Harry was kneeling on a particularly damp patch of tilled earth and dripping with sweat. To make matters worse, he was elbow-deep in a bucket of eel eyes. He wouldn't have admitted it to anybody, but he felt disgusted to the point of nausea.
With baited breath, he withdrew his arm for what felt like the hundredth time. There was a sickening squelch as his arm released from the eel eyes that did nothing to help his queasiness. Harry slowly unfurled his fingers, staring down at the tiny eyeballs grouped in his palm. White, white, white, white. He groaned, twisted his wrist so the eyes plopped back into the bucket, and immediately thrust his hand back in. He began withdrawing eel eyes at a rapid pace, searching for the one he needed, and then immediately re-submerging his hand when he inevitably didn't find it.
"Oh," he heard. He paused and glanced behind himself; Ginny had arrived, a glass of wonderful, chilled butterbeer in hand. Harry reached up with his eel-less hand and impatiently pushed his sopping hair out of his eyes. His wife was appraising him with a smirk. "Do you and the eel eyes need a bit of privacy? Are you having a moment? You know, with the—" with her free hand, she mimed shoving her hand into the bucket and pulling it back out. Harry probably would've laughed had she made that joke thirty minutes ago, but he was disgusted, frustrated, and dying of thirst. He fell back onto his bottom and reached for the towel at his side. Ginny approached and settled down beside him as he wiped his arm off, his lip curled with disgust.
"Ugh!" she cried. "God, those smell awful!"
"They feel even worse," he informed her darkly. He reached a hand out for his glass; she passed it to him immediately, probably sensing how lightheaded he was. He immediately began downing the drink as quickly as he could. He felt a cool mist drift over his burning skin a moment later, and when he glanced to the side, he saw Ginny was orchestrating the cool-down with her wand, her eyes glued on the bucket of eel eyes.
"Remind me," she began, "you're looking for a yellow one?"
"Yes," he groaned. "Neville said there should be loads in there. But I've yet to find one. I thought about dumping them all out, but that'd ruin them."
"Tried it. Horrible. Horrible." The haunted look he sent her must've told her all she needed to know because she grimaced and didn't press the matter further. Harry slid over in the wet dirt to lean his back against the wheelbarrow; he let his head fall back and his eyes shut as he continued sipping at his butterbeer, taking smaller sips now to keep from actually vomiting. He was briefly disappointed when the cool mist from Ginny's wand stopped tracing over his exposed extremities, but he assumed she needed to get back into the house before their lunch guests arrived. However, he heard her voice a moment later.
"Like a sort of mustard-yellow?"
"Just the one. Neville said it's the next step since these sodding, bloody slugs wouldn't keep away with the mashed up white ones…oof!" His words shattered into a surprised exhalation as he felt his wife fall down into his lap. Having assumed she was preparing to walk away, he hadn't anticipated it. He lifted his head and peered at her. She was leaning forward, her face lovely, freckled, and mischievous—and only a few inches from his. Her hair was spread around her and doing a decent job of blocking them from the sun. She held something up in front of his glasses a second later, so close that it took him a moment. When he focused on and processed what he was looking at, he gaped.
"You're joking!" he exclaimed, torn between relief and outrage. He gently pulled the tiny, yellow eel eye from her fingers. "I've been looking for that for nearly an hour!"
His relief won out. He took her into his arms and pulled her to his chest. If she minded the eel goo or sweat, it didn't show; she wrapped her arms around his torso and hugged him back even tighter. He pressed a kiss to her hair, his affection nearly choking.
"You smell horrendous," she whispered, her breath cooling his damp neck. "You're going to need two showers."
"Fine, sure. Mine and yours." He gently moved her forward so he could examine her face. "How did you find this so quickly?"
"About thirty minutes ago I went to Diagon Alley and bought one of every variety. Harry, you do remember that we're wealthy, right? I know I sometimes forget, but I have a legitimate reason for that. You didn't have to use the eel eyes Neville pawned off on us."
"Honestly, Gin, had I known it would be such an issue, I would've bought my own. But then it became personal."
"Of course. Harry Potter versus the eel eyes. Unlikely romance wrought with tension and fury. Bit of garden fi—"
He cut her off with a finger to her lips. "Wait."
She looked behind her. "What? Is there a kid lurking behind me? Whoever it is—for the last time—no! I will not put that evil device back into the house! It was a horrid mistake and I've had words with Dudley!"
Harry followed the beetle with his eyes. He glanced distractedly to his left, quickly grabbing his nearly-empty glass. He gulped the rest down, his eyes never leaving the insect, and then lurched forward with a battle cry. He stabbed the rim of glass down into the earth, trapping the beetle.
"That's why!" he said.
Ginny immediately dropped down onto her stomach in the dirt. She furrowed her brow and pressed her nose to the glass, staring intently at the insect.
"Is it…? Oh, please let this be the awful hag…" she squinted harder. She sighed. "No. It doesn't have the glasses markings. You've just traumatized an innocent beetle."
Harry shot a glowering look at the tiny holes lining the leaves of his spring cabbages.
"No beetles are innocent."
"Shall I kill it?" Ginny asked. She inflated her eyes like Lily did whenever she was appealing to Harry. "But what if it has a family somewhere?"
He snorted, amused. He reached over and wormed his hand beneath the hem of her T-shirt, his palm warming against her lower back.
"I don't care what you do with it—as long as it's away from my innocent plants."
The damp earth had almost certainly soaked through her shirt and bra by now (that was a nice thought...) but she remained in place, most likely content to allow his hand to continue caressing her back. She was still squinting at the beetle.
"If it'd been Rita," she began, her voice dark, "I would've stomped her. No. I would've sprayed her with that awful bug spray that smells like cat pee."
Harry was inclined to agree with his wife's murderous thoughts. Rita Skeeter had run three stories about their family in the past two weeks. About things she had no logical way of knowing, unless she was creeping around their home and garden. They'd been hyper-alert for days, their eyes trained in on any small, scuttling movements, hands quick to swipe crawling bugs off of plants, the ground, anywhere. Their most memorable (and paranoid) catch had been at the Burrow last Saturday. They'd both spotted the beetle along the grass, they'd both dove headlong towards the ground for it, knocked heads hard enough to give Harry a lump the size of a bird egg and actually break skin on Ginny's, grappled and wrestled for the beetle for a good minute, and then they carried it around in a jar for the rest of the night, suspiciously staring at its every movement. Hermione had repeatedly done the revealing spell, and had assured them that it was definitely not Skeeter, but they'd remained unconvinced. And that's how they came to have a pet beetle living on the windowsill in their bedroom, where they could keep eyes on it at all times. Lily named "her" Wanda.
"And we're sure she's not used Polyjuice?" Ginny pressed, looking over her shoulder towards Harry. "Because we've had quite a lot of guests over the past two weeks. She could've impersonated any of them."
"Not Hagrid. Half-giant." He was stretched out alongside her now.
"Okay, well, anybody but Hagrid."
She gave a frustrated sigh after her amendment, eyes back on the beetle. She crossed her arms in front of her and pillowed her head on them. Harry was stroking along her spine idly as he thought.
"Well, it'd have to be a guest who could've overheard all three conversations," he said.
"Right. James and Nora's 'engagement', Albus and Scorpius' 'football team', and Victoire and Teddy's predicament."
"I dunno if we should call a baby a predicament..." Harry pointed out.
