Chapter 1 : Fun for the Whole Family
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“I wish you didn’t have to leave. The party’s barely even started!” Lily Potter put on her best pouting face while clinging to her cousin Roxie’s arm.
“I know,” Roxie answered apologietically, drawing out the second word as she turned to hug Lily. “But our portkey to Bangkok leaves at 3:00 AM so Dad can have lunch with a new supplier. Mum’s taking us to see Ayutthaya!”
Harry watched the two girls from the doorway to the great room of the Potter house. George and Angelina had disappeared into the emerald flames at least two minutes ago and now their older son Freddie was waiting impatiently for his younger sister.
“That sounds amazing!” Lily gushed. She wrapped her slender arm around her cousin Roxie’s neck and squeezed while waving goodbye to her cousin Freddie. Freddie was about to enter his fourth year at Hogwarts, and thus had become too image-conscious to share hugs with his younger cousins. He responded with an awkward half-wave before exchanging an exaggeratedly masculine handshake with James. Then he ruffled Albus’s unruly, black hair, earning himself a punch in the side which he pretended not to feel.
Roxie and Lily were entangled in a farewell embrace that reminded Harry of an Olympic wrestling match. “As soon as we get back,” Roxie promised, “I’ll floo over to see all of your presents!”
Harry was half listening as he suspiciously eyed the gifts George’s children had brought to Lily’s birthday party. It appeared that Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes products were scattered liberally throughout the pile of boxes and bags. Even though nothing was vibrating, smoking or making strange noises, it set his nerves on edge. He was about to set them aside for proper screening when Ginny bumped into him and slipped her arm around his waist. She gestured toward the fireplace, where Freddie was trying hard to look nauseated by the extended farewell ritual Lily and Roxie were sharing.
“His father was a git at that age, too,” Ginny whispered. Tried to whisper, anyway. Ginny and Harry had an understanding about family events. If Ginny’s Aunt Muriel was coming, Harry was allowed to drink as much as he liked. If Harry’s cousin Dudley was coming, Ginny was allowed to drink as much as she liked. If Muriel and Dudley both RSVPed, the event was moved to a less convenient date. She was on her third glass of wine that he could be sure of and her words were coming out quite a bit louder than normal.
“You’re judging again, dear,” Harry mumbled, pulling her closer and resting his cheek on the top of her head.
“It’s true,” Ginny insisted as Freddie reached out to pull Roxie away from Lily. “You just can’t see it cause there’s only one of him.” She took another sip of wine and squinted slightly. “No more than one and a half, anyway.”
Roxie’s arm didn’t look at all comfortable as Lily clung to her neck while Freddie dragged her by the wrist toward the fireplace. The summer was drawing to a close, and Roxie would be starting her first year of Hogwarts in three weeks. Lily had one more year to wait. Judging by the way the two of them were clinging to one another, the separation anxiety was pretty severe. Just as Harry was about to intervene, panicked cries for help rang out from the direction of the living room.
Harry spun away from his wife and headed in that direction. He met Ron, who was also on his way to investigate, in the hall. The two wizards hurried into the room and found Dudley’s daughter Iris and son Dudley, Jr. frantically trying to balance on the back of the couch. The Monster Books of Monsters was snarling and snapping on the floor in front of them, occasionally taking a chunk out of the bottom of the upholstery. Harry sighed and subdued the book with a Stunning Spell. “James! Albus! Which one of you let James’s Care of Magical Creatures text loose in the house?”
Both boys appeared in the doorway a bit too quickly for Harry to believe it was a coincidence. Neither one was wasting much time trying to look innocent. Albus stifled a chuckle while James didn’t even try to hide his amusement. “Sorry, Dad,” James sniggered, scooping the book up off of the floor while Ron coaxed Iris and Dudley, Jr. down from their perch. “I was working on my summer reading before the party and I must have forgot to put it away.”
Albus snorted and rolled his eyes at his older brother. “Why didn’t you tell him that Merlin’s ghost did it? There’s a slim chance he would have believed that.”
James shot a frustrated glare in Albus’s direction. “Thanks for the help, Mister ‘It’ll Be Funny and Nanna Can Reattach Their Toes’!”
“What was I supposed to say? You, doing your summer reading without Mum sticking you to a chair? That’s the worst excuse I’ve ever heard! It’s beyond help.”
“Well Dad wouldn’t have grassed me up in front of company if you hadn’t started cracking wise about Merlin’s bloody ghost!”
