Ginny entered the tent with a scalding mug of tea balanced in each palm. She set one on the small table for Lily and then crossed to the boys' room with the other still perched precariously (and a bit painfully) in her hand. She knocked once.
"It's me," she greeted.
Grumbling, determined to be cross: "You'll have to be more specific."
Ginny rolled her eyes.
"I've got tea," she pressed.
The bed James was occupying groaned a bit as he presumably stepped down from it. She shifted the mug to her left palm as she listened to his approaching footsteps. She peered down at her right with a frown; it had been a bad idea to take the tea in so soon. There was an angry red circle stinging her flesh.
The door opened. James blinked down at her, bleary-eyed, his untidy hair even more wayward than usual. Creases from his pillow adorned his already-freckled cheeks. Ginny held out the mug, handle facing outwards.
"Here. It's really hot!" She quickly added, as he went to grab it around the middle as she'd done. "Take the handle."
He obliged, pulling it carefully over to him. He blew on the steaming surface for a moment, paused, and then turned, heading back into the bedroom. But he left the door open, which had always meant in James-language: I want you to come in, but I'm not going to ask you to. Ginny absentmindedly rubbed her burned palm as she entered. She followed James to the small table in front of the window. She sat across from him. For a few seconds, they observed each other warily. And then:
"What were you thinking, James?"
He angrily pushed his hair back (or tried—his fingers got stuck halfway through the process).
"Obviously that I wanted to maim and kill myself to leave my poor, poor parents with more dead loved ones. Really—what did you lot expect? James Sirius and Fred hatch up a plan—what other way could it go?"
It stung. Ginny leaned back as if he'd physically struck her. She would've expected words like that from her middle son, who often spoke quickly and thoughtlessly when enraged. But not from James, who had never been a particularly angry child. Things had always seemed to roll right off of him—punishments, lectures, embarrassment, inconveniences. Consequently, she hadn't come prepared for attack, and she was caught off balance by the hostility of it (taken aback, as always, by the quick, unbidden image in her memory of a broken, red-haired young man buried beneath rubble—)
"That's not funny."
He was withering with guilt already. He seemed to shrink down, and as if to give himself something to do, he lifted his scalding tea cup. He winced as he took a tiny sip.
"It was only a laugh," he finally said.
"What? Trying to become an unregistered animagus or joking about our dead loved ones?"
He ducked his face. "Animagus."
"Well, it's not a laugh. There's a reason only a handful of people have ever successfully become animagi in my lifetime. It's dangerous."
"Teddy did it—"
"Teddy, from what I understand, had outside help from an adult. He isn't being very forthcoming about who that adult is, but I'd wager whoever it was knew what they were talking about."
"I'm nearly an adult. At my age, Dad was plotting the downfall of Voldemort. You were running a rebellion inside Hogwarts at age sixteen!"
Ginny instinctively pulled her arms beneath the table, as if he hadn't ever seen the light scars before. He noticed.
"I don't have scars to show for what I did," he grumbled.
Anger roused up within her. She had to take a moment to inhale slowly. "James. The key difference between the things that your dad and I did at your age and the thing that you did is that what we did we had to do. There was no other choice. You can't possibly imagine the state of the world. How could you? You're alive now, in this wonderful world, because of the things he did."
James took another painful sip.
"James Potter did it. And so did Sirius Black."
"To help protect people from their friend—and, of course, their friend himself—every full moon. Again—a necessity." She watched him lower his face further. He sniffed quietly.
"I would've gotten away with it. I had everything—it took me a year to amass all those ingredients. And now it's all gone."
She wasn't quite ready to bemoan the loss of his illegal animagi supplies.
"Good. The frightening thing is that you probably would've gotten away with it, had we been home instead of on holiday last night. And that terrifies me. Do you know what the hardest thing about being your mum is?"
"Do I want to know?"
She continued on. "The hardest part is that I can't protect you as fiercely or completely as I love you. If I could, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now, because you never would've attempted something so dangerous."
"Danger's a part of life, Mum."
"It shouldn't be for you lot. Not the way it was for your dad and me." She leaned forward. She reached across the table and gently tapped his chin, so he'd look up at her and met her eyes. Brown bore into brown and she felt a sea of love and concern flood her. "Elective danger is still danger. An accidental death is just as tragic as a heroic one. There's no laugh to be had in genuine injury. It's just not worth it—do you understand? Not to me, not to your dad, not to anybody on this earth. Nothing is worth you risking your life, and I never want to hear of you risking it for a laugh ever again." A pause. She pursed her lips for a moment and willed herself not to cry. She willed him to understand, because if she couldn't get through to him now, she never would. "James. You're so important to me."
He cleared his throat gruffly and looked towards the carpet. Ginny knew he was close to tears—something he'd avoid at all costs.
"I'm sorry," he finally admitted. It opened a floodgate. He glanced back up, his eyes wide and aching. "I'm sorry, Mum. I knew it was a bad idea. But I was jealous of Teddy. And I felt like I wasn't living up to my name if I didn't try. I loved the idea—I still do. But I shouldn't've done it the way I did. I should've asked McGonagall to teach me and I should've done it the right way. And…and…I shouldn't have pulled my cousins into it."
Ginny gave him a wry smile. "James, Albus told us that Fred, Roxanne, and Dominique were just as much to blame as you were."
James shook his head immediately. "No, that's not true. It was me. All me."
"Well then, it was extremely impressive how you tricked all three into keeping leaves in their mouths for an entire month. Very cunning—are you sure you weren't meant to be in Slytherin?"
"Er…yeah, maybe I was meant to," he shrugged. "Did you tell their parents that it was all my fault?"
"No. Of course I didn't. Because it wasn't. Not that George and Bill would've believed that, anyway—they know their kids."
He huffed, dejected. "You should've checked with me first! So we could straighten our stories out! Because I promised everybody that I would take the blame."
Ginny stared at him, overcome with a mixture of fondness and exasperation. "James, who told you that you were the resident martyr?"
"I did," he proclaimed bravely.
"Well, as the resident martyr's mother, I squash that idea." She turned her head to the side, examining him curiously. "Why don't you tell me why you involved Albus and Scorpius. And don't say it's because you couldn't do the potion. Maybe you didn't want to do it—but you could do it. Don't let Slughorn catch you saying something like that."
He flushed for the first time. He squirmed uneasily.
"I don't want you to tell him, because it would sound mean out of context," he began.
He looked up. "I wanted him to feel like, I dunno…like he was a part of it. You know? Like he was useful." A beat. "Also, I really didn't want to do the potion; I hate Potions."
Ginny hesitated, torn between gratitude and annoyance.
