny she moved to New York for a month to make some deals with a few stateside advertisers, but it was near the end and we were both needing some space."
"I can't believe you dated her."
"Why? Ginny's terrific. Smart, pretty, funny..."
"Yeah, I know. What I meant was, how could you have dated *her* while Mum was right there under your nose living in the same apartment? Didn't you see it?"
"I've often asked myself the same question, Ben. Hey, if I'd seen it you'd probably be a lot older."
"Well...didn't you think she was attractive?"
"And didn't you, well, like her?"
"She was my best friend, I liked her very much."
Ben thought for a moment, then shook his head. "I guess I just don't get it."
Harry laughed. "It's not always that simple. We had a lot of baggage and history. I suppose we had inertia."
"Uh-oh. Physics terms."
"I only mean that we'd been best friends for a long time and that was all we knew how to be. It was just easier to go on being best friends and ignore the occasional awkward feeling that popped up."
"Awkward feelings popped up?"
He nodded. "Not that we would have acknowledged it at the time, of course."
Harry flushed a little. "All right, I suppose I can tell you this, man to man." Ben grinned and pushed aside the stew. "Once...this was just before she graduated from Stonehenge...she was cutting my hair. This wasn't unusual and a lot cheaper than having someone else do it. I'd sat there in the kitchen chair while she snipped away dozens of times without incident. This time, however, well...let's just say I had a reaction."
"What kind of..." His eyes widened as he realized what Harry meant. "No way!" Harry wasn't surprised at Ben's empathy...one of the things he'd learned over the years was that enemy or friend, stranger or family, any man you met would be instantly sympathetic to your instances of boner shame.
"Yes, unfortunately, way. I don't know why, it was just something about her touching my head...okay, that came out wrong," he said over Ben's laughter. "I was holding a towel and managed to cover it but I'm convinced she saw it, though she never said anything."
"You've never asked her?"
"Nope. Some mysteries are not meant to be solved. I shall go to my grave with this question unanswered."
"Oh, man, I'm dying of curiosity."
"Benjamin, if you've got the stones to ask your mother if she was looking at my crotch while she cut my hair, you're more of a man than I am."
As he crossed into the living room, Harry heard Ben's pounding footsteps as he ran up the stairs over Harry's head, then an exclamation as he encountered Hermione in the upstairs hallway. He heard Ben knocking on Helen's door as Hermione's light footsteps came down the stairs. "I thought you were going to make me tea," she said, walking in and kicking off her shoes.
"It's right here, I just got distracted."
She sat down next to him on the divan, picking up her tea and leaning her head against his shoulder. They sat in silence for a moment, smiling as they listened to the mingled laughter and voices of their children. "How long since we had them both home?" she whispered, lacing her fingers through his.
He thought a moment. "Christmas, I think."
"It's nice," she said, her voice sounding sleepy.
"And soon they'll both be gone. We'll be empty nesters."
She hesitated. "Don't say that, I'll start crying again." She looked up at him, tracing the smile lines at the corners of his eyes with one fingernail. The signs of age showed on her face too, but not very deeply. Her gleaming chestnut hair was streaked with distinguished swatches of silver, which she had never bothered to disguise...she was fortunate in that they actually suited her. Harry's own hair had gone salt-and-pepper by the time he was fifty, and had been that way ever since. As wizards their aging was slower, so their faces showed only mild wrinkles, but the gray in their hair betrayed their true years.
"It won't be that different," he said. "We already have the house to ourselves most of the time while Helen is at school."
"It'll be different," she said. "While she's at school, even if she's not here it's still like she's ours. Once she graduates...she won't be anymore." She hesitated. "Did she tell you she wants to go to Stonehenge?"
"She can go anywhere she likes, every advanced school in the world is practically begging her. But that would be nice...she'd still be close by."
"I'm just glad she didn't want to go into the I.D. It's bad enough Ben is going to be an Auror."
He frowned down at the top of her head. "I didn't know you felt that way."
She sighed. "I just...worry about him. I didn't want our kids to get into the evil-fighting business like us. It's bad enough I have you to worry about without them, too."
"You'd worry even if he'd taken a job serving drinks at the Leaky Cauldron."
She laughed. "Probably. Still...I'd prefer it if they stayed out of the line of fire."
"We didn't have a choice."
"You had a choice," he said, shifting on the divan so he could face her. "I feel like I've been doing this job since I was eleven so I might have been destined to be on the front lines, but you...you didn't have to."
She smiled and laid a hand on his face. "Yes, I did. You were there. There was no place else I more wanted to be but with you."
He turned his head and kissed her palm. "Thanks." They settled back into the divan's plushy pillows. Hermione tucked her legs underneath her and leaned against his chest. "Do you think Ben was upset the Deck didn't pick him?" he asked quietly.
"Yes," she answered at once. "He didn't want you to know. He's over it, though." She looked up at him. "Do you know why I didn't want them at the I.D.? The real reason?" He shook his head. "Because I didn't want it to change them."
"Did it change us?"
"Not you. It changed me." She stared intently down at her hands.
"Sometimes I think it changed me for the worse."
"I don't know," he said after a pause. "We walk a fine line, don't we? It's hard to do what we do and not have it change you at least a little. But I think that if changed you, it only made you stronger, more confident."
She looked up at him. "You don't think it made me...harder?"
He smiled. "No. You're the kindest, gentlest person I know." She turned and slipped her arms around him, snuggling into his embrace. "And I love you, by the way," he said, quietly. He wondered idly how many thousands of times he'd said that to her. However many, it would never be enough. She lifted her chin up and kissed him. He kissed back, tightening his arms around her. He felt her hand slide up his chest to cup the back of his neck and pull him closer. He drew her across his lap, the feeling of her lips on his so familiar and yet always exciting.
A slight 'pop' noise interrupted them. Harry looked up without stopping and saw Hermione's Bubble floating before them. "Dammit," he said against her mouth, and released her. She saw the Bubble and sat up straighter.
A voice came from the Bubble. "Chief?" It was Cormac Jorgenson,
"What is it?" she said, annoyance creeping into her voice.
"We've got a Code 14 in sector 231." The sector system was new, it took Harry a second to pull up the corresponding location in his head...that was western Canada near Vancouver.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Cormac, can't I even make out with my wife without you butting in?"
"Sorry, Colonel, the code's marked urgent. I'm supposed to call you in, too."
Harry and Hermione looked at each other and shrugged. "Five minutes," she said to the Bubble. They got up, all amorous feelings set aside, and hurried to the front closet for their cloaks.
"Ben?" Harry called up the stairs. After a moment he appeared on the landing.
"Hermione and I are going to work. Shouldn't take too long. Look after Helen?"
"Sure. Be careful," Ben said, waggling a finger at them.
Hermione laughed. "Ha! Look who thinks six months of Auror training makes him an expert on danger!"
Ben wasn't finished. "Be sure to wear your seatbelts...and be home by midnight..."
They shut the front door behind them, cutting off Ben's continued admonishments. They hurried around to the carport, chuckling to themselves. "That kid," Harry said, shaking his head. "Where does he get that smartass streak?"
"I think he gets it from your side. James must have been insufferable at times." They got in Harry's car.
"Damn, I forgot the keys. Accio!" The keys sailed into his hand from the open window over the kitchen sink.
"Well, Harry, this is the story of our lives," Hermione said as he pulled out into the street. "Five minutes of peace, chat with the kids, a few very short moments of necking and then it's back to the salt mines. No
rest for us."
He shrugged. "Still, not a bad life...all things considered."
She smiled at him and reached over to stroke his hair as he drove away from their home. "No. No, it isn't."