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The Blossoming by Athene Goodstrength
Chapter 7: Harper's Hill
The Same Day - Friday 7th October, 2005
Harper’s Hill, Dorset
The streetlights of the little town had just begun to glow orange, competing with the last burnt strands of the sunset fading over the hill, as the children were finally called home from their games in the lane and the youngest of them put to bed. Children scrambled down from the ancient trees flanking the Victorian cottages and terraces, and darted out of one another’s gardens with scraped knees, dirty fingernails, and no small amount of grumbling at the shortening of the days. A pack of teenagers loped down the hill and towards the town itself, where they were looking forward to an evening spent looking disdainfully at passers-by in the supermarket car park.
Crossing the road behind them, a tall woman in a purple cloak chivvied her two young stragglers home. As she did so, she drew a couple of curious glances from a Muggle couple nearby; they must have been quite new to the area, for the people of Harper’s Hill were quite accustomed to seeing people wandering around in cloaks, using odd words, and even carrying owls around. As the mother in the purple cloak passed a small sign tied to a tree outside her house, the lettering seemed to swim for a brief moment before once again forming the words, ‘This Is A Neighbourhood Watch Area’.
The last light of day finally gave out, and the lane fell quiet but for a breeze in the trees and the quiet hum and murmur of television sets in the Muggle homes. A lace curtain twitched in a low white cottage, and the long face of a very elderly woman appeared at the window, her eyes scrutinizing the darkness. Virgilia Gregory had been the Neighbourhood Witch for over forty years, and took every evening of watchfulness as seriously as the last. She had seen it all, from magical children showing off their nascent powers to their Muggle friends (a somewhat minor infringement, usually reported to their parents and names inscribed in her notebook), to Death Eaters circling above the trees like hungry sharks (she had run out into the lane and started throwing protective enchantments in every direction, saving countless lives, before returning home to quietly take tea with a slightly larger nip of whisky than was her custom). Thankfully, that sort of thing had ended years ago, with the War, but Gilly was a busy woman nevertheless. Now, she pursed her lips and looked down to her lap, at a fat little tortoiseshell cat gazing serenely up at her.
‘Well, that’s Mrs Berryman in for the evening. I’ll need to have a word with her about her boys, though, playing Exploding Snap in the open like that. The noise, for one thing... Now, where do you suppose the Potters have got to? They’re not usually out this late - not with the baby, anyway.’
The cat continued to blink at her, knowing that she wasn’t generally required to participate in Gilly’s rambles.
‘Oh dear, Biddy, of course I’m not saying they don’t deserve a bit of fun; I just get twitchy when those two aren’t home and safe. I promised the Minister I’d keep a special eye out for them, and they are such a lovely young couple. Always so polite and friendly, and little James is a treat -’
Biddy gave a little mew of disapproval.
‘ - Oh, he’s certainly spirited,’ Gilly continued, taking a sip of tea. ‘He enjoys chasing you, doesn’t he my dear? Around and around the garden you go ... Mmm, lovely boy.’
Gilly’s pale eyes narrowed suddenly and she sat up in her armchair, lifting a dainty pair of opera glasses to her face.
‘Ooh, there’s Marvin Small’s owl overhead; no doubt taking something to that girlfriend he thinks nobody knows about. Silly boy - ah! Look, Biddy.’
The cat leapt deftly onto the windowsill. Gilly’s delicate hand fluttered around Biddy and drew her close as they watched a green light glowing in a house further up the hill. Oaklene Cottage was the largest of the old brick houses on the lane, with wide, white-framed windows and a crooked wooden porch full of wellington boots and stacked firewood. A huge oak tree leaned towards the house, its branches creating a shady bower over the front garden; it looked precarious but had stood thus for over a hundred years and was as solid as the ground itself. Ginny Potter had hung little lanterns on the branches and they danced softly in the late Autumn breeze. Light was blooming now in one of the front windows, the green light of a Floo fireplace fading from view.
‘Mr and Mrs Potter are home,’ said Gilly contentedly, watching shadows flit to and fro within the house. ‘You can stop fretting now, puss. Although ... oh dear, that doesn’t look good.’
Ginny Potter had appeared in the bright window of Oaklene Cottage, a frown visibly contorting her pretty face as she pulled the curtains closed forcefully. Gilly and Biddy watched as lights bloomed in the house, and the Potters crossed back and forth behind the curtains.
‘I do hope they’re not having a row,’ said Gilly, peering through the opera glasses with interest. ‘They’ll wake the baby.’
Biddy gave her owner a look of feline disdain, but turned her green eyes back towards the night anyway.
‘For God’s sake, Harry, just come out with it!’ hissed Ginny, her hair whirling behind her as she stormed into the kitchen. James was sound asleep upstairs as his parents moved from room to room gathering his scattered toys, socks and sippy cups. Harry was stacking clean plates with his back turned to his wife as she entered the room.
