Hermione and her colleagues had been busy for years, working to change laws that bolstered old prejudices. They had made significant strides for werewolves, who now had greater legal status than ever before. Vampires, too, owed their new freedom to the same work, which now allowed them to feed on ‘willing’ humans (the definition of willing was still up for debate). Though huge steps had been made, neither vampires nor werewolves were yet granted full status of witches or wizards, though, which was why Harry was not in the dungeons with the Wizengamot, but rather in a much smaller and more cramped room on the fourth floor.
Until such time as there was a change to the law (which could very well be within a fortnight at the rate Hermione was moving), cases like Odette’s were handled by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. The department was still headed by Amos Diggory, a man who looked as though every minute of the eighteen years since his son’s death hung on him like a tonne of bricks. His face was as wrinkled as a Shar Pei, his hair a grizzled grey, and personal hygiene was very low on his list. All of this was trifling, however, compared to the change in the man’s personality, and the way he now conducted his department. It was this latter issue that made Harry stay behind at Odette’s hearing after he had given his testimony.
Most trials that went on were fair and balanced, but those run by committee – as the hearings in Diggory’s department were – had a tendency to shift closer and closer to the views of their head, and in this case that was not a good thing. Diggory could still be fair, but more often he seemed vindictive, persuading and cajoling decisions from committee members that tended to tally with his own views. Odette might be a multiple murderer with no remorse or inclination to stop, but she still deserved a fair hearing. Whether Amos Diggory would give her one was the question. Thus far, Diggory seemed ill-disposed towards anything but a guilty verdict and a death sentence. Having gathered the evidence himself, Harry had little doubt of Odette’s guilt, he was less sure about Diggory”s punishment. What was the phrase? ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
“Call in the last witness,” Diggory said, standing as he had been doing all day. While the scribe hurried from the room, Diggory kept his head down, shuffling papers. Every few seconds he would glance over at the vampire chained to the chair, and a dark, satisfied smile stole over his face. It was not a pretty sight.
Harry and Amos Diggory had never been on particularly friendly terms. They were cordial to each other, professional even, but never close. The death of Cedric Diggory notwithstanding, they had never had more than a few minutes conversation about anything other than casework. Diggory knew quite clearly how Harry disagreed with him on matters of law, which was why he was doing his best to avoid looking Harry’s way.
The door opened and James Finney entered, surrounded by his parents, the scribe who had gone to fetch him, and another member of the committee who had stepped out several minutes before. The buzz of quiet conversation died at once as all eyes turned to the group, four of whom melted away as the witness chair drew near. At last, Finny was alone. He walked like a blind man, feeling his way to the chair with his fingertips and then slowly easing into it. He did a credible, though accidental, impression of Amos Diggory in avoiding everyone’s eyes.
“State your name, please,” Diggory said, his voice ringing through the room.
“James Albert Finney, sir.” Finny was pale, with dark circles under his eyes, but he spoke in a strong voice.
“And you are resident of 4 Barnsley Rd, Chatham, Mr. Finney?”
“I am, sir, yes.”
“Seventeen yesterday, sir,” Finney was looking straight forward, not left or right.
Diggory’s jaw hardened.
Odette was shifting ever so slightly in her chair. Whether Finney saw was not clear, but Harry suspected he had because Finney turned his head again.
“Very well. Please tell us what happened.” Diggory said, having noticed none of the interaction between the vampire and the boy
Finny opened his mouth and may have even made the first sound when –
The effect was not as strong as it had been the previous night, but it was enough to raise the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck. A sudden increase in the amount of shifting and shuffling people, as well as an increase in muttering was proof enough that he was not the only one affected. In no one, though, was the effect so pronounced as in James Finney. Where he had before been pale, but calm and sure of himself, Finney was all at once transformed into a trembling figure. He looked as though he might collapse, undoing the healing of the last eighteen hours. He tried to keep his head down, but some sort of invisible hand seemed to pull it up – and he turned to look at the vampire.
This was a most unexpected development. It was commonly taught in Defence Against the Dark Arts class that vampires were only powerful at night, and that they were supposed to be harmless during the day. The people in the room that afternoon would have challenged that conventional wisdom, at least in the case of the boy, for after he looked at Odette, his whole demeanour changed. He was no longer the pale but confident boy, or the trembler, but one filled with murderous intent.
This thought had barely occurred to Harry before Finney was on his feet and lunging for Amos Diggory, who flung himself backward as he scrambled for his wand.
