Harry obviously hadn’t expected Ginny to launch herself at him because he stiffened for a moment before tangling his hands in her hair and returning the kiss. It was the overwhelming sense of relief, and the beginnings of happiness that propelled her forward. Things were going better than she had hoped on first arrival until a chill breeze swept through the room at the opening of the door. Recalled to her surroundings and feeling suddenly sheepish for forgetting that they were still in the Ministry, Ginny turned to apologize for her intrusion. Instead of finding herself facing Kingsley Shacklebolt and Bredan Tougas, however, she was standing in the middle of a shadowy courtyard. The sun hadn’t properly risen yet; it had gilt the tops of the tall cedars that formed the inner border of the high-walls.
It wasn’t the golden light that had caught her attention, but rather what was happening outside the courtyard in the street. At first it looked like a demonstration of Fred and George’s Wizard Whiz-Bangs, but Ginny quickly realized she was mistaken. The twins might put a foot across the line every now and then, but even they weren’t brazen enough to demonstrate their wares in the middle of a Muggle street in the early hours of a summer morning. Besides that, what she was seeing looked more like wand sparks than fireworks. A sick feeling swelled in the pit of her stomach, and wasn’t lessened at all when someone grabbed her hand and yanked her behind one of the tall cedars.
It was Harry.
The unexplained happenings in the street became nothing more than background noise. Ginny caressed Harry’s face, trying to convince herself that he was really standing before her. She hugged him tightly as if she hadn’t seen him in several years, pulling away only when the shrill and petrified cry of a baby cut through the other noise of the courtyard.
Turning round, Ginny saw a spell fly so close to her son’s head that it rippled his hair making him cry again. He was caught in the middle of a crowd of dueling witches and wizards and was in imminent danger of being hit with one of the many spells flying about. Gripping Harry’s hand tightly, fearing that he would vanish if she didn’t, Ginny ran out from behind the cedars, intent on getting to her son. She was trying to run as fast as she could, but it seemed as if she was moving at a snail’s pace. Just as she cleared the last of the cedars there was a flash of blindingly bright light, and a cry of pain from behind her. She was dragged to the ground as Harry fell . . .
Ginny had to blink several times before the red haze disappeared and she realized that what she was staring up at wasn’t blood, but the ruby red light of early dawn. It likewise took her several seconds to realize that the petrified cry was just an echo from her dream, and not James’s cries carrying from the next room.
The dream had been so vivid that Ginny forgot she was alone and turned over to snuggle closer to Harry. Her forgetfulness was short lived as with the force of ten speeding Bludgers it all came back to her: Harry was gone, missing, had been for over a year. He’d gone to work one morning and hadn’t come home. No one, including anyone at the Ministry, had yet found any trace of him, alive or . . . not.
Rolling onto her stomach, Ginny buried her face n Harry’s pillow and breathed deeply, as though trying to detect the trace of a scent that had disappeared months before. The pillow was cold and smelled only of washing powder. She instead curled her arm around the pillow and stared at the ring on the fourth finger of her left hand, planning to do so until sleep cast a spell over her and made the painful hollow in her chest go away.
After several minutes in which her eyes seemed unwilling to close, Ginny finally gave up on the idea of more sleep. She slid into slippers and a dressing gown and quietly padded down the hall into the second bedroom to stare at her sleeping son. On mornings like this one, where she had been awoken so suddenly by a bad dream, it was reassuring to see James enjoying a safe and untroubled sleep in his crib. Other times, she felt like she had done in the Ministry the day she’d first told Harry she was pregnant: awestruck at the very idea of bringing a new life into the world, and she could watch James for hours, marveling at the tiniest thing he did. This latter was an ever present feeling, stronger at some times than at others, and it was with her as she leant on the crib rail, but she had come here for a very different — yet equally common – reason. She had come to try and assuage some of the ache she was feeling over Harry’s disappearance. It was a strategy that almost worked because James looked very much like his father.
Ginny reached down and brushed a strand of black hair off his forehead, watching him closely. James shifted in his sleep and his hand closed over his blanket, but he didn’t wake, his round, bright green eyes remained hidden for the moment. The shape of his eyes was one thing James hadn’t inherited from his Harry. When he smiled, too, there was something about the shape of his face that reminded Ginny of Fred and George. Missing, also, was Harry’s most distinguishing mark: the scar shaped like a bolt of lightening. Apart from the scar though, the other differences were so minor that only someone who had spent hours staring at James would likely notice. She suspected Harry would have been one of those people, but as he had disappeared before James was born, she didn’t know for sure.
