“I think you’re mad, mate. Completely and utterly off your trolley.”
Harry had lost count of the number of times his best friend had said this to him over the years. It was usually prompted by a discussion of his plans for his wife, and today was no exception.
“You don’t have to go through with this you know,” Ron continued, looking Harry in the eye his expression grave.
He could have been talking about any one of the major events in his brother-in-law’s life. He had stood at Harry’s side throughout, always steadfast, never wavering in his support. He always asked him to justify the course of action he had taken. It was a friendship that had endured through the highs and the lows and it looked like it was going to survive this too, the greatest test.
“There are other things you could try,” Ron said hopefully. “Talk to her, I’m sure she’ll understand. Or get Hermione to do so; she’s always listened to Hermione.”
He did his best to match his friends optimism but he didn’t have the heart to tell Ron that Ginny had begun to see her sister-in-law as Harry’s friend first and hers second.
“It’s gone too far, Ron,” he said with a defeated air. “We’ve talked until we’re blue in the face and now it’s just got nasty. I just want it over and done with.” In truth life without Ginny was a painful existence but life with her had become a nightmare for them both.
“She doesn’t want your money, you know?” Ron added as if hoping that this piece of news would somehow change Harry’s mind.
Money, thought Harry, is not the root of all evil. No, that is to be found in the chambers where the legal profession reside.
“Try telling that to her lawyer,” Harry rejoindered bitterly.
Where Bletchley, Bole and Zabini had obtained such a detailed listing of the Potter assets he didn’t know, but the divorce petition had listed them all. To make matters worse, they had demanded that Ginny’s share include those things that were of particular value to Harry, including Godric’s Hollow.
“Why don’t you talk to her?” Ron persisted. “Without the lawyers,” he added, still sounding hopeful. “Find out what she really thinks and not what some twisted Slytherin wants.”
Harry’s expression changed from resignation to anger.
“Ron, I can’t get near the place without one of your brothers threatening to hex my bits off. And heaven help me if Molly finds me there; she’d curse me without thinking. No, Ron, the divorce is going through; the kids are well provided for and I’m sure Ginny will look after them well enough.”
But Harry could tell that even at this late stage, his friend hadn’t given up hope even if he had. This was a far cry from the enraged young man who had launched a desperate rescue mission when Voldemort had attacked the school. As he’d run through the school firing curses and hexes, he been driven by an anger so strong he’d killed anyone who tried to stop him. In the end the Death Eaters had fled from the ferocity of his attacks, leaving a shaken, but essentially unharmed Ginny in the Chamber of Secrets.
When had he stopped fighting? More importantly, why had he stopped? Was Ginny no longer worth fighting for? The question remained with him as Ron continued.
“But what about you, Harry? Don’t you want to see your kids?”
Instead of stirring Harry to action, the realisation that he would not see much of his four children any more caused his shoulders to slump and the defeated air to return.
“I’d love to, Ron, but do you know how hard it is to get access as a dad these days? Especially when you’ve been painted as a philanderer and absentee father by the press.”
The wizarding press had seized upon the Potters’ difficulties with glee, following a tip-off from a less than loyal former member of the DA. The long hours dictated by Harry’s job as England Quidditch Manager had been portrayed as time spent in a series of affairs with any female with a face that was pretty enough to sell newspapers. Eventually Ginny had wilted under the constant speculation and began making accusations. In the end, the thing had escalated out of all proportion, forcing the Department of Magical Games and Pastimes to seek his resignation, adding more fuel to the fire.
“I mean it, mate,” said Ron in a tone that would brook no argument. “It’s not over. Go and see her, I’ll make sure any over-zealous family members keep their conks out of it all.”
Harry stood on the door mat staring at the lion’s head door knocker sitting proudly on the dark green front door in front of him. He had been there for a few minutes trying to pluck up the courage to knock. He had a key, of course, but as he no longer regarded this house as his home but Ginny’s, he was reluctant to use it.
