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Chapter 63 : Year 7: Old Acquaintance
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However, one afternoon in September about half a year later, when the wooden clock on the wall of her living room caught Ginny's eyes for a few seconds and she cursed loudly before turning her attention to the hundred things going on around her, she wasn't so sure about her decision anymore. Harry's guests would be there in less than half an hour, and nothing was finished. A broom and a mop were dancing around the wooden floor, leaving a shiny path behind them, a couple of sponges were scrubbing the windows clean, and she could head the sound of water boiling and oil sizzling from all the pots and frying pans she had managed to squeeze in on the stovetop out in the kitchen. James was happy enough in his Moses basket on the floor, which Ginny thanked Merlin for as she swished past him on her way to check on the food. She was quite sure that trying to juggle a fussy baby too would have sent her to her breaking point.
The clock caught Ginny's eye yet again when she returned to the living room a minute or so later (miraculously, nothing in the kitchen was burning yet). She also happened to catch sight of her own reflection in the now shiny windows, and sighed deeply. Her hair was a mess, her shirt was stained from breastfeeding earlier that afternoon, and she couldn't help but crinkle her nose when she bent her head down and sniffed the fabric.
She was halfway up the stairs to get changed when she realised she has left James down in the living room. With a shriek, she span around and hurried downstairs again, scooping up her son, who looked a little surprised but still content, as she held him to her chest, kissing the top of his head again and again.
"Oh, James, I'm so sorry, sweetheart," she whispered as she carried him up to her bedroom. "Mummy will never leave you, don't you worry about that..." She placed him on the middle of the bed as she pulled her top over her head. He wined, clearly wanting to stay in her arms, and she bent down to kiss him again before turning around, pulling out the top drawer of her dresser and starting to search for a new shirt. "I know, boo-boo," she sighed as she pulled out a whole pile of clothes and placed them on the bed next to the little boy. "You have to forgive me, Jimmy-Jam," she said, "I'm just a bit nervous, is all. I know it's silly, but I've never met these people. You have, so you don't need to be nervous. Besides, you're so cute even people like them won't be able to resist your charm. Your poor mother, on the other hand, I don't have it as easy..."
By the time she was down in the kitchen again, carrying James on one hip as she overlooked the food on the stovetop, it was nearly time for the guests to arrive. The thought had only just crossed her mind that they might get there before Harry, and what in the world should she talk to them about until he showed up, when the front door opened, and a cheerful, "Hello!" instantly calmed her nerves.
Harry entered the kitchen only moments later, kissing first James' cheeks, then Ginny's lips, before taking the wooden ladle from her hands and gently shoving her out of the way. "Sorry I'm so late," he said. "I got held up preparing for the Creevey trial next week."
Something changed in his eyes as he said the name; Ginny touched his arm, but he turned away from her to focus all of his attention on the food. It was bothering him more than anyone else Ginny knew that it was Dennis Creevey who had murdered the Death Eaters. Ginny had known Colin better than Harry - they had been in the same year at Hogwarts, and had bonded quite early on as they discovered their shared passion for everything concerning Harry Potter - and she knew that he wouldn't have believed his eyes if he had seen his brother now. And yet, it wasn't her, but Harry, who couldn't sleep at night, who had sat at Colin's grave for hours the day after he found out, and who hadn't looked the poor Mr and Mrs Creevey in the eyes once when he and Ron brought them to the Ministry of Magic to see their only living son, the murderer.
It was that same afternoon, after seeing what was left of the Creevey family - the boy with his hands chained together, the father walking unsteadily, reeking of alcohol, and the mother looking frail and old and just exhausted - that Harry had run into the last person on his mind that day. He had met Ginny after work to take James off her as she was heading to Holyhead, and since walking through Diagon Alley meant not being left alone for one second, especially if people saw him with the baby, Harry decided to take a stroll through Muggle London. He had just been admiring some strange, small, electronic objects in a display window and wondering whether Mr Weasley would want one of them for his birthday when someone bumped into him, quickly took a step back, and let out a gasp.