“Oi, I’m standing right here, you know!” Harry absently ran his hand through his hair as he fixed his sons with his best imitation of their mother’s withering glare. Which was pretty bad, if he was being honest with himself. “James, take the book back to your room. Albus, go see if your grandmother needs help in the kitchen.”
“Come off it, Dad!” Albus groused as James bounded up the stairs. “Have you been in the kitchen lately? Nanna and Kreacher arguing about who gets to do every little thing that needs to be done... it’s like watching two graphorns fight over a mushroom. I can’t get between those two, I’ll lose fingers!”
“If your grandmother can reattach toes, I’m sure she can do fingers, too,” Harry replied. “It’ll give her something to do. Now go.”
After watching Albus sulk out of the room, Harry turned his attention back to Dudley’s children. “I’m sorry about that, kids. Your cousins should be more considerate. I bet you two have never had a book try to bite you before.”
Harry immediately felt grateful that the Dursley children were too frightened to realize how stupid his last statement sounded. Their eyes were wide as tea saucers and they were still trembling. Finally, little Iris managed to find her voice. “Was it really gonna bite our toes off?”
Harry was trying to think of something reassuring to say when Ron chimed in from beside him. “Nothing to worry about, really. When we were little, there wasn’t a week went by where Mum didn’t have to put somebody’s nose or ear back on. Just be sure to hold still if you don’t want it all crook-”
“What Ron’s trying to say is that the book isn’t nearly as dangerous as it looks,” Harry interjected, forcing a wide smile for the Dursley children. “Its bark is much worse and all that.”
“What was all the yelling about?” The portly figure of Dudley Dursley appeared in the doorway, nursing one of the muggle ales that he always brought along whenever he came to visit. Privately, he’d admitted to Harry that even the tap water in a magical home left him feeling “all weird inside” for a day or two.
Dietary considerations aside, Harry had to give his cousin credit for trying. Dudley did his best to bridge the yawning chasm dividing the two branches of the star-crossed Evans lineage. Aside from visiting on birthdays and Christmas Eve, he would occasionally ring Harry up to pass on some bit of news, such as Uncle Vernon’s third coronary bypass or Aunt Petunia’s unsuccessful bid for chairwoman of the Privet Drive Neighborhood Association. It made Harry feel a bit bad that he hadn’t made more of an effort to bring their two families together. Against all odds, Dudley had turned out to be an essentially decent human being. Harry momentarily entertained the thought that unemployed Dementors could find work counseling ill-mannered muggle children.
Iris and Dudley, Jr. launched themselves at Dudley’s legs, already squalling about the horrors they’d suffered, the cruelty of their cousins and how much they wanted to return home so that they wouldn’t miss their favorite programs on the telly. “Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?” Ron mumbled under his breath, causing Harry to sigh. None of his in-laws were fond of Dudley. At least Ron managed to keep his commentary mostly to himself.
“Time for cake!” Molly’s voice boomed forth from the kitchen, momentarily distracting the Dudley’s children from their whinging. Harry gestured for Ron and the Dursleys to proceed toward the dining room and followed warily behind. Al and James’s prank notwithstanding, things were going smoothly. Too smoothly.
Lily was seated at the head of the large, wooden table, surrounded by friends and cousins. Sometime around age eight she had outgrown party hats and Pin the Tail on the Hippogriff. Now at age ten, a new outfit was the order of the day, complete with a frilly party dress, stockings, shoes and wrists covered in sparkly bracelets. Harry felt more than a little heavy-hearted about watching his baby daughter turn into a young lady. It seemed like only yesterday that he and Ginny were staying up half the night, enchanting doll houses and stuffed animals. His moment of nostalgia came to an abrupt end when the kitchen door opened with such force that it slammed into the wall.
Molly stepped out, trying maintain her hold on a large, pink and gold cake that seemed determined to escape her grasp. As she struggled to get out the first few words of Happy Birthday without losing her grip, Kreacher emerged behind her. His bat-like ears were turned back and his wrinkled face was twisted into a mask of furious concentration as he stared at the cake, which made another desperate bid for freedom. Kreacher’s bitter muttering was mostly smothered as everyone in the room joined Molly in song.
“Happy Birthday to you!”
“... should be ashamed...”
“Happy Birthday to you!”
“... filthy blood traitor thinks...”
“Happy Birthday, dear Lily”
“... taking mistress’s cake from...”