"I'm glad you were involving yourself in Albus's wellbeing, but I'd prefer if, in the future, those efforts didn't involve breaking the law. Okay? Promise?"
He sighed. "Well, I guess. If I must."
"You must." She rose from the table. She turned to cross to his side, so she could pull him into a hug, when something caught her eye…an almost empty mug sitting on the windowsill that hadn't been there last night.
"Oh, yeah," James told her, noticing her glance. She could hear the grin lurking in his voice. "Dad came by before you."
Ginny arched an eyebrow. "And…let me guess. He inevitably gave the same exact lecture that I just did."
"Nearly word-for-word at some parts. I gave him an eight out of ten—he made some good points, but I'm not sure his heart was in it. He didn't seem that angry. You get an 8.5 out of ten because your delivery was spot on—I could really feel your emotion, Mum, nice job."
"Of course he was angry," Ginny said sharply. "What you did was very dangerous. And would you stop rating our lectures on a ten-point scale? It was cute when you were five but it's beginning to get a bit tiring."
"No, you love it, I know you do. And I think Dad was sort of proud of the animagus thing. He kept ruffling my hair like he always does after winning Quidditch matches."
"Okay, he may've been proud that you made it as far as you did, but he was angry. Because what you did was dangerous and reckless. Do you remember the long chat we just had?"
He nodded seriously. "Yes. I remember. You love me, I'm your favorite child, life wasn't life until you birthed me, the sun wouldn't shine if I lost a limb, when I breathe little puffs of glitter tumble out of my mouth, everything I touch turns to gold, and I'm not allowed to ever do something that risky again."
Ginny laughed before she could stop herself. She observed James with fond annoyance.
"That's what you took away from all that?" She finally demanded. He nodded.
"Face it, Mum. You love me. It's so sweet." He jutted his bottom lip out and fluttered his eyelashes. "Your precious first-born son."
Ginny shook her head. "I can't believe you're actually mocking me for loving my child."
"Believe it. It's time for us to laugh again, Mum. It's been…" he trailed off, peering up at the ceiling with a thoughtful expression. "Thirteen hours—at least!—since we've shared a joke. I don't like it. Makes me homesick. It's like one of us has been Imperiused."
Ginny rolled her eyes.
"Well, forgive me, but I'm not amused by the idea of you potentially squandering away the life I gave you."
"Okay," James said. "Right. Because the favorite child thing."
"Sorry, I get it! I really do." He stood and opened his arms, something that rarely happened these days. He'd long out-grown being the one to initiate hugs with his parents. Ginny stepped forward and pulled him into her arms, hugging him tightly.
"I really am sorry, Mum," he mumbled into her hair. "I didn't mean to disappoint you. That part sucked."
She tried to suppress her grin and failed.
"Ha, ha," she teased good-naturedly. "You love your mum. How sweet."
It wasn't really that funny, but he roared with laughter anyway, clearly relieved that she was joking with him again.
She met up with Harry on the outskirts of the camp where their post was being forwarded.
"How was your talk?" They greeted in unison.
They grinned at each other. Harry stepped into the brief pause.
"Great. Really great. I reassured Albus! He felt better after we spoke. It was a big deal. Easily in the top ten of my entire life." He was beaming. Ginny reached over and took his hand. Her thumb rubbed lightly over I must not tell lies.
"That's great, Harry," she smiled.
"And yours with James?"
"Point five? What'd you get an extra half point for?! I only got an eight…"
"My emotional fortitude, I believe. Why didn't you tell me you'd already spoken with him?"
"Because I knew he needed to hear it from both of us."
"Yeah, he did," she reached over and lightly smacked his shoulder. "What were you ruffling his hair for?! He told me you're proud of what he did!"
"Sorry! I tried to be stern and cool but…" he trailed off. "You've got to admire his guts and how close he came."
"Yeah, there's that, or I could admire the fact that he's still got all his limbs attached, thanks to our timely intervention."
Harry snorted. "All I can say is…it's a bloody good thing we snuck off from the party last night."
Ginny appraised him as he rifled through the letters he'd gathered. She watched the subtle shift of his muscles beneath his skin.
"Mmm, yes, bloody good thing," she agreed. Her tone made him glance up, his eyes twinkling. He gently nudged her.
"Stop that—no blazing looks, we're due back at camp soon."
"Blazing look? What the hell is a blazing look?" She demanded, her lips twitching. "Did I stumble upon one of your inner poeticisms again?"
He went to reply, an amused grin in place, but paused. His expression dropped and furrowed into something baffled as he stared down at the letters in hand. He lifted one up and waved it.
"Uh oh. Why's Dean writing you?"
"What?" Ginny reached forward and snatched the letter. She scowled a moment later. Ginny Weasley, The Den, Godric's Hollow…- "He knows my surname is Potter."
Harry moved to stand behind her, his chin resting on her shoulder, peering down as she opened and unfolded the letter. Ginny scanned the greeting, but was distracted by the slight tenseness she felt emitting from Harry's body. She folded the letter back down, reached up, and drew his glasses halfway down his nose.
"What?" He asked defensively. He reached up to right his glasses, but Ginny snatched his hand.
"I can hear you getting possessive back there."
"I'm not," he scoffed. There was a pause. "…Aren't we going to read it?"
"We are, but for the record, it's addressed to me."
She unfolded the letter, and for the first time, it occurred to her that perhaps his jealousy beast had only gone dormant in his chest, instead of being properly eradicated. She'd have to deal with that later. She made a mental note.
"Dear Ginny, it's been so long, I've been meaning to write since Nora and James began dating...etcetera etcetera…oh!"
Harry turned his face to the right, and she turned hers to the left, both attempting to meet each other's shocked gazes. However, they only managed to painfully collide faces. Harry backed up and impatiently rubbed over his nose.
"What?" He blurted.
Ginny quickly turned back to the letter and reread it, to make sure she hadn't misunderstood. Nora and I recently got into an argument and she let it slip that she and James are planning on getting married once he turns seventeen at the end of this summer. Nora has a tendency towards exaggerating, so I thought it best to check with you before I took this seriously…
She and Harry shifted to face each other.
"Married! He can't get married!" Harry blurted, alarmed.
Ginny looked back at the letter. "What would Hogwarts even do if they did? Would they still live in their dorms? Are there hidden marital quarters? What the hell are they thinking?"
"This is a year of firsts for Jamie. First time trying to become an illegal animagus…first time attempting to elope with Nora…" Harry trailed off.
"Wow, yeah. And you know who the best person to talk to him about this is?" Ginny pressed the letter into Harry's hands. "You!"
She turned, attempting to make a get-away, but Harry snagged her hand.
"No! No way! Your lecture scored higher than mine; you go talk to him!"
