Chapter One

No, Doctor

I'm frowning as I bounce Teddy on my knee, letting him squeeze his pudgy little fingers around my hands for balance. The way that Andromeda is looking at him is disturbing, and I wonder what it's about. Her face always has a reflection of that cold pride that is inherent in the Black family tree, but this is more than that. She's looking at Teddy as if she genuinely finds something distasteful about him—her own grandson. This, coming on the heels of her warning that he's been colicky lately and she's worried about him, bothers me. I wonder if I should say something, but in the end, I decide not to. I'd rather start my time with Teddy off on a good note.

"Whee!" he chortles as I bounce him, his face alive and happy beneath a thick mop of hair (currently brown, but it changes at a moment's notice). In fact, in his excitement, his hair begins to glow blue. I'm laughing, but Andromeda's frowning.

"That's so strange," she says, shaking her head. "Dora had stopped doing that by the time she was a year old, and Teddy's already at seventeen months."

Despite the implication that my godson is weird, I relax. That must be the reason for the look she had just now. She obviously doesn't like Teddy flaunting his Metamorphmagus status, but I could care less. In fact, I think it's pretty cool, so he can do it to his heart's content. I decide to stop bouncing him, however, since I have learned from experience that prolonged bouncing leads to Teddy being sick all over me.

"We won't be able to stay long today, I'm afraid," Andromeda says while I try to make Teddy stop whining for more. "I've got a guest for tea today, so I've got to get my errands done before teatime."

I can't help but feel bad for Andromeda. She had a kid, raised her, and was probably looking forward to some peace and quiet to share with her husband. Instead she lost the kid and husband and was stuck with a baby that promised years of headaches. Having to look after a baby during tea with a friend sounds like something less than a barrel of laughs. After all, how would I like it if I was stuck with Teddy while I was trying to go out with Ron?

Maybe it's the feelings of sympathy, or maybe it's just a selfish desire to not get cheated out of time with Teddy, but whatever my motivations, I find myself offering to keep him for a while.

"Why don't you leave him with me? I can watch him for a few hours while you're doing errands and seeing your friend."

Andromeda is giving me a doubtful look, which makes me bristle a bit. I mean, honestly, I'm not that unreliable, am I? Okay, I'm rather well known for being unpredictable, unstable, and attracting death threats, but she knows me better than that. And I would never do anything to hurt Teddy, she at least has to know that much!

"Come on, we'll get along fine. I just thought you could use a break."

Andromeda still looks like she wants to argue, but she says, "I really could. Are you sure, Harry? He can be quite a handful."

Like I don't know that? I try not to roll my eyes, but it's a bit ridiculous. We've had regular visits for a year now, so I think I've gotten pretty good at taking care of the kid (who is currently whining to be let down to play, and I absentmindedly slip him down to the floor). I can handle a few hours alone with him. He can walk and communicate his needs, so he doesn't scare me nearly as much as he did at first when I was afraid I was going to break him or that I'd never get him to stop crying. He's playing with the toys I keep for him in my living room, and I'm thinking we've come a long way since the times when I made Andromeda keep her hands under my arms in case I dropped him.

"Of course I'm sure! We'll have a great time, won't we, Teddy?"

He looks up at hearing his name, dismisses it as not important and goes back to making really wild sound effects for the stuffed dragon he's got.

"You know I love him, Andromeda, I don't mind doing this at all."

I'm surprised to realise that it's true, as I'm saying it. I do love Teddy, and I'm practically jumping at the chance to be the one in charge for a while. Teddy is like a second chance at life, in so many ways, and to be honest, I have an easier time carrying on a conversation with him than I do with his grandmother. (No, doctor, I have no guilty feelings because I feel responsible for the death of her daughter—honest! I don't need to talk about it!)

Looking like she just got an early birthday present, Andromeda thanks me and tells Teddy that she'll come back for him in time for dinner. He's too wrapped up in his toys to be sorry to see her go, and I'm not worried. He probably won't even notice she's gone until she's due back to get him.

Five minutes later, I'm cursing myself and my stupid ideas while I pat Teddy's back and try to make him stop bawling in my ear.

"Gamma!" he's howling.

So he noticed. So sue me.

