Happy Returns

It was perhaps a telling characteristic of his life so far that Harry Potter had never thrown a party until he was eighteen years into it.

Of course he had attended quite a few. There had been the five hundredth birthday- or rather, a five hundredth deathday party for Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, the somewhat over-hyped and anti-climactic affair of the Yule Ball, and the reception for Bill and Fleur's wedding that hailed the beginning of the war's end.

Harry had even had a couple of his own birthday parties thrown by Mrs Weasley, but although he had participated in the preparation for them, he realised now there this was not the same sort of responsibility as throwing a party himself.

It was also an important characteristic of his life so far that hundreds, perhaps thousands of parties had been thrown about him, because of him and in his honour. Parties unnoticed, secret and selective took place, squirreled away up and down the country and scattered throughout the world.

At many of these parties, the barmaids mixed Pumpkin Fizz and Firewiskey in glasses while the guests mixed mourning and mirth in their hearts. They steeled themselves to knock back shots of grief with a slice of comfort and the salt of future hope. Faint signs of their revelry soaked into the edges of Muggle awareness, just as they had done almost seventeen years ago.

The Wizarding World staggered out of the war, armed with pitcher of human resilience.

In retrospect, Harry would probably remember the party George had thrown as the most … eventful. Countless witches and wizards, as well as a few associated Muggles and the odd Goblin turned up to fill the garden of the Burrow, and a couple of the adjoining fields. Stories of valour, tales of tragedy and anecdotes of humour were all weaved into a patchwork of conversation that got steadily louder and more unintelligible. The names of the deceased and missing were repeated and remembered and used as a cue for another drink. As it got late, the fireworks began to go off, each emblazoning a lost name across the sky.

It might have been too much. The sheer number and significance of exploding names might have been too many to take.

Harry twisted briefly around to look at the illuminated faces watching them, and reminded himself what their sacrifice had been for.

And so, after the thousands of parties that had gone before, Harry Potter was finally throwing one himself. His godson was turning a year old and invitations had been sent smartly out for a small gathering, number twelve Grimmauld Place, four o'clock.

It was quarter to four, and Ginny was resolved to make one last cup to of tea before everyone began to arrive. Harry was staring intently at the kitchen table, where bowls, dishes and trays of food were assembled under cooling charms.

It had been a team effort between himself and Ginny. For the most part, Harry had restricted himself to big dishes, like salads and quiche and cucumber sandwiches. He left the small, fiddly recipes to Ginny, who had a knack for arranging olives on canapés and making sausage rolls crispy to just the right degree.

The cake was mostly chocolate. Harry had nervously watched it for a good half hour as it baked, because aside from being made to fry Dudley's breakfast under watchful eye of Aunt Petunia, he never made anything this important before. He felt better about it when Ginny told him it looked good and watched as she carefully decorated it in butter icing. The cake now carried a picture of a chameleon, whose icing leisurely turned different colours while it chewed a leaf, eyes swivelling.

He wasn't worried, just … faintly anxious. After all, he had never realised how much hard work it was to throw a birthday party for someone, especially when a few of your own had been thrown by the domestic goddess, Molly Weasley. This was a hard act to follow.

Furthermore, after spending eight months in the company of Teddy Lupin, Harry had discovered that people under a year old were unexpectedly hard to impress.

He came upon a flaw in the plan.

'Where are we going to put it all? How should we … you know, serve it?'

'Just leave it on the table in here,' Ginny replied, flicking her wand at the kettle, making it bubble. She brought down cups and sugar. 'Just put a pile of plates and cutlery next to it and people will be eating before you know it.'

'You seem very sure about this,' Harry said, keeping eye contact with the table of food, as though he suspected it would sneak off.

'Well, yeah,' said Ginny. 'Do you remember that theory of magical decay we got taught by Professor Flitwick? You know, after you cast a spell, the magic gradually defuses through the air?'

'Vaguely.' Harry turned around to look at her.

'Well, it's exactly like that with food,' Ginny explained. 'If you have a concentration of it in one place and a house full of people, the food will gradually diffuse through the house, on people's plates, in their stomachs … in their handbags in the case of my Aunt Muriel. Seventeen years I've seen it work at the Burrow.'

'Interesting theory.' Harry passed her the teapot and spooned three sugars into her mug and two into his own. 'Very … technical.'

'Why do you think it's called "social science"?'

Harry had to think about it to realise that her reasoning only made a very skewed kind of sense. He smiled crookedly.

It was something Ginny often did, making sense out of elements that seemed irreconcilable. She seemed to attract solutions, answers, signs of comfort and reassurance. She sent them out to others in a way that she herself did not appear to think much of. It was much like Luna issues Nargle warnings, or like Dumbledore gave out Muggle sweets.

She also seemed to have the same disregard for expectations as Fred and George. Hogwarts was due to reopen next year, and although Ginny had been technically staying at the Burrow, nobody had made much of a fuss when it became clear that she was spending most of her time at number twelve. Only Mrs Weasley sent the odd owl to remind them of dinner arrangements and to request that her daughter come home during daylight hours once in a while.

As Ginny poured milk into the tea, Harry picked up the bowl of sugar and decided to sprinkle just a bit more on top of the cake. A pink icing tongue slowly began to protrude out of the chameleon's mouth to lap it up. He frowned, put the sugar down quickly and sat down again.

Seven minutes until four o'clock.

He got up to retrieve his cup of tea and sat down again.

'Mind the pistachios,' Ginny said, shifting the bowl away from his elbow.

'Sorry.' He stared at the food again, then said, 'Will he have fun, d'you think?'

Ginny flopped down into a chair with her own mug and looked at him strangely.

'Probably, but it's hit and miss with kiddies, you can never tell what they'll like.' She shrugged. 'Besides, he's only a year old. In the long term, he won't even remember today. The trick is,' she went on thoughtfully, 'to impress everyone who will be able to tell him about the party when he sees photographs of it in ten years' time.'

'I suppose,' Harry said, although it all seemed slightly underhanded. Ginny took a swing of her tea and looked at him some more. Harry looked back and after a moment, she started to laugh.

'You look as though we're pulling off a giant con!'

'Aren't we?' Harry asked, turning back to look at the food.

'It's a very well-meaning and altruistic con, if you ask me,' Ginny pretended to sulk. 'I made two attempts at baking those croutons.'

'We had to eat the first batch to make sure they were good.'

'Everything is good!' Ginny insisted. 'He has food, he has presents and he has people who love him to lavish all their attention on him because it is his birthday. What could a one-year-old wizard want more than that?'

'Let's find some candles,' Harry said, feeling decidedly more confident. He got up just as the doorbell rang.

They both turned to stare blankly in the direction of the sound for a moment, then started at each other.

Ginny clapped her hands together excitedly.

'Come on,' she grinned, hooking her wrist through his elbow and pulling him towards the doorway. Harry stumbled to catch up.

They opened the door together.

Note: Teddy Lupin has invaded my brain.