“Happy Birthday to you!”
“... and the broom she flew in on...”
“Daddy, is he real or reputer-generated?” little Iris shouted, jabbing her pudgy finger toward the old elf. Kreacher raised his arm, bringing his bony fingers into snapping position, and Harry hurried to interject.
“Kreacher, could you get us some plates, please?”
The old elf slowly lowered his arm, glaring at the Dursleys, then turned back toward the kitchen. Harry heard him mutter something like, “... miserable old cow isn’t trying to take that task from old Kreacher...” before he disappeared inside.
Cake and ice cream were served without incident, although there was an unmistakable tension in the air. With everyone confined to the dining room, Harry noticed occasional scowls shooting back and forth across the room. Ginny, who had found a refill somewhere along the way, was glowering at Dudley, who was working on a piece of cake that was nearly as large as his head. Hermione fixed Molly with a disapproving stare as her mother-in-law quietly opined that Harry should make a spot for Kreacher’s head on the wall of Grimmauld Place. Rose was shooting nasty glares at James and Albus, who were still gloating over the way they’d tricked her into kissing Draco Malfoy’s son on the train ride home from Hogwarts. It appeared that open hostilities could erupt at any moment, and the thought filled Harry with dread. He wanted to see his family come together, not tear itself apart. So he made an executive decision.
Setting his plate aside, he rose to his feet and tapped the side of his glass with his fork. “Hi, everyone. First, Gin and I would like to thank you all for coming and helping us celebrate Lily’s birthday. It doesn’t seem possible that she’ll be getting her Hogwarts letter this time next year. Wasn’t it just yesterday that she accidentally levitated her first birthday cake across the table and dropped it on her brother’s head?”
The adults in the room chuckled softly while Lily and Albus both looked as though they wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Harry could already hear his daughter’s tearful diatribe about how he’d completely ruined her birthday, so he quickly moved on. “I was planning to save this for later, but as long as everyone’s here to see it, I might as well go ahead and give Lily the special present that I picked out for her.”
A low buzz of anticipation filled the room as Harry drew his wand and summoned a neatly wrapped package from elsewhere in the house.
“I bet it’s a wand,” Hugo said under his breath. “James is always bragging about how Uncle Harry did something to the wards so the Trace doesn’t work here.”
“Shut it, you little git,” James snarled through his teeth before turning a beatific smile toward the rest of the room.
Rose sighed melodramatically and pressed her fists into the sides of her hips. It was almost frightening how much she reminded Harry of her mother. “She would know already if it was a wand, Hugo. You can’t just pick one out for somebody else. Mr. Ollivander has to take measurements and have you try a bunch of different wands until he finds the right one. I bet it’s an advance copy of the new edition of Hogwarts: A History that’s coming out in the fall. It has over thirty pages of new material about everything that’s happened since the war!”
Albus snorted loudly. “Do you think he got her a pillow and pyjamas to go with it, Red? No way, it’s gotta be her own broom! Then she’ll finally stop stealing mine and James’s. He just shrunk it so it’s more of a surprise.”
“Well I thought the book was a brilliant idea,” Hermione tutted. Albus and James stared at their aunt as though she’d just spoken Mermish while Rose buried her face in her hands.
“You’re all wrong,” Harry declared. He handed the present to Lily, who was practically vibrating with excitement. “Open it, pumpkin.”
The room held its collective breath as Lily removed the wrapping paper, surgically peeling back each strip of Spello-tape. Harry reached out and clamped his hand on James’s shoulder as his oldest son made a move to grab one of the stray corners of paper and expedite the process. “Those are your genes, Potter!” Ginny huffed from the other side of the table, sloshing wine over the side of her glass as she made an exaggerated show of checking her watch.
Finally, after carefully setting the wrapping paper aside, Lily set a wooden box on the table in front of her. The top of the box was adorned with a hand-painted picture of a town square. It included dozens of witches and wizards, going about their daily business. A large fountain marked the center of the square and the edges were lined with shops, restaurants and pubs.
“What is it, Daddy?” Lily asked, looking confused.
“Open it and see,” Harry replied, rubbing his hands together in excitement.
Family members crowded around the table as Lily opened the brass latch and slowly lifted the lid of the box. Inside, she found dozens of painted, wooden pieces cut into a seemingly endless variety of irregular shapes. Her eyes narrowed and her lower lip started to quiver noticeably. “You bought me a box of wood chips?”
