This is not the first time Teddy’s ended babysitting duty at his godfather’s by getting tied to a tree. It is, however, the first time Mrs Weasley and not Ginny or Harry has found him.
“Erm,” says Teddy, and thinks he’d be quite glad to stay where he is, actually.
Mrs Weasley draws a breath.
“They’re all right,” Teddy says. “I mean.”
She doesn’t look reassured. In fact, it’s Teddy’s distinct impression that she doesn’t want or need reassurance.
The skipping rope slung loosely around his wrists falls off when he wriggles hard enough. “See? It’s just a -”
“There is rarely such a thing,” Mrs Weasley says dangerously, “as just a game.”
Teddy thinks that’s a bit unfair. Stuff like Scrabble and Snakes and Ladders are just games. It’s true they don’t get played often around these parts - more popular are things like Tag and Hide and Seek and chase-the-Snitch and climbing competitions and Chamber of Secrets (Teddy has been the Basilisk twelve times since coming home for the summer holidays) and Best Treehouse Design (and then the actual building of the tree house) - but still. However, it is not an argument he feels inclined to make in the presence of a highly irate Mrs Weasley, and anyway she’s marching off into the house and doesn’t seem inclined to listen.
Teddy picks himself up and starts dusting his jeans off. Distantly, like the roar of the sea on the coast you’re standing a few hundred yards away from, there comes the sound of a Telling-Off.
“... dangerous, dangerous for all of you... gotten pneumonia... what if one of you’d hurt yourselves... never this trouble with anyone else, not even Freddie and Roxanne... much more reckless can you get...”
He winds the skipping-rope up and starts collecting strewn toys from across the lawn. Poor Mr Cabbage Head droops tragically in his arms, one more thwack against the banister away from kiss me hardy. Teddy clamps him under one arm and meanders off to collect the hoops and the pogo stick and the bow-and-arrows and put them in the woodshed; one of the arrows is sticking to the small window, hanging precariously by its red sucker.
“... don’t know what you were thinking, probably nothing at all... can’t say I’m surprised by that... what your parents are going to say...”
Teddy has a fairly good idea of what Harry and Ginny are going to say. So do Lily and Albus and James.
“I’ll tell you what they’re going to say!” Lily’s voice pipes up. “They’re going to say, don’t forget to tidy the garden and does anyone want the last of the chocolate cake, so there!”
There follows a slightly shocked silence. It doesn’t last.
“... would be horrified if they’d seen...”
“It’s not the first time!”
“Witch Hunts is our favourite game.”
This month, anyway, thinks Teddy. He sneaks round the corner to the side windows of the lounge and gets a glimpse of Mrs Weasley’s face: she looks stumped. Lily’s got her hands on her hips, pigtails bristling with indignation. Al is slumped against the sideboard, plainly cowed. James is glaring, but in a very muted sort of way.
“Ginny lets -”
“Mum, is that you?”
Ginny herself, leaning in the lounge doorway opposite Teddy. She’s still wearing her party dress and her brown shawl, but she’s taken her hair out of its pins and shaken it loose, and Teddy hasn’t seen the thin gold chain around her neck before, or the rich blue pendant on it.
“Ginny -” says Mrs Weasley. “Where were – um, you, you look lovely, dear.”
“Harry and I went out,” Ginny says dryly. “What’s all the yelling about?”
Mrs Weasley’s momentary deflation reverses itself. “When I got here, Teddy was in the garden tied to a tree!”
Ginny drums her fingers on the door frame. “Again? I thought you three were done with that game. I told you, it’s morbid.”
“But it’s funny,” says Lily.
“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition,” says James. “That’s the point, Mum.”
Teddy, still outside the window, grins to himself. It’s his own fault, he supposes, for showing them Grandad’s Monty Python videos that he found... he turns to make for the front of the house and maybe effect a quiet getaway - maybe he can nick Harry’s Firebolt! - but Harry is standing between him and the garden gate.
“Thought I saw some scruffy delinquent lurking in the shadows,” says Harry cheerfully. “They behave?”
“Not according to Mrs Weasley,” says Teddy.
Harry shrugs, as unconcerned as Ginny. “Can’t be helped,” he says, although what he means by that Teddy’s not quite sure. “Come on, we’ll raid the fridge and see if we can’t find some leftover chocolate cake. You can Floo home after if you don’t want to stay.”
“I could Floo home now,” Teddy parries.
“And miss all the fun?”
