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The Blossoming by Athene Goodstrength
Chapter 4 : Beneath a Starry Canvas
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8


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Evening of 19th August, 2005 




Dusk had begun to fall over the garden at the Burrow, and Harry had worked with Charlie and Bill to set up a row of small tents along the edge of the garden. The tents were covered in patterns of flowers, stars, moons, and in one case, hundreds of little Golden Snitches, and each of them contained a beautiful children’s bedroom. A set of Extendable Ears reached from the door of each tent to an old Muggle stereo; George had just been granted the patent on this new baby-monitoring system, and was developing it behind the scenes at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Molly’s estimation of the eavesdropping technology had risen considerably once she’d realised it could be used to keep an ear out for her grandchildren’s wellbeing, and George had wisely remained silent about the large amount of traditional Extendable Ears sold in the Hogsmeade branch every weekend.

Harry carefully placed his son into a carved wooden crib, and pointed his wand at a mobile that was hanging overhead. Tiny wooden figures on brooms chased each other in a circle over James’ head, their bodies painted with the colours of the Holyhead Harpies. Harry looked at his son and watched his chest rise and fall for a moment, before ducking out of the tent that shimmered with Snitches. The air was still warm, and a long trestle table had been set up beside the row of children’s tents. The garden, filled only an hour previously with blazing sunlight, was now lit by lanterns and dozens of glass jars that Hermione had filled with dancing balls of flame. Harry reached up and allowed Ron to pull him to his feet.

‘Is he asleep?’ Ron asked.

‘Sound asleep. I think we finally managed to tire him out,’ replied Harry, dusting the grass from his knees. He smiled ruefully. ‘People keep saying he takes after Ginny, the way he’s attached to that broom.’

Ron smirked slightly. Harry’s fame was in no way eclipsed by Ginny’s success as a professional Quidditch player - although Harry may certainly have preferred it to be so - but Ron knew that Harry missed his association with the game. ‘You know you could have been the next Dai Llewellyn if you’d wanted.’

‘You just want me out of the way at work!’ Harry laughed, before suddenly sobering. He glanced at Ginny, who was helping her mother carry trays of food to the table. ‘Anyway, I’m not going to risk my neck playing professional Quidditch, not now that I have a child.’

Ginny looked up from the potato salad she was placing on the table, and threw Harry an irritated look.

‘I was only joking!’ said Ron quickly, not wanting to rouse the infamous tempers of the Potters - not just before dinner, anyway.

As the children were all finally put to bed, the family congregated at last around the long table. Plates were passed back and forth, drinks were poured, and, as the baby was wide awake, everyone took it in turns to hold Freddie as his parents enjoyed their dinner. Harry had taken a seat towards the top of the table, next to Ginny who had seemingly forgotten her anger and was chatting animatedly with Hermione and Ron about Luna’s most recent dispatch from Africa. Arthur was regaling Audrey and Percy, who had returned from work full of apologies and with a considerable amount of ink staining his fingers, with the tale of his recent flight in a Muggle airplane. It had been an anniversary gift from Ron and Hermione, and it had left Arthur thoroughly delighted; Molly, however, still blanched at the memory and was studying the cold chicken she was carving with great intensity.

Harry smiled as Charlie made his way towards him, wiping his mouth with satisfaction; it was common knowledge that the food at the Dragonology Centre in Romania wasn’t up to much, due to the overriding passion of its inhabitants being dragon welfare, rather than haute cuisine. Charlie, therefore, inevitably stuffed himself whenever he returned home to his mother’s cooking, and Harry couldn’t really blame him. Although it was a long time since he’d first sampled Molly’s cooking, Harry still looked forward to every plate his mother-in-law placed in front of him.

‘Ginny,’ said Charlie, crouching down next to his sister’s chair, ‘I’m sorry I missed your birthday last week.’

‘Don’t be silly, Charlie!’ beamed Ginny, ‘It’s just so good to see you!’

She threw her arms around her brother’s broad shoulders, and Harry grinned. Ginny loved all of her brothers dearly, but she had a particular soft spot for Charlie, who was so often absent. He returned the hug tightly, before pulling back and digging a hand into his pocket.