“No, pumpkin!” Harry answered hastily. The tears welling up in the corners of her eyes had him on the verge of panic. What if she didn’t didn’t like it? What if nobody else did, either? “It’s a puzzle, see.” Harry pulled two random pieces from the box and tried to demonstrate how they worked even though the two didn’t fit together. “When you put all the pieces together, they make the picture that’s on the front of the box. Dudley and I used to spend hours working them together when we were young.”
“You mean when he wasn’t making fun of you or beating you up?” Ginny asked while glaring at Harry’s cousin. Harry opened his mouth and then closed it again, not at all sure how to respond.
Dudley looked slightly confused for a moment, surveying a roomful of stares that ranged from indifferent to outright hostile. He turned to Harry and quietly asked, “This is one of those times where I’m supposed to feel ashamed, isn’t it?”
“I guess the Dementors didn’t completely scramble his brains,” Ginny snorted. She turned her attention back to the box on the table. “So how do you play this game?”
“It isn’t a game, really,” Hermione interjected, unable to resist the urge to explain. “You’re trying to put the picture back together. You look at the shape of each piece and figure out where it goes.”
“Oh, that sounds easy,” Ron chimed in, pulling out his wand. “Repar-”
“The point,” Harry quickly interrupted, nudging Ron’s wand arm aside, “is that you take your time and work it out on your own. It wouldn’t be much fun to do it with magic.” He couldn’t help but notice Dudley and his children flinch in response to Ron drawing his wand. Magic certainly wasn’t the answer to mending either the puzzle or the disparate branches of Harry’s family.
Arthur had gradually made his way to the spot beside Lily and he was staring into the box with a look of wonder on his weathered face. “You mean the muggles make all of these pieces without magic? Amazing! How do they do that?”
“Well, they could use a cutting die, or maybe a really fine saw,” Dudley answered. He seemed very pleased to finally be able to contribute to the conversation. “Grunnings just bought a Welsh company that makes saw blades.”
“Really?” Arthur looked as though he could barely contain himself. “You wouldn’t happen to have one, would you?”
Harry and Hermione were both on the cusp of explaining that muggles who aren’t tradesmen don’t typically carry saw blades around when Dudley shrugged his shoulders and answered. “Yeah, I think I have one in the boot of the car from a trade show. Just be careful-”
“Say no more, young man,” Arthur cut in, waving his hand dismissively, “you needn’t worry about a thing. As it happens, I’m something of an expert on muggle motorcars.”
“No, no, no, Dudley, I wouldn’t dream of disrupting the party for you. I know my way around a car boot. I’ll be back in four shakes of a Crup’s tail.”
“They have forked tails,” James explained, noticing the confusion on Dudley’s face, “so that’s fast.”
“Alright, now that’s settled,” Harry said as Arthur disappeared out the door. He reached over top of Lily and gently dumped the puzzle pieces onto the table. “Gather round, kids, Hermione. Let’s see if we can work the puzzle. First step is to turn all the pieces face up and find the corners and the edges.”
Harry set about flipping the pieces near him so that the painted sides could be seen. Hermione took a seat across the table from him and went to work as well. The children started to join in, reluctantly at first but gradually getting the hang of sorting the pieces. Harry was somewhat surprised by how much he wanted his little cultural experiment to work. Even though the magical world had been kinder to him -- which was actually a pretty harsh condemnation of the muggle world, considering the fact that he’d survived a death sentence issued by the most powerful dark wizard of all time -- Harry felt bad about not doing more to embrace his mother’s heritage. In his mind, working this simply puzzle was more than a fun diversion, it was about building bridges. Completing it would show the magical and the muggle halves of his family that they could come together and accomplish something.
“Where did you get this, Harry?” Hermione asked as she snatched a corner piece from the pile.
“Dean did the painting for me and then I had a carpenter in Hogsmeade transfer it to wood and...” Harry’s voice trailed off as he noticed a dog in the piece he was holding suddenly sit down and scratch behind its ear with a hind leg. He looked around the table and realized that all of the figures in the puzzle pieces were suddenly coming to life. “That’s odd. I didn’t ask him to enchant this.”
Hugo let out a loud, horrified yelp, pointing toward a piece in front of him. “Mum! Dad! What happened to that man?”
