DeFonda Hepburn settled in the corner of the little coffee shop with a cup of tea and a croissant. No one paid her much mind, but she couldn’t help shifting awkwardly in her long, black skirt dotted with little roses and matching pink blouse when she was surrounded by people at least half (most of them a third) her age. The girls all wore mini-skirts and crop tops, and DeFonda couldn’t help a swift pang of jealousy, but sixty was decidedly too old to wear such things.
She shook her head. Focus Dee. The Potters would be less than thrilled with a nanny who wanted to dress like a thirteen-year-old, and she needed the work.
On cue, the door opened and a couple entered. A small child clutched the man’s finger, looking doubtfully around the shop. The man was average height, with a wiry build, messy, jet-black hair and a nasty scar on his forehead. His wife was short, but muscular with fire-red hair only slightly longer than her husband’s. They were both dressed in jeans, with the man in a blue button-up and his wife in a purple blouse. It was difficult to see their child across the crowd of tables and guests, but she could make out a crop of messy black hair.
They spotted her immediately and smiled. The woman went to the counter while the man and their son weaved their way to the tables. DeFonda suddenly regretted picking the table furthest from the door.
She stood and extended her hand as the father and son reached the table, “Mr. Potter?”
“Harry, please,” the man said, taking her hand and smiling. She was happy to find he had a firm grip, nothing like the dead fish most people offered her these days. His smile broadened as they let go, and she thought he might be thinking the same thing.
“It’s Ms. Hepburn, right?”
“Excellent. And this,” Harry lifted the small boy into his arms, “Is James.”
James promptly buried his face into his father’s shoulder.
“He’s feeling a bit shy, today,” Harry said, “But he’ll be talking your ear off soon enough.”
DeFonda laughed, “I’m sure he will.” She leaned to the side so James could see her out of the corner of his eye, “Hi James. My name's DeFonda, but you can call me Dee. Nearly everyone does.”
James turned so that the back of his head faced her.
DeFonda laughed. Harry went pink.
“Jamie don’t be like that,” Harry said. He looked apologetically at DeFonda, “I’m sorry. He’s not very keen on this whole “nanny” idea.
“And if by ‘not very keen’ you mean, ‘held my leg screaming to try and keep us from coming here, then yea, he wasn’t keen.” Harry’s wife sat beside him carrying two steaming cups of coffee and a paper bag.
“Ginny,” the woman said, extending her now-empty hand.
“Here Jamie,” Ginny said, “I got you some juice and a cookie, and you can have them if you turn around and face DeFonda.”
“Dee,” James muttered.
“What sweetheart?” Ginny asked.
“Her name’s Dee,” James said, twisting around in his father’s arms and looking expectantly at his mother, “she said so.”
“I did,” Dee agreed.
“But I still don’t want a nanny,” he said, glaring at the cookie his mother had passed to him.
“James,” Harry warned, “Be polite.”
James hesitated, “Sorry,” he sulked.
“That’s alright,” Dee said, “I understand. I know I won’t ever be the same as your Mum and Dad, but hopefully we’ll still be able to have lots of fun together.”
James didn’t reply, but he didn’t glare at her either. Harry breathed a visible sigh of relief.
“Pardon,” Dee asked, looking to the Potter parents, “I thought your advert said you need someone to care for two boys?”
Ginny nodded, “We do. Our second son, Albus, is two, but he woke up this morning with a cough. My Mum’s staying with him.”
“He’s a sweet kid,” Harry said, “He loves the idea of someone coming to play with him for a few hours every day.”
James sniffed at this but took another bite of his cookie.
“So your needs haven’t changed?” Dee said, “Someone to stay with them from 1 to 6 Monday through Friday?”
Ginny nodded, “More or less. I can do a lot of my work from home now, but I don't have enough hands to work and keep two boys from burning the house down." She patted James’ head.
“We might also be interested in someone tutoring them in the fall,” Harry added, “Which is why we were happy to see your teaching experience on your CV.”
The conversation continued like every interview Dee ever had. The Potters were friendly, respectful, and knew precisely what they needed. James even started glancing at her now and again with curiosity instead of hatred, particularly when she started talking about the different games she could play with them.
“Mummy!” he tugged at Ginny’s sleeve, “What’s Play-Doh?”
Ginny opened her mouth and looked questioningly at Harry, who grimaced, “It’s a toy . . . sort of. Mug—some children like to play with it. It’s different colors of this clay sort of stuff, and you can make it into shapes.”
“Could I make a centaur out of it?”
Harry glanced at Dee, “Erm yea. You could.”
“Cool!” James said, finally giving Dee a smile.
“Right,” Ginny said. She leaned forward, “There’s one other thing. I’m sure Harry agrees that you’d be perfect for our family.” Harry nodded earnestly at this, “But we should warn you that there are a few…surprises about our home.”
Dee nodded slowly. One other family she’d worked for had said that, and they’d been referring to a makeshift greenhouse in their garden filled with marijuana.
“We don’t have electricity,” Harry said.
Dee raised her eyebrows, “Like…at all?”
They both nodded.
Dee took a deep breath and also leaned forward, “Mr. and Mrs. Potter. I hate to bring this up, but if you don’t have the means to pay for . . .”
“What?” Harry asked, “Oh! No! No! It’s nothing like that. We’ve decided not to use it.”
“Why not?” Dee couldn’t quite hide her confusion.
“We’re envi-enviromentalists,” Ginny said, tripping over the word.
“Oh!” They didn’t look like the sort of people who’d pass out Green Peace leaflets, but Dee had heard of people living off the grid. She was a child of the sixties, after all.
“The other thing,” Harry leaned forward, glancing around them, “Our family has had some um difficult times.” He the scar on his head, and Ginny took his other hand. DeFonda suspected neither of them realized they had done it “The thing Ginny and I want most of all…and the thing we need for our children is some peace and quiet, and to get that, we’ll be relying on your discretion.”
“Mr. Potter—Harry—I can assure you I don’t go gossiping about the people I work for.”
“I’m sure you don’t,” Harry agreed, “But I’m afraid we need you to do one step better than that.”
“We can’t have you talking about us at all,” Ginny said, “Not even our names, not even to your family.”
DeFonda stared. When they didn’t say anything else, she said, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to need a little more information than that.”
Harry and Ginny glanced at each other before Harry said, “When we were . . . younger. Gin and I did some . . . military work. It was all classified, but there were some er . . . movie-esque moments.”
“Every once in a while,” Ginny continued, “We get people from the military, the press, others who have nothing better to do, who try to stick their noses where they don’t belong. And unfortunately, some of those people might think that our nanny would be happy to blab on us.”
“So it’s better for them to think you don’t have one,” DeFonda completed, “I see.”
“We’ll pay you extra, of course,” Harry said quickly, “For the inconvenience, and the awkwardness.”
DeFonda raised her eyebrows, “How much extra?”
They told her. DeFonda’s mouth dropped open.
James asked for another cookie.
DeFonda figured as she pulled into the Potter’s driveway, that the family was telling the truth or they were drug dealers. Either way, there wasn’t much she could do about it, and with the money the Potters were giving her, the mortgage wouldn’t be a problem anymore. Becca could even start dancing again.
The house didn’t look like it belonged to a drug dealer. It was a quaint stone cottage with a peaked roof and several brick chimneys. Right, no electricity. Tall trees cordoned off a large, grassy yard, making it impossible to see the house until you were practically arriving, and that was after finding your way down a winding road then turning off onto a different, even windier dirt road. The Potters, she suspected, never did anything by half.
She got out of the car, grabbed a large, cloth bag with a faded I <3 NY stamped on it, and walked up to the door.
It opened before she could knock, revealing a grimacing Ginny Potter, who was wearing some sort of strange, green robe and prying two, small hands from her hair.
“Al, please. Mummy cut her hair so you couldn’t do this. She finally extricated her son’s small fingers, sighed, and shot DeFonda an apologetic smile, “Feel free to turn and run.”
DeFonda smiled back, it was nearly impossible to think of the young woman (because she was, so, so young) as either a spy or a drug dealer, so she said, “I don’t scare easy.”
Ginny laughed, “Come in. I’ll show you around.”
The cottage was remarkably cozy. A gentle breeze wafted through all its windows, but the rooms were somehow free of flies or other summer insects. Ginny showed DeFonda to a simple kitchen complete with a gas oven and stove as well as an icebox identical to the one DeFonda had seen in her grandmother’s ancient house. Next came the dining room, which was large, but with a simple wooden table and chairs that, once again, would have fit in well with her late grandmother’s home. There was also a sitting room with a large fireplace, overstuffed, burgundy couches, a couple bookshelves, and a large grandfather clock.
“The bathroom’s to your left, Ginny pointed, “And don’t worry, it’s a proper bathroom, not a pit or something. You can go into the boys’ bedroom upstairs, of course. Their names are on the door, the other three are mine’s and Harry’s bedroom and offices, and we’re obviously not keen on people going there.”
“Great,” Ginny said, “Thanks so much for all your help. You just need to worry about them from 1 to 6, and if I don’t come down by 6:15, feel free to knock on my door. Harry usually gets home between 6 and 6:30, so I don’t know how much you’ll see him. James is asleep, but he’ll wake any minute now. They’ll both probably want a snack soon, I’ve got some crackers and things in the cupboards. Do I need to show you exactly where they’re at . . .”