Chairs crashed to the floor as every member of the committee jumped to their feet, each reaching for their wand. Sitting along the side with the other spectators, Harry was one of the first on his feet, but he was shielded from Finney and Diggory by the committee members. He pushed his way through in time to hear and see Diggory’s stunning spell and see the boy collapse to the ground. A strangled cry. Someone bumped hard into Harry as they rushed past: Finney’s mother. She was on her knees beside her son, weeping softly by the time Harry caught up. He looked from her to Diggory, whose face had hardened still further and he was looking down his nose at mother and son with something like hatred.
“You said he was safe,” Diggory said, not failing to hide the accusation in his voice as he turned his attention to Harry.
“What I said was that the healers believed there would be no long term effects,” Harry replied, trying to keep his voice level. It was hard because Mrs. Finney’s sobbing was setting his teeth on edge. “They thought he needed rest, and if you’ll remember, I agreed with them. This could and should have waited.”
No. This proves that we were right to get this matter over with as soon as possible.’
“She would have kept for a few days,” Harry replied, trying to keep his voice down. Their conversation was attracting the attention of those nearest them. He gestured to Finney’s sprawled form on the floor, now flanked by both parents. “He might have been stronger then.”
“You don’t consider this further evidence of her dangerousness?” Amos’s nostrils flared, ruining his feigned look of astonishment.
“She would be just as dangerous a few days from now,” Harry replied. “I don’t understand why you insisted on having this hearing today.”
“Took you long enough to catch her. The people need to see that one part of our justice system works fast. You’ve done your job, Potter, now let me do mine.”
Harry did not move, but continued to stare at Diggory. This sort of reaction was the very reason he had wanted to stay, but at the same time it still came as something of a shock.
“You have been allowed to stay as a courtesy, Potter. If you do not leave, I will have you removed.” Diggory stood with his legs spread, as though he was ready for some sort of duel. Harry had the nagging suspicion that perhaps Diggory would have even welcomed it.
Knowing that no good could come of his staying, Harry reluctantly retreated, collected his papers and headed for the door. He looked back only once, sure that Diggory had joined with the others in watching him leave
“Now then, let’s get the boy up. We’ll use the chains, I think,” Amos said. The door slammed, blocking the rest of his words.
The queue for the lifts was long and slow moving. It was five o’clock on a Wednesday and everyone had the same idea of getting out as quickly as they could, with the effect that no one was going anywhere. Harry checked his watch at least a dozen times in the five minutes he waited in line. He had not thought to be here this late, and combined with Diggory’s ridiculous attitude, he was feeling particularly impatient.
“There you are, Potter. I was just coming to get you.”
A tall witch with spikey blonde hair had pushed her way through the line: Polly Marchand, the witch who had taken over Briony’s old job. Polly, unlike Briony, was all business, and with the exception of her hair, she dressed more professionally than anyone in the Ministry with the exception of the Minister for Magic and his support staff. Her appearance made Harry immediately wary. There was no reason she should be here when she worked two floors above.
“Here I am,” he said, cautiously. “What’s going on?”
“Not work,” she said, anticipating his fear. “I wanted to make sure you got out of here on time. Miss. Lily sent me a letter yesterday and asked me to do whatever I could to make sure that happened. She seemed to think it rather important.”
“I know about the party.”
“You do?” Polly looked shocked. “How? She said it was supposed to be a surprise.”
“It was. James,” Harry replied.
No further explanation was necessary. Polly knew, as did anyone who had known the Potters for any length of time, that James was the worst keeper of secrets in the world. He also happened to take after Fred and George a little too much, and had a knack of gathering information that he shouldn’t. From what Ginny told him when Harry confided that the surprise was spoiled, they had tried to keep James out of the loop to prevent just such a thing from happening, but he’d still found out, and within hours he’d spilled the beans to Harry, who did not need Ginny’s reminder that he should act surprised. That Lily was even going to the trouble to plan such a party was touching.
“How’d it go in there?” Polly asked, falling in line beside Harry. Then, thinking better of it, she said. “Never mind. If you’ll give me your files, I’ll put them away for you. You should get out of here.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am. You cannot disappoint Miss Lily. Go.”
“Thanks, I owe you one.” Harry handed over his files and then ducked out of line.
Every floor of the Ministry had one area that they cordoned off for Apparition. Most witches and wizards didn’t use it, preferring the Floo, brooms or the Knight Bus. As he had expected, the queue for the Apparition area was nonexistent. Harry hurried in and concentrated hard on his new destination.
