Thank you to Aggiebell for pulling beta duties once again.
'Ah, yes,' said the man. 'Yes, yes. I thought I'd be seeing you soon.'
Ollivander, much like his opening words, hadn't changed much over the years. His hair was still white, his frame still frail, his voice still strained, and each new batch of Hogwarts first year students still went to him for their wands. The man had to be approaching his nineties, yet he refused to retire.
For a moment, Harry Potter was no longer a thirty-six-year-old father of three; he was eleven years old again, and full of awe and wonder at the magical world he had suddenly been introduced to.
He shivered a little and tightened his grip on the child in his arms, receiving a kiss in return. Lily — seven years old and a daddy's girl — had been clingier than ever of late, and had insisted on a cuddle as soon as they arrived in Ollivander's. Her arms were wrapped firmly around Harry's neck, her legs around his waist, and her little red head was tucked into the crook of his neck and shoulder.
Ginny looked at him, her expression knowing. 'Alright there, love?' she asked.
He nodded, watching as his oldest child accepted the first wand Ollivander extended to him.
James grinned widely and flourished the wand, causing a great rush of air to sweep around the room, scattering papers in its wake. The wand was gently tugged from his grip to be replaced by another, then another, and then, finally, a twelve-inch length of hazel with a dragon heartstring core claimed James as its owner.
Harry cleared his throat. 'Nice wand, Jamie. How does it feel?'
James glanced up at him with an awed expression in his eyes, and didn't even berate Harry for calling him Jamie. 'Brilliant. Like it's always been there.' He gently swished the wand, and a soft shower of pale blue petals tumbled from the tip. 'This is so cool.'
As James diverted all of his attention to the new wand in his hand, Harry looked away, unable to stand looking at the pure joy and excitement radiating from his child.
This was it. His son was going to start drifting away from him, little by little, growing up and growing distant. A day that should have made Harry happy and proud was instead making him miserable.
Ginny took care of paying for James' wand, and quietly suggested that they all go for ice cream, an idea that all three Potter children responded to with enthusiasm.
Harry let Lily down and watched as she ran off ahead with her brothers, before following at a more sedate pace. Usually, he'd be right there with his children, laughing and shouting in an effort to beat them to the ice-cream parlour, but his heart just wasn't in it.
Ginny slipped her hand into his. 'What's wrong, Harry? You're quiet.'
Shrugging, Harry rubbed his thumb across her fingers. 'He's growing up.'
She chuckled and bowed her head to his shoulder. 'Don't remind me. I can't believe he's eleven. Where did the time go?'
Harry didn't have an answer for her, and with a small shrug, Ginny pressed a kiss against his cheek and disappeared into the ice-cream parlour in pursuit of their children.
Harry kissed a sleeping Lily on the forehead and then backed quietly out of her room, pulling the door closed behind him.
Ginny met him on the landing, her arms full of their children's clothing, and she gave him a rueful grin. 'Do you realise that we have ten years of August the thirty-first's to get through? By the time Lily gets to seventh year, I'm going to be completely grey and you'll be bald because you'll have torn all your hair out.'
He gave her a small smile and pulled her close, washing and all. 'That'll happen by the time Lily goes off for first year, if today is anything to go by.' He kissed her temple, and then sighed. 'I'm going to go and stick the kettle on. You want one?'
Ginny stepped out of the circle of his arms and looked up at him. 'Sounds good. A cup of tea and you telling me what's wrong.' She gently pushed him in the direction of the stairs. 'I want biscuits too, those nice chocolate and ginger things Mum sent over.'
The kitchen was cluttered, warm and the heart of the Potter household, full of lumpy clay models, dirty wellies and old brooms.
Harry put the kettle on to boil and then cast a Washing-up Charm on the bowl full of dirty dinner plates, the china clinking quietly as it was scrubbed clean.
Tea made, Harry held the mugs in one hand, a plate of biscuits in the other, and took them through to the living room, setting his load down on the coffee table.
Ginny slipped into the room and dropped onto the settee at his side, tucking her feet underneath her bottom and leaning against his side, her arm wrapped around his middle.
He kissed the top of her head and sighed, resting his cheek against her soft, sweet-smelling hair. 'He's not going to need us anymore, Gin,' he said, without preamble. 'He's so excited about starting Hogwarts, it's all he's talked about for weeks.'
'What makes you think James won't need us anymore? He might be growing up, but he loves us,' Ginny said.
Harry pulled his glasses off and kneaded the bridge of his nose. 'Hogwarts has a way of drawing you in. He'll get caught up in everything that goes on there, and he won't want to come home at Easter or Christmas, and we'll only get to see him for two months of the year, and even then he'll be counting down the days until he gets to go back.'
Ginny snorted with laughter against his chest. 'Harry, breathe! It's not going to be like that, I promise.'
'You don't know that,' Harry muttered. 'He's going to go off to school and have all sorts of fun, and forget all about his mum and dad.'
Leaning forward, Ginny hooked the mugs from the coffee table and handed one to Harry. 'Stop it. You're getting yourself in a tizzy over nothing. The fact that you never wanted to leave Hogwarts doesn't mean the same will apply to James.'
Harry shoved a biscuit in to his mouth in an effort to avoid answering his wife, and then downed his cup of tea in five long gulps. Dragging the back of his hand across his lips, he disentangled himself from Ginny and stood up. 'Ready for bed? We've got an early start tomorrow, and it's getting late.'