She was babbling. DeFonda laid a gentle hand on the young woman’s shoulder, “It’s alright,” she said. “I’ve got the boys. We’ll have fun. Go upstairs and get your work done.”
Ginny let out a relieved sigh, “Thanks,” she said, “I don’t know why I suddenly got so nervous . . .”
“The first couple days can be as hard for the parents as the kids,” DeFonda said. She held out her arms, and Ginny hesitantly deposited Albus into them.
“Be good now,” Ginny said, kissing his cheek, “Mummy will be back soon. Have fun with Dee.”
“Dee!” Al agreed, wrapping his fingers in DeFonda’s steel-gray hair.
“Now sweetheart,” DeFonda said, unwinding Albus’ fingers, “Dee doesn’t like that anymore than Mummy does.”
As Ginny predicted, Albus happily settled with DeFonda, constructing towers with wooden blocks and knocking them down again as if he’d known her all his life.
The calm lasted for exactly fifteen minutes until James stumbled down the stairs, rubbing his eyes and clutching a stuffed bear to his chest. He stopped short on the last step, staring at DeFonda with unbridled hatred before opening his mouth and letting out a great scream, “MUMMY!”
The screaming lasted another fifteen minutes, until James’ vocal cords gave out. He’d spent the first five minutes lunging desperately back up the stairs towards his mother’s office, but DeFonda grabbed him before he’d reached the second step, pulling him into her arms and sitting on the couch, murmuring comforting words into his ear that he either couldn’t hear or ignored.
Albus happily played with his blocks.
Once James finally quieted, DeFonda turned him around in her lap and asked, “Feeling better?”
“I know you miss your Mummy, but you’ll be able to see her soon. In the meantime, I brought some Play-Doh for you and Albus.”
She reached into her bag and pulled out a small, plastic yellow tub with a bright red lid.
James’ eyes widened, “I wanna play!”
“We can,” DeFonda agreed, “But only when your Mum’s working. If she comes down, we’ll have to put it away.”
James stared dubiously at the small container. He clearly recognized the trick and couldn’t decide whether to go along with it.
“I brought chocolate malts too,” DeFonda added.
“What are those?”
“You’ve never heard of them?”
James shook his head.
“They’re a kind of sweet.”
“A muggle sweet?” he clamped his hands over his mouth and gaped at her, “I’m not supposed to say that word.”
“That’s alright,” DeFonda said. She’d never heard the word before, so she didn’t feel the need to punish James for it when she was barely gaining his trust. “Do you still want some?”
James nodded silently, and Albus looked up for the first time, “I want sweets!”
“Excellent!” DeFonda said, “Let’s go to dining room.”
By the time Ginny came down stairs at 5:55, the Play-Doh was played with and put away. Malt balls had been eaten, along with crackers, and the chocolaty residue wiped off the children’s faces. Albus was playing with his blocks again, while DeFonda and James drew with crayons and paper DeFonda had brought from home. James had marveled at the “parchment” as he called it, “It’s so soft and white!” DeFonda had laughed and promised to leave him some. They boy’s face lit up.
“Hello boys,” Ginny said with a smile.
“Mum!” the boys yelled in unison, nearly tackling the poor woman with hugs.
“Mum! Dee brought Play-Doh, and I made a centaur, and a unicorn, and a house, and then we colored on special parchment, and I made you this!” he held up the paper, “It’s our family, see?”
“Muuum,” Albus said at the same time, “We ate choc malts and played with blocks and colored.”
Ginny grinned at them both, “Sounds like you boys had fun.”
“The most fun!” James said. He paused, “But I still missed you.”
“I missed you too, love.” Ginny said, “Now let’s say goodbye to Dee.”
“You’re coming tomorrow, right?” James said, rocketing back to DeFonda.
“If that’s alright with you.”
“Bring Play-Doh and special parchment!”
“And choc malts!” piped Albus.
“I will,” DeFonda said as she headed towards the door.
“Bye!” the boys chorused, waving energetically at her. DeFonda waved back.
The Potters are certainly odd she thought as she drove away, but they’re good people. Her grandmother had taught her to trust her intuition when it came to people. She was hardly ever wrong.
Things quickly settled into a wonderful routine. The boys were adorable, relatively well behaved, and endlessly curious. DeFonda wondered if the Potters ever shopped at a normal store, because their sons were enchanted by everything she showed them. They’d never heard songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, stories like Cinderella, “Daddy tells us stories from Beetle,” James explained, never tried Mars Bars, and hadn’t heard of any of the toys DeFonda brought from home. They were so enthralled by the small set of matchbox cars that she said they could keep them. Their faces lit up like the won the lottery.
“Wait ‘til I show Grandpa!” James said, jumping up and down with a green toy truck grasped in his hands, “He loves cars.”
“A little too much,” Harry’s voice came from behind them.
“Daddy!” the boys screamed, rushing to engulf Harry in hugs, babbling about their day and shoving the toy cars in his face.
“I hope it’s alright I said they could keep them.”
"Course it it, Dee," Harry smiled easily.
She still sometimes worried that Ginny and Harry were deliberately eschewing these staples of most childhoods and would be angry with her for bringing them up. Instead, Ginny (and Harry, the few times DeFonda had spoken to him) sometimes seemed to share their children’s excitement.
“My parents told us different stories,” Ginny explained when DeFonda asked if she could read Cinderella and other fairy tales, “And Harry, well . . ." she broke off, shook her head, and smiled, “I’m really glad you’re doing this. Harry and I want the boys to try as many new things as possible.”
DeFonda almost pointed out that the Potters were just as capable of buying books and Mars Bars as she was, but she knew better than to give her employers parenting advice.
A disconnect from normal toys and stories wasn’t the only odd thing about the Potters. The strangest things seemed to happen while she was there. Once, when James and Albus were fighting over the last apple slice, all the cupboard doors slammed open and shut at once. They boys stopped bickering immediately and cast inexplicably guilty looks at DeFonda when it obviously wasn’t their fault . . . it must have been the wind.
Another time, DeFonda walked in to find Ginny kneeling on the floor in front of a wailing Albus. Something that looked an awful lot like blood dripped steadily from a cut in his knee, staining the carpet.
“Ah bugger,” Ginny muttered, looking up at DeFonda as she walked in, “Would you mind checking on James while I clean up Albus? He’s in the dining room.”
DeFonda obeyed, and when Ginny came in, not five minutes later, Albus’ knee looked perfectly fine. When DeFonda went into the living room, the stain was gone. Ginny explained that Albus had gotten a hold of her lipstick, and she needed to clean it off. DeFonda desperately wanted to know what cleaning product got lipstick out of carpet that easily.
In the end, though, DeFonda easily overlooked these oddities. The Potters were lovely, and her extremely generous salary made things much easier for her and Becca. Becca was back in ballet; she had a recital in a few weeks. They even went out to dinner now and again.
Before she knew it, DeFonda had been working for the Potters for nearly four months. She’d started tutoring them in math and science, while Ginny and Harry handled their reading, writing, and social studies. It had been difficult to convince two boys used to playing with her that she was their teacher too…especially when James was old enough to learn basic sums while Albus was barely learning the numbers, but they were managing.
She had brought worksheets, some for James to start tracing numbers, and others for Albus to color in and was working on the best way to market the activity as a game rather than work when she entered the house one chilly September Friday.
Immediately, she knew something was wrong. The boys were playing with their cars on the living room floor, but Ginny was sitting, stone-like, on the couch. Her eyes were fixed on the grandfather clock. When DeFonda closed the door behind her, Ginny jumped to her feet, clutching a thin stick in her hand.
“Oh,” Ginny deflated visibly as DeFonda got closer, “It’s you.”
DeFonda nodded, “Ginny,” she glanced at the boys and lowered her voice to a whisper, “Are you . . .”
“I’m fine,” Ginny interrupted, “I’m sorry, but I forgot to tell you that my parents are actually coming to pick up the boys. They should be here any minute.”
“Well I’ll get them something to eat in the meantime,” DeFonda said, just to get the boys out of the living room. Ginny was half a breath away from a meltdown over . . . something. It would be better for everyone if the boys didn't see it.
Ginny nodded and sank onto the couch, eyes again on the clock.
Something was wrong, and it probably had to do with Harry. He had never been home this early since she started working there, but Ginny must have gotten news of an accident or something happening at work.
Something was very wrong because DeFonda knew the look on Ginny Potter's face. It was the look of someone who feared their loved one wasn’t coming home.
It was barely ten minutes before the door opened. DeFonda glanced out of the kitchen and saw a plump, kind-looking woman and a taller, balding, but equally gentle man rushin.
“Ginny,” the woman said. The two women rushed towards each other, and DeFonda retreated back to the kitchen.
She still caught Ginny’s broken “Mum.”
“Where are the boys?” the man asked quietly.
“The kitchen, with Dee. So you probably shouldn’t use floo . . .” Except Ginny must’ve meant loo, even if it didn’t make any more sense.
“I’ll make a portkey,” the woman assured her, which made just as little sense, “It’s alright.”
“I’ll go get the boys,” the man said, "We'll be ready in just a couple minutes."
“James! Albus!” he called, his voice suddenly light and happy as he walked into the kitchen.
“GRANDPA!” the boys screamed, rushing to him.
The man shook her hand then picked up Albus, “Arthur,” he nodded towards the living room, “And that’s my wife, Molly. It’s DeFonda, right?”
“Dee,” James interrupted.
Arthur nodded “Then it’s so nice to finally meet you, Dee. We've heard all about you from the boys.”
