Harry tugged at the loose thread hanging from the bottom of his cloak.
Lily slapped his hands and he let it go. "Don't fuss."
"I'm not fussing."
"If you pull it, it'll unravel and, well, you ever seen Aladdin? You know that bit where..."
"I know the bloody bit."
"Well then don't fuss."
Harry squared his shoulders. "If you embarrass me today, Mum, I swear to God..."
"They'll want me to embarrass you.' Lily turned to him and began fiddling with his collar. 'If you can be embarrassed it means you're human."
"Of course I'm human."
"Oh really? You've killed Voldy-No-Nose twice now..."
"Well, technically once..."
"He tried to kill you seven hundred times and never succeeded..."
"Again, technically once..."
Lily hit him gently against his cheek. "You're more than just the Boy Who Lived now, sonny Jim. You've done something even Dumbledore never did, and you know how highly he was regarded. You've been in hiding for two months, no-one has seen or heard from you, none of us have commented about you in the hundreds of questions they've asked us since that night at Hogwarts, so all they've had is rumours, and gossip, and hearsay and Chinese whispers. Like it or not, they've built you up to be some sort of...'
"Settle down. I was just going to say 'Really important guy'"
Harry sighed. "Well that's why we're doing this, isn't it, to get them all to shut up and bugger off?"
Lily looked over her shoulder. From around the corner she could see the back of the crowd. People were still arriving, trying to squeeze through to the front. Some of them looked windswept, as if having just apparated in off the street. Lily wasn't surprised the news had spread so quickly. Nothing much stayed a secret in the Wizarding world for long.
Harry rubbed the back of his head with a grimace. "I don't wanna."
"It was your idea."
"It was Hermione's idea. I told her she should go up there under Polyjuice and do it for me. She told me to shove my head up my..."
"Everything okay back here?'
Harry and Lily turned around to see Tonks walking toward them, looking a little harassed.
"You two are taking forever and all those reporters look like they're about to have some sort of aneurysm from the suspense."
"Is Rita Skeeter out there?' asked Harry irritably.
"There's fifty million people out there, you think I can bloody tell who...' Tonks sighed at Harry's eyebrow raise. 'Yeah, front and center. Want me to blast her britches off?"
"I'm sure Hermione has it covered,' smiled Harry. 'We'll be right out."
Tonks saluted and dashed back around the corner.
Harry frowned and flicked hair out of his eyes. "My hair looks stupid."
"Yes, it does. It's lovely."
"I look stupid."
"Stop it, you're getting hysterical. Just go out there and be yourself."
Harry's lip curled with distaste. "What an appalling piece of advice."
Lily ran a hand through her hair and fiddled with her fringe, and Harry knew that was his cue to shut up and man up.
He held out his hand and she linked her fingers through his with a soft squeeze. Harry drew himself up to his full height and started forward.
It took them a split second to notice him once he rounded the corner. It started with one little girl's eyes widening and her tiny hand fisting her father's cloak and giving it a tug. The father looked around and his eyes widened too, and he elbowed his wife beside him, who let out an audible gasp. It was like dropping a pebble into the river; the ripples went outwards, dozens of faces all turned around and looked. The sound vanished for a long moment as people just watched; it was eerie, but Harry didn't let it distract him. He gripped his mother's hand just a little tighter and kept walking, his eyes on his destination – the podium.
The muffled chatter begins to arise again as Harry approached the small, make-shift stage. He stood aside and let his mother step up first. He followed her up and took a moment to look at Kingsley Shacklebolt and Tonks and the two other Auror officers positioned on either side of the stage, wands clasped tightly in their hands and their eyes watchful, before standing in front of the podium.
He squinted against the flashing bulbs of cameras that seemed to be going so fast it was as if afraid they would miss any expression his face made other than the one of nervousness he was wearing now. There were hundreds of people there, hundreds of faces staring up at him, some with wonder, others with impatience, some over the top of glasses and a notepad, others craning around broad shoulders and high hair-do's in order to see.
Harry gripped the sides of the podium; his fingernails scratched the wood as he searched the faces for any that were familiar. To his surprise there were many that were vaguely familiar, and to his relief a few that he hoped he would be looking at for the rest of his life.
Ron and Hermione stood a little to the back, but Ron's tall frame and bright red hair made him impossible to miss. He had his arm around Hermione and they were both looking up at him with grim determination, sharing his 'it sucks but it has to be done' attitude about this whole circus of a public announcement.
Luna was holding hands with Ginny, both of them were smiling up at him. He appreciated them both.
There were members of the Order; Hagrid of course towering over them all. Professor McGonagall gave him a small nod of encouragement, Remus's lip curled up in a tiny smile.
He tried not to squint against the flashing light bulbs of the dozens of cameras in front of him. The last thing he need was photographs of him looking cross-eyed.
He cleared his throat and pressed his wand to this throat. "Hello everyone. Thanks for coming."
No-one spoke. The only sound came from the cameras clicking away.
Harry tapped his fingers on the wooden surface to resist the temptation to ruffle his hair. Lily had told him what and what not to do during his speech, and ruffling, rubbing, scratching or tugging at anything had been on the 'not' list. He looked over his shoulder at her. She gave him a small smile and a supportive nod.
Harry turned back to the crowd and felt his face burn. Hermione caught his eye; she mouthed something and then pointed at the ceiling, and Harry stared at her blankly. She rolled her eyes and repeated the action, and then Harry understood.
"I'd also like to thank Minister Scrimgeour for letting me use The Atrium today. I know I'm taking up a lot of room and congesting traffic, but we agreed this would be the best place to host this.'
Longest argument of my life, Harry thought bitterly to himself, remembering the hours long meeting he'd had with the Minister for Magic just last week.
So many faces were looking impatient now, Harry decided to just skip the formalities and cut to the chase. 'I know I haven't been around much lately... or at all... and I'm sorry for that. I get the feeling some of you think I abandoned you, and I'm sorry you've felt that way, but I'm here to explain everything, including why I had to disappear for a while. I know you all must have a lot of questions. I know there've been a lot of rumours going around and me, my family, and my friends, so I've got you all here to clear some of these up."
There was a moment of silence, and then people began shouting.
"Mister Potter! What really happened between you and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named that fateful evening a month ago?"
"What's your stance on the sentencing of Severus Snape?"
"Was this all some sort of master plan concocted by Albus Dumbledore?"
"Where has your mother been hiding all these years?"
"Will your Father come out of hiding soon?"
"Why have you been seclusion all these months?"
"What's your opinion on the Minister of Magic and his continued liaisons with the Muggle Prime Minister?"
"Have you anything to say about the Malfoy Family?
Harry held up his hands to silence them. He was surprised when it actually worked. "One at a time.' He pointed at a young female reported in pale blue robes.
"Monsieur Potter, why have you been 'iding away from thee pooblic for all zis time?' She asked slowly, no-doubt afraid that her French accent would make it difficult for her question to be understood.
Harry clenched his hand into a fist to keep from ruffling his hair. "Well I didn't get cursed with an Elephant trunk sticking out of my face, so that's one rumour you can squash.' People in the crowd laughed; Harry guessed the bashful looking ones where the people who had actually believed this. 'I wasn't in any sort of muggle underground bunker for protection, nor have I been in a coma or writing a novel on my childhood."
"So then what have you been doing?' another reported blurted out, looking like he could hardly contain himself.
"I just needed some time alone,' said Harry.
There was a moment of silence so deafening that Harry felt his cheeks burn, and he wondered for a long moment if he had gotten away with it.
All at once the questions started flying again and Harry tried not to look too relieved. He could feel his mother's eyes burning into the back of his head, but he didn't look around.
Harry gestured to a small wizard who was standing next to Rita Skeeter. He pursed his lips, trying not to laugh at her frustrated expression.
"Mr. Potter, how do you do? First of all I'd like to say how wonderful it is to have you back...My question is about your mother. Now, the first time your family fought He-Who-Must..."
"Hang on,' Harry interrupted. 'You can call him Voldemort, you know."
The reported cleared his throat. "Yes, er... V-Voldemort.' He giggled for a moment, like a child who had done something naughty and gotten away with it, before sobering and continuing. 'The first time you family faced him seventeen years ago is arguably one of the most defining moments in magical history. Children everywhere grew up with this story, and many generations will continue to pass it on, I think of that we can be sure. The sacrifice of your parents is one of the most integral parts of this legend, it's what connects us to you in some way... and yet there your mother is, standing alive and well. And while this is lovely news – many people I personally know are so very happy that you have her back in your live, Mr. Potter – others are feeling a little misled and betrayed; they feel that the basis of what they have been fighting for has been based on a lie. I was just wondering what you had to say about this."
Harry thought about this for a moment. His eyes scanned the crowd, taking in so many faces.
"Well,' he started tentatively, 'first I want to say that I've read those stories. I've read every single one published. They're heartbreaking and inspiring and moving and terrifying and...' he paused, swallowing down a lump in his throat. 'I don't need to tell you, you've all read them. You've all lived them. I don't think there's one person here untouched by this stupid, bloody war. I understand that's why me not coming forward until now has cause certain reactions. You feel like I've abandoned you in some way, and for that I am truly sorry."
He was sure the Atrium had never been so quiet. He looked around again. People were coming out of their offices now to listen.
He turned back to the podium. "The details of my parents... we're not ready to fully disclose yet. Which is disappointing,' Harry added quickly, shouting over the protests, 'I know – it's one of the main reasons you're all here. But there are still dangerous people out there, Death Eaters unaccounted for, and I don't want to reveal too much information until I know certain people are behind bars."
"I have a question in regards to that, Mr. Potter!'
Harry sighed and looked down his nose and curly blonde hair, jeweled spectacles and a victorious grin. "I'll bet you do. But I'm still answering..."
"What comment do you have on Draco Malfoy and his interim in Azkaban?"