"Hey, little man, come on, let's play while we wait for her to come back. See, here's the broomstick I got for you."

He isn't buying it.

I carry him against my chest with his snotty, noisy face pressed more or less into my shoulder (I'm thinking I'll burn the shirt), walking in circles around the living room and bouncing him, patting his back, trying to talk to him and getting steadily more agitated. I think he's just crying to piss me off at this point.

Kreacher appears, looking pained. I want to flip him off, but my hands are a little tied up.

"Does master require any assistance?" he asks croakily, eyeing the bundle of snot in my arms like it's the eleventh plague of Egypt.

"Master requires a new pair of eardrums," I mutter, before I remember that Kreacher has a tendency to take me very literally and I might be forced to escort an irate wizard to St. Mungo's to get his eardrums replaced. "Just kidding, Kreacher! No, no, I'm fine. I'm just gonna . . ." I cast around for an idea, but the only thing I can think is that I'm a teenaged boy and I shouldn't be forced to deal with crying babies. That is a job for women. "Oh, there's an idea." Women who already know all about crying babies are best in these situations, and I just so happen to know one of those who adores me. "I think we'll go visit the Burrow and see who's home," I say casually. "Of course, they've put up those anti-crying wards, so nobody who is crying can get inside . . ."

Sure enough, that shuts Teddy up. Little sneak was faking it. Based on his couple of encounters with her, Teddy loves Molly. It's probably mostly because she tries to feed him the same way she tries to feed me—to the point that it hurts to eat, and then some more.

"Thanks, anyway, Kreacher," I say to the house elf, who continues to stand there with a slightly disgusted look on his face. He might feel very loyal to me, but it doesn't make him like babies any better. He retreats with relief, and I poke my head into the fireplace to check it's okay to come over.

Molly is in the kitchen. I would swear she sleeps in there if I hadn't been over often enough to know better.

"Hi, Mrs. Weasley."

"Oh, Harry dear," she says warmly, not at all surprised to see me in her fire. I try to call before I come over unless I'm already with a family member. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, Mrs. Weasley. Guess who I've got with me today?"

I guess the tone of my voice gave it away.

"Are you watching Teddy?"

"Yup. Andromeda finally decided she could let the kid out of her sight for a few hours, so I've got him over here at my place."

I don't know why I bother pretending it's "my" place. It totally belongs to Kreacher. I never have felt completely comfortable in this house, not since Sirius died, but hey, it's a place to live. I could get a different place, but I don't feel right about selling it or about forcing Kreacher to either come with me or stay in Grimmauld Place alone. He's very old now, though, and I think I'll try to bring myself to sell it when he dies. I make up for the depressing home by spending half my time at the Burrow, instead.

"Why don't you bring Teddy over for lunch, dear?" Molly suggests, looking happy at the prospect of having someone to feed. My plan is working like a charm. "Ron isn't here, of course, he's at the shop, but Ginny is home today."

Even better—my girlfriend is there!

"Thanks, Mrs. Weasley, I think we will. It'll take a load off of Kreacher." Did I mention he was getting old? A few days ago, I found one of my old trainers in the pot of soup he was making. Any time I don't have to eat his cooking or my own is a good one. The idea of retirement did not settle well with him, but now I wonder if his continuing to work might not kill us both.

I withdraw from the fireplace to find Teddy missing, and my heart leaps into my throat with panic, but it turns out all right—he wasn't even halfway up the stairs yet. He is indignant.

"Big boy!" he says several times.

I assure him that he is indeed a big boy who can go up the stairs if he wants to, but he can't right now because we have to go see Mrs. Weasley for lunch. He's happy with that. I swear to Merlin he thinks of Molly as the culinary version of Santa Claus—a plump and jolly person who dispenses delicious food to good little boys and girls.

I pick him up and wrap my arms around him before I Floo through to the Burrow—I never have and never will fully trust the Floo network, and I want to keep him safe. Molly greets us, then pushes Teddy out back and tells him to play in the yard until lunch is ready. I make to follow him outside, but she says,

"Oh, you can sit down, dear, he'll be fine playing in the mud for a minute. Take rest while you can, that's my advice. You can see him right there through the window."

