Disclaimer: I'm not JK Rowling, so anything you recognise isn't mine. I'm just playing with the shiny toys she created.
A/N: Really needed to get this out of the way before I could go back to the stories I started before DH. Oh, and I'm way behind on review replies - but I do appreciate them. Anyway, enjoy ;).
"Where is he, then? The birthday boy?"
Molly's eye flickered around the table briefly as she set the cake down, her wand hovering, ready to light the seventeen candles that nestled in the icing. Even by her own standards, Molly had excelled herself – 'Happy Birthday Teddy!' was scrawled across the top in an imitation of a Daily Prophet headline, and beneath that was a picture of Teddy himself, rendered perfectly in black and white icing. The only problem was that the cake's intended recipient was nowhere to be seen.
Andromeda frowned a little in concern. "He wasn't in the house with you?" she said, and Molly shook her head.
"I assumed he was out here playing cards."
"I think he went for a walk down the garden," James said, barely pausing to look up from the game of Exploding Snap he and the other children were playing on the grass. The somewhat stiff April breeze caused the aging cards to emit a slight puff of smoke, and Rose waved it away in irritation.
"We said we'd play Quidditch with him instead if he wanted," she said, "but he said he wasn't in the mood."
Harry exchanged a worried glance with Ginny. They'd talked about whether this was a good idea, whether he'd want a fuss – but she'd said that every wizard deserved a party on his 17th, and Harry had agreed, although from his own experience he knew that sometimes occasions like this could bring up feelings, thoughts, that weren't entirely compatible with a party atmosphere.
"He probably just wanted some fresh air," Ron said, and Hermione raised an eyebrow at him, a smirk playing on her lips.
"And there's not enough of that here?" she said, gesturing around them to the table on the lawn that they'd all just enjoyed a birthday tea at. "Outside?"
"Maybe he just wanted to be alone," he offered, shrugging. "You know what teenagers are like."
Hermione murmured her vague agreement, but as Harry looked from face to face, he knew that they were all thinking the same thing, that it was probably a little more than that.
"I should go and see if he's all right," Andromeda said, getting to her feet, her forehead creased with concern.
"Maybe I should," Harry said, offering her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "I think I know – I mean I – "
He trailed off, and Andromeda smiled at him with understanding and gratitude, sinking back into her seat as Molly placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Back in a minute," he said. "Don't light the candles without us."
As Harry left, there was a general cry of 'as if we would', and the sound of Hermione smacking Ron's hand away from the cake as he presumably tried to sneak a taste. Smiling, Harry set off down the garden towards the orchard and the fields beyond, scanning the trees and the patches of grass for Teddy.
He couldn't help thinking that maybe he'd been right, maybe Teddy hadn't wanted a fuss – but Harry had thought that not having a party would have been worse, because that would have drawn equal attention, and he'd never wanted Teddy to feel left out because his parents were gone.
After a moment, a familiar mop of turquoise hair appeared on the horizon, revealing its owner to be sitting on the fence at the bottom of the garden, and as Harry approached, Teddy turned and forced a smile. "All right?" Harry said, and Teddy nodded, looking away across the fields and refusing to meet Harry's eye.
"I didn't mean to worry anyone," he said. "I just – needed a minute on my own."
Harry murmured his understanding, and climbed up on the fence, swinging his legs one after the other over the top and perching on the stile next to Teddy. He looked out over the fields too, following Teddy's gaze to where two birds took off and soared away towards the horizon. The sun would be setting soon, he thought, and in a couple of days, they'd be packing the children back off to Hogwarts.
The Easter holidays had flown past. Between impromptu Quidditch matches – Weasleys versus Potters, with Teddy an honorary member of the Potter team, as he always was – Molly's cooking and the flurry of lectures about how uncle George shouldn't be trusted when it came to advice on homework, Harry barely felt he'd had a moment alone with his godson. He'd thought that maybe the hustle and bustle of the Burrow would take his mind off things – and until now, it had seemed to work.
But days like today –
Harry knew better than anyone how tough they could be, even when you were surrounded by people who loved you.