"It should be man-to-man! Dad-to-son! Husband-to-…potential-husband!"
"It should be a nice, gentle Mum talk!"
"'Nice, gentle'…Harry, you do remember who you married, right?"
He groaned. "What am I supposed to say to him about this? I married my first girlfriend, too."
"But you didn't do it during Hogwarts."
"No…because I was too busy trying to kill Voldemort!"
They stared at each other.
"Okay. New plan. Flip a coin," she suggested. "That's fair."
He dropped the letters down onto a stump and then rooted through his pockets. "Okay, sure. Okay. This side is mine and it means you have to talk to him about this."
"Fine. And if it's the other side, you have to talk to him."
They had a brief argument about who should get to toss it, then had another disagreement over the way the first toss landed, until finally…
"Ha!" Ginny leaned over and gathered the massive pile of letters. "I'll go take these back to camp and you can go talk to our son."
"Fine!" Harry shouted after her. "But if he ends up married, it's not my fault!"
"I'm not sure how many letters I assumed the Minister would get in a day, but it was decidedly less than this," Ginny greeted. She dumped the obscene stack onto the log beside Hermione. Hermione quickly set down her tea and reached for the topmost one eagerly, like it was an enthralling love letter instead of a letter from Gringotts.
"Here we go," Ron said, coming over to collapse down beside Hermione. The motion of his fall made nearly twenty letters topple and fall from the stack; Hermione leaned down to retrieve them with an annoyed glance Ron's way. "She'll be Minister for the rest of the day."
"I'm always the Minister."
"Yeah, but some days you're more Minster-y than others." Ron snagged on her forgotten tea. He peered around Ginny as he took a sip. "Where's Harry? Didn't he go with you?"
"Otherwise occupied," Ginny answered shortly. She'd separated her letters from the stack and was steadily sorting through them, putting them in order from most urgent to least.
"Meaning?" Ron pressed.
"Meaning it's none of your business." Ginny held up a letter with a beam. "Neville! And going by the return address, he and Hannah are back from Hawaii."
"Ooh, tell him I said hello!" Hermione said, nose buried in an eight-foot scroll of parchment covered in tiny, sprawling script.
"Is it to do with Al?" Ron pressed. He was now sorting through Hermione's unopened letters. "Blimey—Hermione! Three from the Chudley Canons manager! Why's he writing you? Can I read them?"
"Absolutely not!" Hermione blindly reached to her left and snatched them from Ron's hand. She glanced at them briefly, seemed to process the letters themselves, and then looked back up. For a moment, it appeared almost as if she'd only just realized Ron was sitting there. "Ron. Actually. Yes. It's him—he's been harassing me about the same thing for months. If you could just…read every letter that he's sent. Actually…" she began quickly rummaging through the letters. They all watched as a surprisingly large pile amassed in Ron's lap. "Read anything to do with any sort of sport. Please," she tacked on, giving him a sweet smile. Ron melted predictably.
"Yeah, okay—brilliant!" Ron rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Do I get to make executive decisions as well? Shall I get one of your fancy quills? I do think the Canons should go back to their old uniform design…" he mused.
"…We'll deal with that when we get there. For now, just…read them and summarize them to me." She didn't say thank you, but she didn't need to; the brief kiss she pressed to his cheek a moment later was seeping with so much affection that the words were hardly necessary. Ginny found herself missing Harry.
She sorted her post and moved on to sorting Harry's. She paused halfway through the process.
"Strange. Why did Neville send a separate letter to Harry? He never does that."
Hermione hardly spared her a glance. Ron shrugged, an obscenely long letter from the Chudley Cannons manager still held up. He seemed to be making notes in the margins, going by the quill held between his teeth.
Ginny placed the letter on the top of Harry's stack. If Neville had felt it pertinent to write Harry and only Harry, it was definitely something important.
She read through two articles, fully edited one, and then looked up. Impatience was beginning to set in. Where was Harry? How long did it take? She was debating getting up to go seek him and James out when he suddenly appeared to her left, as if he'd sensed her restlessness.
"There you are, took you long enough! Here—you've got loads of letters," Ginny greeted. He strolled over, took the pile Ginny was holding out, and began sorting through them. He scowled a moment later.
"Two days. I'm away for two days," he grumbled, mostly to himself.
"Harry!" Ron cheered, looking up at the sound of Harry's voice. "Missed you, mate. Where'd you get off to?"
Harry made a noncommittal noise, his brow pursed as he examined Neville's unopened letter. Ginny cleared her throat and looked at him expectantly.
"Well?" She demanded.
"Everything's fine," he said cryptically. He fell down onto the log beside her. He rested his hand on her knee soothingly and let his post fall to the wayside. Ginny understood what he meant through his reassuring touch; she beamed and ignored the Granger-Weasleys' baffled looks.
Harry was beside himself with pride.
"Nine! A nine!"
Ginny gaped. She turned fully towards him and met his high-five.
"Nice! Unprecedented! So everything's back to normal? Nothing to…you know…worry about?"
"Nothing at all! It was a fluke. Everything is back in working order."
Ginny collapsed against his side, relieved. "Oh, thank Merlin."
Ron was looking between them, his brow furrowed.
"What are you two…you know what, never mind, I don't think I want to know," he hurriedly stood. He patted Harry's shoulder roughly but seemed unable to meet his eyes. "Er...I'm glad everything's…all right, Harry. I'm just going to go down to the beach to check in on our progenies."
"Progenies. Nice word," Harry praised. "I'm going to assume you mean our kids."
"Er…thanks, yeah…I do…" with another strange look their way, Ron hurried off, his ears reddened. Hermione tsked.
"You two should stop doing that to him. You're going to give him a complex."
"A complex? As if he hasn't already got multiple?" Ginny quipped. She hesitated. "But what exactly did we do to Ron?"
She looked at Harry. He shrugged, staring off at the space Ron had been standing, a befuddled, regretful look in place like he'd done his best friend some grave error.
Hermione looked up. "You know. Making whatever Harry was up to sound like that."
"Sound like what?" Harry asked.
"Well, like you were…well…to somebody who didn't know what you were really doing, Harry, it sort of sounded like…" Hermione trailed off, cheeks burning, and then disappeared again behind her letter, mumbling something about needing to finish this before lunch.
Ginny had begun replaying their previous words in her mind, but she was unable to finish her examination.
"Mum! Dad!" Albus came into view, sprinting up from the path leading down to the beach. He came to a stop in front of them, Scorpius a few steps behind. They were both wet from the sea with sand plastered up and down their legs.
"Yes? Everything okay?"
"I'm starving," Albus complained. "Scorpius is, too."