* * *
Their house in Cambridge was the second that Harry and Ginny owned together, and their first after they married nine years earlier. It was a large house of red brick, seven bedrooms (including the two in the annex over the garage), complete with in-ground pool and a handy copse in the north east corner, to which Harry Apparated after leaving Amos Diggory to his sham of a hearing. It was a house they owned thanks almost solely to Ginny.: she had found it by after arriving for a Quidditch match and happening upon it when she took a wrong turn. It was also thanks to the obscene amount of gold she made playing professional Quidditch that they were able to afford the place at all. Harry did not begrudge this fact, although it had taken him a great number of years to get used to the house. For at least two years after they’d moved in he would find himself looking around the place and wondering when the real owners would come bursting in and demand that these usurpers vacate, giving them a boot along with a bill for the various dings and scrapes that came with having James and Teddy scampering about the place.
The matter of their housing became far more important after Lily was born. The flat they’d bought together in London had been fine when it was just the two of them, and tolerable when James had been young, but even before Lily came along they could feel that they were stretched to maximum capacity. They had given serious consideration to moving into Grimmauld Place, but had ruled it out after one visit. The house had been decaying during the years that Sirius had lent it to the Order of the Phoenix as headquarters. Since then, and after Kreacher’s death, it had got worse, and was therefore hardly the place to have two young children who might get into who knew what. They had therefore begun the almost two years long process of looking for a house, culminating in the impressive abode Harry was now staring at.
Having spent the day in a climate controlled building, Harry had not until that very moment realized how hot it was. He pulled his cloak off, briefly remembering the cold of the cellar in which he had found Odette the previous night. If some of that chill could be transported here . . . Looking up towards the blistering sun, a sight met his eye that almost did make his blood run cold: two figures were perched atop broomsticks, chasing each other around the chimney. The darker-haired of the two boys was his son, James, the second was blue-haired Teddy Lupin.
“Oi,” Harry called, cupping his hands around his mouth to ensure that they heard him. While their house gave no outward appearance of magic the neighbours were already suspicious. It would be too much to hope that they didn’t notice two boys astride broomsticks in broad daylight.
James spotted his father first. With a hand motion to Teddy, they pointed their brooms toward the ground and landed within a second of each other, spraying gravel in every direction.
“Happy birthday, Harry,. Guess what?” Teddy asked, rushing forward first, dropping his broom as he fumbled in his pocket for something. Before James could do more than offer his own birthday wishes, Teddy found what he was looking for. He pulled a tattered looking letter from his pocket and held it out. Harry recognized it at once as Teddy’s Hogwarts acceptance letter. “It came when I was at Gran’s house yesterday. We’ll have to go and get my wand and things soon, right?”
“Yes,” Harry replied, tapping the battered envelop against his hand. His own excitement for Teddy was somewhat diminished by the broomstick incident. He looked into the sky again, now thankfully empty. He took a moment to consider his words. He understood their desire to fly. It was his one regret about not buying a house like the Burrow, or one in Hogsmeade near Ron and Hermione. Had they done so, they could fly any time they wished. Giving up the ability to fly anytime they wanted was a small concession in the larger scheme of things, though. To live in Hogsmeade village would mean giving up a great deal of privacy and anonymity that both Harry and Ginny had come to value highly..
“Uncles Fred and George got you a present,” James said. And for some unknown reason he looked up into the clear blue sky above.
“What is it?” His fingers twitched toward his wand. It was always wise to be on guard where Fred and George were concerned.
“An invisibility marquee. They installed it over the house so that the Muggles can’t see in. We were testing it for them.”
“Really?” Harry returned his gaze to the sky. If James was speaking true, and there was no reason to suspect that he wasn’t, then Fred and George had at last succeeded in their years long project. As he watched the sky rippled and he thought he heard a soft flap, like a tent in the wind.
Before Harry could investigate further, the front door flew open, and the rapid patter of feet over gravel caught his attention. He looked round in time to see Lily’s last hurried steps . She flung her arms around him as she had done the previous night and momentarily hugged him close.
“You made it,” she said, sounding relieved and jubilant. She let go and grabbed his hand. “Come on, daddy, everyone’s waiting.”
Lily pulled Harry through the foyer, which they had to navigate with some care due to the general disarray that accompanied multiple families travelling with small children: a mess of bags, cloaks, several discarded broomsticks, lone shoes, and even a one eyed teddy that Harry was sure belonged to Ron and Hermione’s youngest child, Rose. On they went through the dining room, now empty, but bearing signs of recent use, through the sitting room, and into the back garden, which was a chaos.