Lightly said, but his godfather has a look in his eyes - that hard glint - that says he’s less than amused by the end to his evening. The other thing it says is that he’s about to find a way to Make A Point - not to Teddy, but perhaps for his benefit as well as the kids’.
Teddy follows him into the kitchen.
“... need boundaries, all children do! You can’t let them run riot like this...”
“Mum, I’ll thank you not to tell me how to raise my children!”
“I have not inconsiderable experience in the matter, Ginevra.”
“I don’t care! And Mum, to be honest, that’s sort of the watchword for the entire business, I want them growing up happy -”
“They’re growing up wild!”
“- not hemmed in.”
Harry sticks his head into the lounge. “They’re standing in the room with you listening to this,” he says sharply.
Mrs Weasley looks around at them. James is full-on glaring now; he never likes people who make his Mum angry.
“You have no idea,” he says darkly, “how much of a riot we can run when we want to.”
If he doesn’t come off that stool a Gryffindor Teddy will eat his hat.
“Study,” says Ginny, white with anger. “Now.”
The argument lasts the rest of the evening. They end up gathered in Harry and Ginny’s attic bedroom, sprawled on a pile of cushions under the skylight. Harry is reading to them when Lily sits up, hair frizzing over her shoulders, and says, “Daddy, are we horrible children?”
Everyone freezes. Teddy can feel Al tense beside him.
“No, Lily-bean,” says Harry. “You’re just perfect.”
Al mushes his face into a cushion and says in a muffled voice, “No one else plays Witch Hunts.”
“And Rosie and Hugo...”
“Are different to you,” says Harry. “Teddy’s different to you, come to that.”
“Teddy’s old, he doesn’t count.”
Teddy catches Harry’s eye and snorts.
“Well, all right. But -”
“We are horrible children,” says James dramatically. “We’re scum. We’re bad and evil and wicked and hurt everybody we know.”
Harry laughs out loud. “Don’t be stupid.”
“Well,” says Lily, indignant. “What are we, then?”
Teddy’s lying on his back looking up at the ceiling: plain warm wood, their reflections on the skylight. Absently he lets a hand fall to his knee and pokes a finger through the hole in his jeans, rubs at his skin. Then he touches the right-hand pocket of his jeans, and feels parchment crackle.
“Marauders,” he says. “That’s all. Just - Marauders.”
Harry ducks behind their copy of Five Children and It and doesn’t say anything for a minute or two. When he emerges again, Ginny’s coming into the room. She kicks her shoes off and pads on bare feet across the rug to sit, blue dress floating around her, next to James.
“Well, she’s gone.”
Wriggle from Al. “Are we still Weasleys?”
“Only on Thursdays,” says Ginny, straight-faced. “On all other week days you are required by law to be Peverell-Gaunts.”
Teddy doesn’t mean to eavesdrop the next morning, but he’s somehow made it downstairs without making a single noise and Ginny and Harry plainly think all four of them are still asleep.
And, you know, he is a Marauder.
“... only job we truly have in regards to the kids - the only proper job, not like feeding them and clothing them and whatever - is giving them the tools they need to make the right choices when their turn comes.”
Teddy can imagine the way Harry’s smiling.
“So the running riot doesn’t bother you?”
“Let ‘em,” says Ginny dismissively. “Call me a bad mother, I don’t care. I want them to get to seventeen without seeing a corpse or writing secrets in a Horcrux or being bullies. None of those things are likely to befall them. The rest is details.”
Harry’s turn to laugh. “Minor details, too. They’re not hurting anything except your Mum’s nerves.”
Teddy coughs once and jumps on the creaky stair before he goes in for breakfast.
It’s two weeks later, and he’s teaching James to skip stones in the duck pond at home. Gran is inside baking bread-and-butter pudding with Lily and Albus, both of whom are enthusiastic about anything with that much sugar and that many raisins in. A threat of imminent rain hovers over their heads. When it starts, Teddy knows he’ll feel like skipping. He loves summer rainstorms.
“We haven’t been to the Burrow since,” says James.
“But we’ve seen everyone else,” he adds, scrupulously fair.
“So it’s just your Gran that your Mum’s naffed off at.”
“Uncle Ron says it was bound to happen sooner or later. And Mum said what the heck did that mean, and Uncle Ron said, well, you know, and Mum said no, she didn’t, and then Aunt Hermione said, it was just that we did like to get in trouble a lot, and it probably reminded Granma Weasley about Uncle Fred.”
Teddy whistles. Hermione is scary smart, he’s always known that, about people as well as books, but Gran says she is also quite, quite ruthless. Gran approves of this trait. Teddy hasn’t always been sure what she means by it.
