Harry winced at the sharp tone. So did Alby, who had woken as soon as he heard Ginny's voice, and Severus. "Ginny, I'm sorry, but I'll explain everything that happened after we have dinner. It's a long story, and the boys are tired, hungry, and in need of baths." He walked forward and set the boys down in front of his very annoyed, he couldn't say she was at the angry stage, at least not yet, wife.
"Mummy!" Alby squealed and threw himself at her.
"Hello, Alby! Miss me?"
"Uh huh," Alby nodded and practically jumped into his mother's arms. He clung to Ginny like a barnacle. His mummy smelled so good, like fresh bread and chocolate and roses and Alby couldn't get enough of her. He was so glad he was home and not stuck any more in that horrid centaur camp. "I'm hungry, Mummy."
"Did your father forget to pack a lunch again?" Ginny sighed and shot a reproving look at Harry.
"Umm . . . no . . . we kinda got lost . . ." Alby began.
"Got lost?" Ginny repeated, shooting a glare at her husband.
"Gin, I promise I'll tell you everything," Harry interrupted. "Just let's eat dinner first." He was starving, because all of the spellcasting he'd done took a lot of energy. And he didn't want to have this conversation on an empty stomach, he was sure Ginny would be furious once she learned what had happened, and arguing with her made his stomach upset enough as it was.
"All right," Ginny agreed, though her eyes still gleamed with anger. "We'll eat, but only because I hate wasting good food, and the boys are hungry. But mark my words, Harry James, we will be discussing this afterwards. Why didn't you at least tell me you were going to be late? I was nearly out of my head with worry!"
"I'm sorry, but there were . . . extenuating circumstances." Harry said. "Why didn't you send your Patronus to me?"
"I was busy, that's why," Ginny snapped. She settled Alby in his seat, then waved her wand and a large bowl of chicken and dumplings floated to the kitchen table, which was already set for four. A cutting board with a loaf of crispy hot bread accompanied the chicken dish, and there was a pitcher of lemonade in front of the two adults places.
Harry sniffed appreciatively. "It smells wonderful, Gin."
Ginny's eyes narrowed. "Don't try to flatter me, Harry."
"I'm not. It's the truth," Harry protested. Clearly she wasn't about to forgive him for his lapse of judgment. He sat down and began to serve everyone the chicken and dumplings and bread with butter.
Ginny poured the lemonade, eying her husband suspiciously. She sensed that whatever Harry's reason for being late was not something she would enjoy hearing. Still, despite her vast aggravation with him, she was happy to have her men at home and in one piece. When Harry hadn't sent an owl or a Patronus at dusk, she had panicked, fearing he was badly injured or one of the children was. That was one thing she was going to be sure to address in their talk later on.
All of the family ate heartily of the delicious chicken and dumplings, which was a recipe Ginny had learned from Molly, and the wonderful homemade bread, still warm from the oven, and hot enough to melt the butter spread upon it. Severus especially loved the bread, it was just the right texture and there was nothing like the aroma of fresh bread with butter to whet the appetite. "May I have some more bread, please?" he asked Ginny.
She smiled at him. "You like my bread, Sevvy?"
"It's delicious, Ginny," he said, taking another slice from the plate she held out to him. "The house elves at Hogwarts used to make bread, but it never tasted as good as yours."
"This was my granny Weasley's recipe," Ginny told him. "Not even Mum can improve on it."
"Is it made with magic?" was Severus' next question, after he'd taken a bite and swallowed.
"Only the baking part. The rest is done by hand, like Muggles. Granny always told my dad that there were some things you could use magic for and other things that needed to be done with old fashioned elbow grease. Mixing the dough and kneading it are two of those things."
Severus nodded, thinking perhaps that was the difference between the Hogwarts elves' bread and Ginny's.
"My mummy cooks the bestest," Alby declared proudly. "And so does my dad," he added, not wanting Harry to feel left out. He happily took another bite of his chicken. Now this was what real supper should taste like!
Harry used his piece of bread to mop up the rest of the chicken gravy on his plate, he loved it when Ginny made chicken and dumplings, it was the classic comfort food. Once they were all through, Harry took the dishes into the kitchen and washed, dried, and put them away. Normally he let the boys help him with that chore, but this night he did them alone, trying to soothe his wife's still simmering temper.
Together, Ginny and Harry took the boys up for their baths. When Ginny would have assisted Severus with his bath, Harry placed a hand on her shoulder and said, "Wait. I need to tell you something first."