"I'm only starving if it's convenient for you, Mr. and Mrs. Potter!" Scorpius corrected from behind Albus, a good-natured grin in place despite his 'starvation'. "You look busy with work, so I'm only slightly famished until you're done, and then I'm starving again."
"What happened to all the snacks on the beach that Gran brought down?" Harry asked. "I spent all morning helping with those."
"Gone! All gone," Albus lamented. "We didn't even get to have any before they disappeared."
"You know you've got to get food the moment it's put out when we're all together, Al. Every man for himself." Ginny rose, tucking her letters beneath her arm. She beckoned the boys to follow her. "We've got more snacks stashed in the tent."
"You're the best!" Scorpius punctuated his words with a small hop.
Ginny grinned at both boys, reaching over to halfheartedly brush sand from their shoulders as they all walked. "What were you two doing? You're literally covered in sand."
"Lily bet us ten galleons each that we couldn't dig ourselves out of the sand if we let her bury us in it," Albus said.
Ginny snorted. "And?"
"…can we borrow twenty galleons, Mum?" Albus asked.
"No, but you can direct her to me when she asks for payment. She owes me thirty galleons and ten sickles."
Scorpius looked up at her, intrigued. "Ooh, for what?"
"A variety of bets. I thought she'd learned her lesson about gambling, but apparently not."
"I think she just learned not to bet against you, Mum," Albus admitted. "She's burying Hugo and Lucy as we speak."
"Oh no," Ginny groaned. She opened the tent and led the way over towards the cupboard. "Those two are going to end up sobbing messes and Hermione and Percy will harass me."
Albus and Scorpius tore into the cupboard, pulling various items out and gathering them into their arms.
"Here, just take what you can carry now and I'll bring the rest down in a minute. Harry and I will be there soon."
"Thanks!" Albus and Scorpius chorused. They hurried off in a rush, eager to get back to the beach. Ginny began putting snacks into a bag, and as she did, she realized a tin of real biscuits had somehow ended up in the mix. Were they left in their tent from the last camping trip they took (before the sugar ban)? Were they planted there by the Granger-Weasleys in an attempt to make the Potters fold? Was Hermione sick of the sugar-ban Ron had instilled after Ginny bet him that his family couldn't last as long as hers could? She didn't know, but she'd be damned if she didn't open the tin to try and gather more clues.
She eased the top off and peered down into the tin. The biscuits seemed innocent enough. She reached in and pulled one out. It didn't feel old. She shot a quick look at the tent doorway. One bite wouldn't hurt, right? Nobody would know. It wasn't even a real cheat—she was simply trying to figure out when the biscuits had been left here, in case she needed to get revenge on her brother and sister-in-law…
She took a small bite. Beneath the sickly burst of sugar across her tongue, the texture was closer to that of a rock than a biscuit. She attempted to chew through it, dedicated now to this slip-up, but her stomach was churning.
"No. Nope. No—ugh, that's horrendous," she whispered to herself. She turned, searching for the bin, and leaned over it, spitting out the half-chewed biscuit.
"What are you doing?"
She spun around, her palm pressed over her lips. Harry was standing smugly in the doorway.
"I'm…I was…vomiting," she lied.
His eyes flickered from her face, to the trash bin, to the opened tin of biscuits.
"Yeah. Yes." She nodded and reached up, pressing the back of her hand to her face faintly. "I'm not…I'm not feeling so well. You might have to go to the beach without me."
His arms were crossed over his chest. His smirk was annoyingly endearing. She fanned herself with her hand as he approached, as if her nausea were giving her heat flashes.
He lifted the tin. "I wonder if it has anything to do with these biscuits that contain sugar—something we haven't had much of in years?"
"Nope." A beat. "And if it had anything to do with those biscuits—which it doesn't—it'd be because they're stale, not because of the sugar."
She glowered. "I am not!"
"You are so! What was that rubbish about how we were all going to stand united and nobody was going to eat sugar? That if James was on a ban then we all were—Potters United?"
His smugness was only mounting by the second. Ginny wrapped her arms around her stomach, as if her nausea was back.
"Okay. You caught me," she groaned weakly.
"I did," he grinned.
"You know now."
"You know that I'm—"
The tin clattered to the floor of the tent, spilling stale biscuits along the tiles. Harry's eyes had doubled in size behind his glasses. His panic short-circuited his thought process.
"What? What?!" He stumbled back, gripping at the edge of the countertop for purchase. He had paled magnificently. "…pregnant?"
She buried her face into her hands. "Twins!" She wailed.
She sneaked a glance at him through her fingers. Too far. The twins thing had been too much.
"That is the opposite of funny!" Harry cried, still leaning weakly against the counters, his palm now pressed over his heart. He lifted a quivering hand and shakily adjusted his glasses. "That's—that's evil, Ginny!"
She collapsed into snickers. "See—there are much worse things than me sneaking a bite of sugar. But, for the record, I spit it out. Do you want to see?"
"No! I believe you." He shook his head. "Twins! Just the idea and I need a nap."
She met his eyes. His green ones softened first, and then the corners of his lips twitched, and then he succumbed to laughter. He'd crossed the space between them in only a few moments. She melted into his embrace.
"Did you read Neville's letter?" She asked, her face still buried into his shirt.
"Yes. What if we did?"
"What if we did what?"
"What if we had another baby?"
"Then you'd have to send me to St. Mungo's for psychiatric treatment." She leaned back and peered at him suspiciously. "Why? Are you feeling ill? How do you go from nearly fainting at the mere suggestion to saying something like that?"
His cheeks were pink. That was the first thing that registered in her mind. And then she saw the sheepish smile blooming, the hesitant way he'd averted his eyes.
"What? Merlin—what?!" She demanded, growing truly worried now. She regretted her joke, regretted ever bringing the topic up.
"I don't know…you're right, of course, it'd be a bad idea—another baby. I guess I just realized…well, for a while, I felt like life was sort of…finalized. Like I couldn't change much anymore. We were done having the kids, we'd established ourselves in our careers so firmly…but what if something did change?"
"Like…a baby?" She was trying not to sound incredulous. But the thought was ridiculous to her.
"No. Not really. The baby's a metaphor."
"The baby's a metaphor?" She demanded. Her stomach rumbled. "Harry—I'm too hungry for riddles. Can we have this conversation after lunch? And we should probably go feed our children who are actually, you know, real. We can tend to our metaphoric baby later."
"No, we need to have it now," he demanded, impatient. Brimming with an emotion she couldn't name. He pulled a roll of parchment from his pocket. "Look. And I need to know what you think about it."
Ginny quickly snatched the parchment from him, but trepidation kept her from unrolling it as quickly as she'd taken it. Fears that it would be some study on why having four kids was superior to three kept her on edge. Finally, after a pleading, fretful look from Harry, she hesitantly opened it.
