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Chapter Eight: Under the Stairs

The Potter residence at number seven, Genista Way, held more than its fair share of secrets, especially for those who weren't aware that its occupants were wizards. The driveway contained a massive motorbike that no one seemed to recall ever being ridden, though had they looked to the skies, they might have seen it soaring past once in a blue moon. The garden gnome statues that dotted the landscaping were actually well placed traps that were charmed to lure actual gnomes away from the honking daffodils. The cupboard underneath the stairs appeared quite tiny from the outside, but upon entering, one would find that it seemed far more spacious than it had any right being, and indeed a sizable and fully furnished playroom could be found therein. And had anyone attempted to use the brooms in the broom closet for actual cleaning, they would have found themselves hexed to within an inch of their life.

But in no spot was the concentration of secrets higher than on the mantel above the stone fireplace in the living room. Any Muggles who looked at the clock to the right of the chimney would instantly know what time it was, but it was quite useless for telling time for those with magic flowing through their veins. Indeed, all that they would have been able to determine was that Ginny Potter and her three children were at home, and that Harry Potter was currently in the hospital. The urn to the left of the chimney contained not the ashes of Great Aunt Muriel (who was actually still alive and just as acerbic as ever), but several fistfuls of Floo Powder. The great landscape of a castle nestled up against a Scottish loch appeared to be a normal oil painting at first glance, but would in fact change to reflect the time of year and the weather, and at the moment, minute leaves of orange and yellow could be seen fluttering to the ground in a vast expanse of forest to the castle's west. But the most intriguing secret was what lay behind this particular painting.

Econtra” With a flip of her wand, Ginny Potter caused the picture to fly off of the nail in the stone where it hung, turn over in mid air, and then re-attach itself to the fireplace. In place of the painting of Hogwarts, there was now just a blank piece of parchment attached lovingly to the underside of the canvas. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

With increasing speed, an inkblot resembling a Rorschach test bloomed from the center of the parchment where Ginny's wand had touched it, and her eyes traced the outlines of shapes and words as they formed on the Marauder's Map. Hundreds of tiny dots wandered about the parchment now, down corridors, in classrooms, on the grounds – on a whim, she began looking for Bill, her older brother. As she had expected, he was standing at the front of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, which was full of unfamiliar names. As she watched, two of the dots made their way to the front of the room. Bill moved around these students slowly, and then they retreated to their desks. Two more students took their place at the front. Ginny watched Bill's dot admiringly; apparently he was a far more hands-on teacher than several she had had during her time at Hogwarts.

Tearing herself away from Bill's teaching, Ginny turned her attention to finding Teddy Lupin, the real reason she had activated the map. Harry had been checking up on his Godson almost daily since he had made his first trip aboard the Hogwarts Express about a month ago. But now that he was in St. Mungo's, Harry had asked Ginny to keep him updated. Ginny glanced at her watch – this timepiece actually did tell time, albeit with far more hands than seemed strictly necessary – and realized that Teddy would be enjoying a free period at the moment.

Ginny flicked her eyes back and forth across the parchment, allowing them to linger briefly on each of the locations she herself had frequented while a first year. The Great Hall... no. By the lake... no. The library... no. The Chamber of Secrets... no, and that wasn't on the map anyway, Ginny realized. Finally, she found the dot bearing Teddy's name in the Hufflepuff common room. Ginny smiled happily as she remembered the very first letter Teddy had sent the Potters from Hogwarts.

I'm in Hufflepuff, and it's brilliant! Do you think Mum would be proud? I know that you and Dad were in Gryffindor, and I don't doubt it's great, but all of my dorm mates are incredibly nice, and the common room is so comfortable I doubt I'll ever leave. Please write often, as it will be nice to keep up with how things are going with James, Al, and Lily. Please tell them I said hello, and give Lily a kiss for me. I'll see you at Christmas!

“Mischief managed.” Still smiling, Ginny once again touched her wand to the parchment, and the blossom of ink wilted away into nothingness. Yes, Ginny was sure that Tonks (and Professor Lupin as well) would have been immensely proud of Teddy, who at the young age of eleven had seen more love and affection than perhaps any other orphan in history. But he was not spoiled by it, and in fact seemed to take it all into himself and radiate it back to others even stronger. If ever there was a child destined for greatness in Hufflepuff, it was Teddy.