Harry pursed his lips. "Draco Malfoy is where he's supposed to be. That's all I have to say about that."
"And Severus Snape?"
"Same goes for him."
"That's it? That's all you have to say?' Rita Skeeter pushed. 'Severus Snape killed the most influential man of the last century right in front of you. He cursed your mentor in cold blood. Surely you have more of an opinion about it that you'd like to share."
"Tell you what,' Harry snapped, 'how about you watch someone you love die right in front of you and see how chatty you are about it after.'
Rita's smile fell from her face. Harry clamped his jaw shut for a moment before looking back at his audience; he had expected expressions of outrage, but was surprised to see people looking sad and sympathetic. He sought out Hermione and Ron again – they nodded encouragingly.
At the back of the huddle of reporters, a small elderly man raised his hand cautiously, as if afraid Harry was going to snap at him too.
"Yes?' asked Harry.
"Mister Potter, over the past few weeks many people have shared their experiences during the battle at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Some of them have been inspiring, others quite horrifying. It seems to have brought many people together, but I think what the world is waiting on is the most elusive story of all. We know it must be hard, but is there anything you can tell us about what happened after you and The Dark Lord disappeared from the battlefields?"
Harry knew this was coming. He'd been preparing for it all morning, and yet he still felt exposed and alone like a single cell under a microscope. They had all agreed honesty was the best option, even though it was hard, and because they had to lie about so much else.
"I had to get him out of there, away from others,' Harry explained. 'The Chamber of Secrets seemed appropriate. No-one else knew where it was or how to get there, it seemed the safest place. And ... we fought. A lot."
"How did you finally defeat him?'
Harry looked into the crowd, at Ron. His blue eyes narrowed and he shook his head. Harry pursed his lips.
"Dumbledore called it Prori Incantatem,' said Harry. 'It happened a few times before, but this time it ended up disarming him and...' Harry paused. His cheeks were burning. He could still feel the curse strike him in the chest.
"So why, if you defeated the Dark Lord, did you pretend to be dead?' another reported asked.
"I didn't pretend. It was a side effect of the spell. I freaked a few people out, I think. I woke up in bed a few days later."
Harry looked at Ron again. Ron's jaw was clenched.
Harry looked back at the reporters. "And as I said before, there are still dangerous people at large, and my mother and other very smart people-" he glanced at Hermione, "- thought it would be better if I kept a low profile. Something I did not agree with. I don't like feeling like a coward."
"You couldn' be a coward if yer tried,' Hagrid laughed, and a lot of people laughed with him.
Harry smiled. "Thanks, Hagrid."
"Mister Potter!' a young reporter behind Rita Skeeter stood on tiptoes and waved. 'Now that you're back, have you any plans to join these searches across the country for these missing felons? Will you still become an Auror as has been rumoured?"
How do they find these things out? He mused before answering. "I'm eager to start helping out in any way I can. The ministry is going through a lot of changes, and tidying up after this war seems to be just as hard as it was fighting in it. I'm just as interested in making sure that things change for the better as I'm sure all of you are."
"Anything you could tell us about your lovely young girlfriend, Harry?' a random voice called, and lots of people laughed, including his mother behind him.
Harry snorted, unable to hide the smile. "Well I can confirm she's lovely, but that's all I'm going to say about her for now. I don't know what she's comfortable with sharing yet, and she can perform one hell of a Bat Bogey Hex."
They laughed again, and the atmosphere seemed to lose its tension somewhat.
Harry looked around at the faces for a moment, before asking, 'Any more questions?'
Dozens of hands thrust into the air.
Harry sighed and pointed. 'Yes?'
They were sitting around the table in Harry's dining room later that afternoon, mugs of tea cradled in their hands, not really saying much.
"I was rubbish."
"You were yourself,' Remus patted him on the shoulder. 'People respond to that."
"I should have said more. I should have said less.' Harry took his glasses off, tossed them gently onto the table and rubbed his eyes. 'Why am I such a berk?'
Lily shrugged. "It's genetic."
"Mum – '
"Listen to Remus. Precedent shows that he knows what he's talking about.' Lily patted him on the arm. 'It's done. You were as honest as you could be and that's all we, and they, can ask of you."
Harry looked through his fingers at the redhead sitting down the other end of the table. "I think I could have been more honest,' he muttered.
Ron sipped his tea wordlessly.
"If it makes you feel any better,' said Ginny, selecting another chocolate biscuit from the plate in the center of the table, 'Rita Skeeter's probably gonna think twice before she opens her trap again."
"Good,' said Hermione firmly.
Lily and Remus looked startled at her tone. Harry and Ginny looked nonplussed.
Ron stood up suddenly. "HarrycanIhaveaword?' he blurted.
Harry nodded. He wanted a word with Ron too. His chair scraped loudly on the floorboards as he stood up, and he followed Ron out of the kitchen, feeling eyes follow them until they let the door swing shut behind them and entered the living room.
"How do you turn this bloody thing off?'
Ron hit the red button on the remote and sighed with relief when the tv blinked off.
"Look, er... I just wanted to say that... you did a good job today."
Harry smiled. "Hermione tell you to say that to me?"
"No.' Ron's ears went red. 'Yes. Both. I was going to anyway."
"Well thanks. I'm glad you guys were there."
Seven years of dancing around each other, trying to be manly, were finally over. Harry was glad they could finally drop the pretense – about this, anyway.
"It wouldn't be so bad if they knew,' said Harry gently. His shoulders were tense, even before Ron threw him a look.
"Yeah, and I plan of keeping that promise. I'm just saying..."
"I know what you're 'just saying',' said Ron curtly, 'and my answer is the same. I don't even want to think about it, let alone have other people thinking about it."
"You mean your Mum and Dad."
"I mean everyone,' Ron hissed. He sighed and ruffled his hair with a grimace. Harry knew how much he hated talking about this, but he also knew how keeping it in messed with you. 'Half my life I've been walking next to you, in your shadow, seeing the way people stare at you in awe and admiration and all I ever wanted, just once, was for someone to look at me like that. I never really got why you hated it so much – now I do. Every face is a reminder of what you went through to get that attention. I don't want to feel a blade in my hands, or blood splattering my face, or the knees of my jeans soaked as I kneel over my best friend's lifeless body every time someone looks at me. I don't think I could stand it.
'Look,' Ron shoved his hands in his pockets, looking like a weight was being lifted off his shoulders with every word, 'I'll never stop thanking you for taking the credit, but I'll never stop apologizing either. It's really not fair of me to dump it on you and..."
"Stop,' Harry held up his hand. 'Just stop right there. You saved my life; you did it without a second thought. If this saves your life, then I'll do it. I owe you."
"But now I owe you."
"Let's just call it even."
Ron pursed his lips, looking as if he'd just tasted something sour. Then without warning he launched himself forward, and Harry grunted as Ron wrapped his arms around him and squeezed. Harry slipped his arms free and patted Ron's back and shoulders.
"I'm glad you're back,' said Ron.
"I hear that a lot.
Ron let him go and cleared his throat, his ears burning. "So, er... you need me to go with you tomorrow?'
Harry sighed inwardly. Sometimes he hated how easily Ron could change the subject, especially when it was one so serious, but he decided to let it slide this once, even though he knew if the roles were reversed, Ron wouldn't have done the same.
"If you like,' said Harry. 'Can't find anything better to do with your time now that we don't have evil objects to find or run from people trying to kill us?'
"What's better than seeing Malfoy behind bars? It's like my life's dream.'
"Ah, excellent. I've been waiting for you all morning! My sheets need changing, I think I spilt my drink on it at some point during the night... or I've regressed to infancy and have soiled it. And please ask the chef to add more salt to my goop this evening as it was a little bland last time."
The guard rolled his eyes and tapped the cell door with his wand. Many internal locks clicked open loudly and the bars slid out-of-the-way. The guard moved aside and let Harry step into the tiny cell.
Draco's smug expression fell and he visibly slumped. "Oh. It's you."
It was the first time anyone had sounded disappointed to see him in months – Harry couldn't help but smile.
"Maynard, take this man away, would you? I'm not in the mood for guests today."
The Guard's mustache twitched under his nose as he wordlessly slammed the bars shut.
Harry flashed an apologetic smile over his shoulder, but the Guard had already left.
"You know his name is Luther, right?'
"Yes, what's your point?'
Harry looked around the tiny room. He'd only seen the inside of an Azkaban cell once – in one of Dumbledore's memories. Although this one was just as dank and depressing, it was no-where near as bad, and Harry knew this was because of the absence of the Dementors. The soul-sucking demons had all abandoned their posts during the war, flocking to Voldemort's side. Aurors and specialized forces set up by the Ministry were still trying to round them up all over the country. Control of Azkaban had now been left to the Ministry; recent reports were that they were stretched even thinner trying to clean up after the war than they had been during it.
Draco held up a dirty, creased copy of The Daily Prophet. "Interesting choice, Potter. Never took you for the public speaking type."
"It was Hermione's idea."
"No doubt.' He idly flicked through the pages. 'I didn't expect you to say such nice words about me. I did kill your precious Dumbledore after all."
"Editor must have left out all those times I called you a gangly git with bad hair."
"My father blackmailed the Editor sign a contract that forces him to omit all libel against our hair."
Harry couldn't figure out if he was joking or not.
There was a long, awkward pause. Harry looked around the cell again, feeling cold despite the lack of Dementors trolling the hallways.
"I gotta say I'm surprised,' he said finally. 'Figured you'd skip town."
Draco shrugged. "Gave you my word, didn't I?'
"But I still thought..."
"That because I'm a Slytherin that I'm untrustworthy? That I don't take my agreements seriously?' Draco looked offended, and Harry felt completely transparent – this had been exactly what he thought.
"I let you out of our deal,' said Harry. 'If I'd been in your position, I'd've grabbed my Mum and gotten the hell out of the country. You had the chance to leave and you stayed. It's just not a play I expected from you, is all."