Dee played her part, swallowing her questions and replacing them with a smile, “We have a lot of fun.”
Arthur smiled at her, but the expression didn’t reach his eyes. Then he looked back at Albus and James, “Do you boys want to have a sleepover at grandma and grandpa’s house!”
“Yes!” Albus said.
James hesitated, “Will Dad be there?”
Arthur sighed and sank to his knees so he was eye-level with the four-year-old, “Your Daddy’s going to be at work for a long time today. Your Mum told you that, right?”
James nodded, “But where’d he go? Do the bad guys . . .”
Arthur glanced anxiously at DeFonda and then pulled James into a one-armed hug, “Jamie,” he said quietly, “What does your Dad tell you every day before he goes to work?”
James sniffed and rubbed his eyes, “That he promises to see me soon.”
“That’s right, and your Dad’s not going to break that promise, alright? He’ll be home soon. Until then, your uncle Ron, aunt Angelina, uncle George, your cousins, and Teddy are all going to be with us at the Burrow. It’ll be a big party.”
James hesitated, “Will you make my cars fly?”
Arthur nodded, “Of course. Why don’t we run upstairs and make sure you’ve gotten them all? Then we’ll go.” He picked Albus up with one arm, extended his hand to James, who took it, before all three of them went into the living room and up the stairs.
Once they left, DeFonda got out the kettle, filled it with water, and set it on the stove. Then she started slicing apples and cheese. Things that were easy to eat while pacing.
A couple minutes later, she heard the boys troop down the stairs.
“We're ready Molly,” Arthur said.
“You’re sure you don’t want to. . .” Molly began.
“He’ll come here if he can,” Ginny said, “I need to wait for him.”
“Then maybe Ron should . . .”
“No. He needs to be with his kids. I’ll be fine.”
“Molly,” Arthur said gently, “Let her handle this her way.”
Molly didn’t respond, which Dee assumed meant she agreed, but wasn’t happy about it.
“I love you boys,” Ginny said, Defonda imagined Ginny kissing their heads, like she did every time she went upstairs, “I’ll see you soon.”
“With Dad!” James said.
Ginny didn’t answer, probably couldn’t speak.
“With your Dad,” Molly confirmed.
No one else spoke, and DeFonda heard the door open followed by footsteps.
Silence crashed on the house when the door closed. No one had been loud before, but now the quiet was all-consuming. DeFonda’s heart started pounding. She knew this part too. Waiting.
The kettle whistled, and DeFonda prepared two cups of tea before bringing them and a plate of biscuits on a metal tray into the living room.
Ginny had returned to staring at the clock and jumped when DeFonda entered, but accepted her tea with a grateful smile.
“You don’t have to be here.”
“I know what it feels like to wait for someone to come home,” DeFonda replied, joining Ginny on the couch.
“He’ll come,” Ginny said, “He always does.” Except when he won’t DeFonda heard in the silence. Ginny looked back up at the clock.
Both teas had gone cold by the time either spoke again.
“Did they come home?” Ginny said finally, “The person you waited for?”
DeFonda thought of a broken bridge, the ugly rushing of the Thames, a lump of twisted metal, and two bloated bodies on metal tables.
“No,” she whispered.
Ginny nodded. For the first time, a tear traveled down her cheek.
DeFonda took her hand, “But that doesn’t mean Harry won’t.”
Ginny took a deep, steadying breath and nodded.
“I thought he was dead, once,” she whispered a few minutes later, “Thought I saw the body and everything.”
DeFonda squeezed Ginny’s hand again, “And he came back.”
Ginny nodded more tears leaking from her eyes, “But that doesn’t mean anything. Doesn’t change the fact that this time . . . this time . . .”
She was crying in earnest now, so DeFonda pulled her into her arms, rubbing her hands down her back, “It means he’s strong, Ginny. It means he knows what he’s doing.”
“He doesn’t even know I’m pregnant!” Ginny wailed, “And now he might never know!”
“I-I only found out yesterday,” Ginny continued, “And I was trying to figure out how t-t-to surprise him!”
Just what the poor girl needs, pregnancy hormones on top of everything else.
“You know,” DeFonda said, “When I was pregnant with my son, I spent an entire week trying to figure out how to tell my husband. I went crazy, made a fancy dinner and a cake with the words “You’ll be a dad!” in pink and blue. You know what he said?”
Ginny shook her head.
“He said, ‘I know. You left the sodding pregnancy test on the bathroom counter!’”
Ginny chuckled a little through her tears, and DeFonda smiled.
“Harry’s not like that,” Ginny said, “He’s brilliant, don’t get me wrong, especially when he’s working, but when it comes to family things, he can be a bit daft. When I was pregnant with James, I wanted to be clever about it too. I went out and got a little onesie. It was adorable . . . a lovely cream color with little dragons all over it. I set it on the table, and the bloody idiot passed by it a dozen times when we were making dinner together, and it was only when I finally pointed it out to him that he noticed it. And then . . .”
She sat up, eyes still bloodshot, but she was laughing a little now, “And then he looks at it and says, ‘What? Did you get a present for Ron and Hermonie’s kid?”
DeFonda laughed, and Ginny immediately joined in, laughing hysterically in a way that could quickly devolve back into tears.
“Well,” DeFonda said. You should hear about the time my husband tried to plan a surprise birthday party for me . . .”
The exchanged stories for several hours. Their laughter and smiles were strained, with Ginny’s often bordering on hysterical. Ginny also kept her eyes fixed on the clock, as if it could tell her more than the time. DeFonda understood. People dealt with their fear in different ways. The clock probably had some special meaning, perhaps a wedding gift from Harry.
At seven-thirty, Ginny whirled around to face DeFonda again, “It’s so late! Do you need to be anywhere?”
DeFonda shook her head, “I live with my granddaughter, but she always stays at her friend’s house on Friday nights.”
Ginny nodded and sank back down, resuming her staring match with the clock.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
By eight-thirty, Ginny stopped telling stories. By nine, DeFonda had given up as well. Ginny started pacing somewhere around nine-thirty, eyes still fixed on the clock.
At ten, DeFonda insisted she eat something. Ginny refused, so DeFonda went for the low blow and told her to eat for the sake of her child.
“If it wasn’t for this BLOODY CHILD. I could be OUT THERE!” Ginny roared, “I could be HELPING! Instead of sitting around like a useless piece of s-“
“Don’t you dare!” DeFonda cut her off, “Don’t you DARE blame yourself for ANY of this!”
“I should go,” Ginny said, already crossing to the door, “I should go. I don’t know why I’ve been waiting around. . .”
Moving faster than she had in decades, DeFonda rushed forward and blocked the door.
“Get out of the way,” Ginny snarled.
“Get out of the WAY!”
“NO!” DeFonda roared, “You’ve got TWO, almost THREE CHILDREN!”
“They’ll be fine. I’ll go help him. I’ll bring him back, and we’ll all be FINE!”
“UNLESS YOU’RE NOT!” DeFonda shot back, “UNLESS NEITHER OF YOU COME HOME AND IT’S UP TO ME AND YOUR PARENTS TO EXPLAIN TO YOUR SONS WHY THEY’RE ORPHANS!”
The words did their job. Ginny’s shoulders slumped, and she fell back into DeFonda’s arms, “What if he l-leaves me? What i-if he l-leaves us a-alone!”
“You won’t be alone,” DeFonda said as she stroked her fingers through Ginny’s hair, “You’ve got your parents, all those siblings and in-laws that I can’t keep straight. You’ve got me.” Ginny pulled away and looked up at her.
“I know what it’s like to be the one who’s left behind,” DeFonda said. Her eyes were dry, but her throat had twisted and shriveled up in ways it hadn’t for years, “I won’t let you go it alone, if it comes to it.”
Ginny nodded, wiping her eyes and nose on her sleeve, “I’m sorry. I was being stupid.”
“You were being brave,” DeFonda said, "And a little stupid.”
Ginny laughed a little at that, “You should see the brave, stupid things Harry does sometimes.”
The fell back into silent vigil. Ginny finally agreed to nibble at some cheese and apple slices as she continued pacing. Eyes fixed, once again, on the clock.
Eleven passed. Then twelve. DeFonda suddenly wondered how word would get to Ginny either way. Maybe she had one of those new mobile phones?
One-o-clock. Two. DeFonda made coffee. She couldn’t fall asleep on Ginny now, no matter how much her sixty-year-old body reminded her that she hadn’t been this anxious in years. Not since then.
Suddenly, at three-fourty-two, Ginny froze, stared at the clock, clapped a hand over her mouth, and screamed. Without another word, she dashed to the door and fled out into the night. DeFonda followed as quickly as her limbs would allow, but she wouldn’t be able to stop Ginny if she really wanted to take off.
For one, horrifying second, DeFonda thought she had. Then she saw Ginny running to meet two figures at the end of the driveway. Ginny wrapped her arms around one of the figures, and a wave of relief washed over DeFonda. Harry.
The third figure lit some kind of flashlight. The group started moving slowly towards the house, Ginny and the other figure (a short woman with wild hair) supporting Harry between them.
DeFonda almost rushed forward to help, but thought better of it. Instead, she retreated inside the house, stoking the fire in the living room (a newly-acquired skill courtesy of working at the Potter’s), pulled several oil lamps from a kitchen cupboard, and lit them with shaking hands. She had time to set a lamp on the dining room table and another in the living room by the time the trio reached the door. She opened it as they approached. Ginny shot her a grateful smile, “Thanks Dee.”