During their many visits to the healer, Ginny and Harry had never found out if they were having a girl or a boy. She was sure from early on that it was a boy; Harry thought the opposite. They had had many playful arguments about it, usually while lying in bed, and more often than not while Harry was resting his head on her stomach listening to the baby move around. He’d fallen asleep like that more than once and she hadn’t had the heart to wake him.
Having never agreed on whether they were having a boy or girl, they hadn’t got so far as choosing a name, but Ginny was sure Harry would approve of her decision: James Sirius Potter. She had briefly considered naming James after Harry, but it seemed to her to indicate a certain finality about his situation that she was not ready to accept. For a while Ginny had toyed with the idea of naming him after someone in her own family, but as there were already a million Weasleys, and as James took after the Potters so strongly, it seemed the natural choice.
A sharp knock on the door saved Ginny from drowning in painful memories. She smoothed James’s fringe back, planted a kiss on his forehead and then left the room, adjusting her dressing gown and impatiently wiping a tear from her eye. She needed to pull herself together!
“Mum? You’re early!” Feeling jolted Ginny looked down at her wrist, worried that she had lost track of time, but found only that she hadn’t put her watch on yet.
“I thought you might like the extra hand on your first day back to work.” Molly paused in the act of pulling off her cloak to stare at Ginny piercingly. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Ginny replied, inclining her head towards James’s room on the pretext of listening to see if he was awake so she could avoid looking at her mother. “How’s dad?”
“Much the same as he was when you left last night, I daresay.” She finished hanging up her cloak and fixed Ginny with a shrewd look. Before she could say anything more, though, James cried. Glad of the temporary reprieve, Ginny hurried to him.
James was standing up in the crib, holding onto the rail to steady himself. When he spotted Ginny he held out his arms to be picked up, promptly losing his balance and falling on his bottom. Not at all deterred, he immediately pulled himself up again. Watching him, she didn’t turn around when her mother came in.
“He’ll be climbing out sooner than you think.”
“Don’t remind me!”
James had been pulling himself up for a few weeks now. Every time she blinked it seemed like he was doing something new. It was hard enough to deal with how quickly he was growing when she was there to see it, but Ginny didn’t know how she would handle missing things now she was going back to work. She worried that the next time she looked up he’d be off to Hogwarts. This latter was a thought that caused her a great pang both for herself, and for Harry who was missing everything.
Wrapped up in her thoughts, and the tasks of getting James ready for the day, Ginny didn’t realize her mother had left the room until the enticing smell of eggs and bacon floated on the air to her. She paused in the act of pulling a green jumper over James’s head (one of her mother’s making) to sniff before she picked him up and headed to the kitchen.
Molly was just setting down the last of the plates with they came into the kitchen. She had turned on the wireless as well and Ginny was just able to make out the music of the early report on the WWN news over James’s delighted squeal at seeing his grandmother.
“You didn’t have to do this, mum,” Ginny said, relinquishing James to her. “I would have —“
“Its no trouble.” Molly was smiling as widely at James and pulling funny faces as she bounced him on her hip. This made him laugh loudly, a contagious sound that had Ginny and her mother laughing as well. After a minute, Molly placed James in his high chair, produced a bowl of pureed carrots and started feeding him, ignoring Ginny’s protests. “You don’t bring him round nearly enough.”
“What are you talking about?” Ginny asked, laughing again. “You just saw him last night, and we’re over at least twice a week. And you’re going to see him nearly every day for the next six to eight months.”
“Bill and Fleur were over more frequently with the twins,” Molly said in a reprimanding voice. Then taking Ginny by the shoulders and forcing her into a chair, she added, “Eat up, before it gets cold.”
Smiling, and feeling better than she had done all morning, Ginny dug into her breakfast. She watched her son while trying to listen to the wireless, currently midway through a report.
“ . . . A record crowd turned out to hear Mr. Fohn speech, in which he expounded on his belief that Minister for Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt has anti-pureblood leanings. The Minister, says Fohn, is quite as bad in his treatment of pure-bloods as You-Know-Who was with Muggle-borns.”
“How can he —“ Ginny said angrily, but her mother made a shushing noise and she stopped talking.
“Fohn also had strong words about what he claims is the Ministry’s mishandling of the Bellatrix Lestrange case, citing several missteps by Auror task force, including repeating his own claim that an unnamed member of the task force let Lestrange escape last year.”
Ginny set down her fork. She didn’t trust her churning stomach to hold anything else down. How could this man know about that? The newsreader, however, was now discussing Bellatrix Lestrange.