"And miss out on all the fun? I don't think so."
"Hermione told me you got off pretty light, considering your charges."
"Nymphadora put forward a good case."
"So I hear,' Harry smirked, imagining the court room and Tonks having her go at the stand. 'Did she actually call Scrimgeour a twerp?'
Draco's smirk was enough confirmation.
"Five years,' mused Harry.
"Could have been seven – I'm out in three for good behaviour. I consider myself lucky."
"You should, you had bloody good representation."
Draco scowled a little. "Lupin offered. I told him they'd sooner listen to Snape tell them how much I'd "changed" than a werewolf."
Harry's eyebrows rose. "Remus never told me that."
"Probably didn't want to upset you. We all know you have so many sensitive feelings."
Draco smirked again. Harry found it slightly sadistic that he had missed snapping at Draco, and judging by his expression, so had he.
"Why are you here, Potter?' asked Draco, settling onto his bed, resting his back against the freezing cold stone wall. 'Aren't there other people closer to your home you can heckle and get irritated with? Not mentioning any names, but surely Weasley has done something to tick you off today?"
"I just wanted to see for myself,' said Harry.
Draco nodded. "Lovely. Well, you've seen, now be a good chap and sod off. It's bad enough Nyphadora comes by everyday with that look on her face... I don't need to see it on yours."
Harry sighed, exhaling forcefully through his nostrils. He turned to go, but stopped himself mid-turn and turned back. "Are you... okay? In here?'
It took a few moments for Draco to answer. "There's no Dementors,' was all he said.
Harry nodded and called for the guard. Luther tapped his wand against the bars and the door slid aside. Harry stopped short of exiting and looked back at the blonde-haired boy. He was watching Harry go with an expected, unreadable Malfoy expression.
"I never really said... I mean, you were a twat most of the time and it took most of my willpower not to punch you in the nose, but... well..."
"Potter, is this your ridiculous way of saying, 'Thank you so much for all your help these past few months, Draco, even though I threatened you with death if you even thought about leaving the house and abused you psychologically and never let you eat chocolate'? Because you're terrible at it."
Harry knew he was baiting him, but he also knew it was a cover. He stared Draco down, but Draco just stared right back, as always determined not to let Harry get the best of him.
"I'll come back and see you,' he said finally.
He expected Draco to tell him not to bother, but instead he sniffed arrogantly and his old familiar expression of superiority was back. "Bring Chocolate Frogs. I have cravings."
Harry stepped through the bars and let Luther slam them shut behind him. He didn't see Draco smirk behind his back.
"Little git, ain't he?' muttered Luther, escorting Harry down another flight of spiral, stone steps.
Harry shrugged. "You learn to tune him out. Like babies crying on an airplane."
"On a what?'
They went down two more floors, stone walls dripping and the wind howling through the corridors, carrying the cries of other prisoners from inside the prison though the halls to Harry's ears. It was dank and cold and miserable, and Harry couldn't wait to leave, but he had one more person to see.
They finally arrived at the next cell. It was almost pitch black; Harry could only see blurred shapes. There was something large on the old wire bed against the wall, breathing slowly and deeply.
Harry frowned. "He's asleep."
Luther nodded. "He's in a magically induced sleep."
"Until we can figure out another way of magical suppression as effective as the Dementors, all maximum security prisoners are kept like this. I know,' he added softly at seeing Harry's expression, 'I don't much like it either, but there's so much going on they're going for the quick and easy fix."
Harry felt a shiver run up his spine as he looked at the slumbering form of his old Potions Professor.
It was odd to see him without any expression. It was so surreal; Harry was so used to seeing revulsion or fury or sedition etched into the lines of his face. He had been convinced that Snape went to bed at the end of every day perpetually angry at the world and had horrible dreams and woke up with the same sneer he'd gone to sleep with because he'd had such a hideous night's sleep.
"I could ask for permission to wake him.' Luther said helpfully. 'Not promising anything, but being you and all..."
Harry shook his head. "It's okay. I wouldn't know what to say to him anyway. But my mother might."
Luther let out a nervous chuckle. Harry had become used to this sort of odd response from people when he brought Lily up, like they didn't know how to react, but knew they had to, so they did the first thing that came to them which wasn't always appropriate. Some man at the Daily Prophet had actually applauded.
"I'll send an owl this afternoon."
He explained everything that had happened to Lily later that night as they sat at their dining table eating the first every bangers and mash he'd ever attempted in the new (or old, he wasn't quite sure what to call it) house. It had turned out quite well, to her surprise and his indignation.
"Aunt Petunia had me in the kitchen as soon as I was old enough to see over the top of the oven.' He'd said. 'Who do you think taught me how to cook?"
"Petunia actually was quite a good cook. Our Grandmother taught her everything she knew. James was horrible,' she had grinned, 'I'm glad you didn't inherit that trait."
She paused now with her wine glass against her lips, looking thoughtful. She didn't say anything for a long time. Harry wondered if she was thinking about every moment she'd ever spent with her old friend.
Harry pushed his corn around on his plate with his fork. "I feel like I should be helping."
"Everyone is stretching themselves thin and I'm sitting here doing sod all. Ron applied for the Auror's office the other day, even though Mrs. Weasley told him not to. I should apply."
"We've talked about this. You can if you want, but I want you to wait. I want you to rest. And she didn't say 'no', she just said 'not now'. She believes, like I do, that you, Ron, and Hermione need time to just be. I know you're feeling restless, but your nerves will calm."
Her words prompted him to notice his knee bouncing under the table. He crossed his legs at the ankle and tucked them under his chair. "Will you go see Snape?"
Lily pushed her mashed potato around for a moment. "Once he's awake. I wouldn't know what to say to him yet.'
"Tell him he's a prat."
"Oh I plan on it. And I plan on thanking him. You know he saved both McGonagall and Tonks at the same time?' At Harry's indignant sniff she sighed. 'I know he's done so much that neither you or I can forgive him for, but I don't want to ignore the fact that he did help us so much at Hogwarts, and that if not for him we could have lost people we know and love."
Lily pursed her lips but did not argue. Harry got the feeling it wasn't the end of the conversation; that it was going to be brought up at another time, but he was happy to wait.
Lily jabbed another piece of her sausage and put it into her mouth. She moaned softly with a smile. "This really is very good."
"I put this stuff on it – it's called gravy."
"I know, I know. Is there anything I can't do?"
"Brush your hair?'
"You know just how to wound me."
Hermione looked over the top of the parchment with an exasperated sigh. "You can't put this."
Ron shrugged. "What?"
"You cannot put the muggle Prime Minister as a reference.'
"Why not? You can't get much bigger than that, 'specially with these ministry types. Scrimgeour will eat it up.'
"First of all...'
"Oh Merlin's pants, here we go..."
"Don't 'here we go' me, Ronald Weasley! You're the one who has been hassling me for weeks to look this over and now that I am and I'm not giving you the opinion that you want, you're pitching a fit."
"I'm not pitching a fit! Do you see fits being pitched?"
Hermione narrowed her eyes and ruffled the parchment irritably. "As I was saying, Scrimgeour does not personally go through Auror applications, Kingsley Shacklebolt does that, and even he has lieutenants assist him."
"Well great! Kingsley was best buds with the PM, remember?"
"Second of all, all references have to be of the magical world. Didn't you read the application form?"
"Yes,' Ron scowled, his ears turning red.
"I'm still not entirely sure you should be doing this,' Hermione said carefully.
Ron groaned. "Not you too! I am a grown man, and I can make my own decisions. I get enough of this 'You're not ready!' bollocks from my mother, I don't need it from you."
'That isn't what I meant,' Hermione ruffled the parchment again and continued reading. "I still think you should come back to school with me and finish your NEWT's. Without impending doom to distract you, you could potentially have very good marks which will put you ahead of the crowd. You're quite clever, you know."
The red colour that filled Ron's ears only deepened. "Not really. I only passed classes because of you, and you know it."
"Well yes, but I'm not talking about classes. This past year you've been...' she paused, looking for the right word. She squeezed his hand and smiled. 'Extraordinary."
Ron lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. He supposed it should be pause for thought that they could go from being angry at each other to wanting to snog each other so quickly, but that's the way it had always been, he supposed, and he wasn't interested in it being any other way.
"I don't want to go back to Hogwarts,' he said. 'I don't wanna see that place again for a long time."
Hermione pursed her lips, and he knew what she wanted to say, but she just cleared her throat and said instead, 'Just Ginny, Luna and I then, I suppose."
"Harry said no, then?"
"I went to ask him, but then I saw the Ministry job pamphlets in his room and I had my answer. After everything that's happened I can't see him sitting in a classroom anymore. You and he are just... too big for that now. Besides,' Hermione added, 'the thought of him being there without you is laughable."
"You remember that time in fourth year when you two weren't talking?"
"I'm never going to live that down, am I?'
"He wasn't right, and that was just for a few weeks. How do you think he'd go all year? Harry just doesn't work without you. I'd prefer him be here keeping you company and happy, than stuck in Charms learning spells he already knows and writing essays he doesn't give a damn about and sulking all the time. And no, that doesn't mean bludging around the pub getting sploshed, either."
Ron tried not to let on how relieved he was. As much as Harry didn't want to be away from Ron, if Hermione was telling the truth which of course she was, Ron didn't want Harry away at school for nine months either, only being allowed to see him once every few weeks. He didn't want Hermione gone that long either, but he understood how important school was to her, and how much she wanted to finish her NEWT's.
He remembered the conversation; Hermione had been reluctant to ask McGonagall for permission to come back, saying that she didn't was special privileges or anything like that. Two weeks and four massive arguments later, Ron had practically stood over Hermione's shoulder as she wrote the letter to the principal. Just as she was tying the letter to Pig's leg, a large and very official-looking owl had flown in her bedroom window and landed on her desk, sticking its leg out instantly. The letter had a Hogwarts seal. It had been from McGonagall who, knowing Hermione as well as she did, had sent her a letter saying that she expected to see Hermione on September the first as well as a book list. Hermione had almost burst into tears and sent the owl back with a note saying only, 'Thank you'.