He told her about taking the boys with him into the forest, showing them how he talked to an adder, and then how Alby and Severus had run off and gotten captured by the centaurs and what Kyletes had done to Severus.
Ginny nearly had a stroke. "That . . . that fiend whipped my child?" she snarled, her blue eyes flashing. It was clear she wanted to call Kyletes something else, but refrained from doing so. "Dearest God, Harry! Where in hell were you while this was happening?"
"I was searching for them," Harry replied evenly.
"Not soon enough!" she growled, then she turned to Severus and said softly, "Mind if I have a look?"
Severus sighed. He was tired of being fussed over, but knew that Ginny was as stubborn as her mother, and would pester him until she had examined him herself. "Fine. But they're not as bad as you're thinking." He removed his jeans and underwear. Thanks to the wound healing paste, they barely stung now.
Ginny gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. "Merlin! Sev, you poor thing! Oh, but I wish I had that beast in front of me! I'd like to cut off his fingers and beat him to a pulp. What did you do to him, Harry?"
Harry told her.
"That was good, but I'd have striped the bloody beast raw too! How dare he do such a thing to a child?"
Severus peered up at her. "Ginny, it's not so bad. My father did worse to me."
"Oh, Severus!" Ginny said, looking at him, her eyes filled with tears. "That's not the point. No child should ever . . . no matter what they've done . . . be hurt like this. It's abominable!" She wiped a hand across her eyes. "My mum and dad spanked me if I needed it, but they never left marks, and they always hugged me afterwards. That Kyletes and your father belong in prison for doing what they did to you. I'm so mad I feel like going back into the forest and smacking around that arrogant little shit and I wish I could resurrect Tobias Snape and tie him to a pole and whip him the way he did you!"
Ginny was so angry that she caused a wind to spring up and rattle the window, and the bathwater rose and sloshed over the side.
"Ginny, calm down," Harry said. "You're making a flood."
"Calm down! Calm down?" she repeated. "How can I do that after seeing this?" she gestured at Severus. "Doesn't it bother you, Harry?"
"Of course it does!" Harry snapped, hurt. "I was the one who healed him after bringing him out of that camp. I'm madder than hell that it happened, but losing control like that won't help anything."
"Sorry, Mr. Potter, if I can't be all cool and collected, like you!" Ginny said. "Sev, go and get in the tub."
Severus turned and looked at her before climbing into the tub. "Okay, but don't be mad at Harry. He tried his best to help me."
Ginny snorted. "Not hard enough, if you ended up like that."
"That's unfair!" Harry objected.
"Sevvy let Kyletes hurt him 'cause of me, Mummy," Alby spoke up. "He was gonna hit me with Mr. Swish only Sevvy wouldn't let him."
"Oh, God. My poor baby," Ginny groaned, hugging Alby. "Are you hurt anywhere?"
Alby shook his head. "No, Mummy. But I'm really tired and I wanna go to sleep with Bucky. I don't wanna have a bath now."
Ginny eyed her littlest critically. "Well . . . you don't look all that dirty, so I guess we can skip it for tonight. Right, Harry?"
Harry nodded. "I cast some Freshen Up charms on him. Why don't you tuck him in and I'll finish up with Severus?"
Ginny agreed, more for Alby's sake than anything else. Once they boys were in bed she was going to give her husband a piece of her mind! She couldn't believe how irresponsible Harry had been! Not to mention inconsiderate, making her worry like that!
She picked up Alby and carried him into his room. "Come on, luv. Let's get you into pajamas and then Mummy will tell you a story while you hold Bucky."
Alby was quite willing to be held by Ginny and snuggle with her while she told him the story of Babbity Rabbity. He clutched his stuffed hippogriff and let Ginny's soft voice soothe him into a light doze. He was half-asleep when she tucked him in with his favorite security toy.
By then Severus was done with his bath and dressed for bed also. The bath had soothed the welts and Harry had put more salve on before giving Severus his pajamas. Yawning, he crawled into his bed, and graciously let both Ginny and Harry hug and wish him goodnight.
He had just begun to drift off to sleep when the sound of voices raised in an argument woke him up. Even though it had been a lifetime since he had lived at Spinner's End and listened to his parents' vicious quarreling day and night , he still had not forgotten how angry voices made him feel sick to his stomach with apprehension. Even knowing this was an entirely different situation didn't make the queasy feeling in his stomach and the nervous tension go away. Instead he huddled on his bed, curled up with his arms about his knees, and tried to imagine himself somewhere else. It worked about as well as it ever had, which was to say, not at all.