"Eh…agree to disagree. You didn't carry them or birth them or give up your career. Which were, you know, all sacrifices that were worth it and then some. But still—unplanned: a predicament."
"No, but I did give up my sanity."
"Ah, yes. But did you ever really have it to begin with? The jury's still out."
Humored and lovesick, Harry turned to face his wife. He let his palm fall flat against her back. He ducked his face and pressed his nose to hers.
"You know, that sounded positively Skeeter-ish…you couldn't be…but no…my own wife…!"
She grinned wickedly.
"Yes, you've caught me. It is I, best and most attractive journalist, known for—oh, bugger. I hate her so much I can't even pretend. I can't keep up the banter with you. My damn tension headache is returning."
He kissed her forehead. "That's okay, I understand. I won't hold it against you."
"Thanks. This entire situation's just really getting me down, you know? I've been checking every corner of the kids' rooms before they go to sleep, paranoid that Rita's in there…" she shook her head. "I'm just glad that she overheard what she did about Albus. Had she heard and reported about him and Scorpius being together…I'd probably be in Azkaban right now for a grisly murder."
"I wouldn't arrest you. It'd be my last stand before I retire for good."
"I'd be covered in beetle guts. You'd have to arrest me."
"What beetle guts?" he challenged, eyes twinkling.
"I'd be surrounded by all of my and Rita's coworkers at the Daily Prophet."
"I'm sorry, Editor, I have no idea what you're pointing at. The wall? I see nothing. I see nobody. My wife? Smashed, illegal animagus Skeeter? What? Rita was an animagus?!"
"The Minister was there and saw it with her own two eyes and is ordering you to put me in chains!"
"Hermione, are you feeling okay? Is this about the spat you and Ginny had over who would host on Boxing Day? Hermione, my second-oldest friend. What have we become?"
"It's on Muggle videotape."
"I can't trust this videotape—no one's used a videotape in at least twenty years—outdated and unreliable. I'll be collecting my invisible wife and returning home."
She succumbed to laughter so bright it warmed his entire chest. He swept her hair over her shoulder and brushed his fingers through it, watching until the last of the laughter ebbed off. The sunlight had a way of playing off the gold and copper strands mixed throughout her red hair; he found it a bit mesmerizing. She knocked her shoulder into his, pulling his eyes from her shimmering, sunlight-soaked hair.
"Nice to know you've got my back. I'll miss that when some other idiot takes over the department. If I commit murder I'll actually have to answer for it."
"As wrong as it is, there are few people within the Ministry who would send a Potter to Azkaban," Harry admitted.
"Oh, good. Finally—the fame pays off."
They shared a sour look, a bit sorer than usual on the topic of fame (which was saying something), thanks to Skeeter.
Harry's attention was drawn back to the path leading up to the house as the sound of somebody approaching reached his ears. He glanced up the trail and squinted. His eldest son came into view a moment later, accompanied by—
"McGonagall!" Harry hissed to Ginny.
They scrambled upright and to their feet, as if they were still fifth and sixth years, as if she'd just caught them pressed against a corridor wall. Ginny quickly cleaned the dirt from them with her wand. They managed clean, innocent grins by the time McGonagall approached.
"Afternoon, Potters," she nodded. She jerked her head towards James. He was beaming and rocking excitedly from his heels to the balls of his feet. "I'm here to meet about James, as we discussed."
Right. That was today. Damn it.
"Hi. We were…we just…" Harry looked to Ginny.
"We came to pick some fresh…herbs for you! For…tea!" she improvised. She turned, scanning the rows of plants, and then leaned, grabbing a fistful of basil leaves. "There we go. Ready, Harry?"
What were the odds that McGonagall liked basil tea? Slim to none. Still—he'd hope for the best.
McGonagall lightly sipped her tea, politely ignoring the periodic crashes and shrieks from the floor above—until Lily gave a somewhat maniacal giggle. She lowered her cup and peered at Lily's parents from above her square spectacles.
"As former Head of House, I typically investigate things when hearing noises like that."
"Oh, we don't need to investigate," Ginny reassured her. Harry reached for her thigh beneath the table and squeezed, trying to tell her to stop, but it was too late. "We know precisely what she's doing. She's decided she's going to invent her own potion."
A familiar expression blanketed across McGonagall's face: stern, concerned, and vaguely amused. Harry attempted to bury his face into his massive mug, hoping the headmistress would miss his brief grin.
"One child wishes to begin training to be an animagus. Another is upstairs concocting a potentially devastating potion. Rumor has it Albus and the Malfoy boy are starting a cult. Potters, I dare say your children are getting bored at home, and it's past time for them to return to Hogwarts." A pause. Her lips pressed into a thin line. "I'm sure you're both quite aware that potion making is an extremely dangerous endeavor? Many of the most useful potions we used today resulted in the initial fatality or disfigurement of those who began the discovery process."
"Yes," Harry said quickly. "She's been corresponding with Slugh—Horace. He's overseen the entire process."
"And Albus and Scorpius are not forming a cult," Ginny quickly corrected. "They were playing a sport called football with the nearby Muggle children. Had Rita Skeeter bothered to read my article about the said sport, she would've known that."
"But probably still would have reported about a cult. Makes for a more despicable story." McGonagall glanced up at the ceiling again as Lily cheered. "What is Lily making?"
"We're not certain. She won't tell us," Harry frowned. "Horace says she's a genius, that it's going to improve the lives of many and that it's not dark magic and it's entirely safe…but that's all we know."
"Personally, I'm convinced it's an eyesight potion," Ginny shared.
Harry nodded. He thought back to Lily's recent appointment with the Muggle optometrist in Godric's Hollow. She'd been less resistant than usual, had actually seemed to like the glasses she chose, and refused to try Muggle contact lenses, insisting glasses would do "for the time being". Of course, it helped that Charlie transfigured the frames to look like shimmering dragon scale hide.
"If she manages it, she'll certainly be a genius. That's one of the few things potions nor charms have been able to correct thus far. Now—on the matter of James. James," she turned to the side, facing their eldest son, who'd been waiting in thrilled anticipation, "let's begin discussing your reasons for wanting to be an animagus."
"Easy. One—" he held up one finger "—my grandfather James Potter and Sirius Black were both animagi. Two—" another finger "—I love a challenge. And three—" a third and final finger joined "—I'd make a brilliant addition to the United Kingdom's scarce elk population. Did you know there's only a handful in the Scottish Highlands? There are plenty across other areas of the world—though they call them moose—but we have a sad, sad lack here, and I'd make some nature-loving bloke's entire year if I just strolled up to him in his garden. Can you imagine!"
McGonagall's eyebrows rose. Ginny muffled laughter into her palms. Harry bit his inner cheek to keep from snorting.
"Well, I'm inclined to think your reasons are more substantive than mine were. I have my concerns, though. Are you positive you'll be able to keep up with your N.E.W.T. course load, your Head Boy and Quidditch Captain duties, and this?"
She was as skeptical as Harry and Ginny were about the entire ordeal. James was great under stress and largely capable, but that was a lot to take on. Harry watched his son's face carefully for any hesitation, but none showed.
"I can absolutely manage it, Professor. My Aunt Hermione gave me a new diary to put my scheduling in and she's filled it out for me perfectly—she's even scheduled meal times! She's probably even scheduled bathroom breaks. Either way, she's sorted my timetable out, and I do have time for all of it."
McGonagall's expression shifted into something distinctly sly. "And Ms. Thomas? Has your aunt Hermione scheduled in time for her? If I recall—you spent a better portion of last year, ah…conferring with Ms. Thomas."
