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Evolution by sophie_hatter
Chapter 17 : Cracks
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4

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The bold, bright colours of autumn gradually faded to winter’s monochrome. Christmas came and went, in a flurry of warmth, laughter and far too many mince pies. Bill and Mrs Weasley fussed endlessly over Fleur, while Harry snatched every spare moment possible with Ginny. Spending Christmas at the Burrow was an enormous relief for him, and not just because it meant a few precious days with his girlfriend. The fact was that since Hermione had become a permanent resident at Grimmauld Place, his home had become something of a battleground.

If anyone had asked him beforehand, Harry would have predicted that any fireworks caused by his new domestic arrangements would have been the result of Ron and Hermione sharing the same living space. However, the friction actually came from a very different source: Kreacher. The crusading zeal with which Hermione approached her working life at the House-Elf Bureau had spilled over into her home life, where she was determined to present a shining beacon of progressive thinking in her treatment of Harry’s house-elf.

“It was different when I was just here temporarily. But now I actually live here, I have to set an example, Harry,” she explained.

Unfortunately, as Ron insisted on pointing out at every available opportunity, Hermione couldn’t have picked a less progressive elf if she had tried. Harry regularly discovered the pair of them arguing over who had the right to wield the washing up brush, the carpet beater or, worse still, the kitchen knives. As a result, he found himself having to mediate between them several times a week.

Kreacher didn’t help matters at all. The more Hermione rolled up her sleeves and pitched in with the housework, the more objectionable he became. Harry strongly suspected that the old elf chose to do all the most menial tasks directly in front of Hermione, simply to prove a point. Harry never once saw Kreacher scrubbing the kitchen floor before Hermione moved in, but afterwards, it seemed to happen during several meals each week. It drove Hermione to distraction, since her principles simply wouldn’t allow her to sit back and enjoy Kreacher’s ministrations. She began to resort to ever more desperate measures to assist him without his knowledge. On one memorable occasion, Harry came home from a surveillance shift at three o’clock in the morning to find Hermione dusting.

“Shh!” she hissed, when Harry began to remonstrate. “Kreacher’s asleep! I don’t want him to catch me!”

Harry despaired of the situation ever settling down, but in fact, it happened in the most unexpected manner. The uneasy truce started after dinner one evening in March, when Hermione turned her attention to her plans for redecorating Grimmauld Place. She dragged Ron and Harry into the dining room, where she had daubed a large number of beige splodges onto the walls.

“Well?” she asked impatiently. “What do you think?”

“About what?” asked Ron.

“About the paint samples, of course.”

“What about them?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don’t be dense, Ron. Which one do you prefer?”

“Oh!” said Ron, comprehension spreading across his face. “They’re all different, are they?”

Hermione looked exasperated. “Of course they’re different! I’m trying to decide which one will look best. What do you think?”

Ron was clearly amused. “Hermione, I’m a bloke. I’m biologically incapable of having an opinion about paint colours.”

“Oh come on, Ron. Surely you must have something to say?” Ron just shrugged at her, so Hermione looked for input elsewhere. “How about you, Harry?”

Unfortunately for Harry, he was no more able to discern between eighteen different colours on the beige spectrum than Ron. He was trying to think of something remotely helpful to say when there was a soft cough from behind him. Kreacher had entered the room with a pot of coffee and three cups, earning him frustrated glance from Hermione. She had delivered a sermon on how witches and wizards the world over were quite capable of putting on the kettle for themselves just that morning. Harry strongly suspected that was exactly why the elf had produced a pot now.

“Thanks, Kreacher. That’s thoughtful of you,” he said quickly, hoping to avoid an argument.

Kreacher set the tray down on the table and trudged arthritically towards the wall, where he very carefully inspected each sample in turn. Harry braced himself for a diatribe on the sanctity of the current decor, as selected by generations of the Black family, so what Kreacher actually said left him as gobsmacked.

“Kreacher thinks a warmer shade such as ‘Creme Royale’ is most suitable in this room, but recommends a darker tone for the woodwork. Kreacher suggests that ‘Forest Mushroom’ would be complimentary and practical.”

