Grinning, Harry caught the child that launched itself from Ron's arms to him. Immediately, he swung her around, listening to her ecstatic laughter. Placing the five year old on his barely existent hip, Harry turned back in time to see Hermione come through the floo as well, two-year old Hugo held firmly against her.
"I see Rose has already claimed you," Hermione grinned.
"As she does," Harry agreed.
However, he had to put her down to take Hugo. Unlike any other Weasley Harry had ever met, Hugo was quiet, more prone to hiding his face than staring out in curiosity. True to form, as soon as Harry took his godson, Hugo's face vanished into Harry's shirt, one hand clutching at the fabric over his chest. Rose wrinkled her nose up at them, but tugged at Harry's trousers.
"Can we play, Uncle Harry?" she begged.
"In just a minute," Harry told her, smiling. "We need to say goodbye to mummy and dad first."
Obediently, Rose turned to her parents. "Bye Mummy," she echoed. "Bye daddy. Now, Uncle Harry?"
The trio of adults laughed at her impatient manner.
"Why don't you go set up, and I'll be along in a few minutes."
Rose nodded, grinning once again as she raced through his home.
"She's going to be a Gryffindor," Ron announced, grinning.
"Doubtful," Hermione answered. "She has a lot of energy, but that doesn't mean she's Gryffindor. She has Ravenclaw tendencies."
"What do you think, mate?" Ron asked, turning to Harry as he rocked in place.
"I think it's too early to tell," he answered, tone wry. "You can't start assigning her a house for at least three more years."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Mum had me pegged as a Gryffindor at the age of three."
"Well, that's you, Ron," Hermione teased. "Girls are more complicated."
Ron laughed, rubbing the back of his neck.
"So, where are you heading?"
"Just out into muggle London," Hermione answered, leaning against her husband. "Thank you, Harry."
"No need. I only get to see them when you two need a night off. I'm going to enjoy every minute of it."
"When are you gonna start dating?" Ron asked, out of nowhere."
"What?" He asked, confusion wrinkling his face. "It's a serious question. You're in your 30's mate. If you want kids, you should be out looking."
"Because that's all a woman is good for?" Hermione snapped. "Giving kids?"
"I didn't mean it like that. Mione!"
The two bickered their way out of Harry's house, Ron desperately trying to explain what he'd actually meant without getting himself into a deeper hole.
Shaking his head, Harry turned to Hugo. "Want to go play, big guy?"
Not looking up, the toddler nodded. So, with one more fond glance towards his door, Harry went to find Rose.
It took an hour for Hugo to come out of his shell enough that he could play with his sister. He needed to be around them more, but getting the time off work was problematic. He barely managed the monthly meetups as it was, because he needed the day before to recuperate. Two days off in a row had to be scheduled at least a month in advance. Thankfully, both Ron and Hermione were willing to let him have the kids on the day he could schedule.
And Ron wanted him to go out and meet people. Where would he find the time? Or the energy. At the end of a shift, he was exhausted, mentally as well as magically and physically. All he ever wanted was to come home and collapse into bed so he could do it all again the next day.
Still, as he swooped Hugo up into his arms and swung him around, Harry found that his heart ached. Ron and Hermione's children were great. He loved them with every fiber of his being, but they weren't his. They would never be his. And, the way he was going, Harry would never have a child of his own.
Small arms wrapped around Harry's neck, dragging Harry from his increasingly morose thoughts. "Luv you, u'cl 'Arry."
Harry's hold tightened around Hugo, holding the toddler closer. "I love you too, kiddo."
He shoved the tiny ache to the farthest reaches of his mind and locked it away. Now was not the time to be thinking about this. He had little enough time with these children, and he wasn't going to waste it thinking of 'maybe's' and 'could have beens'.
"Uncle Harry!" Rose screeched from another room. "Come find me!"
Laughing, Harry put Hugo down. "Let's go find your sister, hmm?"
Releasing him, Hugo nodded, racing off as fast as his chubby little legs could carry him.
