It was several minutes before Ginny could regain her feet, only doing so when Madame Rosmerta entered the room and began inquiring after her well being.
“I’m quite all right, thank you,” she said, turning away to wipe her eyes on her sleeve. “I won’t stay any longer.”
“There’s no rush, Miss Weasley,“ Rosmerta said in a delicate voice. “Mr. Potter said to –“
“It doesn’t matter what he said, I’ll be going now.” Ginny didn’t wait for the landlady’s reaction. She walked down the short corridor, extracting a pinch of Floo powder as she did. Sparing the other patrons the smallest half-glance, she called out ‘The Burrow’ as loud as she dared, and a moment later had spun away from the pub.
Unlike her earlier unintentional arrival in Hogsmeade, Ginny knew immediately that there was something amiss when she stepped out of the warm flames.
Her mother, father, Ron and Hermione were staring out the kitchen window, their backs to the fireplace. None of them turned as the familiar whooshing sound announced Ginny’s arrival. She took as much time cleaning herself off as she could before approaching the quartet. She tried to see out the window herself, but the four people standing there were blocking her view.
“What’s so interesting?” she asked.
Molly was the first to turn round. She took a moment to examine Ginny before putting an arm firmly around her shoulders and directing her to the window. Ginny was squished between her mother and Hermione. She ignored these uncomfortable conditions and looked out the window, feeling uneasy. She wasn’t totally sure she wanted to know what had caught their attention so completely.
The day, which had started out bright and sunny, was now dark and gloomy, owing to a thick cloud cover that had rolled in sometime since Ginny’s departure. This made it difficult to see the back garden, despite the fact that it was yet early afternoon. She strained her eyes and was able to make out a whole host of owls clustered near her father’s shed. Looking more closely revealed several similar groups in at least a dozen other spots around the yard.
“What’s going on?” Ginny asked, though she was confident she could guess their answer. Everyone glanced at her as if she was daft. She had time to wonder how much they knew before her mother started speaking.
“They’ve been arriving since shortly after you left,” Molly said. “About a quarter of what you see now was here when Harry stopped by. He looked in a desperate hurry to find you. Did he?”
“Harry was here?” Ron asked flatly, not looking away from the owl filled garden. “What did he want to talk to you about, Ginny?”
“Nothing,” she replied, matching his monotone perfectly.
“It can’t have been nothing,” Molly stated. “Harry was much too agitated to have stopped by on a whim.”
Ginny considered her words carefully, wondering what she could safely reveal. How much of what Harry had told her was public knowledge? And then there was the fact that whatever she might divulge would likely have the effect of shattering the somewhat peaceful gathering she had joined. Finally she said, “Well, he did want to warn me about – about this.” She gestured to the outside. “About the PPA, that is. He thinks that they want me to -”
“This mess is his fault,” Ron interrupted, not looking anywhere but out the window. Everyone turned to watch him with curious expressions. Though these words gave Ginny a start, she said nothing. It was the first time Ron had said anything about his feelings on the matter. Their lack of reaction appeared to take him by surprise, for he finally looked away from the arrival of even more owls and stared at each of them in turn.
“You’re not going to argue with me?”
“No,” Ginny said, answering because he was looking directly at her now. “No, I’m not.”
She didn’t meet his gaze, instead choosing to stare down into the now empty sink. Though he didn’t say anything, Ginny continued to feel Ron’s gaze on her for almost a full sixty seconds before he said anything else.
“Can you give us a minute?” he asked, looking at Hermione, and then their parents. Molly and Arthur turned at once and headed up the stairs. Hermione hesitated, sharing a look with him that recalled a conversation they’d been having, because Ron nodded and then jerked his head in the direction of the sitting room. She went, stopping again to give them another quick glance before disappearing.
“You’ve done a total one-eighty, Ginny. What did he do now?” Ron asked immediately, speaking in a fairly good imitation of a normal voice, but the lobes of his ears were starting to turn red.
“Nothing.” Even Ginny wouldn’t have bought her own attempt at a casual answer. Her voice broke as snippets of the few minutes she’d spent with Harry replayed in her mind’s eye.
“Yeah, because you always start crying when nothing’s happened.” Ron put his hand on her shoulder and turned her round to face him. Ginny intended to say that she was fine, just a little over-emotional and for Ron not to take anything too seriously. Seeing the worried frown he was wearing though, caused her to lose what little composure she’d managed to regain since returning home.
Ginny expected Ron to make some off colour joke or remark – his way of lightening the mood, but none came. Instead he gave her a hug, mumbling something in which the word git was least colourful. This, surely mean to cheer her up at least in part, upset Ginny more because it reminded her of how it affected his friendship with Harry.
“Who are you and what have you done with my brother?” Ginny asked a moment later, feeling and sounding like she had a bad head cold. She turned again to the sink to splash some water on her face.
“I guess I just don’t find it funny,” he answered her. “D’you want to tell me what he said that got you so upset this time?”
“I’ve already told you he didn’t say anything to upset me.” She couldn’t look at Ron as she spoke, instead choosing to stare out into the back garden and the owls who, unable to deliver their post, were now taking flight.
“What did he do then?” Ron came and stood beside her. He feigned looking out the window as well but he glanced at her every other second. He was gripping the sink tightly, as though using it to brace himself for whatever she was going to say. Though still trying to remain calm, he was poorly disguising his fury. She had seen a similar expression on his face the night he had run off to Grimmauld Place to confront Harry.
“If you’re looking for another reason to get into it with Harry, you’re looking in the wrong place,” she said wearily. “The last thing we need in this family is more fighting.”
