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And Then There Were Three by CambAngst
Chapter 1: A New Beginning and a Promise
This story was written for Toujours Padfoot's Gift-It Challenge. It's dedicated to my amazing beta reader sophie_hatter, to whom I owe so much.
As always, that which you recognize belongs to the inimitable JK Rowling.
The minutes passed slowly in the comfortably appointed waiting room at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, marked by the persistent ticking of the clock on the wall. The room’s four inhabitants had long since fallen silent. Every topic of polite conversation was exhausted. From time to time, one of the nurses would poke their head in to offer a bit of reassurance. It should be any time now, they’d say. As soon as we know something, we’ll pass it along. Won’t be as long as it was.
“What the hell does that even mean?” Ron Weasley grumbled as the door closed behind the kindly-faced witch in white nurse’s robes. “‘Won’t be as long as it was.’ The end of the bloody world is coming sooner than it was the last time she stopped by.”
“Language, please, Ronald,” his mother tutted from a large rocking chair in the corner of the room. It was one of those chairs designed for mothers feeding their infant children, and Molly Weasley looked so natural sitting in it that it could have been made just for her. The only thing missing from the scene was a baby.
“It’s just one of those things people say if they really have no idea when something is going to happen,” Hermione answered. Answering questions was cathartic to her, even the rhetorical ones. But the corners of her mouth twisted ever so slightly, betraying her distaste in spite of the even tone of her voice. The idea of something so important happening without any ability to schedule and plan... it offended her sensibilities at a level so deep that her perfectly rational understanding of human biology couldn’t quite overcome it.
Arthur Weasley continued to calmly read a tatty, old magazine. Sitting in a well-worn leather chair with his feet stretched out across the floor, nobody would have guessed that he was paying any attention until he spoke.
“Why are you two in such a hurry?” he asked without looking up. “Everything is about to change, you know?”
Molly nodded knowingly while Ron and Hermione looked slightly confused. “How do you figure?” Ron asked skeptically. “They’re still just Harry and Ginny. Sure, they’re not going to have as much free time and they’ll probably need us to watch the little bugger sometimes, but we don’t mind.”
“Of course we don’t,” Hermione chimed in. “We watched Teddy for an entire afternoon once. I read him a story about house elves and Ron even taught him a little chess before Andromeda came to pick him up.”
Arthur chuckled softly to himself while Molly rolled her eyes. “Do you want to tell them, Mollywobbles, or shall I?”
“Go ahead, dear. I’ll jump in if you need me.”
Arthur slowly lowered his magazine and found his son and daughter-in-law staring suspiciously at him. Ron was bracing himself for another one of those “big” life discussions while the hard look in Hermione’s eyes made it plain that she was ready to argue her point regardless of what he had to say. Arthur waited an extra moment, then spoke slowly and carefully. “You’re absolutely correct; Ginny and Harry will change. But that’s not the change we’re talking about. The two of you are going to change, as well.”
“But why should we change?” Hermione demanded, crossing her arms over her chest. “We’re not the ones having a baby?”
“Because life is changing around you, my dears.” Molly was staring at both of them, but the excited, dreamy look on her face made Ron feel like she was looking through them at something far away. “Victoire and Dominique didn’t really affect you because Bill’s always been so much older and Charlie... well, Charlie’s a lost cause. But now it’s happening to people your own age. Angelina is due in a few more weeks. I keep expecting to find out that Percy and Audrey are expecting. Your friends Neville and Hannah have that look about them, if you ask me.”
“Just because everyone else is having kids doesn’t mean that we have to,” Ron shot back defiantly. He immediately turned and looked at Hermione to make sure that he hadn’t said the wrong thing and a feeling of relief washed over him when she nodded in agreement.
“Of course not, son,” Arthur replied calmly. “There’s no law that requires anyone to have children. But any minute now, you’re going to see Harry and Ginny cradling a brand new human life in their arms. Your nephew! I know I can’t convince you of how much that’s going to change the way you look at things. Just mark my words, it will.” He picked the magazine back up and found the spot on the page where he’d left off. Then he added, “You’ll find out soon enough.”
The room fell back into silence. Ron noticed that Hermione was staring off into space with a peculiar look on her face. Which was fine with him. He felt an odd sort of anxiety looking at his wife, as though eye contact might result in an unplanned pregnancy. Arthur continued to flip contentedly through the pages of his magazine while Molly slowly knitted a tiny cap. Ron was about to go back to reading the intelligence briefing on his lap when his ears picked up a distant commotion. Hermione had apparently noticed it as well, and she closed her book and stood up. The four Weasleys made their way to the waiting room door and Ron peered outside.