Dinner that night was easy to eat finger foods. His smile, as he watched the two of them happily munch away, was soft and melancholic. They wouldn't be children forever. Already, Rose was bigger than she'd been last month. Her favorite color was now purple, rather than the pink it had been last month. Her favorite animal had changed three times since he'd last seen her, and she was eating carrots now. Something she'd detested before. He was missing so much from both of them, and before he knew it they'd be heading off to Hogwarts, having adventures of their own (though perhaps nothing quite so dangerous as they'd had). Teddy would turn 15 towards the end of this school year. Hogwarts. It was six years away for Rose, nine for Hugo, and if they all flew by as fast as the last five, they'd be gone the next time he turned around. That's what had happened with Teddy.
"Don' cry, Uncle Harry," Rose said, climbing into his lap.
Harry startled. He hadn't noticed her slipping down from her seat, or crossing to him. "I'm not crying, sweetling."
Rose frowned, an expression that reminded him strongly of Hermione in that 'I know what I'm talking about and you don't' way she had. Rose's hands wiped at his eyes with a frown of intense concentration. Then, she wiped her hands on Harry's shirt. Glancing down, he was surprised to see a few streaks where she'd rubbed. Apparently, a few tears had leaked out.
Rose's hands rose to his face once more, this time placed on his cheeks as she gazed up at him, in all seriousness, and said, "Don' cry, Uncle Harry. We're here. Be happy."
Harry smiled. "I am happy," he told her. "I love you both so much."
"Then why are you crying?"
He sighed, arms wrapping loosely around her waist, holding her steady so she couldn't fall off. "Because you're growing up so fast."
"You're sad like Daddy's sad?"
"I suppose I am," he agreed.
"But Daddy never cries about it."
"Well, Daddy also sees you every day."
"Could we see you every day?" Rose asked. "Would that make it better?"
"Probably," he said. "But I'm very busy, you know. I take time off work just to see you guys. And, if you saw me every day, it wouldn't be as fun. I'm very tired at night."
Rose fell silent, brows furrowed in another expression that reminded him so much of her mother. "That's okay."
"What is?" Harry asked, unable to help the small smile she pulled from his lips.
"We don't need to have fun everyday," she told him, expression one of absolute seriousness only a child could manage. "Mommy could bring us over, and we could tell you goodnight, and then mommy can read you a bedtime story!"
Harry blinked. "Oh. Well, that's …" He hugged the child. "That's sweet, Rose," he told her. "But Mommy's busy too, you know. So is Daddy."
Rose frowned again, glaring at his chest. As she thought, Harry glanced over at Hugo, still busy eating, though his eyes kept glancing over at them. Their conversation would have to end soon, or the toddler was going to shove his way in and derail it anyway.
Leaning down, he kissed Rose on the forehead. "It's alright, sweetling," he said, smiling at her. "I'm feeling better already. It looks like Hugo's done Why don't you help him clean up while I do dishes?"
Rose's eyes narrowed at him, and for a moment, he wondered if she realized what he was doing.
She's only five, he told himself. Children that young were still easily distracted.
Rose hugged him tightly. "I love you, Uncle Harry," she said before sliding down off his lap.
Harry's heart ached.
When it was time for bed, Rose dragged Harry into bed with both her and Hugo, placing him between the two children as they cuddled up against him. It made reading to them a bit more awkward as reaching around them was difficult, but both of them refused to move. Despite that, Harry found himself enjoying the warmth to the point that, even after they'd passed out two pages in, Harry kept reading.
As the book ended, Harry let it drop to his lap, sighing. He'd have to get out from under them, somehow, without waking them.
Harry tensed, head snapping up to face an unexpected guest. His hands tightened around the children in his arms, eyes narrowing at the familiar figure.
"You're not supposed to come into my house."
"You've never said I couldn't."
"I've never had to."
"So protective," the demon murmured, red eyes scanning over the slumbering children. "Why are humans so connected to their offspring?"
"Hope," Harry answered, more out of habit than any desire to actually have a conversation just then. "They're our hope for the future, of the next generation, that they won't make the same mistakes we have. They're innocence and life. Joy."