Ron didn’t even flinch at the mention of that fight from the previous week. He turned to look directly at her. “I’m sorry it’s come down to that, but you’re not going to make me feel guilty about doing it. He deserves a hell of a lot more than he’s got so far.”
“Harry’s been amazingly stupid, yeah, but I think he’s meant well,” Ginny said, aware that she was probably making things worse. “And he’s your best friend.”
“But you’re my sister. If there’s got to be a choice –“
“Who says there has to be a choice?” She also turned away from the window. “You were friends before he and I were together. Don’t let what happened between he and I affect your friendship.”
“How can it not after everything he’s done to you?” Ron asked, his voice rising as his ears reddened further. Ginny opened her mouth to explain but Ron headed her off. “Don’t try and defend him again. You know, I don’t know why you keep doing that in the first place? Are you just that forgiving, or has he made you that stupid?”
Ginny didn’t answer for a long time, not because she was unsure of why she acted the way she had, but because she knew how quickly any statement could lead to a full-blown row.
“Ginny?” Ron asked, with particular emphasis on her name to show he was not going to let her get away without answering.
“Because I . . . I just think he got freaked out by everything and he’s a little boggled right now, but he’ll come to his senses.”
“And what if he doesn’t?” Ron asked. “Are you willing to wait forever for Harry to ‘come to his senses’? D’you realize how pathetic that is?” He fired the last question at her with venom.
“Yes.” A few hours ago the question might have had Ginny reaching for her wand, but in the few minutes she’d spent collecting herself at the Three Broomsticks before coming home, she’d had the same thought.
Harry had been through a lot in the last few weeks, but he wasn’t the only one. It might be bordering on selfish to think it, but she had been through a lot too, and the ordeal wasn’t over yet. Unconsciously her hand fell on the tiny swell in her abdomen. Yes, she knew it was beyond pathetic to keep hoping like she was, but . . .
“I warned him before about not treating you properly,” Ron said. “He obviously didn’t take it seriously.” Ginny looked over and saw Ron’s hand clenched into a tight fist. When she looked up she saw that his jaw was clenched, too.
“You did,” she replied, remembering interrupting just such a conversation. That was the night when she first learned of Harry’s new friend Briony. A jarringly vivid picture of the pair Disapparating made her speak. “D’you think there’s anything between Harry and Briony?” She regretted it almost at once, not only for the look Ron now wore, a contemplative look that made him appear angrier than before, but also because she didn’t want to hear that her fears might be justified.
“He told me they were only friends,” Ron stated angrily as though her question had been a certain statement. “When I did see them together it seemed like he’d been telling the truth. Why? D’you think they were –“
“Stop!” Ginny put up her hand, cringing and wishing she hadn’t brought it up.
“I didn’t think he would get involved with someone related to old toad face . . .” he said slowly. “But then I didn’t think he’d do half the rubbish he’s done.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Hermione said. She almost ran into the room. “But I just remembered, Molly wanted –“ Upon sharing a significant look with Ron she stopped talking.
“You’re always on about how we should try and persuade Harry to see reason. Knowing him as well as you do, do you think there’s anything going on with Briony?” Ron asked her.
Hermione smiled doubtfully as though unsure she was being asked a serious question. When she looked closely at Ginny though her demeanor changed.
“They’re just friends, sort of like he and I. I know there is more than enough reason to doubt him now, but I really don’t think he fancies her the way he does –“
“You weren’t there today, Hermione,” Ginny stated after the abrupt end to Hermione’s statement. “The minute she arrived it was like his whole being changed.”
She knew she’d said too much when Ron’s ears turned the violent red of a radish. He made a step towards the back door but Hermione pushed him into one of the chairs and fixed him with a quelling looked. She then took Ginny’s hand and directed her into the chair usually reserved for Arthur. Sitting down herself in another chair she took Ginny’s hand.
“I can’t even imagine how hard this whole situation is for you,” she started. “That Harry’s chosen now to act like the world’s biggest prat makes it worse, I’m sure. And everyone here is running on a short fuse . . . I suppose what I’m trying to say is not to let little things like what you thought you saw today bother you. Harry might be in the midst of making a whole barrage of mistakes, but Briony Wright is not among them.
“Really, Ginny, my advice would be the same as it was before: forget about what might happen and just live your life. Que sera sera.”
“Whatever will be, will be,” Ginny said, remembering these words from a speech Hermione had given her years ago about Harry. “But this is different. It’s not like we’re school kids anymore. We’re . . . We’re going to be parents.” These words sounded funny in her mouth and Ginny realized this was the first time she’d thought of it in those terms.
Gripping the table, Ginny felt another bout of trepidation threaten to overcome her. She must have been mad to think she could do this at all, let alone by herself. What business did she have thinking she could be responsible for a child when she spent half her life being chased by Bludgers? And even if Harry was involved as much as he said he wanted to be, his job was even more dangerous. What if something happened to one of them? What if they buggered this up so badly that they had the likes of another Malfoy on their hands?
Looking up, Ginny saw that Ron and Hermione had withdrawn to a corner of the kitchen and were having a quiet, but no less heated, discussion. Having had quite enough of arguments this week, she snuck as quietly as she cold to the stairs. As she passed, Ginny distinctly heard Hermione say, “No, I’ll talk to him. I don’t want you . . . “ The stairs muffled the rest of what she was saying.
Another set of voices, just as heated, but much louder, floated through a door on the first landing. Ginny preferred not to listen to her parent’s row, but upon hearing both her name and Harry’s, she froze.
