Ginny caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror that hung in the foyer. She'd plaited her hair hastily that morning and hadn't given it a second thought until now. Wisps of ginger hair fell down from the braid carelessly, and the elastic band that held it in place had slipped down several inches from its original placement…one more inch and it'd be out altogether. Until she'd just looked, she hadn't even realized which top she had pulled on in the dark at 5:15 AM (an old Hogwarts tee shirt that read Gryffindor Quidditch on the front and on the back, in all capital letters, CHASER). She had no clue that she had dried mashed bananas speckled across her forehead, though it did explain the stiff feeling she had been noticing since breakfast time.
Such was the life of the mother of an almost one-year-old boy.
Ginny opened the front door to retrieve several packages dropped off by the morning post owl. It was nearly noon now, but this was the first opportunity she'd had to get them. James had just gone down for a nap. Flurries of snow blew in as she quickly rescued them from the front step. She quietly closed the door as she brought in the last one – a small box from Quality Quidditch Supplies.
She knew just what was in that one. James' first birthday was a week away and Harry had been hinting for about six consecutive months that he thought his son would love a toy broomstick for a first birthday present. It wasn't that Ginny didn't think this was true – James had shown inclinations of being a Quidditch enthusiast at a very young age – but Ginny had a sneaking hunch that the toy broomstick was more of a desire for the father than for the son. After reading the packaging on the "Junior Nimbus, Stage One" in the Quality Quidditch Supplies Holiday Wish Book, Ginny had yielded. It was appropriate for children ages one to three years, and had received a safety rating of five Golden Snitches – the highest of any Quidditch-themed toy. As an added bonus, it was equipped to project a cushioning charm to the ground within a six-foot radius around the broomstick, which was more than ample for a three-foot long broom.
She took the box containing the broomstick, along with the many other boxes, and stacked them in the spare bedroom. She sighed as she looked at all of them, knowing that within them were more birthday presents for James, in addition to Christmas gifts for friends and family. If James' birthday was a week off, that meant Christmas was a mere nine days away. There was a lot to be done in a very short space of time.
There was also the fact that Hermione was set to deliver a baby at any given moment. Ginny and Harry were keeping one eye on the fireplace at all times these days, expecting to see Ron's anxious face pop in, announcing that he had become a father at long last.
Ginny had always thought that no one could have been a more doting husband than hers during a pregnancy, but her brother Ron had given Harry a run for his Galleons. There wasn't anything Ron wouldn't do for Hermione. If she was craving Chocolate Frogs, Ron would Apparate to the nearest shop to pick some up. If half an hour later she had a yearning for Cauldron Cakes, Ron was back in action. He was known to be up at all hours of the morning shaking bottles of Pumpkin Fizz so that they'd go flat (Hermione loved Pumpkin Fizz…minus the fizz) if his wife awoke and announced she was parched. He gave her foot massages when her feet went puffy at the end of the day and rubbed her temples after she'd pored over her lesson plans following dinner. Hermione worked hard even as her body swelled to encompass the growth of the life developing within, but at the beginning of the month of December, she was forced to take a sabbatical from her position as Arithmancy teacher at Hogwarts – she'd gotten Professor Vector, the witch who formerly taught the class, to substitute in her absence. Teaching classes and commuting back and forth to Hogwarts everyday had just become too taxing after eight months of pregnancy, and her Obstewizard had threatened to put her on bed rest if she didn't take it easy. It took some persuasion, but Ron had finally convinced Hermione that it was all for the best.
So, for the past sixteen days, Ginny had been getting a note a day via Pig from Hermione, telling about how concerned she was about her students, and how she hoped Professor Vector was adequately preparing the fifth years for their Arithmancy O.W.L.s and the seventh years for their Arithmancy N.E.W.T.s. Ginny had calmly pointed out that she thought Professor Vector could manage. She had, after all, taught the class for forty years herself. Hermione was also concerned about the birthing room conditions at St. Mungo's – she wasn't at all convinced that the staff had placed the proper Purification Charms on the equipment the Obstewizards used. Ginny had written back that James hadn't come out of St. Mungo's with any foreign diseases brought on by improperly charmed equipment, so she felt secure in telling her that wee Baby Weasley was going to be safe as well. And so it went on, each day there was a new concern, and Ginny calmly sent replies in order to ease her sister-in-law's anxieties. After all, a year ago, Ginny recalled being a little anxious herself. It was nice to be able to reassure Hermione about things.
Ginny's thoughts of Hermione were broken with great urgency by James' shrieks.His nap was over.
So much for wrapping gifts this afternoon, she thought.
Ginny traipsed into the nursery and found James standing at the railing of his bed, tears flooding his eyes. His bottom lip pouted out and he muttered one solitary word over and over until Ginny relented and picked him up, "Mummy…Mummy…Mummy."
"Come here, sweetheart," Ginny said as she lugged him out of his baby-blue prison.
