To Hear the Bells Ring

By Cassandra's Cross

A/N: The Story of the Bells is not original. It is a very old legend that I've heard in many variations throughout my life, but it seems ideally suited for the Harry Potter universe, especially given Harry's vision in the Mirror of Erised. When the Reviews Lounge created a project called "All I Want for Christmas," I found that I couldn't resist. Merry Christmas to all, and may you have a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year.

Harry Potter had never really enjoyed Christmas. Before finding out that he was a wizard, it was just another day for the Dursleys to treat him like something that had been dumped on their doorstep which, they were quick to remind him, was precisely what had happened. So when Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley all decided to spend Christmas at Aunt Marge's house one year, Harry wasn't sorry to be left behind even though it meant staying with Mrs. Figg, their batty old neighbor who wore carpet slippers all the time and kept about nineteen cats. He wasn't particularly fond of Mrs. Figg, but he liked Aunt Marge even less, and any holiday without the Dursleys could only be an improvement.

Perhaps because it was a holiday, Mrs. Figg left off forcing him to look at pictures of all the cats she'd ever owned. She even planned a nice Christmas lunch, though it came to naught when the cats ate the turkey because she left it out overnight (Harry was glad to see they were all sick the next day). Also, the pudding was ruined when Mrs. Figg, in an excess of holiday spirits, overdid the brandy so that when she touched a match to it, the whole thing went up in a burst of flames that set the kitchen curtains on fire. Mrs. Figg sent Harry into the sitting room with a cheese and pickle sandwich while she disposed of the pudding, tore down the charred curtains, and wiped smoke off the walls. As he ate, Harry decided to watch television. And that was when he heard the story of the bells.

There wasn't much to choose from on T.V., but Harry settled on a church program in which a man in a dark suit with a funny, turned around collar was telling a story. It was the story of a very old church with wonderful bells that would only ring when a gift of the purest love was offered. Year after year people tried to make the bells ring, bringing with them the finest they owned to lay upon the altar, but year after year the bells remained silent. Kings came from all over the world with gifts of gold and precious jewels, but still the bells would not ring. Then, one Christmas Eve, a small, ragged boy entered the church to get out of the cold and when he saw people placing gifts on the altar, he thought he would like to give something too. But what could a poor orphan like him offer that these far more affluent others had not? The boy looked around helplessly and finally his eyes came to rest on his own tattered, threadbare coat. It was all he owned in the world, but it was the very best he had. So he took off the coat and laid it tenderly on the altar.

And the bells rang.

Harry was impressed, not least because he identified so strongly with the orphan boy whose humble gift made the bells ring out. Harry was an orphan too, with little to call his own, and there was something about the story that made it seem almost . . . well, magical. This was before he knew anything about magic, but he understood that the story went deeper than the gift itself. Harry had no very clear idea about what a gift of pure love might involve. In fact, he knew very little about love at all, having received so little of it himself, but he knew that a gift of such magnitude might well make something magical happen. What would it take, Harry wondered, to make the bells ring for him?

Harry finally began to appreciate Christmas the following year which turned out to be his first at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Aside from the wonder of discovering that he was a wizard, Harry had friends at Hogwarts for the first time in his life. This, all by itself, was miraculous, for Harry's thuggish cousin had never let anyone get close enough to allow him to make friends before. But now there was Ron Weasley, his best mate, and Hermione Granger who, though rather bossy, tended to grow on one over time. Harry even received presents that Christmas, not miserable presents like the pair of Uncle Vernon's old socks he had received the previous year, but real gifts from his friends and a jumper from Ron's mother, which Harry thought was awfully nice from a woman with whom he'd barely exchanged a dozen words. But the best gift of all was undoubtedly the silver invisibility cloak that had once belonged to his father. It would have been wonderful for that reason alone, but when he used the cloak to explore the castle later that night, something even more wonderful happened.