Harry and Hermione exchanged a stunned look while Ron seemed unable to even process what the elf had said. But from that moment on, a fragile peace broke out. The discovery that Kreacher had something of a flair for interior design was a godsend. Consulting him provided Hermione with a means to engage with him on a more even footing, which acted as a salve for her conscience. It didn’t entirely signal the end of hostilities, but it certainly eased them. Harry was now just as likely to discover them poring over paint charts and fabric samples together as locked in yet another tug-of-war over the kitchen mop.

Once the redecorating started in earnest, Harry had to admit the changes to the house were a revelation. He hadn’t realised how dreadful it was until he saw how much better it could be. He didn’t even miss the Gryffindor stripes on the enchanted tapestry when they were replaced a much more tasteful colour scheme in cream and yellow.

“No, Master Harry,” croaked Kreacher, in reply to Harry’s compliment. “It is ‘Ivory Lace’ and ‘Primrose Morning’.” There was more than a little reproach in his voice.

“Well, whatever colour it is, you’ve done a great job, love,” said Ron, putting his arm around Hermione “I think it looks brilliant.”

Seeing Ron and Hermione looking so content made Harry realise just how much living together suited them. They still bickered almost constantly, but always with an undertone of warmth and affection. Harry didn’t think he had ever seen them happier, and of course, he was happy for his best friends too. He just wished they didn’t have to be quite so in his face about it. Sometimes he felt like he was intruding on their honeymoon. There were moments over dinner when he would be talking about his day, or his plans for the weekend, and he would realise they hadn’t heard a word; they were just gazing at one another across the table. Or they would all be sitting in the drawing room, and Hermione would casually snuggle up to Ron without even a hint of reticence, leaving Harry feeling like a gooseberry in his own home.

But as uncomfortable has he found those moments, they were the easy ones to deal with. There were plenty of other incidents that were toe-curlingly dreadful, and the number of occasions on which he ended up seeing something he really wished he hadn’t became very embarrassing. It was like living in a French farce. First of all, he interrupted them in the drawing room (“Sorry, mate - I thought you were on the night shift tonight,” blustered Ron, as Hermione grabbed desperately for her top). Then, he accidentally walked in on them in the bathroom, when only copious amounts of bath foam spared everyone’s blushes (“Kreacher!” shouted Harry, as he bolted from the room. “We need some locks for these doors!”). The worst, though, was the time he went to the kitchen in search of a late-night snack, and caught them together in the pantry (“Seriously?” he yelped, as Ron fumbled to retrieve his trousers from around his ankles. “That just isn’t sanitary!”). Harry couldn’t look either one of them in the eye for two full days.

However, it was more than just the embarrassment that Harry found difficult. Realising how incredibly close Ron and Hermione were made him all the more conscious of the distance between him and Ginny - both physical and emotional. They snatched what little time together that they could, with Harry attending as many Harpies matches as possibly, and Ginny making the trip to London whenever she was able, but they seemed unable to establish any sort of routine. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, just an unfortunate side effect of the fact that neither of them had jobs with regular or predictable hours.

Now that Harry was fully part of the Auror office field team, his schedule was increasingly erratic. He could be called onto a night shift or capture operation with only minutes notice; dark wizards showed no respect for his right to a private life. Meanwhile, Ginny’s match and training program was equally punishing. They made the very most of the rare and precious time they could carve out together, and Harry treasured every single moment with Ginny, even those that were simply a quick conversation using the mirrors. It just felt so piecemeal and unsatisfactory compared to what Ron and Hermione had every single day, and the bitter truth was that Harry was jealous. He was jealous of Ron and Hermione and the way they could exploit their proximity to one another. He was jealous of Ginny’s new friends in Holyhead, who spent so much time with his girlfriend, providing the care and support that he felt was his to give. He was jealous of all those witches and wizards who could leave their offices at 5 pm on a Friday night and not return until 9 am on Monday, and find their partner waiting for them when they got home. What made it worse was that he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Ginny was moving on in her life without him. There were moments, more than he cared to admit, even to himself, where he regretted encouraging her to sign up with the Harpies.