After the crying jag he went on, I could use a minute without him. Who am I to argue with the child-rearing advice of Molly Weasley? Little do I suspect that she's just trying to keep me there so she can talk to me.

"Ginny's got a bit of news, Harry. I want you to promise me you'll be supportive and not say anything to hurt her."

"What? Why would I? What news?"

"She'd kill me if I didn't let her tell you herself," Molly says, sounding scandalised. "You just promise you'll think it through before you say anything."

"Okay . . ."

I'm utterly confused, but that's all I have time for, since I have to rush outside and grab Teddy before he gets into the broom shed and gets himself killed.

Ginny came downstairs and helped Molly put together a "light" lunch, which I'm currently finishing and planning to avoid food for the forseeable future. She really is turning into her mother, only, you know, young and sexy and usually smelling of blueberries. I don't know why blueberries, and she says the soap she uses is supposed to smell like roses, but there you have it. I'm not complaining. I love blueberries.

I'd better give Teddy a bath before I give him back to Andromeda, I think as I release the magical restraint I put on his chair (because what kid hasn't slipped out of a non-magical high chair, I ask you?). He's managed to get cheese in his eyebrows. Which, due to his happy mood and distraction over the prospect of playing in the mud some more, are bright pink beneath the cheese. I figure he'd be learning better control over his abilities if it weren't for the fact that we all encourage it so much—except Andromeda. I'm not saying she's a killjoy or anything, Merlin knows it was hard enough to raise one high-spirited Metamorphmagus, but she is—all right, she's a bit of a killjoy. (No, doctor, I'm not repressing my guilty feelings by coming up with reasons to dislike her! Why would I do a thing like that?)

"Ginny, and Harry dear, would you mind doing the dishes? I'll just take Teddy outside and make sure he doesn't get into any trouble."

She really doesn't miss a thing, that woman. Perfectly legitimate excuse for us to be alone so we can talk. Of course, the first thing we do is share a long-overdue moment of snogging. I've been thinking I'm going to be sick if I even see food for a week, but I relish the scent of blueberries nonetheless. Molly is very pointedly turned away from the kitchen window, I notice when I come up for air. She really is the most wonderful woman in the world, except maybe her daughter, who is perfectly willing to snog some more, so we do that.

A couple of minutes later, we actually start clearing up from lunch, and we talk.

"Your mum said you had some news," is my prompt. I try to be casual about it, despite the fact that her warning has my heart pounding.

Ginny's entire face lights up, and I suddenly know what her news is.

"You got it?"

She nods eagerly, her beautiful hair flying.

"You got it!" I whoop, and I grab her around the waist and pick her up and start twirling her around. "Ginny! Congratulations! You're in!"

"I'm in!" she shouts back, laughing.

This is excellent news, indeed. Her tryouts for the Holyhead Harpies were only a few days ago, and we've been waiting on pins and needles ever since. And she made it! Not that I doubted her for even a moment, of course. And I'm not just saying that. I've been watching her play for the last three years, and I would have thought the Harpies' coach was completely daft not to take her.

"Obviously I'm only on the reserve team," Ginny says more soberly, when I finally let her go (which is after a bit more snogging, but it was perfectly justified). "I'm going to work my cute little arse off to prove myself this season, and hopefully I'll be on the regular team next year."

My attention has been called to her cute little arse, which merits a playful squeeze, which apparently merits a stinging slap on the back of my hand.

"Harry!" she hisses. "My mother is watching us!"

"She already knows," I grin.

"So is your very young and impressionable godson."

I roll my eyes, but desist from further displays of affection. I wave at the pair out the kitchen window, chuckling as I see how much mud Teddy has managed to smear on Molly, and her good humour about it. After all, as much as I might whine about Teddy's crying jags or general ability to get on my nerves, I do take being his godfather very seriously. I have an utter determination to have a role in his life—not just that, but a good role. My model might have made a lot of mistakes, but there was no denying he loved me. Teddy is missing a hugely important part of his life, which is at least partially due to me, and I'm going to make it up to him as best I can. I have a lot of sympathy for some of Sirius' less endearing moments, now.

Ginny and I finally begin the dishes, with me washing and rinsing, and her drying and putting away.

