The Weasley living room, whilst not tiny, was certainly not big enough to hold six teenagers, four adults, and two children comfortably, so it was currently rather cramped.
Harry sat quietly on the two-seater settee, his hands clasped between his knees, and studiously avoided looking at the two small children that were staring intently at him. His two small children, apparently, though he'd love to know when that had happened, because he certainly didn't recall ever having sex, especially not sex with Ginny Weasley, and as he understood it, you didn't get kids without having sex.
He risked a sly glance up through his eyelashes, and saw that the little girl was crying, tears running down her freckled little face to drip off the end of the nose she had inherited from her mum.
The boy was clutching her hand tightly, and his own tears shimmered in his chocolate brown eyes, which were courtesy of Ginny Weasley. His free hand was tugging at his black, messy hair, his nervous fingers threading the strands with static and causing them to stand up on end. Everything about him, save his eyes, spoke of a direct link to the Potter line.
Harry averted his gaze to sneak a look at Ginny, who was sitting at the other end of the settee, her small frame pressed up against the arm in an effort to put as much space between herself and Harry as possible. Her spatter of brown freckles stood out clearly against her sheet-white skin, and she had her arms wrapped tightly around herself.
'Mummy?' the little girl – Lily, supposedly – said, her voice wavering. 'We're sorry, we didn't mean to make you cross. We just wanted to look, that's all, and see everyone.' She began to cry in earnest. 'Daddy, do you hate me and James now?'
Harry looked up at that, shocked into responding. His first instinct, as it had been all summer when asked a question he didn't like, was to snap, but he quelled it, and took a deep, steadying breath before responding. 'No, I don't hate you. I just, um, I don't ... I don't know you.'
Lily's face crumpled, and she sobbed against her brother's shoulder. James put his arm protectively around her, and glared at Harry. 'I want to go home. I thought you were my dad and that she –' he pointed at Ginny – 'was my mum, but you can't be, because my dad isn't mean, and my mum has a big tummy 'cause she's having a baby and Dad has lines around his eyes and little glasses, not horrible big round ones.'
Mrs. Weasley rose from the settee she'd been deposited on after her faint, and crossed the room to kneel in front of the two children, putting her hand on top of their joined fingers. 'Darlings, I think something has happened, and you've come back in time to before your Mummy and Daddy got married.' She reached up and wiped away Lily's tears with the pad of her thumb, then tucked a lock of damp red hair behind the little girl's ear. 'Your Mummy and Daddy are here, but they're still children, like you. Your Daddy is fifteen, and your Mummy turned fourteen today.'
Lily's green eyes grew wide, and she looked at Harry and Ginny. 'But – but ... Daddy ...'
She couldn't get her words out, so James finished the sentence for her. 'Dad was twenty-eight last week,' he said, 'and Mum is twenty-seven today. We're having a surprise party for her.'
'Not a surprise now,' laughed Fred, from his perch on the arm of the chair that George was sitting in. 'I know I'm thirteen years early, Gin, but, surprise!'
James shot a look at him, something unreadable in his eyes, and opened his mouth to speak, but he obviously reconsidered at the last minute and turned back to Mrs. Weasley. 'Where's our old Mum and Dad then?'
'Waiting for you at your home,' Mrs. Weasley said softly. 'And I'm sure they're worried about you, and missing you lots, so we need to work out a way to get you back. But we can't do that unless you can tell us how you got here.'
James bit his lip and looked down. 'Well, um ... we ... er ...'
'Bloody hell, he IS Harry's son!' Ron suddenly blurted out, only to be slapped by Hermione. 'What? I'm just saying!' he said defensively. 'He sounds just like Harry!'
'Sssssh, Ron!' Hermione scolded, before moving to kneel next to Mrs. Weasley. 'Hello, you two!' she said, her voice soft.
Lily reached out and tugged on a wild curl of Hermione's hair. 'Auntie Hermione, your hair is all ... it's big!'
