It had been a bad year, on the whole. A really bad year. Harry had seen it coming a mile away, and he had been proven right. Of course, considering that it had started with Jim and Al setting fire to Mrs Packenham's prize rhododendrons, anyone could have seen it coming. Harry had found himself with a whole new appreciation for the concept of "boarding school" after that little fiasco.
And then Lily had started school herself, and after the first two weeks of blissful solitude in his own house with his wife, the background quiet had started to get a little... weird. Ginny had begun working from the office again - she said the silence unnerved her and made for bad Quidditch commentary. Of course, the upside of that was that they had lunch together a lot more often during the week. And they would have gotten used to it eventually - really they would have - but then Ginny went shopping for Lily's birthday presents in Muggle London and accidentally made friends with Dudley's wife.
"I'm really sorry about the woodshed," said Dudley.
Harry sighed. "It's all right. I'm fairly sure it was James. Jim. He prefers Jim these days."
"He's fourteen," said Dudley. "It won't last."
"True enough." Harry tucked his hands into his pockets and shook his head.
"The police were a bit of an overreaction," said Dudley.
"Mrs Packenham was the one with the incinerated rhododendrons."
"Ah. That explains it. I thought she reminded me of my mother."
"Well," said Dudley, "I did that gap year, you know, and turned twenty, and the apprenticeship and stuff. And it occurred to me that I didn't want to be the kind of person who's afraid all the time - of other people, of myself. We still talk and everything," he added. "I just don't want to be like 'em much."
Harry opened his mouth to speak, paused while the last trembling wall of the woodshed collapsed, and then said, "I suppose I understand. There's ways I'm not sure I would have wanted to be like my Dad."
You and my Dad, on the other hand, had a thing or two in common when you were fifteen, he thought to himself. But while there might have been a touch of malice to it, he'd given up on being bitter. Mostly he was just grateful that James, despite having a recklessness that would have done a certain two of his uncles and both his namesakes greatly proud, had never graduated from cutting remarks and older-brother needling to a more overtly vicious level of behaviour. Al joining him at school had probably had a thing or two to do with that.
A tousled red head appeared at his elbow.
"Mrs Packenham wants to press charges," said Lily brightly.
Harry sighed. Of course she did.
"What for?" Dudley asked curiously. "Destroying your own property?"
"Disturbing the peace, Dad," said Luke from behind him. "Will we get arrested? Will we all get ASBOs? Can I have mine framed?"
"What's an ASBO?" Lily asked. "Oh, Mum's locked herself in the downstairs bathroom. I think she's laughing."
"Well, it was pretty funny when the fairy lights started blowing up one after the other," said Dudley fairly.
"I spent hours hanging those the way everyone wanted them," said Harry.
Lily sighed. "Dad. You spent five minutes. Swish and flick. It's the wand movement you need to make objects fly," she explained to Luke.
Dudley drew a sharp breath. Harry closed his eyes. "Lily-"
"Cool," said Luke. "Is that all? I mean, are there, like, words or whatever?"
"Wingardium Leviosa," said Lily.
"They sound absolutely wimpy," said Luke.
Lily's eyes narrowed dangerously.
"Constable Greenwood still in the kitchen?" Harry asked hurriedly.
"What?" said his daughter. "Yeah - making hot chocolate with Al."
"Personal friend?" said Dudley, grinning.
"Getting that way," said Harry gloomily. "Of course, Al has talents in that direction, he's even made friends with a Malfoy."
"How did the fairy lights blow up, anyway?" Dudley wondered, following him inside.
"Lily's Uncle's got a joke shop," said Luke enthusiastically. "Can we go, Dad?"