Harry Potter was shocked. He took off his glasses and rubbed the heels of his palms against his eyes to make sure nothing was playing with his vision. When he put his glasses back on, the scene had not changed. Except for some magical photographs of his wife and sons, his desk was clean. There were no inter-office memos floating overhead vying for his attention. Every scrap of paperwork he had been putting off for the past month was gone. From filling out personnel evaluations to browsing résumés for potential Auror candidates to reading over surveillance reports — he literally had nothing to do at the moment.
He chanced a quick look at his watch. Half past four. Close enough. No one would mind if the Boy-Who-Lived got an early start to his weekend. Merlin knows he stayed late far more often than he ever left early. Maybe he would even have a chance to get some flowers for Ginny on the way home. He had not done anything like that in ages and it was one of the few things he could do that still surprised her.
As he made his way to Ron’s cubicle, he was not surprised to find his best mate sitting precariously on his chair with his feet up on his desk as he folded a piece of paper into the shape of an airplane.
“Finally got that report done for me?” asked Harry as he nodded in the direction of the recently created aircraft.
“What report?” said Ron as he threw the airplane out of his cube.
Harry’s eyes followed the trajectory of the little plane and watched it float across the room and hit Gregory Osbourne, the newest addition to the Auror corps, in the temple before joining dozens of its brethren on the floor around his feet.
“Oi! Who’s doing that?”
“Poor midget,” Ron whispered conspiratorially.
Harry smiled as he said, “Nice to know you’re being so productive.”
“Oh c’mon, mate. Even you have to admit that things have been pretty slow lately.”
Harry shrugged his shoulders as he said, “Yeah, so?”
“So... I’m thinking maybe it’s time to retire from the Aurors. You really don’t need me to watch your back anymore and it’s not like I need the income, what with both of the shops doing so well.”
Harry did not know how to react. On the one hand, Ron was correct on both points. But the thought of not being able to see his best friend everyday was more than a little disconcerting.
Taking Harry’s silence as a sign of disapproval, Ron said, “We could still meet up for lunch in Diagon Alley a couple times a week — and, it’s not like I couldn’t come back if you really needed me, you know.”
Harry shrugged his shoulders in resignation. “You’re right... you’re right... I’ll get in touch with Kingsley on Monday and see what kind of paperwork needs to be filled out.”
“Great!” said Ron as he sat up in his chair. “Was there something else you wanted to see me about?”
“Just wanted to let you know I was leaving a little early.”
“Finally got those personnel evaluations done then?”
Harry nodded again and said, “Yeah, I can’t believe it’s finally over — for the next six months, anyway.”
As Ron stood up he said, “Well, if the Assistant Department Head is leaving early...”
“Hey, I finished all of my work. What about you?”
“Right. Just one more thing...” said Ron as he took a glowing blue ball out of his pocket and hurled it into Osbourne’s cube.
When it landed on the poor man’s desk, the blue sphere immediately exploded into a swirling pattern of blue light, with the tip of each swirl turning into a glowing doxy made of light. The sparkling doxies proceeded to flit about Osbourne’s head, their venomless bites causing stinging little burns.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!”
“Constant vigilance, Osbourne!” Ron called out as laughter filled the room.
As Harry led Ron to the elevator he asked, “What was that thing you tossed at Osbourne?”
“George’s latest invention. Doxy Sparkler. Guaranteed to keep someone busy for five minutes.”
“Any chance we can outfit the Auror corps with some of those?”
“Of course... on the Ministry’s bill, right?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Yes, Ron.”
“Perfect. Fancy a quick drink at the Leaky?”
“Actually, I was thinking about picking up some flowers and surprising Ginny by coming home a little early.”
Ron made a coughing noise into his hand that sounded suspiciously like the word “whipped.”
Harry gave an annoyed look at this brother-in-law and said, “And I suppose cutting back on your time with the Aurors has nothing to do with Hermione asking you to spend a little more time at home?”
Ron’s face flushed immediately and Harry knew he had hit on something.
“Well... she has dropped some hints about that. But to be honest, I’ve been wanting to spend more time at home anyway. Little Rosie is so... amazing.”
Harry could not help but smile at his friend’s dreamy expression. He certainly had come a long way since their first meeting on the Hogwarts Express all those years ago. Much to her disbelief, Harry always told Ginny that he never had any doubts that her brother would be a great father; Ron always came through when it counted.