Harry barely had time to look around, to take in the dozens of people milling about, before Lily pulled him off to the side where a long table stretched at least half the length of their right hedge, filled with food of every sort imaginable. In pride of place was a large gold spherical object – what Harry came to realize a golden snitch shaped birthday cake, with realistic silver wings that were fluttering on the barely existent wind. It was a cake that had all the earmarks of Molly Weasley’s baking.
“I helped gran make it,” Lily said when she had come to a stop right in front of the cake. “We were busy all afternoon.”
“You did a good job,” Harry said, speaking truthfully, not that he would have expected any different from his mother-in-law, who was a superb cook.
His eyes moved to the end of the table farthest from the house, on which was a pile of presents forming a pyramidal shape positioned around a tall black mast-like cylinder.
“Everyone brought presents,” Lily said, as she pulled Harry over to the pile. She spoke so excitedly that all of the gifts might have been her own.
As Lily pulled him over to a chair at the end of the table nearest the presents. Harry took the opportunity to look around. The back garden was full of ginger-headed people interspersed with a few exceptions: James and Lily’s black hair, Teddy’s head of blue, Remuss’s brown flecked with grey, and the blonds of Fleur, her and Bill’s daughter Victoire, Adrasteia Gerard, and the mousy brown head that belonged to Bredan Tougas’s daughter, Flora (a particular friend of Lily’s). James and Teddy were talking animatedly with Fred and George, while some of their younger cousins ran around them, yelling and screaming in delight as their parents tried to catch them. Harry spotted Hermione off in the most distant part of the garden as she snatched Rose just before she toppled into the pool.
Harry sat for a moment, observing the scene. It wasn’t often that the entire family could get together anymore. They were all busy with work and family. That they were here, that Lily, undoubtedly with Ginny’s help, had arranged all of this.
From the midst of the ginger sea, Ginny appeared, talking with her mother. She was the first of the lot to spot Harry. Turning away, she cupped her hands to her mouth much as Harry had done only a few minutes before.
“Hey,” she called. Her voice carried well, having been honed on the Quidditch pitch and from dealing with the many instances of rebel rousing that James seemed keen on. Silence fell as everyone turned to her. “He’s here.”
The better part of the next hour was spent conversing with guests, accepting his birthday wishes, and catching up with those who they did not see on as regular a basis as others: Bill and Fleur, Percy and Audrey, and of course, Charlie. It was Charlie who came over last, after finally extracting himself from nephews Riley and Simon’s attention.
“This is really something,” he said, speaking to Lily, who was once again by her father’s side. Ron and Hermione’s two oldest children, Nicholas, his sister Cassandra, and Flora Tougas were also there. “Did you do this all yourself?”
“No. Mummy and gran helped. It was my idea though. I wanted it to be a surprise. It is a surprise, wasn’t it, daddy?” She looked so earnest that Harry felt a stab of guilt for having to lie.
“Yes, it is. Everything is amazing, Lily, thank you.”
Lily accepted the kiss he planted on her forehead and then ran away with Flora and her cousins, a large smile on her face.
“You just made her year, you know,” Ginny said, appearing out of thin air and handing Harry an already opened bottle of butterbeer. .
“Yeah, well . . . “Harry shrugged and looked around at all the people assembled there for him. It was far from the first birthday he’d celebrated with the Weasley’s but they did not often now get together, all being busy with their own lives and children. That they were here for him, and because of Lily and Ginny . . . It was unfathomable.
The only people missing from the party were Hagrid, Luna and Neville.
“We did send them invites,” Ginny said, when Harry asked. “Unfortunately we got them out rather late, and they had all made plans to be abroad this week. We’re both sorry. If we’d been a bit more organized -“
“It’s no problem,” Harry said, taking Ginny’s hand.. “Really.”
The garden was filled with people now mulling about, drinks and plates in hand, talking and laughing. At the opposite corner, James and Teddy were squaring off against Lily, Nicholas and Flora. Lily had her arms akimbo, and though Harry was too far away to know for sure, he thought he saw something of her mother’s fierce expression on Lily’s face.
“What’s that smirk for?” Ginny asked, cocking an eye at Harry.
“Nothing.” Harry took his wife’s hand and kissed it, watching for a moment, her belly, in which their third child was still growing. She was due before the end of August.
