Harry looked at his baby daughter, her red hair so like her mother's, sleeping in the cradle.
"Harry, I don't know whether I should leave her," Ginny whispered. "She's still so tiny, and the boys are such a handful…"
Harry left the room, taking Ginny's hand as he did, then quietly shut the nursery door behind them.
"Your mum has been planning this weekend for months. You know how much it means to her. Fleur and Audrey and Hermione and Angelina will be there too. You have the fridge stocked in breast milk, plus she's eating a bit of rice porridge now. We boys will be fine. Go now, and we'll see you on Sunday."
"You hardly sound like you'll miss me," Ginny said, her lower lip extended into a pout.
"I promise not to be perfect at being a house dad. I won't let anyone get seriously hurt or be neglected, but I'll do it just poorly enough so you'll know we can't do it without you," Harry said with a smirk.
Ginny laughed. "All right. You win." She kissed him deeply, then picked up her overnight bag. "I do look forward to a spa weekend with all the Weasley women. But all you boys, home with your children… it might be frightening."
"If I start to panic, I'll call Andromeda through the Floo. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough." She hugged him one more time, then went out to say goodbye to the two little boys playing in the next room. Moments later she was gone, and Harry was home with three children under the age of five.
Harry sat down with his little boys and played puppets with them, levitating and animating the puppets just to watch Albus and James laugh. Then he reheated some macaroni cheese Ginny had left for them for dinner and heated up some sausages. He cut Albus's sausage into little coins that he could eat with his fingers.
He was just washing off their hands and faces and sending them outside, wondering what to make for his own dinner, when Lily's cry changed his plans. He hurried into her room to see what was the matter. She screamed, holding her legs up in the air.
"What has my tiny sweetheart so upset?" he asked, picking her up. His nose gave him the answer before her cries could, so he began changing her nappy. An angry red rash had covered her little bum. When he went to put the nappy rash potion on it, there was only a drop left. He sighed, using it on the reddest part, then trying to remember how to make more. Soon he had her comfortable and took her to the kitchen.
He pulled a bottle out of the refrigerator, and with a tap of his wand and the words, "Tepidus Lactis" heated it to 38 degrees. Lily's mouth began hungrily searching his chest as he sat down. "Sorry, little love, I'm not plumbed that way." He put the bottle's nipple in her mouth and soon she was sucking contentedly.
While he fed her, his mind was in two places—one, on the heaven-kissed sweetness of his daughter, and two, on the rash potion. He had olive oil and most of the ingredients, but he lacked calendula and mullein. Maybe Neville had some in his greenhouses. He hated to bother him, but he needed it before the next nappy change.
He finished feeding Lily, then rocked her on his shoulder while he rubbed her back. She let loose with a very lady-like burp, and reached up to pull his ear. "How are you, angel?" Harry said very softly, running his finger down her fine red curls. "Let's go check on your brothers. They've been rather quiet."
Harry walked into the play room and the boys weren't there. "Uh-oh."
He began searching the house, step by step, until he heard giggling in the attic. He opened the attic door, baby still in his arms. There he found his boys, coated in Brunhilda's Bright and Fast house paint. The yellow and blue paint was on the floor, on the furniture, and all over both boys. They were laughing wildly as they painted each other. Harry didn't know whether to laugh or cry or shout. He still had baby Lily in his arms. He needed help. He slipped out of the attic with the baby, closing the door behind him. Ron… he could help, but he was home tending his own children.
Still carrying Lily, he went to the nearest fireplace. "Neville Longbottom," he asked as he sprinkled green powder in the Floo and stuck his head in.
Neville's house-elf appeared first, quickly followed by Neville himself. "Harry! What a surprise. I can't believe how big the baby is getting. She sure looks like Ginny."
"Hi, Neville. I need your help. We're out of Lily's rash potion, and I can't make more without calendula and mullien. And I really need a hand right now. The boys are covered in paint, but I have the baby to take care of."
"No Ginny home this evening?" Neville asked, amused.
"No. And I'm not supposed to bollocks this up too much." Harry felt no need for pride at this point.
"Sure. Let me grab the plants you need, and I'll be right over." Harry quickly pulled out of the Floo, not waiting for Neville's reply.
Harry went to Lily's room and put her down in her cot, only to have her burst into howls. "I'm sorry, little one. I need to take care of your brothers." He felt guilty as he left her behind.
He pulled out his wand and went to the attic. The boys were still playing happily, painting each other thoroughly. James painted Albus blue, while Albus painted James yellow. He opened the door wide, and the boys' laughter stopped. "Uh-oh, now we in twouble!" James said.