Ron was happy for her, of course. It was what she wanted and he was ready to support her. But he couldn't deny the thought of not seeing her everyday made him miserable. They'd been together for so many days of so many years that it felt weird to think about her not being there, even if it was only for a few months.
As if she could see this thought crossing his mind, Hermione frowned. "Are you sure you're okay with me going?"
"Course I am. It's only a few months."
Hermione ruffled his hair affectionately. 'You'll be so busy in Auror training you won't even notice that I'm gone. Tonks says they can be brutal."
"And you'll be neck-deep in parchment and quills and books and you won't even notice that I'm not there.' Ron leaned in and whispered, 'But just remember – I have an invisibility cloak, a magic map and knowledge of secret entrances."
"No, Harry has all those things."
Ron sighed and sat back, but didn't miss flush of Hermione's cheeks.
Harry tilted his head to the side. "What do you think?"
Ginny halted her wand twirling and looked back over her shoulder. She examined the array of photo frames Harry had placed up on his wall above his writing desk.
"I think if this Auror thing ever falls through, you can always get a steady job in interior design."
Harry arched an eyebrow.
Ginny laughed, stepped closer to him and planted a kiss on his shoulder. "It's fine – especially as you did it the muggle way."
Harry jiggled the hammer loosely in his fist. "Old habits die hard. Are they all even?"
They took a simultaneous step back and examined Harry's work.
There were fifteen photo frames of different sizes, arranged in different ways, all containing pictures of his friends and family. There were pictures from when Harry, Hermione and Ron were second years, looking reluctant but polite for Colin and his ever-flashing camera. There was a picture of Ron during the Quidditch finals, buzzing back and forth in scarlet robes. Some had pictures of Lupin and Tonks, some had pictures that Ginny had sent him during the past year with her, Luna and Colin all waving. There was a large picture of the entire DA off to the side, as well as recently taken pictures of Harry and his mother smiling, of Harry and Hermione dozing on the couch with Ron sticking up his fingers behind their heads and laughing, of Harry and Ginny smiling at each other and giving each other small kisses every now and then.
Harry felt very pleased with his work, and could tell by the wistful smile on Ginny's face that she felt the same.
"I remember taking that,' she remarked, pointing to the picture containing herself, Colin and Luna by the lake at Hogwarts. 'Dennis nearly threw the camera at Colin's head. He was so bossy, going on about light exposure and flash and other bollocks."
"How is Colin?"
"He's still a bit tender around the ribs – "
"Getting your guts blasted inward would leave you with a bit of a tingle, I'd imagine."
" – but he's doing really well. He and Terry Boot and Justin Finch-Fletchly and all the others who were at that muggle school have been taking care of each other the past few weeks. I was thinking maybe we could go see them all next weekend?"
"S'long as Colin keeps his camera in his trunk."
Ginny laughed, leaned up and kissed him again. Harry pressed his forehead against hers. His glasses slid down the bridge of his nose, threatening to fall off, but he didn't care. 'Thank you for your help today."
"Where else would I be?'
"Having a normal life, with a normal boyfriend."
"We tried that, remember? Didn't work out so well."
Harry leaned back and looked at her properly. Her big brown eyes were staring intently into his, trying to convey so many feelings at once it was hard to appreciate.
"I'm sorry,' he said softly. 'All you seem to have done is wait for me. I've wasted so much time being a prat and not accepting you, pushing you away... or having amnesia...' she smiled at that and ran her fingernails along his shoulder, 'but I promise you don't have to wait anymore. I finally have the opportunity to have a life, and live it the way I want to live it – and I want you in it. I'm here and I'm ready... if you're sure you'll still have me."
"Yeah, I've been meaning to speak to you about that. I think we should have a bit of a break."
Harry's expression fell.
Ginny laughed, grabbed his face in her hands and kissed him firmly on the lips. "You cute idiot."
Harry didn't think he'd ever again find anything he'd like to do more than kiss Ginny. It was better than chocolate frogs and flying and sleeping and everything else he'd always thought were the greatest things in the world all put together.
She ran her hand through his hair and he sighed. He loved it when she ran her hands through his hair. It was such an intimate gesture and she always knew how to do it just right. Her lips were soft and she always seemed to smirk against his mouth as she kissed him, like she was feeling cocky and victorious.
But all too quickly she pulled away. "I have to go."
"I promised Mum I'd help her pack for Romania this afternoon,' she whispered in his ear, 'and anymore of that and you're going to compromise my good girl façade."
Harry sighed. His body was tingling. "How long are you going to be gone again?"
"Just the weekend."
Charlie had gone straight back with the Dragons after the war ended, and Mrs. Weasley was determined to visit him as much as she could to make sure he was adjusting. Things were still a little off between them after Charlie's incident, but the two of them were working hard to get it right. Ginny was going along as well as Percy; Ginny for moral support, and Percy because he wanted to patch things up with his family just as much as his mother did, and he had been working his way up the list; Ginny had been first, now he was up to Charlie.
Ginny tugged playfully on the waistband of his jeans. "Just don't get into any trouble while I'm gone, please?"
"You're the one going to a Dragon enclosure and you're telling me to be careful?"
Ginny pulled her wand out of her pocket and kissed him. "When will you be back from Ewan and Poppy's?"
"Hopefully not too late,' Harry pursed his lips. 'Introducing them to Mum was a good idea, right?"
Ginny laughed. 'I'll see you tonight."
And with a loud 'CRACK', she was gone.
Harry sighed and looked around his room. It looked a lot more homely now, with a large bookshelf containing only the few schoolbooks he had collected over his years at Hogwarts. There was an armchair next to it now. There was a rug on the floor; his broomstick was propped up in the corner, leaning against his school trunk and brook servicing kit. A poster of the Chudley Cannons was on the wall opposite the one containing his photographs.
It felt like his space. His. Everyone had been up there of course, everyone had left their imprint, but it was still his own, and as much as he loved the new feeling, he knew it would take some getting used to.
He took his wand out of his pocket and carefully set it down on his desk. He stared at it for a long moment, trying to reason himself out of picking it straight back up. His hand was itching and he felt restless.
You're only going downstairs, he reasoned. You don't need it. You don't need it.
He clenched his jaw and his fist, and just as he made to move there was a knock on the door. He snatched up his wand and pointed it at the door, then relaxed. "Who is it?"
"It's me, you dope,' Lily laughed.
Harry sighed and waved his wand at the door. Lily entered with a cautious look around; a laundry basket was hovering behind her.
"Oh, where's Ginny?"
"Just left,' Harry flopped down in front of his desk and put his wand in his pocket. He'd try again tomorrow.
Lily set the basket down on his bed. "I see, I see. What did you guys get up to this afternoon?" Harry pointed to his wall. Lily stood back and took it all in. "Lovely! Well here's your washing."
Harry nodded in thanks. Lily looked around the room, wringing her hands together.
"Was there something else?' he asked.
Lily pursed her lips. "I'm glad you have your own space. I'm sure you are too. But..."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "But..."
"But I still want there to be... boundaries.' Lily gestured in a 'there you go' way. 'Do you see what I mean?"
Harry shook his head, completely confused.
Lily sighed irritably. "When you have Ginny over, I want you be respectful."
Harry's eyes widened. "Oh."
"Mum, I haven't... we don't...' Harry cleared his throat awkwardly, feeling his cheeks burn. He calculated the odds of not making a complete ass of himself if he continued this way, and quickly came to the conclusion that were not very good, so he just nodded and stuck his thumb up. "You can trust me."
Lily sighed with relief. "Good. I mean, I understand that you're young and... well, things happen..."
"And if you need advice... charms and things... I know a few..."
"Okay!' Harry shot up to his feet and waved his hands. 'I get it. Please stop."
Lily nodded, looking satisfied with herself. "Right. Okay. Er, don't forget to go down the street for me, will you? I need carrots for dinner."
Harry nodded and waited until she left the room before flopping down on the bed in a heap of embarrassment. After everything that had happened, he'd almost forgotten than he was in fact a teenage boy with a girlfriend, and that meant there had to be rules.
He smiled. It was one of the most normal things to even happen to him.
Harry apparated in with a loud crack, and Jean jumped so much she split her tea all down her front.
"Sorry!' Harry rushed over to her. 'I'm sorry..."
"Harry, for heaven's sake!'
"I'm so sorry..."
"Here, let me...' Harry waved his wand, and the hot liquid that had spilt all down Hermione's mothers' blouse vanished in an instant.
Jean looked up at him, fanning the front of her shirt. "Thank you. But honestly..."
Harry smiled apologetically and slipped his wand back in his pocket. "I should have gone to the front door."
She gave him that look that Hermione gave him when he would skive off his homework, like she wanted to lecture him and was only just holding it back. Instead she said, 'Hermione is upstairs. You could have just apparated into her room."
Harry didn't want to tell her about the times he'd apparated into her room and Ron had been in there and it had not at all been the time and since then he had learnt his lesson, so instead he said, 'I'll remember that."
"And I'll remember to drink my tea out of a thermos,' Jean half-smiled.
Harry smiled and went to leave, when Jean called his name again, causing him to turn back.
"How...' she started hesitantly.
He could guess what she wanted to know, and saved her the trouble. "I'm okay. We're okay. And a big part of that is because of your daughter. People think I'm the guy to thank but really... I wouldn't be anywhere without Hermione. I know it wasn't your war, but she's your daughter, and I just want you to know."
Jean nodded. "Hermione told me what happened – mostly. I know there are things she isn't telling me, partly because she doesn't want to worry me but also I don't think she can talk about it yet. Not with me, anyway. And for that, I'm glad she has you and Ron."
