|SIYE Time:14:12 on 17th March 2018|
Just Another Valentine
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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM, Holidays
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Fluff, General, Humor, Romance
Story is Complete
Summary: It's St Valentine's day. What surprises lie in store for Head Auror Potter and his family
Hitcount: Story Total: 5437
Awards: View Trophy Room
Disclaimer: Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.R. Note the opinions in this story are my own and in no way represent the owners of this site. This story subject to copyright law under transformative use. No compensation is made for this work.
Warning This story is set after the events of Strangers at Drakeshaugh. There are no spoilers for "Strangers", but it does reveal future relationships. But then, so does "Centuries". It was supposed to be finished in time for St. Valenitine's Day. I missed.
Just Another Valentine
Sutton under Hill in rural Derbyshire was a tiny hamlet; it was no more than a dozen dwellings scattered along a three-quarter mile length of Underhill Lane. A short distance from the western edge of Sutton under Hill, a narrow track, Commonpiece Lane, struck off at a right angle. The rutted track, which was just wide enough for a car, ended at a house named Common Piece.
The lone dwelling was a modest red brick rectangle with a red tiled half-hip roof, whose front garden was a neat arrangement of lawns and flower beds. It was only mid-February but the winter had been mild and bright yellow daffodils bloomed, an early indication of the summer sun to come. Elsewhere in the garden tulips, narcissi, and crocuses were also beginning to bud.
The rear garden, which extended down a gentle slope to a clear and wide brook, was much larger. The upper half of the back garden, the part nearest the house, was almost entirely given over to vegetables. Although some of the ground needed to be turned, there were neat lines of parsnips, sprouts, and leeks and the earliest of the peas and broad beans were beginning to show tentative shoots. A timber shed and a large hen house marked the midway point of the rear garden. From that point, all the way down to the brook, the area was filled with apple trees, gooseberry bushes, wild raspberries, and brambles.
In the master bedroom of Common Piece, Harry Potter, as he often did, woke exactly five minutes before his alarm clock was due to ring. Turning off the alarm in order not to disturb his still sleeping wife, he put on his glasses and slipped quietly from their bed. Sliding his bare feet into his slippers, he tiptoed across the room, pulled on his dressing gown, and quietly crept downstairs.
Harry’s morning routine had barely changed for a decade, although that morning a few minor amendments were required. Grabbing his briefcase from the study, he carried it into the kitchen, opened it, and placed it on his wife’s chair. Stepping into the pantry to get the milk jug and the sandwiches his wife had made for him the previous evening, he stopped and stared at the shelf. The greaseproof paper in which the sandwiches were wrapped had been magically Colour Changed to a pale pink colour; Ginny had hand-drawn red hearts on it, too. Chuckling to himself, Harry picked up the sandwiches.
Harry was still smiling as he poured milk from the jug into a pan and added four large spoonsful of Scottish porridge oats from the jar next to the stove. Taking the box of Honeydew’s Finest Valentine Treats he’d bought for his wife from his briefcase, he placed them in the centre of the kitchen table, where she couldn’t possibly miss them. He then placed his card underneath the chocolates, and put the sandwiches in his briefcase.
Filling the kettle, he turned on the radio to listen to the news headlines. Then, after giving his porridge a stir, he walked over to the fruit bowl, picked out the largest Cox’s Orange Pippin he could find, and placed it with his sandwiches. The kettle was beginning to sing but, before making a pot of tea, he again stirred the porridge.
Soon, he was breaking his fast. Steam from his mug of tea swirled in the cool air of the kitchen. Because of the two teaspoons of Ginny’s homemade bramble jelly he’d stirred into it, his porridge was sweet, fruity, and an odd grey-purple colour. In between spoonsful of porridge he used his wand to carefully unwrap the box of Valentine Treats he’d bought for his wife. He then lifted out the eight heart-shaped chocolates it contained. Each large chocolate was wrapped in pink foil. He dropped them all into the pocket of his dressing gown.
After placing the empty porridge bowl in the sink and running water into it, Harry took another slurp of tea, and pulled parchment and pen from his briefcase. He drew a heart on the parchment, and inside the heart he wrote: “One chocolate for every child and grandchild–but they’re not here–find them. Love, Harry X” Placing the note inside the now empty chocolate box, he closed the box and carefully resealed it, making it appear untouched.