“Exactly. Only that set Mum off all over again. She says it wasn’t rule-breaking that got Uncle Fred killed, it was, you know, Voldemort.”
James heaves a sigh. “And then Uncle Ron spotted me and threw me out of the room.”
“Are they still fighting?” he asks Gran one evening.
“Ginny and Mrs Weasley.”
Gran laughs easily, pushing her hair back over her shoulders. There’s lots of grey in it, but it’s still long and thick.
Teddy pauses. He doesn’t want to pry, and it’s not really any of his business, but...
“I’m not sure I understand why. Why they’re fighting, I mean.”
Gran pauses too. They’re sitting on opposite ends of the sofa, him with his homework, her with a book, close enough for him to see the distant look on her face very clearly.
“If I had to guess,” she says slowly, “I’d assume that Ginny wants the kids to be happy, and Molly wants them to be safe, and the mistake she makes - Molly makes, that is - is assuming the two are the same.”
“You can be happy while you’re in danger,” Teddy says flatly. If ever he’s heard something that sounds like the definition of an oxymoron...
“Theodore Remus,” says Gran. “How did you think you would ever have managed to be born if Dora and Remus hadn’t found a way to be exactly that?”
The night before he goes back to school, he says, “All right then. But how do you tell the difference? Between safe and happy.”
They’re eating night-before-school bangers and mash, and he even got a glass of cider. Gran sighs. “Still worried about that?”
Teddy shrugs. Maybe he is. He doesn’t like it when people fight, especially not people he cares about. Harry said Ginny hasn’t said a word to Mrs Weasley all month. Mind you, he didn’t look worried, but that’s just Harry - it takes so much practice to see what he’s thinking that only Ron and Hermione and Ginny can do it with any degree of certainty.
“You can tell,” says Gran. “If you’ve been there. You can always tell.”
He looks at her. There’s an odd sort of darkness in her eyes, and her hands twitch, the cutlery moving with them.
“Harry and Ginny spent so long being neither,” she says. “There’s never any guarantee of the first, but trying for the second with everything you’ve got is the best thing possible.”
Teddy gets the impression that Gran knows what it feels like to be neither as well. He ladles more gravy over his mash and stops asking stupid awkward questions.
First Hogsmeade weekend, Harry comes up to see him.
“Sanity’s what you are,” he says. “Butterbeer?”
“Yes, please. Thanks, Harry. Why, haven’t they made up yet?”
Harry pulls a face. “Sort of. I’m not quite sure how the compromise was effected. I’m not quite sure what the compromise is. But they’re talking.”
“That’s good,” says Teddy.
“Hah! Went to the Burrow for Sunday lunch last week, you see. And The Three Musketeers were perfectly behaved,” says Harry, sounding disgusted. “Please and thank you, washed their hands, brushed their hair, sat quietly and spoke softly, walked instead of running, absolutely immaculate. Hardly noticed they were there.”
Teddy narrows his eyes at him and stomps on his right toes with his left boot. He wants rather badly to grin, imagining a picture-perfect row of Potter childen.
Actually, not grin. Run screaming away from the thought, like the first time he went to Mum and Dad’s graves. “But that’s nice of them. Isn’t it?”
Harry passes his Butterbeer from one hand to the other, looking thoughtful. He plainly doesn't think it was nice, particularly. If pressed, he might even say that Mrs Weasley deserved it, except that Teddy's not sure she would necessarily have noticed what 'it' was. “Question for you.”
“Would you give it up? You know, change. If someone you loved asked you to.”
“Depends,” says Teddy promptly.
“What it is.”
Harry laughs, and the light glints on his glasses. “Mischief-making.”
“Oh,” says Teddy. “That,” says Teddy.
He thinks about it. It doesn’t take very long.
(I solemnly swear I am up to no good. Betcha Dad didn’t change for Mum. Bet Uncle James didn’t change for Aunt Lily. Bet Sirius never changed for anyone. Bet they just grew up. Bet those are two totally different things.)
“No,” says Teddy. “I mean, if I did, I wouldn’t be me anymore. Would I?”
Harry taps a finger on the table top and hmms. “I think you owe it to people you love to be who you are,” he says. “I think you owe it to you, to yourself.”
“We’re back where we started, really,” says Teddy. “With the mischief-making. It’s been a long and arduous second-hand argument that’s changed absolutely squat.”
“That’s all right,” says Harry. “It wasn’t us that needed to have the argument in the first place.”