Harry’s head was hanging down his chest, but he looked up at Ginny’s words.
“Dee?” he muttered. He gazed up at her with unfocused eyes. He was trembling, practically vibrating, “Like Big D? What’s he doing here?”
“No sweetheart,” Ginny said, “Dee. DeFonda.”
“Oh,” Harry sagged again, “That’s good. I like her much better.”
“Let’s get him to the living room,” the other woman said, “We won’t make it up the stairs.”
“I put a lamp in there,” DeFonda said, “There’s plenty of light.”
The new woman nodded her thanks, and DeFonda stepped aside so they could move past her.
They settled Harry on the couch, angled so he was lying in Ginny’s lap. She ran her fingers through his hair, and he closed his eyes, smiling.
“Bloody Cruciatus curse,” he muttered.
“It’ll be okay,” Ginny said. All trace of hysteria had vanished; her voice was authoritative, calm, and her hands trembled less than DeFonda’s, “You’re safe now.”
“Knew it,” Harry continued, as if he hadn’t heard her, “Knew that wand wouldn’t be worth the bloody trouble.”
“You were right,” Ginny agreed. She looked up at the other woman. “How many times did they . . .”
The woman shook her head, “I don’t know. It sounds like they didn’t use it until the end, when they were getting really desperate. But still . . .” she bit her lip and glanced at Harry, “I’ve given him a potion that helps with the lingering pain. He can have some more in an hour or so.” She reached into a beaded bag hanging from her wrist and pulled out a large bottle. DeFonda didn’t understand how such a large container fit in such a small bag. It must be much bigger than it looked.
Regardless, Defonda had finished what she needed to do here, and after over twelve hours of nothing but crippling fear and painful recollection, she was crashing. Her vision was fogging up, and she was trembling more than she had realized. She needed to leave before she was completely incapable of driving.
She slipped out of the living room, where Ginny was stroking Harry’s hair and talking quietly with the other woman. She’d gathered her bag and was about to open the door when Ginny called, “Dee? Where are you going?"
DeFonda poked her head back in the living room, “Home,” she said, “Unless you need anything?”
The other woman turned, frowning, and gave DeFonda a concerned, appraising look, “Are you able to drive yourself?”
“I’ll be fine. You both need to be with Harry.”
“I can drive you,” the other woman said, “Ginny doesn’t need my help, and you’re liable to fall asleep on your feet.”
“You must be just as tired as I am.”
The woman shook her head, “I promise I’m not. I’ve had a potio-drink that’s been giving me energy.”
“Please, Dee,” Ginny added, “You’ve helped me so much today. Let Hermione help you.”
DeFonda couldn’t say no to that.
Hermione said she knew the way back to Godric’s Hollow and just needed directions to DeFonda’s house. DeFonda took her word for it, and quickly fell into a strange, half-asleep haze. Images from the past twelve hours flashed through her head: Ginny staring at the clock, Arthur’s anxious face, Ginny screaming in rage then sobbing into her shoulder, Harry, dazed and trembling, Ginny stroking his hair. Soon these images blended with others: a phone call, her husband and son on metal slabs, her daughter-in-law, pale and silent at the funeral, her daughter-in-law, unresponsive and surrounded by bottles as tiny Becca screamed, Becca, falling asleep in DeFonda’s arms at her mother’s funeral . . .
The bumpy transition from the dirt road to regular pavement jolted DeFonda back to her thoughts.
“Sorry,” Hermione said, “I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“I wasn’t totally asleep.”
Hermione nodded, and they drove in silence for several minutes.
“Thank you,” Hermione said, “For staying with Ginny. She and Harry can be too stubborn to ask for help, but she needed you.”
“Of course,” DeFonda said, “I couldn’t leave her alone.”
Hermione smiled, “I see why they like you so much.”
DeFonda couldn’t think of anything to say to that, so they continued for several more minutes in silence.
Finally, DeFonda gathered the courage to ask, “Harry’ll be alright, won’t he?”
Hermione clutched the steering wheel, "Yes. He’ll be fine. The physical symptoms will wear off in a day or too. As for the rest . . . well . . . he’s been through worse.”
“He said he and Ginny fought in a war.”
Hermione nodded, but didn’t reply.
“And the Cruci-Crucitus?”
“Cruciatus,” Hermione completed, “It’s an . . . interrogation technique.”
DeFonda nodded. She thought about asking more about what’d happened, who had taken Harry, and what they wanted, but she doubted Hermione would say much else. And she was too tired to be as curious as she knew she would be in the morning.
“And the boys? Do they know he’s back? That he’s okay?”
“Not yet. They’re still asleep. But the rest of the family knows. They’ll tell them in the morning. I’m sure Harry will want to see them as soon as possible, once he’s gotten some rest.”
They passed the rest of the drive in silence, except to exchange earnest thank yous when Hermione dropped her off. It was only as Hermione got out of the car too that DeFonda realized she didn’t have the faintest idea how she was going to get home, or how she and Harry had gotten to Godric’s Hollow in the first place.
She was far too tired to think about it, or to make it all the way upstairs to her bed. She just collapsed on the couch and let sleep overtake her.
When she arrived at the Potter’s on Monday, she found Harry laying on the couch. Albus was snuggled on his chest, eating a chocolate bar and decorating Harry’s face with sticky fingers. James was sitting against the couch babbling to his father while devouring his own chocolate.
DeFonda paused in the doorway, smiling at the scene when James noticed her, “DEE!” he bellowed, running up and throwing his arms around her, “Look! Daddy’s home!”
“I can see that,” DeFonda said. Harry grinned, sat up, and resettled Albus on his lap.
“Good to see you Dee,” he said, “Properly, at least.”
“How are you doing?”
Harry offered her a smile, “I’m fine. Bit sore’s all.”
“Daddy didn’ go to work!” Albus said, grinning.
“That’s right,” Harry said, ruffling his son’s dark hair, “But Mummy and Daddy are going to spend some time together now . . . remember?”
Albus nodded, albeit a little glumly. He wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and hugged him tightly. Harry kissed his forehead.
“I’ll be right upstairs Al.”
“Come here,” DeFonda said, crossing over to Harry and holding out her arms, “I brought Play-Doh!”
Albus obediently let DeFonda pick him up and laid his head on her shoulder. James, on the other hand, jumped up.
“Do we get to play before lessons?”
DeFonda smiled, “You don’t have lessons today.”
“YAAAAY!” James jumped up and down, clapping his hands.
Harry grimaced at the noise.
“A little quieter, Jamie. Daddy’s still got a headache.”
James clapped his hands over his mouth, “Sorry Daddy.” He stood on his tiptoes and kissed Harry’s forehead, “Does it feel better now?”
Harry pulled his son into a hug, “Yes it does. Thank you.” He stood, “I’ll see you boys in a few hours.” With a last, grateful smile to DeFonda, he trudged slowly up the stairs.
Ginny and Harry returned at six and were immediately accosted by their sons. Harry nodded politely as James told him about the new color of Play-Doh DeFonda had brought. (“It’s black Dad. Black! Like nighttime!”) before gently extricating himself and walking to DeFonda.
“I’ll walk you out,” he said quietly.
DeFonda nodded, and, after she said a quick goodbye to Ginny and the boys, she and Harry walked out to the car.
“Thanks for watching them,” Harry said, “Even though we could’ve. Ginny and I thought they should get back into their routine as soon as they could . . . and we needed the time.”
Harry hesitated, kicking at the ground with his shoe, before saying, “And thank you for staying with Ginny. For helping her through . . . that.”
“It’s no more than you deserve.”
Harry blushed, scratching the back of his neck and looking away.
“Anyway, I just wanted to say erm . . . thanks, since I wasn’t really able to say it properly earlier . . .” His eyes glazed over a little, but he shook himself and smiled back at her.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yea. I’m okay,” Harry said, “What happened was just . . . an occupational hazard.”
Being tortured for information sounds like more than an occupational hazard. She thought again about asking what Harry did and who was after him, but then she thought back to how he’d entered the house, trembling and delirious, just days ago, and how, despite what he said, there were lines around his mouth, and his eyes scanned the yard anxiously, as if looking for attackers.
“I’ll see you soon, Harry,” she said instead.
“You too, Dee,” Harry responded with a smile before turning and rejoining his family.
In the months that followed, nothing like that terrible night happened again, although DeFonda did notice that Harry occasionally had a cut or bruise on his face, or that he walked a little stiffly. Whatever “military work” he had done before, DeFonda assumed he was still involved, or at least did something similar.
Mostly, though, she spent her time tutoring and playing with the boys, and chatting with Ginny and Harry about innocent things: recipes, gardening tips, the best places to go on holiday, and hilarious stories about their respective children. DeFonda found to her astonishment that she could even talk about her husband and son.
They exchanged cards just before Christmas. The Potters gave her a large, homemade treacle tart, two DVDs of the Paris Opera Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake for Becca, and a thank you cards from the boys that brought tears to DeFonda’s eyes. She gave them a batch of meat pies, a gardening book, and toy cars for the boys.
After Christmas, Ginny began swelling like a balloon and alternated bouts of moodiness and radiance.
“Harry tries his best to help,” she said to DeFonda as they enjoyed a cup of tea before Ginny went up to work. “But he can be a bit hopeless. I’m pretty sure the idea of another person growing inside me scares him more than the thought of another war.”