At first, he was unable to make out anything in the throng of bodies moving through the corridor. Healers in green robes and nurses carrying potions and clipboards all seemed to be struggling to hold their ground near the center of the unruly procession. As they came closer, Ron caught a brief glimpse of a hospital trolley covered in pale, blue linens. A flash of unruly, black hair peeked out of the chaos as Ron craned his neck to get a better look.
“It’s them,” he called out, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the approaching mob. Seizing Hermione’s hand, Ron fell into step behind a hospital administrator in formal, black robes who was demanding an update on Ginny’s condition from a healer carrying Harry’s chocolate frog card and a quill. It appeared that every last person in St. Mungo’s Hospital who could come up with half an excuse was crowded around the trolley, trying to catch a glimpse of the Boy Who Lived, the famous Ginny Potter of the Holyhead Harpies and their newborn son. The administrator suddenly elbowed Ron out of the way as he gave up on the healer, who didn’t seem to have anything to do with Ginny’s care, and tried to wrestle a cafeteria tray away from the young man who was tasked with bringing Ginny her dinner.
“This can’t be good for the baby,” Hermione shouted into his ear, and Ron couldn’t help but agree. He reached into his pocket and found his wand. Even though Aurors had no real authority to keep the peace, he was prepared to do whatever was required to keep Harry and Ginny safe. The crowd became more physical as they approached the patient rooms. A grey-haired healer flanking the trolley and the hospital administrator were shouting angrily at one another while the healer with the chocolate frog card was desperately elbowing his way toward Harry. Just as Ron started to pull his wand out of his pocket, the hallway was filled with an ear-splitting whistle.
All eyes turned toward a grey-haired witch in white nurse’s robes who stood at the door to Room Three-Fourteen with two fingers in her mouth. She lowered her arm to her side and addressed the crowd with a casual authority. “Ladies and gentlemen, nobody aside from Mr. Potter who lacks a medically urgent reason will be permitted into this room. Please step away from the trolley and return to your duties.” Her steely, blue eyes swept over the hospital staff as they began to disperse.
Molly bustled forward with a beseeching smile on her face. “You’re Gladys Marchbank, aren’t you? I remember you from when Ginevra here was born. So nice to see you again-”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Weasley,” the chief maternity nurse replied, shaking her head gently without changing her stern expression, “but this applies to family as well. As soon as Mr. and Mrs. Potter have had some time to settle in and they’re ready to take visitors, one of the nurses will be out to collect you.”
“It’s alright, Mum.” Ginny’s voice caught Ron by surprise. Because of the throng surrounding the trolley, he’d almost forgotten that she was there. She looked very small, tucked under several blankets with pillows under her elbows. Ron could see that her auburn hair was damp with sweat and her eyes looked very tired. But her voice was strong and clear and she clutched a small, blue bundle with a fierce tenderness. “Just give us a little while to sort ourselves out. We’ll send for you soon.”
Mrs. Weasley nodded reluctantly, forcing a smile onto her face. “Whenever you’re ready, dear.” She started to follow Arthur back to the waiting room, then turned to face Harry and Ginny with tears in her eyes. “Congratulations, dears. I love you both so much!” The four Weasleys then made their way back down the hall.
As soon as the orderlies left their room, Harry let out a huge breath that he hadn’t even realized he was holding. He felt Ginny’s hand slip into his, and he squeezed her fingers tightly. The stern expression disappeared from the chief maternity nurse’s face, replaced by a kind smile.
“I’m ever so sorry about that, Mr. and Mrs. Potter. We aren’t really used to dealing with that level of ugliness, and things got a little out of hand. Please, think of this room as your sanctuary while you’re here. If you feel like resting or spending some quiet time with your son or if the two of you just want to be alone for a while, the other nurses and I will happily make your excuses for you.” She stepped into the doorway and reached for the handle. “I’ll leave the three of you alone now. If you need anything at all, you know how to summon us.” Then she quietly closed the door behind herself.
Harry sunk onto the edge of the bed beside Ginny and stared at her while she arranged the blanket around little James’s sleeping face. “She said ‘the three of you’, didn’t she?”
“Yep.” Ginny looked up at him and smiled nervously. Harry bent down and kissed her softly on the lips.
“So...” Harry drew the word out, staring at the tiny face nestled in Ginny’s arms. “I’ve never really had a family before. What do we do now?”
