“You are joking?” I spluttered, pacing the room and wrestling frantic trembling hands through my hair. I stopped and stared at him. “You are joking, right?”
He shook his head slowly, still watching me. “No. Do you think I’d come here to just play some sort of trick on you? That’s sick! Hermione’s dead . . . You have no idea how much this hurts me. She’s gone and I have nothing. My family, everything - it’s all false. So don’t you dare for one minute think that I’m lying to you!”
I froze at the sound of the ice inside his voice. He wasn’t exactly over pleased about the situation either. “But I . . . I don’t want a son,” I stuttered desperately. “I can’t look after a child.” I walked into the hallway and sat down slowly on the stairs. “I don’t have the qualities of a parent . . . I don’t want him! Why are you giving him back to me? If you’ve raised him after all these years, then he’s yours, not mine! You have him. I want nothing else to do with it.”
“How can you be so selfish?” he hissed at me icily. “I’ve already had to tell him I’m not his father. Do you realise how painful that was? And now you’re just thinking about yourself and the inconveniences it will cause you.” He glowered. “What did Hermione ever see in you?”
In truth, I felt a little faint. I’ve heard about things like this happening before, I’ve written about them, but the actual realism of them is absolutely astounding. It was weird, how I could just wake up one day to find that my entire life had changed, to see that nothing was as I expected it to be. I held my head in my hands and closed my eyes, trying to organise my thoughts before I opened my mouth again. My tongue felt strangely arid, and dryness that swallowed my voice and caused the words to become heavy and with effort. Even when I spoke, I felt like I was thousands of miles away, walking in some kind of dream.
“What do you want me to do about it?”
“I told you,” he snapped irritably, leaning on the door frame, staring down at me with critical eyes. “I want you to take him back. He’s yours. It’s what Hermione would have wanted.”
“How do you know?” I glared. “You’re probably just making it all up. It’s probably just for your own selfish reasons, because you can’t stand looking at him and knowing he’s not yours, you think you can just get rid of him and dump him into my hands! Well, it’s not going to happen!”
His anger throbbed in his neck and he grabbed me roughly my the hair, forcing me to look into his burning, flaming emerald eyes. “That’s the last thing I want to do!” he all but screamed, his voice deafening me. “I love my son - your son - you can not possibly imagine how hard it is for me to do this!”
“Then why are you?”
“Because,” he pushed my head back with finality and steped away, turning his back to me, “it’s what she would have wanted . . . Hermione. I read it in her diary. She always intended to tell him about you, to tell me . . . She wanted him to meet you, and if anything should happen to her, she wanted me to take him back to you. She thought James deserved to know the truth.”
I rose my eyebrows. “She told you all this?”
“No,” he responded with exasperation. “I told you - it was in her diary. She didn’t have time to tell me before I - before she died.”
I stood up, feeling the energy returning in my legs to give me enough strength to pace the room. Harry just watched me, his eyes quiet and full of pain. I didn’t know how to handle this . . . I had a son, and suddenly the world was crashing down on me like a torrent of waves, so that I was drowning in the difficulty of my situation. I thought about what it must be like for Harry, knowing that everything he had loved had never been his. He was probably angry that I could take his life and I didn’t even want it.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have read her diary,” I said at last, turning the tone into something of dry mirth.
He forced a smile. “It would have made a lot of difference.”
“Do you want a coffee?” I asked him suddenly. “Perhaps we should talk about this like grown men . . .”
He nodded. “Yeah, maybe you should stop acting like a child.”
We both laugh at that, establishing a new ground, an equal balance between us that prevented any more confusion in the complexity of our situation. I wished I had never answered the door, had never gotten up at exactly ten o’ clock. I was a suspicious person, and it turned out all these strange things had turned into something terrible, something shocking, something that could never be taken back.
With shaking hands I fixed us both up with a coffee, and we went into the living room, taking a seat opposite one another again and staring into silence, sipping the steaming drinks and almost choking on its bitterness. I must have put too many granules in - my mind was distracted.
“So, what’s your job?” asked Harry, looking towards the computer. “Hermione wrote that you were some kind of poet.”
I shook my head. “No, I’m a novelist. But I did write her a few poems, back in our time . . .” I bit my lip uncomfortably. “I’m really sorry, you know. I didn’t know she was married.”
He shrugged. “We were going through a stressful time.”
“But a whole year -” I protested, to which he overrode me sharply.
“Don’t remind me.”