She blushed a little, as both parents did when they mentioned “The War,” although DeFonda couldn’t understand why. Plenty of people talked about the First Gulf War, especially now that they’d gotten mixed up in another one.
She almost asked, but Ginny’s face was still shuttered, so she pushed the conversation to happier places, “Have you settled on a name?”
“Lily,” Ginny said, “We talked a bit about Minerva and Molly, but Lily feels right. It was his mother’s name.”
Harry’s parents had died when he was a baby, and the loss weighed heavily on both him and Ginny. DeFonda understood. Hardly a day passed when Becca wasn’t asking about her parents, requesting the same stories over and over again.
DeFonda smiled, “Lily sounds lovely.”
In April, DeFonda finally understood the Potters’ obsession with privacy.
She was working in her front garden when a voice said, “My, my . . . these are lovely.”
DeFonda looked up and saw a tall woman looking over her wooden fence. She had short, curly blonde hair, sharp eyes, and a charming but vicious smile. She was wearing a bright green pants suit, and her hands clasped a crocodile skin bag with blood-red nails that glinted from across the garden.
“Your daffodils,” she explained, pointing to the yellow flowers lining the sidewalk, “How do you get them to bloom so well? I can never keep mine alive.”
She gave a false laugh. DeFonda stood, rubbing dirt from her hands, and walked towards the woman, stopping well short of the fence. Something about her was off, and not in the odd but charming way of the Potters.
“Practice,” she said finally, “I’ve been gardening since I was a child.”
“Ah yes. I can see this is a labor of love,” the woman gestured at the blooming yard, “Do you find it relaxing?”
“Yes,” DeFonda said shortly.
The woman’s smile widened, “I’m so glad. You certainly seem like a woman who deserves plenty of relaxation. Is your work terribly difficult? Maybe your employers are rude and ungrateful, possibly abusive?”
DeFonda stiffened, “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”
The woman laughed again, “Oh how silly of me. I’m Rita Skeeter. I’m writing a column in the local paper about the unsung heroes in our charming community.” She gestured down the street, “Some of your neighbors said you’d be the perfect person to talk to . . . maybe even make the focus of the article.”
“Did they?” It was almost certainly a lie, but it didn’t seem wise to call this Skeeter woman on it. Not yet.
“Oh yes. They said you’ve been working with children all your life, isn’t that right?” When DeFonda nodded, Rita’s smile grew until her mouth seemed to eat her entire face. “But children can be so nasty, can’t they?” she continued, “Calling their nannies names, throwing tantrums every five minutes, treating people who work for their parents like servants?”
“No,” DeFonda said, “I’ve loved all the children I’ve worked with.”
Rita’s smile faltered, but she pressed on, “But surely you feel obligated to say that, for fear of losing your job. We really are eager to tell your story, DeFonda, and I can guarantee the paper would be more than willing to pay for any income you may fear losing if you tell the truth . . . and even help pay for any legal representation, should you feel the need to sue for damages . . .”
“I think it’s time for you to go,” DeFonda interrupted, “I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
She turned and headed into the house. When she heard Rita beginning to follow, she whirled around, “And I can assure you that if you trespass my property, I will phone the police and tell them you’re harassing an old woman.”
Rita stopped short, sickening smile soon replaced with a cold grimace, “Very well,” she snapped, “But I as a journalist, I take my responsibility to learn the truth very seriously.”
DeFonda didn’t reply, so Rita turned on her heel and marched down the street.
“Are you okay, Gran?” Becca asked, looking up from her homework when DeFonda slammed the door shut.
“Yes,” DeFonda marched into the kitchen to wash her hands. “Actually,” she turned around, “Has a woman named Rita Skeeter ever tried talking to you? She has blonde hair and jeweled glasses, might have been carrying an ugly handbag?”
Becca frowned, “I don’t think so . . .” She hesitated, “Well, maybe. When I went to Lizzy’s yesterday, there was a woman talking to her Mum. She didn’t say anything to me. . . I just noticed the ugly glasses. Then Lizzy and I went upstairs”
She’d barely finished before DeFonda had gone to the living room phone to dial Lizzy’s mother.
“Janet,” DeFonda tried keep her voice calm, “How are you?”
“I’m doing well, thank you. Is everything alright, Dee?”
She must not have hid her fury well, “I’m fine. Listen, did a woman called Rita Skeeter talk to you yesterday?”
“Yes,” Janet said, “She said she was from the paper doing an article on women in childcare and asked if I knew anyone who did that sort of work.”
“Did you mention me?”
“I did,” Janet said, “I’m sorry. I should’ve asked you first. I said you’re the person everyone calls if they need a nanny or a tutor.”
“Did she say anything else?”
“Not really, just asked if any of the kids you were working with now were giving you any trouble. I said that you didn’t talk about your work much but that you’d never mentioned anything like that to me.” She hesitated, “I’m sorry, I meant to tell you she might drop by, but I completely forgot.”
“That’s alright,” DeFonda managed. Janet couldn’t have known any better. “I’ll talk to you later. Please ring me if she comes again.”
“Of course,” Janet said, “And I won’t say anything else to her.”
“Thank you,” DeFonda hung up and met Becca’s worried eyes.
“You okay, Gran?”
“Yes. DeFonda nodded, "Just a little worried about this Rita woman is all.”
“Why? She hasn’t done anything to us, has she?”
“No. I’m just worried she might be trying to bother Mr. and Mrs. Potter.”
Becca’s eyes widened, “But they’re so nice.” Becca hadn’t met the Potters, but DeFonda's stories and the DVDs they sent her for Christmas had been enough to seal her affection.
“They are,” DeFonda agreed very, very nice, and certainly don’t deserve to deal with whatever that Skeeter woman is up to.
“Becca,” she said, “Get your shoes on. We’re going to visit the Potters.”
“Really!” Becca said, jumping to her feet, “Are they home?”
“I don’t know,” DeFonda admitted, wishing, not for the first time, that the Potters had invested in a phone, but she didn’t see another option. This woman was clearly going after the Potters and was happy to use her—and more importantly Becca—to do so. Something needed to be done now.
Fortunately, Becca was too excited to meet the Potters to complain about a forty-minute drive to visit a family that might not be home.
“Bring a book,” DeFonda said. They would sit and wait for the Potters to get back, if needed.
Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. She found all the Potters in the front garden. Ginny and Harry were lying on a blanket while James and Albus dashed around them, chasing little birds that fluttered around their heads. On another day, she would have wondered how the birds dared flutter near the children’s small fingers, or why Harry seemed to be holding a conductor’s baton in the air.
Harry bolted up when he heard the car approach, and Ginny struggled to do the same. After a moment, Harry bent down to help, still clutching his baton in one hand. Ginny kept one of her hands in the deep pocket of the strange robe both Potters seemed to prefer.
The boys, for their part, shouted with glee.
“Dee!” they called as DeFonda got out, attacking her, as always, with hugs.
“Hello boys,” she said, hugging them back, “Do you want to meet my granddaughter, Becca?” she gestured at Becca, who was climbing out of the car and staring at the house in delight.
The boys immediately quickly grasped each of Becca’s hands and dragged her away to play.
“DeFonda,” Ginny waddled towards her, and Harry followed, wrapping a protective arm around her waist. Ginny frowned, clearly sensing DeFonda's anxiety, “What’s wrong?”
DeFonda told them about her encounter with Rita as well as her phone call with Janet. Both Potters stiffened and reddened in anger as she spoke, and the moment she finished Harry exploded.
“That DEVIL!” he bellowed. DeFonda jumped and all three children looked around at this expression of rage. His hands were clenched into fists, he ground his teeth, and his eyes blazed with a fury unlike anything DeFonda had imagined him capable of. He suddenly seemed larger, broader, and powerful in a way DeFonda couldn’t describe. For the first time, she understood how this man could be a war hero.
“I will END her!” he raged, “I swear! We’ve let this go on for long enough! I will END HER! How DARE she come after our CHILDREN! Our FRIENDS!” he gestured at DeFonda, “I am HARRY BLOODY POTTER and I will END HER!”
“Harry,” Ginny said calmly as Harry gasped for breath to continue his rant, “The children.” Harry stopped at looked at her, then back at the children who were still staring at them. His eyes still blazed with fury and power, but his voice had returned to a normal volume as he said, “I’m going to sort this out right now. She’s not getting away with this.”
“No you’re not,” Ginny said in that same, calm voice. Now that DeFonda paid attention to her, she realized that Ginny was at least as enraged as Harry. Her hands were also clenched into fists, her mouth was tight and taut with fury, and her brown eyes blazed with an anger and power much like her husband’s. The air almost crackled around them both.
“Gin. We can’t just let her . . .”
“We’re not. I’m leaving right now.”
“What? Ginny . . . I’m not letting you anywhere near that thing.”
“Which one of us works for the Daily Prophet, Harry?” Ginny retorted, “I know how to deal with her and people like her. Besides, this is what she wants. She wants Harry Potter to have a public meltdown just before the ten-year anniversary of . . .” she stopped, and they both glanced at DeFonda.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Harry admitted.
Ginny patted his cheek, “I know you hadn’t. Which is why I’m going to handle this.”
“She’s just gonna try to do the same to you.”
“I’d like to see her try,” Ginny sniffed, “The papers will love to write an article about how a disgraced reporter was harassing Harry Potter’s eight-month pregnant wife just before the anniversary of her brother’s death.”
