"Leaky Pipes and Pygmy Puffs"
It's ten years after the defeat of Voldemort and Harry Potter has been named head of the Auror Department. A past file from the Second War finds its way onto his desk and causes him to remember darker times.
A/N: Thanks to Blacktag for a fantastic and fast beta! :D
Harry Potter pulled off his glasses and took a moment to rub at his tired eyes. The stiffness of his shoulders told him that he had been sitting at his desk longer than he had planned and the blackness of the magical sky darkening the office through the large windows confirmed that the hour was late. He had known tonight would not be an early one, but it was always a shock to lose track of time so that the minutes flew into hours and the next thing he knew, his family had already had their dinner and his sons had already been bathed and – he glanced down at the blurry numbers on his watch – would very shortly be tucked in by their mother.
The cheerful, somewhat detached image had him sliding back his chair. That was enough for today.
Flipping over the report he had been reading so that the gruesome details on the paper were facedown, Harry attempted to erase from his mind the vivid scene that had been written on the pages. But the halls of the Ministry were dark and empty as he walked down the narrow corridors, helping the insistent images to rise over and over again inside his head. It was familiar… almost reminiscent… as though he himself had lived through the very same event. But he hadn't. He knew he hadn't. That particular experience of war hadn't ever been his. But yet… somehow he knew the same fear as though he owned it.
Harry realized that he had reached the doors to the lift when they opened and the level was announced. He barely heard it, barely even noticed the two tired-looking witches as he stepped inside and felt a jerk as they sped along the corridors.
"I shouldn't have gone in. Oh, God, why did I go in? I shouldn't have gone in when I saw it, I knew I shouldn't have gone in, but I had to, I had to know, I couldn't wait, how could I wait—"
Harry blinked twice and shook his head abruptly. Don't do this, he told himself, and then he nearly jumped when a loud, cool voice said,
The doors to the lift flung open and in a flurry of colorful cloaks, the two witches hurried out followed closely by Harry. Once in a secure location, he forced his mind back to present day so that he wouldn't Splinch himself and concentrated on home.
The cool colors of the Ministry lobby faded into blackness, and the warmth of his living room came into focus: the golden light puddling from the lamps on the end tables, the deep burgundy of the sofa and arm chairs, and the warmth of the hard wood floors and paneled walls. But looking past the inviting colors and the cozy furniture, the image before him caused the darkness in his head to fade a bit.
In a tangle of red hair and freckled limbs, his six-year old son and red-faced wife were on the floor of the living room, engaged in a war for something held firmly in the boy's hand, something that looked suspiciously like—
"Is that your mother's wand?" Harry asked, and though the tone of his voice was a great deal lower than the level of noise in the room, the two occupants of the living room floor looked up at him. Harry watched Ginny take full advantage of their son's distraction to snatch the wand from his grip.
"Yes, it is my wand," she panted, clamoring to her feet with Harry's help, yanking her shirt down over her bulging belly. "And yes, he knows that he's punished for stealing it, so no worries." She pressed a breathless kiss to her husband's cheek. "I've dinner waiting in the kitchen, give me five minutes?"
"I can fix it myself, you don't have to—"
"I want to," she said, smiling brightly, and because he had been trying all day not to think about how it felt to look at her he brought his eyes to her face and let them stay there.
Then Ginny shouted, "DON'T!" and Harry nearly jumped before turning to see James taking advantage of his parents' lack of attention to creep towards the kitchen. "Get in that bedroom before I Banish you up there. Now!" She turned to Harry. "Can you take him upstairs and I'll heat everything up? It'll only take five minutes."
And she padded off into the kitchen, wobbling slightly in her delicate state.
Once his mother had disappeared, James turned to his father.
"Dad. Mum's being ridiculous."
Any other time he might find his son's banter amusing. Tonight, however, was a different story.
"Is she really?"
"Yeah! I was trying to fix the pipe for her. She can't do it with the baby in her tummy!"
"So you wrestled with her for her wand?" Harry asked dryly, placing a hand on James' head and steering him towards the staircase.
"I wanted to fix the pipes for her! I know the spell. It's Reparo."
"It's illegal. We've been over this. You can't do magic yet. The Ministry will find out and send you to prison."
"But, Dad," James continued in the same complacent tone he used quite often, either to feign innocence to his parents or offer wisdom to his little brother. "I'm the man of the house when you're at work. Mum told me so! I had to do it!"
Harry stepped onto the landing and turned them both into James' bedroom, trying not to sigh at the mess.
"If you want to be man of the house you need start acting like it. I'm not going to tell you again to stop taking our wands. And if I catch your mother having to wrestle it out of your hands again—"
"But I was only trying to help," James insisted, snatching up a Quaffle and tossing it into the air, catching it, then jumping up on his bed.
Rubbing at his temples, Harry sat down on the bed, winced, then leaned forward to get the fake wand he had nearly smashed.