“Listeners will recall that Bellatrix Lestrange was arrested nearly twenty years ago for her use of the Cruciatus Curse on Aurors Frank and Alice Longbottom. She served fourteen years of a life sentence in Azkaban before escaping, and has been wreaking havoc ever since, first as a follower of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and then in her own right. The Ministry has alluded to her involvement in the deaths of multiple Muggle-borns over the last two years. That investigation is ongoing.
“Lestrange’s last rumored whereabouts was France, a country notorious for their unwillingness to extradite magical felons. This stance has been particularly problematic, say Ministry insiders, because it has allowed her to remain free. The Ministry of Magic maintains that the arrest and imprisonment of Bellatrix Lestrange remains their top priority, especially given her suspected involvement in Harry Potter’s disappearance last year.”
The feeling of being walloped by multiple Bludgers returned at once and though Ginny worked hard to retain her composure, her breath caught. She tried to cover it up as a hiccough to avoid awkward conversations, but it didn’t work.
“This is what’s wrong, is it?” Molly asked, waving her wand and shutting off the wireless. She sounded both sympathetic and slightly exasperated. “Harry again?”
“It’s nothing,” Ginny said, breathing deeply and looking at James rather than at her mother. He had paused with his hand in the bowl of carrots and he had smudges of orange all over his face.
“It’s a good thing that you’re going back to work today, Ginny. It will get you out among people again, and perhaps then you will stop with this unhealthy obsession —“
“I’m not obsessed!” Ginny said angrily, her voice rising.
“Oh really?” Molly grabbed Ginny’s left hand and held it up so that her ring was at eye level. Ginny snatched snatched her hand back. “And remind me again why you decided to stay in this flat when you were told it would be safer for you to move?”
“How many times do I have to explain this?” Ginny felt exasperated herself now. “If Lestrange —“
“She has nothing to do with the real reason you stayed though, does she?”
Ginny had been ready to refute what her mother said, but there was too much truth in the words for her to do anything but close her mouth. It was sentimentality rather than logic that kept Ginny in this flat. She and Harry had barely been living here for two months when he went missing. They had left his last flat because neither of them could stand to stay there after what had happened with Dudley Dursley. Then they spent six weeks at the Burrow before finding and moving in here, the first few weeks of which had been extremely uncomfortable because of their own uncertainty about how to move on after what happened, and also because some of her family — Percy prominent among them — were less than pleased at the idea of her pregnancy.
The very first night in their new flat, after the rest of her family had gone home, Harry asked Ginny to marry him, and she said yes. Perhaps it was this happy start that quickly made the flat feel as much like home to Ginny as the Burrow, and more so than his other flat had ever done. And as they settled into their routine, going off to work everyday and then coming home to quiet evenings in, it seemed like whatever problems they’d had in the past would stay in the past.
Then there was the night that Harry didn’t come home.
The entire task force had seemed at a loss for what to do. They were even less certain in those first few days about who was involved in Harry’s disappearance than they were at present. The first thing they suggested was for GInny to leave, to stay at the Burrow or some other safe house. They felt that if Lestrange was not involved in Harry’s disappearance the flat would be the first place she would come, even if only to use Ginny as bait. When she flat out refused to leave, Kingsley tried patiently to explain that the last thing Harry would want was for her to be in harm’s way, most especially because she was pregnant. Owing to the fact that she was six months along at the time, and admittedly under a great deal of stress, she flew completely off the handle and made a lot of insinuations about who was really to blame for Harry‘s disappearance.
Ginny didn’t leave in the end, having convinced the Aurors that if they were so sure Lestrange would show up, it would be the perfect opportunity to spring a trap. They hadn’t liked the idea at all, but set up protective spells to alert them if any unauthorized witch or wizard came anywhere in the vicinity of the building. As an added measure, Kingsley absolutely insisted on stationing Bredan Tougas there. Neither Ginny nor Tougas were at all happy, especially as it came so soon after she had made all those accusations about Tougas’s responsibility for Harry’s disappearance.
When anyone gave her a hard time about not making the smart decision and leaving the flat, Ginny said she wasn’t going to let Lestrange dictate how she lived her life. This was true, but it was only part of the reason she hadn’t wanted to leave, the other part was much closer to what her mother had just said. In the first few weeks that Harry was gone she held onto the irrational hope that staying would be a sort of beacon, guiding him home. As the weeks stretched into months, though, that hope diminished, and was replaced by an equally strong desire to hold onto the happy memories she and Harry had shared. The easiest way to do that was to stay, she reasoned.
Ginny didn’t regret her decision, but there were times, like this morning, when the cost felt very high. The entire flat was haunted by those immutable recollections that sometimes filled her with the same hollow empty feeling she’d woken up with, and at other times allowed her to think that Harry would show up at any second. In this latter case even a knock on the door had her jumping up and racing to answer it, only to be disappointed.