For a moment, Harry didn’t respond, then he grinned at her.
“I love you.”
Ginny kissed him, “I know. I’ll go get ready and leave in ten.” She smiled at DeFonda, “Thanks so much for letting us know, Dee.” She gave Harry another quick kiss and then waddled back into the house.
Harry watched her go fondly before turning back to DeFonda, “Is it alright if you and Becca stay here until Ginny gets back . . . just to make sure everything gets sorted. It’s possible that Rita, or someone working with her, will try to talk to you again otherwise.”
DeFonda glanced at the children, who had taken to each other instantly. Becca had always loved the idea of younger siblings, and the boys were at the age where any child older than them was a movie star.
“That’s more than fine.”
“Come on,” Harry said, “I was about to make lunch.”
“Who was that woman?” DeFonda asked as she helped Harry cut bread, cheese, and ham for sandwiches. She normally tried to respect the Potter’s closely guarded privacy, but this time, it was affecting her and Becca.
Harry grimaced, “A reporter,” he said after a moment’s consideration.
“So she wasn’t lying about that.”
“Well, she doesn’t work for Godric’s Hollow’s local paper,” Harry said, “She used to be a much bigger deal than she was now, ten or fifteen years back. Caused me, loads of people really, all sorts of trouble.” He grimaced and began savagely cutting apple slices.
“Would she lie?”
“Always. She’s a tabloid writer more than anything, but people took her seriously for a long time. She was exposed, about a decade back, for being a vicious fraud, and she’s been trying to climb back to the spotlight for ages. She probably wanted to write a story about how our children are awful and we’re mistreating you.”
DeFonda glanced out the window, where Becca, James, and Albus played tag. She couldn’t think of anything further from the truth.
“Even if that were true,” DeFonda said, now buttering slices of bread, “How would an article like that help her get the attention she wants. It’s not like anyone would care about a family with a nanny in a tiny village.”
Harry looked at her for a long moment, as if about to tell her something. Then he shook his head and sighed, “That depends on her audience.”
He didn’t make sense, so DeFonda considered her words carefully, “Mr. Potter, I hope you know how much I care for you and your family, and I’ve done everything I can to protect your privacy, but I know you’re keeping a lot from me.”
Harry nodded, “You’re right, and I’m sorry about that.”
“I’m alright with it,” DeFonda said, “I’ve never felt the need to know everyone’s business. But when it affects my family, especially Becca . . .”
“I know,” Harry said earnestly, meeting her eyes, “And please believe Ginny and I are taking this very seriously. We won’t let anything like this happen to you or Becca again.”
His eyes seemed to blaze with the same power they did before, and DeFonda couldn’t help believing him.
Ginny returned near sundown. DeFonda hadn’t seen her leave, nor did she see or hear her enter, but suddenly Ginny was waddling down the stairs and into the kitchen, looking extremely pleased with herself.
“She won’t be trying that again,” she said smugly, sitting down at the table and allowing the boys to pummel her with affection.
“Oh she won’t?” Harry grinned.
“No,” Ginny confirmed, “Not after the Daily Prophet runs a picture tomorrow of Hermione Granger rushing forward to comfort Harry Potter’s crying wife as she emerged from Rita Skeeter’s office asking why she was harassing her wonderful nanny just weeks before the ten-year anniversary of the war.”
Both she and Harry started laughing, and DeFonda had couldn’t help but join in.
“And I’m sure Hermione was more than happy to help you in your grief?” Harry grinned.
“She was when she realized it involved publicly humiliating Skeeter. And the editor of whatever no-name publication she’s working for these days is issuing a public warning about violating the journalistic ethics of the Statue of Secrecy.”
“Brilliant!” Harry said. He turned to DeFonda, “Rita’ll be staying far away from you now. I promise.”
That night, when Becca had gone to bed, after spending the entire evening gushing over the Potters, DeFonda finally decided to find out what the world had to say about the family. She’d been honest when she’d told Harry that she didn’t bother getting in other people’s business, but by now, there were so many questions buzzing through her head, she couldn’t help trying to answer a few of them.
Becca had patiently taught DeFonda how to use search engines, which was mildly humiliating but undeniably useful now.
Unfortunately, either DeFonda hadn’t learned as well as she’d thought, or the Potters were the only people in the world who’d managed to keep secrets from the internet, because she couldn’t find anything that could do with them. There were no mentions of a Rita Skeeter, which was strange, considering she was a reporter. Searches for “The Daily Prophet” and “Statute of Secrecy” only brought up results about ultra-conservative Christians and conspiracy theorists. The war in Bosnia had ended a decade ago, but she couldn’t see what two British people could have done in it that would make them tabloid fodder around the ten-year anniversary.
Speaking of which, there was almost no mention of a Ginny and Harry Potter. She only found a short article in the local paper about a house fire that had killed Lily and James Potter. The article said rescuers had found their young son Harry alive and would be living with his maternal aunt and uncle. Perhaps that was how he got the scar on his head.
DeFonda stared at the black-and-white photo of the house that accompanied the article. The entire top floor was destroyed. It looked more like a bomb detonation than a fire. She didn’t see much soot or smoke, but that probably was because of the poor photo quality. She could make out the firefighters and police picking their way through the rubble and imagined the inevitable ring of onlookers staring at the macabre scene before them. She checked the address again and realized she knew the spot. It was in the center of town, close to the cemetery. Some of the kids joked about it being haunted. A few years ago, people had talked about building a park there, but things kept going wrong, and the idea eventually petered out.
DeFonda stared at the screen for a long time, left with even more questions then she had before. She supposed there was someone she could ask to help her dig deeper. She was friends with most of the librarians, and some of the kids she used to nanny could do wonders with computers. . .
The photo stopped her. Harry’s life had begun in tragedy, and both he and Ginny had clearly suffered more than anyone should, especially so young. They were working hard to build something better for themselves, for their children. Who was she to pry? If someone went around, searching for articles about Becca’s parents, demanding to hear every sordid detail, she’d want to bash their heads in. No one had that right.
Sighing, DeFonda shut off the computer and headed to bed, pushing the nagging questions away. The Potters weren’t hurting anyone—the opposite, really. And no matter what had happened, everyone deserved a new start.
During the last week of April, Ginny and Harry grew increasingly solemn. With each passing day, Ginny hugged her children a little tighter before going upstairs to work while Harry often came home early. It made sense. As the ten-year anniversary of “The War” drew near, the young parents would naturally crave the comfort of their children.
On May 2, DeFonda watched James and Albus all day. She arrived just before breakfast and found Ginny and Harry sitting of the couch. Ginny was bouncing a giggling James on her lap, while Harry held Albus, the little boy’s head resting on his father’s shoulder. Both parents were dressed in black robes.
“Hey Dee,” Harry said quietly as she entered. Ginny nodded in her direction but didn’t speak. Heavy bags rested beneath the couple’s eyes, and they lacked their usual vigor as they reluctantly put down their children and got up.
It was today. Whatever specific anniversary they were commemorating . . . it had happened today.
The couple said their goodbyes with the same, quiet solemnity. Then they clasped each other’s hands as they walked slowly down the driveway, heads bowed as if in prayer. DeFonda looked away. This was too private to intrude.
When Harry and Ginny returned, long after the boys had been put to bed, both sets of eyes were puffy and red. They were still grasping each other’s hands as if terrified of the idea of ever letting go.
James and Albus had noticed their parents’ solemnity but were young enough to remain mostly immune to its subduing presence. On the contrary, Albus, who had turned three a few weeks prior, had recently discovered that his little legs moved very quickly and took enormous delight in running gleefully through the house as DeFonda chased him. It was less than a week after the Anniversary, and DeFonda felt each of her sixty-one years as she did so and groaned as Albus dashed up the stairs for at least the twentieth time that day. She glanced quickly at her watch: a little after 5:30. Less than half an hour to go.
With another groan, DeFonda trudged up the stairs. Only this time, Albus wasn’t waiting in the hallway, grinning mischievously at her, nor was he bouncing on one of the boys' beds.
Panic immediately dispelled her exhaustion, and DeFonda rushed back into the hall. She looked down the stairs, even though Albus couldn’t possibly be there. Then again, Potters always seemed to be in places they couldn’t be. Just a month ago, she’d rescued Albus from a tree that didn’t have any branches low enough for him to climb.
This did nothing to ease her panic. She whirled around to check the bedroom again when she noticed a hallway door that was slightly ajar.
It led to Ginny and Harry’s bedroom or Harry’s office. Both rooms always been locked before, but DeFonda didn’t have time to question what was different this time. Instead, she sped into the room.
It had to be Harry’s office, but it was filled with things that simply couldn’t exist.
The room was beautiful, airy, and light with pale blue walls, light hardwood floors and a desk and chair that were made of a still lighter wood…holly perhaps? The furniture sat on a handsome carpet with intricate designs of burgundy and gold. A pair of large windows flooded the room with light, while a large, brick fireplace filled the opposite wall.
However, none of that was what made her stop short, made her heart pound in shock and terror. It was that the walls were dancing.
Except that wasn’t quite right. Instead, the walls were filled with portraits and paintings, and they all moved.
A large oil painting of a castle and grounds hung on the wall directly behind Harry’s desk. Little black dots wandered all around the grounds. As she watched, the door to the castle opened and more little black dots moved out.