I didn't want to mention this in my other letter in case your kids got a hold of it—I know how they like to read my letters. I'm writing on behalf of McGonagall, who's still abroad on her 'long-awaited holiday' and has left me in charge in her absence. Simmons put in notice yesterday and Hogwarts is, once again, in need of a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. I know I've suggested you nearly half a dozen times now. And I know you've refused McGonagall's offers nearly half a dozen times. But when she asked me to contact anybody I thought might do a good job—you're still the first person I thought of. Not to get too soppy…but you know how much Dumbledore's Army and your instruction changed me. I think that would be great for the students.
As for your kids...well, even if they hate the idea, at least you'll be close enough to supervise them. Not to stress you out on your holiday, but you don't know the half of what they get up to while they're here…
Give Ginny a hug for me and tell her that I've sent a package for her to the Den. James' birthday gift should be arriving there shortly, too.
P.s. Did you figure out the slug problem in your garden? Did the lemon juice and eel eyes work? Let me know.
Harry looked deeply vulnerable when Ginny looked back up. She was still lost.
"Harry…if you're asking how I feel about this…I've always been supportive of this idea. You're the one who's always said 'not yet, there's more to tie up'. And then you went and got yourself promoted and I assumed that was that."
"There always was more to tie up. More escaped Death Eaters, more rumors of resurgence…but I guess I just realized that it'll never be completely over. Not the way I planned on it when I was young. When I started as an Auror, I thought there'd come a day that I'd catch the last one. But there is no last one. I'm either going to leave now or I'm going to chase after them until the day I die. And I would've been happy doing that…but it's not like it was before. I'm not the only one that can do it now. I'm not…the Chosen One anymore. I'm just Harry. The issues that I deal with now…well, there are plenty in my department capable of handling them without me."
Ginny reached up and took his face in her hands. She studied his eyes, the corners of her lips perking up. "I know what this is about. Hermione gave you an ultimatum about tidying up your office and sorting your paperwork, didn't she? And you're planning on doing a Weasley. You're going to storm out in a fit of raging glory, a couple of fireworks blowing up behind you, and leave your office transfigured into a swamp."
His lips twitched. He seemed relieved by her response; the vulnerable tension ebbed from his eyes.
"No…well, that's a tiny part of it," he teased. "I'm always interested in doing a Weasley. Take that whichever way you like. Umbridge-era Hogwarts slang or literally…"
"I knew it! I knew you fancied Charlie!" She exclaimed. She peered into his eyes seriously. "If you were only honest with him about how you feel, Harry, I'm sure that—"
He cut her off with a kiss, smile to smile, laughter spilling against each other's lips.
"You know what I meant."
She dropped her hands from his face and pointed at herself. "Potter," she reminded him.
He slid his hands up her back, from her hips to her hair. "Still a Weasley."
She waited until their laughter died down, and then she gently got them back on track.
"So, what are the other parts?" She pressed. "Your other reasons for wanting to leave the Ministry?"
"For one—it's the Ministry. No offense to Hermione."
Ginny nodded seriously. "Mmhmm."
"I'm tired of being at work until odd hours, tired of the stress. I don't know. I haven't decided anything. I'm just…considering it, for the first time. The annoying letters I was bombarded with by the department today didn't help, either."
"Right. Well, no matter what you decide, I'm on your side. Choose based on what will make you happier and don't worry about anything else. Money is obviously fine; they can route the Floo to our house just like they did to Neville and Hannah's; you'll probably be just as ogled in both places. So if you want to remain at the Ministry, we'll keep up how we've been—staying sane through lunch breaks in each other's offices. If you want to give teaching a go—we'll get lunch in Hogsmeade. Either way, I get lunch and you, so I'm fine with either option. And speaking of lunch…"
He kissed her a final time. He linked their hands afterwards.
"I think your dad carried it down to the beach. Shall we join our kids?"
"I suppose," she said. She lifted the bag and walked with Harry towards the tent exit. "I do know one thing about this hypothetical situation, Harry."
"Yeah? What's that?"
She looked up at him. "You'll need to speak at length with Albus before you decide anything. James and Lily will think it's Christmas come early for you to be their professor…Al, on the other hand, may find it suffocating."
"Look at that," Ron repeated gleefully.
"I'm looking, all right? Would you stop interrupting my conversation to tell me to gawk at my nephew and his best friend?" Hermione asked, annoyed. She turned back to Bill. "Anyway, what I was saying was…"
"Yes, what she was saying—" Percy chimed in, from his place beside Bill. He had finally wormed himself into a conversation with Hermione about actual, Ministry things, and he was enjoying every second of it. Hermione, on the other hand, looked like she may've been forming a headache.
"Stop staring at them," Ginny hissed, elbowing Ron's ribs. He reluctantly tore his eyes from Albus and Scorpius, who were neck-deep in the sea, arms presumably around each other, and involved in an animated discussion. Rose, Lily, and James were nearby—Rose on a floating mat, Lily on an inflatable tube, and James diving in search of seashells for Nora. Remarkably, Rose was in conversation with Albus and Scorpius and seemed to be laughing almost as often as the boys were. Ron was extremely chuffed to see his daughter having fun but also remaining out of Scorpius Malfoy's arms.
Harry approached, after shooting a not-so-subtle, pleased look towards the children in the sea, and then passed Ginny a plate. She gladly accepted it. Ron stared.
"What about me?" Ron demanded.
"What about you?" Harry shot back.
"Well, where's my food? Ginny got a plate."
"Ginny is my wife and the mother of my children, Ron."
"And I'm your best mate since age eleven. Pay up! I'll take…" he leaned over, examining Ginny's plate. "Everything she's got, except the cucumbers. No cucumbers."
"Get your own plate! Do I look like your wait staff?"
"The Boy Who Waited Tables," George piped up, passing behind their group briefly. Roxanne succumbed to giggles at his side.
Ron glanced to his left at Hermione, his expression daring to morph into something hopeful.
"Hermione…" he sang, his tone sickly sweet.
"No. And I'll take a chicken sandwich," she replied, without looking up from the parchment in her lap. Percy and Bill snickered.
"Well, this is just utter, flaming—"
"Dad!" Hugo bounced over. He collapsed down on the end of the beach towel Ron was sitting on, three plates stacked haphazardly in his arms. Without a word, he distributed one to Hermione (he'd accurately guessed she'd want the chicken), one to Ron (to Ginny's amazement: without cucumbers), and then one he set in front of himself. Ron was speechless.
"Hugh…Hugo…" he looked incredibly moved. "You're just the best son on this entire planet."
"I know. I'm one-of-a-kind. Right, Mum?"
"Right, Hugo. You're going places," Hermione affirmed, her tone tender.