James grinned. "No worries, Professor, it's not an issue. We're in it forever, busy or not. Nora's on my side no matter what. She doesn't need to be penciled in."
"As Dumbledore would have said…ah, young love."
James beamed dreamily. "The youngest and the loveliest."
"It will be intensive, difficult work."
"I hope so!"
"I'll hold you to a standard far above that of your peers—and far above your age."
"Honestly, I've always felt like a twenty-nine-year-old."
McGonagall sighed, exasperated. She turned to the Potter parents.
"I'd ask if he's always been this quick-tongued and headstrong, but I'm sure I already know my answer."
Harry glanced to the left. He met Ginny's eyes—the same eyes James had—and shared a sentimental smile, both their memories flipping back to James's early years.
"His first real sentence was Jamie do it, which was put to excessive use. Doing the dishes? 'Jamie do it'. Harry shaving his face? James wrestled for the razor— 'Jamie do it'. Mention that you need to run to Diagon Alley? James had the Floo pot—'Jamie do it'." Ginny shared. She exchanged an affectionate grin with their son. "And nothing was too frightening for toddling James. He would've taken on a dragon at age two with nothing more than a toy wand if we'd mentioned we needed it slain. So, yeah. Always been this headstrong and brave."
Harry—overcome with memories, his heart oversaturated with affection—couldn't stop himself from adding on.
"Gin, remember the time he tried to make you ginger biscuits? When you were ill with Albus?"
His wife collapsed into laughter. He watched her hair shake from the force of it, her spine curved forward as she muffled her laughter into her hands again. Her eyes were shimmering with amused tears when she met his eyes. She glanced back to their guest to explain.
"Harry came home, and there Jamie was, not even two yet, trying to mash an entire ginger root with the handle of my wand. I still don't know how he crept from the bed during naptime without me noticing…I don't suppose you remember?"
She directed the question to James. He mimed locking his lips.
"I'll never tell."
"Come to think of it, Minerva," Harry began, a quick flash of all James's early exploits passing before his eyes, "I think James has been ready to go back to Hogwarts since birth."
McGonagall spared James a warm, fond smile. "That doesn't surprise me. Well, James, as long as you're serious, I anticipate you'll have great success during our training."
Harry was on the edge of laughter, waiting for the customary response to that – I am serious. I'm James Sirius.—but it never came. James instead offered a serious nod, his eyes full of gratitude.
"Thank you, Professor."
"Here, Potters—" McGonagall produced a thick stack of parchment from her robes. "I'll need you two to sign this."
Harry and Ginny leaned in, scanning the first few lines of writing. The parents/legal guardians, _ and _, of James Sirius Potter, hereby permit Minerva S. McGonagall to instruct and teach James Sirius Potter in the art of animagi, acknowledging the potential risks—including, but not limited to, death, disfigurement, public embarrassment, and social scorn—and asserting that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry holds no liability for any such risks, nor any responsibility for what the student goes on to do with his/her new ability once that student has completed their pupillage…
Harry was content to sign right then and there, but Ginny leaned back in the chair, pulling the form with her. Harry waited for what felt like an obscenely long time as his wife read every single word. McGonagall looked proud at her thoroughness but didn't comment on it. Perhaps she'd guessed what only Harry had ever been told—that Ginny was reluctant to sign her name or write on anything she hadn't examined fully or understood beforehand.
While Ginny read the novel-length form, James struck up an excited conversation about his Transfiguration N.E.W.T. with McGonagall. Harry glanced over Ginny's shoulder every few seconds, pretending to be reading along, but his eyes blurred and his attention drifted. He was glad when the stairs creaked and he latched onto the distraction.
"Al!" he greeted, pleased. Albus stopped dead in the doorway, still in his pajamas and clearly only moments separated from sleep. He squinted, stunned.
"Good morning, Albus." McGonagall's lips twitched. "Lovely dragon pajamas."
Albus blushed. He was still stuck in place.
"Er…what are you doing here? Why aren't you at Hogwarts?"
"I can travel outside of the school, you know," McGonagall pointed out. Albus furrowed his brow. He didn't argue, but he looked skeptical. "Has your summer been productive?"
A deepening blush. Harry pursed his lips and valiantly fought back his laughter. He was sure the same thought was running through his mind as Albus's: depends on what you consider productive…
"Yeah," he squeaked a moment later. He tripped a bit on the hem of his pajama bottoms as he stepped forward. Ginny—eyes still on the form, senses eerily accurate—waved her wand and sent a mug of tea floating right towards Albus's hand. He grasped it.
"Morning, Al," she greeted. "Dad made pastries. We saved you a plate."
"Morning. Blueberry?" he asked hopefully.
Harry felt pride rouse within him. He knew Albus would want blueberry. He'd gone out to the garden to pick blueberries that morning, enough to make at least five pastries for his middle son. James always wanted bananas in his and Lily liked cinnamon, but Albus had always been a blueberry fan. Harry tried to keep his proud grin in check.
"Yep. Five—all yours."
Albus grinned. "Thanks, Dad!"
Harry felt McGonagall's eyes shift to him as Albus went about getting his breakfast, his smile still in place. Harry met her gaze, and when he did, his feelings of pride only doubled, because she looked proud of him, too. He guessed the differences between his relationship with Albus last school year and now appeared glaring to somebody who hadn't been around them during the gradual transition.
"Albus," McGonagall said, as Albus settled down in the seat beside his mum's, plate stacked high with colorful pastries. "I've heard from your Head of House that you're an intense Chess opponent."
Albus hesitated. He lowered his fork.
"Well…I mean, I'm decent enough, I used to play with my uncle Ron all the time and he's brilliant and—"
"Don't be so modest," James scolded. "Professor, he's great. The last time I beat him, he was five and I was seven. I haven't managed since."
With a wry smile and a complicated wave of her wand, a brilliant Wizard chess set appeared on the table between Albus and McGonagall.
"Morning game?" she challenged.
Albus paused, his fork held midair. A gradual, surprised grin formed on his face. He nodded.
Ginny finished reading over the permission form. Albus and McGonagall were locked in a concentrated, silent match, their eyes glued to the chess board. Ginny neatly signed the form and then glanced at Harry.
"Statistically, this is probably a terrible idea."
He pulled the form over to himself and scrawled his own signature beside hers.
"I dunno if any of our lives have ever adhered to statistics," he pointed out.
Albus and McGonagall's match had reached a point where there was only one move being made every five minutes. He could tell both players were getting a bit frustrated.
Lily's thundering footsteps drew everybody's attention as she bolted into the kitchen, a ladle full of something bubbling and blue in hand. She hurried over to Harry, her free hand cupped beneath the ladle, catching the runoff of the spilling concoction. She was without her glasses, out of breath, and beaming.
"Dad! Drink this!" She slung the ladle towards Harry's face with more speed than necessary; Harry guessed her potion hadn't worked as well as she'd planned, as without her glasses her depth perception was way off. He ducked his head just in time, narrowly avoiding getting slammed in the temple by the utensil.
"Whoa! Slow down!" he chastised.
She obeyed and lowered her arm, but her entire body was trembling with anticipation.
"Dad, drink it!" Lily urged. She seemed to spot McGonagall out of the corner of her eye. She spared her a quick wave. "Hi, Professor. Dad, hurry!"
