Today is a disastrous day. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
The scorching hot sun shines orange through the open kitchen window, making shape-shifting patterns on the white porcelain sink, and Ginny sighs, sweeping her heavy hair off her damp neck and into a high ponytail. Her hands are sticky sweet with sugar water and lemon juice, and she feels a trickle of sweat roll down the hollow of her back, making the cotton of her dress cling even more uncomfortably to her dampened skin.
A slight breeze stirs, but it’s gone before she registers exactly what it was.
Her face pounds, and she feels cross. All summer it has been like this, one heat index record after another. Turning on the tap, she cools her hands in its stream and washes them, running her dripping-wet hands over her face and through her hair to rest on her neck. Miserable heat. She’ll be glad when the weather breaks. She twists the tap closed.
Lily’s high-pitched squeal and Albus’s laughter tumble through the thrown-open window, and James streaks by, cackling like mad. She hears Harry calling to them, and her shoulders relax.
They’ll eat lunch outside today. The back garden is cooler, shaded, the low branches of the old trees casting pools of deep green across the lawn. She’s not really hungry, but the boys are ravenous and she knows the plate of sandwiches will be gone before she can blink an eye. Ginny swipes the back of her hand against a bead of sweat on her forehead and grimaces. At least they don’t seem to mind the heat.
She selects another dimpled lemon from the bowl on the draining board and slices it clean in half, watching as the citrus mist rises and falls. She could do this all by magic, but she obtains a strange satisfaction in squeezing the lemon, hard, making the juice weep from its fleshy yellow meat and into the glass pitcher. The ice cubes tinkle and crack.
Besides…her mum always did it this way.
Wiping her hands on the tea towel, she Summons a tray from the cupboard and it clatters loudly on the table behind her. Maybe she’s just restless. She flicks her wand and the sandwiches fly through the air, piling neatly on a plate. Ginny frowns, putting more effort into squeezing lemons. Her mum always did these tasks without complaint. She enjoyed being busy…bustling…making lunch…but Ginny…well, truly, she just wants to…
Sunlight catches a glint of red and she glances up just in time to see a flash of Lily’s scarlet hair flying past with Albus in quick pursuit.
“He went that way!”
And for a second she’s caught it—finally seen it—a glimpse of herself in miniature, and one of Harry too. Others have always clamored on and on about it, making the comparisons until she wants to hex them. Her children are not replicas, they’re unique individuals. But now she’s seen it—even though its capture is fleeting, as if she’s seen it through the corner of her eye.
A streak of water shoots past the window. Water Wands. Harry must have pulled them out of the shed. The kids adore them, Harry too, especially on hot days like this. George had given all of his nieces and nephews a copy of his newest product, and they were a huge hit. Group all of the cousins together in one place, and each would soon be soaked from head to toe and grinning ear to ear—until sunset, then teeth would chatter and lips would turn blue.
She takes another lemon and as she chops it in half, she hears Harry’s laugh echo across the window sill. His deep bellow shoots through her veins like a shot of Firewhisky. Intoxicating, thrilling…leaving her thirsting for more.
“No, James!” he says, “Go the other way—they went the other way.”
Trampling feet, squeals and sprays of water, more deep exhilarating laughter, and Ginny grins. Listening to Harry play with their children is like being let in on a wonderful, delicious secret. A secret she wants to be a part of.
Almost done, she cautions.
Turning on the tap to fill the glass pitcher, Ginny watches as the clear liquid swirls the thick sugar syrup into airy clouds and the citrus churns in yellow. The ice cubes crack again, this time loudly in protest, and the rising water takes its time. It’ll never reach the brim. Come on. She taps her foot while peering out the window. Finally! She wrenches the tap closed.
Hefting the pitcher onto the tray beside the sandwiches, she unlatches the kitchen door and pads outside. The grass cools her bare feet, with a few wet blades matting under her heels, and she glances around the garden. Where is everyone?
“Lily! James! Albus!” She calls, shifting the tray in her hands and heading for the table under the cool cavern of the biggest shade tree. “Harry? Lunchti—”
A wash of water hits her, falling out of thin air and onto her head, drenching her hair, cascading over her shoulders and soaking her chest and back. She looks down in shock as her freckles shine through her transparent white dress. The sandwiches are sodden, floating in a pool of blue water and the summer breeze feels chilly on her neck.
And then she hears it; a quiet snicker—his snicker.
“Harry!” She whirls.
He flashes his most brilliant grin. His eyes flicker, dancing up and down and all over, approving her close clinging curves, and then suddenly he runs, scrambles so fast that she swears he’s Disapparated. Before she thinks twice, she’s dropped the tray, pulled her wand from her pocket, and is running. Feet flying, dirt kicking, fabric tangling, in hot pursuit on the tail of the man whose backside will quickly be as wet as hers, and she feels an unexpected surge of childish glee gurgling up inside her.
Hot summers, cool grass, coarse bark, and glittering streams—it all comes flooding back as she chases him, the man she loves so desperately. The giddy laughter, daring schemes and surprising ambushes of childhood—is this what she’s been missing?
Her heart thuds hard against her ribcage. Just wait until she catches him.
Rounding the corner, she sees two little heads pop out from behind a bush and she stops. Lily and Albus stare at her wide-eyed and speechless. She beckons to them eagerly.
“Lily, Al—come on.” She bends down to meet their eyes. “Help me soak your father.”
Wide grins stretch the freckles across their sun-burnt noses, and the glint of mischief fills their bright eyes, matching hers. They lift their Water Wands to tap the end of hers, and sparks fly.
The game is on.