"Tell me the plan," I urge her.

She accepts a plate and rubs it with a towel. "Training camp, first of all. Gwenog Jones is something of a slave driver, from what I can see, and the camp is going to last several weeks."

"When does it start?"

"In about two weeks," she answers, using her wand to send the stack of clean and dry plates into the cupboard.

I am learning that pouting can be cute, so I try it. "So soon? But you'll be gone forever!"

"I will be once the season starts. Which is only a week after I get back from training camp, unfortunately. I'm thinking I might get most of the packing done now, so I won't have so much to do between camp and the new season."

I am rather stunned by this. Of course I wanted her to succeed, and of course I'm happy for her, but here she is, telling me quite calmly that I have only two weeks before I will essentially lose her until next spring. It's enough to make a guy feel a little lost. I can't say I don't want her to go, because that will look like I don't support her. But I can't just tell her to have a good time and stay out of trouble, because then she'll think I don't love her.

I settle for snogging her again. It's just about the only part of being in a relationship I feel like I'm any good at. When she pulls back, there's a bit of blood on her lip. I am both aghast and slightly proud when I realise I drew it from her.

"That was rather . . . possessive of you," she remarks.

"Ginny," I say, trying not to sound like a whiny douchebag. "I'm just getting used to having you after you were away at school all last year. And now you're going away again, doing all this glamorous travelling and meeting people, and leaving me here by myself with nothing to do but miss you and wish you were with me."

She brightens at that, and I congratulate myself on having managed to say the right thing. She takes my arm, since the dishes are done, and pulls me to the door. We're going outside to join Molly and Teddy, it appears.

"You could try finding something to occupy your time," she says to me. "Like a job."

I blush at that. I haven't been looking for one at all, and it makes me feel sort of shiftless. All four of us—Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and myself—spent the past year studying for NEWTS, despite the fact that only one of us was the proper age for it. We took the tests a month ago, and I've been lazing around ever since. Doing a little bit of work at George's store—Merlin, it's still hard to call it that, just "George" like that without Fred— but mostly just coming over to the Burrow or spending time with Teddy. I almost feel guilty for taking the time off, when everyone else has been keeping busy with working or, in Ginny's case, final preparations for her tryout.

Of course, now I've had the time off, and Ginny probably has a point. I'd have less time to miss her if I was doing something besides sleeping in and coming over to snog—er, see— her. I won't miss her any less, I am sure of that, but I'll have less time to think about it.

Instead of going home to meet Andromeda to pick Teddy up, I send her a message that I will bring Teddy home in a few more hours. He's only been here a few times and this is the first time without his Grandma. He is having fun. We stay at the Burrow and soon enough there are myriad people to help me keep Teddy entertained. Arthur gets home from work, and the knowledge that Teddy and I are present brings Ron over, even though he's kind of moved into George's apartment and doesn't live here much anymore.

Percy is also here. Percy has been quietly dating a girl he met at the Ministry, but they haven't married or even moved in together yet, so Percy eats a lot of his dinners at the Burrow. I strongly suspect that he is still trying to make up for his estrangement a couple of years ago. And I have to admit that he is doing a damn fine job of it, between his attentiveness to his mother and his respectful conversations with his father. He's also sort of my hero, because within minutes he and Teddy are great friends. I don't know what I was expecting, maybe a lecture on cauldron bottoms, but instead he digs through some things from his old room, unearths his favourite storybook, and proceeds to read it to Teddy, complete with silly voices. I promise I'm not the only one who's shocked by this.

And then Hermione arrives. She is just as welcome to come without announcement as I am, so no one is very surprised by her appearance. We are all a little surprised, however, with the way she beelines for Ron and starts waving an envelope in his face and demanding to know if he got his. Sheepishly, he pulls an envelope of his own out of his pocket. I step closer, slightly distracted by the monkey grip Teddy has got on my neck, trying to see what they have.

Ginny slides in next to me. "Here's ours," she announces. "We haven't opened them yet."

"Of course we haven't, since I didn't know I had one," I say, a bit miffed that I'm the only one who doesn't know what's going on. Okay, maybe also a bit miffed that Teddy is apparently trying to claw chunks out of my flesh in an effort to remain in my arms when I want to put him down. I give up and settle him on my hip.