“I know you’ve always considered Harry a son, Molly, as have I, but there are limits. Did you not see how torn up Ginny was?”
“Of course I did,” she answered shortly.
“Why, then, do you continue to give her false hope?”
“Because I don’t think it is false hope,” Molly said angrily. “Arthur, if you could have seen the way he looked when he arrived his this morning . . . He’s having just as bad a time of this as Ginny. I’m sure once he comes to realize what a terrible mistake he made –“
“Personally, I think she’s well shot of him. It’s a cowardly thing that he did. I don’t care how you try to package it up as bravery, there’s no excuse for a man to leave his child. You would think that Harry Potter, of all people, would be the last to do such a thing.
Ginny could take no more. She tiptoed up the remainder of the stairs to her room.
* * *
Rhea Meyer, a distant cousin of the twins’ friend Lee, filled Ginny’s place on the Harpies. She was tall, dark-skinned, with a thin nose and shoulder length black hair. She was, Ginny reckoned on first meeting her, the perfect compliment to Keddle’s fair-haired beauty. To be fair, she thought Meyer’s great good-looks might have started their relationship on the wrong foot; it was hard for Ginny to be around Keddle and Meyer when she felt like she’d swallowed a whole cauldron of Swelling Solution.
If it had just been the matter of Meyer’s physical good-looks, Ginny was sure she could have handled things well enough, but she quickly came to learn that while Rhea Meyer might have been a match to Keddle in attractiveness, she had none of the quiet, fun-loving nature of the Harpies’ Seeker. From the day Meyer appeared on the Quidditch pitch she began making ludicrous demands, and strutted about the place like she was the best thing to ever mount a broom. Ginny had watched this in a bemused sort of way. At least she had until Gwenog and Jordana had given her the news that her main coaching responsibility would be to align Meyer’s playing style with the rest of the team.
“I thought you wanted me to do drills,” Ginny had said, watching Meyer strut magisterially around the pitch.
“Change of plans,” Jordana had said. “We were fortunate to sign her, so we want to make sure she’s put to good use. You are up to this, aren’t you?”
Ginny hadn’t been sure she was equal to the task, but she said she’d give it a go. She still felt immensely grateful that Jordana hadn’t chucked her out the minute she learned of the baby. And how hard could it really be anyway? They were all professional Quidditch players here after all. Surely Meyer was just behaving as she was out of nerves. Once they got down to the real work of the game everything would be fine.
Six weeks on, Ginny had developed several new curse words that made the other players on the team chuckle, but nod their heads in agreement all the same. Meyer was proving harder to train than Hagrid’s Blast-Ended Skrewts. Her attitude hadn’t got better at all either. If possible, it had got worse.
The wind whipped Ginny’s hair around her face as she tilted her head up, watching the six brooms flying at lightning speed from one set of goal hoops to the other. The Quaffle was currently tucked tightly under King’s arm as she tried to dodge Keddle (temporarily playing an opposing Chaser) to pass it. As Ginny watched the wind gave a particularly hard gust and King was blown slightly off course. This worked to her benefit as it put her some distance away from Keddle and she was finally able to pass the Quaffle to Meyer.
“Come on,” Ginny said, squinting to watch Meyer’s flying. She pulled up successfully to avoid one of the Bludgers that had been aimed at her. This was a good move. She hadn’t swerved too harshly. Maybe after six weeks she had finally decided to take some of Ginny’s advice.
No sooner had this thought come to Ginny then Meyer threw the Quaffle to King who was halfway across the pitch and yelled at her as she dove to catch the rapidly falling ball. Swearing, Ginny raised her whistle and blew loudly. The six brooms in the air (Gwenog was conferring with Jordana over by the changing rooms) came to a stop ten feet above her head.
“Meyer, I’ve told you a thousand times not to pass when your teammate is a hundred yards away, it gives too many opportunities for interception.”
King nodded and Ginny thought she head her say, “I told you not to pass it.”
Meyer flew down so that she and Ginny were on a level. She was grinning but not pleasantly.
“I know you like blowing that whistle,” she said, “but I’d have thought you would at least have come up with better excuses by now.”
“And I’d have thought you’d be a better player by now,” Ginny replied evenly.
It had become clear over the last weeks that Meyer had taken a disliking to her, but it was not clear why. At first Ginny thought that perhaps Meyer was the sort who didn’t like to be told what to do, a position she wouldn’t have been wholly unsympathetic to. When she tried to approach coaching as more of a collaborative effort though, things got worse. It had become so bad that Ginny had directly asked Meyer what her problem was. All she received as an answer was a haughty look.
“Let’s take a break.” It was a littler earlier than she had originally intended, but Ginny had enough of dealing with Meyer at the moment. So, too, had the others. They all gave her relieved expressions as they landed and walked off to the changing rooms. Meyer was the last to leave. She didn’t say anything, but did stop to sneer at Ginny before following everyone else.
“Any better today?” Jordana asked as Ginny came to join them at the entrance to the changing rooms.
“What do you think?” she asked irritably. She’d been asked this same question day in and day out for the last moth and a half. It was starting to get on her nerves, the same nerves that were already frayed because of everything else going on.
“Are you glad now that you’ve got that appointment?” Gwenog asked with a mischievous smile on her face.
“Almost.” Ginny checked her watch again. If she left now she’d be a little early, but it beat waiting around the Quidditch stadium.
“Remember,” Jordana called after her as she headed for the fireplaces. “Two o’clock on the dot.”