It was at times easy to get caught up and almost torn apart in the strong and conflicting tides of work and family. It was entirely possible to forget that all of it: the house, the party, and most of all, the family, might not have been at all if circumstances had been different. Any number of times before he left Hogwarts, he had been in life threatening situations. And then – almost worse, had been the utter mess that had characterized his and Ginny’s relationship for half a year before she found out she was pregnant with James. To say that he had not handled the news of Ginny’s pregnancy well was an understatement of epic proportions. The very thought of it made Harry squirm. He could make no excuse for his own treatment of Ginny, nor could he ever forgive himself for allowing Kingsley and Dawlish to talk him into a months long ruse to try and ensnare Bellatrix Lestrange, especially because it went against everything that he knew to be right; most especially leaving Ginny alone near the end of her pregnancy, and then alone for over a year with a brand new baby – his son. The cost was too high to ever repay, especially when considering that within twenty-four hours of his return, Tonks was killed as they battled to escape the then still free Death Eaters. And soon, just a few days after that horror, one even worse almost befell them when Narcissa Malfoy, deluded by a years long grief over the death of her son, Draco, tried to settle that death by murdering James. It had been a very near thing. If Ginny hadn’t forced Narcissa’s wand away, instead directing the spell at Bellatrix . . .
Any other outcome from that terrible scenario was too horrible to ever contemplate, let alone during the last hours of sun and during a celebration. Harry pulled himself back to present and tucked dark memories away for later contemplation. As he did so, the spat that had been going on between Lily and James came to a final head when she pushed him into the pool.
James could swim well enough and in a minute he was climbing back onto dry land. Pausing only to glare at his sister. He stomped all the way across the lawn and came to a stop directly in front of his mother, hair and clothes plastered to his body.
“That,” he said, pointing at Ginny’s belly, “had better not be another girl.’
“And what if it is?” Ginny asked, now smirking herself. “What would you do about it?”
“I’ll . . . . ” But evidently James didn’t know what he would do, because he gave a great huff and pushed his sodden fringe out of his eyes. Through a gap between his parents, his eyes alighted on the pile of presents. His anger with Lily vanished almost at once. “Are you going to open those, dad? You should. He should, right?’ This question was for Ginny. “I can’t wait for him to open the F -“
Ginny pinched his lips shut.
“Once was enough, Jay,” she said. “He can’t know all of our secrets beforehand.’
“There’s another?” Harry asked. “Care to give a clue?”
Still under his mother’s watchful gaze, James shook his head.
“It’s getting late.” Ginny looked at her watch. With a final warning look at James, she released him. “I suppose we should get on. They’ll be wanting to get Rose, Victoire and Orlando down soon, I’m sure.”
Orlando was Percy and Audrey’s son. He, Rose, and Victoire were of an age with each other. As Harry followed Ginny’s gaze, he could see that she was right: all three three year olds were dozing in their mother’s laps. Ginny, who had spent the morning with her old Quidditch team, looked tired, too. Harry suddenly felt bad for all of the effort that this party must have cost her. He started to say something about foregoing present opening until later.
“”It’s hardly right that they don’t get to see you open your gifts,” Ginny said.
So it was that Harry found himself again in the seat Lily had directed him to when he arrived home. Lily was the apparent overseer of present distribution. Ginny watched her at it with amusement as she took the seat to Harry’s right, facing the pyramid.
The first present, a small box wrapped in gold paper, was from Ron and Hermione: a silver pocket watch.
“Its not very practical,” Hermione said, balancing Rose on her hip. “But for smart parties, it makes a nice addition to dress robes.”
Having just the previous night had some experience of the many magical properties of silver, Harry looked over the filigreed surface of the timepiece with more interest than he might otherwise have done. He accepted Hermione’s kiss on the cheek and clasped Ron’s hand in thanks.
Molly and Arthur’s gift was next and did not break with tradition. Being the deadest of summer, there was no thick wollen jumper, but the usual package of treats were there: fudge, treacle tart, several small cakes.
“Mum,” Ginny scored. “I thought I told you to take it easy on the stuff. He’s not as young as he used to be, remember.” She met Harry’s scowl with a cheeky smile.
Lily next handed over a plainly wrapped long thin box like those that wands came in. He didn’t need a new wand, of course, so was curious about what Bill, Fleur and their three children had got him. Inside the box was a small penknife.
“I know you used to have one of these,” Bill said. “I was there when Sirius was wrapping it. They’re very useful.”
Harry eyed the knife with renewed interest. He well remembered the knife that Bill was talking about: one that would open any door or untie any knot. That knife had been destroyed the night they went to the Ministry, the night Sirius had died. The dull throb that had become sorrow for everyone they’d lost over the years dimmed Harry’s excitement somewhat.
“Where did you find this?” Harry asked. He had been trying for years to replace the knife, but had been unsuccessful.