Downstairs, Ginny was yelling at Harry, calling him an irresponsible idiot for not watching his son and letting him wander away like that.
Harry, who still felt guilty about the incident, might have been inclined to let her, except for the fact that she also called him an inconsiderate and insensitive bugger. Then his temper reared its head and suddenly he was shouting right back at her.
"Dammit, Gin, I am not inconsiderate! I started tracking the kids the minute I saw they were missing, and it wasn't any more than five minutes before I noticed! They would have been fine if I had found them before the centaurs. They hadn't gone very far down the trail."
"You should have owled me or sent a Patronus, Harry. So I knew what was happening!" Ginny snapped. "But no, you had to play bigshot hero again and save the day!"
Harry scowled. "That's not how it was. All I was doing was trying to get my kids back, not play any kind of game. I'm sorry if I neglected to stop and inform you about what was going on, but my first priority was getting my boys back . Yes, I was aware you were worried, but I figured rescuing the boys outweighed telling you what was going on."
"You ever think that maybe I could have helped, Harry? That I could have helped you search for them, fight the centaurs, do something besides stay at home twiddling my thumbs? Of course you didn't! You're the great wizard Harry Potter. You can do it all!"
"Just stop, Ginevra!" Harry ordered. "I didn't want you to get hurt. I already had enough to deal with. So sorry for caring!"
"You are bloody impossible!" she shrieked.
"Ha! Look who's talking!" Harry shot back.
The argument escalated from there.
Sharp angry words that cut like knives drifted up the stairs and into the children's bedroom. They lashed with bitter energy at Severus' sensitive ear drums, making him wince and shiver. He could recall the sound of cups shattering, plates smashing, every kind of swear word used, the sound of a hand striking flesh, or the thud of Tobias hitting the floor after passing out.
The only difference between this quarrel and that one was there was no alcohol involved and no violence, but the hurtful words were the same, shredding and ripping the inner psyche to pieces.
" . . .all your fault, Harry! Why the hell were you drawing the bloody snake instead of watching them?"
Harry muttered something that Severus couldn't hear.
Suddenly there came a soft whimper from Alby's bed and Severus glanced over to see his brother was awake too, and crying softly as the rising voice ebbed and flowed around them. "Mummy's mad at Daddy," he cried quietly. "Now she hates him an' it's my fault!" He cried and stared over at Severus, his green eyes filled with misery.
"No, it's not, Al," Severus said, getting up and going to his brother. He wrapped his arms about Alby and held him close. "Don't say that."
"It's true! If I hadn't run after the snake . . .!" His small body shook with sobs.
"Shhh . . .sometimes things just happen, Alby. And your mum doesn't hate your dad."
"Then why is she screaming like that?"
"Because she's upset. Sometimes grown-ups fight like this. But they'll stop soon," Severus whispered. I hope. He badly wanted to go downstairs and yell at both Potters for making poor Alby so upset. Stop it, the pair of you! You're traumatizing your son, but he knew better than to stick his nose in somebody else's quarrel. Last time he'd tried to interfere with Tobias and Eileen, he'd ended up with a broken nose when Tobias slammed his fist into his face. And while a part of him knew that neither Potter would lift a hand in anger to him, the other part, the part that had enabled him to survive his broken home, counseled remaining still and quiet and staying right where he was.
"I don' want Mummy and Daddy to fight!" Alby wailed, clinging to Severus and wetting his pajama top.
"Shh . . .it's going to be all right." Severus tried to sound reassuring, though he felt anything but. He hugged and rocked his brother, humming an old song.
" . . . here I am going insane wondering if you're alive or dead and you are out there playing Sir Galahad! Bloody hell, Harry!"
"I said I was sorry! What more do you want from me?"
"For you to admit that I'm right sometimes! And that I can handle myself in a fight the same as you can!" Ginny flared.
" . . . what the hell does that have to do with anything?"
" . . . has everything to do with your attitude, Potter . . ."
"My attitude . . .! I'm busting my ass trying to protect you! And the boys!"
"You just don't get it, do you?"
"Get what? That you want to play Valkyrie and give me more to worry about than I already have? Explain how that would be good for this family!"