Harry eyed the potion suspiciously. While he was inclined to give his daughter anything she asked for, he wasn't sure about drinking that potion. It was still boiling rapidly despite being far from any heating element. It smelled oddly of vinegar. Harry met Ginny's eyes hesitantly.
"Lily, your dad's not drinking anything until you tell us what it is," Ginny declared.
"It's my potion for perfect eyesight, okay?! Just—please, Daddy?" Lily inflated her eyes. She fluttered her eyelashes. She sniffled as if she may cry. Harry caved immediately.
"Okay, sure, Lulu," he quickly agreed. Ginny kicked him from underneath the table, but it was too late to change his mind now. With a deep, steadying breath, he reached for the ladle. Lily was beaming widely at him as he tentatively brought it to his lips. He heard Ginny rise to 'prepare the Floo powder for St. Mungo's'.
It tasted of slightly burnt marshmallows, which was such an unexpected taste given the vinegary smell that Harry nearly spat it back out. He had to force his rolling stomach to settle, and once he did, he swallowed the first gulp.
"Is that all?" he wheezed, eyes watering, nausea swelling.
"Yes! One sip!" Lily set the ladle on the table, indifferent to the mess she was making. She reached forward and pulled Harry's glasses off. The world shifted into blurry, colorful shapes. Harry waited.
"Well?!" Lily pressed.
Harry could see the green-and-red blob that was his wife, standing nervously at the fireplace. He squinted. He could make out the shape of the Floo container in her hands, but nothing more.
He looked to the pink-and-red blob that was his daughter.
"Er…maybe the blurry shapes are a bit more defined when I squint?" he tried.
They clearly weren't. Lily broke down into tears.
"Damn it! Damn it! Merlin's massive, hairy—!"
"Lily, it's okay," Ginny quickly comforted, cutting Lily's foul language off.
"Language, Lily," Harry added, for what was probably the tenth time that week. "Did it work on you? You've taken your glasses off."
She angrily reached for the forgotten ladle. Her hand landed six inches to the right. That answered his question.
"No, it didn't, and I'm very upset!"
"There's no need to be upset, Ms. Potter," McGonagall chimed in. "You've gotten further making your own potion than most adult witches will in their entire lifespan. You should be proud. Keep working on it."
Lily sniffled. She rounded the table and sat in the chair on McGonagall's other side, looking up at the woman like she held the secrets to the universe itself.
"Will you help me?" she pleaded.
McGonagall looked equally taken aback and flattered by Lily's desperate plea.
"I wish I could, Lily," she answered. Lily smiled at the usage of her first name. "I regret to admit that I'm not an expert when it comes to potions."
Lily sighed. She crossed her arms on the tabletop and then buried her face into them, her hip-length hair fanning out across the table and the Chess board. The Chess pieces scattered as the red tendrils invaded. Albus cried out in horror.
"No! Our game!" he groaned. "Lily!"
"I think it might be time for a haircu—"
"No!" Lily shrieked, quickly raising her head. She stared at Ginny with wide eyes. "No! No! I refuse! You'll have to chop my entire head off first!"
Ginny arched an eyebrow, taken aback. Harry stared at their daughter, baffled.
"Calm down, Lu. I won't force you. I just think you might be more comfortable without having to accommodate all that hair is all."
Lily gripped at her long locks. "I wouldn't be, Mum."
"Okay, fine." Ginny's voice was cool. Lily looked pointedly away from her mother and hmphed.
"Well, I should be getting back," McGonagall said. She stood and pushed her chair back in. "Thank you for the tea, and Albus, thank you for the chess match. We can continue it at school."
Albus nodded. He still looked peeved about Lily sending the pieces scattering. Harry rose.
"I'll walk you out," he offered. McGonagall nodded. He fell in line beside her as they walked from the house and back out into the garden.
"You've got everything in order for the first day of lessons?" she asked.
"Yeah—well, almost. I've got a few more lessons to write and a few more things to put away in my office and classroom. I'll Floo back tomorrow and finish up."
"If you and Ginny would consider—"
"No," Harry interrupted, as politely as possible. He retained his firmness, though. "No. As much as I'd love to be the Gryffindor Head of House and as much as I'd love to be living at Hogwarts again, Ginny and I are settled here. I've got a garden, we've got about a dozen cats that wander to and fro because the kids and Ginny keep feeding them…" he trailed off. "Thank you for offering it to me, though."
"And Ginny still refuses Rolanda's position?"
Harry felt a flash of frustration. "That you'll have to ask Ginny herself. She's being cagey about it. One day she says 'oh yes, it'd be wonderful to take over from Madam Hooch' and others she says 'I quite like what I've got going on at the Prophet'." He tried not to sound pouty. But he preferred the idea of his wife working at Hogwarts with him, too. He was a bit anxious about starting work somewhere that she wasn't. He hadn't had to work without her since she joined the Prophet, over seventeen years ago now. "Have you asked anybody else?"
"Not yet, but I'll have to if I don't receive an answer soon."
She came to a stop at the apparition point. Harry nodded.
"I'll try and talk with her again. Thanks for coming by, and thank you for helping with James."
"Of course. He's incredibly bright—he's precisely what you could've been if you'd been granted a normal childhood."
He laughed. "Nah—Ron was a bad influence. We would've skived off and put off homework until the last minute even if I'd been a normal kid. Albus…well, his work ethic mimics mine more closely."
"Ah, yes." There was a pause. "I loathe to express anything negative about any child's sorting, simply because I know what a sensitive subject it often is, but I have to admit…not a day passes that I don't wish my house had gotten the full Potter set."
Harry smiled. "Slytherin is certainly lucky to have Albus. And Scorpius Malfoy."
"Oh yes, the professors talk. Word is Scorpius Malfoy has a heart of gold."
"The word is right. I never thought I'd say this…but Draco Malfoy did a decent job."
McGonagall cracked a smile. "My, my, fatherhood has softened you, Potter. It suits you."
He grinned. "Thanks."
"Make sure to tidy your classroom up before term starts. And keep an eye on that daughter of yours. My instincts tell me she's up to something more than she says."
Albus was finishing up his breakfast when Harry returned to the kitchen. Harry sat beside him and pulled one of his many unopened letters over in front of himself, resigning himself to the fact that he'd have to reply to all of them before he officially resigned as Head of Magical Law Enforcement. He'd only managed to read half of the first when somebody shot out of the Floo. Harry turned, expecting to see Luna and her family (as they'd made plans to come over prior in the week), but it was a red head that greeted him instead of the assumed blonde.
Ginny came into the kitchen at the sound of the arrival. She beamed.
"Charlie! What are you doing here?" She hurried over to help him brush the soot from his jacket. "Aren't you due back in Romania?"
"Hi, Ginny." Charlie pulled Ginny into a short hug. "I need to speak with your husband."
Harry tried to keep from feeling terrified, but the eldest two Weasley brothers were still extremely intimidating to him, even after all these years. And it was even worse now because he knew Charlie was about to be angry with him (if he wasn't already).
"No leads," Harry greeted, figuring it'd be best to get that out of the way. "I'm sorry, Charlie. I personally went back to the campsite with five of our best Aurors and we can't find any trace of it."
Charlie threw himself down into one of the kitchen chairs with a groan. Albus had risen to put his plate in the sink, but Harry spotted him slyly reaching for the sponge instead, clearly to give himself an opportunity to eavesdrop. Albus never voluntarily washed dishes. Harry glanced back at Charlie.