Harry placed the first chocolate inside Ginny’s “Official Holyhead Harpies” mug, which was hanging on the mug tree. The second chocolate went into the pantry, next to the milk, exactly where his sandwiches had been. Opening the back door, he walked down to the hen house and used a sticking charm to fix the third chocolate to the underside of the latch. The fourth he put on the seat of Ginny’s chair in the study. He then went upstairs to the bathroom where, before performing his morning ablutions, he placed the fifth behind the still-closed bathroom curtains. As he left the bathroom, he balanced the sixth on the top of the bathroom door, which he left open. The chocolate would fall off when she closed the door. Then, finally, he returned to the bedroom. As he took off his dressing gown and hung it on the hook on the door, he placed the seventh chocolate in the pocket of his wife’s dressing gown.
‘Hmmmm.’ Ginny made a low humming noise as she finally stirred.
‘Happy Valentine’s Day,’ he whispered, walking around the bed to greet her. ‘Thanks for the sandwiches.’ As he bent over and kissed her forehead, he placed the final chocolate behind her clock.
‘You’re welcome,’ she mumbled sleepily.
‘Take-away from the Moti Jheel tonight?’ he asked quietly as he strolled back around the bed and began to get dressed.
‘Of course,’ she said, stretching. ‘I really should get up.’
‘There are benefits to working from home, enjoy them,’ he told her.
‘Good idea,’ she said. Rolling onto her side and curling up into a ball, she feigned sleep.
As he dressed in the semi-darkness, Harry wondered what Ginny was up to. She definitely wasn’t trying to get back to sleep; she was waiting for something to happen.
He sat on the edge of the bed and felt for his shoes; Ginny stirred, making him suspicious, and cautious. When he tried to put his left foot into his shoe he discovered that there was something soft and rather squishy inside it. He grunted in surprise, pulled the object out, and squinted at it. Two small treacle tarts were wrapped inside a small plastic bag. As he examined them, he noticed that they were heart-shaped. Ginny wrapped her arms around his waist.
‘Happy Valentine’s Day, Harry,’ she whispered, nibbling his earlobe.
‘Happy Valentine’s Day,’ he replied. ‘There’s nothing nicer than my favourite tart,’ he added, lifting the bag.
Ginny laughed, and licked his ear. ‘Off you go, Head Auror Potter,’ she said. ‘Be good, and stay safe.’
‘I’ll do my best,’ he told her. Ignoring her encircling arms, he fastened his shoelaces and tried to stand. She released him the moment he moved. He turned to face her, kissed her full on the lips, and said, ‘I’ll see you at about six. I expect to read at least six new pages of “Harpies, a History” tonight.’
‘Have you forgotten anything?’ she asked, coquettishly tilting her head to one side. ‘Chocolates, perhaps?’
‘No,’ he told her as he dashed from the room.
Harry strode through the Auror Office, heading towards the glass box at the far end of the room–his private office. As he approached it, the auburn-haired woman at the desk in front of his door looked up from the vase of flowers she was arranging and smiled.
‘Morning, Harry,’ she said.
‘Morning, Becky,’ he said. ‘Nice bouquet; I see you’ve got a collection of cards, too.’
‘Six cards, two boxes of chocolates, and these,’ said Becky Butcher, indicating the flowers and smiling happily. Her happiness lasted only a moment. She suddenly turned very serious. ‘One of the chocolate boxes back was from McGuire, the Daily Prophet crime reporter. When I opened it, there were a hundred Galleons inside. A token of his appreciation, the note said.’
‘A hundred Galleons! Is he mad?’ Harry asked.
‘I’ve filled in an AOBri1 — returned gifts/attempted bribery form; it’s on your desk,’ his P.A. said.
‘Thanks, Becky. What does he think he’ll achieve by sending you cash? McGuire’s wild speculation almost got Conan O’Hare killed.’ Harry said, rolling his eyes in disbelief. ‘Nice flowers,’ he added, nodding at the vase.
‘My husband sent both the flowers and chocolates; he sent one of the cards, too. And another of them is from my son. ’ she said proudly, indicating the hand drawn “I love my Mummy” card at the front of her desk. ‘The other four are anonymous,’ she added. ‘I know I’m only getting them because I’m your P.A., but four anonymous cards is nothing! Wait until you see the pile in your in tray.’