"I'm not only going places. I'm going to name the places after me."
Ron set his plate in his lap and leaned back. Around a mouthful of potato, he said to Harry:
"I knew this kid thing was a brilliant idea, mate. Best thing we've ever done! Well—top five, easy. We've done a lot."
"Ron!" Hermione snapped.
"What? Hugo knows he's in my top five. And I'm in his. Right, Hugh?"
"That's not the point—the point is you shouldn't place the birth of our children on a list—"
"Right, Dad!" Hugo beamed. "The world's best son put with the world's best dad. It's karma. All your good deeds paid off. I'm the reward!"
Ginny and Harry exchanged a quick, skeptical look. The sense of humor in the Granger-Weasley house had often baffled them, simply because most of the things they said weren't meant to be humorous at all. Had James, Al, or Lily uttered that same sentence to either of them, it would've been the driest, most sarcastic, and most hilarious thing uttered all day. And yet…
"I love you, little man." Ron squeezed Hugo's shoulder affectionately. "Did you try the sausage rolls?"
While Hugo and Ron dived into a surprisingly descriptive rating of each item on the lunch menu that day, Harry drew Ginny's attention back to the sea. Albus and Scorpius were now piled atop Rose's floating mat—she was perched on the edge and had an outwardly annoyed expression in place, but all the adults could tell she was secretly amused and enjoying herself (because they'd seen the same expression on Hermione's face innumerable times growing up). It also did not slip Ginny's attention that her son and Scorpius were nearly halfway on top of each other, despite the fact that were was a good bit of room on either side of them.
Angelina and Audrey joined them.
"Harry…" Angelina trailed off, her brow furrowed. "Don't get offended if I'm wrong, I'm just curious. But is Albus…with Scorpius? You know, like boyfriends?"
"Not yet," Harry and Ginny chorused.
"That's the cutest thing I've seen all day. Look at how happy they are. I haven't seen Albus that happy in years," Audrey smiled.
"Who would've guessed it'd be a Malfoy making one of your kids happy, eh, Ginny?" George was back, this time with a wink and perfectly-timed quip. "I love the universe—it just sets my jokes up for me. I've got loads of new material brewing."
"Don't you tease him about this, George," Angelina ordered sternly, "he has a right to live peacefully away from your jokes."
"What? No, he doesn't. He's my nephew; he hasn't had that right since he was born into my family. He'd be disappointed in me if I didn't make at least one joke…"
"He wouldn't. And you won't." Angelina and George locked eyes. Something was communicated. George nodded quickly.
"I wouldn't project feelings onto the boy," Percy piped up pompously. "It appears to me that Albus needed a friend desperately and finally found one."
"Just because you and your best guy mate Oliver Wood got on in a similar way doesn't mean most mates go around staring at each other with dopey smiles and repressed—"
Percy, cheeks flaming, quickly interrupted George.
"You know good and well, George, that Oliver and I never got on."
"Perhaps not in a way he'd readily admit in front of Audrey," George hissed underneath his breath. Charlie—who'd been quietly discussing something about fire-proof fabrics with Fleur from the far side of their gathering—looked over their way.
"What are we debating?" He asked.
Fleur nodded towards the water. "They are taking guesses if Albus and the Malfoy child are together."
Charlie, now staring out towards the water, gave his first bit of insight onto the matter: "Oh, yeah, Albus is gay." He blinked. He turned and examined the group. "Nobody knew that?"
They all stared at Charlie, stunned. Gradually, everybody began to laugh. George guffawed, Ron looked a bit befuddled, and Ginny smiled.
"You can join in on our betting, then," George said eagerly. "I bet Lily 100 galleons that—"
"George! Stop betting with my daughter!" Ginny reproached. "She doesn't need to be encouraged!" A pause. "And actually, don't bet on my children's love lives, either!"
He ignored her.
"I've got 500 galleons that Albus will make the first move, 600 on Scorpius, and a surprising 150 on Rose telling each boy how the other feels. Oh, and Percy put 25 on them being 'just mates', but that's stupid, so we're ignoring it."
"Hey!" Percy cried indignantly.
Ginny was shocked. "That's…" she quickly added it. "You lot have invested a total of 1,275 galleons on Albus's personal life. Who has been placing bets?!"
She looked around at her surrounding siblings. Everybody looked some degree of guilty, except Hermione.
"You know what the most surprising bit was?" George continued. "Dad put 200 on Albus."
"Dad?!" Ginny shouted, taken aback.
From the other side of the beach, Arthur looked up.
"Yes, Ginny?" He yelled back.
She was flustered. "Nothing!"
"You should all be ashamed," Harry said, looking from person to person. "Betting on our child's happiness. It's deplorable."
He looked at Ginny. She looked at him. Deplorable…but hilarious, and really, inherently harmless. They looked back.
"But we'll match the 500 on Albus making the first move. We know our son," Ginny said.
"Ginny! Harry!" Hermione scolded.
"What?" Harry demanded, already scrawling his name on the list George had presented. "If we win, we'll give the money to Albus."
Percy tsked. "Did the war really take this much out of all of you? Did it drain your morals entirely? Despite popular opinion, there is no grey area. There's white, black, and that's it."
"Perce, didn't you put 25 down?" Ron pointed out.
"And you wouldn't know much about what the war took from us all…Percy Better-Late-Than-Never Weasley," Charlie spoke up. Percy flushed. And while both Ginny and George half-heartedly defended him, he made sure not to make hypocritical comments again.
The adults had long finished eating by the time all the teenagers made their way to shore. Having demolished loads of snacks earlier, they weren't hungry until much later. Ginny supervised Lily as she made a plate (she still tended to over-estimate the amount she could eat in one sitting and Ginny hated wasting food), helped Albus and Scorpius carry their multiple cups and plates to the Potters' towels, and then sat down with them.
"So," she greeted. She examined their sunburnt shoulders, sandy limbs, and salt-soaked hair. They'd need a cooling charm later for the sunburns and definitely showers. "How's the water? You two need to put more sunblock on after you're done eating."
Albus waved her concern off. "It's great! Not as cold as I thought it'd be."
"I think I touched a shark!" Scorpius added.
Ginny looked between them skeptically. "A…shark? You're sure?"
"It was that or a dolphin," Albus told her.
She peered out at the sea, watching Ron and Hermione wading out with sudden uneasiness.
"Look at you!" Molly appeared behind the boys, fussing-face in place. "Burnt! Red as lobsters! Ginny, you were supposed to make them reapply the sunblock every thirty minutes!"
Ginny—who had never in her life had to use muggle sunblock instead of the normal potion—glowered.