Waving her hand to show her acknowledgement, Ginny didn’t turn back. She remembered only too well that the long delayed press conference to announce changes to the team lineup, would take place mere hours from now. Thanks to the PPA and Topic: Talk the big news had been out of the bag for a while. Hopefully this meant that they could focus on Quidditch, but she wasn’t holding her breath.
Before that ordeal though, Ginny had to undergo yet another trip to St. Mungo’s, her second since admitting to her mother that she hadn’t gone. She couldn’t say she was looking forward to it, but she also wasn’t dreading it as much as she had the first appointment. The Healer, a bright young witch called Adrasteia, put her at ease immediately by assuring Ginny her ignorance over Apparating while pregnant had caused no ill effects. The baby, Adrasteia said, was perfectly normal.
That reassurance given, Ginny had taken extra care to eat right, avoid stress, and do all the things an expectant mother should do. She was determined to do everything in her power not to mess this up, even going as far as talking to her mother about any concerns. After all there was no greater expert than a woman who had given birth to seven children. Even apart from that, though, was the fact that talking to her mother was a great source of comport.
The reception area at St. Mungo’s was quieter than usual, even for a Tuesday afternoon. Only a handful of people sat in the uncomfortable plastic chairs. Several of them were hidden behind the Daily Prophet, today showing a picture of Kingsley in motion. It looked like he was covering headedly with someone who didn’t appear in the picture. Ginny couldn’t make out the whole headline, but she had no doubt that had something to do with the PPA.
The page of one newspaper folded down, revealing the pale face of a witch around Molly’s age. In the process of brushing soot from her hair and mentally calculating how long until she could Apparate again, Ginny saw the woman give her a once over and then nudge her neighbor. A second paper lowered and another woman’s face appeared, looking almost like a twin of the first. She also examined Ginny then the two women started conversing in low voices. The disgusted expressions on their faces made Ginny glad she couldn’t overhear them. After her patience was tested so thoroughly by Meyer it really wasn’t a good idea to get into it with anyone else. So instead she glanced around to see if Harry had arrived yet.
Not seeing his messy mop of black hair she sat down to wait, hoping he’d hurry up. Just being in the same room with those two women was trying her patience. Their whispers sounded more like hissing to Ginny’s ears, but she chose not to listen any closer. She didn’t want to chance making out what they were saying. Ginny had barely settled into her seat and reached for a copy of Transfiguration Today (she thought it best to steer away from such frivolous publications as Witch Weekly) when a funny gurgling sort of noise caused her to look up and there, wand drawn, looking alert, was Harry. He’d already seen her and was making his way over. Throwing down the magazine she stood up. They hadn’t seen each other since that day at the Three Broomsticks, and she hadn’t been sure how she would feel about this first meeting. Seeing him with his wand out did nothing to ease her apprehension.
“I’m not late, am I?” he asked, looking back in the direction o the entrance from Muggle London.
“No, I was early. Why d’you have your wand out if you were amongst Muggles?” she asked, trying to sound casual.
Harry looked down at his wand as though shocked to be holding it. “Dunno,” he said, stowing it in the inside pocket of his jacket. “I guess I thought I saw something.” He obviously didn’t want to remain on this topic because he gestured to the door beside the welcomewitch’s desk. Ginny nodded and led the way through it.
Healer Adrasteia’s office was on the fourth floor, just down the corridor from the ward that housed the unfortunate souls who suffered from long-term spell damage. They took the lift and got off halfway down the hall from the closed ward.
“You’d think,” Harry said, speaking for the first time after stowing his wand away – “that this office would be on the first floor.”
“Mmm,” Ginny replied, looking at the plaques that marked the offices of the other healers. At last she found the one she was looking for. “Here.” She pushed open the door and entered.
The minute Ginny stepped over the threshold she felt a tranquility settle over her. She stared around the room, a mass of yellows and blues, feeling a contented smile starting to spread across her face.
“Good afternoon, Miss Weasley.” The witch sitting at the desk greeted her in a friendly manner. She had looked up from a long roll of parchment that trailed onto the floor. Seeing Harry walk in behind Ginny the witch did the smallest of double takes before returning her attention to the scroll.
Healer Adrasteia’s office was small; hardly bigger than the shed they used at the Burrow to house their brooms. The desk the witch sat at was no more than five feet away from the four chairs people sat in while waiting. After some initial awkwardness Ginny and Harry sat down beside each other, but still said nothing. The office was so quiet – except for the occasional sound of shifting parchment – that it almost seemed out of place to speak. Ginny longed to have that copy of Transfiguration Today in hand again as she looked around the tiny waiting room.
Adorning the walls were the strangest collection of charts and diagrams Ginny had ever seen. Surely some of them had to be of Muggle origin because they weren’t moving like the others. It was these Muggle photos that disturbed her the most; some almost looked like cross-sections of a woman’s stomach. It really couldn’t have been, she knew, but Ginny felt an odd queasy sensation and looked away quickly, instead focusing on a sign mounted just about the witch’s head: Travel Safe: Don’t Apparate. A finger was wagging back and forth in a discouraging manner.
“Are you all right, Gin?” Harry asked quietly. “You look like you’re about to be sick.” He had leaned forward in his chair and was looking at her with concern.
“Fine,” she said, choosing to examine her hands rather than the walls. “I think they need to strengthen their Cheering Charms.”
“Ah, OK.” He didn’t look convinced, and with good reason: she wasn’t being completely truthful.
What had really upset her were not the gruesome pictures – which weren’t all that gruesome in the first place – but the chart that showed the progression of fetal development. Over the last month and a half she’d really started to come to terms with the idea that she was going to be a mother, that she would be responsible for another life; yet there were still times – like now – when Ginny felt overwhelmed. Today might have been worse because Harry was here with her, the ultimate reminder of how bad they’d already botched things up (as though she really needed reminding of that!)