‘Come out with what?’ he murmured, tight-lipped.
‘Whatever it is that you’re not saying,’ replied Ginny, crossing her arms. ‘Drop the silent treatment and say it; you’re just being irritating now, and I can’t be bothered with tiptoeing around you.’
Harry turned to look at Ginny, his eyebrows raised in mock surprise. ‘Oh, don’t tell me; I’m being immature again, right? I can never just be tired, or a bit fed up ...’
‘Of course you can,’ Ginny replied, rolling her eyes in frustration. ‘But your moody teenager routine upset Hermione this evening, and quite honestly it makes you look a bit ridiculous.’
‘‘Ridiculous’?’ Harry echoed, his voice rising with anger. ‘You’re calling me ridiculous? You were the one blushing and flirting with Dean like a schoolgirl, having cosy little meetings with him and not telling me -’
‘Oh, that’s perfect, Harry! That’s really nice,’ snapped Ginny, snatching toys from the floor and throwing them into a plastic crate. ‘Finally, you’re getting to the point; you’re jealous.’
‘What if I am? You’re my wife,’ Harry retorted, running a damp cloth furiously over the kitchen counter. ‘And keep your voice down, you’ll wake James.’
Ginny whirled to glare at Harry, anger blazing from her face. ‘You keep your voice down! And you don’t need to remind me that I’m your wife; that’s just insulting.’
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Ginny held up a shaking hand, her chest heaving with fury.
‘But do you know what’s even more insulting? The fact that after all of these years, after our wedding, after the birth of our baby and with this baby on the way, you still don’t trust me!’ Ginny paused to take a breath, and saw the shock on Harry’s face. For a moment she wanted to cross the space between them, take her husband’s shoulders in her hands and kiss away the sudden pain. But she was too angry; the words tumbled on. ‘I love you, you bloody idiot, but you just drive me crazy sometimes... Can you really be this insecure, Harry?’
Colour blazed in Harry’s cheeks, and it seemed for a moment that he was simply going to retreat into his anger, but then his shoulders slumped and his gaze fell to the floor.
‘Insecure? I don’t know.’ He sighed and looked up at Ginny. ‘I just ... I wanted you for so long, but could never say anything. You were Ron’s sister! I know it’s ages ago now, but that time during the War when we - when I -’
Ginny crossed the room to stand by Harry’s side. ‘- when we broke up,’ she said gently.
Harry looked at her with pained eyes. ‘I had to, you know that. I missed you so much ... I stared at that map for hours, wishing I could see my name next to yours, to see our footprints walking by the lake, sitting at breakfast together ... every night I wished they could be side by side in your dormitory. And I tried not to think it, I really did, but that stupid Horcrux was twisting my thoughts, making it all cold ...’ Harry reached for Ginny’s hand, and kissed her fingers gently. ‘Sometimes I would lie awake thinking of you, beautiful, funny, clever you, and wonder if it was possible that you’d still be waiting for me if I came back. You were an easy target for some boy to show you pity, get on your good side...’
Ginny sharply withdrew her hand from Harry’s grasp. ‘An easy target? What am I, a Quidditch hoop?!’ She put her hands on her hips, her thickening waist just visible against the fabric of her silk top. ‘Tell me Harry, tell me - did you ever once see, in all of your hours staring at that map, my name cosied up to that of any other boy? And don’t you dare say Neville, even as a joke, because at times he and Luna were all that got me through that godawful year. And in case you haven’t noticed, I was there for you when you returned. I fought alongside you, and I loved you, and I married you, you flaming idiot! I’ve quit my career to bring up our children! I’m here when you leave, and I’m here when you get home ...’
Harry looked utterly miserable, remorse in his stricken eyes. He started to stammer an apology, but Ginny stepped backwards, throwing up her hands. Angry tears were prickling her eyes, and she spat the words that were rolling bitterly in her mouth. ‘You know, Harry, sometimes I wonder what the hell I’ve given it all up for!’
The words hung in the air like shrapnel, and the Potters stared at each other in shock. Tears spilled suddenly down Ginny’s cheeks, and she turned on her heel and ran from the kitchen, slamming the door behind her. She left Harry alone, his mouth agape and his heart feeling frozen in his chest. He stalked backwards and forwards across the kitchen tiles, his fingers interlaced behind his head, the tension in his arms feeling like some sort of relief from the drumming in his skull. Did Ginny really feel that way? Was the life he’d built with her really so awful? For a brief, furious moment, Harry considered getting on his broomstick, or stepping into the fireplace, or turning on the spot and just getting as far away from Oaklene Cottage as he possibly could, ridding Ginny of the burden of living with someone like him.