"I'm not convinced anybody can remember nor have the time to reapply all that every half-hour, Mum. That can't be right. "
"Hermione remembered. Look at Rose and Hugo. They aren't burnt. Percy did, too. Molly and Lucy are fine."
"Yeah, well, we can't all be Hermione or Percy. Erm…what is that? What are you doing to them?"
Her mum was now squirting globs of bright green gel onto each boy's shoulders. Scorpius jumped, alarmed. Albus cried out and hissed 'Cold! Cold, Gran!', James merely continued eating his sandwich, and Lily got up and ran from Molly, refusing.
"Lily! Get back here now!" Molly shrieked.
"No! It looks gross! It'll get in my hair!"
While Lily hid behind her grandad, Molly began spreading the gel over Albus's shoulders.
"Oh, I get it! It makes it stop stinging—the sunburn," he realized.
She moved onto Scorpius. He beamed.
"Wowza! Muggle magic! It does! Thank you, Mrs. Weasley!"
To Ginny's disbelief, Molly rounded on her and Harry next.
"I'm not sunburned!" She defended. But then she glanced down at her own shoulders and frowned. Her freckles were in sharp contrast against the bright red. "Oh, damn. Maybe I am."
She jumped as her mum semi-aggressively squirted the gel onto her shoulders too. She lectured as she rubbed it into her sunburn.
"…-rays are very dangerous, the Muggles know all about it, that's why they invented that sunblock cream which will keep your skin from turning the shade of your hair…-" Ginny tuned her out, turning to glance at Harry. He was having a stare-off with Lily, who was still ducked behind Arthur.
"Get over here now," he mouthed towards her. Reluctantly, Lily sulked over towards them, but she wasn't happy about it. She flinched spectacularly with every bit of gel her grandmother applied.
"Ha, ha," Scorpius said to Albus. He'd turned towards him, peering down at him with a sunny smile. He drew his finger through the green covering Albus's collarbone. "You're green."
"You're green," Albus shot back, lifting his hand to draw a similar line on Scorpius's skin.
"Look—an S! For Scorpius." Scorpius dropped his hand and stared at the S drawn through the gel, looking extremely proud. Albus blushed. When he met Scorpius's eyes, Scorpius's complexion pinked, too. It added a new layer to their already-sunburnt faces.
"Are your faces burnt too?! Look up!" Ginny's mum turned her attention back to the two boys, keying in on their red complexions.
"Mum," Ginny complained. "Leave them alone. It's just going to wash off once they get back in the water anyway."
Molly reluctantly agreed to leave them be until they returned to camp (after Ginny swore she'd make the boys apply sunblock as directed), and the kids got back to eating lunch. She wasn't sure when it'd happened, but before they ran back down to the water, Ginny spotted the messy A Albus had traced onto Scorpius's bicep.
"Oh, it won't be long now," she commented, watching them dunking each other underneath the waves. "Someone will cave. I wonder how we'll know who or when. I wonder if Al will tell us."
"I hope so," Harry frowned. "How will we know who won the bet?"
She rolled her eyes. When she glanced up at him, she saw he actually was pink from the sun. She pressed her finger against his cheek, watching his skin turn white briefly before returning to its burnt hue.
"Some sunblock for you, I think," she relented. She tentatively lifted his glasses. She laughed. "Oh, Merlin. You've got a glasses line."
She eased his glasses down his nose, folded them, and set them nicely to the side. She leaned up on her knees and kissed the outline of the bridge of his glasses.
"Don't worry about it. It suits you."
He looked skeptical. "That's what you say about my scars."
"And it's true every time I say it." She pulled on his hand. "C'mon, let's see how cold the water is. You can't have those on in the sea, anyway."
"You'll lead me? You won't let me step on any children or crabs?"
They set off towards the water. She steered him deliberately over a bundle of damp towels, which almost certainly looked like a vaguely-childlike lump in his blurry eyesight.
"Oh, damn!" She cried. "There goes a child. Dismal damage."
He jumped, alarmed. It only took him a brief nudge to the towels to realize what it really was.
"You know, at this point, I don't know why I still fall for it…I know you're going to do it as soon as I say it, and yet…"
She was waterlogged and shivering. She'd moved her and Harry's towels directly beneath the sun, hoping the meek rays would warm her quickly. Harry was half-asleep to her right, his glasses still folded to the side, his skin hot to the touch and dusted with sand. She reluctantly tore her eyes from his peaceful expression and refocused on the pages of her journal; she'd finished editing all the articles she'd received in the post, but now she was drafting her own article. After watching the brief game of muggle football that the kids had performed along the wet sand earlier, she'd become inspired.
She refocused on her forgotten page. Despite the lack of airborne flairs, mesmeric Snitches, and the cherished risk of death, Muggle Football boasts an air not unlike that of Quidditch; it emphasizes flawless teamwork, it hinges on every player pulling their own weight, but it still gives the individual an opportunity to shine. As my son, Albus, scored his tenth goal, I was reminded most strikingly of Wilda Griffiths' flawless streak of goals in the 2001 match between –
"Hey," Albus collapsed down onto the towel, out of breath, his hair plastered to his forehead. "We're going to have a massive football match after dinner. Are you going to play? They're assigning teams."
Ginny looked off towards the group of people. She spotted Scorpius gesturing animatedly as he chatted to George. She could make out the gist of what he was saying—that he and Albus would be on the green team. She met her son's eyes.
"How many players on each team?"
"Hugo says there has to be at least seven and we're allowed to have up to eleven."
"Oh, well, put me down for Team Green if the other adults sign up."
Albus beamed. "Green? You're sure? But James and Lily are on Team Red."
"I'm positive. I've seen the way you play; there's no way I'm joining your competition. Besides, I'm used to playing matches in green…"
She trailed off, a sudden surge of nostalgia overtaking her. Stop, she chided herself. Those days were long gone.
"Oh, I think Scorpius wants you, Al," she nodded towards the group. Albus turned, spotting Scorpius as he bounced up and down, shouting 'Albus! Albus Potter!'.
"What about Dad?" Albus asked impatiently. He was edging towards Scorpius with every word.
"Put him on Red. I love beating him in sports."
"I heard that," Harry mumbled into the towel.
"Okay, thanks!" Albus hurried back to Scorpius.
Ginny glanced back at Harry. She suddenly worried that he harbored a secret football talent and that she'd just bolstered her own competition.
"You, er. You're not any good at football, are you?"
"No—never had any friends in the muggle world to play it with. Hey—will you pass the sunblock? It's been thirty minutes, right?"
"Two hours. Close enough. Here— I'll do it, you rest."
"Aren't you writing an article?"
"Yeah, but now I want to wait until I've actually played this sport to finish it."