Harry peered across the table and saw the figure of a wizard whose lower half must have been on the adjoining puzzle piece. The man was waving his arms frantically and although the puzzle made no sounds, he appeared to be crying for help. Hermione shared a concerned glance with Harry before trying to soothe her son. “It’s just a puzzle, dear. We’ll get him put back together as soon as we find the next piece.”
“But Mum, he has no legs!” Hugo’s face was turning white and he looked like he was on the verge of tears.
“Your mother’s right, Hugo,” Harry replied, trying not to rush as he sorted through the pieces on the table, looking for the wizard’s missing legs. “He’s not in any pain or anything. At least I don’t think he is.” Truthfully, the wizard on the puzzle piece appeared to be going into shock.
All of the sudden, a loud, half-grinding, half-shrieking noise echoed from the kitchen, followed by the sound of dishes crashing to the floor and Kreacher’s howls of protest. A moment later, Arthur emerged into the dining room, holding a cordless muggle power saw in one hand and half a table leg in the other. “Erm, Harry, there’s a bit of a mess in the kitchen, but don’t worry, I’ll get it all tidied up in a jiffy. Dudley, you must tell me where I can purchase one of these!”
Dudley opened his mouth to answer, then he noticed Molly, who was standing behind her husband, scowling. Her wand was pointed at the middle of his chest and she was shaking her head slowly from side to side.
“Right, then,” Ron said, forcing as much cheer into his voice as he could muster. He stood up and headed toward the kitchen, grabbing his father’s elbow as he passed. “Let’s get this mess straightened up, Dad, then you and Dudley can talk more.”
Harry made a mental note to get Ron something extra-nice for Christmas and turned his attention back to the puzzle. More of the figures in the painting were starting to grow unhappy with their predicament. A witch who was trapped in a piece with a fat wizard smoking a pipe covered her face with a handkerchief as she waved her arms, trying to fan away the smoke. He saw a wizard in a different piece holding the end of what appeared to be a severed leash, and he desperately tried to remember where he’d seen the piece with the dog on it.
Chancing a quick look around the table, Harry noticed some very troubled looks on the children’s faces. All except for James, who seemed to find the plights of the miniature people quite amusing. Bloody teenagers. A drop of sweat slid down Harry’s temple to his jawline. He wanted... no, needed the kids to enjoy this. Fear of failure started to well up inside his chest, fueling his determination. He took a steadying breath and redoubled his efforts.
Hermione had managed to connect a few edge pieces to a corner, earning her a grateful wave from a tiny witch whose cafe was once again whole. “Harry, you’re sure you didn’t ask the carpenter to enchant this? Maybe he misunderstood you.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Harry grumbled. Of all the rotten times for magic to rear its head. A quick glance behind him confirmed that Dudley was nervously shifting his weight from side to side. “I mean, I didn’t ask him not to...”
Lily sighed melodramatically as she managed to reunite a wizard carrying an armful of parcels with the front door of his home. “Daddy, you’re such a muggle sometimes.”
Ginny let out a very unladylike snort before recovering her composure. “Lily, don’t be rude. Your father can’t help the fact that he was raised by two of the worst muggles the world has ever seen.”
Harry inwardly cringed. Outbursts like that were not helping his kids feel the love for their muggle heritage. Dudley, who’d been nervously staring at an angry witch who lost the top of her hat in the piece above her, bristled in response. “That was a dig at my parents, wasn’t it?”
Ginny pulled the best innocent face she could manage. “You mean the fat walrus who used to lock my husband in a cupboard and the horse-faced shrew who helped him do it? Whatever makes you think that?”
“Yes!” Harry interrupted Ginny and Dudley’s staring match with a highly exaggerated fist pump. The terrified dog was huddled in the corner of the piece he held. He had to get things back on track. The sweet taste of victory quickly turned sour, however. “Wait, where did that wizard with the broken leash go?”
Before Ginny and Dudley could renew their bickering, the whine of the power saw once again sounded in the kitchen, followed by a pair of loud cracks and a shout of alarm. Dudley’s children threw themselves behind his thick legs, wailing in terror. Harry had his wand halfway out of his pocket when the kitchen door flew open and Dudley’s saw scurried across the floor, snarling and revving its motor. It headed straight for Rose, who screamed and pulled her feet up onto her chair. The saw quickly severed one leg of the chair and by the time it had started on the next, the room was bristling with wands. Ron burst through the kitchen door and hurled a Stunner at the rogue power tool. The spell missed, breaking the chair leg that the saw had been cutting through. As Rose tumbled to the floor, the saw took off down the hallway, dodging a barrage of hexes and jinxes.