But then James’s sleeping face sprang into the forefront of his mind, and the pain he felt at the thought of leaving his child swamped his fury; just the idea of it was agonizing. Shame filled his throat and made him nauseous as he realised that he’d had even the briefest, most uninvited thought of leaving Ginny and their babies, and he slumped heavily against the kitchen counter. Not for the first time, he wondered how on earth Remus could have done it. The fact that he had gone back to Tonks and their unborn child had helped to redeem Harry’s relationship with the man, but becoming a husband and father himself had shifted Harry’s perspective and he’d longed to see his mentor again, to have another chance to talk it over, to understand. James’s birth had served to reawaken feelings of fury and disappointment, but Harry had been surprised to find that these were overcome by a new sensation of deepest pity, when he thought of the pain Lupin must have been in, to come to the decision that his family was better off without him.
Harry ran a hand carelessly through his hair as he thought now of how much he had struggled to find forgiveness for his old friend, after James had been born. It had taken Ginny reminding him that even Tonks had found it in herself to forgive Remus, and that truly was all that mattered. He could never remain angry at his long-dead friend anyway, knowing that Remus had suffered the ultimate punishment for his crime; not getting to see Teddy grow into the great kid that he was. Harry shook his head. Why did he always find himself thinking of the dead? There were bridges to mend here on Earth.
Harry could hear the floorboards upstairs creaking as Ginny paced back and forth. Suddenly all he wanted to do was to run up the stairs and gather his wife in his arms, tell her how sorry he was... But before he even reached the kitchen door, Ginny’s feet pattered down the stairs in the hall, and she peered into the kitchen, her face pale and eyes mirroring the remorse Harry felt. He patted the countertop next to him, and Ginny crossed the room, folding her arms and leaning her head onto Harry’s shoulder. They stood for a moment in a communion of silence, knowing that there were words waiting to be said.
‘I didn’t mean it,’Ginny whispered eventually. ‘Not really; I never wonder. I love James, I love you, I love our life...’
‘I know; me too.’ Harry put an arm around Ginny’s slender shoulders and pulled her close. ‘And I know it’s been hard, having James when you were only young.’
Ginny grimaced slightly. ‘I was twenty-two. Doesn’t make me the youngest of mums; I have no excuse for feeling a bit...’ She paused as her eyes welled up again. ‘God, I sound awful... A bit dissatisfied.’
Harry’s heart lurched, but he just pulled her body closer to his. He knew that she was just being honest, that she trusted him more than anyone; but it was still a shock to hear her admission.
‘I know, Ginny. Sometimes it feels as though we should have had more time to build our careers, to build our life, to be together - just me and you. We’ve always been surrounded by other people.’ He planted a kiss firmly on the top of her head. ‘And as I’ve proved today, I certainly have a long way to go when it comes to growing up.’
Ginny chuckled softly. ‘You had to grow up too fast, Harry.’
‘Maybe,’ he conceded. ‘But whatever I’m doing now; growing up, regressing ... whatever. I’m glad I’ve got you to tell me when I’m being a prat.’
Ginny tutted, murmuring a vague protest.
‘I was,’ Harry insisted, knowing she was only objecting to be kind. He paused for a moment, thinking back over their argument. A sick feeling began to grow in his stomach again as he recalled something. ‘I didn’t upset Hermione,’ he said quietly. ‘Did I?’
‘She didn’t say anything, but I could tell.’ Ginny looped an arm around Harry’s waist, and jostled him gently. ‘She’ll be fine... You should talk to her, though.’
‘I will.’ Harry took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, before smiling bracingly down at Ginny. ‘So ... tell me about Dean.’
Ginny raised her eyebrows. ‘You really don’t have to -’
‘He was my friend before he was your boyfriend,’ Harry interrupted, with a playful grin. ‘It’d be nice to know what he’s been up to.’
Ginny considered Harry for a moment, then smiled. ‘Dean’s doing really well. He’s getting married next year, and just set up his first gallery in London.’
‘Oh, he’s still painting?’ asked Harry, recalling the magnificent inky doodles and sketches on every page of Dean’s schoolbooks.
‘Yep. And he writes a column for the Prophet.’
‘What?’ Harry was surprised, although he generally avoided the newspaper, having had enough of the Daily Prophet for one lifetime. ‘I haven’t seen that.’
‘You wouldn’t,’ Ginny laughed. ‘It’s about Muggle football, and it’s wedged in amongst the horoscopes and the Agony Aunt letters.’
‘Ha, good old Dean.’ Harry gave Ginny’s shoulders a quick squeeze and moved to the kettle, flicking it on and reaching for a pair of painted mugs. Ginny smiled to herself; Harry’s previous animosity for Dean had clearly ebbed since learning he was engaged. ‘We used to have the odd kickabout at school ... never could get Ron and Seamus on board with it though. They kept trying to make the ball fly.’
‘Dean actually met his fiancée at the Prophet,’ said Ginny nonchalantly as Harry spooned cocoa powder into the mugs. ‘She’s one of the sports sub-editors.’