This is silly, he told himself. It’s still yours, for another few days at least. As he raised his hand to knock, the door opened, revealing an initially startled but then angry-looking Molly Weasley. His soon-to-be ex-mother-in-law glared at him suspiciously before turning back to her daughter.
“Do you want me to stay?” she asked, ignoring the fact that she was in Harry’s way. “Or do you want me to call your father and get him removed?” Harry seriously doubted that Arthur would ever sink so low as throwing him out of his own house, but the sentiment was all too clear.
“No, Mother,” Ginny sighed wearily. “I’ll be fine. I’m sure he won’t be staying long.” As his mother-in-law finally moved out of his way, Harry saw a flash of anger cross Ginny’s face. Whether it was because of her mother’s interfering or Harry’s cheek for showing up at this late stage, he wasn’t sure.
With one final glare, Molly left him on the doorstep as she Disapparated. He dithered on the door mat, wondering whether or not he should enter.
“If you’ve got the nerve to come this far, then you might as well come in.” The tone of Ginny’s voice was not welcoming, but at least this time she had not hexed him.
He gave her an apologetic smile before crossing the threshold and closing the door behind him. As she busied herself clearing away after her mother’s visit, he took a seat at the large oak table. In recent years he had not spent much time in this room. Although, when they first moved in, they had practically lived in it. He ran his hand over a long scar in the surface that had been caused by a zip and remembered the more interesting uses they had put the table to. He sighed as the memory faded under his wife’s unwelcoming stare.
The house was silent; so different to the cacophony of noise that had filled every room when he used to live here. It had come first from their four children and then from the ever-expanding list of aunts, uncles, in-laws and cousins that made up the wider Weasley clan. Often, he would come home from work to find his wife deep in conversation with another mother as the assembled hordes of children rampaged through the house. Either that, or Ginny would be so worn out after such a day, that she would be curled up with a book and a bottle of wine, leaving him to make his own tea and put the kids to bed. Just what you needed after a long range Apparation to see England’s next opponents.
“What can I do for you that my solicitor can’t?” She flicked her hair out of her face as she leaned against the cooker. Her arms were folded and her expression unfriendly.
His instinctive response was to tell her to stop treating him like a Slytherin, but it was she who was using a Slytherin firm of solicitors. Instead, he kept his disgruntled thoughts to himself and followed Ron’s suggested course of action.
“Ron seemed to think that it would be good to try and talk without the lawyers. You know, see if we could still work something out.” He tried to inject a note of cheerfulness into his voice, in spite of the negative body language she was giving him. He looked at her, hopeful for something more than the frosty reception her face promised. She stared back, her face impassive as if unsure how to deal with him. So far so good, he thought, at least I haven’t been dismissed out of hand. As he watched, her expression changed, softening briefly before hardening again.
“Well, Ron was wrong,” she said airily. “I have nothing more to say to you; you’ve made your bed, so lie in it.” The bitterness that had characterised the last twelve months of their marriage returned, and the small hope he had had that Ron might be right faded.
“You still think that I cheated on you?” He laughed bitterly. The irony that she should accuse him of cheating on her when he had turned down every witch that had propositioned him wasn’t lost on him. The fact that she wouldn’t believe that he loved her too much to play away from home angered him.
“I don’t think, Harry, I know. You must think I’m really stupid if you think that you can change my mind that easily.”
If you put it like that, Ginny, then yes, I do think you’re really stupid.
“Well, you could believe me rather than the press. I’ve never looked at any one else, Ginny; there has never been anyone else but you.” He had lost count of the number of times he’d denied being unfaithful, and the number of times it had changed nothing.
“Then why all the time away from home? Even in the off-season you were hardly here.”