Harry sighed and ran his fingers through his tousled, iron-grey hair. ‘I’ve no idea why I’m still getting anonymous cards. More than thirty years of marriage doesn’t seem to count for anything. I hardly dare ask how many there are.’
Becky smiled and glanced down at the list in front of her. ‘The Ministry’s postal security unit have now received thirty-seven Valentine cards addressed to you, none of them were booby trapped. Five more arrived on your desk via the internal mail system and were checked by the Forensic Magic Unit. All forty-two are on your desk. You also received six boxes of chocolates. The two which contained love potions have been destroyed, the others have been sent to St. Mungo’s, as you requested.’
‘No booby traps, that’s only the third time that happened,’ Harry said. ‘I obviously haven’t upset enough people this year.’
‘The postal security unit say it’s the fourth time.’
‘Ten years ago they told Yvonne there were none, but they were wrong; they’d missed one. Fortunately she spotted it. I’m surprised that they didn’t amend their records, because she went down to the post room and gave them an ear-bashing. Perhaps you should send them a memo from me, reminding them of their error. After all, they might be getting complacent.
‘Will do,’ Becky promised.
‘And only two love potions!’ he said, smiling. ‘I wonder how old I’ll be before people finally stop sending them? I don’t suppose you know how well Ginny has done, Becky?’
‘According to my contact in the Daily Prophet’s mail room, Ginny has forty cards and six boxes of chocolates, only one of which contained a love potion.’
‘That’s two years in a row I’ve received more love potions than she has,’ said Harry. ‘And this year I’ve got more cards, too. She won’t be happy.’
‘Morning, Dad,’ Senior Auror Albus Potter said as strolled up behind his father. ‘Who won’t be happy?’
‘Your mum,’ Harry told his son. ‘She’s only been sent one box of chocolates laced with a love potion this year.’
‘She’s still getting those?’ Al asked incredulously. ‘That’s ridiculous, she’s...’ His father’s face stopped him.
‘As gorgeous as ever, and definitely not old,’ Harry said, shaking his head mockingly. ‘I never thought I’d say this to you, Al, but your brother is much more diplomatic than you are!’
‘Ooh, that hurts, Dad,’ said Al, clutching his heart, and staggering back dramatically. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been so insulted.’ He grinned. ‘Can I have a quick word with you, please?’
Harry glanced at Becky.
‘You have no appointments today, Harry. I’ve kept the day clear because tomorrow afternoon is the DMLE budget meeting. All of the Auror Office budget requests are on your desk,’ she told her boss. He groaned.
Harry led his son into his private office. ‘Is this about the shrunken heads case?’ he asked, motioning for his younger son to sit before dropping into his own chair and unfastening his briefcase. ‘I’m listening,’ he added, placing his apple on his desk.
‘No,’ Al admitted. ‘We’ve got a couple of leads, which Hugo and Flossie are following up, but we’re not making much progress. I wanted to ask if...’ He stopped and stared as his father lifted his sandwiches, and two heart-shaped treacle tarts, from his briefcase.
Harry looked at his son and smiled. ‘What’s the matter?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t Vi wrap your sandwiches in homemade Valentine paper for you, or make you any treacle tarts?’
‘I make my own sandwiches,’ Al admitted. ‘And, although Vi is a much better cook than her mum, and possibly even her dad, her pastry is–well, it isn’t as good as Mum’s.’
‘You’re not here to discuss work, are you?’ Harry asked.
‘No,’ Al admitted. ‘What are you and Mum doing tonight? Are you going out anywhere?’
‘It’s been a few years since we went out on a date on St. Valentine’s Day,’ Harry admitted. ‘We’re doing what we’ve done for the past few years, ordering a takeaway curry and having a quiet night in, just the two of us.’
‘Ah,’ Al said. ‘I t doesn’t matter. I was going to ask… I don’t suppose… Well it’s…’
‘Spit it out, Al,’ Harry said. ‘I know you, and James, and especially Lily, think I’m an easier mark than your mother, but approaching me first is no good if you don’t ask me the question.’
‘I’ve booked a restaurant tonight, a table for two. Mary, Johnny, and Joe don’t really give Vi and me much opportunity to be a couple,’ Al said.
‘I know what that’s like to have three kids,’ said Harry, smiling. ‘But they’re good times, Al.’