‘You won’t want your present then?’

‘Ooh, no - you’re not that special, I still need presents!’ Ginny laughed. Charlie pulled a small leather pouch, embroidered with gold thread, from his pocket, and handed it to his sister. A gentle hush fell over the table, as everyone looked curiously to see what the gift would be. As Ginny fumbled with the drawstring of the bag, Charlie looked over at the baby fussing in Angelina’s arms.

‘Don’t worry kiddo; you’ll get your presents after the ceremony tomorrow.’

Ginny finally managed to untangle the knot on the pouch, and cast Charlie an exasperated look.

‘There isn’t something alive in there, right?’ Harry asked apprehensively, suddenly thinking of Hagrid’s idea of a gift; he and Charlie had a very similar, somewhat worrying, attitude towards the relative danger imposed by magical creatures.

Charlie shook his head, laughing. ‘No, no; I’ve learned my lesson.’

‘It’s not that I didn’t like the bat,’ Bill protested from the other end of the table, ‘it was just a bit of a shock when it turned into Dmitri the Bloodthirsty and went after Fleur’s mum.’

Beside him, Fleur crossed her arms and glared at Charlie through narrowed eyes.

‘Now she insists Papa must call ‘er ‘Ludmilla’; it is quite disgusting.’

Harry caught Ron’s eye and it was clear that he too was undergoing an uncomfortable internal struggle not to laugh.

‘Look, everyone!’ said Ginny loudly, ‘A lovely pair of earrings!’

Harry watched as his wife took out her plain silver studs and replaced them with a pair of dangling dragons tooth earrings. ‘Oh, thank you Charlie; they’re brilliant!’

She beamed at her brother, who stood and kissed her on the top of her head. ‘Happy birthday, little one.’

‘Oh, Ginny! You look just like Bill.’ sighed Molly, whose hope that fatherhood might encourage her eldest son to cut off his ponytail and stop wearing a dragons tooth earring had not come to fruition.

‘Nothing wrong with that,’ grinned Bill, winking at Charlie as he returned to his seat. Harry wondered if he’d had a hand in Charlie’s choice of gift.

‘You look beautiful, Ginny,’ said Hermione, and both Harry and Ron nodded their agreement. George leaned forward.

‘Actually, Ange and I have a present for you too.’

‘Really? You’re spoiling me!’

‘We would have been over for your birthday itself, but we’ve been in a bit of a baby fog. You just lose track of time…’

‘Don’t worry about it, Harry will tell you I didn’t even know what day it was for weeks after James was born.’

George got up from the table and strode across the garden, before disappearing into the house, where the kitchen light blazed brightly. When he returned, he handed Ginny a large picture frame, with a red bow tied around it. Ginny untied the bow, and laughed. She turned the frame around so that the rest of the table could see what George and Angelina had given her.

A colourful magazine cover depicted Ginny, mid-flight with a Quaffle tucked under her arm. She was staring straight ahead, her eyes fixed on her goal. Large golden letters proclaimed the headline, ‘GINEVRA POTTER: Heroine of the Holyhead Harpies!’. Harry thought it was fantastic, and asked to look at it. As Ginny handed it over, she rose to her feet and kissed both George and Angelina on the cheek.

‘Thank you so much; I hadn’t seen this one! Where shall we hang it, Harry?’

Harry was admiring the picture, in particular the way his wife’s hair, like her cape, whipped out behind her and was dancing in the wind. ‘Oh, this one can go above my desk at work, I think.’

Ginny made a face; although she was loud and lively around her family and friends, she was rather shy elsewhere- despite her relative fame in the Quidditch world. ‘Not likely! I reckon it should go in the downstairs loo.’

Everyone laughed, and Harry knew that the framed picture would now have to take its place by the coat rack in the downstairs toilet, alongside the trophies and medals that Ginny was too modest to display anywhere else in the house. His thoughts were interrupted as Ginny spoke again.

‘Actually, this’ll probably be one of the last covers for me. I’m giving up Quidditch.’