He tried not to let it bubble to the surface, but sometimes the jealousy, the frustration and the resentment got the better of him. Occasionally he took it out on Ron or Hermione. Sometimes it was the new trainees who felt the brunt of it - he was especially mean to them during the concealment practical that he had hated so much during his own first year. Sometimes, to his eternal shame, he allowed his frustrations to come out with Ginny herself.

The time when she had to cancel their weekend together in April, just a couple of days before she was due to come down to London to see him, was a case in point. He could see how disappointed she was when she explained about the extra training she was required to do. He knew it wasn’t her fault and it wasn’t her choice, but he had been looking forward to it so much that he couldn’t stop himself snapping at her. He hated himself for doing it, and it quickly escalated into a full-blown argument. Almost as soon as it was over, he wanted to make amends, but Ginny had turned her mirror to face the wall. He sighed, and began to think how he could make it up to her.

Ginny touched down on the pitch with rather less grace than usual, and stomped towards the changing rooms in an absolutely foul mood. It was very unusual because in the normal run of things, she loved training. She was in the mix for selection for the Welsh derby against the Caerphilly Catapults so by rights, she should have been bubbling with excitement about the forthcoming match. But she wasn’t. Bloody stupid boyfriend! she thought to herself.

She had thrown herself into life with the Harpies, embracing the challenge with heart and soul as much as mind and body. Her hard work paid off, as slowly but surely, she began to establish herself in the team. At first, she was simply a reserve, then she started to pick up places in second team games. Eventually, in the depths of the February winter, she finally secured a starting place in a first team game. It was against the Cannons, and since they were firmly rooted to the foot of the table, the Harpies fielded a more ‘experimental’ team. Despite that, Ginny was philosophical. After all, everyone had to start somewhere. The thrill as she slipped on the green and gold match robes, emblazoned with her name on the back above the large number six, was simply incredible.

What made it even more special was that on that particular evening, the planets had aligned, and Harry was in the stands to watch her debut. He even managed to stay to celebrate with her afterwards. At the time, she tried not to dwell on the disorienting disappointment of waking up alone the next morning, the note on the pillow next to her the only confirmation that Harry had ever been there at all. Now, though, stunts like that flooded back into her mind, making her even more angry than she had been before.

Harry’s job encroached on their private time just as much as hers did, so how dare he be angry with her for cancelling their weekend together? The fact that he blamed her for something that was obviously not her fault made it even worse. Why couldn’t he see how disappointed she was that she couldn’t spend the weekend with him? Didn’t he understand that she couldn’t just skip out on the extra training that Gwenog had scheduled in preparation for the derby match? Well fine, thought Ginny, let him sulk. I refuse to feel bad about it.

Yet despite her determination, she couldn’t shake her bad mood. She wrenched her locker open, threw her kit bag on to the bench, and slammed the door shut again. Cosima and Valmai exchanged a nervous look.

“Erm, Ginny?” asked Valmai. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” replied Ginny through clenched teeth.

“You don’t look fine,” countered Valmai. “What happened? If you’re worried about the catch that you missed at the end, it really wasn’t your fault, it was an awful pass…”

“It isn’t the catch,” muttered Ginny. “It’s the whole stupid thing. I was meant to be going to London to see Harry this weekend. Let’s just say that he isn’t very happy that I’m stuck in Wales.”

“Oh dear! That is a shame!” said Cosima. “But we can’t have you moping around about it! I know! Why don’t we all go out for a drink this evening? I’m sure we’d all appreciate the chance to blow off a bit of steam!”

Ginny shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll be very good company.”

“Nonsense,” said Valmai, very firmly. “I think it’s an excellent idea. Just the three of us – it will be fun.”

Ginny tried to protest, but neither girl was going to let her off the hook. Valmai wouldn’t even let her go home to change, insisting she could just shower at the ground. “You look fine as you are. Besides, we’re only going to the Red Dragon and you’ve already got a boyfriend. Exactly who do you think you’ve got a make an effort for?”