‘Oh,’ Harry murmured, not really listening as he opened the fridge. ‘We’re out of milk, Ginny - d’you mind your hot chocolate without it?’
‘No, that’s fine... Dean reckons she’d be interested in meeting me,’ Ginny persisted, moving to sit down at the kitchen table. It had been a long day and she was suddenly extremely tired.
‘Oh... What for?’
Harry straightened up, closing the fridge door. ‘A job?’ His eyes flicked towards Ginny’s abdomen. ‘Now?’
Ginny swallowed, the reasoning she’d practiced for the past week suddenly sounding slightly desperate.
‘It’s only part time... freelance, really. I’d be a Quidditch reporter; going to matches and tryouts, writing them up for the paper, interviewing players and managers.’ She couldn’t stop the excitement from rising in her voice. ‘I’ve got it all worked out - I could take James with me, he’d love that, or leave him at Mum’s when the baby’s here. I could even strap the little one to me and... well, it would only be for a couple of hours every week, and I could write it up at home. You’d barely notice I was gone. It’d even be a bit of extra money... And we’d get season tickets.’
Harry was staring at Ginny with wonder in his eyes. She looked at him imploringly. ‘What do you think?’
He smiled and shook his head. ‘You’re amazing, you know that? It sounds like a great idea, as long as you think you’re up for it.’
An exhausted smile crossed Ginny’s face. ‘I’m up for it. I just hope I get the job.’
The switch on the kettle clicked and Harry went to pour the water, but at that moment the telephone in the hallway rang loudly. Harry and Ginny both jumped; hardly anyone ever called them - most of the time, they forgot that they even had a phone. Ginny started to get to her feet, but Harry told her to stay still and relax.
Wondering who could be calling at nearly eleven at night, he hurried into the dark hallway and picked up the receiver, hoping that the ringing hadn’t awoken James.
‘Hello?’ There was nothing but a crackling silence, and Harry looked at the handset. ‘Hello?’ he tried again.
Suddenly, a voice he hadn’t heard in years quavered at the end of the line. ‘Harry?’
Harry’s heart jumped into his throat. ‘Um... yes,’ he managed.
‘Dudley gave me your number, I do hope you don’t mind,’ said the voice. Harry’s head spun, and he sat down heavily on the bottom step of the staircase. ‘I wonder if you would...’ The formality in the voice wobbled, as Petunia drew a great shuddering breath. ‘If - if you could come here tomorrow morning.’
‘To Privet Drive?’ Harry’s stomach seemed to flip over, and his mouth turned dry. He hadn’t returned to that awful place since he’d left over eight years previously, but the thought of seeing that house again made Harry feel quite sick.
‘Yes,’ replied Petunia, shakily. ‘It’s your uncle... Oh God. Oh my God.’
Harry, who had never heard his aunt exclaim more strongly than ‘gosh’, wondered what the hell was going on. Ginny appeared in the kitchen doorway, holding two steaming mugs of cocoa and giving Harry a quizzical look. He shrugged, bewildered.
‘What is it, Petunia?’ Harry asked, his throat feeling tight. Ginny’s eyes widened as she realised who had called the house, and she sat down next to Harry.
‘It’s Vernon...’ There was another hideous trembling breath. ‘He’s... he’s dead.’
The last word swept down the phone like a cold wind.
So, I think it’s fair to say that this chapter is a little less fluffy than some of the ones before it! But life isn’t all roses, as our dear characters well know, and sometimes you have to struggle in order to grow stronger.
I also took a bit of a liberty and stepped outside of our family of Weasleys, Potters and Grangers to get an outside perspective. This was a bit of an experiment, partly in mimicking the way JKR sometimes took us outside of the main action to give a bit of wider context (e.g. the entire first chapter of GoF). I hope you think it worked; I quite enjoyed writing our little Neighbourhood Watch/Witch. How did you feel about this chapter? I’d love to know!
Oh, and - fridges? Telephones?! Kettles?! Surely not! Well, I thought about it and it’s only ever said that Muggle electricity doesn’t work around high-density magical areas such as Hogwarts. Harper’s Hill is a small town/large village in the middle of the countryside, with a magical population scattered throughout it, mixing with Muggles. I don’t think that counts as a high-density area of magical activity, particularly as the wizarding families within it are not learning to conjure spells etc - they’re just living their day-to-day lives.
Finally, you may have noticed that the title of this story has changed. The Growing Gathering Of Weasleys was only ever intended as a placeholder title until I could come up with one I really liked, and it’s become evident that this story is certainly not just about Weasleys. But it is about growing... so, I hope you’re all as keen to continue reading ‘The Blossoming’ as I am to keep writing it! There’s a new banner on the way too :)
Thanks once again for reading, and please do leave a review!