Remaining focused on her hands Ginny saw immediately when Harry’s hand twitched, almost as though he was restraining himself from reaching out to take hers. Sighing inwardly, she folded her hands in her lap and turned to watch the door she knew her healer would eventually come out of.
After another minute of silence, Harry very lightly tapped her on the leg.
“I’ve been meaning to ask,” he said quietly, leaning over so she could hear him better. “How come you chose to come here? Surely there are better, more experienced – “
“I like her,” Ginny interrupted. “She’s really good, came highly recommended, and I like that her office isn’t full of gawking people all the time. Plus, she’s absolutely discreet. How many others would have reported these visits to the Daily Prophet just to get a few extra Galleons?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I just wanted to –“
“Besides that,” she cut Harry off again, continuing to watch the door. “If you wanted a say you shouldn’t have waited a fortnight to respond to my letter.”
“That’s not fair, Gin. I told you I was abroad for work and couldn’t receive any post.”
“Oh, are we talking about what’s fair now?”
The sound of a child’s laughter from behind the door spared Harry from answering. The witch at the desk rolled up her parchment and then disappeared into the corridor behind that selfsame door. As she vanished from view a young girl, no older than five or six, with curly blonde hair pulled up into two ponytails, bounded out, followed more slowly by her very pregnant mother.
“Elizabeth, don’t you touch anything,” the woman said sternly as she turned around to say her goodbyes to the healer. The little girl though had frozen in mid-step and her mouth had formed a small ‘O’.
“Mummy, Mummy, look. It’s Harry Potter,” she squealed after pausing for only a second. She came skipping over to where Harry and Ginny were seated.
“What are you on about, Elizabeth? Of course Harry Potter’s not –“ The woman started to say exasperatedly but stopped when she looked around the door and saw her daughter had been quite right.
The little girl stopped short of Harry by only a few inches. Ginny looked between the two, tensing as she waited and wondered how he would react. She wasn’t kept in suspense for very long. He looked taken aback for a moment, but then he smiled at her, leaning forward.
“Hello, Elizabeth,” he said. At being addressed directly the little girl suddenly came off shy, putting her finger between her teeth and looking down at her feet. Harry encouraged her to come a little closer before saying quietly, “Its really not safe to run away from your mum like that, you know.”
Elizabeth nodded, her curly pigtails bobbing up and down.
“I’m so sorry,” her mother said, rushing over as fast as she could. “She’s usually very good, but . . . She doesn’t mean to disturb –“
Harry held up his hand.
“Its OK. She wasn’t bothering us, was she?”
“Oh . . . er . . . no,” Ginny said, also smiling. She had to admit this little girl was adorable. The mother looked at Ginny, seeming to see her for the first time. By the expression she was wearing it was clear recognized Ginny as well, but her brow was furrowed. Ginny rather thought that this woman was also examining her. What were they all searching for?.
“You’re Ginevra Weasley?” she asked, a cool note in her voice.
“Yes,” Ginny replied simply, bracing herself for whatever words were coming next.
“My son’s a fan of yours. He’s got a big poster of the Harpies that he took to Hogwarts.” She didn’t seem impressed with this. ”He just started his forth year.”
“Thank you.” The woman’s eyes lingered on the slight bulge that Ginny cold no longer completely hide. “To you as well, it seems. How far along?”
“Girl or boy?”
“Girl,” Harry said as the same time Ginny replied “boy.” They exchanged a look, both smiling slightly. The disagreement over the gender of their child was ongoing.
The witch who had been sitting at the desk stuck her head around the door.
“Ready whenever you are,” she said, smiling at Ginny. Her eyes lingered on Harry for a second longer before she withdrew again.
The very pregnant witch bade them goodbye, wearing a poorly disguised look of disdain, and then she left with her daughter.
Ginny stood up, as did Harry, but when she turned back he hadn’t moved.
“Should I – Is it maybe better if I stay here?” he asked somewhat nervously.
“What was the point of coming at all then?” she asked, feeling irritated. “Come on.”
They followed the witch down a short hall and into a bright yellow room where more charts and diagrams were hanging on the walls. On one side of the room was a cot and chair, on the other a wall of cabinets.
“Healer Adrasteia is just dealing with an urgent owl,” the witch said. “She begs your forgiveness but she should be with you in a few moments.”
Privately Ginny felt that Adrasteia could take all afternoon if she wanted; she felt no rush to return to the Quidditch stadium. Nodding, she sat down in the chair – her feet were killing her; she could never remember the cushioning charm her mother had taught her.
“So,” Harry said, walking around the room, looking at charts and diagrams, opening cabinets and examining the contents of each which were filled with bottles of various sizes and colours. “She really said everything was OK – with the baby?”
“That’s what she said when I was here last month,” Ginny reiterated. She didn’t mind repeating this even though she’d already written it in a letter. Not only did it make her feel better, it showed her that Harry actually was interested in what was happening.
“She’s absolutely sure? You told her everything?” Harry turned away from the cabinet, holding a purple bottle of Dreamless Sleep potion.
“Yes.” Ginny said, watching a poster in which a fetus was slowly developing into a toddler.
“Everything? Including what happened with Dudley?”
“Yes,” she repeated, her stomach twisting into knots.
“And she still said everything was OK?” This was more of a rhetorical question. Harry didn’t wait for her to answer but when he did continue speaking he sounded relieved. “Good. Because Hermione said there might have been some damaging effect from whatever potion –“
“I’m fine. The baby’s fine. Can we just leave it at that? Please?”