The fading sunlight glinted off Teddy's wristwatch, and Harry smiled at the thought of what Molly and Arthur had given him on his 17th, and how much it had meant to him. He still wore it, everyday, and he thought he always would.
"Like your watch?" Harry said, gesturing at it with a vague wave, and Teddy looked down at it on his wrist and smiled. It wasn't a fancy watch – silver and quite plain – but it suited him, and with the ability to turn his hair any shade he liked, it wasn't as if Teddy ever wanted for a way to jazz up an outfit or draw attention.
"Yeah," he said. "It was Granddad's. Gran said she'd buy me a new one if I wanted something fancier, but I like this."
Teddy watched the hands move around the face, the seconds tick by, and then sighed and looked down at his knees, swallowing hard. His brow furrowed as if there was something he desperately wanted to say, but was afraid to, and Harry thought he knew what it was.
"Thinking about your mum and dad?" Harry said quietly.
As soon as the words left his lips, he wondered if he should have said them, because how he felt and how Teddy felt were two entirely different things –
But Teddy nodded.
"I just miss them sometimes," he said, shrugging almost apologetically. "Especially days like today. And it's stupid, because how can I miss them when I never knew them – "
"It's not stupid," Harry said, meeting his eye. "I miss mine, too."
The briefest flicker of a smile trickled across Teddy's mouth for a moment, and then he swallowed, shifting on the fence. "Gran gave me this," he said, pulling an envelope out of the back pocket of his jeans. "It's a letter from – them."
"They wrote it after I was born, in case – " He trailed off and looked at the cream envelope in his hands, smoothing the edges with the pads of his fingers. "I haven't opened it yet," he said. "I'm – I'm not sure I can."
Teddy met his eye, the same apology in his expression that he'd had a moment ago, and Harry smiled at him sympathetically. A letter like that was enough to make anyone retreat from a party and sit on a fence, he thought. "You don't have to do it today," he said. "You could keep it for a while, until you're ready."
"Only problem with that is that I'm not sure I ever will be," Teddy said, with a rather hollow chuckle.
Harry nodded because he knew exactly what Teddy meant. He'd never really been ready for moments like this either, and he'd had considerably more practice with messages from beyond.
In a way, it was odd, he thought. At some points, growing up, he'd been desperate for knowledge about his parents, any nugget of information he could find – but at others, he'd not wanted to know in case something he discovered rocked the carefully constructed image in his head of what – who – they were.
He supposed Teddy felt the same, that he'd had seventeen years to construct an image in his head of who Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin were, and in his hands was the chance to know more, certainly, but the chance to have it all taken away, too.
It really was enough to make anyone shun even the most impressive of birthday cakes and hide at the bottom of the garden.
He followed Teddy's gaze over the envelope in his hands, over Remus' impeccable handwriting on the front. He hadn't seen that loopy script for so long, but he remembered it from essays ('Excellent work, Harry, even though your penmanship makes me think you wrote this while under attack from a venomous tentacular'), and seeing it again left a warm glow in his chest.
Teddy might not know it, he thought, but in his hands was something so precious –
On the surface, it was just a letter – but it was so much more than that. It was something real, something Remus had actually touched, something he'd thought about, and that – it was a connection, wasn't it?
That's what people who hadn't lost loved ones didn't understand, Harry thought, how they were always most apparent in the most insignificant details – handwriting, favourite sweets, watches they'd looked at every day without giving them a second thought.
Or that's how it had always seemed to him.
He remembered finding a letter from his mother at Grimmauld Place, the surge in his chest at the thought that he had proof – tangible proof beyond that of his own existence that she had been real –
And of course he'd always known that, but –
He couldn't explain it.
Seeing those words she'd written – not even to him – had meant something, resonated deep inside with something he hadn't even known was there.
"It's up to you," Harry said, "but – opening it – it won't ever be easier than it feels now."
Teddy raised an eyebrow, for a moment looking so much like Remus that Harry wanted to laugh. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?" he said, and then Harry couldn't contain it, and his laugh carried away on the breeze.
"Sorry," he said, and Teddy chuckled and then looked back at the letter. "I'm sure whatever they've written it won't be – I don't think they would have written anything too depressing. They wouldn't have wanted to upset you."