"I can't go back without it," Charlie said. He was terribly upset. Harry froze, worried that he'd start crying and that Harry would be obligated to try and comfort him, but Ginny quickly sat beside her brother and began patting his arm a second later.
"I just don't understand it," Harry admitted. "There were no other wizards at Shell Island when we were there. But if a muggle had stolen it, it'd be in the headlines by now! "Wales Tourist Discovers Baby Dragon"—that wouldn't go unreported."
"Well, it didn't just get up and walk away. It's severely handicapped." He shook his head. "I shouldn't have gone on the trip. I thought it'd be okay, as long as I kept the injured ones with me and tended to them. I never imagined that one would be taken. Certainly not the Antipodean Opaleye. And if he did wander off, that's it. He'd never have survived."
"Don't be so sure," Ginny said. "Sure—he's tiny, unfortunately submissive, he can't breathe fire, and he's blind—but I'll bet he's plucky, too!"
"You had dragons at the campsite?" Albus blurted. He turned around. He was gripping the sponge so tightly that soapy water was sliding down his sleeve. "On our muggle holiday?!"
"Three. In my tent."
Albus's mouth made an O. He seemed to realize Charlie wasn't going to offer much more information because he quickly turned back to his previous task.
"I was thinking," Charlie began. "You don't think…Fred and Roxanne knew I had them in my tent, do you?"
"I'm not sure how they would've. None of us knew except Hermione and Bill, and they wouldn't say. I'd hate to think that Fred or Roxanne would steal a dragon, Charlie."
"I doubt they would, too. But I think we ought to stop by—just to talk to them. Maybe they saw something. Those two always know everything about everybody."
Harry sensed he wasn't going to get out of accompanying him. He desperately needed to tend to the last of the letters, but family trumped all—always. And Charlie did seem terribly heartbroken.
"Okay. Sure. Let's go now."
Charlie exhaled, relieved. "Okay. Brilliant. Thanks, Harry."
"Of course. We're family. It's what we do, right?"
"Right." Charlie gave a small smile. He pulled Ginny in for another hug once they'd all risen. "You always were the best judge of character, Ginny."
"I hope you find your dragon."
Charlie went first, calling out George and Angelina Weasley's house before disappearing into the flames. Harry hung back.
"Thank you," Ginny told him. Albus made a gagging noise as she leaned forward and pressed her lips to Harry's. Harry wished he could've stayed there intertwined with her all day.
"There's no way Fred and Roxanne took that dragon. My money's on the other two. I bet they ate it," Harry said.
"I was wondering that myself…but still. Humor him, yeah? For me?"
"Always for you," Harry promised. He grabbed her left hand and gently turned it, so he could peer at her wristwatch. He frowned—it was later than he'd expected. Luna would be there for lunch with the twins at any moment. "Look—why don't I collect Scorpius and Nora while I'm running around?"
She parted her lips to argue, her eyes flickering to the stack of unopened letters on the table, but Harry quelled her words with a kiss. For a moment, he was overcome with love, to the point that he couldn't speak nor move—only stare at her like a starry-eyed idiot.
"You shouldn't have to cut your afternoon with Luna short," he finally said. He slid his fingers down so he was gripping her hand. "She's been gone all summer. And this makes more sense. I'll swing by while I'm out and about, get Scorpius, get Nora, return here with our children's counterparts. Simple."
Let me say I love you in a different way, he found himself thinking. At the core of himself, he was still a lovesick sixteen-year-old, desperately taken with Ginny Weasley. Desperately trying to get her alone, to show her the depth of his fondness, to sit near her brightness. (And even though he never would've admitted to her nor himself…there was still a jealousy monster in his chest that wasn't keen on the idea of her going to Dean Thomas's house).
"What about Aster?" she wondered.
"Her mum's bringing her by in the morning. I've already told Lily. She handled it…well enough."
In actuality, she'd stamped throughout the house for nearly an hour, complaining about how lonely she'd be tonight because James and Albus would have their guests over. Harry had promised her that she could hang out with him and Ginny…but she hadn't seemed reassured.
"Dad," Albus interrupted. Ginny must've put him to work for penance for his eavesdropping; he'd washed nearly half of the dishes from breakfast in the time Harry had been conversing. He impatiently set a cup onto the draining board and walked over. "Can I go with you? I have something for Scorpius's dad."
"Something for his dad?"
"Yeah. A book on football. Can I go?" he pressed, impatient.
"No, I don't know how long I'll be investigating with Uncle Charlie; you'd better stay. But I can deliver that book if you like."
Albus frowned. "Fine…let me go get it. Don't go until I'm back!"
"Cross my heart— I won't."
Harry waited patiently for Albus, and once he had the book in hand, he set off for George and Angelina's house.
It was nearing dinner before he made his way to Malfoy Manor.
He'd ended up running around the country with Charlie, checking in on anyone he suspected of dragon theft. With every passing minute and exhausted suspect, Harry became more and more convinced that one of the other dragons had done away with the missing one, but he didn't have the heart to tell that to Charlie. As he leaned tiredly against one of the columns of Malfoy Manor, he found himself counting down the minutes until he'd be done with his current job. Until he could go home to Hogwarts.
"Hello—oh," Draco Malfoy's grey eyes widened in surprise. "Harry. I was expecting Ginny."
Harry couldn't blame Draco for his reaction. He'd be disappointed if he'd expected Ginny and it was somebody else, too. But he was exhausted and not in the mood for small chat.
"Hello to you, too. Has Scorpius got everything packed?"
"Yes. I'll call for him. Come in."
Harry followed Draco into the echoing front hall. He felt a chill race down his spine before he could talk himself out of it; no matter how much the Manor had changed, he still heard Hermione's screams. He avoided coming here as often as he could.
"Scorpius! Harry's here!"
Draco hadn't even finished his sentence before they heard the sound of frantic footsteps. Scorpius appeared at the foot of a long, spiral staircase, out of breath and tugging along two giant trunks. He beamed.
"Hi! I'm ready! I've got everything—ordered and sorted, packed and prepared, ready and waiting! Let's go!"
Harry laughed, affection quickly overriding his previous annoyance.
"Don't you want to tell your dad goodbye?" he reminded Scorpius.
Scorpius froze a few steps from the doorway. He spun around, gutted.
"Oh! I forgot! How did I forget?" He hurried over and threw his arms around Draco, who hugged him back easily. "Dad, you're the best, I'm going to miss you, and thank you for letting me go to the Potters'. Love you."
Harry didn't know when they'd started hugging—he couldn't remember ever seeing it happen before—but it was clear that Scorpius and Draco's relationship had improved over the summer as well.
"And I you. Be safe. Write me. I'll be at the first Quidditch match—good luck at tryouts."
"I'll do my very best—that's a promise!"
After another quick hug, Scorpius made another eager beeline for the door. Harry and Draco met eyes and exchanged a reluctant chuckle.
"Keep an eye on them at Hogwarts," Draco requested.
"As much as I can," Harry promised. "Ready, Scorpius?"
Scorpius nodded. And kept nodding. Harry suddenly remembered the bobble head toys Muggles used to keep on their car dashboards.
"Great. Could we use your Floo, Draco? We've got to pick up Nora Thomas and it's a pain to apparate to her house—you have to traipse through thickets."
"Sure. Follow me—or Scorpius, apparently."
Scorpius was already hurrying in the opposite direction towards the nearest fireplace. They followed after Scorpius and stepped into a pretentious tea room (with awful crystal chandeliers adorned with tiny peacocks) and then stepped up to the massive fireplace. There was room enough for Harry, Scorpius, and the trunks. Harry was two seconds away from throwing the Floo powder when he remembered Albus's gift.