"And yet they make you sad," Lord Loss murmured, gliding forward until Harry shot up. The children slumped behind him, thankfully not waking. "Your sorrow calls me from a country away, so sweet on the tongue. So filling for the despair you emit without a thought."
"You realize how bloody creepy you are, right?" Harry muttered, climbing from the bed and retrieving his wand.
He relaxed, just a little knowing that he could defend himself and the children. They'd gotten past the point where Harry feared for his life whenever the demon showed up. Lord Loss was more interested in Harry's never ending sadness in life than his soul, although he still got disconcerted at Lord Loss' offers to take him. Harry had no desire to live anywhere the demon could make him experience more.
"You need to get out now," Harry told him, motioning towards the door. Right then, he'd take the demon leaving the room, even if he didn't want to leave completely.
Lord Loss glanced at him, Harry growing tenser with every second that passed without the demon leaving. "They make you nervous."
"Well, you know," Harry answered, "most people have a thing against letting demons near fragile children."
"If they died, you would despair gloriously."
Harry's wand came up. Everything around him quieted, blacking out as unimportant. All that mattered was himself, and the demon who'd just threatened his charges.
"Don't even try," Harry warned.
The demon's head canted to the side, observing Harry in silence. "You are extraordinary, Harry Potter."
"Am I?" Harry asked, not moving so much as an inch as he faced down the demon.
"After all the years we have known each other, you have, at all times, exuded sorrow. You are a feast. And yet," he paused, a tiny sad smile, "here, now, you cut yourself off from everything. There's not even a whisper"
Lord Loss closed his eyes, slowly inhaling. "It is most impressive." Those red eyes opened, staring directly into Harry's. "I wonder if you could make it last if I actually killed them."
"I won't let you, Lord Loss."
"If I wished it, I could do it, even with your protests."
Harry gave a slow, dark smile, though there was no amusement within him. "If you do anything to them, your meal ticket will go away."
"On the contrary, I think I could feed off you for years."
"You misunderstand me, Lord Loss. If anything happens to them, I will die before I let you have anything from me."
The demon paused. The silence stretched between them. Harry kept eye contact, daring the demon to test him, wondering if the demon valued his sorrow's long term value - as it was - more than he valued the possible increase, for however short a time he'd get it. It had taken a few visits, but Harry had long ago come to terms with the fact that the Demon viewed him as food. Smart food, perhaps, and someone the demon enjoyed poking at, but food nonetheless.
If it kept other people from dying, he didn't really mind so much. Besides, the demon could be amusing. He could also be annoying, but there was no doubt that Harry never had to fake anything around him. That didn't mean he wouldn't go through with his threat. His job was to keep these kids safe, and if dying did that, he wouldn't hesitate.
After all, he'd been ready to die at 17 to stop a war. What was dying at 33 for children?
"Few humans would be willing. Most of you struggle and fight to survive even a minute longer."
"I know. I have experience with it." Voldemort had been an exceptional case in his avoidance of death.
"And yet you, Harry Potter, are so willing to die."
"Only if I have to."
Silence spread between them again. Harry didn't so much as twitch.
"Very well. Unless they come to me, your children are safe from me."
All at once Harry relaxed. The world returned around him, and his wand lowered. If Lord Loss gave his word, he kept it, even if he didn't want to.
"Good. Now, if you would?"
The Demon didn't move. "They make you sad. Why?"
"Can we talk outside?" Harry asked, motioning the demon to the door.
The demon blinked once, eyes turning to the children once more. "The human capacity to care will never cease to amaze me."
Before Harry could respond, Lord Loss turned, gliding from the room. Breathing a sigh of relief, Harry followed him out, closing the door behind them.
"Missed opportunities," Harry said, falling beside the demon as they went down the stairs. "That's why they make me sad."
"You wish for children then? These ... little hopes."
Harry shrugged. "With my life? There isn't much opportunity for it, or meeting anyone who'd want to. And, no offense, mate, but not many people want to marry a guy who has a demon visiting them on a regular basis."