“Sorry, slight mishap,” Ron explained sheepishly. “Dad wouldn’t stop tinkering with it, so I was about to put an Imperturbable Charm on it at the same instant Kreacher tried to vanish it. The spells collided and... well, I think we made it sort of angry.”
Harry could feel the panic boiling up in his chest. Dudley was trying to scoop his children up off of the floor, where they were both crying loudly. “Alright, alright,” Harry called out, shoving his wand back into his pocket. “Ron has this under control. Everyone put your wands away and let’s get back to the puzzle, shall we?”
At that moment, Kreacher emerged from the kitchen brandishing a large carving knife and wearing an upside down saucepan on his head. “Master needn’t worry. Old Kreacher will teach the filthy muggle contraption to behave properly in Master’s noble house.” Ron shrugged his shoulders and headed down the hallway, trying not to step on the old elf.
“Uncle Harry, that man is still missing his legs,” Hugo moaned. At times, Hugo’s whining annoyed Harry. At the moment it seemed to motivate everyone to resume their work on the puzzle if for no other reason than to keep him from joining the Dursley children in their meltdown. It wasn’t ideal, but for now it would have to do.
“It’s alright, dear, they’ve got to be around here somewhere,” Hermione soothed, drawing two partially-completed sections of the puzzle together and joining them. The new connection allowed a pair of officers from the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol to come running to the spot where a crowd was gathering around the legless wizard. Even if they located the missing piece, Harry was pretty sure that the man was beyond help.
Reaching for another edge piece, Harry did his best to keep the party guests on task. “Everyone just concentrate on finishing the puzzle, alright? Once it’s done, they should have all their body parts back.” He wanted so badly for the family to succeed, and the possibility that they might not filled him with dread. It didn’t help at all when James copped a malicious grin and forced a piece depicting a witch on a broom into the wrong spot, causing her to fly directly into the side of a building. “Not funny, James Sirius,” Harry muttered as James and Al sniggered fiendishly at their younger cousin’s horrified expression. “Not funny at all.” He twisted the misplaced piece free and connected it to a section of sky, allowing the witch on the broom to make a beeline for the relative safety of the ground.
“You’re all still working on this?” Arthur asked as he emerged from the kitchen with a slightly bloody handkerchief pressed against his left wrist.
“Yeah, Papa,” Lily answered as she tried to fit a section of cobblestones into the pavement in front of an apothecary. “Being a muggle is harder than I thought.”
“Too bloody right,” Dudley muttered under his breath, shooting a glare in Ginny’s general direction.
Arthur beamed at his granddaughter. “Right you are, sweetheart. It’s nice to see you learning about the muggles at such a young age. Ginny, dear, could you tell me where you keep your Dittany?”
“Bathroom medicine cabinet, second shelf,” Ginny answered. Several more loud cracks rang out from the vicinity of the sun room, followed by Ron’s shouts and Kreacher’s loud squeals. “Might as well bring the bottle back with you,” she added before downing the rest of her wine.
A moment later, Ron walked back into the room, holding the power saw by a bundle of wires protruding from a blackened hole in its side. The body of the saw was sporting several curse burns and Kreacher’s knife was embedded in the handle. Harry watched in mute horror as Dudley’s face went white. “We can probably fix this,” Ron declared, dropping the smoking ruin onto the table in front of Dudley. “My brother Bill is a curse-breaker. He straightens out messes you wouldn’t believe.”
“That’s, um, alright,” Dudley mumbled. “Your dad seemed really keen on it. He can have it, especially now that it’s gone all weird. Blimey, would you look at the time! Kids, get your shoes and say thank you to your cousin Lily for inviting you.”
At that moment, something inside Harry’s head snapped. Failure was no longer an option. He could bring his family together in good will and harmony through conventional means, but that could take years and possibly cost dozens of lives. No. This situation absolutely required him to pull out all the stops. He took a deep breath and felt an eerie sort of calm spreading through him.
“Dudley.” If Harry hadn’t been so focused, the deadly serious edge to his voice would have alarmed even him. It stopped his cousin in his tracks.
“You’re not leaving.”