"She has you as well,' Harry assured her.
The moment her eyes welled up he knew this had been one of her main concerns. Harry could only imagine how she had felt, watching her daughter get involved in such things. It didn't matter that she was a Muggle and knew only a little bit about magic, she knew about war and the effect it had on people – Hermione had mentioned to him once that her brother had been in the military and after coming back from service he just wasn't the same.
Jean blinked and straightened up. "Are you staying for dinner? We're having Sheppard's Pie."
"Sounds great, thank you."
With a satisfied smile Jean waved him away. Harry gave her one last look and headed upstairs.
Hermione's door was open, as always. She didn't like having doors at her back closed; she liked to be able to hear people coming in. Harry couldn't remember when this tick had started, but he could imagine easily enough.
Her desk was up against the open window; from the door he could see she was reading, her shoulders were hunched and she had her chin propped up in the heel of her hand – her usual "studying" position.
Harry stepped into the room and in the same instant Hermione whirled around with her wand raised. She paused, half out of her chair, and relaxed when she realised who it was.
She sighed and sat back down, turning back to her desk. "Sorry. I'm trying to stop, but it's..."
"A hard habit to break,' Harry finished, as he sat on the edge of her bed. 'I know."
Hermione put her wand down purposefully next to her and picked up her book once more.
Harry craned his neck. "What are you reading?"
She said nothing, just held the book up for him to see, her eyes still scanning over her pages.
"Is that the seventh year Charms textbook? What are you reading that for?"
"I always read my textbooks before the year starts, you know that."
"Seems a bit unnecessary. You've been reading about spells they don't even have in the Restricted Section for the past year and a half."
"I don't profess to know everything. I need to know the curriculum material."
Knowing there was no point arguing, Harry just shrugged and leant back on his hands.
"Not that I'm not pleased to see you, Harry,' Hermione asked after a moment, 'but why are you here?"
"Can't a bloke just come over to see his best friend for no reason?"
Hermione pursed her lips in a smile. "You've never come to see me for no reason."
Yeah, Harry thought, looking at her, that's the point.
He kicked the leg of her chair playfully. "Do you really have to go back?"
"I want to graduate."
"You don't need a diploma to get into the ministry. Any of those departments will be happy to take you."
"I don't want the fact that I'm Harry Potter's best friend to be the reason that I get a job."
Harry knew she didn't mean it the way she'd said it, with frustration, but it still felt like she'd jabbed him in the guts with the tip of her wand.
Hermione sighed, apparently sensing this. She put her book down and turned to him. "What I mean is I want to earn my position. I want to get a job because I worked for it, not because of nepotism or reputation."
He understood. He knew that the only reason they had accepted him into the Auror program was because of who he was, and while half of him didn't care because he wanted so badly to help, the other half wished they had demanded he come back when he had really fulfilled the requirements because he wanted to know they wanted him for his skills, not for the scar on his forehead.
"And I want to go back,' she added, staring off into space. 'I love Hogwarts just as much as any of you. I love learning and being filled with ideas. I love the cold stone walls and the long corridors and the high ceilings. I love the common room and the library and the smell of the gardens just as spring begins to start up again. Despite all the ridiculous things that we went through there, Hogwarts was actually quite lovely and tranquil, and I miss that. I...' she paused, looking unsure whether she should continue, but finally said, 'I need to go back. I need to study and sleep in a dormitory and eat at feasts and feel normal and do normal things, even if it's just for a little while."
Harry had never heard her talk about Hogwarts like this, but none of it surprised him. It also didn't surprise him that she needed space; from him, from everything.
He sat up and folded his arms over his chest. 'But I'll miss you.'
She smiled sadly. "I'll miss you too. But you can come see me on Hogsmeade weekends, and we'll write."
"It won't be the same."
"You could always come back with me,' she sang suggestively.
Harry shook his head. "I love that place, but I couldn't sit still long enough."
Hermione nodded knowingly. He supposed she had already worked this out about him, even before she originally put the suggestion to him weeks ago.
They sat in comfortable silence as Hermione went back to her book, and Harry continued to watch her. He had come over with a plan in mind; to tell her how much he loved and appreciated her and everything she had ever done for him, not just during the past year with the whole Horcrux ordeal, but every moment of the past seven years. But now that he was there the words he had prepared didn't seem good enough, the feelings big enough or the time long enough to properly convey the way he felt.
So he just sat there, watching her read, hoping somehow she would just know anyway.
After dinner at Hermione's, Harry apparated onto his front doorstep with a loud 'crack'. He touched the door handle with the tip of his wand and it swung inward, taking the moment to slip his wand in his back pocket and take a quick bite of cookie dough.
The less there was of it, the easier it was to hide in his pocket and save for later.
He shoved the half-eaten food into the pocket of his jacket and juggled the bag of carrots in front of him innocently as he crossed over the threshold to his house.
"Sorry I took so long!' he announced, sending his jacket up to his room with a flick of his wand. 'There was this old lady and her wheelchair got stuck in a door and..."
Harry stopped dead in the kitchen doorway.
Lily jumped up from her chair at the head of the table – James followed suit.
For a very long while, nobody said anything. Harry could see Lily looking back and forth between the two of them, clearly trying to figure out something to say but not being able to form any words yet, but his gaze was focused on the man in front of him.
His first thought was the same as it had been when he'd found Lily on his doorstep a year prior – no. Just straight out no. It wasn't possible. If he'd learnt anything these past few years it was that wishing the people you loved were here with you didn't do anything but make you miss them even more.
But Lily had come back. Through the most unlikely of circumstances she had come back, and now he had too, and they were standing there together in front of him.
It was like being in a Pensieve, in one of Lily or Lupin's memories, except this time they could see him too – not looking through him, but at him.
He was a lot different than the pictures he had of him, and different from the way Harry had always envisioned him. Although he had the pictures, and had seen him in Snape's memories, he had still developed this image of him that still seemed to linger, despite the fact that he was looking at the real thing now.
The real thing.
"You're real,' he finally said stupidly.
James was looking at him with as much bewilderment as Harry himself was feeling.
Harry looked at Lily. Her smile was twitching and her eyes were welling up, like she couldn't focus on just one emotion at a time.
He laughed once, put the carrots he'd almost forgotten he was holding down, and ruffled his hair. "I know I took a while but this is ridiculous."
James laughed and stepped forward. Harry instinctively took a step back, and James hesitated.
"Told you he was funny,' said Lily.
James took another step forward again. Harry succeeded in not recoiling.
"Hello, love,' James smiled.
Harry took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He saw Lily lift a hand to hastily cover her trembling chin.
"You weren't exaggerating when you said he looked like me,' James said to Lily, but kept his eyes on Harry. Harry felt like he was being x-rayed in that way Dumbledore used to look at him.
Lily said nothing, just sighed and hugged herself, not even bothering anymore to hide the fact that she was crying.
Harry looked down as James held his hand out.
"Nice to meet you, Harry,' he said, looking uncertain.
Timidity was not something he'd ever imagined his father having. From the stories he'd heard from Lupin and Sirius and Lily, from Snape's memories, Dumbledore's praises and the pictures he'd stared at for so many hours, Harry had always related him to feelings of confidence, swagger, strength and warmth. But here he was, looking how Harry now knew he would look in twenty years, with an uncertain look on his face and a trembling right hand held out in front of him.
Harry would remember later that it was this thought more than anything that finally made him wake up and realise how much of an idiot he was being, wasting time thinking about completely bollocks, when he should have just done what he was about to do from the very beginning.
Harry slapped James' hand away, stepped forward and threw his arms around him.
Was it okay to hug your father like this? Was he supposed to be more manly about it? Dudley had never hugged Uncle Vernon, they'd only shaken hands. Ron sometimes hugged Mr. Weasley, but most of the time they just clapped each other on the shoulder, or Mr. Weasley would ruffle Ron's hair as he walked past, and that was enough for them.
Harry decided he didn't care. Right now, that sort of thing wasn't going to be enough for him. Right now, he was damn well going to hug his Dad.
James returned the embrace with just as much enthusiasm. Harry noticed the smell of his cologne and the roughness of his stubble as his cheek pressed against his ear and wondered how he had gone his whole life without knowing this.
A tiny sob came from his left and Harry felt small arms wrap around his shoulder and a dash of red enter his vision. He felt her warmth and his father's stable embrace and wondered if this was really happening.
He wasn't sure how long they stood like that. It felt like only moments after they broke apart but the aching in his muscles told him it must have been so much longer. Lily's hand was in Harry's and James' hands were on Harry's shoulders. They were the same height, Harry noticed idly.
"Where have you been?' he asked, sounding a little harsher than he meant to. 'When did you get back?"
"I woke up in someone's backyard, no memories of anything,' James cast a glance at Lily. 'But I don't need to tell you that, do I?"
"Runs in the family,' Harry muttered.
"It's what we were talking about just as you got home,' Lily rubbed his shoulder. 'I wanted to wait for you but I just..."
"Needed to know,' Harry nodded. 'I get it."
James frowned. "Did you really tie your mother to a bed?"
Harry's entire face burned with shame. "A little."
"He thought I was a Death Eater.' Lily looked proud, despite the topic. 'He was being cautious."
James smirked at Harry. "Not the first time she's been tied to a bed, don't you worry."
Harry let out a shocked laugh and Lily groaned, slapping a hand over her eyes.
"Inappropriate! You've been back for five minutes and already you're scarring the boy! Sit down, idiot."
James snorted but did as he was told.
A wave of tingles seemed to rush underneath Hary's skin at he watched the banter. He sat down opposite his father and took a moment to watch him sip his tea. He held the cup the way Harry did. Lily always held it by the handle, Harry always just grabbed it up and so, as it turned out, did James.
James looked up at Harry and smiled. It was such an easy smile that Harry found himself returning the expression.
Then James' eyes slid upward.