Hermione blushed, and reached up to disentangle the child's fingers from her hair. 'Don't I usually have big hair?'
Lily shook her head, her long, red hair whipping around her shoulders. 'No, you've got long, curly hair like this, but it's not big.' She stroked Hermione's hair gently, tracing the shape of a curl. 'Your hair's still pretty this way, though.'
Smiling, Hermione wiggled herself into the chair beside the children. 'Can you tell us what happened, Lily? James seems to be stuck.'
Lily snuggled in against Hermione's shoulder, apparently comfortable with this version of her Auntie. 'We went into Daddy's study and we looked at something he was using for work.' She winced as James dug his elbow into her side, and tried to squirm away from her brother. 'Ow, James! You git.'
'Sorry,' he muttered. 'But you'll get us in trouble!'
'Too late, James Sirius Potter,' a new voice said, and everyone in the room turned as one to look at the new arrivals.
The children were on their feet and running across the room in a flash, James wrapping his arms around the man, Lily flinging her arms around the woman. 'Mummy! Daddy!' Lily shrieked. 'We're sorry, we won't do it again.'
Harry looked up at the tall man – taller than him, at any rate – and knew instantly that it was him, just a decade or so older. There was no mistaking the hair, or the eyes, or the scar, though the stubbled jaw and broad shoulders were unfamiliar. And as for the woman, she couldn't be anyone other than Ginny Weasley, even with her massively rounded stomach.
'You scared me silly, you two,' the older Harry said, swinging James up onto one hip and then reaching down to hoist Lily up with his free arm. 'Don't you EVER do that to me and your mum again, do you hear me?'
The children pressed their faces against his chest, and he kissed them, closing his eyes and holding them close, relief etched plainly in his expression.
The woman next to him ran her hands over each child, checking for injuries or just reassuring herself – Harry couldn't be sure – before sinking awkwardly into a chair and covering her face with her hands. Her shoulders shook silently, and Harry could see tears leaking out from under her fingers.
He surprised himself by grabbing the box of tissues from the table in front of him before going to stand at her side. He touched her briefly on the shoulder, and when she looked up, he offered her the box of tissues. 'Here,' he said, somewhat stiffly. 'Don't cry.'
She pulled a tissue from the box and scrubbed roughly at her face. 'Thanks, Harry,' she said. 'Ignore me; being pregnant turns me into a watering can. I cry at anything.'
'Um – ok,' he said, scurrying back to his refuge on the settee.
Ginny – his Ginny, from this time – was staring at the older version of herself and Harry. 'Hi,' she said. 'Can you two tell us what happened now?'
The grown-up Harry nodded, shifting the children in his arms. 'I've been reviewing old cases at work, the cases that were never solved. We've got a new investigative tool, and I took it home with me to work out how to use it effectively.'
'And what does it do?' Hermione asked, practically bouncing up and down in her seat with excitement. 'And how did the children get here?'
The man snorted with laughter. 'Blimey, Hermione, you've not changed in the slightest!' he said. 'Right, this new tool is for investigating a crime scene photo.'
'You're – I'm – we're an Auror?' Harry stammered, hardly able to believe what he was hearing.
His older self grinned. 'Yup. Bloody good at it, too, if I do say so myself. Anyway, this new bit of kit. You basically place it on the Auror photo of the crime scene you want to investigate, and it takes you back to the time that the photograph was taken so you can explore for clues.'
'Isn't that rather dangerous?' Mr. Weasley asked. 'Imagine running into an earlier version of yourself! An Auror would be rather inclined to suspect the worst.'
Harry from the future shrugged. 'We have certain protocols that I can't discuss here. Suffice it to say, an Auror using this method of investigation is usually equipped with an Invisibility Cloak and is Disillusioned. The area of exploration is also limited to a radius of twenty metres, too. If Ginny and I tried to venture much further than the kitchen door, we'd be instantly transported back into our own time.'
The older Ginny frowned. 'And that's why I told you to stop bringing your work home! Imagine if your children had used that thing on a different photo!'