The laughter echoing around the table stopped abruptly. Hermione glanced at Harry, saw the sudden tension in his jaw.

‘As Harry pointed out earlier,’ she continued, nodding at Ron, who was staring incredulously at her, ‘the Quidditch pitch is just too dangerous. Little James is sixteen months old now, and since I went back to the game last year he’s already seen me with a broken arm and a black eye.’

‘Yeah, but that’s not your fault; that’s just because the Holyhead beaters are rubbish!’ protested George, ‘And last Tuesday I came home with an extra pair of arms – don’t freak out, Mum, it was just a slight miscalculation at work and it wore off after an hour– Freddie didn’t even notice!’

‘I bet Angelina noticed,’ murmured Ron.

Angelina rolled her eyes, and shifted the baby in her arms, ‘One thing about being a Weasley wife is that you never know what sort of mischief your husband has been up to at work. One day he might come home with extra limbs, the next, he’ll be blowing bubbles out of his ears all night.’

‘It was only one ear!’ laughed George, pointing at his old war-wound.

Molly tutted at the gallows humour, and looked at Angelina with a sympathetic expression, mixed with the pride and weariness of being mother to no fewer than six Weasley boys. As she commiserated with Angelina and Fleur, George grinned and, leaning towards Harry, said in a low voice, ‘Ange kindly didn’t mention that those bubbles weren’t just coming out of my ears…’

Harry choked on his drink as he tried not to burst out laughing. 'All night?’ he spluttered, and George nodded, shaking with silent laughter.

Ginny was fending off questions from the rest of her family; Percy wanted to know if she had a career plan in place, and was assuring her that he could speak to a friend in the Department of Magical Games and Sports; Ron and Bill wanted to know what this meant for their season tickets. Noticing that Harry had turned quite red, Ginny broke off mid-sentence and thumped him hard between the shoulder blades.

Regaining his breath, Harry thanked her as he wiped tears from his eyes.
He turned to talk to George, who had managed to calm down, but he was fussing over the baby. Opposite Harry, Ron was deeply involved in a plate of boiled potatoes and pork chops, so Harry turned to speak to Ginny. She hadn’t quite finished her announcement, and Harry was impatient for the family to hear the news.

However, she was already chatting animatedly with Hermione, who was still looking rather tired. The fire dancing in the jars was casting unflattering shadows across her face; or were those dark rings under her eyes? Harry hadn’t had much of a chance to speak to her yet, and hoped that she wasn’t overworking herself. Harry smiled at that thought; in the fifteen years that he’d known Hermione, she’d never taken a day off from school or from work – except for the year out of school that she’d spent with him and Ron. Still, that year hadn’t exactly been a holiday; in fact, sitting his NEWT examinations would just about have been preferable to living as fugitives, searching the world for the scattered shards of a dark and broken soul, which is how he’d spent his seventh year in the wizarding world.

Hermione, in her inimitable style, had returned to Hogwarts the next year to complete her schooling. At the time, Ron and Harry had thought she was mad. However, there were moments even now, as a twenty-five year old - and a father, to boot - in which Harry wished that he could leave behind the cares and worries of adult life for just a little more time inside the walls of the Hogwarts castle, eating in the Great Hall every day, sleeping in the Gryffindor tower at night; spending lazy summer days watching the giant squid in the lake, and long winter evenings in the earthy warmth of Hagrid’s hut. Struck for a moment by the strength of his own nostalgia, Harry blinked quickly. He looked around at the familiar faces of his family and friends. Settling his gaze on Ginny, Harry took a moment whilst everyone was occupied in eating, talking or checking on the children, just to look at her.

In the firelight, her red hair burned even brighter than usual, and her eyes danced with enthusiasm as she spoke. Ginny had always been a ball of raw energy, an almost frighteningly vibrant person. Privately, she was the gentlest person he knew, but part of the success of their partnership was that they protected one another’s insecurities and old wounds from the rest of the world. For Ginny, that meant letting everyone believe that she was feisty to the core, even if every person sitting at the table that evening knew just how soft she really was; and they did.