His expression brightened and he hugged Ginny, saying the word, "Mummy" again, this time with much more enthusiasm.
"You little scamp," Ginny said, hugging him back. "Twenty minutes does not a nap make, James Potter!"
"Nap?" James mimicked in a questioning tone, as if the concept was completely unfamiliar to him.
"Yes," Ginny answered her son. "You know…it's when you actually go to sleep and stay asleep…for at least an hour so Mummy can wrap Christmas presents!"
"Kiss…miss…" echoed James.
"Yes," Ginny said again. "Christmas…you know, the holiday we'll have to cancel if you don't nap long enough to let me wrap the presents! Not to mention, your birthday…we'll have to cancel that, too!"
James beamed at the mention of the word "birthday." Ginny and Harry had spoken long enough about the fact that the big day was approaching for James to recognize that it was something very, very good.
"Cake!" James said, suddenly recalling the many times his parents mentioned birthday cake in his presence.
"Dunno where you could have gotten that sweet tooth of yours," said Ginny, raising one of her coppery eyebrows at James and grinning. "Neither your daddy nor I like sweets…"
"Daddy!" James chimed in, clapping as he spoke. "Daddy…home?"
"Nope, love," said Ginny, kissing James's forehead and carrying him into the kitchen. "Daddy's still at work." She plopped James into his highchair and opened one of the kitchen cupboards. "So, what'll it be for lunch…Mummy's famished."
"Cake!" James suggested eagerly.
Much to his chagrin, James did not receive cake for lunch, but much to his delight, his daddy came home from work early.
"Things were quiet at the office today," said Harry, after he Apparated into the living room around two o'clock.
Ginny smiled and gave him a welcome home hug. "It's our lucky day, then," she said.
James tossed down the stuffed lion he was playing with and crawled over to Harry's feet. He tugged on the hem of Harry's work robes and said, "Daddy…home! Daddy…up!"
"Sure thing," said Harry, and in one fluid action he had scooped James up and was imitating the motions of flight with him.
James laughed as Harry lifted him into the air.
"Higher?" Harry asked.
"Higher?" Harry asked again.
James squealed even louder.
"Higher?" Harry asked a third time.
Above James' squeals of delight, Ginny broke in. "Any higher than that and he'll be through the ceiling!" She wore the expression many mothers do when fathers play the game of Toss-The-Baby – one of mingled panic and alarm.
"Mummy wins," said Harry, though in a slightly disappointed tone. "Let's bring this broom in for a landing." Harry gently set James down on the rug with a movement that strongly resembled the touchdown of a racing broom. James gave him a sullen expression. Harry responded with a sympathetic look, but distracted him by raising one of his son's chubby arms and saying with gusto, "And James Potter single-handedly wins the Quidditch World Cup for England! Bravo, son!"
James lifted his other arm in the air and said, "Yay…yaaaaay!" His laughter sounded through the house like delightful music.
Six days later and James had managed to get a few good naps in…and managed to allow his mother time to gift-wrap the horde of presents that were currently occupying her spare bedroom.
"It's a good thing we're not entertaining anyone at our house this week," Ginny said to herself as she tied a purple satiny ribbon onto a Christmas gift for (she checked the gift tag) Luna Lovegood.
She sighed and wondered how in the world she was going to manage to get all of the gifts to the appropriate recipients in the next few days. She and Harry had declined the invitation they'd received for the annual Gryffindor Alumni Holiday Bash (this year being hosted by Seamus and Lavender Finnigan), so that'd mean she'd have to send any former Gryffindors their Christmas gifts by owl post. She could bring Luna's gift to the Burrow on Christmas Day…Luna's parents lived near Ottery St. Catchpole. And most of the other presents would go to the Burrow as well, since they were by received by family members, who would be there anyhow.
"When am I going to find time to go to the post office today?" said Ginny frantically. She thought of the birthday cake she had yet to bake, and the rest of the housekeeping that needed to be taken care of before the day was over. "Maybe Hedwig could manage these deliveries," she said. But, as if on cue, she heard a loud HOOT! come from Hedwig's perch in the sunroom.
"I take that to mean ‘no'!" Ginny shouted from the spare room, but regretted it a moment later when she heard James start to bawl from the nursery.
She went to calm him, thankful that he'd at least been asleep this time for a good hour and fifteen minutes.
"How would you like a trip to see the owls?" said Ginny, after changing James into a fresh nappy. She had reconciled herself to the fact that a trip to the post office was unavoidable.
It looked like cakes were going unbaked and the house was going un-Scourgified for the time being.
She had never seen the queues for sending post and parcels so long in her entire life. From what Ginny could see, out of the nearly three hundred owls that were typically employed by her local branch of the Wizarding Post Office, only a small amount remained perched and ready for service. Occasionally she observed, while waiting in line with a trolley-full of Christmas packages and a grumpy baby boy, an owl would swoop in through a window looking frazzled and dazed.
