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“James, is that you?” Lily’s voiced called from somewhere upstairs. James unfastened his cloak and slumped down into the nearest available chair, sitting uncomfortably on one of Harry’s toys.

Lily appeared a second later, Harry bouncing on her hip – the both of them looked like a giant vat of custard had exploded all over them.

“How’s Harry taking to solid foods?” James asked dryly, fishing around for the toy beneath him.

Lily fixed him with a glare and brushed a clump of custard-encrusted hair out of her eyes. “Could you take him? I need to have a shower and before you suggest it: I’m not taking a bath with Harry, if I lie down I’ll fall asleep and we’ll both drown.”

“Lily…” he started to protest but seeing the look in her eyes decided that wouldn’t be the grandest of ideas. He reached out and Lily handed their son to him quickly, and without so much as a ‘thanks’ dashed off upstairs.

James sighed and held Harry at arms length, a glob of custard dripped from his son’s toes and onto his knee. He felt like he hadn’t been home in days, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept or eaten, his back felt as though someone had dropped all six volumes of The History of Quills on it and he’d been daydreaming of a warm bed since last Saturday; Preferably one with a warm body already in it.

Harry gargled and gnawed on his fingers, smiling up at his father. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his life or his family just that he hadn’t exactly imagined this life for himself. He was only twenty with a wife and a child, a job that drained him and a mission that could possibly kill him and when it had just been him and Lily – if he’d been gone for several days, the next several were filled with tears and sex (hopefully not because of the sex), now it just seemed as though he and Lily were co-habitating, any spare moment away from jobs and the Order was taken up by Harry’s demands and he felt old and tired and he just wanted to be rid of responsibility, just for a bit.

He looked at his son, bright green eyes staring up at him and swallowed. Sirius was always up for a night out and he never asked questions. He stared at Harry long and hard, ticking over his choices.

Harry started to kick his legs and squirm in James’ hands, making him hard to hold on to. James pulled Harry to his chest and stood up, ignoring the pain shooting up his spine. “Yeah, I know kid. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

The kitchen was in equal chaos, but James could fix it easily when he had the chance. He started to wonder what on earth Lily could be doing with herself all day that she couldn’t find the time cast a quick Cleaning Charm.

The repulsive little voice inside his head piped that Gideon Prewitt often came round to visit and he’d seen them flirting more than a couple of times. How long had it been since they’d slept together? It must have been going on two months now – maybe she wasn’t just tired when she’d turned him away.

James clenched his jaw and started to fill the sink with water, conjuring up a temporary bassinet for his son while it ran. He stretched out his arms and yawned, looking around at the mess. He’d have to ask Lily about it, he knew she’d scream at him – the same old arguments wherein he ended up sleeping on the couch, but he didn’t much care, he had a right to know what she got up to while he was away and why his house was such a pigsty. It wasn’t too much to ask that she kept it clean while he worked, especially after she had refused a House Elf, so bloody insistent she could do it on her own, no need to enslave innocent creatures.

James rolled up his sleeves and tested the water; it was warm enough without being too hot: just right, as the saying goes. The next ingredient was Harry, who was happily chattering away to himself in his bassinet. James smiled despite his foul mood and removed Harry’s filthy clothes, sliding him into the water, which quickly became clouded with custard.

James thought about changing the water - Lily had always been so insistent on not using magic on or close to Harry – Muggleborns were odd like that. James had pictures of himself being charmed to fly by his father and floating about the room, giggling – nothing bad ever happened to him because of accidental magic brought on him by his parents. It was as though Lily didn’t even trust him with his own son; like he was so clumsy and irresponsible he’d mutilate his child by accident.

He snorted derisively and pointed his wand at the water, siphoning out the muck and replacing it with fresh water, he even added a few bubbles for effect.

Harry laughed delightedly and splashed his feet and hands about, pointing at the bubbles.

James grinned at Harry and prodded the bubbles so that they became the shape of ducks which made Harry laugh harder and splash more fervently, soaking the front of James’ robes. James found he didn’t care at all – this was the one joyful thing he’d seen or heard in all of today and it was his son and he was laughing at something James had done for him. He had no idea why but Lily had always made James feel like an incompetent parent – from the moment she’d told him she was pregnant, it was though she expected him to be terrible at it (she actually had expected him not to want a kid).