"The owl came when you were trying to make him nap," Ginny says.

At the mere utterance of the word "nap," Teddy begins to sniffle, which I have figured out recently is the prelude to a tantrum.

"Auntie Ginny was just making a joke," I say to him in a very bright, happy voice. "Weren't you, Auntie Ginny?"

Eyes wide at how close we are to disaster, she nods vigorously. Ron, who has witnessed a Teddy Tantrum himself, forces out a weak chuckle at the very amusing joke his sister made. Mollified, the boy settles back down with his head on my shoulder. The lack of napping this afternoon has obviously caught up to him. I can't wait until he's old enough for the connection between tired crankiness and not napping to make sense to him.

"Anyway, what the hell is it?"

I have become rather looser with language recently. Maybe I just feel that since my life might actually be under my own control for once, I can do what I like with it. Hence swearing, which thankfully doesn't bother Ginny. Let's not even bring up what happened the night Ron and I got drunk together the first time. Actually, we can't bring it up, because we've sworn each other to silence.

Hermione gives a pointed look at the little boy in my arms, but I just shrug. He's going to hear it somewhere, isn't he?

"It's our NEWT results, of course," she explains.

"Oh, right."

I am not nearly as concerned with these as anyone else in the room. Well, okay, Ginny doesn't really care that much, either. She's already on the Harpies, so the results are simply going to be the reward of her hard work, not anything life changing. My name itself is a ticket of entry into whatever job I bloody well want, so a bad NEWT score isn't going to ruin me. Of course, with the way that Hermione spent the last year threatening, cajoling, guilt-tripping, and riding us, we can't possibly have a bad NEWT score. We actually worked pretty hard. I have been entertaining ideas of getting somewhere on merit rather than fame, silly me.

So, with enthusiasm, I say, "Ready, everyone?"

We are all poised with our hands ready to tear open our envelopes (which I am able to accomplish by applying a very short-lived Sticking Charm to the sleepy toddler I am sort of still holding). Arthur and Percy are sitting on the sofa, watching, and Molly is standing in the doorway to the kitchen.


The sound of shredding paper fills the room, and Teddy becomes more alert. He peers down at the parchment in my hands.

"What, Hay-hee?"

(Did I say I was waiting until he was old enough to be logical? I meant I was waiting until he was old enough to pronounce the letter R.)

"It's the proof that I'm smarter than I'm given credit for," I say rather smugly.

There are some happy looks all around, in fact. I really shouldn't be smug. I didn't have anything to do besides study all year, except Andromeda's visits with my godson and a few hours here or there at the shop. Hermione did all her studying on top of working as a clerk for someone on the Wizengamot, and Ron . . . Ron really grew up this past year. He hasn't slept much. He was determined to do really well on his NEWTs, but studies have been taking a back seat to helping to run Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. And being with George when the shop doors close.

Well . . . I suppose we've all been doing some growing up. I have the running of my own home, and the responsibility to be a role model for the little pest, here. And Ginny's been shoved into the public spotlight by dating me, just the way the rest of us were shoved a few years ago, so she's had to be way more mature than is really fair.

"Wow, Hermione," Ron is saying, looking over her parchment. "I mean, I know you're exceptionally brilliant and you've been working yourself to death, but still . . . wow."

Hermione is looking very self-satisfied, and she peeks at Ron's scores. "Wow, yourself," she says with contentment, and then they're sharing a kiss. Ginny and I roll our eyes at each other, despite the fact that I'm thinking a kiss is actually a great idea.

"Pawchment," Teddy objects, wrinkling his nose. I have to laugh at that, and he snuggles his head back down, leaving me free to compare scores.

I've got an "O" on my Defense NEWT. I am pleased as punch, to say the least. "E" in Transfiguration and Charms, thank you very much. Just an "A" in Potions, but I wasn't exactly expecting a miracle. None of the three of us have a real innate talent for the subject, so I still don't totally grasp some of the concepts. I sure wasn't going to start asking Slughorn for favours, because that man keeps score. I have scraped an "E" in Astronomy, mostly just because the lack of distraction when studying alone means you actually pay attention sometimes.