With motherhood, she’d become almost otherworldly in his eyes; her fierceness, her passion -even her sharpness- all now had a focus other than the Quidditch pitch; a delicate scrap that they’d named James. The baby had grown strong and vocal very quickly. He was fast, and lively. Harry knew of course that his son’s vitality was due partly to his own restlessness, his curiosity and thirst for adventure. As far as he could tell, Harry himself had inherited those traits from his own father. As for his mother - it was odd, but sometimes Harry felt as though Lily appeared to him through Ginny. When he saw his wife holding James, her red hair swinging down to tickle the baby’s nose, Harry sometimes felt a shock of recognition that would leave him momentarily breathless.

Of course, Harry could barely remember anything about his mother, but he knew that she had been kind, clever, and incredibly loyal. He knew that she had died to save him, and he further knew that Ginny would do the same for their own son in an instant. But, the world had changed. Fear no longer reigned in the wizarding community, and Harry had been working hard, alongside his friends and colleagues, to ensure that theirs was a world in which no mother would ever again have to throw herself in front of a killing spell to save her child.

Harry shivered, although the night air was warm and Hermione’s fires continued to glow in their jars. He reached out under the table and his hand met Ginny’s. He gave it a gentle squeeze, and he saw her smile as she continued her conversation with Hermione. Molly and Fleur gathered the plates from the table and replaced them with pale blue bowls, each paired with a silver spoon.

Molly flicked her wand at a large cake stand in the centre of the table, and an enormous confection of meringue, cream and strawberries appeared. With another wave of Molly’s wand, generous portions of the pavlova appeared in each of the blue bowls; Harry noticed that he had received an extra-large portion. It seemed that his mother-in-law, who had been trying to fatten him up since he was a skinny schoolboy, would never stop spoiling Harry. Ron had seemed to accept this with good grace, except for when it came to pudding; Harry saw that he had noticed the discrepancy and, despite being a grown man in his mid-twenties, was about to complain to his mother.

‘Here,’ said Harry quickly, passing his bowl across the table to Ron, ‘I’m watching my waistline anyway.’

‘What, watching it expand?’, laughed Ron, in an attempt to hide his blushes, embarrassed at being caught out. Nevertheless, he took the pudding and was passing his smaller portion to Harry when a sudden high-pitched squeal filled the air. He dropped the delicate bowl, which smashed, splattering the table with thick white cream. Ron whipped his head around to stare, wide-eyed, at Hermione. She and Ginny were embracing across the table and making high-pitched screeching noises that he was sure contained words but were to him entirely undecipherable.

‘What did you do that for?’ Ron huffed, alarmed at the outburst, 'Look, I’ve got pudding everywhere and -’ he motioned wildly with a spoon‘-you’re going to wake the baby!”

At this, everyone looked at Freddie, who was curled peacefully against George’s chest, despite the small blob of whipped cream that had landed on his cheek. Apologizing for their outburst, Hermione and Ginny broke apart and turned to the rest of the table, both of their faces beaming.

‘Oh, sorry, sorry! We didn’t mean to alarm anyone!’ laughed Hermione, raising her wand to clean up the pieces of shattered bowl and squashed strawberries.

Harry leaned towards Ginny and muttered, ‘You told her, I take it?’ She nodded, and gave him a quick peck on the cheek as she rose from her chair. The familiar faces looking up at her ranged in expression from impatient to bewildered.

‘The truth is,’ she began, ‘that I have a really good reason for giving up Quidditch for now.’ She looked down at Harry, and taking his hand, pulled him up to stand by her side. Despite himself, he felt his cheeks growing slightly red. Hermione’s hands were covering her mouth, and her eyes danced with excitement as she clearly struggled not to blurt out the news herself before Harry and Ginny. Molly narrowed her eyes and stared at Ginny for a moment, before slapping a hand on the table and announcing triumphantly, ‘I knew it! I was right, wasn’t I, Ginny?’

‘Right about what, Molly?’ asked Arthur.