“A friend of mine from Egypt. He was always good with those sorts of things.”
“This is great,” Harry replied, pocketing the knife, where it joined the watch from Ron and Hermione.
From Percy and family, Harry received a set of fancy quills set in black felt. They came with different spells such as self-inking and spell-checking, but one even wrote in very fancy calligraphy. It was a very nice set and would look good on a shelf in his home office. Fred and George had provided the magical marquee as a gift.
“We couldn’t live with ourselves knowing that our niece and nephews – ” Fred had a hand on both James and Teddy’s shoulders, ” – were being maltreated.”
“We had to do something,” George replied. He looked round at Harry and Ginny, affecting a deeply hurt expression. “Decent Quidditich players, the pair of you, relegating your children to be landlocked like common Muggles.”
Fred and George’s generous gift was not their only one. They had also provided a box of the usual things that Harry bought from them – those which he found most useful in his work: decoy detonators, Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, and the like.
“We wanted to get you a lifetime supply of dittany,” Adrasteia said, when Harry had opened the joint gift from her and Remus: a large compendium of Dark Art Defensive spells. She was smiling hollowly. “I realized that would be near impossible and would cause a world shortage. You do seem to run through the stuff.”
Charlie had also brought a present. It was wrapped in a box about twice the height as Ron and Hermione’s gift, and about the length of the knife’s box.
“Dare I ask?” Harry looked at Charlie, who worked with dragons in Romania. If he had pulled a Hagrid . . .
“A throwback to another bit of decent flying,” Charlie said, with a shrug.
Harry knew at once what Charlie had meant when he pulled the lid off. Inside sat a replica model of the Hungarian Horntail he’d had when competing in the Triwizard tournament.
“A dragon?” James asked, looking from Harry to Charlie in confusion.
“Yes, sir,” Charlie said and he launched into the story..
“Wow,” James said, wide-eyed at the conclusion of his uncle’s story. He looked at Harry. “Dad, I didn’t know you did all that. You should have said.”
“Maybe the Triwizard tournament will happen while we’re there,” Teddy said. He and James shared an excited look.
“No.” Harry and Ginny said together, with equal vehemence.
Silence fell, accompanied by several minutes of awkward shuffling. The model of the horntail belched fire as it strode about on the table.
“Sorry. I wasn’t thinking,” Charlie said at last. “I just saw this and thought of the flying, not . . Not everything else. Sorry.”
The happy almost lazy feeling of contentment that had existed since Harry’s arrival vanished. Not wanting to see any sort of pity or sympathy in the eyes of his guests, Harry looked down at the model dragon. He was visited by a set of memories: being one of four who pulled similarly sized dragons out of a pouch. The flying had been the best bit, but the excitement and sense of accomplishment at securing the golden egg had faded and become blotched by all the connecting memories. At the end of that tournament he had come so close to dying, that he had felt Death brush past him. More importantly though, was Cedric DIggory’s senseless murder committed on Voldemort’s orders, but brought about because he, Harry, had made the suggestion that they take the cup together. If he had just gone himself . . . Amos Diggory wouldn’t have had to suffer a fate worse than death, for one thing. Whatever Amos had said to the contrary at the time, Harry was sure that a great deal of the man’s animosity towards him was a direct consequence of the happenings in the graveyard.
Lily had put another package in front of him. Without much enthusiasm, Harry opened it. He knew without reading the tag that this present was from Tougas. It was a bottle of Volcanic Vodka, a drink supposedly much hotter than firewhisky. He remembered a rather humorous conversation about the drink, but at the moment it didn’t seem particularly amusing.
“There’s one more,” Ginny said quietly. She nodded to Lily, who struggled a little in pulling off the table the mast-like protrusion around which the other gifts had been piled. It was longer than Lily was tall, and came with a handle. It put Harry in mind of bazookas, or some other hand-held Muggle military weapon. Two of his gifts he knew would already come in handy for work, could this possibly be another. Some magical cannon or something?
Harry helped Lily lay the container on the table. It was completely black, the handle barely visible. Just above the handle in metallic, shining letters: ff. Something was familiar about those metallic Italicized letters. He undid the clasp and the case sprung open. An ebony-coloured broomstick sat among grey felt.
“No way,” Harry said softly. Ron echoed his exact words in a much louder voice.
‘That’s not even supposed to be out until next month,” Ron said, leaning in. “How the hell did you -“
“I know a few people,” Ginny said with a casual shrug. She ignored the incredulous look she was getting from her brother.