He could hear the hurt in her voice. How he wished he had done things differently; that he’d been stronger, that he’d fought for her, for their life together as strongly as he had in Little Hangleton. He knew why; it had always been easier not to make waves, to keep the peace. Deep down, he didn’t want them to be one of the couples that always rowed; he didn’t want Ann, Tim, Chloe and Andrew to be children whose childhoods had been blighted by fighting. The trouble was, when you didn’t complain, when you kept your counsel, people assumed that you agreed with them. He looked at her, trying to decide whether to tell her the truth or let the lie continue.
“I’ll take your silence as agreement,” she said before he could answer.
No change there then.
“Why else would you choose not to spend time with us?” She let the accusation hang in the air, before continuing. “Its not easy bringing up four kids, you know. Even harder with an absentee father. If my family hadn’t rallied round, I’d have gone spare. This was supposed to be our home, Harry, not just mine. The place where we’d bring up our children.”
“It’s always been your house, Ginny, right from the off. You chose it, you decorated it and you filled it with the things that matter most to you.”
“But we were building our home, Harry. I filled it with things I thought you’d like.”
“But you never asked, you just did it. Have I ever told you how much I hate the colour scheme in our bedroom?”
“You never said anything.” Her tone was still aggressive, but there was at least the inkling that she’d understood what he was trying to say.
“You never asked,” he said flatly, as if it explained everything.
“All you did was sit in your study and watch that bloody telly of yours. I could never get you out of it. And whenever anyone ever came round, you’d be gone before they’d even got through the door.”
“But you never asked,” he repeated without further explanation.
“Asked what, Harry?” was her reply, with more than a hint of exasperation in her voice.
He fixed her with a look that said that he couldn’t believe that she hadn’t understood the point he’d tried to make.
“If that was what I wanted.”
She snorted in derision. “And didn’t you?”
“No. I didn’t.”
“No, you didn’t like the décor? Or, no, you didn’t like my family? You’re not making any sense, Harry.” She had begun to pace, a sign that she was agitated, but he was pleased to see that her wand remained on the work surface next to the cooker.
“I like your family,” he said calmly. He was anxious not to lose the slender foothold he had secured. “I just … I just couldn’t cope.”
Her expression changed from anger to puzzlement.
“Cope with what?”
“The house being full of everyone. I’m not like you, Ginny, Privet Drive was always quiet, and the only time I was at The Burrow when it was packed was at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. As it was outside and as we were trying to avoid each other any way, it was easy to find somewhere to escape to…”
Her bemusement continued, but she had stopped pacing. He checked, but the wand was still untouched.
“You … you’re not making any sense, Harry.” She picked up the wand and twirled it in her fingers. “No one has ever forced you to do anything.” She jabbed the wand at him to emphasis the word ‘you’. Time to leave, he thought, before things get out of hand.
“And no one has ever asked me, either.” He had tried, Ron couldn’t say he hadn’t, but there was too much to overcome; too many rows, too many hurt feeling and too much mistrust. He pushed back his chair and stood. “Look, I’m sorry I came over.” He dug into his pockets, pulled out a large bunch of keys and banged them on the table.
“All my stuff will be out before Friday, you can move into Godric’s Hollow anytime you want.”
And without checking that the wards would still let him through, he Disapparated
Ginny stared nonplussed first at the empty chair and then at the keys.
Why had he been so quick to disappear?
She looked down at the wand her hand in surprise, as if seeing it for the first time. She let out an exasperated scream before throwing the offending article at the wall and slumping down, with her head buried in her hands.
Harry wandered around the grounds at Hogwarts, trying to fathom how the school’s most feted old boy could make such a mess of his life. Even here, everything held such bittersweet memories for him. Was this to be the pattern of his life? Everything good, every perfect thought, feeling, and emotion nothing more substantial than the morning mist, as transient as Leprechaun gold? He sat in the stands around the Quidditch pitch, the echoes of past adulation mocking him more than Malfoy ever did.
Perhaps things would have been different if he had taken McGonagall up on her offer to teach. They could have raised their children with only the curious gaze of inquisitive pupils to worry about, rather than the prying eyes of veracious pressmen.