"You had no life partner before I began our 'regular meetings'."
"I guess I'm just not very good at it," Harry admitted.
In the living room, Harry motioned the demon to a seat. Lord Loss stared at the armchair for a long moment before finally folding himself into it.
"You are strange, even for a human, Harry Potter."
"Yeah, I get that a lot."
The demon looked odd, seated in Harry's living room. He was so obviously out of place, and yet Harry found himself wondering why it hadn't happened before. It wasn't like the demon was shy in showing up whenever he wanted to otherwise.
"I've known hundreds of humans in my time. You are unique among all of them."
"That ..." Harry blinked. "That's not the kind of compliment I'm used to getting from you."
"Was it a compliment?"
Despite everything, despite the fact his godchildren were upstairs sleeping, Harry found his lips twitching upwards.
"Bloody hell, mate, you really have a skewed sense of normal."
"Mate?" Lord Loss said the word as though tasting it.
"Er, yeah, you know, it means friend, I guess."
"I had a friend once, long ago. It is rare."
"I guess most people can't get past the idea that we're mainly food."
"But you can."
It wasn't a question. Harry shrugged.
"As you said, I'm not like most people. When you've been through what I have, things like demons feeding on your sadness stop having the same kind of meaning."
"Most peoples still do not see it that way, Harry Potter."
"Well, I can't help how most people view the world, now can I?"
The demon was silent once more. Harry didn't feel the need to break it.
"You grieve for your lost opportunities," Lord Loss murmured, "and yet you willingly converse with a demon."
"Yeah, well, you're not like most demons, are you?"
"Have you met many demons?"
"Can't say that I have, but I've done some research since we first met."
"Yeah. Not that there's much on you specifically, you don't generally get much attention to yourself. Not here, anyway."
"And how am I different, Harry Potter?"
"Well, I can't imagine any other demon just sitting in my living room, having a conversation."
"And yet, when I leave you will go upstairs and check on your children."
"Not because of you," Harry said, though he didn't protest the statement entirely. "You gave your word. You're not going to go back on it now. I'll check on them because it's what humans do in the middle of the night. We make sure our kids are safe."
"Do you truly think you know me so well?"
"If I didn't, we wouldn't be talking right now, Lord Loss."
An odd expression crossed the demon's face then, difficult to discern because of the odd shape. Nor did it last long enough to try and decipher it.
"I'm not saying I trust you with my life or anything," he gave a wry grin, "we both know what you'd prefer to do with me, and I certainly wouldn't trust you around my kids, but I do trust you. You've never lied, and you're true to your word. That's better than some humans I know."
Confusion then. That Harry understood.
"You ... are truly unique among mortals, Harry Potter."
Harry just shrugged.
"Well, I'd kind of have to be to strike a friendship with a demon."
The demon didn't stay much longer. True to his own word, when the demon had left, Harry climbed the steps to look in on the children who trusted him from the depths of their soul. He stole across the room, laying gentle kisses on their heads and murmuring words of affection before leaving them once more.
What he'd told Lord Loss was true. He would die before he allowed harm to come to them. But, he'd also lied, he would take whoever harmed them down with him.
Harry's (and Ron) Age: 33
So, Halfway through writing this, I went back and did some continuity stuff, and then some research, and learned that I had Rose born three years too late, and that Hugo's too young for Canon epilogue. So, I'm skewing things a bit so that they can fit. Also, as much as I'm trying to fight it, an actual plot is beginning to form, in my head, if nothing else.
It's interesting to see it all beginning to take shape, and watch the relationship/friendship grow between Lord Loss and Harry Potter. They're amusing, and only Harry could get himself into a situation like this.
Also, I did not think it would be two years before I updated this again. So ... sorry about that. Know that it is still in my mind, and I think about it often. Unfortunately, actually sitting down and writing this kind of requires a certain kind of mood. Lord Loss is tricky to write well.
Anyway, hope you all enjoyed this. Let me know what you think.