"Oh! Wait a moment, Draco," he used his free hand and reached into his cloak, withdrawing the thin book from an inner pocket. "Here. Albus wanted you to have this."
Scorpius examined it curiously as Harry passed it to his father. He beamed.
"A book on football! Dad, read it so you can play football with us next time we're here, okay?"
Draco was examining the muggle book like it might bite him, but when he glanced up at Scorpius, he smiled.
"I will. Tell Albus thank you. Have a good term, Scorpius."
"You too, Dad! Or, well, you know. An at-home term. Bye!"
Seamus Finnigan suspiciously observed Harry and Scorpius over a cup of what smelled like disgustingly black coffee. Scorpius sighed.
"Hello, I'm Scorpius Malfoy, I'm not the son of Voldemort, I've not been forming a cult with Albus Potter, and the only time I've ever been around dark magic was the time I accidentally found this weird hand thing in the basement that my dad didn't even know was there. It was terrifying. I had nightmares for a week. And, well, okay, I guess there was that thing with Delphi but in my defense, I never wanted any part of it and—"
Harry set a reassuring hand on Scorpius's shoulder. Scorpius quickly stopped talking.
"Seamus," Harry began, "Scorpius is a family friend and that's not a title we take lightly. I know you're worried about your…" he trailed off, never really clear on what the dynamics were inside the Thomas house. Harry knew very little—only the bare facts: Dean Thomas's wife of only a year died seventeen or so years ago, Seamus moved in when Nora was only a few weeks old to help Dean recover from the loss and care for Nora, and he'd never moved out after that. "Your…Nora."
Scorpius, on the other hand, seemed to have no filter.
"What does Nora call you? If you're both her dads?" he asked, innocent and curious. "Dad One and Dad Two? Dad A and Dad B? How do you decide who's A and who's B…"
Seamus's cheeks pinked. Well, that answered that question.
"Scorpius, if I remember correctly, Nora calls them by their first names. Right, Seamus?" Harry said.
Seamus shot a grateful look at Harry. "Yeah, she does. Dean and Seamus. She's always done…never could get her to use dad or papa or anything like that."
"Cool," Scorpius breathed. Harry had a feeling he was imaging calling his dad Draco and loving every second of it.
Scorpius looked like he had plenty of other questions brimming on his tongue. Seamus was rescued from them by the appearance of Nora (tall, lithe, poised, her dark hair tied up in its usual bun) and Dean (unfairly handsome, paint staining the cuffs of his West Ham shirt, grinning broadly). Seamus rose immediately and went to help Nora with her trunk.
"Harry!" Nora smiled. She let her trunk fall to the floor—Dean and Seamus barely managed to scramble for it and grasp the handle—and then approached Harry, fist push outwards. Harry hesitated.
"I may've forgotten…just joking with you!" Nora beamed as he pressed his fist to hers and then met her high-five. It was the 'secret handshake' little eleven-year-old Nora had invented for the Potter parents the first time she'd met them, and it'd yet to die off.
Nora blinked at Scorpius. "Oh, hello. Scorpius Malfoy, right?"
"Right." Scorpius took a deep breath and began reciting. "I promise I'm not the son of Voldemort, I'm not starting a cult with Albus Potter, we were only playing football with the muggle children, I have never done—"
"Dean, did you hear that? Albus and Scorpius play football," Nora interrupted, directing that revelation to her father. Dean perked up.
"Yeah? Really?" He approached the table and sat across from Scorpius eagerly. "What position do you play? Friendlies or on a league?"
"Friendlies, I think? Just for fun! We let anybody play. We had a ninety-year-old Muggle woman playing last time!"
"Wow! What position did she play? Was she any good?"
As Dean and Scorpius shared football stories, both seemingly thrilled to get to talk to somebody else about it in the football-ignorant Wizarding world, Seamus seemed to soften up to Scorpius. He stopped shooting him uneasy looks and focused instead on prodding at the wonky wheel of Nora's trunk with his wand. When it came time to leave, Nora hugged both Seamus and Dean.
"Love you both, I'll write weekly!"
"Be safe," Dean said.
"Have fun!" Seamus added.
"But not too much fun," Dean amended sternly.
"Nah, have too much! Blow something up!"
"Blow something up safely," Seamus corrected.
Nora laughed. She leaned forward and kissed them both on the cheek.
"Right—I'll do all of that. Be safe, have fun, not have too much, have too much—got it."
It was impossible to squeeze all three of them plus the two teenagers' trunks into the Thomases' narrow fireplace, so Harry sent both kids on one and at a time.
"Thanks for having Nora over again," Dean said, before Harry stepped into the Floo for his turn. "She and James are a bit inseparable."
"It's no problem, it's no trouble. We're all quite fond of her," Harry reassured him.
"Give Ginny my love!" Dean added.
"Sure thing," Harry said. "Bye."
He threw the powder down with a bit more force than strictly necessary.
The kitchen was full of warmth and conversation when Harry tumbled from the Floo. Ginny was hugging Scorpius, Nora and James were kissing as if they hadn't seen each other in years, and Lily was making what looked like flower crowns at the table with Luna. Harry could hear the sound of Luna's twins romping about in the garden. He prayed Ginny had put up wards around his plants.
"Where's Albus?" Scorpius asked brightly, turning around to examine every face. He frowned when he failed to spot his boyfriend.
"He didn't expect you for another hour. He's in the shed with his aunt Audrey." Ginny reassured him. Scorpius turned and took off towards the door. Ginny and Harry met halfway; he pulled her into a tight hug.
"Dean sends his love," Harry mumbled into her hair.
"Oh, how traumatizing for you," Ginny said dryly. She pulled back and reached up, gently cradling his face in her hands. She studied his eyes with faux seriousness. "How are you handling that disaster?"
"With slight bitterness. What's Audrey doing here?"
"Putting her ex-mechanic skills to good use."
"Sirius's bike." Ginny nodded.
Albus must've heard the loud commotion in the kitchen and surmised that the guests had arrived, because when Scorpius pulled open the kitchen door, Albus was on the other side. He looked as if he'd been bolting towards the house—he was slightly out of breath—and he was covered in motorbike grease and dust from the shed, but neither of them seemed to mind. With simultaneous hoots of glee, they pulled each other into a fierce hug, their faces pressed into each other's necks. Somehow, that one hug seemed more intimate than James and Nora's current snogging did; Harry averted his eyes and turned back to Ginny, who was staring at James and Nora in disgust. Now that Harry glanced back at them, he noticed that they were indeed being everything but discreet.
"James! Nora! Get a room!" Ginny said.
James pulled back from Nora. "The kitchen is a room, Mum."
"Okay, Ginny," Nora agreed easily. She grabbed James's hand and pulled; he barely had time to grasp the handle of her trunk before he was being yanked up the staircase. Harry hesitated.
"Should we...do that? Send them up there? Alone?"
"Yeah—we won't have to look at it that way. Merlin, that's still so weird. I swear he was five-years-old yesterday."
"I feel like that about all of them," Harry admitted, after shooting another glance towards his second son, who was slyly sneaking from the house with Scorpius in tow. Harry looked back at his wife and lowered his voice. "Thank goodness Lily's still our baby."
Ginny pursed her lips.
"Yeah…right…" she averted her eyes.
Harry's heart plummeted. The force of it left him weak and shaken.