‘True,’ Al agreed. ‘But the occasional night off is nice, too. I arranged a babysitter for the kids tonight, but she’s just contacted me and cancelled. She’s a Harpies fan, and someone has sent her a Valentine’s card containing a ticket for tonight’s game. She was very apologetic. But I couldn’t deny her, and finding a babysitter on Valentine’s Day…’ Al shrugged helplessly.
‘I’ll happily babysit my grandchildren,’ said Harry. ‘I’ll contact your mother and…’
Harry was interrupted by a few bars of the Harpies theme song, which rang out from his pocket. He pulled out his Mirrorphone, looked at the screen, and grinned.
‘I think I’ll wait until later, when she’s calmed down,’ Harry said, turning the mirror to allow Al to see the screen.
“Evil sod! X” Al read. The words were displayed in front of his mother’s smiling face.
‘Why’s she annoyed?’ Al asked.
‘I bought her chocolates, but I opened the box, emptied it, and hid the chocolates all around the house,’ Harry explained.
‘She’ll kill you,’ said Al, horrified.
‘No, they’re all fairly obvious; she’ll have found them all by lunchtime. I’ll speak to her at lunchtime and let you know this afternoon, okay?’ Harry said.
‘I suppose so,’ Al told him.
‘Good. Now get back on the shrunken heads case, the press are all over it, and I want it sorted. The ministry isn’t paying you to make private babysitting arrangements!’ Harry smiled as he waved an admonishing finger at his son. ‘Don’t look so worried, Al, I’m sure your mum will say yes to babysitting your three.’
As Al left the office, Harry lifted the first of the Valentine’s cards from his in tray, opened it, and dropped it in the bin. He’d discarded more than half of them in a similar way before he finally found Ginny’s.
“All my love. X” was all it said, but the handwriting, and the sentiment, was unmistakeable. Once he’d found his wife’s card, he discarded all the others.
Harry rearranged the photographs on his desk to make room for the card, placing it between the two photographs directly in front of him. One was of twenty-one-year-old Harpies Chaser Ginny Weasley, the other of twenty-one-year-old Harpies Seeker Lily Potter. Even Lily’s photograph was almost nine years old, he realised with a start; he didn’t want to think about how old Ginny’s photo was. Where had the years gone?
Harry was distracted from the photographs by the Harpies theme tune. He pulled out his Mirrorphone and read Ginny’s latest message: “Found 4 already! Flowers just arrived, they’re beautiful! Did Becky choose them? X” Harry snorted with laughter at his wife’s final comment.
Looking out at his P.A., he saw that she was watching him. He’d disposed of the cards; it was time to go to work. Taking Becky’s form AOBri1 from his in tray, he checked it over. It was perfectly in order, but he expected nothing less.
Dennis Creevey had already signed the form, confirming that he’d seen the cash inside the chocolate box and that, as ranking Senior Auror, had agreed to its disposal via the authorised method. Harry countersigned it. Attached to the form was the standard letter.
Dear Mr McGuire,
Your attempt to bribe a member of staff of the Auror Office was reported by the individual concerned. Your name has been added to our records. If you wish to dispute the staff member’s account of this incident please contact this office, whereupon a full criminal investigation will be carried out. Please note that an investigation may result in you and/or the staff member being prosecuted.
The reported bribe has, as per Wizengamot decision WCM3/09/05/11(c), been donated to St Mungo’s Hospital. If you have any queries regarding this decision please direct them to Head Auror H J Potter.
Harry signed the letter and placed it, and the form he’d countersigned, into his out basket. They vanished instantly and he watched Becky lift them from her in tray. Looking at the pile of budget papers, he sighed, and picked up the Imager’s Section report.
At ten, while he was drinking his first cup of tea of the day and treating himself to one of Ginny’s treacle tarts, the Harpies’ theme song blared for a third time. He pulled out his Mirrorphone and read Ginny’s message. “6! Collected the eggs, went for a shower, and opened the bathroom curtains! X” He smiled and then returned to his notes for the budget committee.
Two and a half hours later he’d finished his notes on the Imager’s report and had started on the Forensic Magic Unit’s report. It was heavy going, so he took his sandwiches from his desk drawer, intending to eat his lunch while reading it. The intercom mirror on his desk tinkled and Becky’s face appeared in the mirror.
‘Mrs Potter is on the line for you, Harry,’ Becky said.