Her husband hung his head contritely. 'I'm sorry, love. I thought I'd locked it safely away.'
'Well, you thought wrong, didn't you? We'll be having words when we get these two home, Potter, and you'll be getting to know the settee very well for the next few nights.'
Everyone in the room, with the exception of the future Mr. and Mrs. Potter and Molly Weasley, turned to stare at Harry, a certain measure of sympathy evident in each pair of eyes.
'What?' he asked, defensively. 'He's the one who left that thing out, not me.'
Bill shook his head. 'Blimey, girls really do end up just like their mum.' He flinched as two cushions smacked either side of his head, and both versions of Ginny grinned triumphantly at him as they lowered their throwing hand back down. 'Harry, mate, you're a brave, brave man.'
Next to Harry, Ginny snorted. 'He's brave? What about me? I marry a bloke who thinks nothing of bringing his work home with him and ends up accidentally sending his kids back in time!'
'Oi!' Harry said, at the same time as his alter ego. 'That's not fair!'
'Well, it's true, isn't it?' demanded Ginny. 'I can't imagine what made me want to marry you! You've been a miserable git all summer and I bet that never changes!'
Laughter stopped Ginny in her tracks, and Harry realised that the two of them were the centre of attention yet again, their bickering apparently a source of amusement to the rest of the room.
Ginny Potter had moved to stand next to her husband and children, and was looking fondly at Harry and Ginny. 'Believe you me, you'll never regret marrying Harry, even when he pulls a stunt like this. It's worth it, I promise.' She went up on tiptoes and kissed the man in question, and Harry looked away, feeling his face flood with heat.
'What photo did they use?' Harry asked, once the snogging had stopped.
The older Harry looked down at his children. 'James, Lily, can we see the picture please?'
Lily lifted her head from her father's chest, and pulled a crumpled picture from out of her pocket. 'It's a party,' she said. 'We wanted to see everyone all together.'
Ginny got up from her seat next to Harry, and cautiously approached the Potter family. 'Can I see, Lily?' she said quietly.
Lily nodded, and extended her hand, the picture gripped between her fingers, and when Ginny took it, the little girl touched her bare arm. 'You still feel like Mummy,' she said happily, snuggling against her dad again.
Ginny unfolded the picture, and then turned it around for everybody to see.
It had been taken that very afternoon, just before Mrs. Weasley had served up Ginny's birthday dinner. Harry knew that he'd been in the picture, but the photographic version of himself was obviously still in a bad mood, because all that could be seen of him was a tatty trainer at the side of the photo.
Five minutes after the photo had been taken, the dinner had been disrupted by what sounded like somebody Apparating into the front room, and from that moment on, it had been chaos.
Harry from the future smiled at the sight of the photo. 'We got here using the photo taken just after this. That was a good day. I realised I fancied you that day, Gin.'
Once again, Harry was the centre of attention. 'What? No! ' he said vehemently, the knowledge that he was lying burning fiercely in his chest. 'That's – I ... you...'
The older version of Harry shook his head, and grinned. 'I was so eloquent as a teenager, wasn't I, love?' He looked at Harry, suddenly serious. 'It's no good, me telling you to stop being so pig-headed, but I'll say it anyway. Don't fight it. Ginny is the best thing that ever happens to us.'
Harry was too bewildered to reply, so he settled for nodding his head. He was suddenly very much aware of Ginny sitting at his side; he could feel the heat of her body radiating across the sofa, hear every rustle her hair made as it moved across her t-shirt. She smelled of strawberries and chocolate and sunshine, and she made the hair on the back of his neck stand up, and all of sudden, the idea of being with her seemed right.
Shyly, he slid his hand across the sofa cushions until his fingers grazed hers, and she automatically turned her hand palm up to accept his. Her hand was small and soft and warm, and fitted perfectly into his.
'Not quite yet, mate,' the older Harry said. 'You've got a while to wait before there's hand-holding. You need to get Cho Chang out of your system first.'
