Her back ached with a whole day's worth of failed attempts and with the realization that she was not as young as she once was. She did not dwell on the latter, focused as she was on finally getting it right this time around. Narrowing her eyes in concentration, Lily attempted to blow a loose piece of hair away from her face, but it was so futile that she ended up using her hand anyway, smearing bright yellow frosting across her forehead.
A familiar laugh broke her concentration, followed by a pair of strong arms wrapping themselves around her. "Any luck with this one?"
"Not much," she replied miserably, melting into his embrace, her body relaxing at his touch. It was a gift he loved to boast about.
"Harry's going to love it no matter what," he murmured, pressing a kiss to her neck that, after all their years, still made her shiver like the first time. "You know that, right?"
Lily exhaled heavily. "Yes," she admitted, regarding her creation miserably with a pout. "But it's his seventeenth birthday, James. It has to be absolutely special."
He chuckled, turning her around to face him. "It already is," he informed her quite wisely. Lily rolled her eyes and moved away from his hold, which only made him laugh even more. "I'm serious. I wish my mum would have lived to bake me my seventeenth birthday cake." She saw a flicker of pain flit momentarily through his expression, remnant of an old wound. It was gone just as fast, replaced instead with a grin. "I probably wouldn't have told her then, but it would have been nice."
"That's not comforting," she told him dryly.
"Yeah, but I was a prat," he said, stepping toward his wife and enveloping her in his arms again. "Harry's different." He told her this matter-of-factly, adding a single nod of his head for reassurance. "He's more like you."
At that, she beamed, snaking her arms around his neck, careful not to smear frosting on him. "Thank Merlin for that," she teased him.
"Finally something we agree on today," he said before leaning in to catch her lips in his. As she tilted her head to deepen the kiss, his fingers dug slightly into her hips, his body driving hers against the kitchen counter. They were interrupted by the oven's loud bell before he could lift her onto it.
She sighed contently against his lips. "I love you."
He smirked, the very same smirk that made his already handsome face so appealing to her from the very beginning. "Dunno how I got so lucky," he said, stealing one last kiss from her before straightening up and moving to the kitchen table where he had placed a scarlet, leather Quaffle. He picked it up with the grip of one hand, flung it in the air, and caught it effortlessly. "I better go set up the field for that match with Harry later on."
Lily froze midway to returning to her disastrous creation, remembering something. "Hang on," she called, not stamping her palm against her forehead in fear of smearing more frosting on herself than on the cake. "I can't believe I forgot to tell you. Harry sent an owl this morning saying he's coming back a bit late from the Weasleys'. He'll be here just in time for dinner."
His shoulders dropped slightly. "Oh," he replied, his voice betraying some of his disappointment. "He's spending the whole day over there again?"
She bit her bottom lip, hating to see him as dejected as he looked then. "I believe so."
There was a silence in which he set the Quaffle back on the table. "All right," he replied finally. "Perhaps tomorrow, then."
"Maybe Sirius will want to play when he comes over later?"
James scoffed. "Padfoot's out of practice. Besides, the only one who's a good enough match in Quidditch for me is my son." She did not miss the note of pride his voice usually carried whenever he mentioned Harry's talent.
Lily smiled fondly at her husband.
"What?" he asked her when he caught her watching him carefully.
"You're disappointed, aren't you?"
"About what?" he asked, feigning nonchalance as he scooped frosting into his mouth with his finger.
"You're disappointed that Harry is growing up and forgetting about important traditions between you two."
"It's not a tradition," he replied defensively. "And it's not important."
"Yeah?" she defied, crossing her arms and cocking out her hip.
"Yeah," he replied, mimicking her tone.
"It's a tradition," she started pointedly, "if you've upheld it ever since Sirius gave him his first broomstick when he turned one. And it's important if he went a whole match without telling you a Quaffle had knocked out his tooth for his sixth. Or when he missed his date with that Chang girl two years ago? Or–" Lily opened her mouth to bring up more examples, but James interrupted.
"Merlin, all right, all right," he admitted with a small laugh, regarding his wife with admiration. "Maybe it has become sort of a… thing." Lily's lips parted at once to say something, but he went on. "But honestly, it's not that important. It had to happen some—"
His voice was cut short by the sound of the doorbell.