All in all, he and Ginny had allowed too many things to crowd in on their lives. Their house was never empty, his wife always tired, and the excuses all too easy to make. He would, he decided, go to America and try his hand at coaching Quodpot, or perhaps write his autobiography. He suspected that the Americans’ magical community would be far less judgemental than the average British witch or wizard. They seemed to like winners and, apart from his marriage, he’d made a habit of winning.
He left the stands and, once through the gates he Disapparated, and set about filling his old Hogwarts trunk with the few possessions he would take to the New World.
Ginny remained on the floor for sometime, staring at her broken wand, picking through their conversation. As Harry had spoken, she could sense the sadness in his voice as he’d tried unsuccessfully to explain what had gone wrong. What he’d said made no sense to her at the time, but she couldn’t fight the nagging feeling that she had somehow missed something. Quite what, she couldn’t put her finger on. It hovered tantalisingly just out of reach mocking her efforts to pin it down.
As the warm evening sunlight from the slowly setting sun began to stream through the kitchen window, she was reminded that she still had to pick her two youngest up from The Burrow. She summoned her spare wand and walked towards the fireplace with a heavy heart. She wished that she could stay in the quiet of the kitchen and think for a bit longer. She knew that her mother’s strident tones would be quick to remind her how she was better off without Harry, but as the end of their marriage drew near, she found her anger was increasingly being replaced by sadness. As she tossed the Floo powder into the grate an idea began to form. Her last thought before the swirling green flames claimed her was whether her mum would let her borrow one of the family owls.
Friday morning saw Harry sitting on his old trunk surrounded by bare magnolia walls, his hands holding the only photo of their wedding he now possessed. He had slept very little. Instead he had tossed and turned, rerunning a thousand situations in his head before falling into a fitful sleep. The two figures in the frame no longer smiled and kissed as before, instead they had retreated to the edge of the picture, encapsulating the state of their marriage. Every so often one of them would sneak a hopeful look at the other, but for the most part, they were content to ignore each other. His bed, table and chairs had gone into storage for later disposal. His fresh start would include all new furniture; he wanted no reminders of the mess he had left on this side of the Atlantic.
The divorce settlement made Ginny a very rich witch and, given the fact that four children had failed to give her the same figure as her mother, she would undoubtedly be remarried within a few years. He wondered how he would feel seeing her on the arm of another man and for the first time in many years the monster that had sprung to life at the sight of Dean and Ginny showed signs of waking from its slumber. To him, though, she would always be his, whatever happened. After all, it was the memory of the few short weeks they had shared together in his sixth year that had carried him through the Horcrux hunt.
The morning sun caught the open door of Hedwig’s old cage, reminding him that he didn’t have an owl now that she was gone, as Ginny had those that belonged to the family. Still, that would make a clean break even easier.
All that remained was to Floo to the Ministry and sign the parchment that would end their twenty-two years of marriage. He threw the powder into the green flames and prepared for his last journey as a married man.
“And where is your wife, Mr Potter?” asked the impatient elderly witch assigned to finalise the divorce papers. She shuffled her scroll importantly and peered down at him over her half moon spectacles.
“Probably celebrating with her solicitor,” he mumbled under his breath.
“What was that, Mr Potter? Speak up, man, I can’t abide mumbling.” She returned to her scrolls, obviously feeling that she’d put him in his place.
“I don’t know,” he replied, still mystified at this latest development. “I would have thought that she couldn’t wait to get this finished.”
Harry looked up at the clock; Ginny was already half an hour late, any longer and the hearing would be postponed. He couldn’t decide whether this was a good thing or not. The last thing he wanted was for the last rights to be read over their marriage again, but perhaps it would give Ginny time to put down her wand and listen to him. After another twenty minutes of mutterings and cursing from the elderly witch, Ginny still hadn’t appeared.