"You can help your mum by not fighting with her when she tells you what to do." Harry paused to clean his glasses on his shirt. "This room is a ruddy mess, James."
"I know," James sighed as though he, too, thought it was a shame.
They sat in silence for a moment with only the sound of the Quaffle swooshing through the air as James tossed it up and down, failing to catch it in his small hands every time.
"Hey, Dad," James said suddenly. "Can we go see the Flash again?"
Harry thought of the brand new racing room on display at Quality Quidditch Supplies and felt a twinge of thrill. It wasn't only for James's sake that he had dragged his family to London these past two Saturdays.
"Maybe this weekend, if you're good for your mum."
"Wahooo!" James shouted and threw the Quaffle with gusto against the ceiling. It landed on his chest of drawers and smashed the lamp.
"Ruddy hell, James," Harry exclaimed before he could stop himself, and pulled out his wand to cries of,
"Please, Dad, let me! I can do it, please, pleeeeease—"
"What are you going on about?" Ginny's voice filled the room and a rush of flowery scent came at Harry as she trailed in, floating a large bundle of laundry behind her. Harry voiced the spell in his head quickly and watched the lamp pieces fly soundlessly together. "What did he do now?"
"Nothing," said Harry and James in unison.
"You're not being nice to him, are you? Because he doesn't deserve it," Ginny replied before Harry could answer. With a tired wave of her wand, drawers began opening as clothes flew into them, then slammed shut. "He was playing in the cabinet under the sink again and broke all the pipes, then stole my wand just as I was fixing them—"
"I didn't! I was trying to—"
"Keep your voice down, your brother is sleeping—"
"But I didn't break them—"
"Clean this room," Harry said again, and his tone made James close his protesting mouth. "And then we'll talk."
They closed the door, leaving a pouting James. Harry turned to Ginny, watching her wipe the fringe away from her eyes.
"I was about to heat up the food when I remembered the laundry—"
"I can fix my own food," he said, his voice softening without his control. He lifted a hand to her hair and once again let his eyes roam over her face. "You should relax."
There was a moment's pause before Ginny asked softly, eyes on his, "Long day, eh?"
He found himself nodding absentmindedly. "Difficult day" was what came to his mind, but he said nothing because looking at her could possibly make him forget about it.
"Well," she whispered, moving closer to him, "if you give me five minutes, you'll have the pleasure of dining with your amazing wife who will distract you with a bit of gossip she heard while you were at work."
Harry lifted a brow. "Yeah?"
"Mm-hmm," she nodded importantly, then opened her mouth to elaborate when, from a short way down the corridor, came a faint voice behind a closed door.
Both Ginny and Harry deflated.
"You get dinner," Harry said dully. "I'll get Al."
They parted ways at the top of the stairs and Harry entered his youngest child's bedroom cautiously, his eyes adjusting to the dark as he peered at the only light, which was coming from underneath the two-year old's brand new bed.
There was a pause, and then, a tiny voice from underneath the bed said, "Hi, Daddy."
Harry crouched down and lifted the bed skirt to see a pair of round green eyes shining in the light of a miniature flashlight.
"Still sleeping under the bed, mate?"
"Tully hates the bed," was Al's solemn answer.
Harry sighed, looking down at Tully the pygmy puff, who had been disrupting Al's sleeping patterns since Uncle George had given the little creature to his nephew for a birthday present.
"I suppose someone has to keep Tully company," Harry said, "but you should be asleep."
Al blinked. "Need a ba-ba."
"Ahh," said Harry, trying not to smile. He leaned down so that he was half laying on the floor. "You've given them up, remember?"
A troubled crease appeared in the boy's brow. "But I need one."
"Naw, you don't. Look at Tully. He doesn't need a bottle to sleep." Just the cold, hard floor, Harry thought sarcastically. "Want a story?"
Al thought about it and Harry held his breath, knowing that the bottle battle could get ugly if Al decided he really needed one, but the toddler snuggled further into the blankets he had dragged under the bed with him, pushed his thumb into his mouth, and said,
"Yes, please. Five stories. No, ten."
Sighing, Harry adjusted himself so that he was lying flat on his stomach, his head half under the bed, Harry began to recite the same stories he had done a billion times, with the occasional interruption from Al asking the same questions at the same parts. And he waited, waited for those little eyelids to start drooping, waited for the moment when he could lift the child and tuck him in his brand new bed. It was the same every night, but tonight…tonight the call for solitude was beginning and the words he spoke began to flow into one another and the darkness began to settle and he felt his own eyelids droop—
"What would you have done? What would you do if you saw the Mark over your house, your house where your wife was, where your daughter slept. I'll tell you what you would have done, you would have gone in, you wouldn't have waited for the bloody authorities, you would have gone in to save them, and that's what I did, and that's when I saw her, and I'll never forget it, I'll never forget it—"
"Babbity Rabbity next, Daddy."