‘I’ll take it,’ Harry said, seizing the opportunity to put down the report which, as usual, consisted of demands for new and extremely expensive equipment, much of which “might possibly be required” by the Forensic Magic Unit. The mirror flickered and Becky’s face was replaced by his wife’s.
‘Hi, found them all, yet?’ Harry asked.
‘Seven,’ said Ginny. ‘I went straight into the office after my shower. All the others were easy to find, because you know my routine, but where the hell is number eight? You won’t beat me, Harry.’
‘Interesting!’ Harry grinned at her. ‘So, Mrs Potter, even after all these years, I can still discover something about you I didn’t know; you don’t bother to close the bathroom door when you’re alone in the house!’
Ginny stared at him, puzzled, for a moment. Then she laughed. ‘Back in a minute,’ she said. Harry watched her leave. He stared at the empty chair in the study for a few minutes, and then she was back, brandishing the final chocolate.
‘Top of the door, got it,’ she said happily. ‘I didn’t ask you for a hint, but that was hardly a hint.’
‘Is that all you wanted?’ Harry asked. ‘Were you that desperate to find the final chocolate that you had to find a reason to call me?’
‘Jacqui called,’ Ginny said.
‘So, you’ve had a long gossip and you won’t get six pages of your book written today.’ Harry teased her.
‘Okay, be like that. I won’t tell you why she called!’ said Ginny, folding her arms and putting on a pout.
‘But it’s Valentine’s Day, and I bought you flowers!’ Harry pleaded.
‘Lily called Jacqui,’ Ginny began.
‘Lily? Why would Lily call Jacqui?’ Harry asked.
‘If you stop interrupting me, I’ll tell you,’ Ginny said. Harry kept his mouth shut and nodded, allowing his wife to continue. ‘You know what Jacqui’s like for gossip, so I’ll give you the edited version. Lily called to tell Jacqui that there was a chance that Annie, or James, would ask her to babysit little Micky tonight. According to Jacqui, Lily “practically begged” her to say no. Jacqui had “only just ended the call from Lily,” when Annie called and asked the question.’
As she quoted their friend, Ginny added a husky northern-accent to her voice. ‘I got the impression that Jacqui really wanted to babysit our youngest grandson. But, because of something Lily told her, she made an excuse and said no. I’m certain Lily said something to make Jacqui agree, but although I tried, I couldn’t get Jacqui to tell me what it was. Lily is definitely up to something.’
‘That’s interesting, because Al’s babysitter suddenly cancelled this morning. According to Al, she was anonymously sent a ticket for tonight’s Harpies’ match,’ Harry told his wife. ‘Al asked if we’ll babysit Mary, Johnny, and Joe. I said yes, but I told him I’d have to check with you.’
‘And James is looking for a babysitter, too. Lily’s trying to make sure that both boys come here with their kids this evening, isn’t she? It’s family news, Harry! She’s got something to tell us! Do you think she’s going to retire?’ Ginny asked. ‘Thirty isn’t really old for a Chaser, or even a Beater, but there aren’t many Seekers still playing at the top level at that age. I know Viktor played forever, but he’s Viktor!’
‘I don’t think that, if she was simply retiring from the Harpies, she’d gather us together to tell us. It’s something else,’ said Harry thoughtfully. ‘She and Andy aren’t having problems, are they?’ He asked worriedly.
‘From what I hear of the changing room gossip, it’s just the opposite. Everyone says that they’re closer than ever,’ said Ginny, suddenly excited. ‘Do you think that they’re…’
‘James has just arrived,’ Harry interrupted. ‘I’ll call you back. Do we let the boys know what’s going on?’
‘No!’ said Ginny, ending the call.
Harry’s intercom mirror didn’t even go blank. Becky’s face appeared the second Ginny’s vanished.
‘Your son wants to speak to you, Harry, your other son.’
‘Other son!’ came a clear voice of protest.
Harry wasn’t looking at the mirror; he was looking through the glass door at James.
‘I’m the firstborn, Becky!’ James voice was a self-mocking drawl. ‘The other son, really! That’s not very nice. I can’t be the other son. What about primogeniture and all that? It must count for something. Al is the other son.’
‘Send him in Becky,’ Harry said. ‘And ignore him. He’s talking nonsense as usual.’
James grinned at Harry’s P.A., stepped past her desk, and opened the door into the Head Auror’s office.
‘Good morning, father dearest,’ James began.