‘Oh, would you just get on with it?’, Ron grumbled, indignant that dessert was being neglected in all the drama. Hermione frowned at him, and made a mental note never to get in the way of her boyfriend and a pavlova pudding.

Ginny looked at Harry, who smiled encouragingly, and then at her mother. ‘You were right mum!’ she said, simply.

There was a flurry of movement as Molly pushed back her chair and pulled her daughter and Hermione into a tight hug, laughing and crying. Hermione was squealing again. Harry sat down and started nonchalantly to help himself to a fresh bowl of pudding, aware of the silence at the rest of the table.

‘C’mon Harry, what is it?’ asked Ron. Harry looked up and laughed to see Arthur, the Weasley boys and their wives all wearing matching looks of bemusement.

‘James is going to be a big brother,’ he grinned, and laughed again as realisation dawned on the nine faces before him.

The jubilation lasted a good ten minutes, with Harry’s shoulder growing sore from being smacked good-heartedly by each of Ginny’s brothers. Arthur excitedly summoned a crate of champagne from the house. As they zoomed across the garden towards the table, Fleur pointed her wand into the air, and a flock of tiny blue birds erupted from it triumphantly. They intercepted the bottles, bringing them carefully to rest on the table. They swooped and circled above the family for a while before slowly turning into translucent bubbles that floated gradually down, popping with a small noise like a chime. Harry watched enchanted, once again impressed by the joy this large, riotous family could exhibit time after time.

Arthur lifted his glass, and proposed a toast to the next Potter baby, as well as the newest Weasley; young Fred continued to sleep contentedly against his mother’s chest, tired after a long day of being passed from person to person. Everyone joined in the toast, bubbles foaming over the tops of the glasses as they clinked together.

As the Weasleys settled back into their seats to finish their desserts and champagne - Ron tucking in to his bowl of pudding with aplomb- Ginny leaned towards Harry.

‘Seems a new baby trumps my retirement entirely,’ she whispered, sadness tingeing her voice. Harry’s heart ached slightly and he reached up to sweep a stray curl from her face.

‘You know they’re all so proud of your Quidditch career,’ he said ‘and you saw how Bill’s face fell when you said you’d be retiring. But they can’t be sad at the reason for your retirement, you know that.’

‘I know, and I must sound awful. I’m so happy to be pregnant, I really am - I’ll just miss the game so much.’

‘We’ve been over this, Ginny,’ Harry sighed, ‘You’re doing the right thing, I promise.’

Ginny’s brow furrowed, and she looked down at her untouched pudding. ‘I know I am. It’s just hard, you know?’

‘I know,’ agreed Harry, taking her hand in his and giving it a gentle squeeze. She smiled up at him suddenly.

‘Maybe I can join the Sunday league after the baby’s born.’

‘I think we’d be able to find space for you on the team,’ Harry grinned, ‘Old Ranulf Davies will be happy; he’s been trying to poach you from professional Quidditch for years!’

A sudden movement at the other end of the table abruptly halted the conversation; Ginny and Harry both stared as Fleur threw an arm firmly across Audrey’s chest as the heavily pregnant woman pushed back her chair, bracing herself to stand up.

Non!’ Fleur cried, looking fearful, ‘There are thirteen of us at ze table! Ze first to leave ze meal will die!’

Opposite Harry, Hermione rolled her eyes. ‘So what do you suggest, Fleur? We all sit here until the milkman comes in the morning?’

Fleur’s eyes narrowed and Audrey smiled weakly. ‘Honestly Fleur - thank you for your consideration, but if I don’t get up soon I’ll have died of a burst bladder.’

Percy shoved back his chair and went to help Audrey out of her seat.

‘Here,’ he said, jaw clenching as his wife leaned heavily on his arm, ‘I’ll brave death for you, dear. I should check on Mop anyway.’ Happy that Audrey was steady on her feet, he ducked into the little tent covered in sparkling stars and crescent moons.

‘You’ll be fine,’ called Angelina as Audrey moved across the lawn. ‘Fleur miscounted - there are fourteen of us here.’ She pointed at her sleeping baby. Audrey waved the comment away amiably, her steps beginning to hasten as she neared the kitchen door.