"Sirius?" Lily asked him, brows furrowing.
"Never," James replied with confidence, already walking toward the door, his voice increasing for her to hear the closer he got to it. "He's never early to anything. You told him six so he'll be here at seven. It's probably Moon–" He stopped short at opening the door and seeing that it was neither Sirius nor Remus but his son.
"'Lo Dad," he said, looking rather timid about something. James, eyebrows raised, did not have to ask for the reason stood a few steps behind his son, beaming at him.
"Hello, Mr. Potter," she said brightly.
"Hullo," he replied, not trusting himself to remember her name. Her surname was not a problem, screaming loudly at him like the brightness of her red-orange hair and the vivid freckles spattered all over her face. He had seen her many times before at the station with her brothers, and he was sure Harry had introduced her before, but he was never good at keeping track.
"Where's Mum?" Harry asked, stepping inside, his companion following close behind.
"Harry?" Lily called from the kitchen. A few seconds later, she emerged, stopping in the doorway and wiping her hands frantically on the old t-shirt she was wearing. "I thought you weren't coming home for a few more hours. Oh," she added when she noticed the redhead close behind Harry. "Hello."
Harry, however, paid his mother no attention. His eyes, instead, falling on the Snitch-shaped cake she had just finished. "Is that for me?"
James could see his wife flush and he bit his lip to stop himself from grinning. "Yes," she replied.
"You made it?"
"Yes…," she said, adding in a rushed voice, "It's not quite finished yet. If you don't like it–"
"Are you joking?" he asked incredulously. "It's brilliant! Thanks, Mum!"
Her shoulders visibly relaxed, and though she did a good job in masking it, James could see her eyes watering slightly. "I'm glad you like it, dear," she replied quietly, unable to say anything else in fear that her voice would be too overcome with emotion.
"It is lovely, Mrs. Potter. My mum would be jealous," said the young redhead, making Harry tear his eyes from the cake and tense ever so slightly.
"Er…right," he said, his shoes shuffling against the floor. "Mum, Dad, this is Ginny Weasley."
There was a beat.
Neither Lily nor James had enough time to feel properly confused because Ginny laughed in response, dispelling the silence. "Harry, honestly, we've met loads of times before."
Harry's face flushed and he avoided meeting his parents' eyes. "Right, but I wanted to properly do it. And this makes it… official and all that…" He trailed off, the hum of his nervous energy hanging in the air. When he finally met eyes with his parents, understanding dawned on both of their faces.
"Oh!" Lily exclaimed, unable to contain her sheer joy. "I knew it! I just knew—"
"Mum," Harry pleaded, looking mortified.
"Right, sorry, darling," Lily said as she schooled her features, reigning in her unbridled excitement in exchange for a controlled smile. To Ginny, she said, "Lovely to officially meet you, dear,"
James, grinning broadly, mirrored the gesture and added, "This explains the dating advice he asked for the other day."
"Is that what that was about the other day? 'Don't make a prat out of yourself' was your dating advice?" Lily asked, eyebrows arched at her husband.
"Worked with you," he told her with a wink that made Harry look as though he wished to be devoured by the floor.
Ginny, on the other hand, laughed. "Worked with me too, actually."
They all laughed, even Harry was unable to contain a grin at that.
The moment was interrupted by the oven's insistent dinging. Lily hurried to turn it off. "I didn't know you were coming this early. Dinner's not quite ready yet."
"That's all right, Mum," Harry assured her. "I actually came by early because I wanted to play a match or two with dad."
It was Lily's turn to suppress a knowing grin at the look on her husband's face. "All right, but don't take too long. Last match you two had lasted three hours."
Harry flicked his hand lazily. "I'm not worried. Dad's getting old so beating him won't be a problem."
James chuckled. "You'll be eating those words, Potter," he told him calmly.
"I'll be eating my birthday dinner in less than half an hour, actually," his son returned cheekily.
"Careful, son, or your broom won't take off the ground with your big head on it." Lily laughed loudly at that and James met her eye briefly. "Or so they've told me."
Harry missed the exchange, already making his way outside through the back door, calling a witty response back at his father. James followed, not missing a beat in his reply.
Lily continued to laugh, shaking her head as they watched them go.
"Are they always like this?" Ginny asked her, amused.
"They never really stop."