“How did you do it, Harry? How did you find the strength to stay away when James was born?”
“Well, I didn’t really, if you think about it. I took two weeks off when he was born and for the next few months after that I was always asking you to cover for me whenever I left the office a little early.”
“Oh yeah... I remember that now...”
“Don’t feel bad. Parenthood causes memory loss.”
“Oh sure, ask Hermione.”
Ron narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “You’re not trying to get me in trouble are you?”
Harry tried to put on his most innocent look. “Who me?”
“Seriously though... I’ve been thinking a lot about something you said to me once about them never again being this small. I really don’t want to miss it.”
“I understand. You don’t have to explain it.”
“Yeah... you and Hermione have no idea what you’re doing and she can’t wait for you to come home each night to help her out.”
Ron snapped his head towards his best friend and stared at him. “You are not telling Hermione that you got that from me.”
Harry chuckled and said, “Don’t worry, mate. I won’t say a word. It does get better, you know.”
Ron sighed. “I hope so.”
“It will. Look at me and Ginny. After we took James home, I had no idea what I was doing and was always asking Ginny if I was doing everything the right way, even though I had spent hours doing the exact same thing for Teddy. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone for advice. You should try it sometime.”
Ron shook his head. “You know how Hermione is. If she doesn’t know something she automatically turns to one of her bloody books. I can’t understand why she’s too proud to ask Mum for help.”
“That’s where you come in. When we were still in school, she would have had no problems asking McGonagall for help if she thought she needed it. It’s up to you to convince her that either your mum or hers is as much an expert in motherhood as McGonagall is in Transfiguration.”
“Are you forgetting that Mum raised Fred and George?”
“Exactly. Any woman who had to deal with those two terrors and took down Bellatrix Lestrange can handle anything.”
“I dunno, mate...”
“Look... despite what Hermione may think, very little of parenthood is truly instinctual. Personally, I’ve learned more from doing things wrong than from doing things right. And being the career woman that she is, she’s never had the chance to learn what would have normally been taught to her two hundred years ago instead of going to school.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“I doubt she has either.”
Ron nodded his head in understanding. “Thanks, mate. It’s nice to know you’ve got my back.”
And at that, they each took their turn at the Apparition point, with Ron popping to his back garden and Harry to the florist around the corner from his home.
As Harry made his way through the front foyer of their home, he smiled as he navigated the minefield of toys at his feet. Albus was only six months old, so James was the one who was mostly responsible for the mess he was wading through. The house looked nothing like the abnormally pristine house he grew up in on Privet Drive, which in Harry’s eyes meant that things were perfect.
Thinking back on his conversation with Ron, he felt a little guilty for exaggerating how comfortable he and Ginny had become with parenthood. The truth was that they still did not have all the answers and were more often than not still frustrated at trying to juggle their careers with their home life. But there was no one else he would rather have at his side to struggle through it than Ginny — and that made all the difference.
Looking up, Harry finally found a disheveled looking Ginny shuffling towards him. She appeared to be nearly in tears as he gathered her into his arms. She did not even notice the flowers he was holding out to her.
“Something wrong, Gin?”
“Harry, I didn’t get anything done today,” she said between sobs. “I never made it to the store to purchase groceries. The laundry’s still piled up on the floor. The dishes from breakfast and lunch still haven’t been put away. There are toys all over the floor of the sitting room, both of their bedrooms and the kitchen—”
“Shh... take it easy, luv. As far as I’m concerned, the house is perfect.”
“Are you blind? Look at this place. If my mum were to come over and see this—”
“Then I would tell her that the toys show visitors that this is a home where the children feel loved and not neglected.”
Ginny shook her head in disagreement. “I don’t know what made us think we could do this, Harry. They both still need so much attention — especially little Al. I’m going mental trying to keep them both happy. I once had the nerve to break into the headmaster’s office to steal the Sword of Gryffindor and now I can barely — oh, look at what I’ve done to your robes! I’m such a wreck right now!”
“Actually, you’re the most beautiful sight I’ve seen all day.”
“How can you say that? I haven’t had a chance to take care of myself at all. I’m still in my dressing gown, my hair is a mess, there are bags under my eyes because I’ve barely slept well all week and I haven’t taken a bath in three days.”
Harry merely smiled and tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear. He looked into her eyes with all the sincerity he could muster and said, “Believe me, Gin. I wouldn’t change a thing.”