Harry would never forget the moment he saw his family for the first time in the Mirror of Erised. No one had ever told him that his mother's eyes were the exact shape and shade as his own, or that his father had black hair and wore glasses like he did, or that one of his grandfathers had the same knobbly knees. Even though Harry knew all these people were dead, seeing them made him feel connected to something he'd never felt connected to before. He didn't understand it, but the feeling was irresistible and it drew him back night after night. It might have continued indefinitely had not the Headmaster of Hogwarts warned him against the mirror's addictive power. "It does not do to live in dreams and forget to live," Professor Dumbledore said. And the very next day the mirror was moved to a new location so that Harry could not find it again.

Later, as he lay in his four-poster bed in Gryffindor Tower, Harry thought about what Dumbledore had said. The story of the bells he'd heard the previous Christmas seemed like one of the dreams Dumbledore talked about, a childhood fantasy he'd been foolish to believe might have any basis in reality. For most of his life he had felt that he was only marking time until something better came along. Well, now something better had, and he wasn't going to waste it dreaming of things that could never be. The only family he had were the Dursleys, who didn't want him, and all the others had gone to a place he could not follow. His parents were dead. That was a fact, and staring at their faces in a mirror wasn't going to bring them back, any more than wishing to hear bells at Christmas could possibly make them ring.

It was many years before Harry thought again about the bells, years in which he focused primarily on survival. Lord Voldemort, who had killed his parents and tried to kill him, never really stopped trying and more than once nearly succeeded. But Harry did survive and in the process he learned a lot about the mysterious power that made bells ring. He learned about the love of a mother willing to lay down her life for her son, thereby granting him a protection that lived on inside of him. He learned about the love of a father who defended his family even when no defense was possible and the only outcome was certain death. He learned about the love between friends who laughed with him, argued with him, struggled and fought with him, celebrated and wept with him, defended him and cheered him on. And he learned about love that was an ache in the heart, a steady, physical pain that never went away, yet also made him feel that he could fly without a broom, a vibrant color on the palette of life that gave it meaning and purpose. When the war ended and Voldemort had gone for good, it was this feeling that gave Harry the strength to rebuild his life while the wizarding world rose from the ashes. So many had died, so much had been lost, but with Ginny at his side he could conquer anything. His love for Ginny, and hers for him, made Harry feel that he truly had "The power the Dark Lord knew not." But even then, when Christmas came, he did not hear bells.

He came very close one year, but it was wedding bells he heard, because that was when Ginny agreed to marry him. He'd been asking her ever since she came of age, but she wasn't ready then and, if Harry was perfectly honest, neither was he. Ginny had received an offer to play Chaser for the Holyhead Harpies and Harry couldn't really blame her for wanting to spread her wings, but that didn't stop him from popping the question every year on her birthday and again at Christmas. It became a tradition and had begun to feel a bit tedious when Ginny finally said yes one Christmas Eve. It wasn't as if she'd ever really turned him down; she just needed more time. But now the time was right, and if anything could have made Harry hear bells, it was surely the kiss they shared when he slipped a ring on her finger by the light of the Christmas tree.

They were married the following spring, and coming home to Ginny from his job as an Auror was even better than Harry had dreamed it would be. Life was good, for not only did they have each other, but they spent a lot of time with Ron and Hermione who had married not long afterward. They also made time for Teddy Lupin, who was being raised by his grandmother, but Harry was determined that his orphaned godson would never know the loneliness or isolation he had suffered. He and Ginny made the little boy part of their family and, by extension, Andromeda Tonks, whom everyone came to love for her own sake. Surrounded as he was by people who loved him and whom he loved, Harry's life was very full. His cup of happiness could scarcely contain another drop, yet when the drop came, the cup expanded to hold even more.

A few months before their third wedding anniversary, Harry came home one evening to find Ginny in an unusual mood. The sight of her flushed face reminded him that she'd had an appointment at St. Mungo's that day and paranoia, born of so many years of anxiety and terror, made his heart lurch. But all that evaporated when Ginny told him.

Harry blinked. "We're having. . .what?"

"A baby," Ginny repeated. "You know, one of those small, human-like creatures with lots of leaky bits?"