Hermione has several "O" scores, and Ron got an "O" in Charms. Which doesn't actually surprise me, after all his practice at work. Hermione has nothing lower than "E" in any subject, but Ron got an "A" in Potions and in Transfiguration. Ginny's only "O" is Muggle Studies, but she has a nice healthy mix of "E"s and "A"s.

Hermione grabs my free hand and Ron's. She is brimming with tears, I am surprised to see. Hermione's not a big cryer, not even after all she's been through.

"I'm so proud of us," she says seriously. "We've done so well, and we've done it all on our own."

It's mostly true. In the aftermath of the defeat of Voldemort, we pulled ourselves together and decided to move on with life, and I was very happy about using my famous name to arrange for us to take the exams with the graduating seventh years this past spring. But we did have a lot of help from McGonagall, whom Hermione has been in constant contact with, and from Arthur, Molly, Bill and Fleur, Charlie, and Percy whenever they thought they could be of assistance. We mostly didn't bother George, because he's still struggling just to keep himself together enough to run the store.

I let go of Hermione's hand to slip my arm around Ginny, including her in this little celebration. She might have been off at school, but she worked just as hard as we did. I turn around when I realise that Arthur, Molly, and Percy are applauding the four of us. Molly comes out of the kitchen to try to hug us all at once.

"I'm proud of you lot," she says, sniffling. She's patting Ron on the back, murmuring something about her baby boy, and simultaneously trying to stroke Ginny's hair. She has every right to be proud of them, after all the work Ginny's put into her budding Quidditch career, and the way Ron is becoming such a strong person.

Teddy is getting fussy (he likes being close to precisely one person at a time, or so Andromeda tells me and so I am beginning to notice), so I back away a step. Molly moves over to me to pat my shoulder and blubber on me.

"I'm proud of you, too, Harry dear," she says. "You're becoming such a good man, with the way you look after Teddy and—"

"It isn't anything," I protest, my face heating up and squirming, knowing I can't back away from her patting hand without hurting her feelings. Really, after all the others have done, she wants to make a big deal over the fact that I take responsibility for my own godson? But the others are smiling at me, nodding their heads.

Well, yes, Teddy can be a handful. But this is the first time he's been here without Andromeda! And yes, I kind of adore him, but who wouldn't? He's really cute! Maybe I even spoil him a bit, but my own godfather bought me the most expensive broom on the market about a week after we first met, so I'm only doing what I learned. But I decide to thank Molly and get past it so we can have dinner. That huge lunch that nearly killed me seems to have digested more quickly than I thought, because I'm totally starving.

"Come on, Teddy, you have to let go. I'm just putting you in the chair so we can eat," I tell the boy in a nice, calm voice when he won't let go.

"No!" he pouts.

"Aren't you hungry, Bug?"

(Hey, it's better than Pest, right?)


"So you have to sit in this chair, if you want to have dinner."

"No! Stay, Hey-hee!"

He is really cranky, now. It was a very big mistake to let the big innocent pleading eyes dissuade me from forcing the nap issue, earlier. I try to remind myself that this is my own fault and I am not allowed to yell at the child. Discipline, we have to work on that.

"Fine, if you promise to work on saying my name," I finally mumble, and sit down at the dinner table with the Bug in my lap. The Weasley family is indulgent about it, although I vow that next time I watch Teddy without Andromeda, I'm only keeping him through one meal. He is happy with sharing my plate, but I can't say that I am. Most of my food winds up mixed together in a truly stomach-churning mash that somehow finds its way down my shirt and into Teddy's hair, with maybe a single bite making it into his mouth. I am dismayed. I just got the cheese out of his eyebrows, and now I have to remove peas from his hair?

I try to be philosophical about it. He's still really little, and he'll grow out of it. At least I'm not Andromeda, having to deal with him all the time. But I still grumble while I take him upstairs to wash out his hair and try to remove mashed vegetables from my clothing. Until I start blowing raspberries into his chubby little tummy, and he starts shrieking with laughter and saying "Pwease, Hey-hee, pwease!" Now we're having a great time.

Oh, hell. I guess I'm doing better at this than most teenagers would be.