Things had been going well for the last six weeks. Ginny couldn’t recall a single person making any mention of that ordeal and she’d been much better for it. She had been able to put it from her mind almost entirely, now all the horrific details threatened to come spilling from her subconscious.
“Sorry,” Harry muttered, a slight bite to his tone. “I was just at Azkaban and – Never mind, it doesn’t matter.” He made a motion with his hand and hit the cabinet so hard it reverberated around the small room. The bottle he was holding in the other hand crunched as he clenched his fist and the top popped off, spraying the floor with the purple potion.
As Harry cleaned up the puddle on the floor Ginny stood up and started pacing. She was trying to fill her mind with thoughts of other things.
“I’m sorry I brought it up. I just –“
Ginny raised her hand and waved away Harry’s apology; now was most certainly not the time for it.
“Did the –“ Harry started again.
“Give me a minute, please,” she said. At last Harry fell silent. Though her back was turned she could feel him watching her. When she dared to look around after a minute she was greeted with Harry’s troubled expression.
“I guess there’s no need to ask how you’ve been getting on.”
“To tell the truth, I was doing pretty damn good. Or at least as well as could be expected.” Ginny leaned against the cabinets and watched Harry’s expression.
“I’m sorry I brought it up,” he said. “I guess it sort of slipped out because I didn’t want to mention your family. Ron says you’re still fighting a lot.”
“You’ve talked to Ron?”
“Yeah, last week. He said –“
“How long have you two been on speaking terms again?” Ginny felt her heart get considerably lighter at this news. If he and Ron could make it up, perhaps there could be an end to all the arguing after all. It had indeed been little more than a constant battleground at the Burrow over the last few months though it had got somewhat better since the shock of her pregnancy had worn off. It also helped that everyone had wised up about mentioning Harry’s name. Even so, there was a certain tension underlying every conversation and Ginny was growing tired of it.
“Dunno,” Harry said shrugging. “We’ve talked a few times over the last month or so.”
“Good,” Ginny said, more to herself than Harry. Had Ron actually listened to her?
“Yeah. So . . . How bad are things?”
“Well, you’d be murdered on sight.” Ginny said with a quick smile. “Its loads better, but everyone is on a short fuse; the tiniest thing starts a row. I’m honestly getting sick of it. That’s why I’ve started looking for my own flat. I figure something in Muggle London like we –“
“That’s a really bad idea,” Harry said, alert at once. “The worst idea you’ve had, I think –“
“Why?” she demanded. “I thought it worked pretty well when we were together. How many times were you recognized? You’ve got to understand that I don’t want to be hounded by reporters at all hours of the day and night.”
“And if something were to happen? Who would be there to protect you? I’m abroad a lot lately –“
“I don’t need your protection, Harry,” Ginny half shouted, feeling frustrated that they were having this conversation yet again. “I’ve never needed it. You’re the one who keeps insisting –“
“You’re also going to be a mother, Gin,” Harry replied. He spoke much quieter than she did, but with no less determination. “Between Quidditch and the baby you’re not going to have much time. How d’you expect you’re going to keep a look out for Death Eaters? Or some crazed fan who just ‘has to’ meet you? Do you really think you’re going to do that on your own?”
“I’ll manage,” she said tersely. “You haven’t really given me any other choice, Harry.”
“Guilt isn’t going to make me change my mind, Gin,” Harry said calmly. “I know I’ve left you with a heavy burden, and for that I’m truly sorry.” He looked it, too. “I’ll do whatever I can to help you, you know that. What I can’t let you do though, is something foolish, not to mention reckless. Leaving the Burrow just now would be both.”
Ginny opened her mouth to retort, but Harry cut her off yet again. “If you won’t consider it for me – and I understand if you don’t want to – then please think of the baby.”
“I – “ Ginny stopped again; so many of her retorts had been cut down by his last statement. After a moment she found herself nodding and saying she would think about it.
“That’s all I ask,” Harry replied, smiling again. “Thank you.”
Wondering why she always gave in so easily Ginny pulled herself up onto the cot and let her feet dangle over the edge. She watched them swinging back and forth for a few minutes without saying anything. Harry continued to walk about the room, examining the pictures on the walls. Several times out of the corner of her eye Ginny saw him glance at her and then look away again. She was contemplating what she was going to say to break the silence when she felt a sudden flutter in the region of her abdomen and she gasped, immediately placing a hand on her stomach.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Harry asked at once, coming over looking worried and deeply concerned. Instead of answering she smiled, feeling as though the Cheering Charms had indeed been increased. After a slight hesitation she grabbed Harry’s uninjured hand and placed it next to her own. This move on her part shocked him, but that was quickly replaced by a look of understanding.
The baby kicked again.
“Did you feel that?” Ginny asked, feeling her excitement mount.
Harry nodded. “How long has this been happening?”
“I dunno. About six weeks, I think. I didn’t know what it was at first . . . “ She lapsed into silence, choosing instead to watch the myriad of emotions that Harry was currently experiencing; it was like watching a sped up version of what she’d been feeling for the last several months. It could not have been plainer that he now realized, really for the first time, that there was a child inside her; the fear and anxiety came next, followed much more slowly by acceptance, and then wonder.
“Am I interrupting?” Healer Adrasteia had come in at last wearing her usual bright smile, the very one that lit up her round face. She carried a clipboard that matched the bright yellow of the walls. Receiving negative answers to her inquiry she stepped in and closed the door. “I’m so sorry for making you wait. I know you must have tight schedules, but it was a matter of some urgency for one of my patients with a tricky pregnancy.”