Because she had been thinking of it, Ginny didn’t realize that the knocking wasn’t coming from inside her own head.
“Are you going to answer that, or should I?” Molly asked.
Jumping to her feet, Ginny hurried to answer the door. She tried to remind herself that in all likelihood it wasn’t Harry, but that didn’t stop a hopeful bubble from swelling in her chest, a bubble that burst when the new visitor turned out to be Tougas.
“Oh,” she said, disappointment rapidly filling the hollow in her chest. “Hi.”
“You were expecting someone else?” Tougas asked gruffly. He didn’t wait for an invitation to come in, nor did he spare her so much as a glance. Instead he strode purposefully into the flat and looked around, as though expecting to see something different than he had on every morning previous.
“I hid the Death Eater in the closet this morning, in case you’re wondering,” Ginny said irritably, but for all the notice Tougas took she might as well not have said anything. He poked his head into every room before appearing satisfied that nothing had changed.
“Is something wrong?” Molly asked, coming out of the kitchen with James. She looked nervously from Ginny to Tougas.
“No, mum, he does this every morning,” Ginny replied, as James held out his arms for Tougas to take him. “It’s a right pain in the a-“
“Ginevra!” Molly reprimanded, handing James over. He let out a shrill laugh that would surely carry to the flat below.
“You won’t have to worry about them much longer,” Tougas said. When both Molly and Ginny looked at him questioningly he imitated Ginny’s automatic glance downward. “They’re moving out. I saw them hauling boxes this morning.”
“You’re serious?” Ginny asked, feeling her morning brightening slightly.
The fact that her downstairs neighbours would be moving out was something she could contemplate quite cheerfully. They were a crotchety old couple who complained constantly. Ginny and Harry had managed to get on their bad side early on simply because they weren’t married. They had been treated to a very long and loud discourse on the falling morals of young people. The speech got longer after Harry disappeared. They went on so long one day about how he must have just walked out, that Ginny actually had her wand in hand. The only thing that saved them from a couple of Bat Bogey Hexes was Ron and Hermione frog marching her away.
“When are they going? Did they say? Do they need any help packing?”
“I didn’t talk to them,” Tougas said, pausing in the act of raising James high in the air. “I just saw the boxes. I’d wager it would be soon, though.”
“This is great!” Ginny smiled widely, tweaking James’s nose. Things were definitely looking up, something she wouldn’t have thought possible even ten minutes earlier.
“Bredan, would you be a dear and take James into the living room while I help Ginny get ready for work?” Molly asked, a strange look on her face that dimmed Ginny’s brightening mood. Tougas raised an enquiring eyebrow, for which Ginny could only shrug. She followed her mother into her own bedroom, knowing that she wasn’t going to like whatever it was her mother had up her sleeve.
“What?” she asked, the minute Molly had closed the door.
“I just thought you might like an extra hand,” her mother said unconvincingly, as she headed over to the closet and started running her hand along the hangers.
“I’ve been dressing myself since I was four, mum. What d’you really want?”
“He comes over every morning?” Molly asked, pulling out a revoltingly pink blouse Ginny forgot she had.
“Yes,” she said suspiciously, grimacing at the blouse. “Why?”
“I thought Kingsley said they couldn’t keep anyone here anymore.” Molly put the blouse back and pulled out another, a blue one.
“He did.” Ginny snatched the blouse back and hung it up. She blocked her mother from the closet in an effort to speed up the conversation. “What’s your point?”
But she thought she knew it already.
“Well . . . Doesn’t it seem curious to you that he’s not supposed to be here, but he still comes by every morning?”
“Yeah, only because he feels responsible for what happened to Harry,” Ginny said, feeling her temper rising again. “He was the one who let Lestrange escape, remember.”
“Hmmm . . . I suppose,” Molly said, though she didn’t sound persuaded at all. “But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to it, Ginny. Look how good he is with James. You can’t tell me that’s all —“
“Stop, mum,” Ginny said, holding up her hand. “I know where you’re going with this, and I’ll tell you now that Tougas and I are only friends. Barely that, even. He’s interested in someone else, and I . . . “
“You are living with ghosts and treating them like they’re the real thing,” Molly replied, halfway between exasperation and pity.
“Yes, thank you. Can you please go check on James?” Ginny felt irrationally angry at her mother. She knew part of her anger was because she knew it to be true. Hadn’t she just thought the same thing?
With one last concerned look, her mother did as Ginny asked. As she closed the door behind her Ginny sank down onto the bed, feeling as though she’d already been through a week’s worth of Quidditch practices.