Half an hour into my nineteenth birthday party, I'm already wishing it's over. I don't know where Hermione found the time to set this all up, or how she wheedled Kreacher into it, but she actually managed to throw a birthday party at my own house without telling me until the morning of.

It's a good enough party, I have to admit. Hermione worked hard. Neville came, and he surprised everyone by not only bringing Hannah Abbot with him, but by not letting go of her hand since the moment they arrived. Luna is here, too, being her usual dreamy-eyed and cheerful self, and Dean Thompson and Seamus Finnegan have stopped by for a few minutes. All of the Weasleys are here (except Ginny), even Bill and Fleur with their baby girl Victoire, and Percy has brought his girlfriend. And that's pretty much the extent of my circle of friends, at least the way it is since the war ended. I no longer feel in any way comfortable around the rest of the people I used to know, after the suffering they went through that I had so much to do with. Merlin help me if I could ever look Dennis Creevey in the eye again. (No, doctor, I'm not projecting my guilt onto people who don't blame me. A year of repressed emotions and beating myself up can't possibly be as unhealthy as you make it seem!)

Anyway, the smallness of my group of friends is making me depressed. So is the way George is drinking too much and getting maudlin, so that Ron is sort of following him around instead of enjoying things. Although I think the main reason for my depression is that Ginny isn't here. She left for her training camp two days ago. I already miss her. I'm sort of wishing that I had told everyone I was celebrating my birthday by having a cake with the Bug and going to bed early.

Instead, I force myself to be cheerful, to show Hermione I appreciate it if nothing else. I chatter with Neville about his work at a huge magical nursery in the Irish countryside, and am startled to hear that Hannah is now the cook at the Leaky Cauldron in London. Luna is apparently her father's only assistant for his magazine, and she's a surprisingly coherent and detailed author. She still sort of marches to her own tune, but I admire that a lot more than I'm embarrassed by it, these days. Seamus and Dean are both in entry-level positions at the Ministry. Seamus likes the Department of Magical Sports and Games, but Dean is talking about trying to get a position at The Daily Prophet instead.

It brings home to me that I still haven't started looking for work. I really should. I can't mope around this dank old house forever. Everyone else is accepting their age and doing something with their life, and here I am sitting around being bored and making no contribution to the world. I did get rid of Voldemort and all, true, but no contributions lately. I think about volunteering for more hours at the shop, but I'm not really any good at the work and they don't need the extra pair of hands, anyway.

An hour into the party, I helplessly say goodnight as Ron and Charlie take George home. I want to kick everybody out right then. It's been over a year, and George still can't really cope. Fred's death has been hard on everyone, that goes without saying, but George . . . I know it's not my fault, I know that, but I still can't deal with seeing what he goes through, what Ron goes through trying to help him. I try to go back to talking with Neville and Hannah, but it's become awkward, and they decide to say goodnight. Seamus and Dean do the same, and then Percy and his girl depart, then Bill and Fleur insist that little Victoire must be put to bed. Arthur and Molly return home, too.

Then it's just me, Hermione, and Luna. Luna doesn't look the least uncomfortable, and she volunteers to clean up the leftover food and drink that Hermione and Kreacher prepared. I want to tell her to leave it for Kreacher, but I stop myself, for two reasons. First, Kreacher is really getting old and the mess is rather large. Also, I hate thinking of Luna going back to a lonely house with only her barmy old dad for company. So I just smile and thank her. The three of us begin gathering things up to be put away and washed.

"Thanks for the party, Hermione. It was really nice of you."

Hermione gives me a sad smile. "I thought we could all use a night that was fun," she shrugs. "We missed the other birthdays because we were so busy studying this year, and I thought we could take advantage of yours being in the summer."

"It was fun," I insist, despite the fact that this is clearly a lie. "It was nice to get to catch up with everyone." I turn to Luna. "Thank you for being here."

"It was nice," she says after a slow moment of digesting my words. "Nice to have friends again. I had Ginny at school this year, of course, but with school over I don't see anyone anymore."