"What?!" He reached forward and grasped Ginny's arms, panicked and not thinking clearly. "Gin—what? What do you mean by that tone?"
"What tone?" she asked innocently.
"That—that knowing tone!"
Ginny looked towards Lily and Luna, to make sure Lily was still wrapped up in another conversation, and then she reached down, placing her hands consolingly over top of Harry's.
"She doesn't have a boyfriend or anything like that. I just mean…well, it's only a matter of time. She's got a bit of a posse, have you noticed? James says she's got a different boy in every subject who carries her books for her after each class."
Harry was not comforted. "But…but…she's…" my little girl.
"She's certainly not in need of protection from thirteen-year-old boys who carry her books. Don't be like my brothers were to me, it was tiring and insulting."
He gaped. "I can't just not be like that— and your brothers were right to worry about what you and I were getting up to!"
"And did 'what we were getting up to' hurt anything or anybody? Least of all me?"
Harry stared. "W-well, no, definitely not, but—"
"Then it's settled. You won't involve yourself in Lily's love life any more than you involved yourself in the boys'."
His shoulders relaxed. "Oh, okay, I can agree to that. Because we both invested a lot of time into meddling in their love lives."
Ginny grimaced. "In retrospect, I would not have worded my ultimatum that way. What I mean is…we'll hold her to the same standards as them, no more, no less."
"Fine, but what if I don't like them?"
"Whoever she decides to date?"
"Harry, let's be honest—will you like any of them?"
"Maybe," he defended. "If they're very nice, respectful, and would put their lives on the line for Lily at any given moment."
"Oh my," Ginny commented. "We're going to have a lot of work to do on your perceptions of what a normal boy is willing to do for others, aren't we?"
She walked over to the window, where Lily's owl Scout had just landed. Harry trailed after her.
"But say that she gets mixed up with the wrong boy—" he continued. He was interrupted by Ginny's palm, settling lightly over his lips.
"Let's talk about this when we're alone," she said pointedly. Harry glanced behind himself and saw Lily squinting their way from behind her glasses.
"Here, Lily," Ginny said. She crossed over and dropped the letter down in front of their daughter. Lily glanced at it and then promptly shoved it down the front of her shirt. Ginny arched an eyebrow. "Something you can't open in front of the family?"
"No," Lily defended. "It's something I don't want to open in front of the family. Dad, did you find Uncle Charlie's dragon?"
"How'd you know about that?" Harry demanded.
"Albus told me! So did you?"
"No. Nothing, unfortunately."
"Oh," Lily slumped, disappointed. "Well—maybe it'll turn up!"
"Yeah. Maybe." He sat down on Lily's other side. Ginny sat beside Luna. "So, Luna. How was your holiday?"
He and Ginny lay flat on their backs in bed, side-by-side, staring up at the ceiling. Between the loud conversation and laughter coming from Albus's room, the music blaring from James's, and the strange explosions coming from Lily's, sleep would be impossible.
"We could cast a silencing charm?" Harry suggested, even though he knew neither of them would ever do it. They were too paranoid, even now. Too worried that somebody might sneak into the house to harm their children, and they couldn't protect them if they couldn't hear them.
"We could, but then we'd just lie awake all night worrying."
"As usual, you're incredibly right," Harry sighed. He rolled over onto his side, facing Ginny. Her wet hair had left a halo of dampness beneath her head. One benefit to the guests (and whatever Lily was up to) was that nobody was coming to look for them—he'd gotten to shower with Ginny without fear that one of the children would catch on. And that'd been lovely, and the privacy had been grand. But he would've appreciated some silence now.
Ginny turned over to face him, too. She wedged her left hand between her face and the pillow.
"So tell me about what happened with Charlie."
Harry slid over, breaching the small distance between them. He pressed a hand to her lower back and pulled her over into his arms. He pressed his face into her damp hair and inhaled the flowery scent of her shampoo.
"Nothing happened. We went to anybody who would have reason to steal a dragon and found nothing. I feel really bad for him—did you know he's been caring for the missing dragon since it was an egg? He was there when it hatched and has spent every minute with it since. Honestly, it's like his baby." Harry thought about his children. He remembered what it was like to wake and find Albus missing all those times last year, the uncertainty of not knowing where he was, if he was safe, if he was hurt. Not knowing whether he'd ever see him again, or if he'd find his body somewhere, empty and broken, like all the other people he'd loved who had left him. Harry's eyes burned, his chest bloomed with pain, and he had to quickly shift his thoughts to keep from crying. He hadn't said a word about his thought process, but Ginny sensed it anyway. She tightened her hold on him.
"I wish I could help him. I can't imagine," Harry finally said, his voice a bit thicker than it ought to have been. "Or maybe I can. We can."
"You're doing all you can. Charlie knows that, I'm sure." Ginny leaned back and peered up at him, her brow furrowed. "Harry…have you asked our children about this dragon?"
"No, of course not. They'd never steal a dragon. And especially not from Charlie!"
"Under normal circumstances, no. But Lily is definitely up to something. Did you see the way she hid that letter today? And when Luna was plaiting her hair, I saw this burn on the back of her neck—" Ginny's fingers went instinctively to the spot on her own neck— "and it looked just like the burns Charlie's got all over his arms."
Harry frowned. He sat up, pulling Ginny with him. He stared at her seriously.
"You think she took it?"
"Like I said—I don't know. But it's suspicious, don't you think? The blind dragon disappears, Lily suddenly becomes obsessed with making a potion to perfect eyesight, she was extremely suspicious about her hair—did you see the way she lost it when I suggested a haircut?—and then it turns out that her hair is hiding burns."
"Burn. You said there was one."
"Okay, fine, burn. Still."
Harry didn't want to believe that Lily would do it, but he had to admit that Ginny had a point. It did seem suspicious.
"But didn't Charlie say that this dragon couldn't breathe fire?"
Ginny frowned. "Oh, right, I forgot about that."
They drifted off into a contemplative silence.
"I guess all of these things make sense in the context of normal Lily too, though. The burn could be from the potion-making. The potion-making could be a result of her hatred of wearing glasses. Her shiftiness about the letter could be something to do with the potion…" Ginny trailed off. "And I suppose it would probably damage her trust in us if we stormed into her room, accused her of stealing from her favorite uncle, and demanded to search her belongings."
Harry grimaced. "Yeah, that wouldn't be good. She'd take that really personally."
They met eyes again. There was a brief pause.
"So we're investigating, then?" Ginny surmised, a mischievous smile forming. Harry grinned.
"Absolutely. Stealthily, journalist and Auror style."
"Perfect," Ginny said, rubbing her hands together. "I love a good investigation."
He grinned like an idiot and stared at her bright smile, his heart impossibly warm. After a few moments, he felt heaviness in the pit of his stomach. It took him a moment to place it, but then he realized what'd been nagging him at the back of his mind: his impending separation from her. His smile slowly inched down. It was now or never.
"Look," Harry began. "McGonagall asked me again about Hooch's job."
"Ah, yes, that."
He waited. She busied herself with tracing the scar on his chest, her bottom lip pulled between her teeth.
"The thing is…I want both," she admitted.
"Right. I want to keep my job. But I'd also like to be the Flying Instructor."
"Well, unless you've hoarded another Time Turner I don't know about…"
"I've been thinking, there's always a way, maybe I could—" she froze, her eyes snapping to something over Harry's shoulder. He rolled over to glance behind himself, but before he could spot anything, Ginny was jumping from the bed, bolting for the en suite bathroom. She grabbed for something on the sink—sending various other objects crashing to the floor—and then dove straight for the tiles.