Harry's smile dropped. As Lily sat down with her orange juice they exchanged a glance that did not go unnoticed.
"What?' James enquired.
Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "When Ron said I should write that autobiography, I know he was joking but maybe I should?"
"Remind me to kick him when he comes 'round next,' muttered Lily.
"Who's Ron? What do you need to write a book for? What's happened?"
Lily waved her wand at the kettle and it began boiling again. "You're going to need more tea."
Harry squinted against the sun. He held his hand to shield his eyes as he surveyed the area. The wards seemed to be holding up well enough; no-one was looking up in surprise to see a teenage boy floating mid-air on a broomstick, which was a good sign. Last thing he needed was to be causing a panic and exposing magic to the wizarding world, especially after sending Hedwig off with his Auror application forms just half an hour prior.
He turned his Firebolt around, away from the sun, and looked down at the roof of his house. The tiles gleamed and made his eyes water. It was all so new that there weren't even any leaves in the gutters yet. His mother had done a very thorough job on it all, he mused.
The smooth, cool wood in the palm of his hand was as familiar as slipping on his glasses. Harry never really realised how much he loved flying until he was back up in the air again after so long. His time away from the broom had not dulled its senses; it still responded to the slightest touch, as if knowing what it was he wanted to do just as he thought it.
With a smile Harry jerked the broom upwards, suddenly and sharply, and delighted in the swooping feeling in his gut and the wind in his hair. He flew higher and higher and when he levelled out his house was considerably smaller. He spread his arms out, closed his eyes and let his head roll back, enjoying the warm rays against his face, neck and forearms. It was something he never took for granted anymore – the feeling of the sun against his skin. He couldn't remember not being alive. He couldn't remember where he'd gone after the curse had struck, or how he'd been pushed out and arrived in the middle of one of the McCluskey's paddocks, but he knew it never would have felt like this.
The soft, far-away voice caught Harry's attention and he looked down. Standing on the lawn, someone familiar was waving up at him.
With a rush up his spine, Harry did a Wronski Feint, pulling up just before splattering into the ground with a whoosh; his feet skimmed along the grass but he barely noticed; he felt elated at demonstrating such a complicated move.
"Wow,' James sighed, looking impressed. 'Lily said you were good, but that... that's something else!"
Harry felt his cheeks burn. "I heard you're better."
James put his hands on his hips and tried to look modest, but of course failed. "I've been known to induce swooning in my time. That's fine Potter blood in you."
Harry pursed his lips, trying to hide the smile, unlike his father who never seemed to have a problem showing his.
He tapped the handle of his broom. "You want a go?"
"Come on,' Harry leapt of the broom, landing gracefully on the ground and held it out for James.
"What about you?"
"Ginny left hers here, I'll use that.' Harry waved the broom tantalizingly. 'You'll like it,' he sang.
James bit his lip. Harry recognized his expression; a mixture of hesitation and longing.
That was enough for Harry. He jumped off his broom, landed gracefully on his feet and thrust his broom into James' hands. James opened his mouth to protest but Harry didn't wait to hear it; he crossed the lawn to the broom shed and went in to fetch Ginny's broom. From the small window he could see James looking after him for a moment, before turning his attention to the broomstick in his hands, his expression of wonder not disappearing, just changing slightly. Harry was pretty sure he had worn the same expression when the first time he'd clapped eyes on the broom too.
"This the one Sirius gave you?' he called.
Harry came out of the shed, kicking the door closed behind him and crossed back over toward his father. He nodded.
James sighed admiringly. "He always had good taste. His clothes, brooms, girls..."
James closed his mouth around the rest of his sentence. Harry watched the muscles in his jaw clench. He looked up at Harry and blinked, trying to lighten his dark expression with a smile and a half-hearted laugh.
"This wouldn't've been cheap."
Harry shrugged. "He never would tell me how much it was, but it must have been worth a mint. I didn't really have an idea of how much they cost until I went and bought this for Ginny,' he held it up; the sun glinted against the title printed on the handle: Nimbus 2000. 'I used to have one of these before that. I wanted to get Ginny the two thousand five model but she wouldn't take it, this was the compromise."
"What happened to yours?'
"It had an encounter with the Whomping Willow."
James inhaled sharply through his teeth. "That's rough."
"It still causes a pang.' Harry mounted the Nimbus and kicked off softly from the ground. He hovered just above James' head, watching.
James considered the broom for another long moment, before temptation seem to get the better of him. He swung his leg over and Harry backed up to give him room. James exhaled slowly through his nose, and with one determined kick he zoomed upward with a gush and an exclamation.
Harry laughed as James whooped loudly and zoomed around and a blurringly fast speed. He was an excellent flier; he pulled off the tightest turns and the steepest dives with such ease. Not for the first time, Harry wanted badly to see him flying around the Hogwarts Quidditch field, chasing the Quaffle with what he knew would be an enormous grin on his face because he knew he was that good.
With another whoosh, James dived and pulled up level with Harry. His hair was even more dishevelled that it normally was, his cheeks were pink and he was laughing.
"I want one of these,' he breathed.
"Told you,' Harry smirked.
James flew around Harry in slow circles. Harry turned his broom with him, watching him think.
Finally he asked, 'Who taught you to fly?'
"My Mum,' James smiled. 'Dad was scared of heights, he hated watching us, but Mum was up in the air every chance she could get. We once went on a cross country trip when I was about eight. I had this tiny little Cleansweep... I suppose they're old hat now, but at the time they were great. We flew for four straight hours and I swear I'd never seen her look so content, with the air flowing through her hair, and the smile on her face...' James trailed off, looking wistful.
"I wish I could have known them,' Harry admitted.
"I wish you could have too. They would have loved you.' James stopped flying, reached out and squeezed Harry's shoulder affectionately. 'Sorry love, I'm not normally this sentimental."
Harry patted his back, trying to convey how he understood how he was feeling.
Was it normal to have to comfort parents? Harry didn't know, and frankly he didn't care. If his father needed comforting, or a hug, or a cup of tea or the morning paper or milk from the store, he was going to give it to him.
"Who taught you to fly?' James asked.
"No-one,' Harry shrugged. 'I got on once and I was already brilliant."
James laughed, threw an arm around Harry's neck and kissed him on the head. ''Course you were. Come on, I'll race you."
Without waiting, James released Harry and zoomed upward.
Harry grinned and pulled up sharply.
(TWO WEEKS LATER)
James heaved a heavy sigh. "You really need to stop staring at me."
Remus looked away hastily and cleared his throat. "I was just trying to work out how anyone could have a pimple that big on their nose and still go out in public."
"Reckon you'd be the expert on that, Moony."
Despite the plea, Remus looked back and watched as James took a long drink of his Butterbeer. When he pulled the glass away a spectacular white foam mustache was sitting on his top lip. Remus pursed his lips to try and hide his smile – James always got food and drink all over his face when he was nervous.
Sure enough, brown eyes were darting around the room behind a pair of (recently reinstated) round-framed glasses. He wiped his face, cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. It only took a moment for him to notice Remus watching him.
"Sod off, Moony,' James grumbled.
Remus smiled. "It's okay, you know. You knew this would be an adjustment."
"I'm fine. I'm just taking in the scenery."
Turning his attention back to the space in front of them, Remus understood why James had committed himself to the couch in the corner of the room. It was intimidating enough being in a small space with just the Weasleys themselves, let alone almost the entirety of the Order. Back when they were in school, James used to be the one at the front, but that was only because he'd known most everyone... and because he'd had Sirius at his back. And as much as they cared about each other, Remus knew he couldn't do for James what Sirius had.
Remus sneaked another look at his best friend. The excited feeling of seeing him back had barely ebbed since he had appeared hand and hand with Lily two months prior. She hadn't really said much at all, just smiled, asked Tonks out for a drink and left James there.
They'd talked all night about everything. About Sirius and Peter, about the Order, Dumbledore, Remus' life, Tonks, Harry and Lily; he had been glad he hadn't had to be the one to tell James about everything he'd missed.
James looked at him now and smirked. "You look like you're about to snog me."
"Hardly. You haven't even bought me a drink." He elbowed James playfully. 'What's wrong, Prongs?"
James ruffled his hair, causing it to stick up even more than usual. Remus had watched Harry make this same mistake more times than he could count over the past five years, and he repressed a smile now thinking about how similar the two of them really were.
Remus followed James' line of sight and saw Harry across the room. He was standing next to Ginny but they were turned away from each other slightly as he spoke to Kingsley Shacklebolt and she spoke to Hermione. Their attentions were on the person they were speaking to, but their hands were by their sides and Ginny held Harry's pinky finger gently in a closed fist.
"Am I a bad father?' James asked finally.
That was James. Once you pushed him enough to spit it out, he got right to the point.
Remus was sure he'd never heard anything more absurd. "You've been a dead father, there's a difference."
"Exactly. I haven't been here. I wasn't here to see him learn to walk or teach him to fly, or take him to Kings Cross and put him on the train, or go watch his first Quidditch match, or give him advice about girls. He had to put up with those bloody Dursleys for sixteen bloody years. I tell you what if I didn't love sleeping in the same bed as my wife I'd go over there and give them an enormous piece of my mind."
Remus smiled. "She felt the same way when she came back, y'know."
James sighed. "I shouldn't have tried to fight him. I should have just taken them both and apparated the hell out of there."
"You did the best you could in the worst circumstance imaginable,' Remus assured. 'You both did. You can't go back and change what happened."
"He did,' James pointed at his son with an uninhibited beam of pride. 'Saved Sirius from Dementors he told me with a Time Turner."
"He's saved all of us,' said Remus, smiling at James' delight in his son, 'at one point or another. He's just so good. Definitely doesn't take after you,' he added with a playful nudge.
James elbowed him back, keeping his gaze on Harry. "He doesn't really say much to me, you know. I catch him looking at me like he wants to tell me something, but then he just looks away."