"I am NOT some shrinking damsel in distress, Harry James! I don't need you to rescue me anymore!"
"Fine! Don't expect me to come running next time some asshole teammate of yours starts groping you. You take care of yourself!"
"I will, you bloody pain-in-the-ass! You don't have to worry your fat head about me."
"Oh, I won't, believe me!" Harry sneered.
More harsh words were exchanged until finally the argument ended with a door being slammed and Ginny yelling at Harry to sleep on the couch before she smacked him upside the head.
By then Alby had cried himself to sleep in Severus' arms.
Severus sighed and laid the little boy back down and tucked the covers around him. He hoped Alby would sleep through the night. Then he went back to his own bed, only to discover he couldn't sleep. The angry remnants of the quarrel echoed in his ears and made it impossible to settle down. After minutes of tossing, turning, and flipping his pillow over, Severus decided to get up and fetch a glass of milk with honey. Perhaps he could persuade Harry to warm it for him.
He padded downstairs, which was dark save for a light in the den, where he supposed Harry was sleeping on the sofa.
Severus whispered a soft "Lumos" to turn on the light in the kitchen and made his way to the Muggle refrigerator, which the Potters had in place of a house elf. He found the container of milk and then climbed on a chair to get a glass out of the cabinet and the honey from the pantry. While he was reaching for the honey, he heard a weary voice say, "Severus? What are you doing up?"
The little boy turned about at the sound of Harry's voice. "I couldn't sleep. You and Ginny arguing woke me up. Alby too. So I came down here to get some warm milk with honey."
"Alby's awake?" Harry repeated, his mind was fuzzy from being half-asleep.
"Not anymore. He fell back to sleep. But he was really upset. He thinks it's his fault you and Ginny were fighting. He was crying till he fell asleep," Severus informed the older wizard with a bit of reproof in his tone. He jumped off the chair with the honey jar in his hand.
Harry sighed. "Blast it! I was hoping both of you would sleep through it."
Severus snorted. "A deaf person could have heard the both of you screaming. I'm a light sleeper, always have been."
Harry rubbed his eyes. "I should have put a Silencing ward over the bedroom. Then you could have slept soundly instead of hearing that row. I'll have to talk with Alby tomorrow, explain that it's not his fault. He's like me, he feels guilty when things go wrong. I'm sorry we woke you."
Severus nodded. Then he walked over to where he had set the glass and milk and started to pour the milk.
Harry's hand closed over his and helped him steady the container, which was heavy for a five-year-old. He filled the glass almost to the top. "How much honey do you want, Sev?"
"Umm . . . my mother always put in two teaspoonfuls." Severus remembered.
Harry carefully stirred in two teaspoonfuls of golden honey. Then he cupped the glass in his hands and muttered a Warming Charm. "All set. Maybe I should try some. I can't sleep either." He fixed himself a glass, then levitated both glasses into the den and set them on the table.
Severus put away the milk and honey and tossed the spoon in the sink. He followed Harry into the den after Noxing the light in the kitchen. "You're going to sleep here?" he asked, looking at the small pillow and rather thin blue blanket Harry had on the sofa.
Harry gave him a rueful grin. "Well, she's kicked me out of my bedroom and I can't do anything else, short of breaking the door down, to get back in. Sometimes discretion's the better part of valor. She needs time to cool off. And so do I."
Severus took a seat on the sofa, his feet just touching the rug. He took a sip of his warmed milk and honey. It tasted just like he remembered. He looked worriedly at Harry. "Do you think . . . she'll ever forgive you?"
Harry sat next to him. "Eventually. Ginny has a quick temper, but she doesn't hold a grudge. Some of what she said to me was wrong, but some of it was also right. I do tend to be overprotective. I try not to be, but it's hard. I've lost so many people . . . I'm afraid of losing any more, especially my family."
"I can understand that," Severus said, taking another swallow of his milk.
Harry drank, then said, "I thought Ginny did too, but I guess I was wrong. Hey, this is pretty good."
Severus gave a little smile. "That was my mum's cure for sleeplessness besides potions when I was little."
Harry smirked. "Sev, you're still little."
"You know what I mean, Harry." Severus rolled his eyes. "So, will you apologize to her in the morning?"
"If she'll do the same with me," Harry answered. "Why are you so worried, Severus? This isn't the first row Ginny and I have had. Just the first one in a long time that we had witnesses for. We'll work things out." He reached out and ruffled Severus' hair. The boy still looked pensive.