"I've got you now, you sodding, nasty, evil, little— ha!" She clambered back to her feet. She was cupping her hand over the top of a glass. Harry could make out a dark, scurrying shape inside of it. Ginny slowly lifted her hand, stared at the bug inside, and then quickly covered it back up. Her eyes were wide. "Not a beetle. Cockroach! I…I think. Will you come and check?"
Harry reluctantly trudged over. He leaned over and examined the bug through the glass.
"Arg! Yeah, that's a cockroach. Flush it!"
She hesitated, lifted her hand again, and dared to bring her face a bit closer. She examined the bug intently for a few long moments.
"Right," she said, straightening. She frowned. "Not Rita or a beetle."
She had nerves of steel and guts of diamond. Either that or her hatred of Skeeter had hardened her. Either way, she was remarkably calm as she carried the cockroach over to—
"Don't you dare set that free!" Harry complained.
"One of the cats will eat it!" Ginny defended. She glanced behind herself and shot him an impish grin. "I can't very well kill it now, can I? We've stared into each other's souls."
"Ugh!" Harry groaned, growing queasy. "This is going too far. We've got to do something about Rita Skeeter. I grabbed a spider off the wall yesterday and I'm pretty sure it bit me."
"Don't tell Ron; he'll never visit again," she said.
Harry watched in disbelief as she eased the window open. She levitated the glass down to the ground; Harry walked over and squinted down, just barely making out the tiny, dark shape as it immediately scurried towards freedom. Harry prayed one of the dozen cats roaming around out there would put themselves to good use.
"What was it doing in here?" Harry mused aloud, shuddering again. He had one too many memories of bugs crawling over him during his time living in the cupboard under the stairs to feel all right about the bug's sudden appearance.
"It got lonely, I suppose," Ginny replied. She finished scrubbing her hands in the sink and crossed back over to Harry. She looped her arms around his waist and peered up at him, her warm brown eyes widened with faux innocence. He laughed and squirmed as she pressed her still-wet hands to his back. "Maybe it wanted to cuddle up with you in bed, Harry."
He tried to shoot her a disgusted look, but his laughter broke through before he could. He wrapped his arms around her waist, too.
"You do remember we share a bed, right? If it's cuddling with me, it's cuddling with you."
"Aw, I'd hope so. We just had a moment. I'd feel terribly offended if it left me out."
He grimaced. She laughed even harder at his expression.
"The Boy Who Was Afraid of Cockroaches."
"Don't you start that again!" Harry complained, his lips twitching. The kids had come back from their holiday making all sorts of The Boy Who… jokes, thanks to George using that one multiple times on their camping trip.
"The Boy Who Complained About Me Doing This Again."
"The Boy Who Called Me 'Gin'."
He tugged her forward and pressed his lips to hers. He attempted to deepen the kiss, but she pulled back. She pressed her nose to his and stared into his eyes, her smile wide and incredibly endearing.
"The Boy Who Kissed Me to Shut Me Up and Failed."
"You're incorrigible!" He pushed and tugged her from the bathroom and then pulled her down onto the bed with him. He moved his lips to her neck, suppressed his grin as she said 'The Boy Who Was Really Good at That', and soon found himself laughing with her. After a few giggling, squirming moments, she removed his glasses, set them neatly to the side, and then cradled his face in hand, moving to sit in his lap. Harry briefly registered the fact that her facial features seemed more defined than usual, but then she was kissing him and all coherent thoughts were gone for a bit…
His fingers tangled in her hair and her lips moved to his jaw. In the brief space between kisses, Harry realized what was different.
"Gin," he said incredulously. He blinked. "I think…I think my eyesight's a bit better!"
She immediately straightened, her eyes seeking his out.
"Yeah! I can—look!" He brought his face close—nearly close enough to touch his lips to hers again—and stared seriously at her nose. "One, two, three, four, five— I can count your freckles! Without my glasses!"
Ginny moved backward, sliding neatly off his lap. "What about from this distance?"
"One, two, three, four, five…" he was stunned. "I think Lily's potion actually did something after all! That child is a genius!"
After sharing a proud grin, Harry decided the best way to test his slightly-improved eyesight would be to take inventory of all her freckles. Unfortunately, they were interrupted by a loud buzzing noise, so intense that Harry immediately rolled off of Ginny, his hands going to his ears.
"Arg! Do you hear that?"
She was grimacing. He took that as a yes.
"WHO THE HELL JUST CAST A MUFFLIATO CHARM?" Ginny demanded.
Harry snapped his head to the right to look at Ginny. She turned hers to the left. They met narrowed eyes.
"JAMES." They said at once.
"Should we…?" Harry asked.
"Merlin, no. I'm not interrupting. You can if you like, but I'd rather stay here and bask in my denial."
Harry shuddered. "No, you're right, the buzzing is preferable." A pause. "Or it could be Lily sneaking out to visit her secret dragon…?"
Ginny perked up. "Oh! Shall we lightly investigate?"
"Lead the way, Mrs. Potter," he grinned. "But lightly."
She took his hand in hers once he stood beside her. With wands lit up in front of them, they embarked down the dark stairs. Harry was aware of every small creak of the steps, every small breath from his wife, every muffled sound from the insects and wildlife outside. He was focusing so intently on focusing that when he noticed something unusual, he almost missed it. His instincts were getting shoddy. He shot his arm out, stopping Ginny. She froze.
As the engine gave an unmistakable roar, they hurried over to the kitchen window, impatiently pulling the drapes back. With wide eyes, and something akin to pride, Harry watched Albus and Scorpius speed off on the motorbike. He followed Scorpius's white-blond hair with his eyes until they disappeared from sight.
"Where the hell are they going?!" Ginny demanded. She paced from the window, lit the kitchen lights, and then peered nervously at her wristwatch. "'Traveling'—oh, that's helpful!"
"I bet they're going to that muggle pub."
"Oh—I bet you're right!" Ginny was still staring hard at the watch as if she expected it to shift to mortal peril at any moment. "Those devious boys! If they just would've asked, we would've said yes! They didn't need to cast a Muffliato and run away from home!"
"That's part of the fun, though, isn't it?" Harry pointed out. He was trying very hard not to grin. He didn't think Ginny would appreciate it right then; perhaps in a minute or two. "Last hurrah before Hogwarts and all."
Ginny sighed. She threw herself down into the closest kitchen chair a moment later. Her hands disappeared into her hair.
"Honestly, I think I'm just glad that they're running off to pubs now like normal teenagers. And not, you know, the past," she admitted.
He could laugh now. He gave an amused chuckle. Ginny followed suit a moment after. He sat beside her and wrapped an arm around her small shoulders, pulling her to his side. She rested her head against his shoulder and yawned.
"Let's leave them be. We'll be up all night worrying until they get home safe, but we were going to be up all night anyway."
"Fair point," she agreed. She smiled again a moment later. "Well, I hope he's having fun. I hope they're both having fun. Muggle friends— I think it's just what they both needed. Friends who can view them as just Albus and Scorpius, instead of Harry Potter's son or Draco Malfoy's son."
"I hope so, too," Harry smiled.
In the morning, they'd have to feign ignorance or disapproval. But for the time being, they could coexist there in affectionate relief. Because finally, their son was happy.
If Harry had any say in matters this school term, it'd stay that way.