“Yes!” breathed Cosima. “And if you don’t look quite as pretty as usual, maybe some of the men at the pub will actually want to talk to me instead!”

Valmai rolled her eyes at Ginny, and for the first time that day, Ginny smiled. Perhaps a night out wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

By the time Ginny, Valmai and Cosima arrived at the Red Dragon, a wizards’ pub on the outskirts of Holyhead, it was already fairly busy. The Dragon was the only wizard pub on the island, so even though Holyhead didn’t have a huge magical community, it was always popular. They found a table in the corner of the room and then Valmai went to the bar, returning with a bottle of mead. She poured three generous glasses and Ginny gratefully accepted the one pushed in her direction.

The three witches fell easily into club chatter, dissecting the weekend’s training and speculating on selections for the Caerphilly match. Being picked for the derby was a real badge of honour, and competition amongst the Chasers was fierce. Ginny knew she hadn’t flown well that day, and was was certain she hadn’t done enough to make the team.

“I still think you’re in with a chance, Ginny,” said Cosima, supportively. “You did really well against the Cannons.”

Anyone would have done well against the Cannons,” countered Ginny

“Okay, so they may not be the strongest team, but you shouldn’t be so down on yourself, Ginny,” chided Valmai. “Cosima’s right, you had a great game.”

Ginny smiled ruefully. “Yes, well. I haven’t made the starting seven since, so I can’t have done that well, can I? And I didn’t do myself any favours today either.” She was annoyed with herself, aware that she had allowed her argument with Harry to affect her game.

“Come on, Ginny, stop beating yourself up,” said Valmai, kindly. “It takes time to establish yourself. This is my third season, and I’m only just getting regular match time. Even then, it isn’t every single match. No one can be brilliant all the time, and you never know what’s around the corner. Your luck can change so quickly. Just look at Viktor Krum, for god’s sake!”

“Oh yes, I heard about that. Dreadful.” Cosima shook her head sadly.

“What’s happened to him?” asked Ginny, concerned.

“He’s grounded,” Valmai told her. “Snitch Sickness, apparently.”

Ginny was horrified. Falling victim to Snitch Sickness was every Quidditch pro’s worst nightmare. It was such a horrible condition, causing nausea, blackouts, dizziness, and uncontrollable tremors. However, the real cruelty of the illness was that sufferers only experienced the symptoms when they were airborne. On the ground, it was as though everything was completely normal. Krum, like many unfortunate others before him, would be forced to sit in the stands and watch while other players filled his coveted position, all the while feeling perfectly healthy. There were potions that could ease the worst of the symptoms, but nothing that worked well enough to allow competitive play. Without a cure, once you were Snitch Sick, you simply had to tough it out until the illness passed; it could take months, even years. Ginny shuddered. It really put her own professional worries into perspective.

“I had no idea. That’s terrible! Poor Viktor,” she said.

Cosima looked at Ginny curiously. “Viktor? It sounds like you know him, Ginny.”

Ginny shrugged. “Only vaguely. He was at Hogwarts during my third year. You know, for the Tri-Wizard Tournament. And he came to my brother’s wedding. My friend Hermione knows him better than me.”

“Gosh, first we find out about you and Harry Potter, now it turns out you know Viktor Krum! How many other famous people do you know?”

Ginny laughed. “No one else, I promise!”

“Oh, come on, Ginny!” contended Valmai. “That’s not true, is it? ‘Hermione’ is the decorated war hero Hermione Granger, pretty much your entire family are celebrities now, and correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you a close personal friend of the Minister of Magic himself?”

“Okay, okay! I suppose there might be one or two more!” As she defended herself against Valmai’s good natured teasing, Ginny began to feel much more relaxed, assisted by the combination of alcohol, conversation and a convivial atmosphere. The lack of both disapproving boyfriends and shouting captains didn’t hurt either, and it wasn’t long before the first bottle of mead was empty. Ginny fished about for her purse, intending to go to the bar to buy another, but Cosima beat her too it.