Ginny absentmindedly raised her wand and pointed it at the back of the painting of Hogwarts, intending to flip it back over so that its secret would remain hidden, but she stopped herself just shy of casting the spell. She had nearly forgotten that this weekend was to be the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year at Hogwarts, and that meant that her business with the Marauder's map was only half complete. With all due diligence, she peeled the map off of the back of the canvas, folded it along careworn creases, and slipped it into the back pocket of her jeans. She once again raised her wand to flip the Hogwarts landscape over, but before she could get the spell out, she was interrupted by a great burst of green flame from the fireplace. Ginny, who had been only half a meter away from the opening, jumped backwards instinctively. When the flames died down, the head of Ernie Macmillan was looking up at her with an amused look on his face.

“Mrs. Potter? I assure you that there is no need to be pointing that at me.” Ginny felt her cheeks flush, but she didn't lower her wand.

“I'll be the judge of that Healer Macmillan,” she said with a grin. “You haven't killed Harry, have you?”

“Oh no, Ma'am, quite the opposite.”

“Well then...” Ginny lowered her wand and put it into the front pocket of her jeans. “Mind, if you call me Ma'am again, I may just have to use it.” Ernie's face, already pale in the green glow from the magical flames, blanched even further.

“Terribly sorry Ma... My what a lovely home you have,” he finished feebly. He made a great show of looking around as much as his field of vision would allow, and Ginny humored him.

“Thank you Healer, but you mentioned something about Harry?”

“Oh yes, quite. I just wanted to let you know that I have managed to get him to the point where he is no longer contagious.” Ernie looked very smug, and Ginny could tell that he had puffed his chest out back in whatever room he was Flooing from. The effect, which she was sure was quite laughable in person, was downright hilarious when the rest of Ernie's body wasn't visible, and she had to hold back a fit of sniggers.

“So does that mean he's coming home?” she asked hopefully. But a quick glance at the mantel clock to the right showed that Harry was still in the hospital. Ginny loved the clock – her mother's standard wedding present for all of her children – but couldn't help but feel that always knowing where someone was took a bit of fun out of the anticipation that they might surprise you.

“Not just yet,” Ernie replied, “but we are going to be moving him to a public ward. He's probably going to be just fine, I just want to keep him under observation for one more day to make sure he'll come out of it all right.”

“So he'll be coming home on Sunday?” Ginny groaned; now she'd have to ask her brother to let her have the day off – not just any day, the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year, and the day the Hogsmeade branch of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes did their biggest business all year. But she could worry about that when she took him the map.

“That's right Mrs. Potter, probably sometime in the afternoon. Release forms and all. Mere formalities, I assure you.” Ginny very much wanted to let Ernie know where he could put his formalities, but she bit her tongue.

“All right, thank you Healer. I'll probably come and visit Harry at some point before his release, but I'm rather busy at the moment, so if you wouldn't mind...”

“Say no more, Ma'am,” The last thing Ginny saw of Ernie's head was a pair of very frightened looking eyes as his head sank back down into the fireplace grate. The flames died down almost as soon as his head had disappeared. Ginny shook her head, and set off to find the kids. If she was going to deliver this map to George, she'd have to drop them off at the Burrow for a little while. It was no good starting a mass panic in Diagon Alley – two green spotty children running wild would surely inspire a stampede.

“Al! James!” she called, hoping that they were in earshot.

“Under the stairs Mum!” was James's muffled reply. Ginny strode to the door to the cupboard under the stairs, and took a deep breath. She never knew quite what to expect when she opened this particular door, as James and Albus had a habit of playing some very interesting – and dirty – games. But today, she needn't have worried. James sat in a chair in the corner, holding his treasured broomstick. He had flown on it only once, the day that Harry had brought it home for him, and now Ginny knew that he was waiting for his father to return so that he could fly once more. Likewise, Albus, whose mood so often depended on that of his brother, was listlessly scratching at a scabbed over boil and attempting to build a house out of exploding snap cards. Much to Ginny's dismay, the carpet hadn't been scorched even once.

“When's Dad coming home?” James asked, not looking up from the broom he was stroking. His fingers played along the golden writing on the handle. Ginny could feel an anticipatory grin forming on her lips before she even answered the question.

“Well, I just talked with his Healer, and he told me that he'd be coming home on Sunday.” James's face lit up immediately, but Albus took a little while longer to figure out just how good the news was.