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I. . ." Harry felt dazed. A baby. They were going to have a baby! "That means we're going to be parents."

"That's generally the way it works," said Ginny, eyeing him with concern. "Harry, I thought you'd be. . . I don't know, happy."

"I am," Harry said, and as the reality sank in, it struck him that this was the most wonderful news he'd ever heard. His face split into a wide grin and he lifted Ginny off her feet, then set her down abruptly and said, "Oh, my God, I'm sorry! I didn't hurt you, did I? Or the baby? Did I hurt the baby?"

"We're both fine," Ginny said, grinning up at him. "I love you, Harry."

In the months that followed, Harry learned that sometimes love meant holding her hair out of the way while she was sick, not just in the morning, but morning, noon, and night for the first couple of months. Harry would have done anything to relieve Ginny's misery, but his father-in-law, who had, after all, been through this six times, told him there wasn't much to be done about it.

"It's normal, I'm afraid," Arthur assured him. "But don't worry, it'll pass."

No sooner had the queasiness passed, however, when the mood swings began. Ginny burst into tears at the least provocation, which left Harry distinctly rattled because Ginny almost never cried. And it wasn't just normal things she cried about, such as his suggestion that they bring Winky into their home to help with the baby. That particular flood Harry could understand because the suggestion was partially inspired out of loyalty to Dobby. But Ginny also burst into sobs when they ran out of Floo powder, and his offer to Apparate to Diagon Alley to buy more only made her cry harder. Harry was at a loss what to do, but once again his father-in-law reassured him.

"Normal," Arthur said. "It'll pass."

But how could something like this be normal? Like all the Weasleys, Ginny had always been temperamental, but now she was like Bellatrix Lestrange with chronic migraine. Everything irritated her, from the weather, to the way her ankles swelled, to the news in the Daily Prophet. Even the way Harry's hair stuck up in back got on her nerves. He couldn't do anything about that, but apologized for it anyway.

"Stop apologizing!" she snapped. "You apologize for everything, do you realize that? It's driving me mad!"

"Sorry," said Harry. "I mean . . . Well, never mind."

Harry couldn't seem to do anything right, even when he told her that she had never looked more beautiful. "I look like a fat cow," she retorted, glaring.

"You don't," he insisted. "You're beautiful. After all, you're having my baby."

"Oh, for the love of Merlin," Ginny grumbled. "Do me a favor and don't burst into song! I'm nauseous enough as it is."

"Sorry," said Harry.

"And stop apologizing!"

Once again, Arthur told Harry that it was normal and would pass and, as usual, he was right. As the autumn months arrived, Ginny's hormones sorted themselves out and she entered a peaceful period of happy anticipation. But no sooner had she calmed down when Harry's anxieties flared. What if he wasn't a good father? What did he know about being a parent, after all, especially having never known his own? To be sure, he'd had a bit of practice changing nappies and the like when Teddy was a baby, but it wasn't the same as having complete responsibility for a child. Harry reflected on the fact that he'd had years of magical education, with additional training to become an Auror, but no one had ever taught him how to be a dad, and if ever he needed instruction in anything, this was it.

Harry decided to consult Hermione. She and Ron had been giving some serious thought to starting a family, and Hermione had already begun to amass an impressive array of books on the subject. She had everything from What To Do When Your Witch is Expecting to Gilderoy Lockhart's Guide to Magical Child Care, and was happy to lend her collection to Harry. He perused them at night and Ginny read a few herself, though she was inclined to agree with her mother (one of the few times Harry had ever heard her do so) that it really came down to doing whatever your instincts told you was right. But Harry wasn't sure he had instincts like that, so he read everything he could lay hands on, and came away more confused than ever. None of the books agreed about anything as simple as feeding schedules, let alone the more complex problems of raising a young witch or wizard. Ginny kept reminding Harry that witches and wizards had been having babies for thousands of years and usually managed not to kill them, which, funnily enough, did little for his confidence. He turned again to Arthur who assured him that his anxiety was normal, though unfortunately, it was unlikely to pass.