The ebony broom gleamed in the sunlight. It was pure black with the exceptions of the band that held the tail twigs on and the lettering at the top of the handle which proclaimed this as Firebolt Flash 00020, only the twentieth such broom to be made. This broom was not yet on display in Quality Quidditch supplies, because as Ron had said, it was not even due for release for several more weeks.
“Do you like it?” Lily asked, watching apprehensively. Her look was mirrored on her mother’s face.
“I . . . We . . . Yes, I love it.”
Harry removed the broom from its case. It was smooth, almost oily. It vibrated slightly in his hand like an overexcited dog about to go for a walk. Despite his busy schedule, Harry was not unfamiliar with the new features of the broom. Ginny had mentioned them in passing several months earlier (by design, he wondered?) having been present for a demonstration to the Harpies from a Firebolt sales representative. This broom could go twice as fast as the Firebolt Harry had received from Sirius all those years ago, with improved anti-theft charms, sharper turning and an anti-disorientation feature that would prove quite useful given the speed and precision of the broom.
Harry was stunned. It had been one thing to have a Firebolt when he was playing Quidditch at Hogwarts, but quite another to have this one now. Two contradictory trains of thought were chasing themselves around his mind: one was as shocked and excited about this broom as he had been about the first one, the other more responsible part was concerned about the amount of gold that must have been exchanged. It was not like either he or Ginny were playing Quidditch in any kind of official capacity anymore.
“Can I have a go, dad,” James asked. His eyes were nearly bulging out of his head as he tried to take in every feature of the broom.
“Me too,” Teddy said.
“I wouldn’t say no to one either,” Charlie added from somewhere near the back of the crowd.
The Firebolt was a source of great interest to everyone. Not having much of an inkling to fly at the moment, Harry allowed the broom to be passed around and examined. He was anxious to fly, but to do so around their back garden would be nothing more than a tease. Their house might seem vast in other circumstances, but it was minuscule for flying, Fred and George’s magical marquee didn’t change that. He watched as James and Teddy were the first to ride the broom, and when they landed, their feelings were the same as Harry’s
“We’ll try for Hogsmeade this weekend,” he said.
Harry’s own feeling of renewed joy was short-lived. He returned to the table where Ginny was sitting with Ron and Hermione, Remus and Adrasteia, the latter of who was speaking. She did not look at all in the mood for a party, and Harry recalled the way she had plastered on a smile earlier when trying to make a joke about his present. He sat, took Ginny’s hand again, and listened to Adrasteia recount a truly harrowing tale of a patient of hers that had died.
‘Pye and I went to her funeral, more for the little girl then anything. He didn’t even notice we were there. Nor did Abby for that matter.” Adrasteia stopped talking and looked at each of them nervously.
“We won’t say anything,” Ginny said, reassuringly.
Adrasteia looked as though she wanted to continue, but two people were approaching the table: Flora and her father.
“When did you get here?” Ginny asked, placing her hands on the table, preparing to get up.
Tougas shook his head at her, an action that clearly indicated that she should not bother.
“Just now,” he said. “And we’re going to have to leave directly. Briony is still quite ill, I don’t want to leave her alone too long.”
He was true to his word. Harry barely had time to thank Tougas for the gift before they were disappearing again.
“Fancy opening this?” Ron asked, looking at the bottle of Vodka.
“Haven’t you had enough?” Hermione asked, adjusting Rose, now asleep in her lap. “You’ve got to work in the morning.”
“I know that,” Ron snapped. He reached for his glass, already half-full of firewhisky, and it fell over, sending amber liquid over the tablecloth.
Hermione gave him an ‘I told you so’ look.
Ron looked furious. Standing, he said, “It’s time to go.”
* * *
Though Ron was the first to suggest leaving, he and Hermione were the last to go. When the door closed behind them, a strange silence fell over the house. James and Lily were both stifling yawns behind their hands. Unfooled, Ginny chivvied them up to get ready for bed, saying she and Harry would be up to say goodnight in just a few minutes. James went quietly, stifling another yawn. Lily looked back several times as she climbed the stairs.
Adrasteia was their only remaining guest. She and Remus had already cleared up most of the debris from the party, and shouted down both Harry and Ginny’s attempts to help. So they headed upstairs mere minutes after the party broke up. And upon seeing how tired Ginny looked. Harry went to see that James and Lily were tucked into bed.
James was really too old, by his own estimation, to be tucked in so Harry merely stepped in to see that he was settled. James was in pajamas and was just pulling back the covers when his father entered the room. He stood up at once, still looking excited.