He didn’t admit to himself in that particular moment that he actually felt like a bad father half the time. He was still only learning to take care of himself, really, having Harry was like owning a brittle, valuable glass bowl that needed to be fed and changed and amused all the time. He hadn’t even known how to change nappies for months after Harry was born (but then – neither had Lily. Her mother had helped them both enormously in the early months, all the while grumbling about teenaged parents and the little demon who’d knocked up her daughter). Sometimes he’d found himself begging Harry to sleep and wishing that he could just cast a Silencing Spell and curl up on the floor, exhausted and almost crying with frustration.

But that was only half the time; the other half was taken up with complete astonishment that he was even a father.

Harry snatched at the duck shaped bubbles with his little fists, squealing with joy when James made them swim around in the sink with him and float around his head.

“Not so bad, am I?” James said quietly to Harry who just cooed in reply and popped one of the duck shaped bubbles.

He fumbled around for the baby shampoo, deciding that Harry’s shaggy mop might as well be clean as well. James knew that with hair like his it didn’t take much to get dirty; he’d once found half a sugar mouse stuck in a clump of his hair with no idea how it got there or how long it’d been living there. Sirius had eaten it on a dare.

He conjured a jug of water to pour over Harry’s head (careful, of course, to get the alignment right) and started to lather the shampoo in his hair. This was the one thing about bath time that Harry hated, he spluttered and struggled in James’ hands, looking up at his father as though he’d betrayed him.

“Sorry mate,” James told him, pouring the water over his head.

There was an outraged shriek from behind him and Lily rushed forward to collect Harry from the bath, he was red faced and crying, though James was sure not all of it had been from just his hair being washed. “What did you think you were doing?!”

“Bathing him,” James replied monotonously, but he was tensing for a fight.

“I meant the magic!” she spat viciously. “Did you even get him a towel?” she asked looking around the room.

He shrugged. “I was going to conjure one.”

Lily looked as though she might actually drop Harry and go for his throat. “What have I said about using magic near the baby?” she said in a low, quiet voice. It was the voice she’d always used when she was extremely angry; it was apparently the voice that all wives used when their husbands did something wrong if Frank was telling the truth.

“Nothing happened! He’s fine and we were having fun before you came down!” James returned, wringing out the front of his robes.

“Is that why he’s crying?” she shot back.

“I was washing his hair! He hates that! He’s crying because you came in screaming bloody murder and frightened him!” James shouted, throwing out his arms angrily. Harry started to cry even louder and Lily glared at James like it was all his fault and cuddled him closer to her, trying to hush him.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, all raised voices and constant bickering. He loved her and he’d married her to protect her, to be with her, to enjoy crazy sex at all times of the day without their parent’s approval. It used to be like that – walks in the park, romantic dinners and plenty of parading her around in public, dancing in fountains and that sort of thing. Marriage had been that idealised concept of their youth, he’d known that some people had struggled and it wasn’t like he and Lily hadn’t argued but it was supposed to be like this, both to stubborn to come down their high horses and admit any wrong doing most of the time and he hated it. Hated arguing with her and becoming this petty minded little bureaucrat – but it wasn’t supposed to be like this, not for them.

“Lily…I’m sorry, okay. I know you hate it but I was careful, I really was and he was having fun. I wouldn’t ever hurt him,” he said softly, tiredly. He leaned against the kitchen benches and yawned.

Lily looked up at him distrustfully, still bouncing Harry in her arms. “Just go to bed, James.”

He stood there a minute longer, just staring at her, wondering what he should say next if anything at all. It always felt like the end of the world when they argued and he wanted to fix it but he was so tired. His arms felt like lead and his back ached and the moment she had mentioned bed, his mind had already started to shut down.

Feeling like a coward, he nodded and pushed himself away from the bench. Harry’s eyes were as round as saucers as he watched his father go and James gave him a rueful smile. Don’t marry a redhead he silently advised his son. He slouched up to their room and fell into bed.

He wasn’t ever sure if he’d dreamed the soft weight next to him and the whispered voice in his ear. “I missed you James. I’m sorry. I love you.”



A/N: So I decided on a format for this, there will be memories dotted throughout so you get a sense of what James has lost (and also because I like writing them together) so it won't always follow a 'present, past, present' pattern. But I have a plan for why he's remembering these things so intensely...why and what he remembers will follow a specific plan. Also, this was written in around 3 hours so...mistakapalooza! Chapter titles are going to be Pumpkins song titles from now on, by the by.

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