“No, no, no! Valmai and I are meant to be cheering you up, and that means the drinks are on us! You stay there! I’ll be right back!”

Ten minutes later, all three glasses were still empty. “Where the hell is Cosima with that mead?” complained Valmai. “I’m going to die of thirst here!”

“Looks like she’s found an admirer after all,” said Ginny, with a smile. She nodded to the bar, where Cosima had hopped up onto a stool and was deep in conversation with a tall, slender wizard wearing a hooded cloak.

“Brave man,” snorted Valmai. “Do you think it’s anyone we know?”

“I can’t tell with that hood in the way. Why on earth would anyone keep their hood up inside, anyway?” wondered Ginny.

Valmai smiled wickedly. “Would you want to be seen chatting up Cosima?”

“That’s horrible, Valmai!” said Ginny, laughing in spite of herself.

When Cosima eventually returned with the new bottle of mead, Valmai wasted no time in beginning her interrogation. “So come on then – spill the beans! Who’s your new boyfriend?” she asked, topping up the glasses.

Cosima looked a bit put out. “He never told me his name. He was handsome enough, and I thought he seemed nice, but all he wanted to do was talk about you, Ginny. Bloody typical!” Then she brightened up. “Still, he paid for our mead. That was nice of him, wasn’t it?”

“Really? A whole bottle?” Valmai was impressed. “We’ll have to send you to the bar more often, Cosima.”

The three witches spent the next part of the evening analysing every nuance of Ginny’s argument with Harry. Cosima went to get a third bottle of mead, and returned much more quickly this time, having failed to find a gallant stranger to pick up the bill. While they drank it, the three of them showed their support for the sisterhood by performing a systematic character assassination of every wizard in the entire pub.

Spending time with her friends left Ginny feeling a lot better, and she was grateful to them for dragging her out, but it was getting late by the time she got home. As she made her way rather unsteadily up the path, she became aware of a dark shape huddled by the front door. She drew her wand, and crept forward cautiously, but as she got closer, she suddenly realised it was Harry. His cloak was wrapped around him, and he appeared to be asleep, leaning against the door jamb.

“Harry?” She nudged him gently, and his eyes opened just a crack. “What are you doing here?”

He sat up groggily and smiled. “I wanted to apologise for being so awful to you. And I wanted to see you. I thought we could maybe get an evening together, if we couldn’t manage a whole weekend.”

“How long have you been here?”

He checked his watch. “A few hours. I didn’t know where you were.”

Ginny felt guilty. “I’ve been out with Cosima and Valmai. You were sitting outside all this time?”

“It’s fine,” he reassured her, as he climbed stiffly to his feet. “You weren’t to know. I’m used to sitting in cold and uncomfortable places for hours on end anyway. It’s an occupational hazard. And you’re here now, that’s the main thing.”

Ginny gazed into those familiar green eyes, and felt some of the righteous anger melt away. She was touched by how much effort he had made to see her.

“Come on, let’s get inside. I’ll make us some tea.” Ginny drew her wand and turned to the door. “Alohamora.” The door swung open.

Harry looked at his girlfriend in disbelief. “Really? That’s all the security you’ve got?

Ginny bustled into the kitchen. “We’re not all paranoid Auror types, you know.”

Harry sighed. “I can’t believe I didn’t think to try it. I could have sat in here on your sofa instead of your doorstep. Although you really ought to think about making a little bit more difficult to get in, you know.”

“I thought you were here to apologise, not to criticise my protective enchantments,” pointed out Ginny, as she put the kettle on the stove.

“I couldn’t criticise them if I wanted to. You haven’t got any.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll sort something out.” Ginny took the tea back into the living room. Harry had indeed settled on the sofa. Ginny handed him his mug and pointedly sat down on the armchair.

“Well?” Ginny asked him. “Wasn’t there something you wanted to say to me?”

Harry just looked at her. The silence that lasted just a few seconds seemed to stretch into years before he said anything. “I really am sorry, Ginny. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. It’s just... hard. Harder than I thought it would be. I miss you.” His glasses had slipped to end of his nose, and she realised how exhausted he looked.