He had turned his head slowly, part of his brain recognising who it was but not quite connecting the dots until his eyes paused on her long, pale face. Her wrinkles were a little deeper and her blond hair a bit thinner than when he had seen her last, but apart from that, she looked just the same. Her grey eyes were widened in shock, and she placed a hand on her chest as if to calm her own heart down as she took another step backwards, walking straight into an old man who was just trying to squeeze by. He cursed loudly, but she didn't seem to hear, and Harry couldn't help but chuckle.
"Wow," he said, shaking his head. "It's been a while, Aunt Petunia."
Petunia Dursley continued to stare at him, only looking away at the sound of prattle to stare with even wider eyes at the pram Harry was pushing, and the dark-haired baby looking curiously at her from inside of it.
"Harry," Petunia said, turning her eyes back towards her nephew. "I... I can't believe..."
"Well, I would have written you," he said. "I sent you an invitation to my wedding, but I didn't hear back from you. Figured you might have left Privet Drive."
"No," answered his aunt, her voice a little unsteady. "We're still there."
"Hmm," Harry said. "I suppose it may have got lost in the mail. It was mother-in-law who sent it out - she's not used to sending the letters the Mu- I mean, the normal way."
"But you're married," Petunia said, not even trying to encourage his attempt to make excuses for her. "And this is... Is it yours?"
She made a gesture towards the pram, still looking rather distressed, and Harry smiled. "He sure is. Meet my son, James."
His aunt looked like she wanted very badly to crinkle her noise and spit out a comment on how awful the James Potter she had met was, but when she finally relaxed enough to open her mouth, all she said was, "James. He... He looks like him. Looks like you did."
"He's got a bit of his mum in him too, I reckon," Harry said. "Her nose. Her eyes. She's got those brown eyes too."
"So is she...? Your wife, she's a...?"
"She's like me, yes. Do you remember my best friend, Ron? Him and his dad and brothers came and picked me up that time...?"
Petunia frowned. "Vaguely. Didn't they blow up our living room and cast a curse on poor Dudley, and...?" She fell silent, and Harry cleared his throat.
"Anyway, they've got a sister too. Who is now my wife."
Petunia made a face that Harry was quite sure was supposed to be a smile, and went on to say: "And how old is the child?"
"Almost seven months," Harry said, and she nodded, now actually smiling as she leaned over the pram to look at James.
Harry wondered if she felt guilty at all, seeing his son and being reminded of how he had been left with them when he hadn't been much older. She seemed uncomfortable, which was new to him; not because she ever was relaxed and bubbly around him, but because she wasn't cold and emotionless either now. He had never seen her so distressed in his presence, simply because he had never seen his presence have any sort of effect on her at all before.
"So," he said, suddenly feeling merciful enough to find something else to talk about, "are you well, then? And Dudley too?"
Petunia's face lit up in an instant. "Ooh, yes, Dudley is terrific!" she beamed. "He's so handsome - not that he hasn't always been - but you should see him now! Vernon got him a job at Grunbings. He says he's doing so well there, but no one would have expected differently from our little boy..."
"Right," Harry said, biting back a smile. His aunt's view on her son definitely hadn't changed. "That's nice," he added.
"Yes. And it's nice to see you've got a family of your own now."
Since you never had one in us. She didn't say that, but Harry wondered if she wasn't thinking it too. And though he would claim later he hadn't been in his right mind after that stressful day and would have never done it otherwise, he proceeded to invite his three living relatives for dinner, and, mildly shocked, said goodbye to his aunt after she had accepted the invitation.
And so there Harry and Ginny were, one and a half week later, exchanging a nervous look over the steaming pots in between them before they headed out into the hallway to greet their guests. Harry scanned the room with his eyes once again for any objects that looked too magical, and Ginny paused to kiss James' forehead before she followed her husband to the front door.
"Okay, James," she whispered into his soft, dark hair, and then held her breath as Harry reached forwards and twisted the doorknob. "Here we go..."