"At least twelve hours rest," one of the postwizards would declare as he sent the weary-looking bird to a perch for a respite.
"Our busiest time of the year," said a grey-haired postwitch when it was finally Ginny's turn at the counter. The postwitch had a sort of manic glint in her silver eyes and Ginny thought that she'd like to hurry the proceedings along a bit, send her parcels off and get home to bake James' birthday cake – without a run-in with a mad postal worker.
"I've got quite a few packages to send off today," Ginny told the witch, beginning to plop them in turn onto the counter (she had to pry a particularly brightly wrapped one from James' fingers). "But they're all clearly marked with the names and addresses of each recipient…"
The grey-haired witch squinted as she read the address label on the parcel closest to her. "This address says Hogwarts School."
Ginny looked at the label and concurred. "So it does…it's for a former professor of mine…"
"I'm sorry, Miss…local deliveries only today."
Ginny blinked stupidly. "Excuse me? Local…only?" It was as if she heard the words, but didn't quite comprehend them.
The witch spoke very slowly this time, as if she were explaining the situation to James instead of Ginny. "Local…deliveries…only…today." She pointed to the perches where several miniature owls were roosting. A sign above them read: Local Deliveries Only.
"But," Ginny began in protest, "this office offers long-distance deliveries…I've used it before for…"
"All of our other owls have been decommissioned for the holidays, Miss," said the postwitch in a bored tone. "We've been overrun with people who leave things for the last minute."
James had begun thumping the brightly wrapped package on the counter-top (Ginny had sat him next to the pile when her arms had tired of holding him). "Home! Home! Home!" he was chanting with each thump of the box.
"If you're not sending any of these locally, I will ask you to move along so I can assist the next customer in line," announced the witch unsympathetically.
Ginny heard a great deal of huffing coming from the witches and wizards standing behind her in the queue.
"I don't believe this," Ginny said with a sigh. She pushed the trolley back out onto the sidewalk and stood there for a moment shaking her head while James began to whine.
"You're hungry, aren't you?" she asked her son. "We'll be home soon and you can have something to nibble on."
James made do for the time being with chewing on the corner of the brightly wrapped package.
"How was your day?" Harry asked as he Apparated home later that evening.
"Other than the fact I found out that quite a few of our acquaintances will be getting New Year's presents as opposed to Christmas presents, it was fine," said Ginny, whose red hair was concealed under copious amounts of all-purpose flour, giving her the appearance that she'd swallowed an Aging Potion while baking the birthday cake.
"They'll live," said Harry nonchalantly, walking over to her and dusting the flour from her hair.
"How was your day?" Ginny asked, twitching her nose as she did (clouds of flour were tickling her nostrils).
"Better now that I'm home…and my holiday from work has officially begun." He kissed her gently, but when he backed away Ginny laughed…some of the flour covering her hair had travelled and come to rest in his jet-black hair, giving him the appearance of someone who had gone prematurely grey.
"Quite a pair we make!" Ginny said, laughing some more. "James won't recognize us!"
James, who had been playing on the floor with a set of wooden alphabet blocks (they had been Spelled to make them say A is for Apparate! B is from Broomstick! C is for Cauldron! and so on when each one was picked up), had pulled himself up and was balancing by the side of the sofa.
"Daddy! Mummy!" he called, apparently finding his flour-covered parents odd-looking, but very amusing nonetheless – he giggled as he gazed at them.
And then – before either Ginny or Harry realized what was happening – it happened.
James took his very first steps.
After watching their brand-new toddler wobble around the living room for a good half-hour once he'dtaken his momentous first steps, Ginny and Harry took turns to inform family members of the significant event.
They'd used up nearly three-quarters of a brand-new container of Floo powder by the time each and every Weasley had been notified.
And just when they thought it was safe to snuff the fire out of the fireplace, a familiar face popped in.
It was Ron, looking frantic. Ginny's heart leapt. It hadn't been that long since she'd spoken with her brother with news that James was walking, and she knew only one thing could be causing him to need to talk to them again so soon after…
"Can't say much…only I'm taking Hermione in…to St. Mungo's, that is…it's time!"
His head dissolved as quickly as it had appeared.
Harry grinned. "What a day!" was all he could say as James took three more shaky steps towards him, and then collapsed into his lap.
Ginny, still dusting the remnants of flour from her face and hair, was inclined to agree.
Author's Note: Initially, I hadn't planned on ending this chapter at this point, but the longer it went on, the more I realized I'd be splitting James' toddlerhood into two different sections. With so many things going on (his first steps, first birthday, the birth of his cousin and Christmas), I couldn't see any other way around it! ;-)
Also, I'd like to express gratitude to Sherry for catching some pretty glaring boo-boos. Big thanks for calling the "And" police on me, not to mention reminding me for the bazillionth time about the word "gotten!" I think I'll have to get that rule printed on a t-shirt before I'll remember it! ;-)