Dudley shifted his weight nervously. “Harry, we need to go. Iris is due for a nap in two hours and her mother will have my head if-”
“No.” Harry slowly straightened up from the spot where he’d been leaning over the table. He could not, would not allow things to end like this. Not with the puzzle lying half-finished on the table and the animosity between his magical and muggle families worse than before. He swept the room with a disturbingly intense stare. “We are all staying right here until this bloody puzzle is finished. Do you hear me? Right here. If you’re hungry, we have plenty of cake and ice cream. If you need the loo, we have four of them. If you collapse from bloody exhaustion, we’ll conjure cots. But nobody is leaving until this is done!”
Ginny set her wine glass down and cautiously eased closer to her husband. “Harry, sweetheart, you’re scaring me. I think you’re scaring everyone, actually.” Silent nods of agreement were visible all around the room.
“There’s nothing to be scared of, Gin.” Harry answered quietly, “We can’t fail, you see. We’re a family. You and me and Lily and Dudley and little Iris on the floor over there... all of us. We will finish this bloody puzzle, because we’re one big happy family and that’s what families do. When the going gets tough, they pull together and they get things done. Did we just give up when Voldemort took over the Ministry and tried to kill us all? Hell, no! And we’re not giving up now!”
Harry stopped to catch his breath and surveyed the occupants of the room. All of them were staring at him very uneasily. All except Ginny. Her brown eyes were fixed on him, locked in one of those intense but not completely focused gazes that drunk people tend to adopt when they’re thinking about something really hard.
“I don’t know whether you’ve gone barking mad or what, Harry,” she finally said, “but whatever’s gotten into you, it is so bloody hot.”
You could have heard a pin drop in the Potters’ dining room. Except for the retching noises that James and Al were making.
It took Harry a moment to recover, but he somehow managed to tear his eyes away from Ginny’s smoldering stare. She was trying to distract him! Her hatred of Dudley kept her from seeing the true value of Harry’s mission. Damn, she was sexy when she hated something, though. No, wait, wrong thought. “Get hold of yourself, woman! Help me finish this bloody puzzle and then we’ll discuss... other matters.”
Harry pointedly returned to his work, and the room’s other occupants gradually followed suit. He steadfastly ignored the nervous glances occasionally directed at him by everyone except for Ginny, who was nibbling on her lower lip while she shamelessly ran her eyes up and down his body.
There were no words that would help them understand how important this was, at least none that Harry could think of. He was simply going to have to show them. When it was done and they were all basking in the glow of their triumph, they would understand that muggles and magical folk weren’t so different. No matter your blood status, you still put a puzzle together one piece at a time. Harry was thinking about what a great slogan that would make for a motivational poster in the Muggle Studies classroom when Kreacher appeared, holding a tray full of tea for the adults and juice for the children.
After a quick break for refreshments, all eyes returned to the dining room table with renewed urgency. Harry’s determination finally seemed to be catching on. The pieces started to fall into place and life in the small wizarding village slowly returned to normal. The villagers seemed to be planning a funeral for their poor, legless neighbor. Soon, only one piece remained missing.
“You’ve got to be joking,” Hermione grumbled as Hugo burst into fresh tears.
“If there’s a joke, it’s on us,” Ron answered glumly.
“We’re never going home!” Little Iris wailed, throwing herself on the floor at her father’s feet.
“No,” Harry muttered, staring at the polished wood of the table through the sole remaining gap in the puzzle. He could see all of his hopes for bridging the gap between his two worlds spinning counter-clockwise down that hole. “This can’t be happening.”
“It’s alright, Daddy,” Lily said timidly. She started to lay her hand on his arm, but seemed to think better of it. “It probably just got lost in the carpenter’s shop. We can send an owl.”
“Oh, no,” Harry said to nobody in particular. “No, no, no. It’s not going to end like this. We are going to finish this puzzle if it kills us. Do you hear me? IF IT BLOODY KILLS US!”
Molly tried to ignore the low growl emanating from the back of Ginny’s throat and spoke slowly and softly. “Harry, dear, I’m so sorry this happened, but people need to go home. The children need to bathe and get a proper night’s sleep. We’ll all come back and see it when you find the last piece.”
“We’re finding it right now,” Harry declared, pushing back from the table. “I’m sending a message to the carpenter. EXPECTO PATRONUM!”
Dudley’s children howled in terror as the enormous, silvery stag erupted from the end of Harry’s wand. As the ethereal creature turned back to Harry to receive its message, James’s voice cut through the commotion. “Give it to him, Al.”
Everyone fell silent and all eyes in the room turned to the youngest Potter boy. The patronus faded into mist and disappeared. “What are you talking about?” Al snapped at his brother. “I don’t have it.”