I feel a pang of guilt over this. (Just one more thing to add to the list, right?) The other Hogwarts students don't need me for anything, they have their own lives, but I have forgotten how lonely Luna is sometimes. I make the decision, here and now, that I won't be so neglectful of her after this. I'll try to make sure we get together with her more often, and maybe with Neville and Hannah, as well.

"After everything we've been through, we've learned who our real friends are," I say, and I give both women a very genuine smile. It's been a depressing evening, but there is at least this bright spot. "And you two are people that I can see being in my life for a very long time."

They both smile back and assure me that they feel the same way about me. The room is cleaned up now, and they both depart, but I feel less inclined to get drunk and miserable. I am, however, bored, without a focused study schedule to adhere to. Maybe I should get a television.

Then there is movement in the next room, and I stiffen. I go over my list of party guests and conclude that everyone who was present has definitely left. It's possible that someone came back, I suppose, but I didn't discover any forgotten belongings while cleaning and I don't know what they would have come back for. I draw my wand and cast a Disillusionment Charm on myself. I'm not fantastic at those yet, by any means, especially not when self-casting, but the house is kind of dark and it will hold up long enough for me to get the element of surprise.

"Harry, where are you?" calls a familiar voice.

I immediately reverse the spell and tuck away my wand, practically sprinting toward her as she enters the room. "Ginny! You're here!"

Ginny looks around. "Hermione said there was a party."

"There was," I shrug. "It's over."

"Short party," is her only comment.

"I didn't think you'd be here. How did you get away? How long can you stay? I'm really happy to see you," I remember to add onto my questions, as I wrap my arms around her waist and pull her against me. She comes willingly.

"It's amazing what dropping the name Harry Potter will get you," she says, looking up at me with a suggestive eyebrow wiggle.

I groan at that.

She chuckles. "No, really, we had a good day today so Miss Jones said it was okay if I came down here tonight, so long as I am on my broom and bright-eyed at precisely eight o'clock tomorrow morning."

"I have you until eight?" I smile.

She tries to give me a stern look. "I plan on getting at least a bit of sleep."

The stern look melts when I kiss her. Then we go up to my bedroom and the rest of the night passes far too quickly. It's not our first time (that was on her seventeenth birthday, unbeknownst to anyone else), but this is still very new for us and we like to take our time exploring. There's a lot of undignified giggling involved, but also some very gratifying moans of pleasure.

In the very early morning, when I feel like we've just gone to sleep, Ginny slips out of the bed and wakens me.

"Going so soon?" I whisper, blinking sleep from my eyes and fumbling for my glasses.

"Got to get started back," she says, kissing my forehead, and taking the glasses away from me. "Just go back to sleep."

"When will you be back?"

"Training camp is over at the end of August, and I'll be here for a week. We'll talk then about when you and I can visit each other during the season."

I nod a bit dumbly.

"Hopefully you'll have found something to do by then," she teases.

I nod, still feeling heavy and slow. "I'm going to sign up for the Auror programme," I say with a yawn, then freeze in the act of burrowing into my bed. What did I just say?

"When did you decide that?" Ginny asks, apparently thinking the same thing I am.

"Er, just now . . ."

"What brought this on?"

"Good at it," I mumble, now feeling grumpy about still being awake. She should be leaving, right? I'll see her in a few weeks, and sleep is good. "Logical choice."

"I guess it is," she says, kissing my forehead again. I manage to fumble one hand out of the covers to give her a farewell pat, which lands in a rather interesting location. "Well, Harry, I would say I'm game for another quick one, but I don't think you are," she jokes.

I remove my hand from her breast (though it is something of a struggle). "Bye. See you."

"Be careful," Ginny whispers, and then she's gone.

A/N: Don't let this first chapter fool you—it starts out looking like it fills in the gap between the final chapter of DH and the epilogue of DH, but it goes far off track in mid-third and fourth chapter. This is a story about the medical mysteries involved in being the child of a werewolf and a Metamorphmagus, and about the prejudices and hate directed at such mysteries. A Harry-raises-Teddy story with a very sad twist. There are no big enemies or battles, but plenty of conflict.

It is also the story of how Harry discovers that friendship and respect are just as good a beginning to love as instant attraction and flirting. I'm not telling the final pairing for Harry, but suffice it to say that it's not Ginny.