"None of us is perfect, Harry," said Arthur. "But children have a way of surviving most of our mistakes. I think they can forgive a lot when whatever you do is done with love."

"Did you ever doubt your ability to be a good father?" Harry asked.

Arthur smiled. "I still do!"

Ginny went into labor on a clear, cold evening in early December, and it was lucky Ron and Hermione happened to be visiting, because otherwise Harry didn't know how they would have gotten to St. Mungo's. They had decided to drive to the hospital because Apparating in late pregnancy could be tricky, but Harry, who had prepared weeks in advance, couldn't remember where he'd left his car keys. He was certain he'd put them in a safe place, but was damned if he could recall where that was, and after searching for ten minutes, Hermione finally located them in a drawer whose sturdy lock resisted their Summoning charms. But once the keys had been found, Harry couldn't seem to recall how to drive and Ron had gone an interesting shade of pasty gray when his sister gave a barely audible moan in response to a contraction. Hermione took charge and drove them all to St. Mungo's where Ginny was taken in hand by a stern-faced healer who demanded in an accusatory tone, "Which of you is responsible for this?"

"Don't look at me!" said Ron. "I'm her brother!"

"Go on, Harry," Hermione said. "I'll send Patronuses to the rest of the family." She smiled encouragingly. "We'll be right here the whole time. We won't stir a step, I promise. Go on now. Ginny needs you."

Harry had no clear recollection of the next few hours, except that it involved a lot of yelling. However, he was responsible for at least half of that, as Ginny squeezed his hand so tightly he was relatively certain all the bones had been crushed to a fine powder. In between contractions, he fed her ice chips, dabbed at her forehead with a cool, damp cloth, and whispered encouragement. Before either of them knew it, someone was telling Ginny to push. Harry watched with a combination of awe and revulsion as something slippery and wet, covered in a substance he didn't even want to know the name of, slid out of his wife's body and began to wail.

"Congratulations, Mr. Potter," said the healer. "You have a son."

The slippery, wet thing was wrapped in a blanket and placed beside Ginny who gazed into its tiny face as if she had never seen anything like it. "Oh, Harry," she murmured. "Isn't he beautiful?"

Harry decided to reserve judgment. The little blanket-wrapped thing looked faintly gnome-like and appeared to be undergoing some mighty internal struggle. It thrashed about wildly, smacking itself in the face a few times, and Harry, who was staring in wordless astonishment, reached out a tentative finger. To his amazement, the tiny thing grabbed hold and clung with surprising strength. Something warm and wonderful flooded through Harry, a realization that this squalling, red-faced creature was a living, breathing soul who, by some miraculous fusion, was part of him and Ginny. They had blended in the person of this tiny, wrinkled scrap of humanity, and through them Molly and Arthur, Lily and James, and all the others that had gone before. Harry smiled at Ginny and kissed her, resting his forehead against hers in mute gratitude. He whispered something incoherent, she whispered something equally incomprehensible back, and they both laughed when the baby socked Harry in the jaw with a flailing fist.

"Would you like to hold him, Mr. Potter?" the healer asked. "Perhaps you'd like to introduce him to his family while we get your wife settled in her room."

Harry carried the blanket-wrapped bundle to the Relatives Room, where the entire Weasley clan was assembled. Molly and Arthur were there, as were Bill and Fleur with their children. Charlie, who was still a bachelor, had Apparated in from Romania with his girlfriend, Olga, a fellow dragon keeper. Percy and his family were at hand as were George and his wife, along with their young son, Fred. Andromeda Tonks was there with Teddy, whose hair was Weasley red that night to blend in. Finally, there were Ron and Hermione who, as promised, had not stirred a step, and it was to them that Harry spoke first.

"I'd like you to meet your godson," Harry said, in a quiet voice that sounded like a shout in the sudden hush that greeted his appearance. "This is James Sirius Potter."