“We will go to Hogsmeade this weekend, won’t we?” James asked. “You’re right, we need a proper fly.”
“Absolutely. As long as nothing comes up at work.”
“And Teddy will come. But not Lily, right?” James pulled a disgusted face as his sister appeared in the doorway. “She doesn’t even like flying.”
Lily’s appearance was odd in itself. She usually waited in her own room for whichever parent was making the nightly visit. It was not her appearance that caught Harry’s attention, but the troubled look on her face.
“Get out,” James said. “Can’t you read?”
He pointed to a sign that hung on his door: sister-free-zone.
“I’ll be there in a minute, Lily,” Harry said.
Instead of returning to her bedroom, however, Lily took several more steps into the room. James started to protest her presence again, but fell silent when Harry held up a hand. This had to be extremely serious, for Lily to invade the no sister zone.
Lily dithered on the point of speech for several minutes. Just as Harry was about to repeat his own question, she spoke up.
“What’s going to happen to that little girl?” Her eyes were wide, and fell on her father with anxious anticipation.
“What little girl?” Harry asked.
“The one Adrasteia was talking about. Her mum died, right? And if her daddy’s gone mad -“
Harry let out a relieved laugh. The sombreness of Lily’s expression had had him fearing any number of horrible bits of news. He realized just a second too late that laughter was the very wrong reaction. Lily’s eyes widened further and she fled from the room.
She had not gone very far. Harry found her a minute later, sitting on the edge of her bed, staring at her hands.
“I’m sorry for laughing, Lily,” Harry said, adopting his own sombre tone and expression. Another question had come to him in the seconds since Lily had fled. “What did you hear?”
Lily recounted nearly the whole story.
“And if her mum died, and her daddy can’t take care of her . . . ” She fixed Harry again with her wide eyes.
Harry put his arm around her but didn’t answer right away. Finally he said, “Everyone reacts different when someone they love dies. I’m sure that man was just upset which he will probably be fore some time to come, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t still take care of his daughter. Do you think I would stop looking after you or your brother if something were to happen to your mum?”
He surreptitiously touched the post on the edge of her bed.
“No,” Lily replied slowly, “but . . . Well . . . You’re not mad.”
“Not yet, anyway,” he said, grinning just a little. Lily did not return the grin. Harry grew serious again. “Listen, Lily, I don’t know this man, but I do know that if iI were him I would do everything in my power to make sure that you and your brother were safe. This man will surely do the same for his daughter, even if he loves her only half as much as I love you.”
Lily considered this for some time after which she nodded, though she did not seem entirely appeased. She crawled into bed a minute later and allowed Harry to tuck her in.
“Did you like your party and presents?” she asked.
“I did. I love them, in fact. Thank you.”
Lily was still pensive when Harry left her a few minutes later, but her worry seemed to have diminished.
Harry expected that Ginny would be asleep when he returned to their room. She was not, but was instead propped up against the headboard, a magazine open across her belly.
“I thought you’d got lost,” she said.
“Nearly. Lily just – “
He did not finish his statement. There was a familiar blazing look on his wife’s face that Harry knew meant only one thing . . .
Some time later, sated, Harry lay awake in the darkness, listening to Ginny’s even breathing. His mind wandered over the presents he’d received that evening. Useful and impressive as they were, he would have traded every single one of them, including the new Firebolt, for more moments like those he had just had with his wife and kids.
* * *
Unaware that she and her father were the topic of conversation at a birthday party in Cambridge, Abby Sinclair was finally drifting sleep, having cried herself out. She missed her mother so badly it was like a constant toothache. If her father had been in his right mind, he would have given her a dreamless sleep potion.
Tobias Sinclair was not in his right mind, however. He was, at that moment, filling and refilling a glass with firewhisky. He was almost thoroughly drunk, awash in memories of his dead wife, whose face looked upon him from every picture. He took one down from the mantle: in which he and May were smiling happily, she being very pregnant at the time. Her cheeks were still rosy, alive with life. Not a trace of the disease that would take her life existed in her then.
Why did it have to be that the very thing they had so desired was the thing that had brought about May’s decline. Tobias did not blame his daughter for her mother’s death. He blamed Death. Those words that he heard, or thought he’d heard, haunted him still.
“You cannot defeat me . . . I got her in the end . . . “
Tobias fell to his knees, hands over his eyes. The half-empty glass of alcohol fell over and its content spilled onto the floor. Upstairs, Abby awoke with a start and upon hearing the animalistic cry, hugged her teddy to her, cowering until sleep overtook her again.