“That’s all right,” Ginny replied. Harry moved away from her ever so slightly, and Adrasteia turned to look at him. Feeling slightly silly, Ginny made introductions. She seriously doubted that there was anyone in the wizarding world who didn’t recognize Harry on sight.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Potter,” Adrasteia said before turning back to Ginny. “So, how are you feeling this month? Any nausea?”
“No, actually. I’ve been doing really well.”
“Pains? Weird dreams? Wonky things happening when you try to use magic?”
“No,” Ginny said, chuckling. Everything had been remarkably good, but now she knew that strange things could happen with her magic . . . Well, certain people might be in trouble. “Good to know though.”
“I’d watch her closely, if I were you,” she advised Harry. He, too, was smiling.
“I’ll bear that in mind,” he said, nodding.
“It’s excellent to hear that everything has been going well.” She motioned for Ginny to lie back on the table and then started running her wand over her abdomen. Harry stood at the end, looking slightly uncomfortable. Taking pity on him Ginny held out her hand. He hesitated for a minute and then skirted around Adrasteia and took the proffered hand. His was all sweaty and he was once more looking nervous.
“How about stress?”
“Er . . . “
Adrasteia stopped mid-motion. “What did we discuss last month?” she asked in an admonishing tone that sounded exactly like Molly’s.
“I know, I know . . . I’ve been trying. It has been a lot better this month though, I swear,” Ginny said, trying to placate her healer.
“See that it continues to improve, Ginny, or I will have to order you to bed rest.” Adrasteia waited for Ginny to nod and then resumed her tests.
“Still looking well. You’ve got a healthy baby –“ she said a few minutes later, after completing the last of her tests. She had stopped, Ginny thought, in the midst of revealing the gender of their child. She was proven right when Adrasteia said, “Would you like to know the gender?”
“No need,” Ginny said, smiling devilishly. “We already know it’s a boy.”
“A girl,” Harry corrected.
“I guess that’s a no, then.” Adrasteia was chuckling as she went over to one of her cabinets. From it she extracted two bottles of potion.
“What’re these?” Ginny asked, taking them.
“This one is a calming draught. You can use it if you’re having trouble relaxing, or sleeping. Use that instead of the Dreamless sleep potion. The other is Essence of Dittany. I just have a feeling that between the two of you, you must run through quite a bit.” She was looking at Harry’s hand, which had begun to swell and turn blue. “Use it for any injuries straight away though. You don’t want to chance infection.”
Both Ginny and Harry left the office several minutes later in good spirits; much better, in fact, than she had even dared to hop upon first arriving. Ginny was careful to manage her expectations though. She’d come to realize that as long as she didn’t get ahead of herself she would be all right. Or at least she wouldn’t allow a situation to arise where she could get hurt again. But as things were going exceedingly well now . . .
“I’ve got some time to kill,” she said, looking at her watch. She didn’t have much time at all but she didn’t care. “D’you want to stop at the Leaky Cauldron for a quick lunch?”
Harry checked his watch, too and slowly shook his head. Was she reading too much into it, or did he really look disappointed.
“I can’t, Gin. I’ve got to meet – I’ve got a meeting. Another time?”
“Yeah, sure,” she said, forcing a smile onto her face. Just something about his tone and his hesitation told her she didn’t want to know whom he was meeting. “I guess I should get back to work, too. I’ll see you later.” She turned to go.
“Gin, wait.” Harry grabbed her hand, and spun her around to face him. He said nothing for a whole minute. Then – “Take care of yourself. I’m sorry.” With those words he backed away and was gone so fast he might have Disapparated.
* * *
Ginny returned to the Quidditch stadium five minutes before the press conference was set to start; all her good humor was gone, replaced by anger at herself for allowing Harry’s refusal to upset her, or at least for reading things into his actions. He hadn’t said who he was going to meet, but her gut told her that it was Briony. More than that, though, she was upset for being upset at all. Hadn’t she worked all this nonsense out weeks ago? She and Harry weren’t together anymore. He was at perfect liberty to do whatever he liked, to see whomever he wished. But why, of all people, did it have to be Briony Wright?
“Thank goodness you’re back, Miss. Weasley,” said Roger, the team’s broomkeeper and would-be Herbologist. “Jordana has been going spare. The news reporters are getting restless.”
Ginny sighed. Better to get this over sooner rather than later. “Lead the way, Roger.”
“You were almost late,” Jordana hissed as Ginny hurried into the room.
“I was detained,” Ginny replied, looking at all the reporters and suppressing a desire to turn round and leave. The number of news people seemed to have swelled considerably since their last press conference. “They are here just for Quidditch? Because I’m not answering anything else.”
“Yes, I know.” Jordana directed Ginny to sit down. Her seat was in the very middle of the long table. Jordana and Gwenog sat either side of her, with the rest of the team dispersed on their left and right.
“I must first make apologies for the long delay,” Jordana began when near complete silence had fallen. “We had planned, as you are well aware, to meet with all of you several weeks ago. However circumstances being what they were –“ She looked at Ginny – “We deemed it prudent to wait until things calmed down.”
The entire front row of reporters was engulfed in a thick cloud of purple smoke as cameras flashed non-stop.
“We’re going to discuss a small change to our lineup first, and then I’m going to hand it over to Miss. Weasley, who will talk you through her new role, and then we’ll have time for questions.”