It wasn’t just people moving around the painting. White and brown specks-- birds --flew through the blue sky and the dark trees of the forest swayed as if rustled by the wind. Smoke drifted up the chimney of a small hut near the edge of the forest, and things that looked horribly like tentacles were reaching out of a blue lake.
That wasn’t all. The rest of the walls were covered in what looked like photographs of all sizes and shapes. A large picture of the Potter family hung over the fireplace. Harry and Ginny were sitting together. Ginny held a baby whom DeFonda assumed was Albus, while Harry was bouncing two small boys—a smaller version of James and a boy with bright blue hair who must be Teddy, Harry’s godson whom she had yet to meet. They laughed and waved, with Albus’ tiny fist grasping Ginny’s finger, Harry carding his hand through James’ hair, and Teddy holding bunny ears behind Harry’s head with a mischievous grin. The rest of the pictures were too small to make out from where she stood, but DeFonda could see lots of waving hands, smiling faces, and large swaths of reds, greens, and blacks.
A crash jolted her back to reality. Albus had climbed onto his father’s desk and successfully knocked a glass jar of sweets onto the floor. He was trying to scramble down, no doubt still in pursuit of the sweets and utterly indifferent to the glass littering the floor.
“Oh Al!” DeFonda said, rushing forward (grateful for her shoes) and grabbing the toddler. He squirmed and whined, quickly approaching tears, but DeFonda ignored him. Her eyes had fallen on a thick newspaper.
The Battle of Hogwarts: Ten Years Later
How the Chosen One Saved the Wizarding World
By Ernie MacMillan, Daily Prophet Special Correspondent
Below the headline was yet another moving picture of a man, a boy really, standing in front of the ruins of a castle. DeFonda looked up at the painting behind the desk and back down at the photograph. They must be the same place, but while the castle in the painting looked pristine, the building in the photograph had enormous holes blasted out of it. Rubble covered the ground, and craters littered the grass. Many of the stones had scorch-marks, and some were pasted with what looked horribly like blood.
The boy swayed, as if ready to collapse at any moment. His black robes were torn, burnt, and bloody. Grime, scrapes and yet more blood coated his face, but the scar beneath his bangs was still easily visible. In his hands he clutched two, thin sticks, much like the baton-like thing Harry had when DeFonda had told him and Ginny about Rita Skeeter.
The caption beneath the picture read
Harry Potter standing outside Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry just hours after defeating Lord Voldemort, who is still widely accepted as the Darkest wizard who ever lived.
It was difficult to breathe. Albus was still whining in her arms, and DeFonda had now gone a full ten minutes without laying eyes on James, but she couldn’t tear her eyes from the page.
No one who saw Harry Potter’s body carried out of the Forbidden Forest just before dawn on the Second of May, 1998 will ever forget it. It was the first time most of us had seen Lord Voldemort in person, and yet everyone (excluding Death Eaters) there that day would agree that the sight of evil incarnate was nothing to seeing the corpse of the seventeen-year-old boy who had given hope to us all.
You know the story. Lord Voldemort had tried, yet again, to kill Harry Potter, and again he failed. A last, desperate battle broke out: a few more names added to the list of the dead. Then Harry Potter dueled Voldemort in the center of the great hall at Hogwarts where they had both eaten hundreds of times.
Except it was not a traditional duel. The two men circled each other, exchanging words instead of spells. Their conversation made no sense to most of us, except when Harry Potter revealed that Severus Snape, Dumbledore’s killer and headmaster of Hogwarts during Voldemort’s reign of terror, had abandoned his former master decades prior in the name of Harry Potter’s mother, Lily.
Then Harry Potter declared himself master of the Elder Wand, which we later learned Voldemort had sought to guarantee he could kill the boy who’d defied him at every turn. Voldemort refused to believe it, which ultimately led to his demise. The killing curse he aimed at Harry rebounded on himself, sending the Elder Wand flying through the air and into Harry’s hand.
The first twelve hours after Voldemort’s demise were filled with celebration, the twelve following with sorrow. After barely an hour, Harry disappeared, along with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, who stood beside him during every leg of his agonizing journey. He returned in time to mourn the dead, many of whom he knew well, including his godson’s parents as well as his future brother-in-law. He gave a few statements at the Ministry and even fewer to reporters before setting off twenty-four hours later to round up the last of Voldemort’s supporters.
Ten years later, Harry Potter still defends wizards and muggles alike from Dark Magic. His wife, Ginny, who spearheaded the Resistance at Hogwarts, writes a massively popular sports column in this newspaper. The couple famously guard their privacy, with the help of those closest to them, who are at least as loyal to the Potters as The Order of the Phoenix was to Dumbledore. Many questions remain about that fatal night, and I doubt we will ever know most of the answers.
And yet, as I rewrite this article a fourth time, my muggle wife, Margaret prepares the mathematics lecture she’ll be giving to her university students tomorrow. Our small daughter is sleeping (for now), and once I finish this paragraph, I will suggest to Margaret that we enjoy a cup of tea before bed. She’ll agree, and we’ll sit together on the porch, holding hands and chatting about trivial things.
On nights like this, I remember how everything I have--my job, my home, my amazing wife, my perfect daughter--exists because a seventeen-year-old boy walked into a forest expecting not to walk out and then slayed the Darkest Wizard of our age.
On nights like this, I can’t help but raise my glass to Harry Potter. The Chosen One. The Boy Who Lived.
“Ernie lays it on thick, doesn’t he?”
DeFonda jumped and whirled around. Harry stood behind her.
“Daddy!” Albus cried.
“Hey Al,” Harry smiled and pulled Albus into his arms.
“Harry . . .” DeFonda gasped, “Mr. Potter . . . I’m so, so sorry. Albus got in here, and I couldn’t help but see . . .”
“It’s alright. I’ve snooped in much more private places for much less innocent reasons. Let me give Al to Ginny. Then we can talk.”
With that, Harry turned and left the office, talking softly to his son. DeFonda stared after him. Could it be true? Could this man be some kind of . . . savior? Could magic actually exist? A whole other world hidden within her own with moving pictures, magic wands, and evil wizards? It seemed ludicrous, and yet . . .
“Sorry about that,” Harry said. DeFonda jumped, and he shot her another apologetic look, “I thought it’d be better if we had this conversation privately.”
DeFonda nodded mechanically.
“And I didn’t offer you a place to sit. That was incredibly rude of me.”
He pulled a thin stick that DeFonda had thought looked like a baton, then hesitated.
“Are you alright if I conjure it with magic?”
She nodded again. If magic was real, she wanted to know for sure.
Harry flicked his stick—his wand—and a comfortable armchair appeared from nowhere.
“Holy shit,” she breathed.
Harry laughed, gesturing for her to sit down. She did so, and Harry followed suit. He closed his eyes, rubbing the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses, before opening them again and smiling at her.
“I’m sure you’ve got questions,” he said, “Why don’t we start there?”
She stared at him. She couldn’t form coherent thoughts, much less words.
Harry shifted uncomfortably, “Or, if you like, I can . . .”
“Is that why you don’t have a car?” DeFonda blurted, “Because you’ve got magic?”
Harry raised his eyebrows but smiled again, “Yes. That’s why we don’t have electricity too: it doesn’t mix well with magic.”
“What do you use instead?”
“Adults tend to apparate--disappear then reappear somewhere else-- but we can also travel by fire and on brooms . . .”
“Oh. Well that’s . . .” unbelievable, amazing, insane, “Different.”
“That’s one way to put it,” Harry quirked his eyebrows again.
“And you’re . . .” she nodded at the newspaper.
“Famous,” Harry said, blushing in a way that reminded DeFonda much more of a school boy than a savior, “Yea. But like I said, they laid it on thick in that article. Plenty of people have written much nastier things.”
“Then what happened?” she said. She knew she should stop talking, walk out, leave the Potters to their privacy, and forget any of this happened, but her tongue demanded explanations anyway.
Harry grimaced, “There was a war. It ended a decade ago May 2nd . . . more or less anyway. I killed the leader of the other army.”
“Why were you fighting?”
For a long moment, Harry didn’t respond. He looked out the window, rubbing the scar on his forehead.
“There was,” he began slowly, “A group of witches and wizards that wanted a new order. They thought only people with a certain ancestry should be allowed to practice magic and that muggles—that’s what we call non-magical people—were subservient.”
“Like Nazis, you mean?”
“Yea,” Harry said, “That’s about right. Anyway, that army was organized around one man—Voldemort. He’d used a type of magic that made it nearly impossible to kill him, but a group of us figured out how to undo it and . . .”
“Were you all children?”
Harry blinked at her, “Sorry?”
“The people who helped you, were they children too?”
“Well technically, in our world you become an adult at seventeen so . . . but yea,” he said, sighing heavily, “Most of us were.”
“That’s barbaric. How could anyone let that happen?”
“They were desperate, terrible times,” Harry said quietly, “I didn’t want the others to help me, but none of them took no for an answer . . .”
He stared out the window again. DeFonda thought about asking why he was the one who needed to go after “the darkest wizard of all time” at all, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
“Was the war in a different country?” she asked, “How did the rest of us never hear about it?”
“You did,” Harry said. He suddenly looked much older than a man in his mid-twenties. “There were a couple years, starting about twelve years ago, where there were a lot of disasters—hurricanes, bridge failures, stuff like that, and a sudden spike in kidnappings and murders. That was the war.”