Ginny shrugged her shoulders. “Haven’t the foggiest. I was the last one born, remember?”
“Right, right.” Harry continued to stare at his newborn son. A thousand thoughts were rushing through his mind, but he found that he couldn’t focus on any of them. The world outside of their hospital room felt very distant. Ginny suddenly looked up at him with a nervous grin on her face. They both started to chuckle in spite of themselves.
“We can do this, right?” she asked. He could tell that she was trying to sound more confident than she probably felt.
“Yeah. Yeah, of course we can,” Harry replied, tearing his eyes away from his son’s wrinkled, little nose. “I mean, we’ve been preparing for months, right? People gave us mountains of nappies and blankets and clothes and toys and that swing Andromeda gave us that sings lullabies and we went to all those classes and stuff.”
“I read all of those books that Hermione gave me,” Ginny replied, nodding vigorously. “Well, the interesting parts, anyway. I sort of skimmed the rest of it.”
“And we can always ask your mum if we have any questions, or Andromeda. And Kreacher practically raised Sirius and his brother.”
Ginny made a face and clutched the little blue bundle tighter against her body. “We are not letting that creepy, old elf raise our son!”
“I know, I know,” Harry replied soothingly. “I just meant that he’s always around. If we’re in a pinch and we- Wait, what’s he doing?”
Both sets of eyes snapped to James’s tiny face. The little boy was slowly opening and closing his lips. A small bubble of spit moved in and out of his mouth as he furrowed his brows.
“Is he choking?” Ginny asked breathlessly, holding the baby where Harry could get a better look.
Harry felt his pulse speed up as he watched James’s chubby cheeks puff in and out. Half of his brain was trying to recall the first aid spells he’d been taught as an Auror trainee while the other half marveled at how the boy’s tiny nostrils were perfect miniatures of a human adult. “I... I don’t think so. Wouldn’t he be making more of a fuss if he was choking?”
“He’s all wrapped in a blanket, Harry! How much of a fuss can he make?”
“Babies can make a huge fuss! Remember when Teddy had that bad diaper rash? I couldn’t hear myself think!”
Ginny’s neck and ears were beginning to turn red. “Harry, he’s still doing it!”
Harry felt like his brain was frozen as he watched his infant son. “I think he’s trying to say something.”
“He’s half an hour old, Harry! He doesn’t know how to talk!”
“But he’s a wizard. Maybe he-”
“Harry Potter, call the goddamned nurse, right now!”
Harry slammed his hand over the golden owl inlay on the nightstand beside Ginny’s bed, causing the gilded creature to hoot indignantly. For the next fifteen seconds, both Potters stared at little James, hardly daring to breathe. To Harry, the passage of time made his final confrontation with Voldemort seem expeditious.
When the chief maternity nurse’s face appeared in the doorway, Ginny cried, “He’s suffocating!” while Harry blurted out, “We don’t know what he’s trying to tell us!” The older witch calmly walked over and gently pushed the blanket away from James’s upper body, studying his color and the rhythmic rise and fall of his tiny chest.
“He’s fine, Mr. and Mrs. Potter, although I’m rather concerned that the two of you might pass out if you don’t take a proper breath soon.”
Harry smiled sheepishly and inhaled deeply. Ginny sank into the pillows propping her up on the bed but she still looked unsettled. “You’re sure he’s not going to stop breathing?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Potter, relax,” the nurse replied soothingly. “Nobody knows exactly how to be a parent the first time. You’re going to have some scary moments, but as long as you stay calm and use your heads, you’ll do just fine.”
“And his blanket isn’t too tight?” Harry added. “I mean, he could let us know if he was choking, right?”
The nurse looked slightly amused. “They’re more resilient than they look, Mr. Potter. Pay attention and trust your instincts. He’ll let you know if something is really wrong.”
The grey-haired witch made her way to the door. “I’ve taken the liberty of ordering another dinner for the two of you, one that hasn’t been jostled about by a meddling bureaucrat. If you feel up to it when you’re done eating, we’ll allow your family in to visit for a while.”
“Is it alright if I get up and take a shower?” Ginny asked. “I just feel...” she pulled a face and gestured up and down the length of her body with her free hand, “nasty isn’t even a strong enough word.”
“As long as you’re feeling up to it, that’s fine, Mrs. Potter. We encourage all of our new mothers to be as active as they can comfortably be. But if you start to feel weak or light-headed, you need to take a break and rest.”