Harry raised an eyebrow, shook his head, and glanced at the large clock which was magically projected onto the glass of his office wall. It was twenty minutes to one.
‘Good afternoon, father dearest,’ James tried again, grinning. ‘So, you can tell the time, very impressive! I’m sure that’s a valuable trait for a manager. Thank you for sparing me a few moments of your valuable time. I hope you won’t charge me by the minute.’
‘If I did, you’d be in trouble. You’ve already used one minute, and you haven’t actually said anything,’ said Harry, smiling.
James’ eyes fell on the sandwiches. ‘Good old, Mum,’ he said as he dropped into the visitor’s chair opposite his father. ‘A paragon among mothers; she’s always there when you need her. What’s she made for you?’
‘Mustard cured ham and mature Cheddar, in your mother’s home-baked wholemeal loaf; with a touch of her homemade apple chutney on the Cheddar,’ said Harry gloatingly. He watched James lick his lips. ‘And, to answer both of the questions you haven’t asked me yet:
‘One, no you can’t scrounge a sandwich from me, there’s a perfectly good staff restaurant upstairs. Or you could visit your mother and raid her pantry. You’ve been doing that since you were five, and it seems to me there’s no likelihood of you ever stopping!
‘Two, Al has already asked me if we can babysit Mary, Johnny, and Joe tonight. I’ve told him yes, but I’ll need to check with your mother first. If we’re looking after Al and Vi’s three, I suppose that we can look after little Micky, too. But that’s an if, not a yes! If your mum has other plans, then the answer will be no.’
‘How did you know I was going to ask…’ began James, his eyes wide in astonishment.
‘I’m Head Auror, James, I know everything,’ Harry told him coolly. He picked up one of his sandwiches and took a bite. ‘Delicious,’ he mumbled as he chewed.
‘I’m not six, I don’t believe that anymore,’ said James, ‘How did you know?’
‘Figure it out, James,’ said Harry, smiling. ‘Why did your babysitter cancel?’
‘She told Annie that something had come up. But she was a bit vague about what it was,’ said James thoughtfully. ‘Annie asked her mother, but Jacqui said no; that’s why I’m here. But you were expecting me! Are you and Mum up to something?’
‘Not us,’ said Harry.
‘Not us… but somebody is,’ said James, pulling the nuance from his father’s reply. ‘And it can’t be Al, not if you’re telling the truth about him asking you to babysit. Wait a minute; Al’s got a regular sitter, that girl from up the valley. Did Al’s sitter cancel at the last minute, too?’
Harry leaned forwards, and touched the mirror on his desk, and said, ‘Becky, would you send Al in, please.’
‘And you’d best let Ginny know that James is here, and he’s on the case. Tell her that he’s asking awkward questions about babysitters.’
As Harry spoke to his P.A. James leaned back in his chair. Harry watched his son consider possibilities and then saw him distract himself. There were times when James appeared to have the attention span of a gnat. When Becky closed the connection James leant sideways, almost falling off his chair, and picked up Harry’s wastepaper basket.
‘Are these all for you?’ James asked incredulously as his brother entered the office.
‘What can I say, I’m a babe-magnet,’ said Harry, deliberately using old-fashioned slang.
‘No one says babe-magnet these days, Dad! Try to remember that it’s the thirties, almost the forties,’ James protested.
‘He’s winding you up, fat-boy,’ Al said. ‘It’s such an easy thing to do!’
‘I hear that your Mary has a boyfriend, short-stuff,’ James replied in kind. ‘How long before you’re a grandfather you reckon?’
‘Mary’s only just eleven!’ Al protested. ‘She’s got a friend at primary school who’s a boy. It’s not the same thing as having a boyfriend.’
‘Now he’s winding you up, Al,’ Harry said, as his sons cheerfully squared up for some good-natured banter.
‘Have you seen this lot, Al?’ asked James, shaking the wastepaper basket.
‘It doesn’t look like there are as many as last year,’ said Al, grinning. ‘You must be losing your touch, Dad.’
‘Losing his touch! He’s almost sixty,’ James said. ‘It’s positively creepy. I mean, what sort of weird old bat sends this grey-haired codger a Valentine card. He dismissively jerked a thumb towards his father.
‘Now you’re in real trouble, James,’ said Al smugly, picking up the only card on his father’s desk and showing it to his brother.’