She reapplied his sunblock, intervened in a rowdy fight between Lily and Hugo that nearly cumulated in Lily punching Hugo in the face, and then settled back down with her journal. She flipped through the various half-written articles, forgotten letters, lists, and proper journal entries until she located a mostly-blank page.
"All right, I'm going to write Dean back. Brief me on the situation," she told Harry.
She'd only halfway finished when James came meandering up the beach. He collapsed down onto the towel beside Ginny, out of breath and sweat-soaked.
"Rough day?" Ginny remarked.
"We were practicing. The Red Team. Where were you, Dad?"
Harry gave a halfway convincing snore. James rolled his eyes. He shifted over onto his stomach and peered curiously at Ginny's journal.
"What are you doing?"
She covered the page with her hand. "What have I said about reading over my shoulder?"
"That it's rude. Did that say 'Dear Dean'?" His voice had shifted from exhausted to terrified. "Why are you writing Nora's dad?!"
"I'm not. I'm journaling. Hence—a journal." She lifted the book and waved it.
"You do all sorts of stuff in that thing! Mum, why are you writing him?!" James pleaded. "Is this my punishment?!"
"No, James. Your punishment was wondering about your punishment, because I'm sure you were up all night envisioning every possible thing your dad and I could do, and I'm confident that you'll remember the worst case scenario you envisioned the next time you think to do something so stupid." She set the journal back down and returned to the page.
"But…it said 'Dear Dean'. I saw that. So unless your journal is named Dean, which would be a bit inappropriate in my opinion, that's a letter to Nora's dad!" He persisted.
"I'm writing him to let him know that I'm arranging the venue for the wedding," she said, her face impassive.
James hesitated for a moment, and then he leaned over Ginny, prodding Harry's back firmly. "Dad! Dad! I know you're awake! Mum's writing Dean! Her ex-boyfriend!"
"Tell Dean I said hello," Harry requested.
"Sure thing, Harry," Ginny agreed.
She took mercy on her first born a moment later.
"James, I'm just replying to the letter he wrote me. I'm reassuring him that you and Nora don't have plans to elope before graduation."
"Oh," he relaxed. He rested his chin on the towel. "Yeah, no, we're planning on a joint graduation party-wedding. It'd be boring to marry before we finish seventh year."
Harry turned his face to the side, meeting Ginny's skeptical look. They looked back at James.
"Well, as long as you've graduated, we'll support that. You know we're fond of Nora."
"Yeah," James said proudly, a broad grin in place. "And Dean and Seamus are fond of me, too."
"Of course they are," Ginny responded. "They'd have no reason not to be."
Their conversation was interrupted by Teddy.
"Ginny, Green's practicing."
She closed her journal. "Brilliant." She slid it over and wedged it beneath Harry's chest; he merely gave a slight grumble. "Don't let James get his hands on that."
"But I want to know what you say about me in it," James lamented.
"I journal about more than just my kids, you know. Trust me—you read that, you'll be getting information about loads of things you never wanted to know. Anything I've written about you I've said to you before. No mysteries there."
"Well now there's a mystery…" he trailed off, his brown eyes locked on the spot the journal had disappeared. "What could be in there that's so secretive…?"
"James, let it go," Harry said firmly.
"Fine, but only if you promise these secretive things aren't exciting Dumbledore's Army stories."
"They're definitely not that."
"Okay, then you're right. I probably don't want to know."
When Ginny entered the sectioned off spot right on the outskirts of the beach, she was surprised to find Albus and Scorpius wrestling on the soft ground, both in fits of giggles. She paused.
"Er…is this part of football?" She hissed towards Hugo.
"Not technically. I think they're fighting over the ball?"
Ginny glanced towards a spot of white in her peripheral vision.
"But the ball is over there."
Hugo turned towards it.
"Oh. Then I have no idea what this is about." He blew the whistle around his neck. "Break it up, Malfoy, Potter! This isn't wrestling! Wrong Muggle sport!"
Scorpius rolled off of Albus and onto the ground, gasping around laughter. Albus propped himself up on his elbows, flushed and laughing in time with Scorpius. Ginny spotted what they'd presumably been fighting over— the last frosty bottle of homemade butterbeer, now lying sadly in the dirt, dust-coated and derelict. Neither seemed to remember it was there.
"Al," Ginny called. Albus quickly looked up. He seemed horrified to see her there, most likely because he'd been writhing on the ground with his crush only a moment ago. Or maybe he thought she'd be horrible at football and dreaded her addition to the team—who knew? She'd certainly prove him wrong if that were it. "All that over butterbeer?"
"What? What butter—oh. I mean…well…yeah. It's the last one."
"You can have it," Scorpius told him immediately. He sat up, grinning broadly.
"No, you can have it," Albus argued. "I didn't even really—" he stopped, blushing furiously in a way that certainly would've put 11-year-old Ginny Weasley to shame.
"How about we give it to Lily? Maybe it'll settle our debt with her," Scorpius suggested. He began dusting dirt from his swim trunks, and after a moment of consideration, leaned over to brush dirt from Albus's shoulders. However, the boys had either been damp from the sea or sweat, because the dirt wasn't going anywhere. Scorpius seemed to realize this after his tenth caress and lowered his hand, his face glowing.
"Yes. Yeah. Good. Good idea," Albus all but squeaked. He clambered quickly to his feet. "Let's—football!"
"All right," Hugo called. "Gather 'round, Green Team. Welcome to Theory of Football. First, we'll briefly discuss the history, and then we'll discuss the mechanics, and then we'll place you in positions..."
While Hugo lectured, Albus and Scorpius were chatting underneath their breath about beating Rose and James. They seemed determined to do so. And Ginny couldn't help but wonder if this game would be the catalyst they'd all been waiting for—
"Aunt Ginny!" Hugo whined. "Are you listening to me?"
"Hmm? What? Yes?"
"What's the most important position, then?"
"…Chaser? But, like…the football variation?"
He stared. "Aunt Ginny, I don't speak to hear myself talk, you know."
She felt genuinely ashamed.
"Sorry, Hugh. Carry on. You're doing a great job. I'll pay attention—promise."
"Carrying on," he continued briskly. "The goalkeeper's job is just the toned-down role of a Keeper, only there are certain specific rules…"
By the time he finished lecturing, it was nearing dinner, and Ginny had learned more than enough to write her article later. She was determined to win—not because she wanted to beat Harry, not because she cared too much about football, and not even because she despised failure—but because it seemed to be really important to Albus. He had a determination in his eyes that she'd hardly ever seen there, one that she knew quite well (because she'd seen it in his father's eyes many, many times). She couldn't know for sure what was going on inside his mind, but for whatever reason, the outcome of this game was crucial to him. And she wouldn't let him down again.