“I miss you too.”

“Then why do I feel like it’s such a struggle?”

“You love your job, right?” she asked him. Harry nodded. “And you love me too?”

“You know I do.”

“Good. Because that’s exactly how I feel too. I love you. I love my job. I don’t want to have to choose, and I don’t think we have to. Not yet. I just think we have to figure out how to balance it. Put more effort into finding time together.”

“I suppose so.” Harry didn’t sound convinced.

“Hey, come on,” cajoled Ginny. “You were the one who thought we could do this. You persuaded me, and I still believe it’s true. It’s just going to take a bit of time to work it out, that’s all. And if we can do it without shouting at each other, that would be even better.”

Harry smiled at her. He still looked tired and pale, but there was a familiar sparkle in his eyes, the one that always did funny things to her stomach. “You’re right. I know you’re right. Apology accepted?”

“Apology accepted.” Ginny stood up. “Come on. I’m knackered and you look dead on your feet. Let’s get some sleep.”

As Harry stripped off and climbed into bed, Ginny went to brush her teeth. By the time she got back into the bedroom, he was already fast asleep. Ginny curled up beside him, feeling much happier than she had just half an hour earlier. They had managed considerably less than an evening together, but at least it was something. We’ll get there, she thought, just before sleep claimed her. I know we will.

The second of May was always going to be a day of mixed emotions for Harry. Two years ago, he had been wandering through the ruins of Hogwarts castle, numb in the aftermath of the greatest fight of his life, trying to process both the grief and the triumph, and failing dismally. One year ago, he had been paraded in front of the great and good of the wizarding world on a day that, against all his expectations, had proved strangely cathartic. Today, he was sitting quietly on a clifftop just outside Tinworth with the people he was proud to think of as his family. It was a good start to his campaign to spend more time with Ginny, even it they were not alone as they waited for the summons from Shell Cottage.

Harry gazed out across the sea. It was a beautiful day. The sky was clear blue, broken only by a handful of fluffy white clouds and the occasional seagull. A gentle breeze ruffled his hair, and he reached up, absentmindedly and totally pointlessly, to try and smooth it down.

“Come on, Harry - it’s your move.” Ron prompted him. Harry looked down at the chess board that was set out between them, and realised just how badly he was losing.

Next to them, Ginny was stretched out on a blanket, reading the sports pages of the latest edition of the Daily Prophet, while Hermione was sitting in a deckchair knitting... something. He wasn’t quite sure what. He hoped that Fleur would be able to work it out.

Harry was weighing up the wisdom of attempting to rescue the chess game versus simply conceding victory when he heard Mrs Weasley’s voice, calling in the distance.

“Ron? Ginny? Come on! They’re ready!”

Brother and sister immediately leapt to their feet and dashed towards the cottage, leaving Harry and Hermione to collect up all their belongings.

“I didn’t realise Ron was so excited about being an uncle,” commented Harry, as he scooped up the chess pieces.

“Yes, he hides it well, doesn’t he? But really, he’s thrilled.” Hermione silently shrank the deckchair and slipped it into her bag. It was missing most of the beading now, but the undetectable extension charm was still holding strong. She held it out for Harry to tip in the chess pieces.

“I suppose we should go too,” he said, “although I don’t want to get in the way.”

“We can give them a few minutes, but I’m sure Bill and Fleur will be pleased you’re here. After all, you’re practically family.”

“I’m not the only one,” Harry said firmly. As they walked slowly back towards the cottage, Harry’s eyes slipped to the garden behind the house, and the little white stone that he could see poking through the grass. He still missed Dobby, and he felt the familiar tug of guilt in his stomach when he thought about the last time he had seen the little elf.

“Harry?” Hermione’s hand was on his arm, and he realised that he had stopped walking.

“Sorry, I was just thinking. It’s funny, isn’t it? How a baby being born makes you think of all the people you’ve lost.”

Hermione looked philosophical. “Honestly? I can’t decide whether it’s beautiful or cruel that the baby came on the same date that Fred died. Come on. Let’s not dwell on it.” He let her lead him on towards the door.