Ginny took his extended hand and let him pull her to her feet. 'Merlin, we're getting old. When did nine o'clock become "late"?'
'When we decided to have kids and realised that meant getting up stupidly early to be ready before they wake up,' Harry replied as they trudged up the stairs. 'We're leaving at six, so I guess we need to be up at five? Four-thirty?'
Ginny groaned. 'Urgh. Four-thirty, it's going to take ages to get the horrors up and moving. We should have stayed at the Leaky, we could have had a lie-in.'
They got ready for bed in companionable silence, mindful of their sleeping children, then slid underneath the sheets, Harry's front moulded to the curve of Ginny's back.
Ginny captured his hand, lacing her fingers with his. 'It'll be alright, love,' she whispered. 'James is always going to need us, no matter how old he is.'
'Yeah,' Harry said softly into her hair. 'Night, Gin.'
Even he could hear the doubt in his voice.
Harry sat bolt-upright in bed, his hand automatically reaching for his wand. 'Who's there?' he hissed. 'Show yourself.' His heart was pounding in his chest, displaying its displeasure at his rude awakening.
'D-dad? It's just me,' James answered shakily. 'Sorry.'
'God, Jamie, I'm sorry!' Harry lit his wand with a non-verbal Lumos and set it on the bedside table, where it threw light onto his son's pale face.
'Sorry I scared you, Dad,' James whispered. 'I thought you might be awake.' He chewed on his bottom lip, looking much younger than his eleven years.
Harry pulled James to him in a tight hug, thrilled when his boy allowed it. 'Don't be silly. You've got no need to apologise. I'm just a bit on edge at the moment, and you got the brunt of it.'
James sniffed against Harry's t-shirt and began to cry, soft little snuffles that were somehow more heartbreaking than full-blown sobs. 'Dad, I don't want to go to Hogwarts.'
Harry gently pushed James away, holding him at arms' length. 'What do you mean, you don't want to go to Hogwarts? You've not spoken about anything else other than Hogwarts for the last three months.'
James dragged his hand across his face, sniffing loudly. 'I want to stay here! I don't want to be away from you and Mum and Albus and Lily. And what if I end up in Slytherin?'
Harry looked at his scared little boy and started to laugh. He laughed hard enough that tears began to run down his face and his stomach hurt, and by the time he'd recovered some semblance of control, James had gone from frightened to indignant.
'What?' he demanded. 'It's not funny.'
Harry drew James close again, enfolding him in a hug. 'I'm not laughing at you, mate, honest. I've been getting myself all worked up thinking you wouldn't need me and your mum anymore. Your silly old Dad is just happy to hear that you'll miss us a little bit at least.'
James relaxed in Harry's arms. 'I'm scared, Dad,' he admitted. 'What if I don't like it?'
Harry pulled back the covers in a silent invitation, and James clambered over him to settle in the dip between Harry and Ginny for the first time in four years.
Harry lay back down and turned to face his son, cupping his damp little face in the palm of his hand. 'You're going to have the time of your life, Jamie. It's brilliant.'
'Tell me about when you were at school, Dad,' Jamie yawned, his eyes already fighting to stay open. 'Tell me about Peeves.'
Harry told James about Peeves. He told him about trolls and Quidditch and Hogsmeade, about sitting in the Gryffindor common room on dark winter nights, sharing sweets and laughter with friends. He told him about the giant squid and about the centaurs, about roaming the grounds of Hogwarts with Hagrid.
He was still talking long after James had fallen asleep, and he only stopped when Ginny reached across their sleeping son to take Harry's hand. She raised an eyebrow. 'See? He needs us as much as we need him.'
Harry smiled at his wife. 'Yeah, you were right.' He looked down at their firstborn, drinking in every feature. James hadn't sought refuge in their bed in many years – he'd been seven years old the last time, and shaking from a nightmare about spiders, a phobia he'd inherited from his Uncle Ron.
This James would be gone by morning, and he would be back to his usual confident, somewhat cheeky self, but Harry knew that underneath the cocksure exterior, James still needed his family.
'Dad?' a sleepy little voice said. 'Can you and Mum write to me every day?'
'Every day,' Harry promised. 'We'll all write something at dinner time so it'll arrive as you're getting ready for bed. And we're only a Floo away if you need us.'
James mumbled incoherently in reply, and slipped back to sleep, curling in on himself.
Harry tucked the covers around James, and then looked back over at Ginny. 'Why do they have to grow up so fast? It doesn't seem like five minutes since I was changing his nappy and playing hide and seek with him.'
Ginny smiled, and smoothed her hand over James' wild hair. 'He's still our little boy, and he always will be.' Leaning over the sleeping boy, she caught Harry's lips in a kiss. 'Get some sleep. Morning will be here entirely too soon.'
'Night, Gin,' Harry said, as he settled back down. 'Love you.'
'Love you too,' Ginny replied, as they once again linked hands over their child.
Harry closed his eyes and listened to the sound of Ginny and James' rhythmic breathing, letting it lull him into twilight zone between sleeping and waking.
Things were changing. His children would grow up and move out, have lives of their own, children of their own to lay awake at night and worry about.
All of a sudden, he was fine with that idea. He could let his children go, because he knew that they'd always want to come back.