"Uh-oh," Albus mimicked, then grinned wide at Harry.
Harry just laughed. "You two aren't supposed to play up here." He aimed his wand at the mess. "Scourgify!" The paint disappeared from the floors and the furniture, but the boys were still covered in it. He tried it again, "Scourgify!" But the boys were still a mess.
"Mummy don't use dat one," James explained patiently. "Dis magic paint."
Harry sighed and read the small print on the cans. So the paint was designed to stay where it was painted deliberately… making it much easier to clean up… unless it was deliberately painted on your sons. He read the label farther, looking for how to remove it. It recommended Magical Mess Remover. Lovely. Just what he wanted all over his sons.
He heard a shout from downstairs. Neville. "Coming," he called back. "Come on, boys. I'm putting you two in the bath until I can figure out how to get this paint off you." He paused a moment, recalling what James had said… how had James known that? Had they done this before? Why hadn't Ginny told him?
He led the boys down to the bathroom, then called down the stairs to Neville. "I'm up here. Come on up." Harry opened the bathroom door and stripped the boys down, then lifted them into the tub. Neville came up the stairs and stood in the doorway, laughing silently. Harry turned for a moment and looked at him instead of the boys. "Go ahead and laugh, Neville. Just wait until you get your turn. Now, will you stay here with them while I get the Magical Mess Remover?"
"Sure. It's nice to see you, too." Neville laughed aloud, then moved to the boys while Harry went to find the remover. He addressed the little boys. "You two need to go easy on your dad. He's not used to this." Neville added a few inches of warm water to the tub and a capful of bubbles, then sat the boys down. When Harry returned with the Magical Mess Remover, they were busily making soap bubble sculptures on each other's heads.
"Neville," Harry asked, "I saw you had left the calendula and mullein in the kitchen. Would you mind making the potion while I clean up the boys?"
Neville shook his head. "I managed to get my Potions skills good enough for Kingsley, but I'm not as strong in it as you are. You make the potion and leave me the Mess Remover. I can finish cleaning up these little guys."
"You're sure?" Harry asked, finally noticing how nicely Neville was dressed.
"I'll manage." Neville laughed.
Harry left Neville to clean up the little boys and went downstairs to make the potion. An hour later, just as the potion was done, Neville came down the stairs with two squeaky clean little boys, both dried off and dressed in footie pajamas. He looked a little rumpled, but was good-naturedly hovering a stack of picture books in front of him.
"We weading wif Neffle," James said, skipping to the sofa. Neville sat down next to James, then tucked Albus on his other side. He made it look so easy. Harry thought to join them, but as if on cue, Lily started crying. He grabbed the newly-made potion and hurried upstairs.
Harry picked up his crying daughter and held her close a minute while she calmed down. Then he put her on the changing table to check her nappy. She was just barely wet, but on that red bottom, it had to hurt. "Hush, princess. Daddy's made something to help." He took off the wet nappy and cleaned her with a warm cloth, then spread the potion on her bottom. Lily smiled. "It does help, then. Good." He put the clean nappy on her, then held her close. "It's not time to eat yet. We can go listen to Neville tell stories, or I can rock you." Lily yawned in response. "Rocking you it is."
He cuddled the downy soft head under his chin as he snuggled her against his chest. He sat in the rocker and began to hum softly, not knowing where the tune came from, but guessing it was something his parents had sung to him. She was soon asleep, perfectly at peace with the warmth of her father and the beat of his heart against her cheek. Harry felt almost overwhelmed by the feeling of love and awe for this tiny princess who had blessed their lives. He held her long after she slept, not wanting to put her back into her cot.
When he finally carefully put her down and tucked the cover under her feet, he stood and watched her for a long time before silently closing the door and joining Neville and the boys. Neville had one boy tucked under each arm as he read, Albus already asleep, and James fighting to keep his eyes open. Neville closed the book and whispered, "Everything okay with baby?"
"Yes, she's asleep now. The potion did the trick. Thank you for coming with the ingredients. And for helping with the boys," Harry answered in a whisper of his own. He bent down and picked up sleeping Albus. "Maybe you should come back tomorrow," Harry suggested. "I'm not feeling proud right now. I think this whole scheme of Molly's wasn't to give the witches a break, but to teach us wizards how much we need them."
"Sure, Harry. I'll come back," Neville said, standing up and lifting James into his arms. "We blokes need to stand together and help each other." They crept quietly up the stairs and tucked the sleeping boys into their beds, shutting the door silently behind them.
Harry left Neville sitting in front of the fireplace, but soon returned with two bottles of butterbeer. Handing one to Neville, he gave Neville a conspiratorial smile. "Thanks, mate."