‘You don’t really believe in that stuff, do you Fleur?’ asked Charlie curiously.

‘Why not,’ she replied, her oceanic eyes reflecting the firelight. Harry considered, not for the first time, that his sister-in-law’s beauty could, in certain lights, appear slightly menacing. ‘Is it not better to be safe, rather than sorry? Anyway, Bill told me zat your uncle Bilius saw a Grim and died, and most people think of Grims as silly superstition.’

Arthur had turned his head at the sound of his late brother’s name. Sadness glimmered momentarily behind his glasses, but then he smiled.

‘Yes, Fleur - you’re quite right,’ he said kindly, ‘but Bilius saw a lot of things before he died; the green fairy amongst them.’

Fleur’s mouth formed a perfect ‘O’, and she grasped Arthur’s hand in apology. Bill leaned back in his chair to catch his father’s eye, and winked. They had all grown accustomed to Fleur’s particular brand of forthrightness as well as the inevitable switching on of her charms when she realised her mistake. Nobody, even the women of the family, took offence any more.

Harry’s mind, however, had wandered from Fleur’s beauty. Now, he thought of the time - many years ago now- when he’d thought a Grim had been stalking him. He’d been terrified by the great black dog staring at him with hunger in its eyes. Now Harry felt the familiar regret that tightened his chest every time he thought of Sirius waiting for hours in his Animagus form, just for a glimpse of his godson, the boy with Lily and James so visible in his features.

Harry wished that Sirius could have been there to hear Ginny’s announcement that evening. He could almost picture it - Sirius, his face lined but still handsome, laughing in the firelight as little James grabbed at his long, slightly greying hair. Harry closed his eyes for a second, letting the images wash over him. A warm hand slipped beneath his, and Sirius’ face disappeared, leaving only darkness. He looked up and found Ginny’s warm brown eyes on him. Harry still caught himself wondering at times if his wife was a secret Legilimens; she was so adept at knowing when she was needed.

He stroked a thumb across her grazed knuckles, and looked around the table. He could easily, too easily, focus on the faces not present at these family gatherings - but he knew he’d wasted too much time doing just that. Harry had even found himself full of dread on the morning of his wedding; there had been too many people he’d loved who wouldn’t be there. However, Ron had alleviated his distress by appearing in the doorway of the bedroom armed with two enormous plates of bacon sandwiches and a gift from him and Hermione - a pair of silver cufflinks shaped like Snitches.

As he’d stood at the altar, Harry had looked out at the sea of faces that were there; the Weasleys, the Grangers, Annie and Teddy Tonks, Professor McGonagall, Hagrid, Neville and Hannah amongst dozens of other school friends, and even his cousin Dudley, looking rather nervous with his enormous hand wrapped around that of his unaccountably pretty girlfriend. Harry had realised, even before Ginny had entered the chapel, flanked by Hermione and Luna and looking almost painfully beautiful, that he should be grateful to have a life so filled with love. He’d spent his childhood with barely an idea of what ‘family’ meant, yet now he was surrounded by it.

Yes, thought Harry as he released Ginny’s hand so that she could finish eating her dinner, he could have focused on the people they had lost, but as he’d watched his bride walking towards him on that sunny morning, a familiar voice had seemed to whisper into his ear: ‘It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, Harry.’

Now, Harry looked to his right, to where George and Angelina were cooing quietly over their baby, heads bent together as if in conspiracy. Further down the table, Charlie was telling Fleur and Molly about a recent run-in with a cave troll whilst searching for an injured dragon; Molly’s hands were held to her face in horror and she peered, wide-eyed, through her fingers as Charlie spoke. Next to Bill and Fleur, Arthur was trying to persuade Ron to try an airplane flight for himself, and Hermione, though still looking tired, was laughing gently at Ron’s protests. Finally, at the head of the table, her hair burnished in the glow of the lanterns, was Ginny, life springing once again inside her. Harry smiled broadly and lifted a jug of sparkling lemonade to refill the glass of the girl who would never let him forget to live.


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