Harry was startled awake and found his own eyes staring at him in a face that might have been an angel's. The peacefulness of the room stretched around, but the noise in his head was reaching a pitch that almost physically hurt.
His son's name was a whisper in his clogged throat. He wanted to reach out and touch the smooth cheek but it was impossible because of the odd angle at which he laid—
And then the bedroom door crashed open and light poured into the room, and James' voice shouted,
"DAD! Come quick, it's raining in the kitchen!"
Harry had a brief glimpse of Al's widening eyes, and then felt a bout of pain as he cracked his head on the bed frame. Swearing and pressing a hand to the back of his head, he felt James yank his arm to help him up and saw Al scramble from underneath the bed. The three of them clambered into the hall, James' wet socks leaving a trail of water, Al holding fast to his brother's hand as they all piled down the stairs.
Raining had been an understatement. Water gushed from an overhead cabinet like a tidal wave into the kitchen, and Ginny stood on a chair, yelling spell after spell with her wand pointed into the cabinet, but nothing seemed to be working.
"Mum, get down, you'll hurt the baby!" James shouted.
"Mum, you'll hurt the baby!" Al repeated anxiously.
"They're right, Ginny, get down, for the love of—" Harry splashed through the puddle of water on the floor.
"I was trying to fix the pipes under the sink and then this happened, oh ruddy hell!" she exclaimed, leaning on Harry to step down.
"Don't worry, Dad, I'll fix it!" James said. He grabbed Ginny's wand from her hand and climbed onto the chair.
But as Harry reached for James, his foot slid on a plate that had come out of the raining cabinet and - as though he was witnessing it from out of his body – he saw himself slide across the kitchen, taking his very pregnant wife down with him onto the ceramic tiled floor.
The swear word he employed was one that he had carefully withheld from his lips in the presence of his children until now.
"Mummy!" screamed Al, rushing over to them, stumbling against the rush of water.
"I'm fine, I'm fine!" Ginny yelled. "He has my wand, Harry—"
"Are you sure you're fine?" Blood was pounding in his head. "The baby, is the baby—?"
"The baby is fine." Then, in a low voice, she added, "I fell on my arse, not the baby."
"Mummy!" sobbed Al, throwing his little arms around his mother's neck.
"I'm fine, love, I'm fine," she assured him and to Harry's surprise, she started to laugh.
"It's not funny," he said, wincing as he pulled his leg from the odd position it had turned when he'd landed, trying to sit up with great difficulty.
But Ginny kept laughing. Sopping wet, she pulled herself into a sitting position, let her head fall back against the wall, and laughed like a maniac.
Al's tears disappeared at once. "Oh, Mummy," he exclaimed affectionately, bursting into giggles and pressing his small hands to her cheeks.
It occurred to Harry that he was the only person sane enough do something about the armed five-year old standing on the worktop with his head in a raining cabinet, but before he could do anything at all—
"I DID IT!" came a muffled shout and Harry managed to aim a single Feather-Light Charm towards James as the boy slid deftly onto the chair and jumped with a splash onto the floor. Sure enough, the water had stopped.
"What the—" Harry muttered, trying with extreme difficulty to stand, and Ginny began to laugh even harder.
"He fixed it," she nearly sobbed, gripping Harry's arm and preventing him from going anywhere. "He bloody fixed it."
"He fixed it!" Al shouted. "James fixed it!" He threw himself at his brother, who tried to pick him up and spin around and together, the boys fell onto the floor, in celebratory shouts and giggles.
"Did you ever think," Ginny asked Harry, her voice trembling, "that our children are strange?"
Harry looked at her glowing, laughter-filled face and found a sloppy grin of his own. "You mean because the eldest is destined to be a plumber?"
She burst into hysterics again, letting her face fall against his shoulder, managing,
"And the youngest sleeps under the damn bed—"
"Yeah, but… it would be our fault, then, wouldn't it?"
Ginny plopped her chin on his shoulder. "I would say that's probable."
Looking into her face was like a remedy, and something heavy seemed to ebb away from him.
"Next one will be perfect. Like her Mum."
"I would say that's also probable," she agreed.
A few moments later there were mingled shouts.
"Stop kissing, it's gross!"
"Gross, is it?" Ginny asked and grabbed James, pinning him to the ground and covering his face in kisses.
Al squirmed into his father's lap. "Mummy's kissing James, Daddy."
"I see," said Harry pressing his lips to Al's cheek, holding onto his son tightly for a moment.
"Hey, James is getting away, you'd better go and help her."
As Harry watched Al scramble through the water towards Ginny and James, he let out a deep breath that might have been trapped inside of him since he'd left the office. The fact that he was sopping wet had nothing to do with the heaviness he felt as he watched Ginny with their sons. When he finally crawled across the floor to join them, he felt lighter than he had all day.