Harry stepped inside Shell Cottage to find the entire Weasley family crowded into the front room. Fleur was sitting in an armchair, looking utterly exhausted but still stunningly beautiful, with her parents and her sister Gabrielle sitting on the sofa nearby. Harry’s eyes immediately sought out Ginny. She was standing next to Bill, holding a tiny little bundle wrapped in white blankets in her arms. All Harry could see of Bill’s baby daughter was the top of her head, crowned with wisps of hair the colour of rose-gold. Harry caught a glimpse of Ginny’s face as she turned to look at Fleur. She looked utterly terrified.

“Am I doing it right? I’m not hurting her, am I?” Harry knew that for all Ginny’s excitement at meeting her niece, she had been worried about holding her. As the youngest in her family, she really hadn’t been around babies before.

“You’re doing fine,” Bill reassured her. “Trust me. She’ll tell you if you’re hurting her. You certainly did when you were a baby.”

Harry found watching Ginny cradling a baby to be a very strange experience. For the most part, he was petrified by the thought of being a parent, but there was a small but insistent part of him that found the idea fascinating. As he gazed across the room, he felt like he was looking at a future that he wanted very much, even if he wasn’t anywhere near ready for it yet. It was very much like the feeling he had when he had accidentally looked at engagement rings in Golightly’s. He was so glad he and Ginny were ironing out their problems. She was the most important thing in his life, and he hated fighting with her. He decided then and there that he would do whatever it took to make sure things were right between them. He simply couldn’t bear to lose her; it would break him.

“Would you like to hold her, Harry?” asked Bill, breaking into his thoughts.

“Oh, erm, no... I mean, I’ve never held a baby, either. I have no idea...”

Fleur brushed away his protests. “Nonsense. Everybody ‘as to learn sometime.”

“But what if I drop her?”

“You won’t drop her. Just imagine she’s a Snitch,” came a voice in the corner.

“Not helpful, Charlie,” chided Mrs Weasley. She took the baby from Ginny and advanced towards Harry. He knew there was no escape, and he tried not to let the fear show.

“Now, just make sure you’ve got her head, and rest her across the crook of your arm,” coaxed Mrs Weasley. “There, like that.” She stood back and beamed at him. “You look like a professional.”

Harry looked down at the little girl in his arms. She opened her eyes just a crack, like tiny little chips of sapphire, unfocused and unknowing. Harry immediately felt a strong urge to protect this little child, although whether that was entirely his own reflex, or the baby’s Veela blood making itself known, he wasn’t too sure. Then he felt a momentary pang of guilt when he realised how little he saw of his own godson. He made a mental promise to put that right, although where he was going to find the time, he wasn’t entirely sure.

“Have you decided on a name yet, Fleur?” asked Hermione.

“Actually, yes, We ‘ave.” Fleur treated the room to a particularly dazzling smile. Bill went to stand behind her. “We were just waiting for everyone to be ‘ere before we told you all.”

“We’ve decided to call her Victoire,” said Bill, putting his hand on his wife’s shoulder. “For Victory.”

“Oh, that’s a lovely name!” exclaimed Mrs Weasley. “I think it’s perfect.”

Harry looked around the room, at all these people that he cared for so deeply, and smiled. Yes, he thought. It’s days like today when I know all this was really worth fighting for.

A/N - So, I really hope you enjoy the chapter! It's a quieter one, but there's lots of action coming up I promise. I have a couple of people to credit for their help here. First of all, I really struggled for inspiration for the name for Viktor Krum's illness, and I appealed for help on the forums. TheElderWand and GreekFreak stepped up and helped to come up with the name 'Snitch Sickness' - thanks for your help, guys, it was much appreciated.

Secondly, as always, thanks to CambAngst, who continues to be the most amazing beta reader and a constant support. I've been banging on about his novel Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood for ages now, but that's because it really is truly amazing. And as an added bonus, he has a great one-shot posted called 'The Price of Redemption'. Check it out!

That's all for now folks! I'll be back with Chapter 18 very soon, and I promise it's a humdinger:-)


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