The nurse closed the door behind herself. Ginny smiled and held little James out toward Harry. “Here, Daddy, your turn.”
Slowly, carefully and with extreme deliberation, Harry took the blue bundle from Ginny’s outstretched hands. His eyes were locked on James’s tiny face, making absolutely certain that the baby’s head remained perfectly still. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it dawned on him that he hadn’t been this worried about dropping either of the hallows.
“Help me up,” Ginny said absently, reaching out to Harry with one arm while she pulled the blankets off of her legs with the other.
Harry froze. His mouth opened and closed noiselessly as his eyes darted back and forth between his newborn son and his wife. He gestured ever so slightly with the baby in his arms and shook his head. “I... what if I drop him?”
Ginny’s eyes sparkled with laughter. ”Harry, you’re not going to be able to carry him with two hands all the time.”
“I know,” Harry sighed, smiling nervously, “but I’d at least like to get him home from the hospital before I mess up somehow.”
Ginny giggled softly. “OK, set him in the bassinet, then. I just want you next to me in case I feel shaky while I’m walking to the shower.”
Gently and more than a bit reluctantly, Harry eased little James into the small, wooden cradle next to Ginny’s bed. The “mattress” seemed very thin to him and there were no pillows. He felt like his son was getting the short end of the stick on the room’s amenities, and it annoyed him. Suppressing a desire to complain to somebody, he hurried to Ginny’s side and wrapped his arm around her waist as she slid off of the bed. She stood still for a moment, letting her legs adjust to supporting her weight. Suddenly, she made a face like she’d just eaten a handful of bogey-flavored beans.
“What’s wrong?” Harry asked, tightening his grip on her waist.
“You don’t wanna know,” Ginny replied. “Just help me get to the shower. I feel disgusting.”
Slowly, stiffly, Ginny walked to the bathroom with Harry obsessing over her every step. When she reached the doorway, she pushed away from him and stepped into the small room alone.
“Are you sure you don’t need help getting undressed or showering?” Harry asked, feeling worried and a little confused.
“Go look after the baby before I hex you.”
Ginny closed the door behind herself and Harry heard her muttering, “ick, ick, ick!” as he returned to the side of the bassinet. He pulled up a chair and stared at James’s miniature, sleeping face. As he heard the shower go on, he marveled at the perfect little creature lying in front of him. He reached inside and brushed James’s cheeks and forehead with the backs of his fingers, observing the small reactions elicited by his touch. The rest of the world melted away as he studied the tiny, perfect eyelashes and the lobes of his son’s ears. James made a small grunting noise, and suddenly Harry wanted to respond.
“Hi, son,” he said, feeling somewhat silly to be talking to someone who was sleeping and plainly didn’t understand English, besides. “Your mother’s... well, I don’t really know what’s the matter with her right now. That’s one thing about me, I still don’t understand much about girls. When you get to be that age, maybe you should go talk to your Uncle Bill or your Uncle George, instead. Just not your Uncle Ron. I try not to point it out, but he’s even more confused than I am. It’s a good thing your Aunt Hermione is crazy about him.”
Harry watched as James wriggled just a bit inside the blanket. He pursed his lips and made a little face, then relaxed again. Harry took it as a sign to go on. “Let’s see, who else do you need to meet? Your Uncle Charlie works with dragons in Romania. You’re probably gonna think he’s the coolest guy in the whole world. And your Uncle Percy... well, he means well. He just has a funny way of showing it, that’s all.
“Then there’s your grandparents. They’re about to go spare, they’re so excited to meet you. You’re their first grandson, after all.” Harry felt his mood change slightly, growing more serious. “You’re going to love them. They’re the nicest, kindest, most loving people I’ve ever known. You know the kind of people who’ve never met a stranger? Well, of course you don’t yet, but that’s Molly and Arthur. They raised your Mum and your uncles with almost nothing, you know? Just your grandfather’s salary from the Ministry to feed and clothe nine people. But they could always make room at the table, even for a kid like me with more troubles than I even knew I had.”
Little James suddenly screwed up his face and then slowly opened his eyes. Harry leaned forward in awe. He saw Ginny’s dark brown eyes staring back at him. James looked straight ahead and Harry placed his face directly above. James blinked a couple of times and seemed to be trying to focus. “Hi, there,” Harry whispered. His face was starting to hurt from smiling. Then, to Harry’s dismay, James began to cry.