“Cut the crap, Al. I saw you slip it into your pocket after Dad dumped the pieces on the table. Now give it to him before Dad snaps and kills us all or even worse, Mum starts tearing his clothes off.”
Al shot his brother the nastiest look he could manage before reaching into his pocket and removing the irregularly shaped wooden piece. He was about to hand it to his father when Hugo snatched it out of his grasp and rushed to fit it into place.
Everyone leaned over the table, silently waiting to learn the legless wizard’s fate. When Hugo pulled his hand away, a collective gasp arose. Lying on the ground with her head resting on the wizard’s legs was a pretty, young witch. She pulled herself to a sitting position and first noticed the crowd gathered around them. Then she looked down at her paramour and threw her head back in a silent cry of despair. The young witch buried her head in her arms on top of his chest and all of the villagers stared awkwardly as sobs shook her shoulders.
“Oh, no,” Rose whimpered. “I bet they were engaged or something.”
Harry’s frantically searched the puzzle. For the third time, he felt like everything was falling apart. “Is there a healer anywhere in this village? Somebody get me a quill! I’ll draw a portkey and they can take him to-”
“Look!” Hugo shouted, pointing at the puzzle. The formerly legless wizard’s feet suddenly twitched. He blinked his eyes once, twice, three times. His fingers flexed and his knees bent slightly before he lifted his head and noticed the crying witch resting on his chest. The he wrapped his arms around her and she buried her face in his shoulder as the villagers cheered. A cheer went up around the Potters’ dining room, as well, and Rose threw her arms around her younger brother’s neck. Harry felt Ginny’s arm wrap around his waist, and he gently grabbed her wrist as her hand started to slide toward his bum.
“Wouldn’t you know it,” Al muttered disdainfully, “a love story.” He was about to say more before Lily slapped the back of his head, much to the approval of everyone else in the room.
“Alright, then, Harry,” Ron said, wrapping his arm around Hermione’s shoulders. “Are we allowed to leave now?”
“Yes,” Harry replied happily, “everyone is free to go.” He noticed Ginny staring hungrily at him, and quickly turned to his daughter. “Do you like your present, pumpkin?”
Lily seemed to weigh her response for a moment, trying to decide how much honesty would be bad. “It’s really neat, Daddy.”
“So you like it, then?”
“Um, yeah, Daddy, I like it.”
Harry turned back to his wife and tried to wink subtly. “Dear, I think you need a nap. I’ll, er, come check on you in a few minutes, alright? There’s just one thing I need to do first.”
Two days later, Ginny Potter slipped into her daughter’s room to tuck her in and say goodnight. It had taken thirty-six hours and the better part of a flagon of Hangover Potion for Ginny to be back to her normal self, which left her feeling more than a little guilty.
“Lily, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for the way your party turned out. Your father and I weren’t really on our best behavior. I hope you’ll forgive us.”
“It wasn’t so bad, Mum,” Lily replied, stifling a yawn. “You and Daddy always act weird when Uncle Dudley comes to visit.”
A sheepish smile settled on Ginny’s face. “I’m glad we didn’t completely ruin it,” she replied, pulling the covers up to her daughter’s chest.
The two witches shared a warm moment of silence before both pairs of eyes were unavoidably drawn to the large portrait that adorned the far wall of the bedroom. Lily gave her mother a beseeching look and gestured toward her father’s birthday gift. “Mum, do I have to keep that thing on my wall?”
Ginny smoothed her daughter’s hair and gave her a sad smile. “Your father used a Permanent Sticking Charm, sweetheart. That thing will be there until somebody tears the house down. Don’t worry, it’s only another year until you go to Hogwarts.”
“But Mum, isn’t there anything we can do? Those little people are creepy. They stare at me when I’m sleeping.”
“We’ll get some curtains, darling,” Ginny replied sympathetically, “just like the portrait of the angry old lady at Grimmauld Place. Let’s just hope Kreacher doesn’t start to worship your father’s puzzle.”
“Alright, Mum. And thanks for all of my real presents.”
“Happy Birthday, sweetheart.”
There you have it, another one-shot cranked out when I should have been working on the next chapter of Detox. We all need our distractions. Big thanks to 1917farmgirl and pixileanin for extra-special inspiration and to my beta reader, sophie_hatter! I hope you enjoyed it. Please let me know what you think in the box below!