Teddy nodded, but his smile remained rather unconvinced.
And how could he be anything else?
Harry had tried – always – to tell Teddy the things he thought he'd like to know about his parents. He'd told him about Grimmauld Place, how Tonks' foot always seemed to catch on the troll's leg umbrella stand and no-one was sure why because the thing was massive and was always in exactly the same place. He'd told him about Remus and his assault course exam, how he'd been everyone's favourite teacher; he'd told Teddy a million little things, everything he could remember from Remus' days at Hogwarts.
And Teddy's dark eyes would always twinkle with amusement, be eager for more, and he'd ask Molly or Arthur or George if what Harry was saying about his parents was really true – and they'd smile and say of course, and they all had stories of their own, too.
But everything Teddy had to remember them by was second-hand, and how could he trust that? There was only one thing, really, he could trust.
"They loved you very much," Harry said quietly. "And each other."
"I know," Teddy murmured.
"And they'd be proud of you."
Teddy's cheek twitched into half a smile, and he attempted a chuckle that caught in his throat. "I don't know about that," he said. "I've got two week's worth of detentions when I get back for setting off some of George's super-exploding fireworks in the greenhouse and making Professor Longbottom drop one of his Mimbulus mimbletonia plants and fire Stinksap everywhere."
Harry laughed. "Actually," he said. "I think they'd have been pleased to see you were carrying on their noble tradition of trouble-making."
"Hmm," Harry said. "But don't tell your gran I said that."
Teddy laughed softly, and then looked back down at the envelope in his hands. He met Harry's eye briefly, and then turned the envelope over, taking a deep breath, and then tentatively slipping his finger underneath the flap to open it.
Harry held his breath. He had no idea that they'd written to Teddy – Andromeda had never mentioned a letter, and his thoughts tumbled through all the things they might have said – that they loved him, surely, what they wished for him –
Harry really hoped he was right, that they wouldn't have written anything too upsetting –
"There's a photo."
Harry looked up, and Teddy smiled, extracting the picture carefully from the envelope. He held it gently in his hands, gazing down at it.
He'd seen what his parents looked like before – Molly had some pictures from the Christmas and New Year they'd all spent together at Grimmauld Place, Hagrid had some of Remus as a boy, and there were plenty of Tonks in Andromeda's endless albums, in which she'd apparently tried to capture every single different hair style and colour Tonks had ever tried.
But this picture was different.
This one was of the three of them. Tonks was holding Teddy, and then Remus dashed into the frame, draping his arm around her and pulling her close, laughing as he placed a kiss on her temple and they both looked down at the baby in her arms, grinning.
Teddy looked at the picture for a long time.
Harry sat next to him, and remembered how it felt.
He'd had a picture like that, and sometimes – more often than he'd ever have admitted – he'd taken it out and just stared at it, as if there was a mystery in its depths and not just three people.
It hadn't made him feel better, exactly, to look at it – but it had been nice, sometimes, to focus his thoughts as they swirled through his head, to think about how happy they looked in that moment, without dwelling on imagined lives that had never happened, or thinking about what really had happened to shatter the world contained in the picture.
It wasn't much, he thought, but sometimes it had been just enough.
Growing up, he'd felt almost as if his parents were nothing more than an idea – Lily and James Potter, who'd died too young, but heroically – and he'd always missed the chance to know them as people. He'd wanted to know if they liked treacle tart, like he did, what programmes they'd listened to on the WWN, what they thought about a million tiny insignificant things that no-one else would have cared about.
He'd always tried to give that to Teddy, to try and make Tonks and Remus real for him, to let him see who they were –
It was all he could think to do, really.
Teddy looked away, wiping his eyes on the cuff of his sleeve, and slipped the photo back inside the envelope, swallowing heavily. "They look happy," he said.
Teddy drew in a long and rather ragged breath, and for a moment, Harry wondered if he'd changed his mind, was going to tuck his letter back in his pocket for some unspecified later.
But he didn't. He took the letter out, gripping the envelope between his knees, and balancing the letter on top. It was long – four or five pages at least, and from where he was sitting, Harry could see two different kinds of writing, Remus' loopy script and Tonks' big, round scrawl. They really had written it together, he thought – a paragraph each at a time, by the look of things.