‘Weird old bat?’ asked Ginny icily.
‘Shit,’ said James, jumping at the sound of his mother’s voice. He whirled around to face her.
‘Language!’ said his parents in unison.
‘Thirty-four years old, and you’re still scared of Mum!’ Al laughed. ‘James is a chicken,’ he sang.
‘Al!’ Ginny glared at her younger son.
‘So am I, a bit!’ Al pantomimed a frightened expression, hugged his mother, and kissed her forehead. ‘Hi, Mum, nice to see you. What are you doing here?’
‘Don’t think you can get round me that easily, Al,’ said Ginny, smiling fondly at her sons.
‘He can,’ said James, standing and hugging his mother. ‘And so can I. We know you’re an old softy, really.’
‘That’s twice you’ve called me old, James,’ Ginny reminded him.
‘Everyone is old to their kids, you know that, Mum,’ said Al, suddenly changing sides and backing up his brother. He turned to face James. ‘Just wait until Micky can string sentences together properly,’ Al told his brother gloomily. ‘It seems like Mary’s been telling me that I’m really old for years.’
James shrugged. ‘Why are you here, Mother, dearest?’ James asked. ‘Just before you arrived, I called you a paragon, by the way. Dad will back me up.’
‘He was coveting my sandwiches at the time,’ Harry told his wife.
Al pointed at his brother and laughed. James ignored him.
‘My babysitter has cancelled unexpectedly, Al,’ James said.
‘Mine to,’ said Al thoughtfully. He gave his family a searching look. ‘Vi asked her mum, before I asked you. But Lavender said no, because she had a hot date with a gorgeous bloke.’ He shook his head. ‘She meant Mark,’ he added in disbelief.
‘Jacqui can’t help, either,’ James added.
Harry and Ginny said nothing. They simply listened as their sons compared notes. Harry took the opportunity to eat his sandwiches, because James kept casting sidelong glances at them.
‘Lily,’ James and Al concluded simultaneously.
‘She could’ve just invited us all over to her place,’ said James.
‘But she wants to surprise us with something,’ Al suggested.
‘After Becky called me, I contacted the Harpies press office,’ Ginny said. ‘They were glad to hear from me, because a Prophet reporter spotted Lily and Andy at St Mungo’s this morning. They asked me if I knew why.’
‘And?’ asked James, suddenly serious. ‘Is Lily ill? Is it serious? Where are they now?’
‘I tried to contact them, but they aren’t answering their Mirrorphones,’ said Ginny. ‘But I’m sure that, if it was bad news, Lily wouldn’t be sneakily trying to force the entire family–including the kids–to visit us this evening.’
‘There’s another reason she could be at St Mungo’s,’ said Al. ‘I think we’re going to be uncles, James.’
‘Career comes first, remember,’ said James.
‘She’s thirty in a couple of weeks,’ Al reminded his brother. ‘She’s had twelve years at the top. That’s a long time. I wonder where she is?’
‘I think I can guess,’ said Harry, placing a finger on his intercom mirror.
‘Yes, Harry?’ asked Becky.
‘Put a call through to the Headmaster, please.’ Harry ordered.
‘Huh! “I wonder where she is?” You’re hopeless, Al, nowhere near as fast as Dad,’ James teased his brother. ‘This is the Head Auror at work, very impressive. Where else would they be?’
‘You didn’t guess, either,’ Al protested.
‘But I’m an author, not an Auror,’ said James. He turned to face his father. ‘You’re right. They’ll want to tell Cam first. That will be weird! He’s what, sixteen? And after all these years he’s going to have a half-sister. And you’re going to have a proper Jones grandchild.’
‘Cameron may not be Lily’s, but she’s been his mother since he was five!’ said Ginny firmly.
‘And we are his grandparents,’ Harry added. ‘Just not biologically.’
Becky’s face appeared in the mirror. ‘I have Professor Longbottom for you, Harry.’
The four Potters gathered around the mirror, and the round, blond-bearded face of the Hogwarts Headmaster beamed out at them.
‘Hello, Potters,’ pleasure shone from Neville’s face. ‘Congratulations.’
‘Thanks for the confirmation, Nev,’ said Ginny. ‘Don’t let them leave the school. We’re on our way.’
‘You didn’t actually know, did you?’ asked Neville, crestfallen. ‘I’ve just blabbed, haven’t I?’
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