“Bridge failure,” DeFonda repeated weakly. The world felt far away now . . . like everything was up-side down, “Why would they . . . you . . . destroy bridges if you don’t use them?”
Harry gave her a strange look, but DeFonda couldn’t find the strength to interpret it, “The other side—Death Eaters we called them—would target Muggle populations as a . . . show of force.”
“For fun, you mean,” she whispered, “You mean for fun . . . don’t you?”
Harry opened his mouth, but no sound came out. It was answer enough.
“My husband died because of a bridge failing,” she said before she could stop herself, “And my son. Eleven years ago. No one could explain it. The bridge was less than ten years old. They blamed shoddy steel.”
Harry had gone pale, and his hands trembled. DeFonda belatedly realized hers were trembling too.
“DeFonda,” he began, “I am so, so—“
“You killed him,” she said quietly, “You killed the man who murdered my husband and son?”
“And you’re still fighting people like him?”
He nodded again.
“Good,” DeFonda stood, “Good. Thank you, Ha-Mr. Potter.”
Without another word, she hurried out of the office, down the stairs, and to the car, ignoring Harry calling out behind her.
DeFonda ignored the person who rang her doorbell the next morning. It was either a salesman, a missionary, or a Potter, and she didn’t want to talk to any of them. She looked back down at the album in her lap, tracing the smiling figures in the photographs: her son, handsomer than ever, laughing with his wife of ten minutes, who glowed in her white dress. They were always making each other laugh, even broke out in giggles during the middle of their ceremony. There was her husband, looking uncomfortable in a suit, but smiling all the same, his arm wrapped around her waist . . .
The doorbell rang again. DeFonda scowled. The only people she wanted to talk to were dead.
The person was pounding on the door now.
“Dee! Dee! I know you’re in there!”
“Go away,” DeFonda muttered. She’d rather talk to Rita Skeeter than Ginny Potter right now.
“Dee! I’m going to stand right here until you open this door!”
DeFonda closed the album and got to her feet, cursing as she walked to the front door.
“What do you want?”
“Good morning to you too.” DeFonda glared, and Ginny sighed, “I’m here to help, if I can.”
“Unless you can bring my family back, I don’t think there’s much you can do.”
“You’re right, I can’t,” Ginny said, “I can’t bring back the people I lost either.”
“At least they knew why they died,” DeFonda replied savagely, “At least you knew what happened, and you got newspaper articles and memorial services. I got,” tears welled her eyes now, “I got a phone call and a form letter of condolences from the government. At least you knew wh-why they’re dead!”
Her tears began in earnest, despite her best efforts to keep them in.
Warm arms wrapped around her, pulling her as close as a swelling baby bump would allow. DeFonda melted into Ginny’s embrace, sobbing harder than she had in years, since the doctor emerged from the operating room and said she was very sorry, but there was nothing they could do: her daughter-in-law had drunk too much, too fast, and the tears had come, fast and hot before she could stop herself because they were all gone. Her husband. Her son. Her daughter-in-law, and all she had left was this small grandchild, and how was she supposed to explain that her Mum was gone and would never come back . . .
She had no idea how long she stood there, soaking Ginny in tears. She might have never stopped if she hadn’t felt a sharp kick against her side.
“Holy shit!” she pulled away, “Ginny I’m so sorry. You’ve been standing for ages! You need to sit!”
“Dee I’m fi-“
But DeFonda was already marching her into the house and sitting her on the couch, tenderly setting the albums on the coffee table.
“Dee it’s alright, I swear . . .”
DeFonda ignored her and went to the kitchen to get a kettle going and make tuna sandwiches. Her world had imploded. Magic existed, and it had destroyed her life. She couldn’t do anything about that, but she could damn well make sure a pregnant woman got off her feet and had lunch.
“Thank you,” Ginny said, accepting her tea and sandwiches ten minutes later. They ate in silence: each too preoccupied with their thoughts for it to feel awkward.
“Is Harry too upset with me?” DeFonda finally asked.
“With you?” Ginny blinked, “Of course not. He feels terribly guilty about everything, but of course he’s not upset with you.”
Now it was DeFonda’s turn to be surprised, “What does he have to feel guilty about?”
“Nothing, of course,” Ginny said with an exasperated, if fond, roll of her eyes, “He’s just got this bloody hero complex that makes him think he has to save everyone.”
“Of course,” Ginny agreed, “Even he knows that, but he’ll be alright. He and I have mostly talked it out.”
“He’s lucky to have you.”
“True,” Ginny agreed with a grin that said she felt the same about him. “But Dee, I’m here because I think, and Harry agrees, that you deserve to know exactly what happened. We want to give you as much information as you need.”
“Are you allowed to?” DeFonda said, “You clearly worked hard to keep this from me.”
She couldn’t quite regret the accusation in her words.
Ginny didn’t seem to mind, “We’re in a little bit of legal grey area. We do work hard to keep the wizarding world hidden, but there are circumstances where we can tell muggles, and—well—being Harry Potter does have its perks.”
“Did he really do all those things? That newspaper article . . .”
“As Harry always says, they laid it on thick,” Ginny said, “But yea, it’s all true, truer than most people realize, honestly . . . not that Harry will tell you that. He’s insufferably modest about it all.”
“I don’t understand. How could anyone . . . especially a child.”
“Let me explain,” Ginny said gently.
And so, she did. She talked about dark wizards and civil wars and a little baby surviving the unsurvivable. She talked about lightning scars and magical schools and blatant bigotry. Her voice wobbled a little as she continued onto dark graveyards, predatory reporters, and the outbreak of a second civil war. DeFonda took Ginny’s hand as she described murders, disappearances, pitched battles and an entire world—both good and evil—believing one boy could end it all. DeFonda’s head spun as she heard about splitting your soul to chase immortality and heard the ache in Ginny’s voice as she described her months leading a rebellion while waiting for the man she loved to return. Then tears filled her eyes as she described the last, desperate battle, losing her friends, her brother, and the horrible, horrible moment she thought she’d lost Harry too.
“But he survived,” Ginny said, “He survived again, and he revealed himself to Voldemort.”
“And killed him.”
“That’s the beauty of it . . . Voldemort killed himself. He died from his own rebounding curse. Harry offered him redemption. He was sure Voldemort would refuse, but he did it anyway . . .”
And that’s why she loves him so much.
DeFonda squeezed Ginny’s hands, “Thank you for telling me this.”
“You deserve to know,” Ginny replied, “In fact . . .” she pulled her purse into her lap and opened it, giving DeFonda time to turn away and wipe at her eyes.
When she turned back around, there was a large stack of books and newspaper clippings on the floor in front of her.
“What! How . . .” she began as Ginny pulled yet another enormous book out of the purse half its size.
“Sorry,” Ginny said, “I asked Hermione—you remember—“
“The smart girl.”
Ginny laughed, “Exactly. Well I asked for her help giving you an overview of the magical world and the war. She went a little . . . overboard.”
“I was a history teacher,” DeFonda said, “I’m used to it.”
“That’s what Hermione said,” Ginny replied, “She said you’d probably want as much information as possible so . . .” Ginny gestured at the books, “She sent you a library. She was very particular that all the books and articles were in the proper order. She made all sorts of notes and stuff too . . . some things people wrote are . . . inaccurate.”
“Yes . . . well . . . I . . . thank you,” DeFonda spluttered.
“Thank you,” Ginny said with a small smile, “For everything. And please, take all the time off that you’d like—paid of course, and if you need Harry and I to find someone else . . .”
“No. No!” DeFonda said, “Of course not. I’ll see you Monday.”
“The boys will be ecstatic to hear that,” Ginny said with a grin.
With a final hug and promises to see each other soon, Ginny turned on the spot and disappeared with a crack.
DeFonda made herself another cup of tea and turned to the enormous pile in front of her. The book on the top read The Man Who Tried to Live Forever: the Rise and Fall of Lord Voldemort by Cho Chang with a forward from Draco Malfoy.
She began to read.
That Monday, it was both easier and harder to drive through backroads to avoid the gaze of wizards desperate to catch a glimpse of the Chosen One and muggles who couldn’t catch a glimpse of a broomstick or a spell.
The house didn’t have electricity because magic disrupted it. It wasn’t uncommon for Muggle families with magical children to have frequent, unexplained power outages and spotty internet connections, and most magical historians agreed that the flickering lights Muggles associated with hauntings generally had magical origins.
Harry and Ginny wore robes because after the wizarding community went into hiding, their fashions evolved separately from the Muggle world. Since most wizards as a rule didn’t need to engage in manual labor, pants never became useful nor, by extension, fashionable.
And at the tender age of 17, Harry James Potter destroyed the darkest wizard of all time and saved muggles and wizards alike from genocide and a dictatorial regime. His now-wife, Ginny, only 16, co-led a highly successful teenage uprising within the school.
Their sons—named after Harry’s father and his mentor, respectively, liked malt balls and Play-Doh.
These sons rushed to her car, screaming with delight.
“Dee!” they shouted together, wrapping their arms around her the second she got out.
“You came back!” Al said.
“Of course I came back,” DeFonda said, “I just needed a couple days off is all.”
“And Mum and Dad say we can show you our real toys,” James said, “Like my new exploding snap deck—
“Flying cars!” Al added.
“My Quidditch set—
“Blimey boys let’s give Dee a chance to breathe,” Ginny said, waddling out of the house. “She’s not going anywhere, isn’t that right?”
It was a real question. DeFonda saw it in Ginny’s brown eyes.