“I don’t know about you, Mr Potter, but I have better things to do than wait for witches that can’t make up their mind. Tell your wife that she needs to resubmit her petition and make sure she turns up this time.”
She tapped the divorce parchment with her wand, and it burst into flame, leaving the ash on the floor in front of him.
He trudged through the corridors of the Ministry to the Floo point, ignoring the stares of the passers by, wondering why she hadn’t turned up and where she could be. As he stumbled out of his fireplace, he had one of those questions answered.
Ginny looked up when the fireplace flared, watching the man who was still her husband step out of the grate. As he brushed the soot off his robes he looked up in surprise.
“Ginny! You’re the last person I expected to see here.” She winced when she saw the anger in his face. He was probably angry that she hadn’t deigned to be at the ministry. After all she’d put him through in recent months she couldn’t really blame him, but she thought she saw a flash of hope before the anger had taken over.
“You weren’t at the hearing; they said that –”
“I know the procedure, Harry,” she said with a calmness she didn’t feel, “my solicitor told me the same thing when I told him I wasn’t going through with it.”
She stared at the wedding photo, stroking the golden frame with her thumb. Throughout the last twelve months, she had allowed her emotions to get the better of her. She had felt so wounded by the thought that Harry would so much as look at another woman, that she’d responded out of her hurt. Today, she was determined to remain calm and say what she’s come to say, before her feelings overwhelmed her.
But Harry was anything but calm.
“What do you mean,” he demanded, “you’re not going through with it? You’re the one who’s pushed this through! It’s you who’ve demanded the house, the kids, and the key to the Gringott’s vault.”
He was right, of course. It had been she who had decided that he would pay dearly for his alleged infidelity. She took several deep breaths, willing herself to remain calm.
“I don’t blame you for being bitter, Harry,” she said, succeeding in staying calm, “but I’ve thought about what you said about not being asked and the house always being full of people…”
“And?” he asked suspiciously.
“Well… it’s empty now.” She hoped that he would understand what she was saying. She wasn’t sure that she could hold it together if his mistrust continued.
“You mean you’ve all ready bought a new place? Merlin, Ginny, you don’t hang around, do you?” He cringed at the aggression in his voice. He wanted to remain calm; he wanted to believe that if they could just keep talking, a reconciliation would be possible.
“No,” she said softly, taking one last look at the photo, before setting it down next to Hedwig’s cage. “I mean Chloe and Andrew are with my mum until Monday, longer if you want.”
Harry felt his anger subside. He dared not hope that they could be back together, but something in Ginny’s demeanour suggested that his optimism wasn’t entirely misplaced.
“It was never about the kids, Ginny; it was about there never being space for both you and me.” As he spoke, he had difficulty in controlling himself. He had successfully bottled up all the anguish he’d felt at the disintegration of their relationship, but now he felt that control slipping.
She stood up and took a few uncertain paces towards him.
“Well, we have space now.”
“Ginny, it’s …”
How could you explain a life-time of regrets in a few words? How could you tell the mother of your children that you loved her dearly but hated her for what she’d done to you? They had come to the point where divorce was the easy option and although part of him wanted to believe that they still had a chance, a more pessimistic voice insisted all was lost.
She moved closer to him, close enough for him to see her red-rimmed eyes.
“It’s a start, Harry,” she whispered, tears beginning to form again. She reached out and let her left hand rest gently on his hip. “There’s a bottle of red waiting on the kitchen table with two glasses. The Floo is disconnected, and the anti-Apparition wards are up. No one is going to disturb us.” She placed the other hand on the other hip, flicking her hair out of her face as she looked up at him.
“And what if I say ‘no’?” he responded, instinctively tucking a stay strand of hair behind her ear.
“Nothing changes.” She tried but failed to wipe away the tears that were now streaming down her face. She hooked her thumbs in his belt loops and drew herself closer.
“What about the divorce?” he asked, brushing her cheek tenderly with his hand.
“Cancelled,” she whispered, as her head tilted to receive his kiss.