Click! Click! Ginny could barely see at all, so blind was she from the constant flashes. She closed her eyes as Jordana introduced Meyer. Then it was her turn to speak. How much was there to say, really? Ginny was trying, and failing (though she didn’t add the last part) to integrate Meyer’s playing style into that of the rest of the team. Yes, there were bumps (mountains would have been a more accurate word, but she held her tongue again) as with anyone new coming into an established framework. They were working hard though, and she was sure that Rhea Meyer would be a valuable member of the team.
“Any questions?” Jordana asked when Ginny finished speaking. At once the noise level in the room quintupled. Quills shot into the air as every hand was raised. Jordana chose one; Ginny held her breath.
“Yes, thank you. This question is for Jacee Keddle. Miss. Keddle one of our loyal Which Broomstick? readers wrote that you’ve been getting a lot of post from secret admirers lately. They would like to know if that is true? And if so, how has it affected your game?”
“Oh . . . um . . . It is true. I get a lot of post, all of which I love. I suppose it doesn’t really affect my performance though, I just enjoy the game. If people like watching me play, that’s great.”
Everyone laughed at Keddle’s obvious excitement and sincerity.
“Aren’t you worried that someone will take it too far, though?” the same reporter asked.
“Not really,” Keddle said. “I don’t think that any of our supporters would do such a thing.”
Ginny nodded in agreement with Keddle’s answer, wishing she’d thought of it when Harry had brought up the same question earlier.
“Next question, and try to keep it focused on the game please.” Jordana selected a second reporter: a large man with a handle-bar moustache. His question was about new and innovative Seeking moves – again for Keddle.
Six or seven questions were asked of all players, specific to Quidditch and the team. Ginny felt herself relax. This was less painful than she thought.
“We have time for a few more questions,” Jordana advised, pointing at a female reporter with elaborately curled blonde hair and talon-like fingernails: Rita Skeeter.
“Yes, thank you,” she said in her best imitation of a sweet voice. Ginny felt like she might vomit. “Our readers at the Daily Prophet have been expressing their heartfelt concern for you in this troubling time, Miss. Weasley. Do you have any words you would like to share with them? Any answers to those who have worried about what your condition means to your Quidditch career?”
“I’m off this year, obviously,” Ginny said, working hard to keep her voice even. She chose to answer only the bit relevant to her career. “But I will be back next season.”
“Really?” Rita Skeeter asked, raising an eyebrow. “How will you manage your career and a child all alone?”
“That’s my business. How, may I ask, is that related to Quidditch?” Ginny said loudly.
Mumbling broke out among the other reporters. The other members on the panel, though, grew silent and still. Ginny, who was now clenching her fists below the table, tried to smile but she felt it must have come out as more of a scowl.
“Interesting as those questions are, Rita, they’re for Weasley and Potter to work out. I would ask again that everyone kindly refrain from –“ Jordana started, but the noise level among the reporters increased, drowning her out. It seemed that Rita Skeeter had done it again. The reporters now thought it was free question period.
“What is your stance on the PPA?” someone shouted. “Are you going to meet with them, or not?”
“She’s not going to answer –“
“Its OK,” Ginny said to Jordana, hoping that if she answered this question it would at least clear up that matter. “I’ve never met Declan Fohn, but I’ve had opportunities to hear some of his speeches. How anyone could think that I would be interested in supporting a group with views so similar to those held by Voldemort and his Death Eaters is beyond me.”
“Thank you.” Jordana’s voice shook at little. She, and most of the people in the room had shuddered violently at the name. “Now, back to –“ People were openly talking now, and she again went unheard. No one question could be heard over the cacophony of shouts, but Ginny knew she had just made a huge error. By answering this one question she’d cracked oepn the door for others, and now it was going to be hard to shut it.
Jordana continued to call for quiet, but for all the success she had she shouldn’t have bothered. Through the din, Ginny could make out bits of what was being said, and none of it related to Quidditch at all.
“ – Really Potter’s –“
“ – Any truth to the reports that –“
“ – Heard that there was more to the Dudley Dursley story. Can you –“
Just that name was enough for Ginny. For the second time in less than two hours she had been forced back in time. Without giving it a second thought she stood up and walked out, barely registering the sudden hush that came over the crowd of reporters as she left.
Ginny stopped in the hall just outside the room, breathing hard. She’d been expecting that things wouldn’t stay on topic; it was one of the reasons she hadn’t wanted to take part in this stupid press conference in the first place. And how had they found out about . . . about . . . She couldn’t bring herself to even think the name again. It was all too much.
Hearing the reporters starting to leave Ginny shrank back into the shadows. The very last thing she wanted was to have any more run-ins with them. The only people to emerge though were the rest of her teammates. They smiled awkwardly at her as they passed but didn’t say anything. Jordana was last to appear. She was scanning the corridor, looking for Ginny. Spotting her she marched over.
“What was that about?” she asked.
“I’m sorry,” Ginny said, feeling like all she was doing lately was apologizing. “I’m really sorry, but I’ve told you, the press and I don’t get on well. Much as I don’t want to create a scene, I couldn’t stay in there. I couldn’t listen to any more talk about – about things that didn’t relate to the game at all.”
Jordana eyed her worriedly.
“I understand, of course. But, Weasley, you really can’t –“
“I don’t want to sound ungrateful, I really don’t. But I can’t deal with the press if they’re going to do that –“ Ginny waved back at the room she’d so recently exited – “everytime.”
Jordana continued to watch her closely. Whatever she was looking for she must have found it because after a moment she nodded.
“We’ll work on it. Your personal life should be your own, that’s true. But on the same token, Weasley, for the sake of Merlin’s beard, please restrain yourself. People are starting to question your mental sanity.”