While Ginny held her breath in anticipation back in her hallway, her brother was letting out a sigh of relief as he stepped out if the fireplace in his home about twenty-three miles down south. He had had a long day at work and couldn't be happier to be home; he knew that Hermione had left work early, so he called her name as he placed his leather satchel on the floor and shook the ash from his hair.
There was no reply. Ron headed into the little library, expecting to find his wife going through her books to find something worth reading again, but she wasn't there. He finally spotted her through the kitchen window on his way to the bedroom - she was lying on her stomach out on the lawn, the warm September sun painting golden streaks in her hair. He hadn't been that far off with his first guess, though; in front of her on the grass was a very thick book, and she had pushed herself up on her elbows to see better as she flipped through the yellowish pages, her brows furrowed in concentration.
"So here you are."
Hermione smiled and looked up as Ron stepped out through the back door. "Is it five already?" she asked.
Ron cast a glance at his watch. "Almost six," he said. "I had to stay a little later."
"Oh my," Hermione said, shaking her head. "I've been out here for hours. I got lost in this book..."
Ron chuckled as he sank down next to her, the grass tickling his skin in the gap between his socks and trouser legs. "I bet you did," he said. "What's it about?" He reached forwards and turned the book over to read the title, and grimaced as he did so - it was even heavier than it looked. "Master list of murder verdicts in Wizengamot, 1900's," he read. "I thought you finished work early today, not that you were taking it home."
"I know," Hermione said. "It's not for work, really. I mean, I suppose it ties in with that too, but it's... I'm preparing for the trial. Dennis' trial. I'm worried about it."
"Why is that?" Ron asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I've been reading up on old murder cases," Hermione explained. "And there's a significant difference in sentences purebloods get and sentences Muggleborns get."
And she went on to tell him about the eighteen-year-old pureblood who murdered his Muggleborn stepmother because she "brought shame upon the family name," and who got sentenced to fifteen years in Azkaban, compared to a Muggleborn man that same year who received the Dementor's Kiss after accidentally killing another wizard during a heated duel outside a pub. In the last ten years that the capital punishment was used, Hermione continued, almost three hundred Muggleborns were hanged, and only forty-one purebloods.
Ron shook his head at hearing the numbers, but still raised a questioning eyebrow that made his wife stop abruptly. "What?" she demanded, and he shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't know," he said. "I just... We don't have death penalty anymore. There are no Dementors in Azkaban and no one has been sentenced to the Dementor's Kiss since Kingsley became Minister for Magic."
Hermione looked like she was about to cry. "I know that!" she said angrily. "But just because Voldemort is gone, it doesn't mean that all is good and fair with the world now. Most of the witches and wizards in Wizengamot has been there since before we were born. Just because they didn't become Death Eaters, doesn't mean they are going to be unbiased when it comes to a Muggleborn boy murdering a whole bunch of people from the old pureblood families."
Ron tilted his head to the side. "Yes, I guess you're right..."
"Of course he should be punished!" continued Hermione furiously. "He's a murderer - he should be spending the rest of his life in Azkaban! But even murderers deserve fair trials!"
"I'm not arguing with you," said Ron.
"They can't give him the Dementor's Kiss, that's inhumane! But unfortunately, it's still very much legal..."
"Hermione," Ron interrupted. "I just said I agreed with you." His wife fell silent. "Is something wrong? Something else, I mean?"
Hermione shrugged before closing her book and looking up on him. She looked hesitant and a little ashamed, as though she was about to admit something awful. Taking a deep breath, she lowered her eyes again and said, "I got my period this morning."
Ron's face fell and he sat frozen for a few seconds before hurriedly placing his hands on top of hers. She kept her eyes fixed on the now closed book in front of her, and Ron tucked her hair in behind her ear, making her meet his gaze at last. "It's going to happen," he assured her. "We only just started trying."
"I know," she replied. "I just felt something the other day. I felt a little different and I thought maybe it was because I was... But I'm not."