"I think that's understandable. He was like that with Lily at first. He wouldn't even call her 'Mum' for ages."
"So she said,' James nodded.
Remus nudged him again encouragingly, and James finally looked around at him, brown eyes bright and full of life behind his glasses. It was still so odd to see him looking and blinking and frowning and laughing, when the last time Remus had seen him he'd been staring unseeing into nothing, his glasses askew and his shirt ripped as he lay on an examination table at St. Mungo's.
He blinked the image away, sighed and gave James a small smile. "You've got a second chance now, to make a life with Lily and Harry, without the fear of it being torn away from you. Take full advantage of it! Get off this couch and go enjoy it!"
James chuckled and looked back over at Harry. "I'm enjoying watching him with this girlfriend of his. His best friends sister too! Even I didn't have those balls."
"None of us had sisters."
"Not the point. Besides,' James added with a small smile, 'I'm enjoying spending time with you."
Remus pursed his lips, trying to smother a smile. "I'm... enjoying spending time with you too."
At that moment a small body with pink hair sat in his lap with a happy sigh. Remus grunted, almost spilling his drink.
"Do you realise how gay you both sound right now?' asked Tonks.
"Nothing we haven't heard before,' said Remus.
James nodded innocently. "Half of Gryffindor tower thought Sirius and I were shagging, even after I'd started dating Lily."
"The same thing happened to me and Gretchen Farnsworth in the year below me."
Remus cleared his throat, trying to ignore the image. Tonks smirked and ruffled his hair; a silent promise that she could see what he was thinking and would elaborate later on.
After a moment of Remus staring into Tonks' face as she put blonde highlights through her pink hair, James patted Remus on the leg and, just for show, leant over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Remus cleared his throat and tried to look sober as James stood up.
"Where are you going?' he asked quickly.
"Outside for some air, is that okay with you?"
"Are you okay? Do you want me to..."
"Just,' James cut Remus off with an outstretched hand, 'stay here. I'll be fine."
Remus watched him go; he squeezed his way past Hagrid (no mean feat), patted McGonagall on the shoulder (and ducked quickly out of sight as she looked around to see who it was), threw a quick smile at Lily over by the fireplace and went out the back door into the garden.
"Was that my fault?' Tonks asked.
"Of course not. He just... needs a minute."
"Do you want to follow him?'
Remus shook his head as he watched a slim figure follow James' path outside. "It's being taken care of.' He turned back to her and patted her back. 'Ten o'clock tomorrow, yeah?"
"Are you sure you don't mind coming?'
"What could be better than visiting Azkaban on a Saturday morning?"
Tonks bit her lip. "It's just, I know how you feel about... all of this."
"I told you I was going to support you, and I meant it."
"Even though I'm suspended?' Tonks made a face of distaste.
Remus pursed his lips and traced circles on her back. She had been benched ever since the trial; her punishment for harbouring a fugitive, which Remus felt was very lenient considering, and knew that despite her frustration Tonks agreed.
"We can go for a drink after,' he promised.
Tonks raised her eyebrows. "In the morning?"
"I have a feeling we'll need one."
The air was warm and the smell of freshly cut crass invaded Harry's nostrils as he stepped outside. Despite the soft sounds of garden gnomes rustling around in the shrubbery and chickens clucking away in their coop, it was quiet outside. Harry stopped on the top step to look around – he wasn't hard to find.
James was sitting with his hands clasped in his lap, on the stone bench by the gate, staring up at the night sky. From the house his expression was unreadable, but as Harry let the screen door swing shut behind him and walked across the lawn, he could see it was wistful.
Harry sat down beside him; his shoulders hunched in like his father. Harry had always hunched in his shoulders, but had assumed it was a physical tick he'd picked up from all those years of ducking backhands from his Aunt and Uncle. It had never occurred to him it could be genetic.
James looked around and smiled. "Hello, love." He reached out and ruffled Harry's hair.
"Yeah, of course,' James looked back up at the sky at a constellation Harry didn't recall the name of.
Harry wasn't convinced. His voice was too light. "They can be a bit overwhelming, the Weasleys. First time I stayed with them I barely even sat down, I was so nervous."
James looked around and clenched his jaw. He looked like he wanted to say something in particular, but his expression softened after a moment and he simply said, 'They're very hospitable."
Not knowing how to respond, Harry took a different route. "Are you worried about tomorrow?"
"No, it'll be fine. Lily told me it's only a mountain of paperwork – piece of cake. You'd think it wouldn't be such a nightmare to declare someone "not dead". All you have to do is see me standing here to get the general idea."
Harry smirked. "She was in there for hours. She went through six orange juices."
"I'll be sure to stuff my pockets with chocolate frogs before we go."
It had been a few weeks now, and Harry was still getting used to looking at this man; still getting used to watching him eat breakfast and walk down the stairs after he'd had a shower, to fly around with him in the backyard (he really was an excellent flier, his skills had not been exaggerated) or to see him shave or kiss Lily while she made dinner or bring Harry tea at night. Harry wasn't used to any of it yet.
But he was enjoying the hell out of it.
They were going to the Ministry the following morning to legally declare him alive, even though he had already come out to the papers three days earlier. Harry still laughed about it; Lily had stormed right into the Daily Prophet Editor's office, ignoring the dumbfounded looks from every reporter she passed, with James on her heels. They had walked by so quickly people had thought that James was Harry, and that they were on their way to complain about some new headline. The Editor had almost fallen out of his chair just at the sight of Lily... and then he'd seen James. Lily simply told him to be at The Leaky Cauldron in a specific room so she and her husband could give him and the reporter of his choice (not Rita Skeeter) the exclusive.
Harry hadn't been there, but James had come home laughing about it and insisted Harry look at the memory in his Pensieve.
A week later they were in the papers again, headlines booming and a photograph of all three Potters on the front, Harry and James standing on either side of Lily. Ginny still had the paper in her room; the James in the photo looked as uncomfortable as Harry did, but Lily just grinned from ear to ear.
They'd all talked about it; they agreed the best way to reveal James to the world was on their terms. So they'd come up with a story and, for the second time, made the first move.
Harry looked at his father now. He'd been very good about it all. He could only imagine how overwhelming it must have been for him to come back not just to a grown-up son and wife who thought she would be a widow for the rest of her life, but to a world famous son and media attention from almost every wizarding publication in Europe.
"How do you do it?' James had asked him one evening over a game of chess.
"I try not to,' he'd responded with a shrug. 'But I have my friends to keep me sane and tell me to stop being a prat if I'm being a prat."
"Get told that a lot, do you?"
"Only ninety percent of the time. It's an improvement."
James noticed Harry looking at him now and nudged him. "Go on, get back inside. I'll be back in a minute."
Harry frowned. "You sure?'
"You really wanna sit out here staring at me when you have your pretty little girlfriend inside?"
Harry wanted to say, Yeah, I've been staring at her for seven years, and I never want to stop looking at you because I still can't believe you're real, but instead just shrugged and said,
"Good point. But I have something to show you.'
Harry got to his feet and led James around to Mr. Weasley's shed. He tapped his wand on the lock and it clicked open. Before he rolled the door open he turned back to his father, who was standing behind him with his hands in his pockets, looking bemused and curious all at the same time.
"Close your eyes,' Harry asked.
James pursed his lips, but did as Harry asked.
Making sure his eyes were completely closed with a wave of his hand, Harry slid the door open with a loud rattle and stepped inside. 'No peeking!' he called as he moved toward his target and pulled off the large, grease-stained sheet.
"Harry, is this some sort of practical joke?' James called. 'Because if it is it had better be good, I haven't been fooled in a long time."
Harry pushed the large object out of the shed and set it to rest right in from of James. He stood back, dusted his hands together and sighed. "Okay, you can open them now."
James opened his eyes, looked down, and stared.
"Recognize it?' Harry asked, even though he already knew the answer.
James stepped forward, reached out and ran a hand along the gleaming, chrome handlebar. "This...'
"Mr. Weasley has been fixing it up,' Harry explained bashfully. 'I don't know bollocks about engines, or motorbikes, or anything that isn't a broomstick."
"She still works?"
"He had to work out a few kinks, but yeah, she works."
James let out a soft laugh of amazement and continued to run his hand along the motorbike in wonder. Harry could only imagine what was going through his mind; was he picturing nights flying on the back with Sirius over country towns? Did he ever sit in his front lawn under the afternoon sun and watch Sirius work on the engine while the two of them listened to old records and drank Butterbeer? Harry could imagine them so easily.
James swung his leg over and sat down on the bike. The suspension gave a little as he bounced on it experimentally; he played with the switches and pressed at the gears and tilted it a little from side to side, as if riding down an imaginary highway.
"She's exactly the same,' he said after a long while. 'Arthur did a good job on her. Sirius was very particular with her maintenance."
"Mr. Weasley was fixing it up to give to me as a birthday present,' Harry said, 'but... i want you to have it."
James' head snapped up; the glare of candlelight from the house glinted off his glasses, obscuring his brown eyes. "Harry..."
"If anyone is going to do this bike justice it's you,' Harry insisted. 'Besides, do you really think Mum is going to let me drive around on this thing?"
James smiled, reached out, cupped Harry's face and kissed him on the top of his head. Harry was glad it was dark and James couldn't see how embarrassed he was.
It was moments like this, where anyone showed him affection, that it was hard to believe that they had all been in a war just a few months ago, with nothing around them but noise and violence.
Harry shivered and smirked. "Don't get all weepy on me now."
"Sod off, twerp."
Harry ducked James' playful punch, not even bothering to contain his smile – James sure wasn't. He crossed the lawn back to the house and began up the steps just as Lily walked out. She smiled down at him and at James over her shoulder.
"Here you two are. What are you doing?"
Lily kissed Harry on the shoulder as she passed and headed over to her husband.