Teddy met Harry's eye once, looking for reassurance, and then, seeming to take courage in the smile Harry offered him, he turned back to the letter on his knees. He skimmed the first lines, his expression eager but clouded too, a little fearful, maybe, of what he might find written there, of what feelings might be evoked.
Harry watched him read, and as he did, he couldn't help but allow images to flood his mind. Unequal as he felt, at times, to the task, he'd always tried to be the kind of godfather he'd have liked to have had himself. He'd thought of Sirius a lot – the kind of things they might have done together, had fate not so cruelly intervened, twice, and he'd always used that as inspiration when it came to Teddy.
There'd been Christmases spent all together, crammed into the Burrow, trips to the Quidditch to watch Ginny, birthday parties –
For his second birthday, Harry had bought Teddy a toy broom – a Firebolt – and much to Andromeda's horror they'd tested it out in the garden. Hermione had compulsively Conjured cushions underneath Teddy's flight path, while he and Ginny had joked about how long it'd be before they could teach him the Wronski Feint, and Ron had pondered which position he'd play when he got to Hogwarts.
Hogwarts. Harry smiled at the thought. They'd all joined Andromeda on the platform to wave him off for his first term, bristling with advice on how to make friends, which subjects were the hardest and which teachers not to get on the wrong side of – George had even slipped him a couple of new products to see if he could test them out on his classmates.
There'd been quieter moments, too, over the years, when Harry had explained that he'd never known his parents either, and that if Teddy ever wanted someone to talk to –
And they had talked about it, although not often.
He'd wanted to be a proper part of Teddy's life – was proud to be, because Teddy was a wonderful testament to his parents. He'd grown up to be exactly the kind of person they'd have wanted – effortlessly kind, generous with his time, a little unsure of himself, sometimes, but with the skill and nerve of a proper Gryffindor trouble-maker bubbling just below the surface.
Everyone wanted to know him, and in truth Teddy had more family than anyone Harry had ever known. And it wasn't as simple as saying that that made up for what he'd lost, because it didn't, but –
He liked to think that in spite of everything, Teddy hadn't wanted for love.
Teddy turned the last page of the letter, and at the bottom, Harry saw the words: 'All our love, always, Mum and Dad xxx'.
He swallowed the lump that formed in his throat.
Teddy didn't say anything when he'd finished reading. He just folded the letter neatly and put it back in its envelope, taking extra care not to crease the corners.
There was something he'd never told Teddy, in all the discussions they'd had, whether cheerful or not – and watching Teddy gaze at the letter in his hands, a vestige of what he'd lost, Harry thought it was probably time. "Your dad told me once," Harry said, "that he was very sorry that he wouldn't get to know you."
Teddy frowned in confusion, meeting Harry's eye questioningly. "It was – " Harry looked away. " – after he'd – they'd – died. I saw him."
Harry allowed his gaze to drift back to Teddy's, and he was wearing a frown that was more bemused than ever. "I know it makes me sound mental," Harry said, and Teddy laughed – but after a moment, the noise died on his lips, and his eyes met Harry's tentatively, indicating he should go on. "Just before I faced Voldemort, I saw him, and my mum and dad, and Sirius, and they were all together – with me when I did it."
"Did he – my dad – did he say anything else?"
Harry shook his head. "There wasn't a lot of time," he said, "but – well, they – your mum and dad – they fought because they wanted you to have a better world. Your dad – my dad – they didn't know a time when there wasn't darkness in the air and people out to hurt them and their friends because they didn't have pure enough blood. They wanted things to be better, to make them better for us. And they did."
"That's what it says in the letter," Teddy said quietly. "Do you want to – do you want to read it?" he said, offering the letter to Harry. "I mean they were your friends – "
Harry smiled, grateful for the offer, but shook his head. "No," he said. "They wrote it for you."
Teddy nodded, his gaze drifting away back towards the horizon, where the sun was setting, huge and orange, against a candyfloss sky. Harry watched as Teddy's jaw tensed, and he picked unconsciously at the cuff of his jumper.