Ron leaned closer, so that his lips were brushing against her ear, making her shiver as he said, "You will be. Just you wait, okay?"
She smiled into his shoulder and nodded, and he let himself sink down so that he was lying next to her, squinting up at the low September sun and imagining what next summer night be like. Perhaps their baby would be learning to walk out there in the backyard. Perhaps he would come home to find Hermione and their child asleep in the hammock that Hermione's father built for their house warming party. Yes, he could see it all as he closed his eyes to block out the sunlight, and he had a feeling it wasn't so far away now.
The sun was setting over the fields behind Harry and Ginny's house too. From the porch, the four people seated at the table could see it paint the yellow grass and the trees behind in gold as they enjoyed their dinner the best they could. James had decided that he definitely wanted to be part of the dinner and was standing on Ginny's lap, making eating very hard for his mother as he bounced up and down, grinning widely at his relatives across the table.
It was only Harry's aunt and cousin who had showed up. His Uncle Vernon, Petunia had explained, had come down with a fever but regretted not making it. Ginny had watched Harry's face at hearing the news; he didn't look like he believed it, but he didn't look too disappointed either.
The aunt was an interesting woman, Ginny thought. She didn't look nice, exactly, and from what Harry had told her, she wasn't, but she was certainly trying very hard. Maybe it was all for show, but then again, maybe she was truly sorry about the way she had always treated Harry.
The cousin was different than Ginny had expected. Even if Harry may have exaggerated Dudley Dursley's weight problems when describing him to Ginny, she concluded that he must have lost weight, and lots of it at that. He was still on the heavier side, but he didn't look like he was about to suffer from heart attack any second, and he didn't have quite as many double chins as Harry had said. He didn't seem like a bully either; he seemed timid and shy, and had blushed and shaken his head vigorously when Ginny had suggested he might want to hold James once all introductions had been made.
"No," he had said. "I mean, no thanks. I think I might drop him."
His mother had almost been moved to tears by this. "Oh, Dudley!" she has exlcaimed. "Worrying for the baby's safety, always so sweet and thoughtful..."
They had gone on to eat outside, for it was an exceptionally warm September night, and Ginny thought the two guests might be more comfortable out there; inside the house, both were eyeing every little object suspiciously, as if expecting them to grow legs or teeth or transfigure if they turned the other way. Out on the porch, everyone relaxed a bit more, Ginny was definitely amused when she listened to Harry explaining what he had been up to the last couple of years without mentioning the word 'magic,' and though she looked like she wanted to make a snide remark about her parents when Ginny revealed she was one of seven children, Petunia settled for pursing her lips. All in all, Ginny had not expected the night to go as well as it had.
As for Petunia, she too felt relieved when she and Dudley left a little later. Part of her had wanted to cancel their plans when she had woken up that morning, but she was glad they had come now. She had never found it in her heart to love her nephew, and she knew that her sister would have hated her for it. She couldn't explain it; perhaps it was because she could not look at him without thinking that if Lily hadn' t been a witch - if she had never gone to Hogwarts, never met James, never had Harry - then she would never have died. Petunia lost her sister before that night when Voldemort murdered her, but when he did, he took away the chance of them ever reconciling. Petunia would never get her sister back, but she would go to bed that night knowing that Lily's son had a good life, that he was happy, and that was enough for her to sleep better than she had in a long time.
A/N: I can't believe this chapter took me this long. As you may remember from my last author's note (although you probably won't because it was AGES ago) I just moved across the world (again) and I decided not to bring my laptop because I was also going to travel around a bit. I have since realised that I hate typing on my iPad and every time I've tried I just lose all inspiration because I get so frustrated. Anyway, enough with the excuses. I'm sorry. Someone will be bringing my laptop over in the next couple of weeks. This chapter was hard because I feel like nothing happens in it. More will happen soon, believe me. And I promise it won't be five or six months until the next one.
Thank you for being ever so patient and supportive and lovely! Xxx
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