“So how did you meet Hermione?” I asked, in an effort to drive the hostility away. He just looked at me, an accusation to which informed me that I had unknowingly spoiled everything.
“We were at school together. We started off as best friends.”
“Oh. Well, that’s nice . . . I suppose you two knew each other inside out then.”
“I thought so.”
There we were, back to the subject again, the inescapable fact that I had an affair with his wife. I leant back against the chair and thought for a moment. I never had any pictures of her, unless you count the one when we were fooling around at one of the launches of my book releases. She was dressed in a black halter neck dressed and me in a suit. Her hair smelt of strawberries.
“So do you have any other children?”
He shook his head. “No. We had problems when it came to fertility. I thought it was a miracle when the Healers said she was pregnant, when James came along . . . Now it doesn’t appear to be so.”
His eyes narrowed at me and I felt a blush arousing on my cheeks. “Look, I said I’m sorry, I didn’t know -”
“Yeah yeah,” he replied impatiently. “Look, it’s ok. I’ve gotten over it.”
“No you haven’t.”
“You attacked me in the hallway . . . You haven’t gotten over it. You’re still angry.”
“Well, wouldn’t you be?” he snapped, slamming down his coffee so that it shook and spilt all over the table. We both looked at it hesitantly, before Harry leant back and closed his eyes.
“It’s just coffee.”
“I’ll clean it up.”
“Nah, don’t bother.”
The silence fell over us again, the sound of traffic roaring past outside. I was going to work on my novel this morning; now it appears there’s no chance of that. I shake my head at my awkwardness. What’s going to happen now? Do I have to take this child that’s so-called “mine”? There’s a spare room upstairs, but I never intended upon having children. I think Hermione and I discussed it once, further towards the end of our relationship . . . She’d asked me if I had ever thought about becoming a farther, to which I’d laughed and shook my head with a “No way.” I could slap myself on the head for that now. It was obviously her way of checking, or seeing if our “love” was worth continuing. She was pregnant with my child, and she testing me. But I had been stupid, and had paid for it - nine years without knowing that I had a son. Those years had passed in a blur - I’d had women, I’d had books published, I’d quit my unsuccessful band, and now the days were fading into the grey slowness of glue and here I still was, stuck in a life that I’d had before, except with books that wouldn’t publish, and no warmth and company except that of myself. Was it really all worth it? How different would it have been if Hermione had stayed? I know she would have packed in her life with Harry for me, which was probably why she never told me about him, and why she hinted towards having a baby. But I’d been too immature, so that she had gone back to an unhappy marriage, to make it work by bringing in a child that did not belong to her husband. It must hurt Harry ten times more than me, that the pair of us were kept in the dark by a woman we both loved.
“We can’t blame her,” I said quietly, heaving in a breath and releasing it again as a sigh. “She was a great girl, a great woman and . . .” I trailed off at the look in Harry’s eyes. It was a look of agony. I shook my head and fiddled with the hem of my shirt. “You were lucky to have her.”
“Wh - what?”
“A part of her heart always belonged to you. She wrote it down.” Tears seemed to blood his eyes, his face appearing wintry in the midst of spring, his hands in his mouth as he bit down on them in an effort to keep control. “She would rather be with you, married and raising your child. She said you were more exciting and -” he choked on a sob, his face reddening with the hue of humiliation and desperation for me to understand his agonising emotional pain. “I never knew . . .”
“Something tells me you shouldn’t have read those diaries.”
“What, so I can live my life I lie? Just like the rest of it . . . I actually believed she loved me.”
“She did. She must have done. She didn’t tell you about James, she let you believe he was your own. She didn’t want to hurt you.”
“Harry,” I growled at him firmly. “You can’t judge her for it.”
He swallowed but agreed, glaring down at his lap where the tears are spilling like rainfall.
I felt so guilty. How could Hermione do this to both of us? She probably thought she was doing what was best.
“We mustn’t judge her for it,” I impressed firmly, chewing my lip and leaning against the back of my chair. “She thought she was in the right.”
Harry nodded but said nothing. In the end, I drained my coffee and set back to thinking. I tried to devoid emotion from my thoughts, but it was impossible.
Finally Harry stood up, taking on an expression of determination.
“Come on, we should go. It’s time you met your son.”
I sighed but nodded, getting to my feet and following him, grabbing my coat and keys on the way out, slamming the door behind me - the door of my old life. Everything was about to change, to turn upside down and test me with life’s trials.
I bit my lip and took slow steps forward to follow Harry away and down the grimy street.