Harry went inside but watched from the doorway as Lily sank down beside James and immediately looped her arm through his. He took her hand, linked his long fingers through hers and let out a content sigh, immediately launching into conversation about the bike. Harry ducked behind the door frame to spy.
It wasn't sure if it was strange for someone to spy on their parents like this, but he didn't really much care. Most of the time he didn't have to; Lily and James were almost inseparable, and Harry would always come home to find them sitting on the couch watching television, with Lily's legs in James' lap, or watch them do the dishes together where James washed and Lily dried, or even in more horrifying moments, find them snogging. That had happened more than Harry would have liked.
Now James leaned over, kissed her temple and looked back up at the house and Harry could barely hear what they were saying.
"... jealous of them, but it's difficult."
"It's hard not to be jealous of any of them.' Lily said. 'But you'll get used to it. Everything you're feeling is just seventeen years worth of emotion coming out. You'll be okay, your perspective will shift and you'll learn to brush it all aside."
James sighed and looked at her like she was the most magnificent thing to have ever been created. "You really are amazing, to have done all this by yourself."
"I wasn't alone. I had Harry, and Remus, and now so do you. It's going to take some adjusting, but we'll get there."
"I hope so.' James ruffled his hair. 'All those times I thought I'd be a bad dad bringing this kid up... and now he's all brought up and one of the most famous people in the world and I wish it was as simple as it used to be when our biggest worry was if he was ever going to fall off his little broom and break an arm."
Lily giggled. "That did actually happen to him, you know."
"He showed me,' James smiled. "Thank Merlin for that Pensieve.' He looked up again at the stars and his smile slowly vanished. 'He showed me what happened. He didn't want to, but..."
Lily looked up, then back at James. "I miss him too."
A thought struck Harry, and he suddenly realized what James was looking at earlier – he'd been looking at the star Sirius.
Harry jumped at the voice that had come from behind him. He whirled around to face Ron, who was looking out the back door with a frown.
"Wear a bell, will you?' Harry snapped.
"What are you looking at?"
Ron jerked his head. "Come with me."
"Ron, we both have girlfriends now, we can't do that anymore."
"Piss off,' Ron's ears went red. 'I want to show you something."
Harry gave his parents one more look before following.
"Should I get..."
"No!' Ron stopped halfway up the stairs to shake his head at Harry. 'No Hermione. You can't... it's... just come."
Harry shrugged and continued to follow his best friend up the many flights of stairs and into his bedroom. Since after the war everyone had moved out of Grimmauld Place, including Ron. He'd wanted to be near his family, although Harry could tell he couldn't wait to get back out of there again now that it had all died down.
Harry sat on Ron's bed and watched Ron rummage through his school trunk, listening to the sounds of laughter and music from the party downstairs and suddenly feeling impatient to get back to it.
"Where is the bloody thing?' Ron grumbled.
"You know you can just summon things, right?"
"Of course, but that would make sense, and I don't want anyone thinking of me as sensi-...ah, here it is!"
Ron turned around to face Harry and knelt down. He held out a tiny little box.
Harry's eyes widened a little. "I'm taken."
"How will I ever recover?' Ron drawled. He thrust it into Harry's hands. 'It's for Hermione, you prat."
Harry opened it gently. Inside, sitting on a soft dark blue velvet cushion, was a very simple but pretty silver ring. Harry pulled it out gently and held it up to examine it; the little gem sparkled in the candlelight from Ron's dresser.
"It's not an engagement ring,' Ron explained, moving to the bed to sit beside Harry. 'I'm not ready for that sort of thing. I just wanted to get something for her to show how much she means to be, and that I'll be thinking of her the whole time she's at Hogwarts and I'm here in Auror training, and that when she's finished and I'm and intern that we can start our lives properly – together."
"Sold my rare chocolate frog cards so I could afford it,' Ron muttered, looking embarrassed. 'Think she'll like it?"
Harry put the ring back, snapped the box shut and handed it back to Ron. "She'll love it. It's a brilliant gesture."
"'Course. Girls love that stuff, right?"
"Hope so.' Ron looked into space with a dreamy expression. 'She's my person."
Harry smiled at his friend, feeling rush a rush of affection for him, and for the bushy-haired brunette downstairs, that he had to fidget on the spot to try and stop himself from just hugging Ron right there and then.
They'd made it. They had actually made it. After all of the struggle, the hours of research, the months fighting, the lives lost and the sacrifices made... they had made it. They had nothing but open plain out in front of them, their futures indeterminable, unknown and full of possibilities. Harry could actually have a job, a proper job, that was going to make a difference in the world, and his best friend was going to be there with him the whole way.
He had his friends, his family, his girlfriend, his parents and his whole life, and for the first time he felt like everything just might turn out all right.
Ron looked around at him and laughed. "I know I'm pretty but can you stop leering? Someone will come in and think I've just broken up with you."
Harry laughed and pushed him playfully. "Let's get back to the party. I've got a girlfriend waiting for me."
"Ugh, gross, don't remind me."
Once back downstairs Harry let Ron walk on ahead; himself stopping just at the entrance to the living room. He looked around the room, taking in every face, and felt that rush of affection again. But there was sadness behind it. He wished so badly that Dumbledore was there, sharking jokes he had heard over the summer, and Sirius, just so he could see James, and James could see him and that his father's happiness could triple.
He missed all the people he had lost, and he would never forget them, but so many more of them had made it through – together. This party was being held in their honour, and in celebration, and just because the Weasley's loved having people over, and to welcome back James, and for so many other reasons.
Harry didn't know how to show them all how much he cared for them, the sheer mass of it was overwhelming, so he did the only thing he could do.
Hermione was refilling her drink in the kitchen when Harry found her. She smiled up at him, handed him the glass, and began fixing another.
"Don't ever say I don't do anything for you,' she smiled.
Harry smirked over the top of his glass. "I would never."
(One month later)
Lily leant against the doorframe and watched him pack.
He was doing it the muggle way, taking the time to fold his clothes properly and place them strategically in his suit case, despite the fact it was charmed and would easily hold all his things even if he just threw them in like any normal teenager.
But he wasn't a normal teenager.
In her minds' eye she could see his room as it had been the last time: rocking hippogriffs and stuffed dragons and a crib wild a blue blanket and a Cornish pixie mobile hanging above it. She would sit in this room in the rocking chair with him against her chest and just stare at him as he slept. He was so beautiful and perfect and untouched by the world – her perfect thing.
He wasn't innocent anymore. His body and soul had been poked and prodded and ripped apart and sewn back together again... but he was still her perfect thing.
She knocked on his door and he looked up over his glasses.
"I'm almost done,' he proclaimed, rushing about, grabbing things like sneakers and his broomstick.
"Don't rush,' she said, coming into the room and leaning against the egde of his desk, 'James is still trying to decide which shirts he wants to bring."
"We're only going for four days,' Harry reasoned.
Lily shrugged. "You know your father."
"Yeah,' Harry paused and smiled, 'I do."
At that moment, James appeared in the doorway behind her. He smiled with relief and held up two different shirts.
"I can't decide. I've already packed seven other shirts and... well,' James looked at Lily '... you told me to stop at eight otherwise it would be borderline ridiculous."
"I admire your restraint,' Lily said, deadpan.
James brandished the shirts at Harry. "What do you think, love?"
Lily smiled as Harry eyed the shirts with confusion, and could tell that he had inherited her disinterest in fashion. James had always been a little vain; growing up with older, wealthy parents who had bought him the best robes and clothes all his life had no doubt taken its toll on him, which is why he had spent the entire morning lost in their wardrobe trying to pick out clothes.
Finally, Harry pointed. "That one is good."
James looked at the shirt in his right hand, then back at Harry with admiration. "It's official, you really are my son."
"Right,' Lily drawled, 'because the fact that the two of you are practically identical wasn't enough proof."
James ducked out of the room, calling, 'I'm ignoring you!' over his shoulder.
Lily chuckled and turned back to Harry. He was sitting on the edge of his bed now, elbows resting on his knees, looking at the spot James had just been standing in.
"I worry about him sometimes,' he murmured.
"Me too. Those shirts were awful."
"I don't know what I would do if I came back and Ron wasn't here."
Lily ran a hand through her hair and sat down beside him. "He's doing okay. It's an adjustment."
"I want to help him, but I don't know how. He doesn't really say much about what he's thinking."
"Yes,' Lily said pointedly. 'Frustrating, isn't it?"
"I think this is something you should bring up with him,' Lily rubbed Harry's back. 'You need to push him a little. He's not as stubborn as you at revealing what's going on in his brain. He'll put a front, but just flash him a smile and he'll crack for you."
He said nothing for a long moment, and Lily wondered if he was thinking about the times in a past few weeks when he and James had sat alone together, getting to know one another. Lily had never asked either of them what they talked about; she could guess well enough.
Finally he said, 'I'll get him drunk at a pool side bar. That should do the trick, right?"
"How do you think I got him to propose to me?" Lily laughed at Harry's expression. She patted his knee and got to her feet. 'Finish your packing. I'll meet you downstairs. Portkey leaves in an hour."
Lily turned from the doorway. Harry was on his feet again. He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again.
"Just...' he sighed and laughed, looking awkward. 'Never mind."
Lily knew better than that. "Tell me after we get back from Fiji. No worries on our trip, remember? Just a nice family holiday without any troubles. before you start your Auror training and never get to have fun again."
"Us?' Harry scoffed playfully. 'No troubles?"
Lily shrugged with a smile as she edged out of the room. "Crazier things have happened."
"I guess,' Harry agreed. He waved his wand over her shoulder and the rest of his bag packed itself. 'Anything's possible."
a/n – I don't even know how to thank you all for sticking with this story for so long! If you've made it this far, just know that I love your patience and your support in my time writing this fic. I know there are a lot of other places I could go with this story, but i wanted to leave it with a sense of optimism and hope for the future for these characters. I may come back and do little one-shots to flesh it out a bit! I hope you all enjoyed this story!