“Sunday...” he repeated, looking as though he was thinking very hard. “That's two days?” Ginny beamed with pride and pounced on her youngest son. Al was an easy target, he never tried to get away from one of Ginny's hugs.

“Wow, that's fantastic Al!” she cried, “when did you learn the days of the week?”

“Dad taught me before we got sick. He wanted to supwise you. Sorry.” Al looked down at the table where his house of cards had once again succumbed to the pull of gravity. Feeble pops accompanied its destruction.

“Why are you sorry?” asked Ginny. “I'm still surprised!”

“You are?”

“Well of course! And in fact, I think we ought to try and surprise your father right back. How does that sound?” Al's face was now quickly regaining the youthful exuberance that seemed most at home there.

“Yeah!” Al answered, nodding enthusiastically. James jumped out of the chair he was sitting in, eager, as always, to get in on the fun.

“Let's throw him a party! A surprise welcome home party!” Al was now jumping up and down and tugging on the sleeve of Ginny's jumper.

“Can we? Can we, Mum?” The exploding snap cards on the floor let off little bursts of sparks with every one of Al's jumps, and the carpet was dangerously close to smoldering. Despite this, Ginny smiled. The Potter boys were back to themselves.

“Of course we can. And we can start planning as soon as I deliver something to your Uncle George at his store. I'm going to have to drop you two and your sister off at your Grandma and Grandpa's house for a few minutes so you don't burn the house down. Ginny pulled out her wand from her front pocket and used a quick “aguamenti” to douse the embers now glowing on the carpet. James laughed, but Al once again seemed pensive.

“Mum...” he said softly, looking down at his feet. Ginny put her wand away and then used her now free hand to lift Al's chin up so she could see his startlingly green eyes. The eyes she loved so much. “Mum, why do we only have one Gwandma and Gwandpa?” Ginny's heart sank down into her stomach. Al mistook her silence for confusion, and tried to elaborate. “Rosie and Hugo have two of each.” The good cheer of just moments before had been sucked out of the room as though a Dementor had managed to gain entrance to the cupboard under the stairs. Ginny felt tears form in her eyes.

“That's- that's not an easy question to answer Al, but it's a very good one to have asked,” she insisted when it looked like Albus was going to apologize yet again. “I'll tell you what, I can go to the store later. Let's go get Lily from her crib, and then the four of us will go and visit your dad. We'll all talk about it together, all right?” Albus had once again cheered up noticeably at the mention of Harry, but he still appeared somber.

“All wight,” he agreed. Ginny took his hand, mussed James's hair, and led them out of the cupboard.

A/N: Wow... I am completely speechless... this little story, once envisioned as a quick catharsis to help myself deal with the end of Harry Potter, tonight went over 15,000 views.  That is phenomenal, awe-inspiring, and very very humbling.  I do hope that all of you who have read and/or reviewed feel a little proud knowing that you have helped to make this fic what it is.

What this chapter is... is a bit short.  It was originally planned to contain all of Ginny's visit to St. Mungo's, as well as her trip to see George in Diagon Alley.  But, if all of that had happened in this chapter, it would have gotten terribly bloated, and may not have seen the light of day until next week.  So, I made an executive decision to end this chapter here.  I feel there was still plenty of things to like (or dislike, you can make up your own mind :) ) in this chapter, and while I would have liked to stick to the original plan, deviating from the plan has worked very well for me so far.

I do hope that you like the chapter, though I can certainly see why you might not.  It is a bit verbose at the onset, and doesn't really start in the action as most of my chapters do.  But I got to describing the Potter house, and couldn't stop.  Now I'd quite like to live there.  As for Teddy, I do hope you aren't upset that he's in Hufflepuff.  He takes after his mother in being a Metamorphmagus, so I can certainly see him taking after her in which house he was sorted into as well.  I don't think this is the last we've seen of him either.

For those of you who may not have gotten as much enjoyment out of this chapter, I only ask that you bear with me.  Next chapter should be much more akin to what you're used to, with a bit of Harry backstory, a bit of Ginny backstory, surprise appearances by at least 3 characters, probably George and just why he needs the Marauder's Map, and maybe a bit of Hermione thrown in as well.  But even just looking at this list, I may have to pare some of that down for use in a later chapter, as again I don't want any of these turning into 8000-10000 word monsters.

So I hope to see you back next time, when any or all of the above could be addressed.  Until then, I remain, your humble author.

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