"I'm angry at them, sometimes," Teddy said, his voice strained and thin. "Sometimes I think – why couldn't they just have stayed out of it? Why couldn't they have left it to somebody else?" His eyes darted to Harry's, and Harry looked back, trying to say without having to utter the words that he wasn't offended on their behalf, that it was ok to feel like that, that he did too – "Then they'd be here, and – I'd be living with them and Gran would just be my gran and I'd just have had a normal birthday without all these – and maybe they'd have bought me watch and – I wouldn't have spent half the day wishing they were here because they would have been – "
Teddy swallowed, and as soon as it had sprung forth, his anger abated. "But," he said, sighing. "That wasn't who they were, was it?"
Harry shook his head and smiled sadly. "No," he said. "I don't think it was in either of their natures to let other people fight the fight for them."
Teddy let out a quick breath of agreement. "I don't think it's in mine, either," he said.
"Well," Harry said, raising an eyebrow at him, "let's hope we never have to test the theory, eh?"
Teddy laughed a little and ran his fingers over his jaw, before his gaze returned to the letter in his lap. "I'm glad they wrote it," he said, "but – "
He trailed off into a sigh and frowned a little. "But that doesn't stop you wishing they'd been here to say it in person?" Harry offered.
"Yeah," Teddy said. "And – I'm proud of them, too, what they did, for – us – but – I'm still sorry they're gone. It's – confusing."
They both watched as the sun started to dip beneath the horizon, amused by the birds skipping across the grass, looking for seeds.
Harry wasn't sure how long passed – he thought they were both a little too lost in their thoughts to notice – but when the breeze picked up and starting ruffling their hair into their eyes, he shifted on the fence to get Teddy's attention. "We'd better get back," he said. "There's a cake waiting for you – assuming Ron hasn't eaten it all, and if we stay out here much longer I think your gran and Molly'll send a search party."
Teddy muttered some kind of amused agreement, swinging his legs over the top of the fence and jumping down onto the grass, and Harry followed suit. As he landed, he met Teddy's eye with a silent question: ready to go back?, and Teddy nodded, glancing back at The Burrow, barely visible through the trees. "They'll understand?" he said. "Where I was? I don't want anyone thinking they upset me or did something wrong. I was having a nice time – I just – "
"Good," Teddy said, and then after a momentary frown, he laughed. "I'm not sure I do."
At the look of amused – bemused – contrition in his eyes, Harry laughed, too. "Sorry to be the one to break it to you," he said, "but what I said about it never getting easier was true. You'll never understand it entirely."
"Oh well, at least I've got something to look forward to, then," Teddy said, raising an eyebrow slowly at Harry until it disappeared under his turquoise fringe.
"You just have to accept," Harry said, "that it's tough, sometimes, having parents who were heroes."
And though Harry smiled, he was deadly serious, and he knew Teddy knew it.
"Yeah," Teddy said. He looked back at the letter he was still holding, ran his finger over the edges of the envelope, then over his name, written impeccably on the front in his dad's handwriting. "It is tough," he said, glancing up, "but it's kind of cool, too."
"There is that. And they're always with you – even if you can't see them."
Teddy nodded, and after another moment, he glanced up again, and this time, there was mischief in his eyes. "Apparently you can, though," he said, raising his eyebrow at Harry in a rather mocking scepticism.
"Only sometimes," Harry said, shrugging with amused nonchalance, trying to hide how glad he was that Teddy appeared to be back to his usual self.
"You know, on this evidence," Teddy said, tucking the letter back into the pocket of his jeans, "I'm not sure you're very suitable godfather material."
"Well," Harry replied, rolling his eyes and battling a grin, "I did always think that – but, unfortunately, you're stuck with me."
Teddy grinned – and Harry gave in to his, too. "Come on," he said, giving Teddy a brief, one-armed hug. "You've got a cake to coo over and candles to blow out."
"Well, I wouldn't want to miss that," Teddy said, and, together, they set off back towards the house.
A/N: Thanks for reading. Reviewers get a Burrow-based party and a whole host of cakes and presents, and a birthday kiss from their favourite HP character, even if it's not their birthday ;).