Ginny frowned at the mention of Cho, and Harry squeaked as his fingers were crushed in her hand. 'Ow, Ginny!'
She dropped his hand as if burned, and crossed her arms huffily. 'Bloody Cho Chang. What's so special about her, anyway?'
'Auntie Cho's here?' Lily piped up, looking around the room. 'Is baby Liam with her?'
Her dad kissed her on the top of her head. 'No, sweetie, Auntie Cho's not here. We'll see her later, okay?'
'She's coming to the party, Lily,' James whispered, loudly enough for everyone to hear, but oblivious to the fact. 'She says we can practise for when our baby arrives.' He started to wiggle in Harry's arms. 'Let me down, Dad, I'm not a baby!'
The adult Harry reluctantly let his son slither down his body and onto the floor, then hefted his daughter in his arms. 'How about you, Lils? You too old for cuddles with your Dad?'
In reply, Lily clung tighter, and her dad chuckled, cupping the back of her head in his hand. 'Good, I couldn't do without cuddles from my girl.'
James, in the meantime, had scurried across the room to stand in front of Harry. 'I'm sorry,' he said, in a small voice.
'What for?' Harry asked, cautiously, before starting in surprise as James flung his arms around his neck, squeezing him tightly. Gingerly, he raised his hand and patted the boy on the back. 'It's okay, you're not in trouble.'
'I called you mean,' James whispered against his neck. 'You're not mean, you're just grumpy.'
Harry choked back sudden laughter, and impulsively wrapped James – his son – in a hug. The laughter suddenly turned to tears, and he found himself crying into the soft, unruly black hair that he had passed onto his child.
James and Lily were proof positive that the fight would be worth it in the end. He was holding in his arms concrete evidence that he would survive the battle against Voldemort, that he would be the one to come out of the Prophesised battle alive.
James was patting Harry's back now, his little hand gentle. 'It's alright, Dad. Let it all out.'
The tears turned to laughter again, and Harry released James to swipe at the tears on his face. 'Thanks, mate.'
'S'alright, Dad! Lily, come and see Dad. It is him, just younger,' James called to his sister. 'Same for Mum.'
Lily joined her brother, and clambered up into Harry's lap. Her little face serious, she reached up and brushed Harry's fringe back off his forehead, then traced the line of his scar. 'Why is this so pink and sore? It's not pink on our old Dad.'
Harry usually disliked people touching his infamous scar, but Lily's warm little fingers didn't bother him, and he sat quietly, letting her examine it.
Her investigation finished, she tugged his head down and pressed a kiss against the mark. 'There, a magic kiss to make it better, that's what you and Mummy do when I get hurt, and it always works.'
He held her close, overwhelmed, and somewhat in awe of the fact that these two beautiful children were his. It was almost too much to comprehend, and it made his breath catch in his chest.
Lily looked up at him, and crooked her finger in a 'come closer' gesture. He complied, leaning forward, and she manhandled his head until his ear was in line with her mouth. 'Daddy, is the boy who looks like Uncle George Uncle Fred?'
Harry nodded numbly, knowing instantly that Lily's question could only mean one thing – Fred wasn't around to know his niece and nephew.
Lily whispered into his ear again. 'He's funny. We won't say anything to him about him being dead, because he doesn't know and it wouldn't be nice, even though you say dead people can still see us.'
Harry didn't trust himself to speak, so he just stroked her soft, fine hair and kept his head down, willing the tears away. The Weasleys didn't need to know that they were going to lose one of their own, though he didn't know how he was going to be able to keep that awful secret to himself.
A hand touched his shoulder, and when he turned his head in response, Ginny smiled at him. James was wrapped around her like an over-sized koala, and she was looking rather emotional herself.
'We're going to have kids,' she grinned. 'How weird is that?'
He grinned back at her. 'Not that weird, actually. As long as it doesn't happen within the next couple of years, I could probably get used to the idea.'