"It's just . . . that time Lily and I quarreled . . ." Severus began, struggling to express his concern. "I tried to apologize and she wouldn't forgive me . . ."
Harry took another gulp of milk before answering. "Sev, that was totally different circumstances. You were both what . . . fifteen? I remember quarreling like bloody blazes with Ron and Hermione when I was fifteen and swearing I'd never talk to them again. I was a real jerk. You know what teenagers are like, Sev."
"Uh huh. Walking bombs of angst and drama." The former professor said wryly.
"Every time I fought with Ron when I was fifteen, I acted like the world had ended. And I tended to blow everything out of proportion. I think that's what happened with mum. She let her emotions run away with her. Did you ever go back again? After she sent you away?"
"No. What was the point?"
"Well, maybe if you had, things might have worked out differently." Harry said. "Sometimes it takes two or three times for Ginny to get over her temper and agree to talk things over."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "You're sure?"
"Yes. Severus, we had an argument. Yeah, it was loud and all, but it's not going to break up our marriage or anything."
"You called each other some terrible names."
"Yeah, we both have nasty tempers." Harry admitted. "But a long time ago, we both agreed not to hold whatever one of us said in anger against the other. By tomorrow, Gin will have calmed down and we can discuss everything rationally."
"Honest." Harry reassured him. "Sometimes we fight, but we always make up afterwards. I'd never let my temper, or Ginny's, come between us." He finished his glass of milk and set the glass on the table. "Hmm . . . now I feel sleepy." He yawned and lay down on the couch, pulling the blanket over his pajamas. "You want to sleep down here with me, Sev, or go back upstairs?"
Severus had finished off his milk too while they talked, and he felt his eyelids begin to droop. "I'm . . . kind of tired . . . I don't feel like going upstairs, Harry." He curled up against Harry's side. He was very comfy and cozy nestled against the green-eyed wizard and didn't want to climb all the way upstairs and into his cold bed.
Harry tugged the blanket over the little boy and put an arm around him to keep Severus from accidentally falling off the couch. "Figured that. . . Night, Sev." He pulled off his spectacles and set them next to the empty milk glasses.
"Night, Harry," Severus murmured, then his eyes shut and he was asleep.
Soon the only sound in the room were Harry's soft snores and Severus' light breathing.
The clock struck three in the morning and a figure in a blue robe and slippers came down the stairs and shook Harry awake. It was Ginny. "Baby, please wake up and come to bed. I'm sorry I lost my temper and said all those horrible things. I don't want you sleeping here, Harry, you'll get an awful crick in your neck. Honey, please wake up . . . oh! Sev's here too!" she exclaimed upon noticing the child's head resting upon Harry's chest, a sweet smile lingering on his face.
Harry stirred and opened his eyes. "Hey, Gin. What time is it?" he asked blearily, putting on his glasses.
"Just three AM. I . . . I couldn't sleep all night. I just lay there and thought about how horrible I'd been . . ." Ginny sniffled.
"I wasn't much better. The only reason why I slept was because Sev convinced me to drink warm milk with honey. Said his mother always gave it to him." He gently shifted Severus and sat up. "This couch is giving me a crick in my neck. Mind if I sleep in our bed, where I belong?"
"No, sweetheart. That's why I came down, to get you. I'm sorry I lost my temper . . ."
"So am I." Harry stood up, the sleeping Severus cradled in his arms. "But we can talk more later. I'm still somewhere in dreamland, hon. Let me put Sevvy back in his bed and then we can go back to sleep too."
Ginny yawned. "Okay . . ." She put her arms about her husband and kissed him.
Harry smiled, then he Apparated into the boys' room and placed Severus back in his bed, after first casting a Warming Charm over the sheets, so Severus wouldn't wake when Harry put him down. Severus never stirred when Harry settled him in bed and tucked the covers around him.
Harry left as quickly as he'd come, moving down the hallway and into his room, where his nice comfortable queen sized four poster waited, along with his wife. As he slid in beside Ginny, he thought about how lucky he was to have the family he did, and a wife who loved him beyond reason, enough to forgive words spoken in anger and to never let a silly quarrel ruin the love they had together. His arms wrapped around her and pulled her close, and he murmured, "I love you, Gin."
"Love you too, my Galahad," Ginny replied, then she snuggled into his neck, and soon they were asleep in each other's arms, their quarrel mended.