“Hey, there. It’s alright.” Harry carefully scooped James up from the bassinet. He felt panicked, and desperately tried to recall things that worked with Teddy. Settling into the chair by the window, Harry rocked James gently back and forth. The motion seemed to soothe the little boy and his cries gradually ceased. “So where were we?” Harry asked, settling back into the chair. “I guess I’d have to say that before your grandparents sort of took me in, I didn’t know what it felt like to have somebody care about me. My life before I met them was... well, I guess there are some things I’ll need to tell you about that, when you’re old enough.”
Harry stared out the window for a minute, collecting his thoughts. “I should start by telling you about your grandparents on my side of the family. It’s such a shame that you’ll never get to meet them. They were amazing people. Even though they died when I was really young, I always knew how much they loved me somehow. Your grandfather, the one you’re named for, was famous in his school days. He was brave and loyal and he would’ve done anything for his friends. I mean, he had his faults, but he really sorted himself out in the end and turned out to be a great guy.
“Your grandmother was brilliant. She was beautiful and talented and people who knew her always tell me how warm and kind she was. She was the sort of person that saw the good in people, you know? I’ve only heard of anybody saying one bad word about her and, well, hopefully you’ll never need to learn that word.” Harry paused again, trying to decide what to say next. “But like I said, I never got to know them. All I have are a few old pictures that their friends saved for me and some really hazy memories that are more like feelings, really.”
Harry took a deep breath. “After they died, my life wasn’t much fun. I was sent to live with my aunt and uncle by a very wise man who was trying hard to do what was best for me. They weren’t very nice to me at all. They never bought me any clothes or toys and they didn’t give me much to eat and they made me sleep in a cupboard under a staircase, but that wasn’t really the worst of it. They never told me anything about who I was or what my parents were like. They didn’t believe in magic, you see. My uncle was terrified of it and my aunt, well, she was horribly jealous of your grandmother. So they took it all out on me.
“After I found out about magic and what I really was, things didn’t really get any easier. There was a very bad man named Tom. He’s the reason that your grandparents aren’t here anymore and he tried to get rid of me, too. People were so frightened of him that they wouldn’t even say his name. Tom did a lot of terrible things. Finally it got so bad that a war started, and lots of people got hurt or killed. Your uncle Fred was one of them. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot about him when you’re old enough. In the end, we were able to stop Tom because of something very brave that your grandmother did.”
Harry sighed and stared out the window again. “The reason I’m telling you all of this is... well, this is going to sound really strange. I’m not sure I’ll ever really be able to explain it, but here goes. Everything I’ve been through in my life, well, it was worth it, you see. All those years of sleeping in a cupboard and fighting to stay alive and all of the pain and loss and death... I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but it was all worth it. Because I’m here now with you and your mother.” He stared at James’s tiny face peeking out from the blue bundle in his lap and felt a tear slide down his cheek. “I’d do it all over again, every awful moment of it, to have what I have now.”
A slender hand settled on the back of Harry’s neck, causing him to start. He’d been too wrapped up in their conversation to hear her come out of the bathroom. He felt Ginny’s wet hair against the side of his neck and smelled the flowery scent of her shampoo as she rested her chin on his shoulder.
“Hi, sweetheart,” she whispered as she stared down at little James. “I see your father has started to fill you in on our crazy life. There’s something you should know, though. He’s rubbish at telling stories.”
Ginny smirked at Harry as she moved around the side of the chair and lifted the baby out of his arms. Then she settled into his lap and snuggled up against him. “Your dad is way too modest, you see. When he tells a story, he always seems to leave out the part where he does something really amazing to save everybody else. And he always blames himself for anything that goes wrong. If you listen to his version of things, you’d never guess that he’s the bravest, most amazing man in the world.”
Harry pulled Ginny closer to him with one arm while he reached around her side with the other and laid his hand on top of the blue blanket, feeling the rise and fall of James’s tiny chest. He closed his eyes, feeling utterly content. “I love you, Gin. And I love you, James Sirius. I promise that I’ll always do whatever I have to do to keep you both happy and healthy and safe.”
“I already told you that you made me the happiest girl in the world the day we got married,” Ginny replied, nestling her head under his chin. “But today you made me even happier. You’re gonna be an amazing father. James Sirius, you’re the luckiest kid in the world.”
Harry touched the tip of James’s nose with his index finger. “You have an amazing mother, too, little guy. Your whole family is amazing, actually. I hope you never have to figure out how much that really means.”
The three Potters sat in silence for a few minutes, completely lost in one another.
“So... we’re not gonna be doing it again for a while...”
Thanks for taking the time to read my latest story. I appreciate any and all comments!