They were interrupted by Harry's older self clearing his throat. 'I'm really sorry, but we need to get the children back. Lily, James, say goodbye to everyone.' He leaned forward, and made a big show of lowering his voice. 'You'll be seeing everyone at the surprise party, so it won't be long.'
Lily and James made the rounds of the room, hugging and kissing each person in turn. If anyone else noticed that Fred received the longest cuddle, they didn't comment.
As James and Lily stepped back from Mr. Weasley, future Harry nodded at his wife, and she too made her farewells, bestowing hugs and kisses on each member of her family. 'Bye, everyone,' she said breezily, but Harry could hear the pain in her voice. She'd been able to see her dead brother one more time, and now she was having to leave him behind, knowing that he would die all over again.
The older Harry kissed her cheek. 'Just walk out of the door, love, and you'll be back home. I won't be far behind you.' He watched as his family walked through the door, their bodies gradually fading into nothingness, then turned to look at Harry, Hermione, and the Weasleys. 'It's too dangerous for you to remember this,' he said quietly. 'I hate to do it, but I'm going to have to Obliviate you. I don't remember this ever happening, so it means I must have altered your memories.'
Hermione was the first to react. She stood right in front of him, her shoulders squared. 'I'll go first,' she said, her voice barely above a whisper. 'I trust you, Harry.'
He hugged her, her head barely coming to his shoulder, then guided her gently back to her chair. 'I'm going to send you to sleep first,' he said, as he slipped his wand from his pocket. 'When you wake up, you'll think you fell asleep after dinner.' He began to sweep his wand through a series of moves, and with a whispered Addormio, Hermione slumped to the side, sound asleep.
The Obliviate took just a few seconds, and the man worked his way around the room, until only Harry and Ginny remained. He smiled at them, and reached out to cup Ginny's face in his hand. 'Look at you both, practically babies, the pair of you. It's only been thirteen years, but it feels like twice that.'
Ginny blushed fiercely at his touch, and he dropped his hand. 'You'll be ok,' he told them. 'It's going to be hard, and you're going to lose people you love, but you'll get through it, and you'll be happy. We win. He's gone.'
There was no need for clarification of who 'he' was.
Harry looked at the man he was going to be one day, and felt a sudden surge of jealousy towards this obviously content and happy person. 'I hate you right now,' he said. 'This is all over for you; it's in your past. I still have to go through it.'
Grinning, the other Harry stepped backwards, his wand at the ready. 'You've got so much to look forward to. It isn't all just misery. There's marriages and births and kisses and friends. You are going to be the happiest man alive in a few short years.' His wand began to dance in the air, the pattern both beautiful and complicated. 'G'night.'
Harry felt his eyelids grow heavy, and his body began a slow slide towards Ginny, who was slumping in his direction. He fought against the spell, but was asleep before its caster had even completed the incantation.
'Harry, dear, time to wake up.'
Harry opened his eyes to find Mrs. Weasley hovering over him with a mug of tea and a plate of biscuits.
Yawning widely, he pushed himself up into a sitting position, and accepted the tea with a mumbled 'thanks'. After taking a sip of the milky, sugary liquid, he rubbed sleep out of his eyes and stretched. 'I fell asleep?' he asked.
'We all did,' said Mrs. Weasley, as she snagged one of the mugs hovering next to her, before handing it to a yawning Ginny. 'Too much good food and playing in the sunshine.'
Harry stared into his mug of tea, struck by the feeling that he was forgetting something, but when he tried to follow that train of thought, his brain skittered over it, unable to get a grip.
Next to him, Ginny uncurled her legs from underneath her, and yawned into her hand. As she moved, her bare foot brushed against Harry's thigh, and he felt a funny little rush in the pit of his stomach.
He'd only ever felt that rush when he was looking at Cho Chang. Did that mean ...
Shrugging it off, he dipped a biscuit into his mug of tea, and put it down to kipping in the middle of the afternoon. He didn't fancy Ginny Weasley.