Everyone clustered around the baby who was passed around like refreshments at a party, and was alternately poked and prodded, kissed and clucked over. Molly burst into tears, as was her custom at the births of her grandchildren, and pronounced young James adorable. Arthur noted a similarity in the shape of his grandson's eyes to Harry's, but agreed with Bill that the forehead and chin were Ginny's, though it was beyond Harry's comprehension how they could see anything in the shapeless infant folds. Charlie presented his nephew with a stuffed toy dragon, while George announced that a new WWW product would be created in James' honor. Teddy was allowed to hold the baby, as was little Victoire Weasley, though her mother remained close to make sure the tiny head was supported. They tried to get Ron to hold James too, but he backed away as if someone had just threatened to immerse him in a boiling vat of bubotuber puss.

"No way!" Ron protested. "I'll drop it or smash it or something, for sure."

"Not 'it,' Ron," chided Percy, who was bouncing James in an expert, slightly pompous way. "The correct pronoun is 'he.'"

"Whatever," said Ron. "But you know me. The possibilities are too gruesome to contemplate."

"Come on, Ron," said George. "If Percy can do it, anyone can."

With a glare at George, Percy dumped James in Ron's arms, causing a little squeak of alarm, not from the baby but from Ron.

"Ron, he's a baby, not a bomb," said Hermione. "Here, give him to me. I'll show you how it's done."

Hermione tucked James into the crook of her arm and made cooing noises. Ron's face softened and he murmured, "Beautiful."

"Isn't he?" Hermione agreed. "He really is a beautiful baby." Then she looked up and realized that Ron wasn't looking at James at all. Her face went red and Harry rescued his son before Hermione forgot she was holding him.

The healers came to announce that Ginny was settled in her room. In small groups they all went in to see her. James slept in a cot near her bed, clearly worn out by his struggles, while Harry beamed at everyone, apparently unable to stop smiling. One by one the family drifted away so that Ginny could rest, but Molly stayed long enough to supervise her grandson's first feeding. Then she left too, determined to ensure that Grimmauld Place would be scrubbed to within an inch of its life by the time Ginny and the baby went home the next day. Soon only Ginny, Harry, and James remained.

"You should go home, Harry," said Ginny. "You must be tired."

"Actually, I'm not," Harry replied. "Still too keyed up. I promise to be quiet. You sleep. I'll just sit here for awhile."

"Suit yourself," Ginny said, placing her hand in his as her eyes closed.

Harry had been sitting for only a minute when a distant sound caught his attention and he tilted his head to listen. At first it was only a vague jingling, but it grew louder, and the peal became a chime, until finally a raucous ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong rent the air. Harry strode to the window, looking down at the Muggle street below, but could see nothing through the thick panes. He lifted the window sash and the sudden movement woke Ginny. She opened her eyes and looked to where Harry was poking his head out of the window.

"Do you hear that?" he demanded.

"Those bells, you mean?" said Ginny, yawning. "Of course I do. There's a church nearby, I think." She shivered and leaned over to tuck blankets around the baby. "Close the window, Harry. It's freezing!"

Harry closed the window, but for some reason he could still hear it and it was just as clear and bright as it had been in the cold night air. The bells rang out in joyous celebration, peal upon peal of harmonious sound unlike anything he had ever heard. Ginny continued staring at him as he stood by the window, wearing the silliest grin she had ever seen. She frowned in mingled pique and curiosity. "Harry, what on earth. . ."

"Go back to sleep," Harry said, resuming his place by her side and taking her hand in his again. "I'll explain in the morning."

Harry watched the baby thrash about in his cot, then looked at Ginny, who had once more given way to exhaustion. But she clung to Harry's hand, and he gave hers a gentle squeeze as the sound of bells faded into silence. Christmas was still weeks away, but Harry already had everything he wanted. He smiled at the richness surrounding him, knowing that for him Christmas had come early.

He had heard the bells ring.

A/N: The events described in this story correspond with my full-length fics, 'The Letter.' And 'Great Expectations.' If you like this story, you might want to check those out as well. In the meantime, please take just a minute to leave a review.